Venturing back into London…

I haven’t been into London since late March but have needed to come back in for the first time, this week. I was a bit apprehensive about it, and I had no idea what to expect.

I’ve actually avoided most of the outside world for the last 120 days and am much less on top of the news than the rest of my family (mainly because I just can’t face reading about COVID-19 after a day of talking about COVID-19).

I thought I’d take a few pictures for anyone else who is curious about what it’s like. Here’s what it’s like arriving into London at 8am this week…

I got the 0703 train into London Victoria. I’d normally expect this to be packed. There were few enough people on it that everyone could have a group of seats to themselves.

Most people have their masks on before they get on the train. The odd person thinks they’re above it, and either waits until they’re sat down to put it on, or doesn’t bother at all.

Selfie of me sitting on the train wearing a mask made out of purple fabric, with white ribbon ties. The mask is completely covering my nose, mouth, and chin.

My sister made me a mask out of some purple fabric. It’s double-layered, and has space in between the layers to insert a filter. Apparently you can use coffee filters between the layers of fabric; I’m not sure whether this is effective or just a bit of a fad perpetuated by social media.

Some people have their masks off their noses whilst they’re sitting on the train. It’s not really the idea, but I can see why they do it – sometimes you just want to breathe in some cool air.

Arriving into Victoria Station, it’s immediately clear that things aren’t “normal”.

Wide photo looking across the concourse at the main train information screens. All shops are closed except the mini Pret, which has 4 people outside it. The only other person in the photo is a staff member standing next to a barrier.

Inside there station itself, it is completely quiet. I had to go into London 3 times this week, and on each occasion I could never see more than 50 people when looking in any direction.

Most of the station is shut. The coffee stalls and fast food places all have their shutters down. One little Pret outlet was open, but there were 4 people outside already so even though I was hankering after a coffee from a coffee shop, I avoided it as 4 people was positively crowded by my books.

Inside Victoria Station looking across the main concourse. Maximum of 20 people in the photo, including staff. It is incredibly empty.

I don’t think I’ve even seen Victoria station this quiet in the early hours of the morning. I wouldn’t say it’s unpleasant…

There are blue signs everywhere advising people to wear masks and keep their distance.

Long dark blue National Rail sign with white print, draped over a yellow crowd control barrier. 6 sections each with big images read left to right: “Regularly wash your hands. Please keep your distance (with a picture of an escalator). Please keep your distance (with a picture of two people either end of a bench). Travel during off peak hours. Go online to book tickets and use contactless. Face coverings should be used on our services.”
Looking at McDonald‘s with its shutters down. A large blue sign “Wear a face covering” is stuck on the wall, and another is on an A-frame in front of McDonald’s entrance.

National Rail are giving away free face masks, and there are hand sanitiser dispensers dotted around the station.

A hand sanitiser and free mask counter set up outside the currency exchange inside the station. There is an abundance of blue signs telling you to “Wear a face covering” which are used to create a channel towards the counter.

There seemed to be lots of staff around wearing bright pink jackets. I wasn’t entirely sure what their job was – it may have simply been to make me feel like everything was being taken very seriously….

Wide shot looking back at the main entrance to Victoria Station from about 50 metres away. There are only about 30 people in the entire photo.

There are visual markers to help people remember how far apart they should be standing. These are outside the station, and I also spotted them just on the pavement along the road.

Looking down at the floor of the concourse outside the station. There are purple circular signs spaced about 2m apart saying “Keep a safe distance”.

I haven’t had a coffee made by a barista since I was last in London. There are very coffee shops open, but Hermanos opposite the station looked inviting so I popped in. The coffee was good.

Looking into the front of “Hermanos Colombian Coffee Roasters”. There is a chap sitting outside enjoying a takeaway coffee. A man in a suit is standing at the counter with his arms crossed.

I had a 10 minute-ish walk along Victoria Street to the office. I’m used to being one of hundreds of people plowing down the street away from the station. It’s so quiet that you almost can’t avoid making eye contact with everyone you walk past.

Wide photo outside Victoria Station in London with only about 10 people in the shot.

It’s completely deserted on the streets, compared to a normal weekday rush hour. Walking along Victoria Street for 10 minutes, I reckon I passed no more than 50 people. I’d say about a quarter of them had a mask on.

I found myself avoiding pushing the buttons at the road crossings, but it didn’t really matter as there weren’t enough cars to really need the crossing anyway.

Looking down the length of Victoria Street back towards Victoria Station. The roads are quiet, only one other person is within 50m of me. Most shops are closed.

Inside the office, it felt a little more like normal. It’s still completely quiet compared to pre-COVID, but without a doubt being in the office itself carries more risk than the travel in and out of London. I’m much less apprehensive about the travel bit now.

I feel like it’s not going to stay quiet like this for much longer, and I’m a little sad about that, I think.

Using Regex to extract parts of a postcode in Python

The concepts

Every time I try to do something with postcodes I find myself trying to remember the different potential formats and googling for effective regular expressions (the one I want is never in the first five I try).

I decided to record what I found to help out future me (and others). This post will:

Continue reading “Using Regex to extract parts of a postcode in Python”

The Zen of Interoperability

I was having a discussion with a colleague this week about architectural options for some specific interoperability use cases we are tackling.

The conversation touched on implementation choice – how much flexibility should there be in how to approach specific interoperability use cases within the NHS?

I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and struggled with the complexity that “many ways to do the same thing” can introduce. I naturally found myself quoting PEP 20 — The Zen of Python |


There should be one — and preferably only one — obvious way to do it.

Could this be a reasonable principle for us to take with NHS interoperability?

I wonder if there is a place for “The Zen of NHS Interoperability” – to define some guiding principles for all of us working hard to make interoperability useful for the NHS.

Here is a slightly tongue-in-cheek attempt at a “Zen of NHS Interoperability” 🙂

The Zen of Interoperability

Elegant is better than messy.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.
Complex is better than complicated.
Open is better than controlled.
But controlled is better than proprietary.
Readability counts.
Special cases aren't special enough to break the rules.
Although practicality beats purity.
Errors should never pass silently.
Unless explicitly silenced.
In the face of ambiguity, refuse the temptation to guess.
There should be one-- and preferably only one --obvious way to do it.
Although that way may not be obvious at first unless you designed it.
Now is better than never.
Although never is often better than *right* now.
If the implementation is hard to explain, it's a bad idea.
If the implementation is easy to explain, it may be a good idea.
Clear Standards are one honking great idea -- let's have more of those!