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Archive for April, 2012

All the Bunnies

All the Bunnies by Tom Fairfax
All the Bunnies, a photo by Tom Fairfax on Flickr.

Ludicrously cute.

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Wee Ones On the Wii

Go For It!A Tense MomentSuccessHelping Dora Climb the StairsToo Scary

Wee Ones On the Wii, a set on Flickr.

We own about three Wii games, of which, “Dora Saves the Snow Princess” gets played. Stephanie is a bit too young for it still but is keen to be involved.

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An update to this post.

Since writing my original post I have had the joy of just missing a train (thanks, London Underground) with the next one delayed. The train I missed was the 19:15 on a Friday night, hence the busiest time of the week.

Having the chance to look around was good, the new fast food options are interesting, if expensive. I had to fight the impulse to tuck in to sushi, felafel or tacos that I didn’t actually need.  The pub has a good choice of beers and food but has been built with an absolutely lethal step down as you approach the bar. I cannot but think that the likelihood of a handful of drinks going flying most nights is high.

Otherwise, the experience was exactly the same as waiting for a delayed train in a building with a less-gorgeous roof.  One new observation: a welcom addition to the range of services available would be a chiropractor or masseuse. Half an hour of staring hopelessly at the really quite high departure boards doesn’t half take it out on you.

And the final thing on the wish list?  Trains with toilets that do not flush straight onto the tracks.  Before summer, please.

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The new extension to Kings Cross Railway Station has been open for three weeks, after a similar number of years of construction work.  There is still plenty of work to do to the Western Concourse – more shops to be opened, AFAICS –  and also to the rest of the station.  For the station, the existing front canopy is to be removed and much of the surface of the great glass roofs are still under scaffolding and cladding. I’m told that the project will end up costing £550 million, although the provenance of that figure is unclear: it has been reported in the press but what it actually covers is vague and may include  (e.g.) the cost of moving Kings Cross / St Pancras Thameslink Station half a mile .

Commuting through it (sort of) every day, my impressions are as follows:

  1. The new Western Concourse looks magnificent from inside and out;
  2. It is good to have the choice from the new shops and eating places;
  3. It’s good to have a pub at the station after about four years without one. The prospect of stopping there to watch the footie when I am coming back late is very appealing, assuming they shell out for the Sky Sports licence;
  4. It has been built on the expectation of massive increases in passenger volumes and train operations.
  5. It has not been built for the needs of commuters.

This last comment deserves an explanation if I am not to be described purely as being a curmudgeon.

 

First, anyone exiting the tube station via the Euston Road entrance / exit now cannot get to the platforms via the southern station entrance. This is the old main tube entrance that services most of the lines (except the Northern).  To get into the station, travellers are routed to the Western concourse, which is not an issue if you have plenty of time, but if you are struggling then you will find that an unnecessary minute or more has been added to your journey. This is exacerbated if your train is going to leave from the lower-numbered platforms (Zero, One etc.). The Western concourse is a station’s width away from platform Zero, whereas if you could just walk to the platform directly from the southern entrance / exit it is half that (or whatever the geometry of triangles comes out at).

 

Second, the architects have presumably planned to have everyone moving in a single direction, i.e. West to East when entering platforms Zero to Eight and North to South when leaving them. Great when you start having huge passenger volumes, as you occasionally do in the rush hours. This has an added advantage that you only need station assistants on one side of the barrier at each spot. A disadvantage is that where you have a new train arrived (e.g. Platform Seven) and people moving to board another train (e.g. Platform Five), the North to South mob is likely to intersect with the East to West congregation, like “crossing the T” in an old fashioned naval battle.  There is now a bridge across the platforms at mid-platform point with escalators down and RADAR key-operated lifts. If I was in a wheelchair I wouldn’t like to trust these latter to be working, however, as if your lift is not then you have a long trip back to anywhere that you can then access your platform from. Better to always use the ground floor entrances.

 

Third, it is possible to walk underground from the London Underground platforms in the south and exit into the Western Concourse. I tried this once and discovered that the previous up/down staircase sited right next to the platform barriers has now been made down only. This means that you have to walk back south or else on to the next exit, at the northern end of the northern concourse – about 100 metres – followed by doubling back more or less the same distance above ground to get to the platform entrances.

 

Finally, the shops. There are a few “brands” there and I can see the likelihood of me giving people presents bought (at the last minute) from Hotel Du Chocolat increasing. Again this is geared at the occasional traveller. Most commuters have trains every half hour or so,  we aim to arrive near the train departure time. When we get to the station we just look to get on the train and get a seat before the crush gets too bad. The only times that we commuters spend time in stations are:

  1. When we  really want to arrive in sufficient time not to miss a train (usually late at night, having been working late or out on the lash);
  2. When we’ve just missed a train ;
  3. When our train is delayed, usually along with all the others.

 

In the first case, the best thing would be to have the fast food outlets sited as close to the platform entrances as possible. We just need the capacity to grab something and make sure we don’t miss the train. Now, there is a “posh cafe” outlet of “Leon”  near the new barriers but most places are at the Western extremity and, more so, on the upper level. Burger King – which is always quick, if not exactly filling, is now in the “Arrivals only” part of the station, effectively killing 75% of their trade. I bet the franchisee is happy.

 

In the middle case, the new Kings Cross is ideal. It has the obligatory M & S Food store to complement the vile Whistlestop supermarket that is now in the “Arrivals only” part of the station. Both are hideously expensive but with M & S you can buy stuff that is both tasty and overpriced, rather than just the latter.

 

In the third case, we suffer from information underload. We’re aware that our train is delayed but have no idea how long for.  The railways are unable to cope with things not running as they should and are unable to put up “estimated time of departure” times. At Kings Cross,  they will normally post the train as “on time” right up to the second it is due to depart, even if the train before it is still showing as “Delayed” and every platform is empty. This means we have no visibility on expected delays. As a result, we don’t want to head off to shop or eat as we know that  the moment a departing train is announced, everybody will pile onto it and it will leave within nano-seconds. Woe betide any poor soul that has just been standing around for 45 minutes and had popped off to buy a sandwich and drink.

 

Overall, I suspect that the development has been shaped by the large office / residential development that is happening to the north of the stations. A subsidiary of my employers have taken a lease on a new building there, in between Kings X and St Pancras, that will break ground after the Olympics. It would be great for my daily commute if they packed me off there, to be honest. My theoretical lunch hour could then be spent sampling the shopping delights of Kings Cross at leisure, rather than strolling around the duckpond in Regent’s Park. My lunch hour is theoretical as I cannot remember the last time I actually left the building at lunchtime.

 

The new building does all look great, though. They had to fit it in with the existing curved facade of the Great Northern Hotel so a circular design makes sense. It does remind me of the end of “This Island Earth, with a flying saucer half poking out of the sea. I see photographers in the concourse every day. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, although on balance I would prefer £550 million to be spent in other ways, rather than creating a great roof to admire as I wait for a delayed train…

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