Miscellaneous

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CONGESTION CHARGE – By Ryan

What is The Congestion Charge?

“The Congestion Charge is an £11.50 ( $12.85) daily charge for driving a vehicle within the charging zone between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday. The easiest way to pay the charge is by registering for Congestion Charge Auto Pay. There are a range of exemptions and discounts available to certain vehicles and individuals.” –Transport of London Website

The Law was introduced in 1993, the goal of the charge is to reduce high traffic flow in central London and raise funds for London’s transport system. With it being placed there has been a lot mixed opinions about it.

Pros

  • It has reduced congestion, helping reduce cost for business
  • It has also reduced pollution
  • Raised revenue, the money it has raised has been spent on other forms of transportation and increased alternatives for driving.

“Cons”/ Main Argument against us

  • When it comes to business. It is argued that a congestion charge will encourage people to visit out of town shopping centers and lead to a decline in the city
  • Expensive to Administer. The costs of collection a congestion charge is much higher than petrol tax. It requires sophisticated technology and chasing up drivers who don’t pay or try to avoid. For smaller cities the administration costs may be prohibitive.
  • Since the congestion charge has been introduced, there has been a growth in the number of false number plates and schemes to try to avoid paying the tax.
  • Certain talk of inequality has been a big issue. A congestion charge is regressive as it takes a higher % of income in tax from the poor.

Fun Facts:

  • If you are lucky enough people living in the congestion zone you receive a 90% discount on the charge.
  • Blue Badge (Disabled Drivers) are 100% exempt.
  • Motorcycles, Bicycles, and mopeds are also exempted.

KNOWLEDGE CABS – By AJ

The black cabs of London are famous for their distinctive look as well as the ability of those driving them to ferry one to their desired location with minimal clues to go on. To become a driver a black cab in London, one must undergo a thirty-four month training for what is hailed as the hardest geography test in the world. Its rigors have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine. Rosen writes, “Its rigors have been likened to those required to earn a degree in law or medicine.”

The Knowledge of London test, usually referred to as just the vaguely mystically sounding “The Knowledge”, has been in place since 1865 though it’s ultimate origin is unknown. It requires that from Charing Cross, generally regarded as the center of London, in a six mile radius that accommodates approximately twenty five thousands streets, one must know all streets by name, which way they run, how they intersect each other and so forth. Beyond that, the test requires one know everything on the street. Examiners may ask them the location of any building or other detail on a street. According to Rosen, “Test-takers have been asked to name the whereabouts of flower stands, of laundromats, of commemorative plaques. One taxi driver told me that he was asked the location of a statue, just a foot tall, depicting two mice sharing a piece of cheese.”

“Knowledge Boy/girls” are subject to a medical and criminal records check, after which they may send off for a Blue Book, which is pink, that details three hundred twenty runs, routes, they’ll need to know by heart, and engage in “pointing tours” on foot or bike through streets to take notes on details. Decades ago, the test was even more difficult without the aid of guidebooks and apps and prospective cabbies had to stick pins tied with string into maps to try and navigate through the streets as closely to that line of string for a shorter route; which was to be “on the cotton” (Smith). In addition to the driving portion of the exam, they’ll need to pass what is usually twelve “appearance” that are one on one oral tests. At these appearances, they must be able to identify two, random points in London given to them by their instructor and plan the shortest and most sensible route from one to the other. They must recite the routes used, when they would cross intersections, make turns, and what would be beside them on the streets as they drove. They must be able to do this all without looking at a map.

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MA

Thankfully, regardless of how difficult the test and process is, one cannot fail out of it. One can retake the test as many times as they want, though most drop out due to frustration after the first year, and the percentage of those who pass complete the training and become a cabbie are equivalent to those that successfully become U.S. Navy SEALs (Smith)

Those that do pass are able to mentally plan out complex routes taking into account road congestion and what entrance the passenger needs to be let out at in seconds out of minimal input from passengers. Black cab cabbies’ spatial navigation is so adept from The Knowledge process that a study by neurologists at the university of London found that the hippocampus, the neurological center for spatial processing, was significantly larger in a London cabbie than the rest of the human population (Smith.) With that knowledge and processing power, London cabbies have stayed a step ahead of GPS using Uber services.

Which is reminiscent of theatre still surviving as an art form among the digitally dominated media of this age. What the cabbies do is a form of performance and that human contact has help them keep afloat as driving services utilizing GPS have emerged in London. That and their elastic knowledge still being able to outperform a driver stuck with the rigid computation processes of a computer. In multiple races pitting black cab cabbies against drivers using GPS, the cabbies have been victorious.

