Underground Pasts

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London Underground Train, 1973 at Oxford Circus by Graham Lees

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, and there were plenty of special events, commemorative gifts, celebratory ramblings and features to celebrate. In fact, such was the enthusiasm around the event, the general tendancy to complain about delayed trains, overcrowding and ticket prices on the Tube was (momentarily, at least) forgotten.

But which past are we referring to? Like anything else, there is always more than one narrative of the past to consider. For all the focus on the Tube itself, something I have always found fascinating about transportation networks is their relationship with the city they serve. On one level, there is the obvious symbiotic relationship between a network constructed to serve flows of people, and the people themselves who in turn respond to the existence and growth of the network. The development of Metroland in the 1930s is one historic example, but more recently the London Overground demonstrates how investment can also spur latent demand by offering new journey possibilities, frequent services and a safe environment.

King's Cross Station by Nick

King’s Cross Station by Nick

However, at a more fundamental level the experiences of people who use the network are brief moments like that shown in the image above, usually lost in time and forgotten (unless in the case of an exceptionally bad delay such as the 2003 London power cut). In the case of the London Underground, its past is not only the history of the network itself, but the experiences of those who travelled on it.

That is what makes this exhibition of Bob Mazzer’s photographs, taken on the Underground in the 1980s so intriguing. Recently featured on Annie Mole’s Going Underground Blog, they offer a fascinating glimpse of London’s social history through the lens of a commuter at the time.

The exhibition runs until 13th July at the Howard Griffin Gallery, 189 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6HU. I will certainly be making the effort to go and see it.

Train “Delay Repay” Forms Online

I frequently travel by train when visiting family and friends, which in the UK is expensive – especially during ‘peak’ periods, if you are not eligible for a railcard, or are unable to purchase advance fares which permit travel only on booked trains on specific dates.

One way to reduce costs is to claim money back when your train is delayed, as many operators offer compensation if a journey is more than 30 minutes late. This is often 50% of the value of the ticket for delays up to 59 minutes, and 100% for more than an hour. Compensation is provided in Rail Travel Vouchers, which can be redeemed at ticket offices.

Claiming this used to involve filling out a paper form and sending the original tickets to the company, but several companies now offer this electronically. You will need a good quality scan of the tickets to upload, and full details of your journey.

As many of my journeys are to Cambridge, the relevant operators for me are:

Three “Feel at Home” Roaming Map

UK Mobile operator Three announced last week that their “Feel at Home” service would be extended to five new countries on 1st July, on top of their previous expansion in December 2013. When the service debuted in August 2013, it was available in 7 countries.

Although the Three website offers a map of the areas covered by Feel at Home, it uses a pin to mark each country. I wanted to visualise the actual territory covered, so I’ve quickly created a map using a Google Fusion Tables and publicly shared KML boundary data. This is complete except for Macau, which wasn’t in the boundary file – I’d be happy to include this if there is a more complete country boundary dataset available.

Feel at Home is now available in: Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Finland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Israel, Macau, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States (countries in italics are from 1st July 2014).

About Feel at Home

Feel at Home allows Three customers to use their monthly inclusive texts and minutes while abroad in participating countries to contact UK numbers as if they at home in the UK. There are some restrictions: if you have all-you-can-eat data, calls or text these are limited to 25GB data, 3000 minutes and 5000 texts respectively. The tethering/personal hotspot facility is also not available. In spite of these limits, it is a pretty generous deal.

I discovered just how much difference this can make with two visits to the United States in 2013. In July I accrued more than £20 of roaming charges through light use in a couple of days, while in December – when I stayed for longer – I was able to use data as much as I needed without incurring any charges. As Three’s plans are pretty good value anyhow (mine is less than £20/month), this is a bargain.

Other than brief calls to family in the UK, I don’t find myself using texts and minutes from abroad, but the ability to access mobile data without worrying about the cost when you’re in an unfamiliar environment is fantastic. You can also use services such as WhatsApp and iMessage for messaging, and Skype or FaceTime for calls if needed. I find Feel at Home invaluable when I’m visiting a country where it is available, and hope it is extended to other countries soon.

The European Parliament will abolish charges for roaming in the EU by December 2015, which is long overdue and very welcome, but in the meantime (and for the non-EU countries it covers) Three’s Feel at Home is a good start.