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About time

Although I am only posting this at midday, I wrote most of it at three o’clock this morning.

I did this because I am now suffering from severe Ashes Lag (The Horror! The Horror!), and also because it is in the spirit of the news I am passing on, which is that soon, London will be experiencing (no doubt some would prefer to make that “enduring”) all night underground train service at weekends:

For better or worse, London is on the way to becoming a city that never sleeps, leaving other British cities even further behind.

Not the District Line, though. That’s one of the lines I often use late at night, and I would have liked that one also to be going round the clock. The other line I use, but less often late at night, is the Victoria, which will be all round the clock at the weekend.

But this is only a start. And it is only at the weekend. What has long puzzled me is why London has not, for the last several decades, been a city that never sleeps, but is instead only groping slowly towards one day becoming such a city. London always comes near the top of those lists of the world’s greatest cities, yet for much of the time London is almost entirely asleep, unlike one, in particular, of its most famous rivals (immediate music warning – don’t click on that if you wish to go on listening to something else). All that frighteningly expensive office space, basically doing nothing for about a third to a half of every day, and nothing at all at the weekends, since for ever. Why? Modern electronics means that there is always someone wide awake to be doing business with, somewhere in the world. So, why no big night shift activity in the City? It can’t take all night just to keep those places clean.

Maybe there is lots of City of London night shifting going on already, and I merely haven’t been told about it. After all, night shifters mostly only need transport when they start and when they finish, which they already have. I can see why they are starting this at the weekend, for people for whom the difference between getting home at 4 am rather than at 8 am is all the difference.

Talking of London staying awake all night, there was a time, in about 1941, when a lot of it did just that, for quite a while. This was when London Pride got itself written. Take that, Sinatra. Someone (can’t find who – anyone know?) once said something like: there are many more tunes to be written in C major. I don’t know the key of London Pride, but it is one of my favourite tunes ever, and it always makes me think of that remark.

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13 comments to About time

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Underground railway lines require regular, daily maintenance. Typically, this means that they have to stop running for a few hours a day, and for those few hours people are doing lots of cleaning, repairing and other things flat out in order to make sure they will continue working.

    The only underground system in the world that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week is the New York subway. The reason it can do this is that the majority of subway lines have four tracks rather than two. In the daytime, this allows for an express service to run on one pair of tracks and an all stations service (or at least a slower service) to run on the other. At night, one pair of lines can continue operating while the maintenance is done on the other.

    The lines in London that are going 24 hours at weekends are those that have relatively recently received upgrades to more modern systems of various kinds. Apparently this will allow them to run from Friday morning to Sunday evening without track maintenance, but they will still require it during the rest of the week. I will be interested to learn more details.

    On the other hand, go into a City office building at 4am, and you will find a surprising amount of activity. Most of this, once again, is maintenance activity. Cleaners, people replacing office supplies, building repairs, etc etc, in order that everything will be in order when the financial workers arrive. Catch a night bus from south-east London to the City at 3.30am, and it will be packed with people going to work.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Michael, do you solve murders in your spare time? The reason I ask is…

    to Lord Peter the world presented itself as an entertaining labyrinth of side-issues. He was a respectable scholar in five or six languages, a musician of some skill and more understanding, something of an expert in toxicology, a collector of rare editions, an entertaining man-about-town, and a common sensationalist. He had been seen at half-past twelve on a Sunday morning walking in Hyde Park in a top-hat and frock-coat reading the News of the World. His passion for the unexplored led him to hunt up obscure pamphlets in the British Museum, to unravel the emotional history of income-tax collectors, and to find out where his own drains led to.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Meet me in Hyde Park at half past twelve tomorrow morning, and I will let you know.

  • CaptDMO

    So with all night-week end service, the cleaning crew now has high pressure hoses for the interiors
    of the cars before the Monday morning commute, right?
    (Actually, I’ve ALWAYS found them relatively tidy)

    I must confess, I’m a yank who’s been on Washington DC, NYC, Toronto, assorted airports, and London’s subways, I’ve ALWAYS had a secret crush on the wicked long,wooden stair, escalators (do they still exist?).
    Fire concerns aside, the creaking and groaning, yet steady pace, is probably what endears me most.
    Birds of a feather I suppose….

  • Michael, mind if I show up too?…

  • Regional

    Are you Englanders going to burn the houses of your nation’s Cricket Team?

  • Peter Briffa

    Schoenberg was the c major guy.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Michael,

    In the morning you will send for a hansom, desiring your man to take neither the first nor the second which may present itself.

  • I must confess, I’m a yank who’s been on Washington DC, NYC, Toronto, assorted airports, and London’s subways, I’ve ALWAYS had a secret crush on the wicked long,wooden stair, escalators (do they still exist?).

    Try the St. Petersburg or Moscow escalators. Some of them are 400ft long, a 3-4 minute ride. I think London got rid of its wooden escalators after the King’s Cross fire.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Michael Jennings (London) @November 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm:

    Underground railway lines require regular, daily maintenance. Typically, this means that they have to stop running for a few hours a day…

    The only underground system in the world that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week is the New York subway.

    The Chicago “El” runs 24 x 7 on the Red Line, which runs underground from Fullerton through Roosevelt (about 4 miles) and the Blue Line (underground for about 2 miles in the downtown area and 2 miles on the NW side). The Green, Brown, Purple, Yellow, Pink, and Orange lines shut down from about 1 AM to 6 AM (varies by line).

  • The elevators in the metro in Kiev are extraordinary, too. Due to the physical geography of the city as well as to engineering and political considerations, the tunnels are extraordinarily deep and the escalators therefore seemingly endless.

    London did indeed get rid of almost all of its wooden escalators after the Kings Cross fire, but I think that one or two may exist in some of the outer reaches of the tube network.

    Natalie: I did indeed manage to take a hansom safely, followed by Easyjet. I am now safely in refuge in Switzerland

  • Mr Ed

    The Kiev metro was presumably built by zeks and the depth might have been part of nuclear attack defences.

  • Michael Jennings

    Yes, it’s partly that. As I said, it is also aptly the physical geography of the city, part of which exists at river level and another part on a hill at considerable elevation to it.