Category Archives: Photos

Good Friday? I’ll say!

Happy Easter, chums. I hope the weekend finds you well. I am fine. At the time of writing, it’s Good Friday and I’ve just come back from a rather unexpectedly pleasant day out which was, I feel, in the true spirit of psychogeography.

I mean, it was a lovely sunny day outside, and as it was a four-day weekend, I was feeling rather chipper. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d explore the canals around Limehouse a bit more. Alas, when I got to Bank, I discovered that the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t running. Yes, I know, I know, could have seen that when I started the journey, but that’s not how I roll.

So, vaguely at a loss, I decided to just go for a wander. I broke the surface (not literally) and wandered vaguely North-East through Leadenhall Market. This place, pictured right, is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade. During the week it houses a food market, but at weekends is rather peaceful – I have yet to sample the weekday wares, alas. You may know it from the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in which it appeared as the area around Diagon Alley. I got the impression Chris Columbus was going for the Bridget Jones’ Diary school of London film making, in which London is a magical place that hasn’t quite moved out of the Victorian era.

Heading out beyond Liverpool Street, I came upon Petticoat Lane market. I’ve never been here before, and I must admit that I’d never really thought about going there before. I’d heard of it, but had no especial desire to visit. It’s not one of the top tourist destinations, and as such doesn’t cater to tourists. It’s primarily a clothing market, which is great if you are me. However, I do have to say that there’s a lot of duplication between stalls – if you’ve seen one selection of shirts, you’ve seen them all. The market has historically been a place of dubious legality, only becoming official in 1936, but despite this and the lack of tourism, it remains a firm local institution. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it personally, it’s worth a look if, like me, you get stupidly excited about clothes.

Speaking of places where one can get stupidly excited about clothes, Brick Lane is very nearby, and so I made a beeline that way. With it being a bank holiday and thus less crowded than usual, and with the sun out, it was an utterly delightful experience. Sadly, at present, I find myself having to hold the purse strings – I’m moving house shortly, you see. And so it makes perfect sense that the universe should choose this point to taunt me with an incredible stripy blazer in black, red and grey (which I could totally pull off, I’m telling you) and a pair of Chelsea boots in exactly the style I’ve been looking for. Sadly, I could afford neither of these. Not even in the “can but shouldn’t” way. Instead, I consoled myself with a bagel, and now my fingers smell indelibly of chopped herring.

It was at this point that a teenager told me to get a haircut. I have thus out-fabuloused both the teens and the Shoreditch kids, which I believe is what is termed “bi-winning.”

This being done, I decided to finish my journey by walking up City Road to Islington. Wandering around Camden Passage, I came across one of the most amazing canes I have ever seen. It had a silver skull-shaped handle with a jawbone that doubled as a cigar cutter. But sadly it was £150, which I really, really, really cannot afford. Finally, I know the pain of unrequited love.

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Filed under Current events, East End and Docklands, Fashion and trends, Geography, Islington, London, Markets, Photos, Psychogeography, Shopping, Shoreditch, The City, tourism, Weird shops

Seen in Waterloo

The current semi-hiatus continues (although if you can’t stand a week without me, why not come and see the play I’m in?). In the meantime, here is Tron’s cement mixer.

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Filed under Current events, Film and TV, London, Photos, Theatre, Waterloo and Southwark

Difficult Riders

Now, y’all know I like me some old-fashioned machinery, right? Steam trains, early cars, ships, pumping engines, whatever you got. If it’s weird and mechanical, I’m probably into it.

Epsom. Really early. Sunday.

So when the Da asked if I fancied coming along on the Pioneer Motorcycle  Run last Sunday, you may imagine I fairly leapt at the chance. Or at least, said, “Yeah, cool.” The run, I was informed, was from London to Brighton. As it turns out, it in fact starts from Epsom. On Sunday. At 8am.

The run is, basically, a motorbike-based equivalent of the Veteran Car Run that takes place every November (see Yr. Humble Chronicler’s entry on that subject linked above). It’s organised by the Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club, and this year is the 73rd anniversary. Only bikes built before 1915 may participate (although as you might imagine, there were plenty of more recent classics ridden by the spectators).

