Day 137: Achievement 40. Make it to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

Oh, I wondered how long it’d be.  Writing this, in late January, it seems I’ve cocked up the chronology of last year’s events.  If you’re one of the more avid readers here, you’ll have learned about our japes at the darts.  The aforementioned japes were on a Friday.  On the Wednesday just before, I paid a visit to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.  If you’re reading this at some point after (*oohs, scratches beard*) about mid-February, you’ll be wondering what I’m going on about.  And that’ll be because I’ve slyly changed the publishing date of this post so it appears in the right place.  But, if you’re reading this now, I probably haven’t done that yet.  Or perhaps I have and, in a fit of fakery fear, have forgotten to remove this paragraph.

So. Moving swiftly along… let’s experiment with drama!

SCENE 1: Hyde Park Corner station ticket office.

CLAIRE is leaning against a ticket machine with a bit of a face on.  NICK approaches from the up escalator.

N: “Hey, lady!”

C: “I’ve been robbed, Nick!”

NICK makes some deductions  Bag?  Obviously not, cos it was over her shoulder. Purse? Probably not, otherwise CLAIRE would be on the phone to the bank. iPod?  Nah, because CLAIRE still had her earphones in. iPhone? Unlikely, seeing as CLAIRE was in the process of texting someone to tell them she’d been robbed. Gloves? Hmmm, perhaps. Everybody needs a pair of gloves in winter, even the quick-fingered. Actually, they could probably make extra use of them (leaving no finger prints). CLAIRE is texting on an iPhone; NICK considers this not to be a pursuit for the be-gloved.

NICK decides there’s only one thing for it: a calm, rational, assured, masculine, response.


C: “I’ve been robbed, Nick!”

N: “Oh my.  Shit*.  No?  Er, are you ok?  What did they get?”

C: “My Oyster card!  Someone’s robbed my Oyster card!”

N: “Oh”, failing to keep up the initial worry and concern, “is that it?”

NICK doesn’t want to point out that it’s CLAIRE that’s been robbed of her Oyster card and that robbing an Oyster card would be something else entirely.

C: “Nick! I have been ROBBED!”

N: “Oh. Did they get anything else?”


N: “Well, these are austere ti..”


N: “Shall we go?”

NICK and CLAIRE exit the station via a staircase

[That’s enough drama.  Too much, actually. -Ed]

I’m pretty sure that Dante wrote Inferno as a clever, extended, metaphor for Winter Wonderland.

Nine Circles of Hell?  Let’s see what we can do:

  1. The German market, selling all manner of crazy continental trinkets;
  2. The German sausage stalls, selling all manner of unpleasant-looking sausages;
  3. The German bars, selling all manner of Bavarian beers;
  4. The German musical entertainment (i), comprising a man playing an electric piano with little more than enthusiasm alone;
  5. The German musical entertainment (ii), comprising the same man singing with little more than enthusiasm alone;

So, the German tortures take care of Upper Hell.  Those who remain resolutely self-indulgent (and nothing more) get off with nothing more than a casual Teutonic nightmare.  But what about those of us who have strayed into violent behaviour?  Ladies and gentlemen, Circles 6 and 7:

  1. The booming discotheque music from some of the fairground ride;
  2. Portable lavatories;

What about those of a malicious disposition?  Journalists, or people from Todmorden, for example.  Read on:

  1. Show-offs flaunting their skills on an elevated ice rink;
  2. Lots and lots and lots of children.

And, if you need more convincing, how about ‘Satan’?


Above: Satan

In short: abandon all hope, ye who enter here.  Unless you’re less of an all-round grumpy bastard than me.

And, just in case you’re wondering, Claire got her Oyster card sorted out in the end.  Thanks for caring.

(* Sorry, mum. I sometimes swear.)

Day 105: Achievement 67. See the Lord Mayor’s Show

As London is home of the world’s oldest civic procession, it would seem remiss to not see it at least once. So, the day after the election of the 683rd Lord Mayor of London, I went down there with my camera:

There’s not that much point in me banging on about what the Lord Mayor does and all this and that; there’s a great website ( with all that stuff on it.  It’s interesting reading, for sure.

