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And the first dividends of Transport For London's opening of its data to the public have started flowing in; a chap named Matthew Somerville has created a real-time map of trains on the London Underground, displayed on a Google Map. The source code is available here. Somerville also has a similar map for National Rail trains, though, due to the more limited data published by National Rail, it can only show trains due to arrive at one of several stations. (Let's hope that National Rail see the benefits of opening their data soon.)
From a Guardian piece on Massive Attack's artwork, this interesting fact:
"We can't use any of the Heligoland artwork I've painted for the posters on London Underground. They won't allow anything on the tube that looks like 'street art'. They want us to remove all drips and fuzz from it so it doesn't look like it's been spray-painted, which is fucking ridiculous. It's the most absurd censorship I've ever seen. "
Electronic music project of the day: Tunnels; the work of a London Underground engineer and electronic musician who takes advantage of his job by recording sounds, from lift relays to electromagnetic brakes and rail cutting machines, and assembling them into electronic compositions.
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A Victoria line Tube train waits at Kings Cross St. Pancras station, its doors open. A few people are seated in one carriage, waiting for it to depart.
The door to the other carriage opens, and an elderly man walks in. He is attired neatly, wearing a suit jacket, and has white hair. He is bent over and carries in his hand a wooden crucifix. He walk along the carriage and, facing each person, points the crucifix at them, drawing a cross in the air, before moving on to the next person.
The passengers react in various ways. Most ignore him. One makes devil horns at him with his hand, at which the old man remonstrates. His tone is mild and good-humoured, with an Irish accent and no trace of hostility or aggression, and he chuckles softly to himself as he speaks. One man (an African Muslim, by appearance and dress) appears agitated and uneasy at this aged crusader, and shifts in his seat; once he is gone, he pulls out a set of beads and passes them through his fingers with furious intent, as if to banish a spiritual taint.
The latest thing to do on the London Underground: swapping station names around on maps, confusing tourists:
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The pleasant, inflectionless female voice behind the prerecorded announcements on the London Underground (commonly referred to as "Sonia", as in "gets on ya' nerves") is a voiceover artist and comedy/drama writer named Emma Clarke. Like many freelance professionals contending in today's marketplace, she has a web site to promote her work, which, among other things, includes a selection of spoof Tube announcements, chiding self-important Sudoku enthusiasts, loud American tourists and surreptitious lechers, and reminding Londoners that there are other places in Britain than their "stinking shithole of a city", all in the comfortingly familiar Sonya voice.
Clarke's site also has a number of other diversions, including a Flash game allowing you to assemble a radio ad from prerecorded clichés.
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London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, now claims that global warming may soon make the Tube unusable in summer, with temperatures in the uncoolable, Victorian-era system becoming threatening to life:
Ken said "You reach a point where the underground will become literally intolerable and you could face the prospect of loss of life." Although he's offered hundreds of thousands of pounds as a reward to find workable air conditioning for the underground, it sounds like the heat will eventually defeat the system. He believes we will have to resign ourselves to closures "if the temperature goes up faster than we fear it's going to".
The Silly Tube Maps page has apparently received a nastygram from Transport for London's lawyers, keen to protect their precious intellectual property, and will be shutting down on Monday. If you wanted to grab a map of which stations are within walking distance, or which ones are underground, or with the station names translated into German or rotated about the Thames, do so quickly.
The BBC is running a poll of British design icons. On the current page are 25 candidates; there are the usual design classics (Jan Tschichold's distinctive Penguin paperback covers, red phone boxes, Routemaster buses, the Mini (and the miniskirt!), and Harry Beck's Tube map), and also some more recent entries, including Peter Saville's cover for New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies, Neville Brody's design of The Face magazine, the Dyson vacuum cleaner (what about the Henry?), Lara Croft and Grand Theft Auto. Oh, and the World Wide Web, because the first form of it was developed by an English bloke.
Not to mention a few things I didn't know were British, such as the Chopper bicycle now ironically popular with SugaRAPE-reading hipsters (apparently it's not Californian, just a knockoff of Californian designs) and Microsoft's Verdana typeface (designed by British-born type designer Mathew Carter). In that case, I wonder why they didn't include the iMac or iPod (whose appearance was designed by Englishman Jonathan Ive).
