Category Archives: A window on My World

All About You Podcast

According to Diamond Geezer, blogging is endangered and outdated, because what’s the point of reading something when you could be listening to it instead?

Taking his advice I’ve made a podcast (well, strictly speaking, I just talked about myself, Sheila actually made the recording); All About You: Everyone has a story.

So instead of reading about a London cabbie and any eclectic capital centric subject that’s taken his fancy, how much better to simply sit back, press play and let my words wash all over you in handy audible chunks.

No longer will you need to find your reading glasses or pinch your smartphone screen so that the text appears in a legible size before you can read about The Knowledge. Instead, just press play and absorb my journey as a cabbie without expending any effort whatsoever.

Listen on your morning commute assuming you still have one, use it as your jogging soundtrack, mull it over during your afternoon tea break or use it as an aid to drift off to sleep. You can rewind should you want to further absorb my dulcet tones, or fast forward past any points you’ve already heard spoken by every London cabbie.

Although it may not be so great for you, because you have to invest half an hour of your day to listen to everything I have to say about London. At least with text you can read the first bit and skim down to get the general gist, or decide you don’t want to read any of the rest and go off and do something more productive. You’ll spend far less time reading something I wrote than I spent writing it, whereas with a podcast the time penalty is identical. Normally I spend hours writing text, cropping photos, checking references and adding links, but absolutely none of that is necessary to create an audio file. Instead, I simply talk for half an hour and Sheila edited and embed the file, which was brilliant.

I hope you enjoy listening to the podcast as much as I’ve enjoyed making it. What I particularly liked was that the podcast only took half an hour to make, well it would have if my laptop hadn’t sounded like a train, necessitating a second recording using my iPhone.

And if that’s not enough of me, the inner workings of my brain (but not my brain’s size) are discussed in detail on the Every Little Thing Podcast.

 

Emphysema tunnel

Tomorrow marks the 113th anniversary of the Rotherhithe Tunnel, opened by The Prince of Wales who was destined to become King George V less than two years later.

This mile-long single-bore tunnel had taken four years to build, at a cost of £2 million, and was, at the time, the largest subaqueous tunnel in existence.

There weren’t many cars around in the 1900s so the Rotherhithe Tunnel was primarily for the benefit of pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles, it cuts across the river at an angle, allowing gradients to be shallower and easier to climb for the animals, and it was also constructed with several sharp zigzagging bends, ensuring that horses wouldn’t be able to see daylight at the other end and bolt for the exit.

The wonderfully named Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the council’s engineer, designed it, he had been an engineer (with David Hay) for the Blackwall Tunnel, before going to Egypt to work on the Aswan Dam.

We start at the southern end at Culling Circus, appropriately named since you risk life and limb venturing along this mile-long bore.

It doesn’t look like anyone on foot should be allowed down here, but really, it’s still perfectly legal. Only 20 pedestrians a day pass this way, even though it’s the only walking route across the river between Tower Bridge and Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Even after its upgrade a couple of decades ago, it’s relentlessly bleak down here, especially when the traffic’s light. A few 20mph road signs, various ventilation units, and pavements to keep vehicles from straying too close to the circular roof.

In fact, so close does the traffic pass, once just before one Christmas, a transit van and my cab’s mirrors collided at one of the hairpin bends, yes that’s how close you pass.

At bend number two there is an unexpected sight tucked away in a tiled recess – a large iron spiral staircase, this used to be the pedestrian entrance, a shortcut down the airshaft from the banks of the Thames above, but wartime damage closed it off and the steps are now firmly locked top and bottom.

The central straight section is the longest, and here’s a confession, before the upgrade (and average speed cameras) when returning home from nightshift in Bermondsey, I would see how quickly I could travel between these two sharp bends.

Having traversed the tunnel without any leaks cascading down from the millions of gallons of water suspended somewhere above my head, finally the welcoming sight of North London daylight, eventually emerging almost a mile downstream in deepest Limehouse.

A calm before the storm

Ihave a pretty good idea what my father and grandfather were doing almost exactly 83 years ago.


On Thursday 2nd June 1938, the children’s zoo at London Zoo was opened by Robert and Ted Kennedy, two sons of United States ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.

Six-year-old Teddy (Edward) Kennedy (later Senator Edward Kennedy), was given the task of cutting a ribbon to open a new children’s playground and pets corner. Twelve-year-old Bobby (Robert) Kennedy (later Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy) stood beside his brother while younger sister Kathleen, as a girl, clearly couldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors as she stands in the background with her father.

The future 45th President of the United States didn’t accompany his siblings, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), who had celebrated his 21st birthday that Monday and was in all probability still nursing a hangover.

