In praise of the new Routemaster bus

TfL's new Routemaster London bus

Ticket to ride: London’s new Routemaster

I thought I’d missed my bus in London today. But I was in luck. It was a new Routemaster, the new version of the classic London bus. So I was able to jump onboard while it was halted in traffic.

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Burnham Beeches: London in Buckinghamshire

Burnham Beeches, Buckinghamshire, owned by City of London

Woodland wonderland: Burnham Beeches

Burnham Beeches is a lovely part of the City of London. Actually, it’s a corner of Buckinghamshire that the City of London bought to save it for the nation in 1880.

Curiously, this woodland wonderland is almost the same size as London’s square mile. But that’s where the similarities end. This is a precious corner of south east England, with ancient woodland and nature habitats thriving under the benign stewardship of the City of London Corporation.

We visited on the May Day bank holiday, yet the place seemed wonderfully quiet, despite a busy car park. We saw Exmoor ponies running joyfully through the wooded tracks. We loved the wood sculptures (below). We’ll return with our bikes to explore the Burnham Beeches trails.

Burnham Beeches trail sculpture

Burnham Beeches wood sculpture

To add to the geographical oddities, there’s a sign here pointing to Egypt! (Egypt Bucks: barely a hamlet, never mind a country.)

Egypt, Bucks

Egypt in Buckinghamshire

Finally, here’s the City of London’s rather nice video about Burnham Beeches.

No more queues: choose and order takeaway with PayPal

I’ve never had lunch in three restaurants on the same day before. But a ‘safari’ lunch was a great way to show journalists PayPal’s in-app services: order ahead, pay at your restaurant table and picture payment – all on your mobile phone.

Rik Henderson from Pocket-lint has posted a great account of how PayPal is saving time through the order ahead and pay at table services. Rik concluded, “We’ve never really experienced such an intuitive and speedy system of ordering and paying for lunch before.”

Pay at table at Prezzo Here’s how it worked. We started at Prezzo in Glasshouse Street, London, for a starter. We ‘checked in’ to the restaurant through the PayPal app, giving the waitress a code (above). We split the bill between us – all from within the PayPal app. I had the bruschetta, which was delicious. No waiting for a paper bill or for the waitress to bring a card machine.

Picture perfect at GBKThe pizzas looked tempting, but it was time to move on. A brisk walk through Soho took us to Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) in Frith Street.  Once again, we checked in through PayPal’s app, this time paying with our profile pictures, which appeared on GBK’s till. Being a creature of habit, I chose GBK’s Smokin’ Joe burger, with coleslaw and salad instead of a bun. 

Ordering ahead from wagamama

It was now time to show the journalists how easy it is to choose and order a takeaway on your phone. As we were finishing our GBK burgers, we opened the PayPal app again to check in to wagamama‘s Lexington Street, Soho restaurant (above). The wagamama take out menu appeared and we ordered for collection 15 minutes later. It was obvious who was still hungry – I went for peppermint tea, but others went for teriyaki, ramen and cheese cake! Next time, I’ll go for a bento box.

Everyone went away with an insight into how the mobile phone can make save us time when we use it to order and pay. At PayPal, we’re intrigued by the possibilities. And when I accidentally left my wallet at home today, I didn’t go hungry: I paid with PayPal at the excellent Cook & Garcia cafe in Richmond.

You can download the PayPal app here.

Disclosure: I am PR director for PayPal UK and Ireland.

Early morning, Richmond Green

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I love those early spring days. The hope that sunshine and warmth brings after a hard – or just wet – winter. The colour of daffodils relieving the winter monotones.

Today was a beautiful day. But it started with a thick fog in the Thames valley. I stopped the car to take this photo of a foggy Richmond Green minutes before getting to my riverside office.

The photo below is of Black Park, a lovely Buckinghamshire country park near Slough, on a beautiful sunny Sunday last weekend.

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Happy 150th birthday, London Underground

Going Underground

Going Underground

The London Underground celebrated its 150th birthday yesterday. On 9 January 1863, a Metropolitan Railway steam train made its way from Paddington to Farringdon to launch the world’s first underground railway.