A selection of my photos from the day are, of course, over on flickr.  Look out for the one of the Thames Fireworks that I managed to take through a star filter — it’s a corker.

Day 99: Achievement 91. Go see the banger racing at Wimbledon Stadium

I’ve wanted to go see the banger racing for as long as I can remember.  Well, technically, since Joff’s cancelled stag do.  (I should probably set the record straight at this point: it’s not that his good lady wife-to-be called the whole shebang off, but an inopportune moment of ill-health on Joff’s part.  The actual stag do involved everybody wearing antlers while driving dodgems in The Trocadero. Anyway, that’s quite enough about Joff.)  The point is this: since then, I’ve always wanted to go.

So, along with Katie, Ewan, Roz and Shorts, I rocked up on a Sunday evening.  The event at Wimbledon is run by the good people at Spedeworth.  For the princely sum of £13, we were able to enjoy ten races and a superb fifteen minute display by everybody’s good friends from Paine’s Fireworks.  “How can you be sure Paine’s Fireworks are everybody’s good friends?”, I hear you ask.  Well, the gentleman broadcasting to the stadium on the PA system (who looked uncannily like Sven Goran Eriksson) told us so.  About thirty times.  If an unlikely set of circumstances somehow required it, I like to think he’s the kind of guy I’d get to MC at a Bah Mitzvah.

The crew

nsj, Katie, Shorts, Rozzy

Those ten races, then.  We saw Stock Rods, we saw Historic Stock Cars and we saw the Bangers.  The stock rods are the closest thing to road cars.  Entry level, small engines, designed for those who wanted a foot in the door.  The historic stock cars step the pace up and introduce an element of contact, but the bangers races are where it’s at.  Full on smashes, pile-ups, roll-overs.  Just mayhem, really.  And top marks to the enterprising lads who turned up with estate cars.  The practical man deep inside everybody salutes you.



Top tips if you’re going: soft drinks are cheaper at the food bar than the bar bar; the food is crap, expensive and best avoided; it’s loud at the trackside – take earplugs; get there early to bag a parking spot.  We’ve vowed to go back.

Day 98: Achievement 16. Get the DLR down to the Museum of London Docklands

First up, an honest admission: I didn’t get the DLR to the museum.  Weekend engineering, you see.  If I had gone all circuitous on the transport front, I’d have been even later to meet Rowan, my companion for the afternoon.  After a false start, largely involving her being at Canary Wharf station and me being on the bridge outside the museum, we made it inside.

Museum of London Docklands

Museum of London Docklands, from the footbridge over West India Quay

The Museum of London Docklands is sister of the Museum of London, a place I’ve banged on about at length.  Like its sibling, the Museum of London Docklands is free to visit.  Be sure to pick up one of the rather good map booklets from the reception area before heading up to the third floor to start the tour.

If you’re more of an anthropologist than archaeologist (and I certainly am), you’ll quickly tire of the Tony Robinson videos and pictures of rocks and quickly move on to something more interesting.  In this case, it’ll be the London Sugar & Slavery gallery.  It’s a helpful reminder about what a bunch of bastards the English were.

London, sugar & slavery

Sugar & Slavery, Rakish Rowan

Things are a bit less grim downstairs.  There’s a rather spooky gallery called ‘Sailortown’, much like the Victorian village at the Museum of London.  It’s a replica of London’s docklands in the mid-19th century, replete with shops, alleyways and a hostelry.  There’s plenty of dark corners for adventurous youngsters to have a cheeky canoodle, too.  Not that either of us spotted (or condone) such activities, you understand.

Boat Yard gate

Aye aye, Sailor

A couple of galleries explore London’s docks at their peak.  ‘Warehouse of the World’ exhibits the types and quantities of the goods that came in and out of the city, as well as the development of bigger and better docking and storage facilities out to the east.  Enterprising and ruthless businessmen aren’t a 20th century innovation; there were plenty of takeovers, mergers and strange goings on.  Plenty of robberies, too.  And strikes, headed up by the enterprising Ernest Bevin – first head of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.



