December 15, 2005

Notes from the Underground # 1066

It was being put about that gorgeous people-person and newt-lover Mayor Livingstone is Xmas-gifting us London tube vermin with an extra carriage on all Jubilee Line trains. Yay! But what’s this…?

From the Transport for London site:

What is happening and why?
From Monday 26 to Friday 30 December 2005, the entire Jubilee line will be closed to customers. An additional carriage is being added to Jubilee line trains,boosting all trains to seven carriages in length to meet increased passenger demand. In addition, four extra new trains are being added to the Jubilee line fleet.

What! So forget about more seats, extra passenger satisfaction etc, its just to get more passengers (i.e. tourists) in. Thanks, Kenny.

(As news sinks in..): But why does this require closing down the Jubilee for four days, thus confining everyone south east of London Bridge to an isolated and static term of home arrest at the very height of the festive season?

And especially why is this, after the Jubilee Line has been running a ‘reduced service’ (i.e. no trains) since last Friday which is promised to continue until Boxing Day, for exactly the same loudly-stated reason? What’s so mind-numbingly difficult about adding an extra carriage to every train?

How to make a Jubilee Line super seven stretch job::

  1. Arrange for one old six-carriage train to stop a short way up the line, with the back of its last carriage pointing towards you
  2. Place your new carriage on to the rails
  3. Shunt your new carriage up against the old one until they lock themselves together
  4. Congratulate yourself on a job done well, and wave the next train up into position.
  5. Continue till done.

Surely nothing so simple would require the total shut down of London’s newest most high-tech tube line at the worst time of the year? (Would it?)

So, assuming (perish the thought) some nefarious deal has not been made with LUL employees whereby they get four days off at Christmas in exchange for keeping schtum about how-much-it-cost/massive-hidden-danger/doomed-after-14-days/whatever., then what else could justify this absurd shut down??

Are they lengthening all the Jubilee Line platforms? In four days? Surely not. A more likely response to such length-orientated problems, in keeping with the merry tradition of passenger mindfuck games already up-and-running, would be simply requiring passengers to escape from platform-deprived carriages by ‘using the front set of doors’ or ‘exiting via the next carriage up’, or any variation on this well-loved theme the driver might think up to brighten his day while simultaneously bringing about maximum despair among his happy customers.

Perhaps these four lost days have been taken from us to train staff on the ins and outs of the new seven carriage challenge, so radically different to the old deprecated six-carriage technology we have sadly grown so used to

“Erm… this is an extra carriage. What this means is you’ll now have to remember you have a seven carriage payload during standard quantification procedures and not the old six as you may from time to time imagine. So…any questions? No, Mrs Patel-Prendergast, we feel sure your memorably robotic voice will reach easily throughout the extra carriage without any need to strain it further, thanks to the advanced public address electronics we have installed as a plugin module for the carriage enhancement system. Oh yes Mr Sandringham-Churchill, you are as ever right - it will very much be necessary for drivers to include the additional carriage in all designated search operations for bombs, terrorists, WMDs, passengers on line, suspect packages, etcetera, and yes,of course, all extra time such stretching of available resources will inevitably incur will be reflected in overtime disbursements, disordered stress compensation payments and so forth, to which you are justifiably and legally entitled, plus a little bit more for luck.”

And so on…tra la la…

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July 14, 2005

Who Stopped?

An hour ago: The 177 bus stopped. A teacher (? white/pony-tail/self-conscious) came out of Addey and Stanhope School, stoppped and bowed his head. The people in the bus queue opposite stopped (talking) and looked at the ground. A van stopped. Some more people coalesced around the teacher and stopped and stared at the ground. I stopped. I stared at the ground. I looked around when no-one else was watching. A blogger at work, checking out his city.

The Pakistani conmen selling long distance telephone cards outside their ripoff supermarket opposite didn’t stop (rather unwisely I thought). Most of the mostly young Caribbean men and old Carribean ladies walking up and down the street didn’t stop. None of the trucks and cars and vans heading through the noonday heat down the A2 towards Dover stopped, or even hooted, or did anything. Whichever way I looked up and down the hectic, culturally-diverse, road, not many people stopped at all. A lot were walking and talking as ever on their mobiles, a lot more as ever staring at their mobiles desperately as they walked along, a few others - mostly Celts and Anglo-Saxons - simply talking to themselves or their cans of Kestrel and Special Brew, also as usual.

For a moment just before, reading the online news, I had imagined something out-of-the-ordinary, truly remarkable might be about to happen - the whole of New Cross frozen and silent, perfectly choreographed for one dramatic freeze-frame moment in the history of the Dover Road: ‘the inner city shares its grief’ - one of those West End or City moments down here at last in SE London. I thought I might encounter urgently creative teams of schoolkids inspired by groundbreaking media teachers undertaking brilliant video and podcasting projects built around these two amazing gut-wrenching minutes in the day and life of inner Deptford. I thought at least that given all the publicity most pople would probably stop walking and talking and possibly driving, more or less on time. But it wasn’t like that at all. The only thing I saw happen couldn’t have been more expected if it had tried. Namely, nothing. Or, even more expectedly, virtually nothing. Nearly nothing. This was probably for the best, seeing how the whole idea had been a little unEnglish in its expectations to start with, trying to make us show feelings, share grief, things we never did and never had done and never wanted to. And from where I was standing just now, a thing we definitely didn’t do this time either, or not in a way that anyone would notice, not around here at least, with just a few exceptions, and praise be for them. That’s not to say no-one else cared. Not to say that they did, either.

