Iver walking diary

2018; an early summer heatwave; too hot to do anything all day, unless you wake up crazy early…

Delightfully, as I am getting ready, alone at 4:45am, I get a really strange pain across my chest, which I try to convince myself is something muscular, biomechanical, just very unusual, new to me. Let’s hope it is nothing else. Seems to be worse when I breathe – so, probably not heart. Can always not breathe. Feels very odd to walk off away from home like this though – try not to fall over dead.

The sky is surprisingly bright, surprisingly pale blue, given that we are a long way before sunrise: sunrise is allegedly at 5:12 this morning, not that it is exactly a binary thing, sun on or off – anyway, that is exactly when I am due to arrive at Iver station.

I have allowed a few minutes extra at Twyford station so that I can check out what to do in an emergency if, at the last minute, they make a platform switch, like last time I walked super-early, and I have to work out how to get from the regular platform four to the occasional/emergency platform two, despite the big metal barriers that stop you doing so. But there is no problem this time: the train is already scheduled for platform two on the monitors, which even said that the sliding gates are open and we should use those – it’s all properly organised this time. So I get to platform two ok.

And away under the bridge there is a far strip of red light at the bottom of the sky, and seen through the mesh of overlapping gantries of electrification, it looks for all the world like some huge distant electronic noticeboard, exactly like the electric ones that light up our platforms, just much bigger and further away

Two minutes before the train is due, and  I can see it coming down the tracks. I am down towards the far end of the platform, hoping to get in the first carriage. Announcement comes over the speakers: this is a Platform Alteration. Incredibly, this train is now arriving on platform four, the usual London Platform. The three of us on the platform head off up the stairs, me running to catch them up, as the train arrives, and I tell the lady with the two suitcases as I pass her that I will hold a train door for her because she is going to be behind me, as the third guy actually bails at the top of the stairs, and walks away, funny enough, which seems a bit extreme. Perhaps he felt something in his chest? Murderous Intent? But anyway, the other two of us make it. Hayes and Harlington? she asks. (For Heathrow.) Yes, I thumbs-up, thinking “well duh, there aren’t exactly any other trains”, but then again, I guess such a last second platform change could easily confuse you – and who knows what else they might have changed about the train, after all?? Who knows what the fuck they’re doing? They sure don’t.

We slow to a crawl on the approach to Maidenhead, exactly like the last time I did this. I wonder what special thing happens here, only at bugger all o’clock…

I can see that the sky is almost entirely clear, except for the eastern horizon, which sadly is covered in cloud. Bummer. I hope the cloud’s heading east. Actually I can now see what might just be gaps underneath the clouds right on the horizon – there are one or two fantastic red-fire coloured flashes. I can’t wait to get to the bridge at Iver: sunrise, who knows?

We wait for three minutes at Slough, not for any connecting trains at 5 o’clock in the morning but for our due departure time, because all train schedules are padded here and there with extra minutes so that even if trains are delayed a little bit they can count as “on time” in the stats; whenever people try to measure things in order to improve them, people start finding ways around it, to give the pretence of improvement, even if doing so means things are going backwards.

As we head towards Iver station, a slow-moving guy walks into my carriage, where I am the only passenger, walks past me and then, it transpires, waits at the exit door behind my seat. I get up to leave by that door, see yer man there, he presses the button and leaves, I follow. Two people come running down the stairs – what are the odds they are just catching this train at the last second – then I realise, of course, they must just’ve heard a platform alteration like me. Then there’s just me and yer man – he is the only other person leaving at Iver, and I wonder why he would have walked into my carriage, as he was taking himself further away from the station stairs. Yer man walks super-slowly up the stairs, as if inviting me to overtake. Given my dodgy knees, I do not, and I walk super-slow behind him. I pause on the bridge to take some unfortunately unexciting sunrise photos – we are open to the elements – as he wanders over and away, but when I get down the far side of the bridge and leave the station, he is standing there, looking down at his phone. He is a hard-looking middle-aged bloke, about six foot. (At 5’7″ and, I later remind myself, with elastic supports on both my arms I must look like the weakest of the herd, unable to fight back? And with a fold-up stool over my shoulder I would seem to be off to the countryside…)