After an hour or two of walking about, we went off for a Pret.  Evidently tiring of my company, Rowan decided to head off – leaving me to learn all about the war and the area’s regeneration on my own.  The latter is particularly interesting and diverse; everything from the rise of Canada Square to the News International strikes.  Anyone who has a slight interest in marketing or advertising will relish the plethora of posters, pamphlets and general paraphernalia of the London Docklands Development Corporation.  It’s wonderfully early 90s.

I left by DLR, happy in the knowledge the Docklands museum is just as brilliant as its big sister.

Day 85. Achievement 22: visit the dinosaurs in Crystal Palace park

I’ve left you hanging for ages.  Sorry about that.  Have been a little but busy with work and also with a pub quiz I decided to take on.  It’s at the Tabard, next to Turnham Green station.  Wednesday, 8.30pm, with 2-for-1 on curries.

It was a very pleasant day on Sunday, so Man In Shorts and I decided we’d storm up Crystal Palace museum and park.  The visit to the museum was brief.  After hiking up a steep hill to get to its front, which my calves are yet to forgive me for, a locked door (and signs) suggested we went back into the park and used the actual entrance on the other side.

Having complied with the request, and nearly accidentally stumbling into a child-infested fun fair, you can probably imagine the utter delight when a sign on the actual entrance apologised for the museum being closed.  Dodgy central heating, apparently.  If only they had a website on which they could put such information, saving people an hour-long journey across London…

Crystal Palace museum


After a moment of quiet reflection on the museum’s steps, it was time for a gentlemanly saunter around the park.  I was able to point out anoraky things (like the purpose of the sloping wire hanging from the side of the transmitter mast*) and Man In Shorts was able to pretend to care.  Not that he did, you understand.

The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre provided an interesting diversion. On an Astroturf pitch, swathes of foreign gentlemen were engaging in some sort of ball game.  I’m no sports expert, but it seemed to be the same as football — with the crucial difference that handling the ball seemed to be permitted.  If any learned readers know what they might have been playing, do let me know.

Adjacent to the foot-and-handballers, a small racing track was populated by a couple of enterprising young chaps with radio controlled cars.  These were no Tomy efforts; they whipped around the track, engines going like agitated two-stroke garden strimmers.  And either the chaps were smashed or these things are difficult to control.  Motoring expert Man In Shorts couldn’t credit either driver with having a ‘consistent racing line’, nor with keeping the cars under control.  All I know is that the cars were noisy and weaved about the track a lot.  Maybe they were just warming up the tyres, like on F1.

Radio Control

Two stroke

Another diversion came courtesy of an ice cream van.  £1.50 for a 99, in London, in mid-October, was too much for me to resist.  Shorts was quick to note my wandering accent.  He says I got all ‘working man’ when talking to the ice cream man.  But I was the one with the ice cream, not him, so accepted both moral and actual victories.  In my head.

The ‘Dinosaur Park’ opened in 1854, some years before Origin of Species was published, and its theory of evolution shocked and outraged the simple Victorian folk.  Renowned scientist Richard Owen and sculptor Benjamin waterhouse Hawkins headed up team that took visitors on a journey through prehistoric time.



Bromley Council and the National Lottery have funded the restoration of the park and an Audio Trail.  At each of ten points around the dinosaurs, there’s a different bit of audio to listen to.  Shorts assures me it’s good fun.  It’s free to download at

Shorts with sound

Shorts enjoys the Audio Trail

Despite being able to see south-of-the-river from my window, it’s not a place I usually visit.  It’s probably thanks to the apocryphal tales of taxi drivers (…’south of the river? at this time of night? you’re having a giraffe…’) and also that there are very few reasons to actually go there.  Similarities with Leeds increase once you spot petty misbehaviour (some young chaps had jumped the fence and were gayly romping around with the dinosaurs) and the after-effects of a joy-ride.  Quite how one drives an Escort van into the middle of a wooden bridge, in the middle of a public park, is quite beyond me.  Considering the intense heat caused by a vehicle fire, I reckon the bridge is doing well to remain standing:

Burnt van

Ahh, south London.

More photos, as always, on Flickr.

(* it radiates Radio 4 on 720kHz and Spectrum 558kHz.)

