Thames & Tube

20 September 2009

I’ve had such a busy week I haven’t had the time to report on one on this week’s best map-related story. “Mild furore” was the way the rumours started to spread in the twittersphere and blogospehere early Monday and by Tuesday had spread to mainstream news and resulted in a U-turn by Wednesday.

What am I talking about? The decision to remove the River Thames (and the ‘zones’) from the London Underground map.

Npw you see it:
tuberiver

Now you don’t:
londonnoriver

Let’s start by talking about rivers: rivers aren’t just a place where water slows, they’re a geogrphical feature of the landscape. In a city where you have a river – especcially where it’s a large river – it’s an essemtial means of orientating yourself: am I north, south, east, west, close to the river, far away, where is it in relation to me… In London there’s the added “norf/sarf” dimension – people who have strong views on which side of the river is best to live (before you ask i’m a north of the river person). The river not only flows through the city but flows through it’s history. It’s shaped the city physically more than any other feature.

So the decision to remove it from the tube map shows an ignorance of how people interract with space. What’s the purpose of the tube map? You look at it to work out where you’re going to, and where you’re coming from. How do you orientate yourself with a) no index, b) no zones and c) no river unless you already know exactly on the map where your station is? And if you do why look at it?

Of course TfL had a point the the map had become cluttered and they were reverting to the purpose of Harry Beck’s original. And there are other arguments for the sudden evaporation of the Thames: the underground map is schematic (it doesn’t represent geographical reality), and when you’re underground it really doesn’t metter where the river actually is.

Harry Beck redesigned the map from the spaghetti scrawl that existed before into something that mis-represented geography but – more importantly – into something which easilly showed lines and connections so people could see where they’re going to, and from, easilly. But it’s removal shows a misconception of the Underground map as art, rather than a functional information-giving tool.

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Further reading: Mark Easton’s fantastic blog this week looks at rivers on underground maps around the world. Ianvisits found historical film footage which provided an interesting theory on why the Thames may have been drained.


Bull! Lies!

13 May 2009

The last week hasn’t been a good one for British politicians. The expense scandal, whether claiming for bath plugs and feather dusters, second homes, moat clearing, swimming pools or porn, the Daily Telegraph has been ‘exposing’ the lies and bullsh*t of politicians claiming expenses within, or beyond, creating plenty of public anger.

Not a good week for politicians, especially when the European and local elections are coming up in June. Norman Tebbit even advised the public to protest by not voting for the big parties in the European elections.

Which is why I was interested to see the juxtaposition of a poster saying “make sure nothing stops you voting” with two posters for a mobile phone company in Camden Town station pronouncing simply BULL and LIES.

DSC00397

Of course, one of the biggest risks of the expenses story is disillusionment with politicians in general, politicians of all parties, and voter apathy caused by lies and bull. But voting is an essential way of exercising you democratic right – so maybe we shouldn’t let lies, bull, or anything else, stop us doing so on Thursday 4 June.


Gotta love the Underground

29 January 2009

London Underground are, apparently, looking for love – stories of love. “Has someone on the Tube ever caught your eye? Did you take a chance on love and ask them out for a date? Did Cupid’s arrow strike and stick?”

Whether it’s a pre-valentines publicity stunt or a pre-redundancy love-in who knows, but some of the stories of Dave Hill’s blog have been particularly sweet, particularly the Guide Dog love story… (see comments section here – i have taken the liberty of copying the story below).

My favourite moment happened many years ago and would have been either the District Line or Hammersmith and City line as I got on at Aldgate East. There was a young blind woman seated with her guide dog in one of the seats that face each other. To the whole carriage’s delight a few stops further on a young blind man got on with his guide dog. We all watched with bated breath as the man’s guide dog made straight for the other guide dog, forgetting its professional deameanour in much waggy joy and forcing the blind man to sit opposite the woman who said ‘oh, is it another guide dog?’ and they started a conversation. There was a collective romantic sigh before the usual hustle and bustle started up again. But I like to think that a true romance or friendship blossomed from that meeting.

This slightly sickeningly-sweet story – much more so that Alan Hollighurst’s alternative ‘love’ on the Underground in The Swimming Pool Library(which I won’t go into detail on this blog but is far more lust than love, as you may be able to work out from the rather racey wikipedia entry linked above).

I’ve never had any such experiences myself, sadly. I guess the five- or ten-minute commute from central London to Camden town is not far enough to make lasting eye-contact and relationships on a crowded carriage, particularly when snugly nuzzled against the armpit of a businessman holding the grabrail above my head, as it often the case. But on a cramped underground railway carrying about three million people a day you can’t always help getting cosy with the person next to you – i guess the lesson is, if you possibly can, choose carefully who that may be…


Tales from the Tube

14 January 2009

Following my commitment to blog more I thought I’d make a decent start by linking to two other stories which I discovered about the tube.

I take the tube every working day of the week – sometimes more than twice and sometimes at weekends. Of course, living in Camden, I can avoid taking the tube at weekends more than most, instead option to travel above ground to most parts of London by bus, or train… The subterranean world always struck me as an odd place – tunnels where people are ferried from one place to another, particularly so in London where trains squeeze into tiny tunnels built, in some cases, over a century ago. It’s also a great leveller of society – morning rush hour with the businessman stood squashed in next to the cleaner, the drunk, the junkie, and the guy heading home from a hard nights clubbing who cannot stay awake and drunkenly knocks in to everyone around him.

Over the last 24 hours I’ve come across two different blog posts on the tube showing two completely seperate aspects but both looking at the human angle of the tunnels and trains.

The first, by Ben, about a woman on the Jubilee line and the ubiquitous Metro newspapers:

Well, I say read. It was more like her eyes just trickled randomly over its letters, failing to arrange them into anything more appealing before settling with a resigned frown upon Peter Mandelson’s nose. I took a few steps down the carriage and retrieved a thicker fold of newspaper, lifting back the cover to reveal the Metro and held it out to her. Her eyes lit up.

The second, linked to by my friend Caspar (via Google Reader and Friendfeed) about the night time on the Tube. People who complain about the tube not running 24-hours don’t seem to realise that it’s isn’t just shut down and the lights turned off between 12.30 and 5am… a whole army of people are at work (in particular ‘Fluffers’!)…

Both articles are well worth a read, and Time’s pictures are amazing… well worth a look and thought next time you’re down there…


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