Morgan tricycles, really pushing it on the bike classification there.

I have to confess to a lamentable lack of knowledge when it comes to motorcycles – even less than I know about cars – so apologies if this account comes across as the ramblings of an ignorant maniac. But I had no idea of how much variety there was in those early bikes. For instance, on the left you may see a Morgan cyclecar. These were essentially a tax dodge – cars that, by virtue of their engine size and weight were classed as bikes by the Ministry of Transport. They were also cheaper to buy and run. The Reliant Robin and the bubble car are direct descendents of the cyclecar, although small, economical vehicles such as the Mini and the Citroen 2CV pretty much put paid to them.

These days, when cars are nigh-universal, it’s often forgotten that widespread car ownership is a relatively recent phenomenon. Motorbikes with sidecars are something of a novelty these days, but well into the 1960s it was common for such a thing to be the family runabout – Dad in the saddle, Mum riding pillion and the kids crammed into the sidecar. It was just that much more affordable than the latest offering from Morris or Rover. Cyclecars were something of a step up, and the AC Sociable on the right (made at Thames Ditton, London fans) played up in its name the virtues of the cyclecar over the motorcycle combination.

An alternative solution, if you want to carry more than one person, is to stick a seat on the front. Actually, these are car enough to participate in the aforementioned Veteran Car Club run, and several do. Am I the only one who keeps imagining a sort of Edwardian version of Death Proof involving one of these?

I include this photo and the next to illustrate two more varieties of tricycle, but they also coincidentally depict another of my favourite veteran vehicle phenomena – dressing the part. After all, if you’ve gone to all the trouble to get your 190-something bike exactly as it was a century ago, why not go the whole hog and make yourself period-authentic too?

 I think my favourite such item was the deerstalker crash helmet, but alas, the chap wearing it was moving too fast to be photographed. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a tweed-covered crash helmet with earflaps and brim to make it look like the sort of thing Sherlock Holmes didn’t wear.

I also rather liked the names of the manufacturers whose products were participating. Obviously you had the likes of Sunbeam, Norton and Harley Davidson. But then you had companies whose names verged on cockiness – Triumph, Matchless, Zenith Gradua, Premier, Favourite. In some cases, they weren’t just fronting. BSA and Royal Enfield, both of whom were represented here, were actually arms manufacturers for whom motorbikes were just a sideline.

If you were a little more humble or at any rate poorer, you might consider the vehicle depicted on the right. Well, not the entire vehicle. The actual entrant is the thing bolted to the back wheel – the Wall Auto-Wheel. Basically just a wheel with a petrol engine, you’d attach this to your existing bike and zoom away, leaving people agape at your badassery. Until you came to a hill and had to pedal, of course. There’s a rather good article on riding one of these little devils here.

Unfortunately, my ruminations were somewhat spoiled by a sudden feeling of nausea that overcame me. I assumed this was a hangover, before remembering I’d not had anything to drink. It was swiftly followed by a headache, dizziness, loss of vision and a slightly wussy collapse. Apparently I was overcome with the fumes, which is crap.

However, I am assured that the rest of the run went as normal – people zooming around surprisingly fast, a few breakdowns, a lot of running repairs and a massive queue at the bacon roll stand. Nothing to do with the bikes, it’s just that on a Sunday morning when it’s freezing cold, sometimes you just need some bacon in you.

To finish, here are some more photos. Born to be wild, &c.

The Mayor or Epsom and Ewell, Clive Smitheram, sends 'em off.

"Are you sure the BSA van ought to only have a single wheel supporting the cargo space, sir?" "No, but I am sure I have thousands of guns in this room here, so get on with it."

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Commuter belt, Current events, History, Only loosely about London, Photos, Transport

Sell out and stay classy

There are a number of stereotypes attached to railway enthusiasts – socially inept, anorak-wearing, middle-aged loners with NHS spectacles and plastic lunchboxes. While undoubtedly this stereotype is vastly exaggerated and largely inaccurate, it is fair to say that there are certain qualities which might fairly be attributed to the average rail nut. The majority of active rail enthusiasts (not all of them, before you leave angry comments) tend to be middle-aged, politically conservative, technically-minded, musically retro, male and white.