There are exits from here in two opposite directions, and I walk off down the passageway to the main road rather than into the village of Richings Park, and as I do I get a small fruitknife out of my bag, hold it in my hand, pointing up my wrist. I threw it in my bag this morning, just before I left – it was sat there, meant for the allotment, and I thought “you never know” and threw it in; perhaps I did know something. Only when I get out to the main road, and wait ten seconds, and he hasn’t come out behind me, do I put the knife back in my bag. Then as I walk off up the main road the mandoes come out of the same passageway. I keep walking, and after a little while manage a look back and I find he has also come north, in my direction, and is walking behind me, a little way back, but a lot quicker than he was before, normal pace, 30-35 yards back. For a second time I get the knife out and into my hand. I realise it is me breaking the law here. It’s 5:15am in the absolute middle of nowhere, and some big guy seems intent on following me. I get to the canal, where I had been planning to turn off down the canal path, and everything is overgrown and dark and deserted down there, and at five in the morning, in the middle of nowhere, with a murderous madman right behind me – another look, there he is, and I get the feeling he might have seen this look back, this one was a bit obvious, I kinda stepped away from the canal bridge and turned to look back – or maybe he saw the knife in my hand, or maybe he saw me get my mobile out – anyway, I decide to push on pronto a short way to where there are houses (knees don’t fail me now), and when I look back he has gone, and the only places he could possibly have gone are back to the station, well maybe if he ran, or more likely down the canal towpath, perhaps to continue his murderous intent. I think I am going to have to re-plan my day. No dark canal towpaths. In fact, anywhere the fuck away from here.

In Iver village proper I do find a little path to a footbridge I know over the M25 and go check that out (traffic surprisingly heavy southbound), but on the far side it is just a wasteland of paths and roads through the gasworks and sewage works and scrubland and paths back south to the canal, and I somehow don’t feel inclined to walk over there. I’m going to invent a new tour for today.

Back through a small housing estate, with a 15 foot high vibrating privet hedge, rammed full of chirping, hopping sparrows; a couple of used nitrous oxide bulbs on the floor nearby. Thinking about it, I remember I can take a slightly country path north from Iver village to some country Manor house and from there, down some road over the motorway I once walked with my brother – it occurs to me that you really want two people for this early morning country walks thing – two people with knives maybe – so I head that way, 180 degrees away from canal man.

Someone has built behind a high garden wall a tiny building which can only be I think a station for a garden trainset, or perhaps some other garden building, but it looks like a tiny Tudor building and it says with a sign “the Shire, Dallas Inn, the sound pipe, Iver village”. The sign is really not helping me much.

Isn’t it funny that I picked up the knife this morning just on a last minute whim, everything else laid out and ready to go, even felt a bit stupid putting it in my bag.

6 a.m. exactly and the Sun has made it above the clouds and is a more normal yellow colour. I guess I might have an hour or so of nice cool walking left.

I get the mosquito spray out because I remember that Delaford Manor is by the Colne Brook, a mini-River Colne, itself a mini river… and because something has been tickling my arm. And I am soon in open country, and then soon at the Manor house, with its beautiful lawn and young bunnies running everywhere, and the right of way leads past the smaller houses on the grounds and over the Colne Brook and then over the M25. I look at my Google Maps, and realise to my great surprise that I have walked halfway from Iver station to Uxbridge, which to me had always seemed two different worlds. Funny how our brains order things by train lines: Iver, some Great Western train stop just short of Slough, is almost next door to Uxbridge, some Northwest London tube stop. Perhaps I will walk to Uxbridge, perhaps up one of the little rivers that goes north the other side of the motorway, although I could of course walk up this here river north instead, out in the country, it has a path – but I think I would rather be “suburbia or thereabouts” from now on. I don’t think the murderous nutter is in suburbia right now.

Hm. Perhaps yer man was just a fisherman, casing the joint, finding a good spot on the grand union canal, as you do at five in the morning. Right.

