Creature of Habit

So it turns out I took a picture of the same thing a year apart. That’s me – creature of habit to the point of clock work.

Here we have the Lord Mayor’s State Coach from the outside of the Museum of London on March 30th, 2014

And here it is, from the inside of the Museum of London on March 30th, 2013

Ok ok, so I’m taking the photo from the outside this year. I was at the Museum the day before though, so sort of counts.

Leftovers in Bank Station

If you’re walking between the DLR and the Waterloo and City Line platforms at Bank Underground Station, at one point you’ll come across something that was left behind in 1898 and found 100 years later.

What could it be? A tool, some graffiti? Well, it’s this:

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

That red ring going around the tunnel is part of a ‘Greathead’ Tunnelling Shield, which was used in the construction of the Waterloo and City Line in the 1890s. It protected the construction workers by supporting the tunnel they were excavating. They would work in the shield, digging away the soil by hand. When they dug far enough, the shield was moved forward and the tunnel lined with metal plates.

The name Greathead comes from James Henry Greathead, who devised the shield building upon previous designs by Sir Marc Brunel and Peter W. Barlow. Brunel’s design, the first of its kind, was rectangular in shape. Barlow changed this to be round. The round shape was better at keeping the surrounding soil at bay, as the pressure was distributed all around the shield, rather than just the top and bottom as would be the case with Brunel’s shield.

When the Waterloo and City Line was completed in 1898, the tunnelling shield was left behind. It was found in 1987 during excavation work for the Bank extension of the Docklands Light Railway and later integrated into the foot tunnel when the DLR opened.

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

James Henry Greathead is commemorated in statue form outside Bank station.  Just along the south side of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill is a statue of Greathead, be-hatted and looking down at a set of plans.  Apparently the plinth the statue is on is hollow and acts as a ventilation shaft for the Underground.  Also on the plinth, you can see an engraving of a tunnelling shield in use.

The same general idea of a tunnelling shield is still in use today. The tunnel boring machines making their way across London, carving out the tunnels for Crossrail operate on the same principal.

A Holiday Most Welsh – Part 1

Big, busy projects at work this summer meant that we all had to book our holidays much more in advance than I’m used to. I usually come up with something I want to do, then book the time off. This was just all arse-backwards for me. And what with being busy with work, finding a new place to live, and finishing up the City Guides course (which I passed, hurrah!), I didn’t really dedicate much time to actually thinking of something to do. Let alone planning and booking it.

Seeing as there is still lots of the U.K. that I am yet to see, m’colleague suggested that I give Wales a look. He’s been and he knows me, so his advice was pretty sound. With only about a week before my week of holiday, I finally hunkered down and had a look at my options.

Lots of pretty, scenic stuff in the north. However, public transport,  trains, weren’t so great. Also, knowing me I’d get bored of just non-stop nature no matter how lovely it is. I started looking at South Wales instead. Lots of options train-wise, a couple of cities to check out and for ticking the green scenery box I could get to the Brecon Beacons easily enough.

In one fell swoop (or actually it may have been two), I booked my train from Paddington to Cardiff, two nights in Cardiff, a night in Swansea and a night in Abergavenny. Cardiff gives me a ‘new city to explore’ fix as well as lots of social and industrial heritage, Swansea was something on the coast and again some industrial heritage and Abergavenny would get me up to the hills with a bus connection to Brecon town on the other side of Brecon Beacons to check out.

Feeling a bit beyond the backpacking/hosteling scene, but yet not really one for hotels, I booked up 3 nice bed and breakfasteses.

Packed and ready to rock. Though not pictured is my electronics-laden shoulder bag.
Packed and ready to rock. Though not pictured is my electronics-laden shoulder bag.

On Sunday the last day of June I was up-and-at-them to Paddington to catch my train. It seems I’m always at Paddington when it’s very quiet there, so I have this false sense that it’s a quiet station that doesn’t have many trains coming and going at any one time.  I grab some food and my seat on the train.