The tube has played a vital part in London life: commuter network, bomb shelter and icon. It remains a precious symbol of life in the capital, even for those of us who don’t live in London.

It’s hard to imagine sulphurous steam trains operating in the claustrophobic stations and tunnels – amazingly, some Victorians thought the smoke health-giving, like going to a spa. In time, electricity made the Underground smoke-free. (And the first true ‘tube’, the City & South London Railway running from the City to Stockwell, was electric from the start in 1890.)

The Underground’s iconic status owes a lot to its long-lived corporate identity. The roundel is over a century old, and the typeface (although later modified) dates from the dark days of the Great War. Frank Beck created his famous map in 1933 as the Underground began life as a publicly owned institution: the London Passenger Transport Board, better known as London Transport.

The 1930s were in many ways the tube’s golden era with constant expansion, stunning architecture and new trains that served two generations and survived a world war. (I started working in London in 1987 as London Transport brought back 1938 trains to cope with demand.) Under Frank Pick, London Transport led the world as an integrated system of underground trains, buses and trams, as well as a patron of industrial art and design.

That public ownership has long outlived the nationalised British Railways – whose celebrated 1960s corporate identity has given way to an explosion of liveries and typefaces, destroying the very idea of a common network. In today’s Guardian, Andrew Martin rightly describes the tube as the people’s railway. Whether you’re rich or poor, you’ll usually find the tube the fastest, most convenient way to get around the city.

Going underground, going overground: Amersham

Going underground, going overground: Amersham

Despite its name, most of the Underground is actually overground. Amersham (above, with then one year old Owen with a 1962 train – built the year of the first Beatles single) is at the country end of the Met Line. Trains from Amersham only head into the tunnel at Finchley Road, a handful of miles from the 1863 line at Baker Street. That 1962 unit was one of the trains that replaced the last passenger steam services on the Underground after almost a century. Curiously, London Transport was still using steam for engineering trains as late as 1971 with former Great Western pannier tanks.

Finally, as Britain (apparently) faces a cold snap, here’s one of those 1960s Met line trains arriving at Farringdon on 17 December 2010.

Blizzard at Farringdon Underground

Blizzard at Farringdon Underground

The wonderful London Transport Museum

Going Underground: London Transport Museum

The railways created modern London: first the mainline and suburban lines, followed by the Underground.

London was the birthplace of the underground railway in 1863 with the Metropolitan Railway from Paddington to Farringdon. Three decades later the city created the first deep level ‘tube’, the City and South London Railway, which is now part of the Northern Line.

The wonderful London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tells this fascinating story. It’s extraordinary how many relics of the earliest days survive, including a City and South London carriage. The museum is very hands-on: today, Owen, four, drove a Jubilee Line train. (Last year he drove a bus and Met Line train.)

Tube trains have very long lives. This autumn saw the end of the Met Line A stock trains, which replaced steam on the Met LIne in 1961. When I first worked in London in 1987, London Transport had just reintroduced 1938 tube trains to cope with surging demand. They’re still in use on Network Rail on the Isle of Wight.

Highly recommended.

Here’s my video of our visit in October 2011.

The Richmond Green Jaguar

The Richmond Green Jaguar

This Jaguar – the car not the cat – is a permanent feature of Richmond Green. It’s always in the same place. I always look out for it when I’m on the final leg of my journey to work. It’s such a fixture that I wasn’t surprised to see it immortalised in a painting of Richmond Green in a local gallery.

But then it went missing for a week or so. I was discombobulated. Had it gone for good? Had the owner sold it? Had it had an accident? No – it’s back.

This trivial episode made me realised the impact of the familiar in our lives – and how we’re unsettled when familiar sights and names disappear. I wrote nostalgically earlier this week about Cardiff’s Empire Pool and Guildford Crescent baths – both lost. And last April, I explained how I’d recreated with Karen and Owen a 1960s childhood photo of me with Mum on Richmond’s riverside. That kind of continuity is precious.

We even feel the same way about (certain) businesses: people all over Britain were saddened when Woolworths closed its doors in late 2008, even if they’d not spent a penny there for years. The memory of buying Beatles, T-Rex, Dire Straits and Bucks Fizz (delete as applicable) singles there was enough to trigger nostalgia.