There are three rivers and one canal going north to Uxbridge from hereabouts, and Google maps only has a dotted line down the side of the canal – basically it doesn’t do footpaths as in rights-of-way, like an OS map would, but it does seem to do footpaths down canals. I’m glad to say that when I get to the next river, the River Colne, it not only has a footpath, it is the London Loop footpath, which goes the entire circuit of London. Also, it’s now 6:30 not 5am, and also, I think I am still heading in the opposite direction to yer man. I think I will take the chance. Also, I am armed, after all.

And soon this river and path feels perfectly liminal – to my left, the river and then thistled meadows fading into trees as far as the eye can see – not even a single house or building all the way to the distant horizon. To the right of the path, a 10 foot high steel fence with huge steel barbs, protecting an industrial estate, and behind that the rest of the Hillingdon suburb and That London for a good 30 miles east. And between, a neglected river and footpath that belongs to both, and neither.

First dog walker. Morning! Reassuring.

The river is quite fast flowing, has angling rights and landing positions, and looks like kingfisher territory to me. I eat a wayside blackberry – huge, sweet and juicy.

Very thoughtfully they have not just put up a 10 foot steel fence, between riverside path and industrial estate, they have put some dense mesh all the way along it, so that you can’t see in – as that might spoil your walking experience. Of course I am sure that’s not quite the reason it’s there: you might see something they don’t want you to see, such as a burglary opportunity. I take a walk down through the vegetation to one of the fishing platforms at the river’s edge, take my tripod chair off my shoulder for the first time, sit down, whip out the slice of bread from my bag, and successfully feed the fish – as soon as bread goes under the water it gets savaged. That bread was intended for feeding the fishes in the canal this morning – I wonder if I nearly was doing that myself?

People walk by above, on the path, oblivious to my presence below.

I walk on, and keep an eye out for likely Kingfisher posts. An ancient fishing float hangs from an overhanging branch – all its colour long since weathered away. Floats in trees – reminds me of my teenage years, our village river.

I thought we had a blackberry glut at the allotment but there are miles and miles of them here – lots and lots of them ripe – thousands of people live within walking distance of here and no one comes to pick them? (As well as fishing, my childhood had lots of blackberry picking down lanes.)Give it a few years, the way things are going.

I note with joy that my position is now on the same screen in Google maps as Uxbridge underground! It gives me a little thrill. Then I remember that, of course, it just depends what Zoom you have – bah. Making it onto the last fold of the map, after a long trip – a lovely little feeling lost in modern technology.

A tern overhead reminds me of the terns fishing on the lake yesterday as we pedaloed our way around it – they hover when they see a fish, then dive like a Gannett into the water.

A gate to the right, a little path, and I check the map and find I can cut through to the canal and take a little slice of canal into Uxbridge – come on, don’t be scared of canals, so I resolve to do it. And 5 seconds later I have gone from some beautiful countryside ramble to the backend of an unpleasant industrial estate: adhesives, metal treatments, anodising. 7:10, A couple of people, a couple of vans, and one astonishing road cleaning device that is simply spraying water (or weedkiller?!) on things – it’s even smaller than the usual one person based sweeper thing. The only voice I hear is a beturbaned chap speaking some foreign tongue into some kind of walkie-talkie. A parakeet goes over. A pair of boots have been abandoned at the side of the road – DeWalt. I think about bringing them back as plant pots, as is the way.

So here we are – the grand union canal. I suppose your man could conceivably have walked a mile up the canal, from where we bade our farewell, in to West Drayton, then turned north up this Uxbridge branch, and be waiting for me! But the canal turns out to be lovely, boats on the canal to the right of my path, garden gates to the left.

I cut across a now brown recreation ground, ending in the fourth waterway, Frays River, and get to the main road to check for buses back down to West Drayton, before I go find breakfast. My left heel has been bothering me for quite some time, since the Colne river in fact.

A woman walking into town has her ID badge around her neck already – this makes me feel so sad for humanity – does she even take it off at home?

A first runner goes by, bang on cue, as I’d just whipped my phone out to record this note: I have one last job – 15 to 20 years ago i used to run from where we lived in Ealing to Uxbridge, and get the train back from Uxbridge station – anyway, I want to see if I can recognise the end of the 9mile run. I know, I can barely recognise Ealing anymore – almost every shop seems to have changed – I just wonder whether I might remember some corner, some road, some aspect.