And it's interesting to read that Britain's current system of road signage was (re-)designed in the 1960s. Which probably explains why Australia has entirely different (US-style?) signs.
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An artist named Dorian Lynskey has created a music-themed London Underground map, in which stations are artists and lines are genres.
I started out with a packet of coloured crayons, four sheets of A4 taped together and a big box of doubt, but the different character of each line quickly lent itself to a certain genre. Pop intersects with everything else, so that had to be the Circle Line; classical music for the most part occupies its own sphere, which made it perfect for the Docklands Light Railway. There were a couple of false starts but by the end of one afternoon I had assigned genres to almost all the lines and thrashed out most of the major intersections. The key stations naturally went to the most eclectic artists, not necessarily the most important: the Beatles may be more significant than Beck but even their most devoted fan must admit that they never tried rapping.
I also followed chronology wherever the path of the line allowed it. Each branch line represents a sub-genre: rock sprouts off into grunge and psychedelia when it reaches South-West London; hip-hop diverges, north of Camden, into old school and New York rap. If I was really lucky, the band name echoed the original station name: Highbury & Islington became Sly & the Family Stone.
Other people will quibble with omissions - it's a shame, for example, that the Circle Line constantly runs in tandem with either the District or Metropolitan lines, thus leaving no room for pure pop acts such as Kylie Minogue and the Pet Shop Boys. I should also point out that, to keep my head from exploding, I limited the remit to western, predominately Anglo-American music. Then there are those changes necessitated by London Underground's understandable sensitivity to explosive references: arrividerci, Massive Attack. For some reason, they also took exception to the late rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard.There is a PDF of the map available from the article; and copies can be purchased from the London Transport Museum for £7.95.
London's ill-starred Underground took another battering today with the Northern Line being shut down indefinitely. Apparently drivers walked off the job after emergency brakes failed for the fifth time, and, despite the private operators' implorations to get back to work and pretend that everything's OK, have remained on strike. More details here, and technical details from a Tube driver here.
There will soon be a children's TV series about the London Underground. Underground Ernie, being made for the BBC, will be set on the iconic underground system, and will feature a cast of anthropomorphised tube trains named after lines:
Each of the trains has a different character, with Bakerloo being a detective, Circle a hippy chick, Victoria a caring grandmother, Jubilee a gadget-mad teenager and Hammersmith and City competitive twins.There will also be visiting trains from the US, Russia and Australia. (Maybe the Australian one will be an Akubra-hatted roadtrain named Bruce or something.)
The press are having a field day with this, in light of ongoing commuter misery on the creaking system. Metro suggests some plot lines, involving characters fixing the dodgy brakes on Northern Line trains and rescuing fainting commuters in an episode named "Summer Fun" and a maintenance man using the wrong spanner to fix tracks. Meanwhile, the Times article on the series is quite sarcastic.
More explosions on the Tube, this time using only detonators. Which is either the terrorists showing that they can strike again, the terrorists showing that they can't strike again because they don't have explosives, or bored teenagers thinking it'd be a fun prank. No casualties are reported.
(Apparently the devices exploded at Warren Street, Shepherd's Bush, Oval and on a bus in Bethnal Green. Shepherd's Bush and Bethnal Green are both areas with many South Asian immigrants living in them. Could it be neo-Nazi skinheads or football hooligan types deciding to "avenge" the 7/7 bombings, in typically moronic fashion?)
It will soon be possible to use mobile phones on the Tube, with Ken Livingstone promising full coverage of the system within 3 years, and also mentioning the tantalising prospect of wireless internet access on the Tube. (Though have they figured out how to hand moving connections over between access points yet?) Meanwhile, opposition politicians are concerned over terrorists using phones as detonators, the anti-mast movement is concerned about the microwave saturation making Tube journeys even more carcinogenic, and everyone else is concerned about there being no escape from that bloody Crazy Frog or whatever inanity replaces it.
Some good news for Tube commuters: the air on the London Underground may be equivalent to smoking a cigarette every 20 minutes, but it's still healthier than the air up top. I'm not sure whether that's reassuring or worrying.
On the subject of Tube maps, here's one with the names of films at the stations they were filmed near. Well, that and a few anomalies such as the space-warp which puts Greenwich one stop north of Richmond. (And was Austin Powers actually filmed on Carnaby St., or did they rebuild a façade of the street in a backlot in Hollywood?)
