Tuesday 22 May 2018

Going Underground...

A couple of years ago we were introduced to the "Hidden London" tours - organised by the London Transport Museum, these take small groups of people to the parts of the London Underground system that your regular commuter doesn't get to see. The first one we did was to the old Down Street station -  this station sat between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park on the Piccadilly line but due to the proximity of the other two stations it simply didn't get the footfall and so was closed in 1932. That was far from the end of its life though as it was later to see service during world War 2 as the Headquarters of the Railway Executive committee and even provided refuge for Winston Churchill!

In February we did our second Hidden London tour - this time the disused tunnels at Euston. Our little group met in the old Leslie Green designed station on Melton Street - no longer in use apart from providing ventilation to the active tunnels below:

From there we had a short walk across to the Mainline station and down the "shortcut steps" known to most Londoners to the tube station where we were ushered through the barrier (no Oyster cards required!) and on to one of the Northern Line platforms where a door at the end lead to the tunnels we were after. 

Unused by the public for over 50 years, these tunnels were closed when construction for the Victoria Line started - since then they have been used to run additional ventilation pipes, and for storage and access for those working on the station, and as a result the tunnels are astonishingly well preserved exactly as they were when the last commuters passed through. 

As well as the history of the tunnels themselves we learned about the way the tube stations were constructed in those days - basically they were  built in "kit form" from a standard pack of parts - which leads to oddities like this ticket window - designed to allow commuters to purchase tickets to change lines without having to return to the main booking hall...

...as it is a single window the "in" and "out" make little sense and it can only been assumed that they were in the parts supplied and therefore got used regardless!

Some more posters...who is Spartacus?! ;-)

Originally there were lifts running from these platforms to surface level at the Mainline Station - here is the view up one of the shafts...

These tours are absolutely fascinating - not cheap, we paid £85 each for the Down Street tour and £45 each for this one I believe - but good value for money, nonetheless, and the money supports the London Transport Museum helping to ensure that these sorts of tours continue to be available. since starting to write this post (yes, writing,m and actually getting around to posting can be spread over a l-o-n-g time period!) we've actually done yet another - so I'll try to tell you about that one before all that long too! There is a feeling of visiting somewhere that has been frozen in time when you explore somewhere like this - and some of the small details are absolutely fascinating - for example did you know that all the rings that line the tube tunnels are date stamped with at least their year of manufacture, and sometimes with the day and month also (If you happen to be exiting a Jubilee Line Extension station any time soon take a look at some of the rings that are visible from the escalators for examples of that.

I'll leave you with a picture that pretty much sums up the Euston tour, for me - this is the tunnels as they were abandoned when this section of the station was closed off. The colours on the tiling still so vibrant, and those amazingly preserved posters - there is almost a feeling that it could have a bit of a clean up and swing back into action!


Wednesday 16 May 2018

Being brave...

I've always had a fear of setting goals for myself, and no more so than in any environment that could vaguely come under the heading of "sporty" - at school being shorter than average, bookish and with no great turn of speed I got accustomed to being among the last to be chosen for almost anything that involved teams. Indeed the only two sports I excelled at in school were hockey (surprisingly) and long-jump (even more surprisingly) - I represented the school at a minor level in both of those. The mention of netball or rounders sent shivers down my spine though, and cross country running was always one to be dreaded as not only did I tend to get left behind but I got out of breath too - there were no programmes to build up slowly back then - it was keep up or don't - and I didn't.  No great surprise that I stopped doing any kind of organised sport with a huge sigh of relief as soon as I left school and aside from brief periods of going to the gym, it's only in the past couple of years that I've felt any real inclination to have another go at being a "sporty person".

Accustomed as I was - in my head at least - to failing at anything "active" it came as no surprise when I first attempted the Couch to 5k programme and couldn't do it. It just felt as though it underlined my long-standing aversion to setting proper, solid goals - I wouldn't achieve so there was no point in trying, I'd just make a fool of myself. This time round though something was different - and the nagging voice in my head kept on at me to have another go. Each time when I started I took a deep breath and thought that maybe, just maybe if I could get through the programme I could do a parkrun "or something" - and then each time I failed I kicked myself AGAIN for being gullible - for being brave enough to stick my neck out. Of course I now know why I was struggling so much in the first place! In February I did my first 5k "race" and last week I did another - knocking a massive amount off my previous 29:36 time on the same course, coming in this time at 27:47! (Yes, remember those sub-30 people I "wasn't fast enough" to line up with? Now I'm one of them! I've also been doing regular Metafit classes - after years of running a mile at the idea of doing any form of group fitness this was another huge barrier broken down.