8:00 on the High Street on the way to the underground and needless to say I don’t recognise a single thing. Interestingly all the shops, even things like restaurants like Wagamama, are getting their tables and chairs and partition-things out onto the pavement already – they can’t be open that early? or does every  place do breakfast nowadays?

Greggs does, and it’s busy. I find a proper caff almost opposite, on the paved section, empty. But it soon has several customers.

BTW as I was walking along I had to go online to find out how on earth you pay for buses in Greater London nowadays – the last time I tried, a couple of years ago, we tried to use cash and they don’t take it anymore – turns out apparently you can just use a contactless card and that’s it, £1.50. Hope so!!

I find a seat outside in dappled sun, dappled for about the next ten minutes I reckon: no suncream needed. And in every respect my breakfast is as good as it gets, including its near-instantaneous arrival.

The underground station is one of those beautiful classic standard (1930s?) ones – and I don’t remember it at all. Feels like nothing that was in my brain 15-20 years ago is still there unless it had been refreshed in the meantime.

Time to head home. As I walk around the gyratory to the bus stop just round the corner, both the buses that I could catch, 222 and U5, go straight past me. I make the bus stop seconds too late. It’s a brilliantly situated bus stop, 50 yards around the corner from the major gyratory, where if you so much as look away for a second, look down at your phone maybe, your bus might appear and go straight past you.

The train ome fromWest Dayton doesn’t stop at Iver station which suits me fine, and as we get there an enormously long goods train arrives in the other direction and blots out my view of the station completely – again lovely.

—— Appendix

Can’t believe I forgot the map! What an idiot!

As we approach Iver station, I head for the middle of the train – because if you don’t know where the exit is, then on average, the middle of the train makes you closer: if I were in carriage one or seven, I would be on average three carriages away from the exit, but now, I am less than two.

It’s just habit, though, I’m in no rush today, I’ve caught an earlier train than I needed, because I need this work – they even announce which carriage you are in, so I head for carriage four, since (as they also tell you) only carriages 1 to 6, or was it 1 to 7, open their doors at Iver.

Anyway, I’ve walked to the middle of the train, just past the only other guy on it, and I get off at the station, just after 5am, and that guy gets off behind me, same doors, and I wonder if he is going for the same work, and I am looking down at my phone and trying to get Google Maps to work, walking slowly to the footbridge – I remember that from the instructions: footbridge, Iver, then right at Iver Church  – looking down at my phone, in no rush, and while I am going up the stairs, I did notice that the other guy who got off behind me was still some way behind me on the stairs, walking even more slowly than me, which seemed strange. As I walked over the footbridge I had a little look around – nobody else around, just that guy, who had now stopped apparently to take a picture with this phone.

I got over the bridge, and I remembered that this station is in the middle of nowhere, and it is meant to be quite a walk to the village, and yet, there were two exits here, and one of them plainly went straight into the village. Was I remembering this wrong? Come on, Google Maps! Bastard thing.

Anyway, as I stood there looking at my worthless phone try to draw a map, the other guy from the train came down the stairs, and looked around a bit. I avoided his gaze, as you do in this country, and he went off down the other exit, an alleyway off to a road. After about another 30 seconds or so, my phone finally drew the map I needed, and I worked out where to go – so this station, called Iver, is actually at some other village, called Richings Park. Iver is up the main road! England! Nothing makes sense.

Now I’d worked out where to go, I walked off down the alleyway towards the main road, and when I got there, that guy was still there, where the alleyway ends, just about to go up the main road, like he’d been waiting for me. Again I avoided eye contact, and as he went up the main road, I walked extra slowly, to let a reasonable gap develop. So I end up walking maybe 40 yards behind him, and a couple of minutes later he stops and looks sideways and I remember there was canal on the map, that must be the bridge he’s on, and I slowed to a crawl, and that’s when I saw something in his right hand, something that looked for all the world like a knife, like he was trying to hold it secretly, pointing it up his arm.