A couple hours on the flat tracks of Brunel’s Great Western Railway and I was at the very 1930s Cardiff Central station.

Cardiff Central Rail Station
First station here was built in 1850. This one is from 1932.

Now I did get as far as booking trains and rooms, but didn’t really do much on the itinerary side of things. For each place I just had a list of things that may look interesting and figured I’d just generally  have a good mooch around. To do that though, I wanted to loose my rucksack and get checked into my first place. I now know there were loads of better ways to get to my B&B rather than the way my tired, coughing butt took, but c’est la vie. I took my time and got there just at 2pm – bang on check in time. Figured I’d take the gamble. Alas! The chaps who run the place were out but I was able to leave my bag with a friend of theirs who was also staying. I can’t tell you how odd that felt (maybe as a Londoner?) just just leave my bag there, but all was good.

Freed up (but proper camera-less, d’oh!), I walked back into the city centre. Cardiff is well known (so they say) for it’s Victorian shopping arcades. There were quiet a few and they all were really lovely pieces of work. I believe this one was the Royal Arcade:

Cardiff Shopping Arcade
So bright.

This arcade is home to what claims to be the world’s oldest record store; Spillers. They opened here in 1894 so that claim has some weight to it I reckon. There was also the poshest Oxfam Book Shop I’ve never been in. There was another 2nd had book shop here as well that had pretty straight-forward advertising…

You have my attention
You have my attention

I walked around for a bit and stumbled upon one of the places I had wanted to see – that being the Story of Cardiff exhibit. I actually found it by it being in the same building as the Tourist Info Centre. Always hit those up for a map that won’t drain your phone battery.

The Cardiff Story is exactly what it sounds like – a decent sized exhibit on the history of Cardiff. It goes back to the Roman settlement and fortifications, then the Norman invasion and the building of Cardiff Castle, the subsequent battles and additions to the castle until Cardiff hits its boom time with the industrial revolution.

Cardiff was built on the back of coal and would become the largest coal shipping port in the world in the early 20th century. In 1913 107 tonnes of the stuff was shipped out of Cardiff from various coal mines in south Wales.

There did seem to be a big divide in the city between the old, middle class city and the docks in Cardiff Bay, or Tiger Bay as the area was called (this was because the water was so rough, it was said landing in Cardiff was like fighting a tiger). It’s a bit of a hike down from the city center. The guide on a walking tour I did said that the railway line was always the ‘border’ if you like between ‘nice Cardiff’ and ‘rough working Cardiff’. I could definitely see how that would have been the case.

The Cardiff 'border'. Also, brains.
The Cardiff ‘border’. Also, brains.

It was really one family and one member of that family who was responsible for the building up of Cardiff; John Crichton-Stuart also known as the 2nd Marquess of Bute (as in the Isle of Bute up in Scotland). The family owned large chunks of land in south Wales that just so happened to be full of some of the finest steam coal in the world. Between coal and iron, this part of Wales would be completely transformed from farms to a large industrial sites.

Coal ships at Cardiff Docks (Wikipedia photo)

In part 2! More on Cardiff docks and Cardiff Castle a.k.a. More Butes.

The Great ‘let’s buy a new game at an actual shop’ Challenge

Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Yes there’s Daft Punk’s new single that I’m not 100% sold on. What I am sold on though is Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. Pat had been raving about how great it is and how much he reckoned I would enjoy it. Once the demo was available in the UK Nintendo eShop I grabbed it. He was right, I did really like it.

From then on my sights were set on April 19th; the European release date. I’m a bit funny in that when something comes out, I want to go to a shop and have it in my hands rather than ordering online and waiting on the post. I pre-ordered Paper Mario Sticker Star for the 3DS through Game’s website and didn’t have a fun time. The game came several days after the release date and the pre-order bonus of a Paper Mario poster took several emails and a couple of months to arrive.