Back to RAF Museum, London

Owen and the immortal Spitfire and Hurricane, November 2011

We went back to the RAF Museum, London in Hendon, London, today. It was Owen’s choice – he loved our two visits last winter and couldn’t wait to return.

As I blogged last November about the RAF Museum, Owen enjoyed the hands-on gallery that explains how aircraft fly. This time, we watched the moving and impressive film about Our Finest Hour – the RAF’s role saving Britain in 1940. flight works.

 

After three visits, we’ve still not seen the whole of the museum. We’ll be back!

Finally, here’s the video I made of our first visit in November 2011.

Thank you, London 2012

An amazing summer: London 2012

The closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games is under way. In a short while, London 2012 will be over. Six amazing weeks, and countless breathtaking memories.

I’ve blogged before that I’ve turned from a sceptic about the cost and benefit of hosting the games to a belief that they’ve been a landmark for Britain. And I posted last week about our inspirational day at the Olympic Stadium watching the Paralympics.

Track magic

Thank you to everyone involved in making London 2012 such an amazing experience and such a huge success, from the athletes to the Games Makers, from the organisers to the countless workers who made it happen. (And the broadcasters who brought these wonders into our homes.) We’ll never forget these six weeks – our sensational summer.

Our brilliant Paralympics day at Olympic Stadium

Arriving at Olympic Stadium

We had an unforgettable day at the London 2012 Paralympic Games today. We were lucky enough to get seats in the packed Olympic Stadium in Stratford, experiencing three new world records.

We had a great journey to east London from Buckinghamshire (birthplace of the Paralympics in 1948). We caught one of the new Met line trains from Amersham to St Pancras before catching a Javelin high speed train for the six minute trip to Stratford. (What a brilliant idea to give free London travelcards with London 2012 tickets – it made the Paralympic tickets the biggest bargain of the decade!)

It was lovely to see our niece Siân at work as a Games Maker at Stratford Gate as we went through. Volunteers like her, and everyone involved in organising and running the games, have done the country proud with their incredible efforts.

Running shared

Inspiring a generation

It was so good to see the Olympic Stadium packed for the Paralympics. Great Britain was the birthplace of the Paralympics just after the second world war, as a new start for soldiers who had suffered spinal injuries during the war. (Karen took part in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville.) We were keen to support the games and to celebrate amazing athletic achievement.

Anyone watching the Paralympics would have been inspired even more than by the achievements of Olympic athletes. I couldn’t help thinking of that old expression to describe the disabled: differently abled. That epithet was mocked by some as politically correct, but you can see this week why people wanted to redefine disabled people by what they could do rather than what they couldn’t. (As I write this, David Weir has just claimed another gold medal on the track, proving my point.)

We have lift off…

We saw so many families with children at the Paralympics, as we had at the Olympics football opener in Cardiff. London 2012’s aim of inspiring a generation seems to be doing just that. I heard children on a Cornish beach talking in awe about the speeds recorded by amputee cyclists at the Paralympics. And it may be a coincidence but Owen has become a swimmer during the London 2012 summer! Above all, we wanted Owen to understand that personal endeavour and determination can overcome life’s setbacks to achieve amazing dreams.

Bladerunner bruised: Pistorius’s protest

The sour note of the Paralympics came on Sunday night when South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius protested about his defeat in the T44 200 metre final. Some commentators said this showed that the Paralympics had arrived as elite sport. Perhaps, but it would be sad for the Paralympics to witness the kind of lack of sportsmanship that now plagues football. Happily the Olympics and Paralympics have been graced by tremendous sportsmanship.

The Paralympics summer

Stratford: the ugly lovely town

The Olympics have transformed Stratford. The stadium, velodrome and aquatic centre are stunning additions to the east end of London. As we discovered, Stratford has brilliant transport links across London and beyond. But it’s a shame that many of the other developments do little to lift the spirits. Leaving the Olympic Park towards the Westfield centre, every building ahead of us was an ugly box. This is a big opportunity missed. We just hope that London 2012 provides a longer benefit here.

One amazing day

Homeward bound

We’ll remember our day at the Paralympics for the rest of our lives. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. Especially those amazing, inspiring athletes.