I recently photographed a friend's baby's christening - which also took a degree of "being brave" -  I'd be the first to say I'm no event or portrait photographer - it's a long old way outside my comfort zone and I hesitated like mad when my friend asked me. Not because I didn't want to do it, but because I was frightened of messing up, frightened of letting him down and frightened to take the risk. As I said to him while I was hesitating "I'm trying to work out if I'm brave enough" - back came the reply with absolute confidence "of course you are!" - and yes, I was, mostly because of the pure sense of belief HE had in me. I probably only have two friends who I would even contemplate taking on something so important for - and I've now shot the wedding for one of them and this christening for the other - and in both cases it was their absolute faith in me that gave me enough confidence to take a deep breath and say "OK then!" Two people, both of who's judgement I trust - if they reckon I can do something, they must be right, yes? Another huge first at the christening was that I said to MrEH (Who was using the second camera to pick up on extra shots I might not see or be able to get) that I didn't mind if he got me in any photos - now bearing in mind my aversion for having my photo taken this was also a massive thing. In the past with anything like this he's had to be careful to shoot around me and I've been constantly conscious of the other camera. This was definitely "being brave..."

Yesterday I posted this on Instagram...

...for a long while I've been admiring other people's Transformation posts - being super inspired by how well they've done and what they've achieved, but it was only as a result of a comment from someone else that I finally felt brave enough to post my own - and only then as a result of the prompting from the photo on the right - taken by one of the official photographers at the 5k last week. Taking the step of posting the two pictures also made me brave enough to go into a little more detail about my state back in 2015, when the left hand photo was taken. Having been hit out of nowhere with crippling anxiety and struggling significantly with depression as well - and no real idea how to handle either - the holiday that this photo was taken on, along with our trip the Hebrides a few weeks before between them I am certain saved me from sliding fully into a deep black hole. Spending time both alone and with MrEH in the Hebrides, and with him and other friends on this trip to Lundy forced me out of the repetitive cycle I'd found myself in and on return home I managed to pin down both the cause and a way of working through things, and claw my way out. I'm not "cured" - it's not that easy, but I have coping strategies, and the knowledge to see when things are becoming problematic and deal with them early on. The most valuable thing I read when I got the diagnosis was "You're not going mad - even if you think you are" - I cried with relief at that one. Add to that having been able to take up regular exercise which has itself been superb for my mental health, it's also had effects physically as well of course - I'm finally back to a size that is entirely more natural for me and, as I said in the text above, that means getting back to feeling more comfortable with myself all round.  Previously "wanting to lose weight" was back there with the "setting goals" thing - set an over-ambitious goal > fail to meet it > give up > not bother trying again as "I'd only fail". This time round there were no goals beyond "do a bit more than I did yesterday/last week/last month" and that worked for me. I'm a long way from being "confident" still - but I'm on my way there, hopefully.

There's more bravery to come I'm sure - but now I really AM brave enough to face the idea and set goals - yes, proper ones - to achieve the things I want to, and indeed to admit that there are things I want to achieve too. Covering both the "not being sporty" and the "group exercise" thing I'm joining in with a running group for a run after work tomorrow (weather permitting, but the forecast looks good!) and actually looking forward to covering 6.5 - 7k with other people - none of whom I have even met before! MrEH and I are starting to make steps towards our long-term dreams, and I'm starting to think about stepping up my running distance towards doing a 10k later in the year too. It's actually starting to feel like those targets for the year that I set myself are taking off - I'm pushing myself outside my comfort zone and I'm definitely doing it with a smile on my face!


Wednesday 2 May 2018

More walking...

We decided almost on the spur of the moment on Sunday to go and walk a bit more of the Jubilee Greenway in London. We did section 1 a few weeks back - from Buckingham Palace through to Little Venice, near Paddington, and it's been on our list to do for so long that having started we were keen to get some more of it walked. It was a bit of a grey day but the London walks always feel like they're a bit less affected by less than brilliant weather, to be honest, so we weren't going to let it stop us! 

Exiting Warwick Avenue tube station we headed for the Canal - almost the whole of these two sections are walked on the towpath which is great - always nice to get in a London walk a bit away from the traffic, noise and bustle of the capital. In fact this first picture - taken from the Canal Bridge at Warwick Avenue - sums up pretty well what the walk was going to be like.

MrEH spotted the first thing of notable interest - this blue plaque on the wall of a house at Aberdeen Place - always nice to find an unexpected reference to a total hero and this is no exception...

That felt like a really nice way to start the walk actually - we saw it within the first few minutes and for me it felt really good to have two of my hobbies tied together with something like that.  Always good to have a reminder of those who gave their tomorrows, too...

