How do you solve a problem like the Central Line?

A photo of a prototype train for the Central Line, now on display at the London Transport Museum Depot in Acton

The Central Line of the London Underground is not having a good time at the moment. We experienced this first hand on our recent trip to London. As the Young V&A is close to Bethnal Green tube station, when we visited we tried to use the Central Line to head back into central London.

We gave up after two trains stopped where it was literally impossible to fit on. Every carriage was crush-loaded, and this was mid-afternoon on a Saturday – not exactly rush hour.

The issue is with the trains that run on the Central Line. These are 1992 Stock, which, as the name suggests, date from 1992 and were built by the newly-privatised BREL. Specifically, it’s the traction motors on these trains, which are failing at a faster than expected rate. Without a working motor, the trains can’t move, and so they have to be taken out of service. Consequently, there are fewer trains available for service, and so passengers are being crammed into less frequent services.

Transport for London have short, medium and long-term solutions to this issue:

Short term

In the short term, there are fewer trains in the timetable. With around a third of the fleet out of service, the timetable has been cut to reduce short-term cancellations. It’s something we’ve seen elsewhere in the country – Transpennine Express cut several trains to improve reliability.

Medium term

In the medium term, there is the Central Line Improvement Programme (CLIP). This is a major refurbishment of the trains, which includes replacing the troublesome motors as well as installing CCTV and accessibility improvements. For example, trains will now have wheelchair accessible spaces, and there are new screens with visual announcements of the next stop – standard on other lines, but new to the Central Line.

As an aside, I can’t help but feel that CLIP is a boring name when Central Line Improvement to Train Operation and Reliability Investment Scheme was right there. Even if the acronym does spell CLITORIS.

The CLIP started before the reliability issues came to ahead, and the first refurbished train was in service in December. But it’ll be a while before work on the full fleet of 77 trains is completed.

Long term

Ultimately, these are 30 year old trains, and eventually they will need replacing. They’re not the oldest on the network – that ‘honour’ goes to the Bakerloo Line, with trains that are over 50 years old. Slightly newer, but only just, are those on the Piccadilly Line, which are being replaced with 2024 stock to support an increase in service. Right now, there’s only funding available for new trains for the Piccadilly Line, but TfL’s long term aim is that the same trains will run on the Central, Bakerloo and Waterloo & City Lines too. Whilst the first units are being assembled in Germany and Austria, most will be built by Siemens in a brand new factory in Goole, East Yorkshire.

Where I live in the north of England, a big deal was made out of the replacement of 1980s era Pacer trains which were no longer fit for purpose. And whilst there’s a feeling in the north that London gets more than its fair share of UK public transport spending, the oldest tube trains are 10 years older than the oldest Northern Rail trains. Ordering a completely new fleet for all the London Underground lines that need it will result ensure skilled manufacturing jobs remain in Yorkshire for at least the next decade.

The Cartoon Museum

Inside the Cartoon Museum in London.

This is the fourth in the series of blog posts about places we went to in London – you can also read about the Bank of England Museum, the Cute exhibition at Somerset House, and the Young V&A.

On our last day in London, we went to the Cartoon Museum in Soho. It’s a relatively new museum, opening initially in 2006 and in its current location in 2019. It’s also quite small – allow a maximum of two hours – but with plenty to see. The walls are packed with illustrations going back a couple of hundred years, right up to now – the newest being Ben Jennings’ cartoon of Queen Elizabeth II taking the Elizabeth Line into the light when her death was announced in September 2022. It is mostly lots of pictures on walls, but there is a Spitting Image puppet on display as well.

At the moment, there’s a Wallace & Gromit exhibition, marking 30 years since the release of The Wrong Trousers. There’s several models on show, as well as some behind the scenes photos and some of the equipment used to film it. You can also see the actual Oscar that Nick Park won, although no photos are permitted of this. The exhibition is on until the 16th April.

A smaller exhibition shows the work of Oluwasegun Babatunde, a Nigerian comic artist who created a team of superheros based in Sub-Saharan Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is on until the end of this month.

There’s also an activity room where you can create your own comic strips, and of course the ubiquitous shop.


The nearest tube stations to the Cartoon Museum are Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. The museum is located in a basement, down a set of stairs, and sadly the lift has been broken since 2022. A recent crowdfunder to fit a new lift didn’t quite reach its goal but hopefully this will be fixed soon. Ear defenders and sensory backpacks are available to borrow once inside.

Young V&A

A photo of the interior of the Young V&A.

This is the third in the series of blog posts about places we went to in London – you can also read about the Bank of England Museum and the Cute exhibition at Somerset House.

