London and Why Have I Not Used Buses Before?

At the weekend Con and I took to London for my sixth time and her first (proper) time. It was a mixture of getting away from Glasgow, a short city break prior to our wedding, one of Connie's friend's wedding (to another Brit, yeah) and also to go and fulfil a Christmas present, and go to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: the Making of Harry Potter.

Some context: Connie's favourite film series is the Harry Potter series. And it is also one of my favourites. The latter ones (basically the ones not by Christopher Columbus) are very good and towards the end become true blockbusters. It's kind of crazy that a film series got to it's eighth instalment before it peaked. That really breaks the Sequels are shit rule.

The wedding was lovely, and it was great to dance and party like nothing else - a lot of champagne really helped me to dance my way into a dreadful and almost endless hangover that killed a full day of possible sightseeing and any chance of meeting for drinks later that night. We were staying with Jayna and her place is located in Wandsworth, a place I'd never been before.

Not near a tube stop, we had to rely on buses and trains. Previously, I've avoided buses in London because they were impenetrable. I had no idea how to buy a ticket (the first time I went was before the Oyster system) and I also had no quick way to check where buses go and which one to take. I downloaded Citymapper to my phone and it was a sudden change - the bus is dirt cheap and the app told you which buses to get, where from, and where to get off. So, instead of the dirty dirty tube we got the bus to Westminster for our first bought of tourism, and it was great.

We got a short tour of London, with myself acting as "tour guide", and I pointed out a few places here and there. It wasn't until we looked up how to get from Westminster to Buckingham Palace did I realise that I had a golden chance to ride the New Bus for London, the much touted and expensive replacement for the old routemasters.

We hopped on the back and said hello to the conductor and sat in a kinda cramped seat, but it was a routemaster. It felt like the old ones - I remember them as a boy running around Glasgow city centre. It was fun, and quick, and a bit of a novelty. The bus looks great on the outside and seemed confortable on the inside, though the lower deck was really small (two stair cases and three doors, mental).

Harry Potter was not in London, despite it's name, and is located out by Watford at the Leavesden Studios (where films are still being filmed today). Getting the train to Watford Junction was made more difficult by the temperamental Overground cancelling services (and stopping me from getting to use the service, which was a shame).

The tour was brilliant - I was amazed at the sets that are still standing the costumes - personal highlights were the Ministry of Magic floo network fire places, the Knight Bus, the Magic is Might sculpture (that I was certain was a CGI creation) and the endless nick nacks here and there that made up the world. It felt like a wizarding museum, it was so lovingly craft and created.

We did miss Frank a lot though.

Trains: A Love Affair

The stigma behind liking things that are not liked by the main stream populace has always been something I have flirted with. As an adult I enjoy eclectic music, long hillwalks, my dog and several personal loves that make me feel a bit embarrassed sometimes. Of course, one is maps - and if you have readthis blog in the last few years I have decided to embrace that and came out of the closet. I have since drawn two brand new 2013 A3 sized maps that in due course I will upload on to here and explain them away, but that is for another post...

I have a further interest and one that has a stigma built-in. One that I grew up with an interest in and one that I grew up knowing was a past time regularly mocked.

I like trains.

A recent conversation with Connie made me consider what it was in my genesis that gives me enjoyment from devouring hundreds of articles and thousands of words on trains, stations, railway lines and the history of the railways. I guessed it was Thomas the Tank Engine, a series that ignited my understanding of what a train was and how they worked, but on reflection that probably wasn’t it. One of my closest friends was also a fan, and he too had the toys and the TV series on cassette, but he does not have a insatiable need to read about the railways. So what else could it have been?

My parents did help, I reckon. The turning point for me was probably three fold – the first would have been the very infrequent trips on the trains in my childhood. I have blurry memories of the “blue-trains” on the Strathclyde network that are most likely fabricated. But I certainly do have concrete memories of the orange electric trains, Class 303s, that ran on the Cathcart Circle, as my Gran’s local station was served by them. They are a solid memory. This enhanced my memory of them – I was taken on the bus a lot more by my mother and remember going in town on various days off rather clearly, even remembering when certain buses came into service (such as the 1992 and 1993 Leyland Olympians).

