A two pound piece

The British £2 is one of the most striking coins in circulation. As well as being the only mainstream bimetallic coin in the UK, it is wider and heavier than any other. With its golden edge and silver centre, it has become the coin of choice to commemorate events, people and institutions of national significance.

The current series of the £2 coin was launched on 15 June 1998 with the Royal Mint issuing millions for general circulation. A review of coinage carried out in 1994 had suggested the need for a new, higher denomination coin than the pound. The four-year gap between suggestion and introduction demonstrates the seriousness with which the government and Royal Mint took the task of designing a suitable new coin.

The front and reverse designs for the British £2 coin (standard version)

The Royal Mint consulted a wide range of groups, from the RNIB to channel the concerns of people with limited or no sight to the vending machine industry. Age Concern was consulted to ensure that the coin was designed to limit any confusion from the elderly and the general public were invited to express their opinions and concerns.

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Tasting the past

On 9 January 1863, the first subterranean railway journey took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the newly completed Metropolitan Underground Railway. A clutch of shareholders, City worthies and assorted VIPs were taken on a ceremonial run and then feasted at a 600-person banquet at Farringdon station. Just over 150 years later, the historic event was recreated as steam powered engines returned to the tunnels to celebrate an engineering, economic and social achievement.

I got off the Hammersmith and City Line service at King’s Cross St. Pancras planning to head to the surface and catch a bus home. At every station we had passed through since Paddington the Sunday evening stations had been slightly strange; clusters of people had gathered at each end of the platforms with a range of digital SLRs, tripods and plain point and click cameras.

It was only when I got off at King’s Cross and saw an even larger contingent of camera wielding enthusiasts that I remembered what was happening. On Sunday 13 January 2013, London Underground was running a steam-powered engine along with Victorian rolling stock along sections of the Metropolitan Line to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the world’s first underground passenger railway. With this fortunate timing, I would be an inadvertent witness of a little bit of London Underground history and be able pay my own respects to the network and all those who had built and served it since.

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Going underground II

In August, I sang the praises of Andrew Martin’s book ‘Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube’. At the end of that post I promised a follow up covering the Americanisation of the lexicon of travel, Brunel and the war winning boots and state funerals on the Tube. Six months is no time at all in a blog, so here (finally) is the follow up!

For tourists, few things evoke a trip to London as effectively as a ride on the Tube. London’s deep tunnel network is unlike any other metro system in the world – curiously compact, cylindrical and ‘cosy’. Many, including most Londonders, will not appreciate the debt that is owed to foreigners, especially Americans, in the financing, design and running of the network.

Americans were also responsible for changing the way we speak about travel. Thousands, maybe even millions of people commute into London every day. But, if American linguistic influence hadn’t extended to Britain in the 1940s, they might have ‘oscillated’, ‘shuttled’ or even ‘taken season tickets’. The word we use today comes from regular travellers obtaining reduced price tickets in the US called ‘commutation-tickets’, so-called because their cost had been commuted.

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Going underground

I love the London Underground. The map, the posters, the slightly unnerving feeling that the Central Line train is coming into the station a little bit too fast and the relief that no one has thrown themselves on the tracks. My love for the network is not sullied by having to use it all the time – I don’t use the Tube to get to work. It is hard to love something you regularly travel in conditions that would be unacceptable for the transportation of cattle.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in my love for LU (as it is affectionately called by Tube nerds). The Underground has spawned a publishing empire and you could easily accommodate a small library of books on this surprisingly wide subject. Once in a while, a non-fiction book comes along that is an absolute joy to read. Once in a longer while, this book will be about the Tube.

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A Gregg-ular Kind of Guy

Stephen Irvine, 5 April 2012

The asylum teemed with the grey-faced and the hopeless; shuffling cardboard cut-outs no longer able to communicate with the world at large, each believing themselves completely alone despite taking their place in the most intense of throngs. To attempt to shatter their sense of isolation with the mallet of conversation was tantamount to waving into blind eyes. The uninitiated found whatever solace they could from scraps of newspaper, clinging to any available appendage so as to avoid being swept away in the tidal-wave of antipathy sloshing through the heat of the narrow room. It was Monday morning. I was on the tube.

The first voice I heard since I’d boarded came seconds after the doors slammed shut on the ill-tempered sardines, a calm and clear tone proclaiming “The London Underground; the most expensive in the world!” This seemed like a strange marketing policy from TFL, hardly the kind of announcement to raise spirits in between sweaty stops. But wait – this was no employee, this man was here to deliver a socio-economic sermon to the sleepy, and I for one was keen for some more facts about the capital’s transport infrastructure. Unfortunately I was to be frustrated as his argument rather lost its way with his next point: “David Cameron – terrorist. Arab-murderer!”

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