Yet there is a subsection of rail enthusiasm to which these stereotypes are not generally attached. I refer to the Tubeheads – enthusiasts of the London Underground. While there are plenty of technically-minded Tube enthusiasts, there are seemingly just as many if not more who are not – perhaps the best-known Tubehead is the esteemed Annie Mole of Going Underground.

I came to reflect on this phenomenon on Saturday, when I visited the Museum Depot at Acton, where the London Transport Museum keeps its reserve collection. Twice a year it’s opened to the public. While I have reported on this before, today I saw some exciting new things that gave me an insight into the Tubehead phenomenon.

You see, I think the reason there isn’t a Tubehead stereotype comparable to the trainspotter one is because there is a lot more to being a tube enthusiast than just the trains. The sign on the right depicts the Roundel, which has become a symbol for the entire city. Similarly, the Underground itself has come to represent London. One of the iconic images of the Blitz is Londoners taking shelter in the stations. It was no accident that the 7/7 bombers chose to hit London’s transport, so dependent is the city on its network. Indeed, Christian Wolmar argues that the Underground was instrumental in the shaping of modern London – it encouraged the development of the suburbs and enabled commuting as we know it today. The Underground is the city.

Hey, look! The names are all different!Actually, Christian Wolmar was there at the event, and I saw his lecture based on his book The Subterranean Railway. Wolmar claims not to be able to tell one end of a locomotive from the other, being more interested in the social aspects of railways. However, his enthusiasm for the subject shines through and the talk was Most Enjoyable. I recommend his books for railway nuts and anyone with a passing interest in the subject.

Yet even the social aspect of the Underground doesn’t cover the full spectrum of Tubeheadedry, as was brought home to me by another of the Things To Do on Saturday. You see, the Underground has always had a very strong design aesthetic.

This was the case right from the days of Charles Yerkes, the American magnate who bought up the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Hampstead and District lines to create Underground Electric Railways Limited. He engaged architect Leslie Green to create a distinctive unifying style for the company to make it instantly identifiable. Green came up with the distinctive oxblood station frontages still visible throughout Central London.

However, the Underground’s image as a kind of corporate style icon really came about when Frank Pick became Managing Director of the Underground Group in 1928. He hired Charles Holden to create up-to-date art deco stations, Edward Johnston to devise a special alphabet and some of the brightest new stars in graphic design to come up with posters. Pick was not really an engineer, but he understood well that good design is good publicity, and his legacy is felt right up to the present day.

So when it was announced at the Depot that there would be a tour of the poster art collection, I leapt at the chance (not literally, that would be stupid).

The collection is nothing short of spectacular. According to the chap giving the tour (the Head of Collections, no less), the London Transport Museum can only put approximately 2% of its collection on public display at any time, although they do try to rotate the exhibits (again, not literally). The rest is kept at the Depot. “The rest” consists of almost every poster that London Transport has ever produced.

So in this back room in an industrial depot building in suburban Acton is perhaps the most impressive display of commercial artwork in London. It’s utterly spectacular, and I’m presenting here just a few of the photos I took. Posters line every wall, they’re on every table, they are literally all over the place.

I noticed a few art students among our party, and that’s not entirely surprising. Some of the names hired by Pick and his successors include Jacob Epstein, Man Ray and Edward McKnight Kauffer, often when they were fresh out of art school.

Consequently, original poster prints can be worth tens of thousands of pounds each.

You can therefore only imagine how jaw-dropping it was for us when we were taken through to the room where the original artworks were kept.

The original artwork of John Hassall's 'No Need To Ask a P'liceman,' the first Tube poster.

Here, on wire racks, are the original paintings from which some of the most highly-regarded images in the history of graphic design are taken. The experience is utterly surreal. By rights, these should be housed in some airy, purpose-built art gallery. But in fact, they’re just stored in a back room. Utterly bizarre. It’s like rummaging in Grandmother’s attic, if Grandmother was a multi-multi-multi millionaire.