Day 64: Achievement 37. Ride on London’s only steam railway

The capital’s only steam railway is situated at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum.  Standing in an old waterworks, the museum is independently operated, staffed by eager and enthusiastic volunteers.  The Waterworks Railway, as it’s called, is only one aspect of the museum.  They’re also gifted with working steam engines of every size from matchbox to massive, functional (if smelly) early diesels, a water tower and Thames Water propaganda gallery examining the history London’s water supply.

The only available grown-ups ticket is an annual pass costing £9.50.  With different engines working on different weekends, visitors might need to make multiple trips to see everything — particularly the seldom-operated, 90 inch, ‘Cornish Giant’.

Arriving not long after midday, I set a course for the Waterworks Railway.  With the track running to around over a hundred meters, and the train traveling at little more than a brisk walking pace, it’s not really comparable with the more functional steam railways found outside the capital.  It is, however, quite cute.  Throngs of children possessed an infectious and palpable excitement about the experience.  At one point, an inquisitive young tyke asked his custodian whether the grey substance being emitted from the train’s chimney was steam.  Answering confidently and assertively, as do all dads when posed questions by their offspring, everyone aboard was informed it was, indeed, steam.

Thomas and passengers

Until the driver, who’d overheard, swiftly decided to issue a correction.  “It’s steam if it’s white,” he began, “and any other colour is smoke”.  He continued with some fascinating technical nomenclature: “When the regulator is engaged [or possibly released — I can’t remember], then it’ll turn white — that’s steam!”  Three lessons there, then: one for cocky dads; one for me about note-taking; and a steam train factoid for everybody else.

Thomas Wicksteed

Two locomotives, Thomas Wicksteed and Alister, provide traction on the Waterworks Railway.  Alister, a three-cylinder diesel, pulls the train along on the outward journey.  Thomas, a 2009 steam engine, works light around the track to pick the train up for its return journey.  He is a narrow gauge ‘Wren’ class locomotive, a model originally built by Kerr Stuart of Stoke-on-Trent (and, later, the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds).  Wrens were the company’s smallest engine, yet biggest seller, and were often to be found in waterworks and similar yards.

He likes a drink

The museum’s yard is in the shadow of a water tower.  A telephone, affixed to a wall, plays a short history of the tower and recounts the experiences of two chaps who were employed by the water board in the olden days.  From the top, views of St. Paul’s and Crystal Palace were possible — but London wasn’t quite so built-up back then.  The tower is opens for adventurous climbers twice a year; nobody at the museum seemed to know when the next occasion might be, though.  Which is a bit of a shame.

Hanging on the telephone

Back inside the museum, a giant swam of miniature model makers had set themselves up on almost every square inch of floorspace.  An assortment of picnic and artist’s tables were covered by impractically small boats, steam trains, villages and more besides.  It would have all been fairly harmless if it wasn’t for the small matter of them getting in the bloody way of every single one of the museum’s actual exhibits.  There was a bring and buy sale on, too.  People had mostly brought and very few were buying.  If you want old videos and books about trains, you now know where to go.

Miniature man

On the subject of non-core exhibits, the Musical Museum is just down the road from KBSM.  For reasons better known to someone else, an unattended stall with some vintage gramophones had been shoved in a corner — along with a sign inviting any budding retro-obsessed, steam-freak, DJs to have a go.  I slammed some Gracie Fields on.  It was proper weapon.


A gallery examining the history of London’s water supply takes up a fair amount of space in the museum. It felt, to me, like little more than a puff-piece for Thames Water — although I couldn’t find mention that they’d sponsored or produced the exhibition (not that I’d looked very hard).  There’s some retro domestic appliances on the wall, though:

Water feature

In the grounds, but outside the museum itself, is The Forge.  It’s home to a couple of blacksmiths, one of whom is local artist Shelley Thomas.  I was stood photographing the giant Angel Estilo when Shelley, his creator,  came out for a chat.  She told me Estilo had been commissioned for the millennium, to soar by the side of the Thames in Feltham.  He’s had his wings clipped, though, and now loiters in the corner of the museum’s car park.  Shelley’s trying to buy him back from the council so he can be elevated to somewhere more suitable.