He took a step back from looking at the canal, and he plainly turned to look at me, and that was a knife. I practically shat myself. 5 o’clock in the morning, in the absolute middle of nowhere, and some mad knife murderer is waiting to stab me and throw me in a canal.

Then he turned away and started walking up the road again, and the moment he did, I turned back and ran like crazy for the train station, knees don’t fail me now, trying to make no noise at all with my feet (thank you trainers), checking over my shoulder as I went out of sight, that he was still going away.

Fuck the work. I will phone and say I woke up ill. Something. Anything. Try again tomorrow? On the later train, maybe.

And next time I’ll bring a knife of my own.


An idea for a car UI

car UI 4

So, I’m sure it’s been done, but why not mount your screen in the middle of the steering wheel?

This isn’t a touchscreen, by the way – it’s operated by four buttons down each side (remember the Nokia 9100?) – at any time there are different options (words on the screen) by each button.

So, you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel, wave your hand in mid-air, and attempt (and often fail) to touch an icon on a touchscreen. Just use your thumbs.

And your eyes are as little removed as possible from the action in front of you. In fact, most activities would just be muscle memory from your thumbs – you wouldn’t have to take your eyes off the road *at all* to tap the sequence of button that means (say) “Main Menu” – “Radio” – “Preset 3”.

(You can make a case for the screen & buttons rotating with the wheel as you turn it, or staying put – either would be fine though.)

So: eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and no mis-types. What’s not to like?


A solution to the “ribbon vs toolbar” conundrum? (How Microsoft should’ve done ribbons?)

The “ribbon vs toolbar” debate polarises PC users, perhaps more than any other issue. It seems (from my recent research) maybe half the world like the ribbon and hate the toolbar – and vice versa.

While doing some app UI design recently, I tried to find a way to heal the rift:

  • Have a ribbon-like structure, rather than vertical menus, but on each ribbon, group the most commonly used items together first, under the label ‘Main’;
  • Then have an extra ribbon/toolbar – I’m going to name it ‘Main Toolbar’ for now – which just shows all of those groups of most commonly-used items, the ‘Main’ sections, all together on one ribbon – and voilà – it does what the old toolbars used to do.

So, say, here’s a wireframe of our first ribbon, for a ‘Docs’ (or ‘File’) menu/ribbon (by the way, don’t worry about this pic going “under” the right-hand WordPress column):

It looks similar to a Microsoft Ribbon; it’s just the menu, spelled out as icons and text, across the screen.

Note that the first group, at the left end of this ribbon, is itself labelled Main, and it’s the most commonly-used Doc/File actions – New, Save etc

(Incidentally, I’ve placed all the more advanced commands under the sub-title “Advanced”, to indicate to normal users that they should not worry if they do not understand these commands. So now there’s a nice left-to-right progression, from the main, everyday commands, through less used ones, to the advanced, power-user ones.)

Here’s the ‘Format’ ribbon/menu, say:

Again, its most common items are grouped on the left – Style (“Heading 3”), Font settings. B/I/U etc.

So Docs/Insert/Format/Tools are like using a ribbon; it’s your menu, laid out graphically, left to right.

But there’s another ribbon/menu/toolbar (whatever!), at the top right, that I’ve called ‘Main Toolbar’, and it’s like this:

It’s made up of the ‘Main’ sections of ‘Docs’, of ‘Insert’, of ‘Format’, and of ‘Tools’.

It’s like a 2-line Toolbar, i.e. with the old-fashioned toolbar benefit that all the things you’re most likely to want are now always on-screen.  (And not that dissimilar to a typical Apple Mac toolbar, by the way, which is 1 line of icons & text, rather than two.)

But it feels like a ribbon too, and it’s part of a combined toolbar/ribbon system:

1) Now if it so happens you’re a toolbar fan: fine, you click ‘Main toolbar’, and there’s a conventional toolbar, and it’s made up of all those ‘Main’ sections from each menu. And while we’re now in ‘toolbar/menus mode’, you can tap a menu and use it, and it then goes away and the ‘Main toolbar’ reappears. (Eg, click Insert, then Bullets – and you’re back with your Toolbar.)