One of these days I’m going to have to get around to robbing the place. [NOTE TO SELF: Don’t leave this in the finished entry.]

So, to wrap up, it seems to me that the reason Underground enthusiasts are not limited to the technical types is simply because the Tube was very good at achieving its publicity aims – it’s not just a means of getting from A to B, it’s an integral aspect of London life. For all we may complain about engineering works and suchlike negative aspects, it’s a vital part of our historic, geographical, cultural and aesthetic identity as Londoners.

God, I do go on.

Further Reading
The London Transport poster collection is now online. Explore it for yourself, why not?

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Buildings and architecture, Fashion and trends, History, London, London Underground, Museums, Notable Londoners, Photos, tourism, Transport, West End

Peninsula Envy

I had Tuesday off, and like most people, I decided to take advantage of this time by exploring desolate post-industrial wasteland. I invested in a shipping venture last year from Anatoly “Nickname” Chugarov (I think I mentioned that in the previous entry). Anyway, the whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me, so I decided to pull out and asked Anatoly to give me my 5% of the venture now. I’ll admit I’m not too hot on this investment lark. Anatoly said he’d meet me on the Greenwich Peninsula with my share, so I thought I’d take advantage of this to kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by industrial urban desolation. This might explain why I find Amy Winehouse strangely attractive. The Greenwich Peninsula has long been known for these qualities, as I discovered myself when I ended up here by accident some years ago (put it this way – the Dome hadn’t yet opened). I was curious to see how it had changed in the intervening time.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s what we psychogeographer-types call “hostile.” Once you step out of North Greenwich Tube Station, you’ve basically got lots of roads, fences and barriers on all sides – not exactly hospitable to pedestrians. Once you finally get down to the river, you can see that this far east, London is still a working port.

On the right you can see Trinity Buoy Wharf, one of the oddities of London. Circled in purple are a couple of lightships, what they’re doing there I have no idea. Circled in green is the Bow Creek Lighthouse, the only inland lighthouse in the United Kingdom. I really wish I could have got a bit closer. Some other time, maybe.

On the left you can see a contrast between old and new Docklands. In the background, the Canary Wharf development is very visible. In the foreground, an old pier used for loading barges. This has been turned into a sort of wildlife preserve , part of a general policy to bring the area back to nature. After a century and a half of pollution, this is a motion I applaud. An interesting scheme in place elsewhere on the peninsula is to resist erosion by binding the mud with naturally-occurring plant life rather than artificial walls.

There was something unutterably surreal about the view on the right, almost post-apocalyptic. Although many industries have occupied the Peninsula, and several still do, the big one was gasworks – more gas was produced here in the mid-twentieth century than anywhere else in the world (insert fart joke if required). When North Sea gas was discovered, the gasworks were rendered obsolete. Though there are a few remnants here and there, most of the ground has been built over or – as here – cleared in anticipation of new development. This is another of those transitional things that I think is quite important to capture.

Now, this is taking psychogeographical hostility to the limit. You see that flooded road between the heaps of sand there? Yeah, that’s the footpath. I’m not joking. It was at this point that I began to get heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. No, wait, I tell a lie…

this was when I got heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. Readers may note the highly unsuitable choice of trousers. Consider also that this was actually quite early on in the scramble through floodwater/over sandbanks. By the end I was considering suicide, or at least buying a decent pair of boots.

On the right is an aggregate… tower… loading… thing. I don’t know what it is, if I’m honest. It has a conveyor belt. By this stage I was starting to go a little bit mad, I think. God only knows why I took a picture here.

In fact, I think I’m going to skip the next few photos. They mostly consist of mud and concrete. I found some rails where a crane once went, that was about it.

However, I did eventually find something more interesting, for a given value of “interesting.”

And here it is. These strange steel structures are on Enderby’s Wharf, once the location of a submarine cable works. Which made cables, you see, for going underwater. It’s quite interesting. I think, anyway.

The wharf is preserved now, but was locked up when I was passing. The actual works buildings are boarded up, which is lame.