“MIND THE GAP” – By Tyler

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“Mind the Gap” is a famous phrase played audibly or seen visibly that cautions passengers to be cautious and aware of the horizontal (and sometime vertical) gap between the train car and the platform. There are a lot of the London Underground (or “The Tube”) stations where the trains stop on a curved, instead of a straight, track. Before 1914, all doors to the Tube carts were located on the extreme ends of the train. At some stations, like Wood Lane and Bank and Paddington, the gap between the objects were maximized, and there was more risk of injury. Post 1914, doors located in the center carts were more common to ease the flow of traffic and potential safety concerns of the Tube staff. Regardless of the changes made to improve the Tube, public safety was still a big concern. In 1969, the phrase “Mind the Gap” was coined and recorded after the Tube drivers and attendants realized it was unfeasible for them to alert all passengers (both boarding and departing) about the gaps and the unconventional heights the train would arrive at. The phrase was determined to be short so it could be quickly and easily seen/painted on the platform, and it would not take up a lot of storage on a recording device (since data storage was expensive). Throughout the years, there have been several voice actors who have recorded the phrase. The very first, Peter Lodge, was a sound engineer. Other famous versions include those from Tim Bentinek, an actor whose recording played for 15 years; Emma Clarke, script writer and voice recording actress, and Oswald Laurence, an actor. After Laurence’s passing, his wife, Margaret McCollum, received a recording of his voice from the Transportation for London (TfL), but in 2013, his recording was restored at Embankment Station after the TfL was moved by her story of how often she would listen to her diseased husband’s voice at the station (before his recording was replaced and restored) and on the digital recording they gave her. “Mind the Gap” is displayed or played at all the Tube stations.

“Mind the Gap” recording by Oswald Laurence- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw9A3YYMR58

PLANE TREE – By Nigel

When walking through London, one may become readily aware of the distinct tress which represent roughly half the trees in the city. The London Plane Tree, however, is not a native species to the British Isles. Rather, this tree has a far more interesting history within the city of London.

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Believed to be a hybrid of the Oriental plane and American sycamore. Now, I know what you are thinking, how in the world did these two trees find each other across an ocean?  During the British Empire’s expansion and colonial periods there were vast amounts of goods being imported to the city. What few people realize is that plants and seeds were widely brought in as well. The Oriental plane the closest natural habitat is Eastern Europe, migrated to Britain during the mid-16th century. With its future soulmate not arriving until well into the 17th century. Now, I do not know about you, but that seems like a long time to wait for a date. Fortunately, these two did find each other and ultimately cross pollinated to create the much beloved London-Plane Tree.

Okay, okay, I hear you. You are thinking, so what?, two trees crossbreed whoop de do! Indeed, this by itself is not that mind boggling however, the time of it may surprise you. As the London-Plane tree had just started to take root in the city and across Britain a new age had arrived. That age was the industrial revolution which brought with it whole new problems for the modernizing city of London. One such problem was the large amount of soot and ash produced by factories. It would rise into the air and eventually accumulate on foliage across the city. This became a major concern as it could kill some plant species and those that could survive were covered in blackness making them distinctly unpleasant to look at.

This is when the London-Plane Tree rose to the occasion. The tree’s bark has a very unique quality in that it flakes off! Similar to certain animal’s species such as snakes, the tree sheds its bark periodically. This means that the tree has the ability to remove pollutants, such as the afore mentioned soot, all by itself. Not only that, but the tree species is also highly resilient. It can be pruned and cut without damaging the overall health of the tree. Those two qualities alone make it fantastic for Urban environments such as London.

So next time you are strolling through London take a moment to appreciate the London-Plane Tree. Enjoy its maple like leaves, its unique camouflage patterning, and be grateful for the trees ability to help fight pollution in the city. Just be warned, some people who have fickle allergies may experience a bit of a reaction. If this could be you make sure you have your preferred allergy medicine before trekking through the city.

WATER MUSIC – By Kelly

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George Frideric Handel was a German-born English composer who lived during the late 17th century and the early 18th century. He debuted his first composition in 1705, and would not create his most famous piece until 1742. Along the period of his life, he attained many honors, including composing for Queen Anne and King George I. During his time playing for royalty, Handel composed Water Music, a collection of orchestral movements that the King enjoyed so much, he had it played three times when it premiered.

King George I was attempting to increase his popularity with his new subjects when he requested Handel to compose the movements to be played for a concert on the River Thames. On July 17th, 1717, Water Music premiered, played on a barge while the Thames filled with onlookers hoping to hear the suite. The King was just one of these audience members, and the concert on the river was heard by enormous crowds. It was a great success, and Handel only grew in fame and popularity, writing everything from operas to oratorios, which are grand-scale concert pieces.

Water Music itself is a masterpiece, as it is a suite that includes multiple styles. Each movement draws inspiration from styles of French and English dance. There are minuets and bourrées, which are dances from both upper class and lower class circles. Then, there are the hornpipe selections, based off dances from the British Isles. Finally, string sections of the suite are in an Italian style, creating a mix of cultures that make Water Music stand out.  The performance of the suite is particularly interesting, as it is possible that there is no way to know how it was originally performed.

It is generally accepted that the order of the suites is as follows: F major, with 10 movements; D Major, with 5 movements; and finally, G Major, with 7 movements. The most recognizable of these sections is the Alla Hornpipe in D Major. However, the earliest score was rediscovered in 2004, dating from 1718. Previously used scores from later dates are all slightly different, which means previous studies of the composition had been different. Specifically, differences included form and instrumentation. There is still debate about how the movements were meant to be performed, and whether all 22 were even meant to be played at the premiere. It is possible that Handel recreated and edited his own movements, which makes it impossible to know how the music was originally performed.

It is intriguing how Water Music acts as a synthesis of different styles, all of which intertwine to create an upbeat and exciting piece of music that is performed by a large orchestra. The suite is a fantastic example of the naturally syncretic nature of culture when the development of art is encouraged.