A Pathé Pictorial film shows penguins, ponies, a baby goat and a baby wallaby being petted by the children.

In all probability, my 28-year-old father and his father who were both zookeepers were there in attendance.

This happy scene precluded events that were to take place in Europe. Just a year later my father married, my parents spent their honeymoon in Germany and within the decade my father had been called up.

Featured image: Honeymoon picture

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Voices from the Void

Not driving a cab and in possession of a Freedom Pass (an oxymoron if ever there were these days), I have discovered the Underground network to be a pretty scary subterranean place.

Signs everywhere warn of impending danger lurking around every corner: Stand on the right; Wear a face mask; Carry dogs; Fold pushchairs; and for we Baby Boomers: Please hold on to the handrail, which for me should have ‘for dear life’ appended.

You don’t want to hear this

The warning you don’t want to hear over the announcements is “Inspector Sands…”. Apparently, this is a warning of fire somewhere in the bowels of the system.

Luckily the most ubiquitous announcement is “Mind the Gap”, in fact, a whole souvenir industry has sprung up around this urgent warning of impending danger: tee shirts, mugs and even underwear.

When taking my daughter for her first job interview some years ago, we were sitting on the tube when a drunk sitting opposite awoke to the announcement “Mind the Gap”. Our slumbering passenger then started to doze off again, until that is, we reached another station and upon hearing the Mind the Gap announced a second time declared to the rest of the carriage “F**k Me! That bloke gets around”.

First announcement

The original Mind the Gap announcement which had awoken our slumbering friend was first heard in 1968 when AEG Telefunken supplied the recording of an unknown actor, unfortunately, the fellow had insisted on being paid a royalty every time his voice was heard. Unsurprisingly that recording was scrubbed and re-recorded by someone cheaper.
Sound engineer Peter Lodge then took up the baton and his sound tests proved so popular with the powers that be it was decided that his voice should be the announcement broadcast.

Listen to the 12th Earl of Portland

The Earl of Portland was a title bestowed on the first Earl for mopping the fevered brow of King William III who at that time was struck down with smallpox. The 12th and current Earl could once have been heard on the Piccadilly Line, his Mind the Gap announcement earning him the princely sum of £200. Tim Bentinck is best known as the actor who plays David Archer in Radio 4’s The Archers.

The gap problem like so much these days can be blamed on London’s bankers. When tunnelling commenced early in the last century, engineers were concerned that the excavations would undermine the City’s banks. It was decided, where possible, to tunnel beneath the roads, many of which followed their Medieval routes.

As a consequence despite billions being spent on planning, building, refurbishing and rebuilding our trains just don’t fit the stations. Passengers on the Central line at Bank are regularly reminded of this fundamental flaw in the Tube system, gaping enough to accommodate mobile phones, umbrellas, wallets and purses, and Oyster cards.

The sharpest bend

This fear of being sued by powerful property owners has meant Bank station has one of the sharpest bends on the Tube network. This sharp bend has even become represented on Harry Beck’s iconic Tube map where Bank Station is given its own unique kink. There is even some speculation the bend had to be made even sharper so the tunnel didn’t end up in the Bank of England’s vaults.

So just in case you didn’t hear the announcement or are hearing-impaired, platforms now also have the warning painted on the edge at regular intervals. At Baker Street, the worst for gap incidents on an annual basis (which brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘gap year’), blue warning lights have been installed as an extra precaution. Apart from Tim Bentinck, another sounds a bit like Joanna Lumley, and I wait in vain for a ‘darling’ to be added to the end of the announcement.

Voice from Beyond.

At Embankment Station the doom-laden tones of the ‘Mind the Gap’ message on the Northern line station are those of theatrically-trained Mr Oswald Laurence whose stentorian performance is worthy of Shakespeare. He enunciates perfectly, and adds a dramatic pause between the word ‘Mind’ and ‘the’, just to get our attention. His voice had been heard at many a station on the Northern Line, but it was slowly phased out until Embankment was the last place it was used.

After he died in 2007, his widow Margaret would still enjoy listening to his voice, but one day just before Christmas 2012 she was devastated to find he had been replaced. No longer could she enjoy her late husband’s announcements. But when TfL learned that she was missing her Oswald’s voice they did a wonderful thing – they reinstated him.

Featured image: Passengers have to “Mind the gap” at Bank Central Line station by David Hawgood (CC BY-SA 2.0). The Central Line through Bank station is curved sufficiently that the well-known announcement “Mind the gap” warns of a substantial gap between the end doors of a carriage and the platform. The girl in the photo is jumping onto the platform, the woman behind waits to step out.