Angel Estilo

I’ll probably use my ticket twice more: once to go up the water tower, a second time to see the giant Cornish engine in operation.  Fingers crossed the bring and buy crowd will have packed up and moved on by then.

More photos on flickr.

Day 56: Achievement 96. Go to Eel Pie Island

It was a fine Saturday morning in dull, suburban, west London.  Having been up for a while, with no sniff of a hangover, cycling down the Thames to Eel Pie Island seemed like an excellent plan.  Eel Pie Island is in the River Thames, accessed, in lieu of having a boat, by a footbridge from Twickenham Embankment.  Stern signs warn that the land and footbridge are private property; cycling isn’t permitted, nor is deviating from the footpath, nor is anything else much.  Reading the residents’ noticeboard was allowed, though.  Not that there was anything noteworthy.


Some bloke in neoprene crouches on private land

Comprising entirely of boat clubs and private dwellings, save the top-and-tail nature reserves, it seems a far cry from the days of the eponymous Eel Pie Island Hotel — an establishment that played home to jazz, R&B and rock musicians through the middle half of the 20th century.  It all ended with a hefty repair bill and, in 1971, a mysterious fire.  Read more on the BBC News website.

Vintage signage

Vintage signage

There was another incident in 2005 when, middle-class young-professionals’ pin-up of choice, Danny Wallace was rather taken by the idea of starting his own country.  Invading Eel Pie Island seemed to be a reasonable way to go about things quickly.  Alas, the residents disagreed and called in the fuzz.

If you happen to be in Twickenham, it’s probably worth having a stroll over to Eel Pie Island.  If you’re not, don’t go out of your way; you can spend, at most, five minutes on it.  And that includes two minutes to get a self-timed photograph to come out as you’d want.

More pics on Flickr.

Day 55: Achievement 38. Visit a disused Tube station.

Thanks to steady employment, Things sometimes cannot be done. This past couple of weeks, visits and write-ups have been thin on the ground. I apologise. And it was only a few weekends ago that I had to pass up a Sunday morning jolly on a 1938 Tube train (Thing 39). That was down to an unfortunately scheduled series of night shifts, just in case you’re wondering. Little did I know (until Martin told me) that the same 1938 train was sitting, on Friday, at a disused Tube station under Aldwych.

Strand Station

Aldwych was originally called Strand

Fortunately, especially as it’s a Thing in itself, I’d ordered a couple of tickets for the London Transport Museum’s Blitz Experience tour of Aldwych Station. It closed in 1994, offering nothing more than a peak-hours shuttle service with Holborn. The lifts were a bit too knackered and would have cost a bit too much to replace. And so the station, the maintained track and powered rails that run through it, and its stabled 1972 Northern line train, generally remain the preserve of television and film crews, save the odd anorak tour. Until this weekend.

Däs Gäng

The crew: Nicky, Martin, sign, Lynne

Seventy years ago, thousands of Londoners took to deep level Tube stations to shelter from falling German bombs.  We entered the ticket hall to be addressed by an ARP Warden.  He seemed to be considerably put out that we had all neglected to bring our gas masks, buckets and blankets.  After a short while, the warning sirens sounded.  We were directed down the 160-step spiral staircase (that’d be quite good phrase to use if you’re find yourself: a. testing an audio system for sibilance, b. wondering if you’re drunk yet) in single-file.  Plenty of time, though, because the bombers were still five minutes away.


Air Raid Precautions Warden

In the lift lobby, we were met by a well-to-do lady of the WVS.  After being chastised once more for neglecting our masks, buckets and blankets, some fortunate members of the group were praised for wearing scarves and hats.  The smog is bad, apparently, and it’s just nice to see a man in a hat.  We were shown to the platform and boarded the Museum’s fabulous 1938 train.


WVS Posho

One chap who wasn’t wearing a hat was the spiv.  Holding court in the front carriage, he wore quite an elaborate tie and bore promises of black market goods.  Oranges, ham, ladies’ tights.  He had steak on offer, too, strongly denying any equine origins.  No bananas, though.