The second was the visits to the Bo’ness and Kinneil railway. There are many days in which my family did things during my youth that I remember, such as trips to the swimming at the Lagoon, or the Time Capsule, or even trips to New Lanark, Culzean Castle, or Kelburn Country Park, but the ones that stick out the most are trips to the steam railway. A ride on the train down the line, able to watch the train movements in the yard from the platform, and even just watch the steam train roll past, these days are some of the most vivid and cherish memories I have. There are multiple videos on my family’s collection of me standing on the platform with rapt attention at the intricate stock movements.

The third is probably what sealed the deal – a magazine subscription to TheWorld of Trains, a weekly, then fortnightly, then monthly series of issues about the UK and world railways. The series had more intricate details than I needed at the time – with break downs of coaching stock, the trains them selves, and the locomotives. I remember a major issue in the early 1990s talking about the Channel Tunnel’s construction, and the introduction of the Class 91 InterCity225 models of trains that had just been introduced, and the upcoming MagLev enhancements to railways around the world that seemed like the future. This was pre-privitisation, so all trains were operated by British Rail.

By Goose (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A particularly nostalgic issue went into meticulous detail regarding the various types and sub-types of Rail Freight to be found on the network, with the issue explaining away the Trainload Freight system, where by nice logos adorned to the side of the locomotives showed you what it was hauling. I really remember in detail these magazines and slightly regret them being thrown out a few years ago as they were probably a well captured timepiece of the railways pre-privatisation. Also, I recently found out that you can buy some of the issues for £10 a pop, which is a lot more than what they were bought for (and as far as I can tell I had about 25 issues…).

Growing up I was regularly reminded that liking this subject was derided with abandon – even a character I vaguely remember on CBBC was called “The Anorak” which I remember being a trainspotter, and who was embarrassed at that, which meant I felt like I should be too. Today, however, not only am I not embarrassed (well, sometimes) there are many places to go online to find information and like-minded people. I lurk privately on Railway Forums and persue endless Wikipedia pages about trains, amassing a rather astonishing breadth of knowledge about the network. I know classes of trains at first glance, routes and maps in detail, and can explain how tickets and routing works (which is the holy grail of understanding our complex system).

And despite this, I still write this whole post with an apologetic tone – which is something odd, don’t you think? Why do I feel the need to be defensive over something like this? I think it is because of my friends and society. There are people who are more into football, movies or gossip than I am into about trains, yet I am still seen as someone strange. Is it because it’s not socially acceptable to be interested in it? As I grow older the more and more I realise that I can do what I want and be who am I. I no longer have to pretend to be cool at school, or shield my loves from loved ones or friends, as they’re pretty much stuck with me anyway, and Connie, who is forever telling me to stop being embarrassed about music, trains or maps has helped me embrace it, which is why the maps have appeared on here. In fact, she has instilled a bit of pride in it.

It was only a few weeks ago when a friend pointed out that they found my maps fascinating and Hayley who even considered exhibiting them, which is a very strange thing; something I was scared of many years of people finding out about is slowly becoming the most interesting thing about me.

And that is a great feeling.

Railway.

This news story caught my eye for several reasons. First of all, anything where the beauty of Scotland is mentioned is always worth my perusal, and when it is something that Scottish beauty has won against the rest of the world then of course I am going to be interested in reading it.


The story concerns the West Highland Line, the railway line that goes from Glasgow to Mallaig. In the summer of 2007 I had to get the train home from Spean Bridge after being away at a Scout Camp. I was coming home to graduate, so it was slightly important. The easy way was to get the train.

First of all I loved the journey. It hugs hills, sweeps lochs and traverses massive valleys, coming out of tunnels and scraping embankments with such gall that it is a feat of Engineering. Simply put it was the greatest journey I had ever been on. And for a second reason: I paid only £2.30 for the trip. As I got on at Spean Bridge the conductor passed me by ignoring me, and I said nothing. He then ignored me the whole way on the train, which by todays prices would have cost me £23.50.
Not bad for the best 3 hour journey of my life.