Finally after quite a lot of walking parallel to the canal but not actually alongside it we reached the point where we dropped down onto the towpath - and were immediately confronted with this - look

The boats moored alongside here are all people's homes too, and the owners have adopted the towpath as their gardens. It's a riot of colour along there with beautifully planted pots and wisteria climbing everywhere - so pretty! Also some really clever re-use and recycling - I loved this planting wall...

Yes, that's the ends of pallets cut off, attached to the wall, filled with soil and planted, it looks amazing! The planks from the pallets are in evidence being used for various things as well so clearly nothing has been allowed to go to waste on these boaters watch!

Onwards and under the first of many railway bridges. This is the Marylebone mainline running ovder the top - later in the walk we would also go underneath both the West Coast and Midland and over the East coast Mainlines too.

When I was little my Nan and I used to make regular trips to London Zoo - usually during the winter as we always felt it was better then, the animals were more active and there was more to see. I can remember many times looking across at the canal and feeling quite sorry for the people walking along as they weren't at the zoo and we were - well on Sunday the tables were turned! Yep - these buildings are indeed part of the Zoological Society of London's London Zoo - we walked past the Giraffe house, some creatures that looked like Dingos perhaps, and on our side of the canal the famous huge aviary with masses of birds that we couldn't identify at all!

Not long past the zoo we saw a cow on a roof terrace....as you do! We wondered whether this might have been one of the Cow Parade cows from a few years ago.

Another railway bridge - west coast mainline this time - and some standup paddle-boarders too. we kept seeing this group all the way from when we first joined the canal right through to Camden - sometimes we were in front and sometimes they were - they looked to be having a great time anyway!

Camden Lock and its market are, next to the Zoo, probably the most famous stretch of this walk, and as ever it was heavingly busy! Oddly we'd passed someone we know a bit further back along the path and she'd told us to leave the towpath and cross over the bridge at this stage as the market was so crowded it was impossible to get through - handily that lead us straight past a pub so we decided to pause for a pint - particularly once MrEH spotted the Adnams Oyster Stout that they were serving!

A bit of a detour to get back to the towpath at the other side of the road as just past where you can see in the shot above it's closed while some building work is going on - yes, where those cranes are!  When we did rejoin it though we were amused to see this reminder of the Zoo that we'd passed not so long before!

On to St Pancras Basin - and this clever use of gas holders. The holders themselves are listed apparently so the company that wanted to build the flats had to incorporate them into their plans - clever eh? The nearest one to me has been left open and planted as a garden with a fantastic mirrored arbour all around the bottom - it looks utterly amazing!

Look carefully and you can just see St Pancras Station here! The lines on the right of the shot include the Eurostar tracks and we did in fact see a train heading off to France...or possibly Belgium!

Approaching the Islington tunnel now but just time to stop and look at this brilliant Bookshop on a boat!

And then for the Islington tunnel - an 878m long stretch with no towpath, originally boats would have had to unhitch their towing horse and the boat would be "legged" through the tunnel by a man lying on the boat roof and pushing with his feet against the tunnel roof to propel the boat through - now engines take the strain which I imagine comes as a bit of a relief! Rather like the men leading the horses we had to find our way through the streets here - thankfully it was brilliantly well signed...

...with these rather lovely blue plates set in the pavement at regular intervals. We did however make a planned diversion to another pub - one of the Craft Beer Company outlets.

Back onto the canal and this coffee stall's signage made us laugh! Very witty and it was clearly paying off as he was doing a good trade! 

Almost immediately after that we came to the corner of Victoria Park and that was the end of the sections we'd planned to walk - but we still had to get back to the tube. A brief discussion weighed up the options - to backtrack to Bethnal Green or walk on - although not still on the Greenway - to Mile End. Mile End won so we turned right in through the park leaving the next section of Greenway off to our left....then came across another Greenway marker on the path...hmmmm. Turning back to the Canal - and there was another one - very curious! We continued to Mile End Park, all the way seeing the Greenway markers and getting more and more mystified...*

Just before Mile End we got to do something we have both wanted to do for years - crossing the green bridge over the Mile End Road - we used to live in Bethnal Green and have driven under this so many times, almost always saying "we must walk over that one day!" and now finally, we have!

A really enjoyable walk this one - a bit over 12 miles with our odd detours, but almost all really pleasant walking, away from traffic. In spite of the weather this is probably one of the nicest walks we've done, although I think part of that might be down to me feeling so much more confident about my abilities to walk longer distances now. Can't wait for the next section now!


* The mystery of the extra Greenway plates was solved when I re-looked at the route map on Tuesday morning - dog-legging off from the point where section 3 ends and 4 starts is section 10 - and that was what we walked approximately half of at the close of our walk!