The Young V&A is the new name for the V&A Museum of Childhood. It’s still in the same place, outside central London in Bethnal Green, but the new name reflects a complete refurbishment. We last went in 2017, and it’s changed massively since then. Before, it was very much a museum, with lots of objects in big glass cases and not much to interact with. Now, whilst there are still some objects to look at, it’s a much more interactive space, and somewhere to bring young children to play. Indeed, our eight-year-old was probably one of the older kids there. Dropping the ‘museum’ from the title therefore makes sense.

The gallery spaces have been split into themes – Play, Imagine and Design. Play arguably caters for the youngest children, although there’s a big screen with a playable Minecraft version of the museum (thankfully it resets regularly to discourage hogging). Imagine includes the dollhouse collection from before, and design looks at how products are designed. There’s a particular focus on recycling waste into useful furniture.

Japan: Myths to Manga

Japan: Myths and Manga

Then there’s an exhibition space, and the opening exhibition is called Japan: Myths to Manga. Whilst the main museum is free to enter, you have to pay to access the exhibition space, and tickets are limited. We made the mistake of not booking in advance, so when we were ready to visit the exhibition on a Saturday afternoon, no more tickets were left. So, we ended up booking tickets for the Sunday and came back the following day.

Personally, I concur with Ianvisits and found the exhibition a little under-whelming, but my wife and child seemed much more engaged. The exhibition is rather sparse, and I would have expected to see more objects there. However, I’m not in the target market for this and we did spend over an hour in the exhibition. There’s several clips from Studio Ghibli films to watch and plenty of Pokemon; but it was also good to read about the traditional Japanese stories and myths which inspired these works.


Because our hotel was located between Aldgate and Whitechapel, we caught the bus to the Young V&A, but it’s also a short walk from Bethnal Green tube station which is on the Central Line. It’s also not too far from Cambridge Heath station on the London Overground, on what will soon be known as the Weaver Line. Around the corner is the new permanent home of the Vagina Museum, although we didn’t have chance to visit this time around.

As you would expect from a recently-renovated museum, there is step free access everywhere, and there’s a dedicated quiet space in the Reading Room. Which we found quite welcome; although the renovation has been extensive, it’s a listed building and so there are limits. Any building popular with children is bound to be noisy, and the open space in the middle is quite echo-y.

Cute at Somerset House

The Cute exhibition at Somerset House in London.

After we spent the morning at the Bank of England Museum, the second place we visited on our trip to London was Somerset House for their Cute exhibition.

Like previous exhibitions at Somerset House, Cute includes some new commissioned art and existing pieces, as well as donated memorabilia. Back in 2021, we went to an exhibition about the Beano, and this filled the same space in the South Wing. It’s an exploration of cute things and its impact on society, including kawaii.

Hello Kitty

The exhibition also marks the 50th anniversary of Hello Kitty, and a large section of the exhibition is devoted to the memorabilia collected by one person. Including Hello Kitty Spam.

There are some interactive parts too. There’s a room with some arcade games, old and new, including some indie games like Froggy Pot.

Some of the art produced for the exhibition is AI generated, and the theme image features a kitten with a unicorn horn and seemingly seven paws. I suspect that they’ve kept this in because it shows the weird-er side of cuteness.

Pop-up cafe

Alongside the exhibition is a pop-up Hello Kitty themed café. We had to queue to get in, as it’s a small space, but the food was nice albeit very full of sugar.

The exhibition runs until the 14th April, so you’ve got about five weeks to go to see it. We went on a Friday when walk-up tickets were available, but I imagine it’ll be busier at weekends and so you may wish to consider pre-booking. You can also look at all of the objects online at


The southern entrance to Somerset House is the closest to the exhibition, and is very close to Temple tube station on the District and Circle lines. It’s also close to Waterloo Bridge. Whilst there are stairs, all are duplicated by several lifts giving access to the exhibition, which currently have furry insides. Access packs, containing large print guides, noise-cancelling headphones, magnifying glasses and a stress ball, are available to borrow from the box office.

Bank of England Museum

A photo of the new King Charles coins and bank notes at the Bank of England Museum in London

The first place we went to on our trip to London last weekend was the Bank of England Museum. Which is pretty much what you would expect it to be – a museum based at the Bank of England headquarters in the City of London. Access is via a side entrance, and, as you would expect, you have to go through a security scanner to get in.

This is only the second time that I have been to the Bank of England Museum. The first time was a long time ago. I can’t remember exactly when, but I was definitely still living at home, so probably 25-ish years ago. Part of the reason for this is that the museum is only open on weekdays, and we normally visit London at weekends. As we had the benefit of an extra day, we were able to visit last Friday.

