Posts Tagged travel

Bus/bike accident at Islington Green

Popping to the local shops at lunchtime, I was surprised to see a stream of buses that normally run along Essex Road – 341, 56, 476 and even the bendies 38 and 73 – heading down Canonbury Road.

Apparently there has been an accident on Essex Road near Islington Green, involving a bike and one of the dreaded bendy buses.

I will post more information when I have it.

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Speak up about Underground problems

My colleague Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the GLA Transport Committee, wants to know your views on how overcrowding and line closures affect your tube journeys.

As the Committee’s brief asks, What impact do overcrowding and line closures have on passenger journeys, and on other modes of transport? How satisfactory are the alternative travel arrangements on offer when lines or stations are closed on weekends so upgrade works can take place?

It’s a live issue. Next weekend, for example, half the tube lines have some scheduled closures, and that’s without any unscheduled problems.

To share your views email tubeuser@london.gov.uk.

There’s even an online survey.

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Jobseekers missing out

This message has arrived from my Lib Dem colleague Mike Tuffrey, who leads the Lib Dem trio at the GLA:

I have been fighting for two years to get people on jobseekers’ allowance half-price bus and tram travel. So I was delighted when the Mayor of London finally took up my plan.
But I’ve discovered that take-up of the discount since it started in April has been disappointingly low. Just 215 people have applied for this entitlement in Islington. That means more than 1,300 people are losing out.
Lib Dems want the Mayor to do far more to publicise this new scheme. I encourage everyone on the allowance for more than 13 weeks to claim. Go to tfl.gov.uk/discountcard or call the helpline on 0845 330 9876.

This is a great idea. London may be one of the best-connected cities in the world, but that’s no good if you can’t afford to get to your job interview or training course in the first place. So if you are entitled, claim your discount card now!

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Vicki Harris: so sadly missed

Two days before Christmas I heard the dreadful news that my friend Vicki Harris had died.

There are tributes from bloggers Caron and Stephen online. It was so unexpected and so distressing that I didn’t write about it at the time. In fact at first it seemed unreal.

Vicki was just 41 when she died, of skin cancer. I knew her through being a fellow Lib Dem candidate; we met on training courses in the run-up to 2005, and hit it off right away. We were buddies, phoning and emailing each other to seek comfort or advice when the campaign got stressful, and even joked that we’d share our Westminster office. Vicki fought Aberdeen South in the 2005 election and like me in Islington South, slashed Labour’s majority and narrowly missed out on getting elected.

Vicki’s great warmth and humour, combined with calm good sense and a totally rational approach to crises, made her a wonderful ‘buddy’. When too close to problems myself, I could always turn to Vicki for good advice – on everything from dealing with difficult people to clothes for big events. I was working in Potters Bar for part of the time, and although Vicki never went there, I will always associate the local sandwich bar with her, as it was the backdrop to many of our lunchtime phone chats. Vicki was particularly supportive in 2006 when I was unemployed, and we helped each other through re-selection in our seats.

Although we usually met at party events, we enjoyed trips round the latest exhibitions when Vicki was visiting her mum in Ealing. We compared proud notes on our younger brothers – Vicki’s brother Ian is a successful actor – and our wonderful partners. Mark, Vicki’s partner, was a true rock, even serving as her election agent. Touchingly, they got married at her bedside.

For personal reasons, she stood down as PPC – with typical calm once the difficult decision was taken; and threw herself into other activities, including volunteering with the Red Cross, as well as mentoring other women candidates. In the last year she was enjoying a new phase of life, which shows how much more she had to give. I shall miss Vicki so much – although we had not seen each other for a while, it was so good to know she was there.

Last Monday I went up to Aberdeen for Vicki’s funeral – a long day, flying up and back from Luton, but so very glad I went. Aberdeen looked beautiful with sun, snow and glinting granite. Katy Gordon and I went along together, and found Aberdeen’s West Crematorium chapel packed out, with a mix of Scottish MPs and MSPs, musicians, hill walkers, as well as large numbers of family and friends.

It was a humanist funeral, very simple and dignified, with moving and humourous tributes to Vicki from Ian and Mark. There were no songs, but they played parts of Mozart’s Oboe quartet (Vicki was an accomplished oboeist) and the Pastoral symphony (reflecting her love of the outdoors), during which those of us with a faith were invited to pray.

Often at funerals you learn things about the person you are mourning that you never knew: Ian highlighted Vicki’s love of snow. It suddenly make the unusual snow we’d had in London that morning seem very appropriate.

Afterwards at the wake there was a big display of photos of Vicki and a book of remembrance. We met so many very different people who all loved Vicki.

This weekend Katy and I are off to yet another candidates’ training event. Vicki, we miss you.

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Sweet Monday

I usually work from home, but every couple of weeks or so, I set off for Bucks and a day at my firm‘s office in Chesham. The journey is a multi-modal treat: bus, train and tube. The last part is on the shuttle train between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham, descending through woods and fields of sheep, with views over the Chess Valley. All the more surprising that this is on a tube line.