Here is a breaker’s yard for boats. Again, not sure exactly what my thinking was in taking a photo here. This is actually one of the nicer photos.

I think I might have photographed this because it was a landmark I remembered from the previous visit. I also recall a chemical plant, which seemed to have closed down since then. I remember passing under some sort of loading-pipe-rig-type thing that was no longer there.

This is another of those “observe the contrast between the old Docklands and the new” photos. On one side of the road, grotty industry. On the other, shiny new flats. It makes you think. Specifically, it makes you think, “Christ, imagine having to look at that grotty industry every morning.”

Ah, now, this is interesting. This is Greenwich Power Station, built to supply electricity to the London Underground and London County Council Tramways from 1910. Despite its antiquated nature, it is still used as a backup supply. Architecturally, I think the main body of the plant is actually quite pleasant. Certainly compared to some of the eyesores I saw earlier (“eyesores I saw”… dear me).

And here we are at historic Maritime Greenwich. Incidentally, if you wondered how I came to be on the Greenwich Peninsula back in 1999, the simple answer was that I wanted to get here, and figured that North Greenwich wouldn’t be too far away. As the crow flies, it’s not. But when it’s cold and bleak and the path is muddy and the route winds around many huge obstacles, well, let’s just say it wasn’t worth avoiding the change of trains. And here endeth the lesson.

Oh, wait, the investment thing. Well, Anatoly was as good as his word, and did indeed give me my 5% share.

Son of a bitch.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Geography, History, Lies, London, London Underground, Photos, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Thames, Transport

The White Stuff

You know, with all the excitement, I never did get around to putting up my snow photos. Which is a shame, because working in Bloomsbury you get some rather pretty scenes on the way into work. Here’s a snowy photo entry type thing! Hurrah!

We begin the journey, as I did, in Colliers Wood. Not that Colliers Wood is a particularly scenically spectacular place, but I thought it would be nice to get a shot of the virgin snow in the small hours. Virgin anything is a rarity in South London, particularly after a late night.

Here is Colliers Wood the next morning. See what I mean about it not being scenically spectacular? Oh well, that’s suburbia I suppose. Affordable suburbia, at least.

Here we go, Bloomsbury at last. Here are some of the many parks and gardens in the area.

This on the left is Store Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. Is that a really big wreath or a really small building?

Also, what is it with blue lights these days? I bet in years to come, blue lights will be remembered as one of those retro obsessions we had.

The snow had started to melt by the time I got to the Brunswick Centre. Still, there was enough on the Christmas trees for my sinister purpose.

The rather art deco lions outside the British Museum seemed unperturbed by the weather. I call the one to the left of the doors Fortescue and the one to the right Ponsomby.

Fortescue is the impulsive one, Ponsomby is the sobering influence.

Statue of Peter Pan outside Great Ormond Street Hospital. Interesting fact, trivia fans: the ashes of former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan are scattered in the flower bed there.

Now, here are three icons of the city – a phone box, a pillar box and an Underground sign. I liked this blog better before it sold out to the tourists.

And finally, a disgruntled pigeon.

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Filed under Bloomsbury, London, London Underground, Photos, Suburbia, tourism

Hogwash Express

Isn’t that new Harry Potter movie coming out soon? I’m sure it is. Well, you know what? I think that calls for a vaguely Potter-themed entry.

As you can see from the slightly murky picture on the left, I found myself standing next to the Hogwarts Express yesterday. The locomotive of this train is currently residing at the National Railway Museum in York.

The Hogwarts Express is one of the icons of the Harry Potter franchise, which just goes to show that actually, steam engines are pretty cool. Plot-wise, it functions as a handy place where lots of characters can be brought together for several hours – it was here that many of the significant characters of the series were introduced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I believe I’ve mentioned before that Leo Tolstoy considered railways to be a useful plot device because they enabled coincidences, and this was his inspiration for Anna Karenina. Well, J. K. Rowling makes the Hogwarts Express perform a similar function.

