Wednesday, 10 December 2014

London

Brixton Tube Station

Ritzy on Windrush Suare

Electric Avenue

Brixton Market
Santa run from Windrush Square
Bubbling dissent against austerity measures
St Pancras Station: true Victorian splendour and home to Eurostar

King's Cross regeneration
For the first time all year we caught a flight to London, I had been working during the day and that ruled out the train. The flight tickets from Scotland were cheaper than the train to London but the cost of the train from Stansted to London (36 miles) was almost the same price as the flight and 50% more expensive than our rail tickets to Lincoln (153 miles) at the end of the weekend. It illustrated once again what a nonsense rail franchising has been and how the customer is being routinely fleeced by the operators.

London is never quiet or content, every visit this year has witnessed demonstrations, petitions, heavy policing and edgy incidents. Arriving in Brixton on Friday evening we were harangued by touts selling Kasabian tickets outside the tube station, it was crazy! Did I look like a Kasabian fan with my suitcase and Rab jacket? The streets were thronged with thirty-somethings, nightlife was rife and the hundreds of pubs and restaurants of every ethnicity were sucking in and spilling out crowds.

The next day dawned cold and bright, I decided against the Saturday Park Run in Brockwell park and pottered round Brixton's street markets in Electric Avenue, which had inspired Eddie Grant's eponymous 1982 hit. By lunchtime the streets were full of mock Santa's outside the Ritzy cinema. I assumed it was just another demonstration - "a living wage for elves" but it seemed to be part of an annual Santa run. Protest and fun are yoked together in Brixton. We retreated down Acre Lane passing a bedraggled student demonstration and ate at the excellent Boqueria tapas bar that had been partly hired by a 'ration book' of retired baby boomers for their Christmas lunch. We were lucky to have an inquisitive toddler to entertain us as she sampled the food, lapped the table of baby boomers and entertained the waiters.

I was surprised the next morning to be running amidst a hundred or so primary school children in Brockwell park, there is now a children's Park Run on Sunday. By early afternoon the roads were at a standstill with traffic as we caught a bus to East Dulwich, it took an hour to travel 3 miles and that seems to be typical of most bus trips in London. Transport for London don't seem to be making much progress in improving bus travel, which seems to be used mainly by young mums with children, pensioners and young people surviving on a less than living wage. The journey was worth it as we spent the afternoon in a cosy cafe on Lordship Lane with a carafe of wine and some craft produced cream cheese. Bare wood tables, a clientele that included all ages and races gave an easy atmosphere that was the upside of London displaying the benefits of diversity.

The journey back from London is always made easy by the speedy tube service and King's Cross  has trains that depart with a remarkable high frequency. I was disturbed by the claims reported in the London Evening Standard by Mike Brown, the Managing Director of the Tube. He was demanding that as well as HS2 (£42.6bn) and the Crossrail  project (£16bn), which is due to open in 2018, that there will be need for Crossrail 2 to allow mainline trains to run into the centre of London. This is endorsed by London First, a corporate lobby group encouraged by Boris Johnson, which is seeking a further £12bn to be spent on Crossrail 2 for London transport. It is yet another example of London's obsessive selfish demands that seem to find receptive ears in government departments and ministers. It will ensure that Heathrow to Canary Wharf (23miles) can be made in 40 minutes, about the same time as it takes the new Edinburgh Trams to travel 8 miles from the centre to its airport, even the buses in Edinburgh are quicker than this.

I calmed myself down from this latest example of Londoncentric indulgence by taking a walk round St. Pancras, my favourite railway station, and then to observe the regeneration of the area north of King's Cross by the canal. We caught a fast train from King's Cross to Newark and changed to the slow train from Newark to Lincoln. The contrast was marked and fully illustrated the inequality in transport spending across the UK. The single railcar dawdled across the flat landscapes of Lincolnshire and even that seemed fast compared to rail trips in outwith the London commuter belt.

The sums required to procure and build HS2 plus Crossrail 2 could transform rail services across the rest of Britain, without the expensive tunnelling and land purchases required in London and the south east. This could ensure that travel times are reduced by up to 50-60% as well as providing comfortable modern trains like those in the south east. Transport for London should sort out priority lanes for buses rather than constantly surcharging the rest of the UK for its tunnel vision. The sooner we have a truly federal Britain the better, the north and midlands of England have suffered more than Scotland and Northern Ireland in the government's unalloyed prejudice in favour of the capital.

Newark to Lincoln railcar



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