War Spiv

The Spiv

Moving down the train, we met Elsie.  A well-meaning and well-presented wartime housewife, she sat knitting in a corner.  She spoke of the impacts of the war on working class Londoners; evacuation, rationing, sheltering.  She wasn’t without time for a good bit of punnery, though.  On cooking a pig’s head, she suggested it was best to leave the eyes in.  That way, it’d see you through the week.  Boom boom.

Wartime woman

Elsie on 1938 Stock

A subsequent on-train address from the WVS posho was abruptly interrupted by falling bombs.  We were ordered off the train and whipped into singing the popular classic about visiting Tipperary.  Being neither Irish nor a toff, I had no idea what the words were.  I must’ve looked like Redwood.  As the WVS posho attempted to keep order, Elisie began to lose her mind.  As the all-clear sounded, it took the combined efforts of Spiv and WVS to bring her out from under a blanket.

After the opportunity to take another snap or two, it was time to head back up those 160 step.  To the exit through the station’s wooden lifts, outside to see a splendidly restored wartime bus.  Then to the pub.


Loitering miscreant. Thanks to Heather.

More photos, as per usual, on the flickr.

Day 48: Thing 69. See a comedian at the Hammersmith Apollo

It was Dara’s 110th performance on this tour, the second date of a nine night run at the Hammersmith Apollo.  He was very, very, funny.  If you can’t make it to one of the remaining performances in London, or one of the provincial gigs, the last Apollo show will be recorded for DVD.  Details over on Dara’s website.

I’ve been to The Apollo once before.  It was, and I’m equally ashamed and amused to be writing this, a The Feeling gig.  The venue hasn’t changed much since.  Aside from the addition of stalls seating for the comedy crowd, it’s pretty much the same. The auditorium is still tatty, the toilets remain rank, the beer continues to command a ludicrous £4.10 a pint, the bars maintain a state of woeful incapacity.  But that can all be forgiven, simply for this: the seats are comfortable and even a lanky streak of piss (like me) gets enough leg-room.  And, as I said above, the man’s funny.

One of the highlights of the evening came courtesy of a lady sitting behind us:

A funny moment

A splendid night out.

Day 43: Achievement 30 (part 7). The Brunel Museum, Thames Tunnel shaft tour

The Brunel Museum manages to be both small and in Rotherhithe.  In terms of square footage, I’m pretty confident the living area of my flat is bigger.  There’s a television in the lower corner, running a film on Marc Brunel and his tunnel.  There’s a mezzanine level with a gift shop and tea bar.  And there’s an upstairs bit with some diagrams about how the tunnel was built.  Out the back, there’s some benches.  One of them has a model of a train in the middle of it:

Railway model

Perhaps more interestingly, the original south-side shaft of Brunel’s Thames Tunnel is right next to the museum.  I was fortunate enough to climb through a hatch, down some scaffolding, and arrive at a newly installed concrete floor about twenty feet down.  The shafts were built above ground and the ground below them was removed, allowing them to sink.  The north-side shaft now forms a part of Wapping station on the London Overground network.  If you’re stood at the foot of the stairs, by the lifts, just look up.

The Thames Tunnel, now allowing trains traveling between Rotherhithe and Wapping to traverse the river without getting wet, has something of a chequered past.  It flooded twice during construction, killing six and delaying the project for seven years.  The original intention was to allow goods to cross the river with speed and ease.  Alas, Marc Brunel wasn’t as much of an accountant as he was civil engineer.  That’d be how he got himself into the situation of running out of money before building approach ramps.  Whoops.

Plan B: put spiral staircases in the shafts, lease pitches in the tunnel to merchants, cash in on the novelty of it all.  The path of the original spiral staircase can still be seen in the south shaft:


But that didn’t really work out, either.  Ne’er-do-wells and purveyors of the original profession made the tunnel a place to do business.  Many of the stall-holders didn’t renew their leases and, once more, Brunel was stuck.

So he sold it to the East London Railway, completing a series of firsts.  It was now the first tunnel to pass under a navigable river.  It housed the first shopping arcade in a tunnel.  And now it was the first under-river tunnel on the railway, before becoming the first under-river tunnel on the world’s first underground railway.  It was also the first, and last, project Isambard Kingdom Brunel worked on with his father.

More photos over on flickr.