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July 10, 2005

Still Down There

On Thursday, I got to New Cross at about 10.15, en route to Vauxhall to get some very urgent dosh. There was one tube train on the East London Line platform with all its doors closed and I asked the one man leaning against the railings waiting what was happening, but he didn’t speak English and shook his head. So I went through the tunnel over to the British Rail platform for trains to London Bridge and Cannon Street, where quite a crowd was waiting for the next train scheduled for 10.20 or so on the indicators. Over there I asked a rather posh and well-spoken thirtysomething man with a Daily Telegraph what was happening,

and he said they had closed down the whole of the underground because of some explosions at Kings Cross and maybe elsewhere. ‘All of it?’ I asked. ‘So it would seem’, he said, just as the London Bridge and Cannon Street train came in, and everyone including me moved to get on. But then I thought that if there were really no tubes at all, hard though this was to believe, what would become of me when I got to Cannon Street, not having the dosh for a cab and all if it should come to the crunch. So with one foot almost on the train I turned away and walked back home and turned on the radio. They were just reporting the Tavistock Square bus.

Through the rest of the day I wondered what had happened to that well-informed man and all those people who had got on the Cannon Street train, Cannon Street not being a location of choice to get stranded on that long bad day.

On Friday morning, I still didn’t have any dosh, so after checking the Guardian and Transport for London to see what was running I set straight off for the station, if the truth were told not really fancying the snaky bus to Vauxhall after what they’d done to the No. 30 the day before. About 10.30 at New Cross, there weren’t many people around, and while I waited for the East London Line they made an announcement saying please to not feed the pigeons on the concourse as this encouraged what after all were really vermin and caused a lot of damage. I thought this was as cool as it was funny. Then the tube came in and I made my way to Vauxhall via the Jubilee Line from Canada Water then the Victoria Line from Green Park. It was all very quiet but otherwise no big deal, and the tube seemed abnormally efficient and regular. After I got my dosh I went back from Vauxhall to Oxford Circus on the Victoria then to the Gate on the Central and then back to New Cross and the radio and television coverage. During that day I thought the best interviews were with the tall Asian guy with a pony tail who had lost his girl friend at Tavistock Square, the middle aged guy who was shaking after coming up from the tunnel at Kings Cross, I think, who said everyone had been praying and trying to break the window glass with their hands, and a beautiful Indian girl at Edgware Road I think who used her hands very elegantly and sounded extremely brave. I liked Ken Livingstone’s speech about how London made people Londoners and I thought Tony Blair was rather eloquent and Charles Clarke appropriately downbeat and almost humble and George Bush completely off the ball, and I wondered vaguely what had happened to Gordon Brown. I also talked to my friend Franny who said her sister Janet’s boyfriend had been quite seriously burnt at Edgware Road, I think.

Then on Saturday I was back at New Cross this time on my way to see my best friend Georgia in Newington Green, who had been at the Fleet Street Law Courts at 9 am on Thursday, and had walked back through all the action and had heard the bus explode. She had been rather shocked and disgusted at some of the behaviour she had witnessed, especially some tourists fighting viciously over phone boxes and cab drivers switching off their lights, but had also been impressed with some London workmen off a building site carrying on as if nothing was happening, whistling and laughing like always.

To get to Newington Green, I changed at Canada Water for the Jubilee to London Bridge and then changed to the Northern for the Angel, and then a bus. Even when I was at New Cross I had been thinking about the buried carriage on the Piccadilly Line at Kings Cross, and how this was turning into the terrible image of the week, and how it hadn’t helped when that police chief kept going on about the threat of vermin, and how of all jobs, the job I’d definitely want the least in history would be the rescue worker who first cut into that buried carriage, and how the things he would see would really be the ultimate nightmare, a vision worse than hell. By the time I was crossing to the Northern Line at London Bridge, just a few stops down the tunnel from Kings Cross, I was thinking with some urgency that they had to rescue those trapped bodies as soon as in any way possible, because I could already feel them haunting the underground, gradually making a necessary thing harder the longer they were left down there.

Today back in New Cross, the sun has come out at last after what seems a very long time, long before Live 8 and Wimbledon and the Olympic bid. Welcome as it is, though, its not going to do a lot to help the horror of what’s still down in the Piccadilly Line, which has now completely replaced the Tavistock Square bus as the worst thing of all in all of these bad few days, the thing its really best not to think about, if only that were possible.

They really have to rescue those bodies that are still down there before they start to drive everyone mad.

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February 27, 2005

Dick Scott Stewart Photos at Gallery 286

The first exhibition of photographs by my brother Dick Scott Stewart to be held since he died in November 2002 is on at Jonathan Ross’s Gallery 286 in the Earls Court Road, London from today until March 15th.

I’m going along this morning to the opening, and the Memorial which precedes it. The exhibition is confined exclusively to Dick’s black-and-white work, which I always thought was his best. All exhibits are for sale, with prices starting around £400 a print. I’m pleased to hear that quite a few have sold already, during last week’s preview days. Dick would have been gob-smacked at the prices, which now can only go higher. Its the old Van Gogh syndrome at work again.

The Exhibition has been organised by Dick’s wife Mog Scott Stewart, primarily as a launch for the Dick Scott Stewart Archive, which has become Mog’s Big Project - more news about this on brokenenglish, where many of Dick’s best photos have always been hosted.

In the meantime, I’m rather dreading the whole thing, not having as yet become entirely reconciled to anyone’s death, let alone my only brother’s. Oi vay, I guess it’ll probably turn out okay. We shall see.

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