It’s not a big museum – a typical visit will take 1-2 hours – but it’s free to get in. And the exhibits are regularly updated. As shown in the photo above, there are samples of the new coins and banknotes featuring King Charles III which are not yet in general circulation. I was also amused by the satirical FTX t-shirt in an exhibit about cryptocurrencies. These are in a new exhibition called The Future of Money, which opened a couple of days before we travelled and runs until next September.

Like many museums, the Bank of England Museum has also acknowledged the darker sides of its past. Recent new exhibits include copies of ledgers listing the names of slaves that came into the bank’s possession, and there’s a display about the Windrush generation. On arrival in the UK, many of those who travelled on the Empire Windrush to start new lives were denied access to traditional banks, and the museum has a series of panels on Pardner Hand to allow people to borrow or save money.

Other permanent exhibits include some examples of forged bank notes (including some introduced by the Nazis in the Second World War to de-stabilise the economy), and of course there’s plenty on the history of the bank.

If you haven’t been to the Bank of England Museum before, I’d recommend going. It’s not a full day out, but it’s free and there are some interactive elements for children.


Predictably, the nearest tube station is Bank, which has step-free access from the Northern and Waterloo & City Lines, and the DLR. There are steps in the museum, including at the entrance, however, security staff can escort those with mobility issues from the bank’s main entrance and ramps can be provided once inside. There isn’t a quiet room, but ear defenders are available to borrow.

Back from London

An LNER Azuma train at York station, due to depart to London King's Cross station

We’re back from our trip to London. We got there a bit later than planned, due to action short of a strike by the drivers’ union ASLEF resulting in our planned train from Leeds to London being cancelled. This wasn’t ideal, as it meant we didn’t arrive until 10pm; however, we made it, and had an enjoyable trip.

I’ll post separately about the specific places that we went to over the next week or so. We had also planned to visit the Horniman Museum, as the gallery containing its famous over-stuffed walrus closed this week for two years, but we couldn’t quite fit it in. As usual, Ianvisits was invaluable for finding out about special exhibitions and served as inspiration for a few of our visits.

We managed a couple of trips on the new Elizabeth Line; it was partially open on our last trip to London in 2022 but we didn’t need to use it then. The stations are impressive and I appreciated the greater accessibility, but I couldn’t help but feel that the trains themselves already look a little tired. It may be the use of grey interior panels; they felt a little dark and not as bright internally as other new trains elsewhere. It’s good to see it being well-used despite being opened for less than two years.

We normally manage one trip to London each year – we missed 2020 for obvious reasons, but also didn’t manage to go last year either. We may have a shorter visit later this year, but with journeys taking 3 hours each way and the costs, it’s not something that we can do on a whim.

Leaping towards London

An AI-generated image of a woman on a horse leaping through a portal that says 'February 29'

It’s the 29th February today!

Well, actually, I’m writing this on Saturday 24th. I tend to write blog posts in bulk at the weekends, and then schedule them to go live every other day over the week. In any case, I’m unlikely to have time to write much today, as this morning I’m at work and then we’re off to London tonight for a long weekend.

But as the opportunity to publish a blog post on the 29th only comes around once every four years, here you go. And I missed 2020 as I wasn’t blogging then. Had I been, I’d have probably said something about the-then looming pandemic. Ironically, I wrote this on the 29th February 2016:

Maybe something interesting will happen on this day in 2020, but you’ll have to wait another four years to find out, I’m afraid.

I suppose it’s a case of being careful what you wish for. You can also see what I wrote in 2012 (being ill), 2008 (heading to Scarborough for the weekend), and 2004 (not a lot).

I’ll write more about our trip to London once it has actually happened.

V&A Museum of Childhood

V&A Museum of Childhood

Not all of London’s museums are in the centre of the city. The East London suburb of Bethnal Green is home to the V&A Museum of Childhood, home to a wide range of toys from several decades.

Now that our 18-month-old is an easily-bored toddler, we felt that we needed to go to a museum that would keep them interested. Thankfully, a museum filled with toys fits the bill, especially during school holidays. It’s technically part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but doesn’t focus on art and sculpture like its larger Kensington sister museum.

A lot of the toys are enclosed in big glass cabinets, but there are some interactive exhibits. The most popular of which was simply a big pile of differently sized cardboard boxes, perpetuating the oxymoron that children are sometimes more interested in the box than the toy inside. Upstairs there was a sandpit, and we arrived just in time for an interactive story-telling session.

Our 18-month-old also enjoyed the sensory exhibit, with bubble tubes and multi-coloured lights. Christine and I appreciated the range of toys, which included the very old and the quite new. At the back is a large display of dolls houses, lit up as if in a large night-time scene.