2) But if you want to use it in a ribbon-like sense, you just tap any of Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and then tap on the document (sorry it’s only one line high in these pics – the line starting “Hi folks”), and now you’re in ribbon-world. You can stay there forever if you like: it’s now a ribbon UI. You tap Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and it stays displayed. (There’d be some minor graphical change to indicate  ribbon world vs toolbar/menu world.)

3) And in both worlds – ribbons, and toolbar/menus – you can tap the name of the currently displayed menu/ribbon/toolbar – to make it all go away and maximise screenspace. (Handy for tablet UIs, say.) When it’s like this, you can display Docs, Insert, Format, or Tools, and if you use them, they then go away again, returning you to your desired “maximum screenspace” state. So they’re now pop-ups. (Or if you bring one of them up but then click  on the doc, then you’re saying “back to ribbon mode please”.

(Here’s an animated Powerpoint wireframe of the whole thing. Click wherever you like.UI idea 5a – remember that if you’re a Toolbar person, and bring up the Toolbar, then if you now use one of the menus and pick something from it, you’re returned to the Toolbar being displayed. But if you prefer to use it ribbon-stylee, ie bring up a ribbon/menu then click on the document, it now acts like a ribbon, and ribbons now stay displayed.)

So… It always does what you want, and if it ever did do something that you didn’t want, it’s always just one obvious click to make it go back to what you do want – if you like toolbars, and it’s not there for some reason, click ‘Main toolbar’ and off you go. Or if you like ribbons, and it’s gone away, click the ribbon you want, then get on with editing your document.

A little icing on the cake of course (especially for power users) is that you can swap. So if you’re doing a bit of everyday editing: ‘Main toolbar’. And if you’re doing a load of file-based stuff, say, click ‘Docs’ and get on with it.


Well, by all means tell me what you make of it. But it does let both toolbar fans and ribbon fans continue pretty much as before. It also lets users have the same UI across desktops and tablets – which is great for them (one UI) and is also a major trend in the biz (Microsoft are bringing out a new Windows 8 system soon that, much like Apple’s Lion and upcoming Mountain Lion, will move further towards converging the smartphone / tablet / PC ‘experience’ as people like to call it. That said, Microsoft are plainly going even more down the Ribbon road in Windows 8, with Explorer getting one, so this issue, of lots of people now being used to ribbons, isn’t going away.)

Find me at www.slashdesign.com

I’m Nick Healey, and my proper (company) website is at
Slash Design Ltd.

I’ve been designing mobile and other tech UX since the 90’s, when I designed Psion and Symbian’s platforms.

(This site is something of an anti-blog, at the moment…)

This is not a blogpost

So many blogs. So little time.

let’s not spend all day reading and re-posting…


Smartphone Design enters Stone Age

You know how, soooo often, you get your iPhone out to see a map of where you are, or to check Flook for what’s interesting there, or… or for whatever, but Britain’s “O2” mobile network can’t provide even the tiny data bandwidth required?

Like, about 50% of the time, I’d guess?

For some while now I’ve been carrying a second smartphone for just such occasions:

UPG - the Useless Palm Gadget

UPG - the Useless Palm Gadget

Made by the Stuckist artist Richard Conway-Jones, the UPG (“Useless Palm Gadget”) performs all of the same advanced data functions as my O2 iPhone does half the time (ie none). But with many advantages –

– iPhones are common as muck now (hence the “bandwidth divided by infinity” problem). Whereas people rush over to watch my UPG fail to display a map.

– Made of solid plaster – scratch-proof, drop-proof (may damage floors).

– Big, firm, tactile buttons, made from bottle tops and penny pieces, plus a screen that’s equally readable in any lighting.

– Sorry, iPhone users – but this actually *is* a work of art.

And I’ve just discovered UPG-Sync, which guarantees that all my devices contain identical Contact data. (It’s more a philosophy than a software product – you get all the other devices together and whack them with your UPG.)

In November 2010 I had the pleasure of introducing my UPG while presenting at the Smart Device and Mobile User Experience Summit, in London. Demand is already phenomenal. It’s a better option than my iPhone 50% of the time. And much, much cheaper.

(PS Here’s a review of that show, with various transgressions of mine, on leading tech-news site The Register.)