The Express appears to be inspired by the school specials that used to be run in Britain at the start and end of term. Some of the larger schools would charter a special train. Sadly, they wouldn’t have been as colourful as the Hogwarts Express – the train would be whatever the railway had that was suitable. I’m not sure when this traffic was phased out, but I’m guessing during the days when Britain’s railways were nationalised.

As everyone knows, the Hogwarts Express sets out from Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters at King’s Cross Station. As Hogwarts is located in Scotland, King’s Cross is an appropriate departure point – this was (and technically still is) where the famous Flying Scotsman set off from. Oddly enough, though, Rowling has admitted that she didn’t actually intend to send the train off from King’s Cross at all – she actually had Euston in mind. That being said, King’s Cross is much more photogenic than the terminally bland Euston. Even so, for shots of the outside of the station, the first film used St Pancras – don’t get me wrong, I like St Pancras fine, but I think King’s Cross is hugely underrated in architectural terms.

The station has adapted to its relatively new-found fame by sticking half a luggage trolley into a wall. There’s usually a queue of tourists wanting to be photographed next to it. The Catlady said that she once found herself acting as a guide to a Japanese exchange student, and one of the first sights he wanted to see was the station.If you’re curious, the station used for Hogsmeade was Goathland on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Coincidentally, this station also represented Aidensfield in Heartbeat. The Scottish scenes are filmed on the West Highland Line, one of the most scenically beautiful railways in Britain in Yr. Humble Chronicler’s opinion. That rather creepy scene in The Prisoner of Azkaban where the Dementors stop the train took place on the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The Hogwarts Railways logo is a parody of the British Railways logo.

So much for the railway, what about the train? Well, this is something that, prior to the release of the film, caused a certain amount of speculation in railway enthusiast circles. The fact that the train departed from King’s Cross and that Hermione mentions going to speak to the driver in the first book suggested that it was an engine with a corridor tender.

The corridor tender, an example of which is seen right, was invented by the London and North Eastern Railway for the Flying Scotsman service from King’s Cross. Tenders are used on large locomotives to hold coal and water, and hinder access to the cab. The corridor tender allowed this access, which was vital on long, non-stop journeys to allow the crew to change over. The LNER paired their most prestigious express engines with these.
For promotional events, the locomotive Taw Valley (right) was used. Normally green, it was repainted red. This caused mixed reactions in the railway enthusiast camp, although man (Yr. Humble Chronicler included) thought it looked rather good in red.
For the films, though, Chris Columbus selected Olton Hall, an engine belonging to the West Coast Railway Company. The Halls, like all engines built by the Great Western Railway, had a sort of Victorian look that fitted in very well with the general aesthetic of the series. All were named after halls of various descriptions. They were very capable locomotives, equally able to deal with passengers and goods, and were used all over the GWR network. Olton Hall, having been plucked from the chorus, again underwent a repaint from green to red,and gained the name Hogwarts Castle. West Coast Railways did try to persuade the film makers to go with an appropriate Hall name (Great Hall, perhaps?), as Castle names were historically reserved for the GWR’s larger Castle class. I find it a little odd that people can deal with a magic steam train travelling unseen from a hidden platform to a giant castle in Scotland but not that the owners might have given said steam train an inappropriate name, but there you go.
And as you might expect, there were cries that the engine had been “disfigured” by its red livery and it was un-historic and bawwwww. Personally, I think this argument is a lot of old hogwash, for the following reasons:
1. The Hall class, as vintage steam engines go, is quite common – eleven survive. One, Maindy Hall, is even being rebuilt to represent a different class of locomotive. Take issue with those guys.
2. As an engine that will be seen by millions of non-rail enthusiasts, Hogwarts Castle is a far more valuable ambassador to the railway preservation movement than Olton Hall.
3. It’s not disfigured, it has temporary nameplates added and a new coat of paint. Get over yourselves.
hogwarts express
Like it or not, the Hogwarts Express would appear to be here to stay. Tomorrow I’m told it’s off to Carnforth, so I suppose it’s not all fun and games.

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Filed under Arts, Buildings and architecture, Current events, Film and TV, Geography, History, Kings Cross, Literature, London's Termini, Only loosely about London, Photos, Transport