Now here’s the tricky bit. If you know anything about the retail world of the UK you’ll know it’s in a bit of a slump. The two main shops for games in central London are both in rough shape with many stores shut. That would be HMV and Game. In around the west end, there is one HMV left on Oxford Street and a Game taking up a corner of the lower level of Hamley’s toy shop.

At lunch time today I was on my merry way thinking that surely at one of these two big stores I would find my sought after game. How very wrong I was.

HMV was up first. Had a look around, no Fire Emblem. Asked an employee – nope, sorry. We didn’t get any in.

Ok, let’s try Game at Hamleys. Looked around, nothing. I didn’t recall seeing many recent releases but they did have ‘coming soon!’ boxes out for Pokemon, Animal Crossing and the new Donkey Kong 3DS games. That doesn’t help me. There was nobody to ask and just two staff members at the rather busy tills. I took another look around just to be sure that Fire Emblem wasn’t there.

Walking back to work I tried to think of any other place around Oxford Street / Regent Street for games. There’s HMV in Selfridges, but they are always lack on stock. If the flagship HMV didn’t have it, that one would be a waste of time. Got back to my desk and checked the websites for John Lewis, nope. Pat suggested Harrods as a stab in the dark. A search for ‘Nintendo’ on their site comes back with a perfume called Intenso. Oh man.

What about Tesco or Argos. I could pick it up in store couldn’t I? Argos was a big nope. Tesco has it, but you can only buy it online and have it shipped to you. There was no option to collect in store.

The next closest Game location was in Camden Town. I tried ringing them several times throughout the day with no answer. I started to wonder if they had shut down as well, but thankfully their Twitter account was still active. I headed north after work to have a look. I walked in and oh my heart skipped a beat – there was a big display of Fire Emblem: Awakening cases!


I grabbed one and took it up to the till. The guy at the counter looked at it, looked up and said ‘sorry, we’re all sold out’. I would have loved to have seen the look on my face at that point. “Really?! Buying this game is proving really difficult today” I said. Turns out they only got 8 copies and they all sold. EIGHT COPIES.

In the off chance someone bought a copy and hawked it at the two trade in shops up the street I checked both of them as well. No dice.

At this point there was nothing for it. I decided to try another Game location that I know is still in operation; at Westfield Stratford. I want that game bad enough that I’ll go to Westfield for it. That’s pretty telling. I did actually try calling them during the day, but like Camden there was no answer. Maybe Games’s phones have been cut off.

I make it to Stratford and survive the long dark walk from the station to the shopping centre. Step into Game with a faint glimmer of hope. Dashed. It is nowhere to be seen. The same ‘coming soon’ boxes that the one at Hamley’s had, but no Fire Emblem. And again, no staff to ask. Guess that’s what happens when your company has to be saved from going down the tubes. Another sweep of the store to be certain. Take a closer look at that ‘New Release’ section at the front of the store. What’s this, lots of copies of new X-Box games and beneath it… sodding voucher cards for the latest 3DS games.

This is how we buy games now :(

UGH. I’m at a shop, I don’t want to buy a voucher to download a game over the internet. This is the biggest shopping centre in Europe, and that’s how you buy 3DS games at it.

There is another Game location in Hammersmith I didn’t make it to, but let’s be realistic. If they had any, they probably sold both copies already. For the day that 8 confirmed copies in existence  That’s 1 physical copy for every 1 million Londoners. That’s kind of crazy and kind of sad.

I’m not sure if this is something like what happened with the U.S. release of Fire Emblem where stocks were hard to come by. Even if it isn’t, it’s still a sad thought that buying a physical format of something in a city this big is this difficult. I had a realisation at Westfield that in all these clothes and phone and cosmetic shops, there is nowhere at all to buy music.  Maybe video games are going to get to that point as well. Can’t say I much look forward to it. Now, let’s open up a new tab and buy this thing on Amazon like everybody else and wait.