There are two Baker Street trains that catch the same Chesham connection – so why was I running for the earlier one? Well there may not be a station buffet at Chalfont, but there is an extremely nice cafe just outside. I popped in for a cup of tea and a home-made raspberry muffin, fresh from the oven, and memorably good. Tea and muffin together £2.50; vaut le detour. (Nearly as good as Mum’s home-made scones that I had on my way home). Not bad for a Monday morning.

Negotiating the last bit of the trip with tea, muffin and laptop bag, was the opposite of hands-free, so I’d got my Oyster card in my pocket with cashcard and work swipecard in the same wallet. As I reached the office, for one ghastly moment I thought I’d lost them: unable to get in the office, unable to get back home, and unable to get any money. Yes having your vital data in one place is handy, but also risky. Fans of ID cards please note.

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Italian spring

On Sunday night we came back from a short break in Pisa, recharging our batteries before the final surge of campaigning for the London elections on 1st May.

It wasn’t exactly getting away from elections because Italians go to the polls on 13 April. Sipping a coffee in a cafe, we were handed election leaflets. Our hotel was the temporary base of a ‘Pisa First’ candidate. Strolling the streets we passed other campaign HQs, while official posters showed the parties that had made it to the final round; it’s a 16-horse race.

The Piazza del Duomo with the leaning tower, the Cathedral and the round Baptistery does take your breath away despite being such a familiar image. Even the crowds of street vendors and tourist stalls can’t spoil it, they just give a suitably medieval buzz. Every other tourist wants their photo taken ‘propping up’ the tower, so they are leaning, stretching and lunging away, making the grass in front of the Tower look like the warm-up venue for a bizarre sporting event.

The last time I visited Pisa, a decade ago, the Tower was supported by steel cables and had weights hanging on one side. Now it’s been stabilised, free of ugly cabling, and open to visitors again. The Tower started to lean even before it was completed, so the builders partly corrected the lean as they went, meaning the Tower is slightly banana-shaped. While you really feel the lean on the way up, the Tower is close to level when you reach the top.

As well as climbing the Tower we enjoyed some more obscure sites, including a visit to Pisa Calcio’s Serie B football ground, the Arena Garibaldi. Pisa’s ground is very close to the city centre, just outside the old walls, and surrounded by flats and villas. The residential streets around the grounds have 12 foot spiked gates at either end, ready to close for crowd control. It’s striking that we manage a Premiership stadium in Highbury without any such gates needed. The international language of football meant Richard ended up discussing the previous night’s Arsenal match with a Yorkshire Gooner met on top of the Leaning Tower, before in-depth analysis of Pisa & Fiorentina’s form with our hotel barman.

We also had a day out in Lucca, the birthplace of Pucchini, also the home (cheers Richard) of Sportiva Lucchese, and just 15 minutes from Pisa by train. Lucca is surrounded by 4km of walls which have been laid out as a park in the sky, with trees, benches, cafes and view points; we did a gentle circuit before lunch, along with dog walkers, cyclists, roller bladers all enjoying the spring sunshine and views over the town. We ate in the Piazza Napoleon. When Napoleon conquered Italy, he gave Lucca to his sister Elisa. She had a villa outside the walls, and according to one story, ended up being winched over them to safety when the plain flooded. Maybe the shared experience of floods is why Lucca’s British twin town is Abingdon.

Back in Pisa, we enjoyed some great meals out, especially at the Osteria dei Cavalieri and our favourite Osteria dei Santi, washed down with glasses of Montepulciano and Moretti. If we ate Italian all year round, we’d never have made it up the Tower….

The trip was supposed to be a stress-buster, so we were a bit alarmed when the cashpoint rejected Richard’s card on our first day there. He eventually got through to Lloyds TSB on the phone; just a fraud check, because of unusual activity. Unusual activity equals being in Italy? Yes, but don’t worry sir, now you’ve called, your card is cleared. Which is fine... except it’s not really fine to have to phone your bank from abroad when on holiday. And given how often Richard travels for work it wasn’t unusual activity either. Especially when I travel much less, and my card worked fine throughout.

The only other downside of the trip was the journey home. Just hours after we’d been sunning ourselves on our hotel’s roof terrace, our (carbon-offset) flight home was delayed six hours by snow at Gatwick. Yet another argument for holidaying by train in future!

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North London line – good news at last?

It’s good news that the new ‘London Overground’ promises that North London line services through Canonbury, Highbury & Islington and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury will finally accept Oystercards. This should end the nonsense where passengers who had prepaid to travel and passed through the ticket barrier still got hammered with penalty fares.

Now we need the rail companies and TfL to work together to ensure that the promises on staffing, safety and new trains are delivered as promptly as the new logos. The history books tell us that third class travel was abolished years ago, but North London line users have suffering third class services for far too long.

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