50 interesting fact(oid)s about the Tube:
5. Travelling on the tube for 40 minutes is the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes - so save yourself a packet, all you smokers and get on the tube more often.
24. The peak hour for tube suicides is 11am.
36. The air in the underground is on average 10°C hotter than the air on the surface.
48. A fragrance called "Madeleine" was introduced at St James Park, Euston and Piccadilly station in an effort to make the tube smell better on 23rd March 2001. It was taken out of action on 24th March 2001 as it was making people feel sick.
The South London Underground, another fantasy tube map, this time flipping it about the Thames, so the north is underserviced, while in the south, it goes all the way down into Kent and Sussex. Though why does Dartford International Airport get 7 terminals rather than Heathrow's 4? (via Owen)
A better German map of the London Underground, with the names of the stations translated etymologically, as opposed to merely having been converted into macaronic pseudo-German. Some of the translations are fairly straightforward (i.e., "Inselgärten" and "Kamdenn Stadt", and, indeed, "Evangeliumseiche"), while others look nothing like the originals (how, for example, does one get from "Amersham" to "Egmundshof"; or, indeed, why does "Piccadilly" come across as "Nimm-Dill" in German?). Still, it's reassuring to know that Mile End is "Mellenende", and not "2.4km Ende".
The author, one Horst Prillinger, also has two English translations of the Vienna Underground; one seriously translated and one more flippantly. Interesting to see that Vienna shares one thing with Melbourne and Brisbane: they all have a Brunswick St.
Via Jim, this page of silly Tube maps, including one with the station names removed (see how many you can name), and this one in German (amusingly enough, Mile End is "2.4km Ende" in German). And here are some (mostly) sensible Tube maps; and a link to some brilliant stickers found added to line maps (I think I may have seen some of those when I was last over there).
Bravo! Anti-global-warming campaigners culture-jam Poems on the Underground, the long-running art project on the Tube in London, replacing poems with anti-Esso and anti-Bush screeds:
Sing a song of Esso
A packet full of lies
and oily greasy dollars
to help the climate fry
When the wallet opened
George Bush began to sing
"The planet may be burning
but I don't see a thing"
The London Underground has banned a poster campaign by an animal-rights charity protesting factory farming of chickens. The poster shows a picture of scantily-clad models and a pictore of battery chickens, with the caption "Thousands of big-breasted birds packed together for your pleasure". According to the Tube, the poster is "likely to offend".
A big web page on disused London Underground stations, with lots of historical info and photographs. Something else I'll have to look out for next time I'm in those parts.
An outfit named b3ta interviews the woman who did the voiceovers on the London Underground, asking her all sorts of silly questions. (via Luke)
(Speaking of automated voiceovers at railway stations, does anybody remember the icy English dominatrix voice that used to be on the PA at Flinders St. station in the late 1980s/early 1990s or so? You know, the one with the cut-glass accent and intensely imperious delivery? ("Stand clear please... Stand CLEAR.") I presume it was decommissioned sometime during the Keating era, when anything redolent of colonial ties became deeply unfashionable.)
Whether the London Underground is the greatest public transport system in the world is debatable, but it certainly seems to be one of the most branded. The range of Tube-brand merchandise you can buy is astounding; it ranges from T-shirts and fridge magnets to saucy underwear and tea. The only thing that seems to be missing is Tube toothpaste.
Also, the mythology of the Underground extends beyond its history and famous ghost stations; in the London Transport Museum shop, there were not only books on the history of the Underground (quite a few of those, going all the way up to expensive coffee-table books), and books on the history of each line thereof, but books on the history of the famous Tube map, and of the typefaces used for signage. Not to mention a boxed PC/Mac version of the Tube font itself (Johnston Underground, from US type foundry P22), which appears in the new title graphic of this page).
A page of lore from the London Underground. Some of it will be mostly of anorak interest, though parts (such as train drivers' pranks, dead passengers and such) may be more interesting. And I can't help but wonder wonder whether Meg had anything to do with those "nasty habit?" signs. (via plep)
Vintage London Underground maps. Useful for the historically curious or Mornington Crescent players.
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