We didn’t have the time to see everything as we had to go to meet a friend in the afternoon, so we only had a fleeting glance at the upstairs exhibits (sandpit aside). There’s quite a good café in the central atrium of the museum, which seemed quite busy even before lunchtime.

Entry to the museum is free, and it’s just up the road from Bethnal Green tube station on the Central Line. The museum itself is fully accessible but the nearby tube station doesn’t have step free access. We brought Lizzie in her sling as we knew we’d struggle with a pushchair.

Planning a London trip


In a couple of months time, Christine, our one-year-old and I are off down to that there London for three nights. Typically, we go to London once or twice a year.

Travelling down

Our last visit was in October, and we travelled down by car for the first time. This was because we went via Oxford, but also because of the logistics of managing a 10-month old baby on a train for three hours each way was daunting. Especially when you add in all of the extra paraphernalia that you need to haul around with a small baby. Last time, we had to take plenty of food, changes of clothes, nappies etc.

This time, our toddler will be approaching 18 months old, and so we’re going to attempt the train. We’ll do without a pushchair, as our toddler should still be small enough to carry in a sling, and can walk short distances now. And, apart from a few snacks, our toddler doesn’t need their own food, as they’re happy eating from regular menus now.

It’ll also be cheaper. Fuel and parking cost us around £60 last time, plus the pressure of driving. Christine hasn’t passed her test yet and I can’t supervise her, so I have to do all of the driving. By contrast, two standard class adult returns with a Two Together Railcard booked last month cost us just £41. And, we’ve accumulated enough Nectar points to get two £20 Virgin Trains East Coast vouchers, so we actually only paid £1. That’s cheaper than the Megabus.

Staying over

Booking well in advance also ensured a cheap hotel stay. When booking accommodation, my usual tactic is to check the major budget hotel chains one by one, and then an aggregator like Expedia or (which are often not the cheapest). Typically, we end up staying in a hotel in the IHG group, as I’m an IHG Rewards member, but they didn’t come out cheapest this time.

As usual, we’re not staying in central London. London’s public transport is really good, and the cost of travelling a bit further out is usually much less than the price of a more central hotel room. This time, we’re staying near Kew, in south-west London.

London attractions

The hotel is handy for the London Museum of Water & Steam, which I’ve not heard of before but it looks interesting. It’s in an old pumping station, and now tells the history of London’s water supply. This will be the second London pumping station that we’ve visited, after going to Crossness in 2015. It looks like it’ll be good for kids – especially if it’s a nice day where Lizzie can play outside.

The Musical Museum is also nearby and we may visit, depending on time.

Further away is the Museum of London Docklands. We popped in for about an hour on our last visit, but were only able to see the gallery on the top floor, about slavery and the history of the area. So we’d like the see the rest of the museum, but also the special exhibition on the archaeology of Crossrail that runs until November.

The Hunterian Museum has been on our to-do list for some time. Sadly, it closes next month for a three year refurbishment, so it’ll be shut when we visit.

Seeing friends

We try to make time to see friends when we’re in London, and so, in addition to the above, we’ll plan to meet up if we can. There’s a lot to fit in to a three night stay but we’ll do our best.


The City of London

Next week, Christine, our baby and I are off to London for a few days. It’ll be our first trip as a family of three there; I last went in January on my own when our baby was only a few weeks’ old. It’ll also be the first time I’ve ever driven to London, as we’ve always taken the train or coach in the past.

I’m driving because we’re also visiting family on the way, but also because of the amount of luggage we’ll need. Babies may be small, but they also need several days worth of food and nappies, a pram, travel cot, high chair and other things. So whilst Christine and I could do several days in London with a rucksack each, with a baby, we’ll need the car.

We’re staying in a hotel in north London that’s easily reached by car and has parking, but is also close to a tube station. Once we’re there, I have no intention of driving in central London – congestion charge aside, I’m not keen on driving in city centres. And whilst London Underground is not great for prams or wheelchairs, our baby thankfully tolerates being carried in a sling.

Part of the reason for our visit is so that I can go to the HE Show at Olympia – if you’re going as well, drop me a line. We’re also planning to go to the Tower of London, as it’s been many years since I visited, and Christine has never been. It’s expensive, unless you have lots of spare Tesco Clubcard tokens like we do.

I always look forward to trips to London, partly because we always make a point of seeing friends who live there when we go, but also because there is so much to do. It makes a change from a few years ago when I developed a general dislike of the place. Back then, I also had access to free train travel and so could visit London (or, indeed any British city) whenever I wanted to. Perhaps I like London more nowadays because I only get to go there once or twice each year, and it usually requires weeks of forward planning – I can’t just decide to go there on a whim like I used to.