Transport for London is holding a speed-dating event to persuade single people to travel by cable car

Artist's impression. Image: Getty. (Ish.)

What the bloody buggering hell is going on here, then?

Transport for London (TfL) and MySingleFriend.com are hosting a free dating event on board MBNA Thames Clippers and the Emirates Air Line on Thursday 12 February. Singles and their loyal wingmen and wingwomen are invited to take to the river and skies to find a date for their single friends in two romantic settings.

That, best beloved, is not something we've made up. It's from an official press release, issued by London's official transport authority. It's on their website. It's real, that's what we're getting at here.

On the night, singletons and their friends will enjoy a moonlit boat ride on a MBNA Thames Clippers before embarking on speed-dating with a twist on the Emirates Air Line – London's only cable car.

Yes, well, there's a reason for that.

Being the crack news-gathering outfit that we are, CityMetric decided it was time to find out more. A press officer told us that this was, in not so many words, exactly what it looks like: a marketing pitch for some of TfL's lesser known services.

The cable car and the boats are "very different to some of our more conventional transport modes," she told us. Consequently they receive rather fewer passengers. Events like this are a way of alerting people to the fact that London has regular river boats and a cable car dangling over the Thames. “They’re incredibly romantic and popular with couples,” the spokeswoman added. “So there's a natural fit with Valentines Day."

The partnership with MySingleFriend.com came about because why should couples have all the boat-based fun.

As it turns out, this is not a one off. Past attempts to market the Emirates Airline cable car have involved giving away chocolate at Easter, and piping in an edited version of The Snowman & The Snowdog at Christmas. Basically, hardly anyone's using it, because it goes from nowhere much to nowhere much, so any opportunity to remind people that it’s there is a welcome one.

Deficit hawks will be delighted to hear that public money isn't being spent on any of this: it's being funded by MBNA Thames Clippers and MySingleFriend.com, who also think the whole thing is a marketing opportunity. They might be right, too: the spokesperson told us that, since the event was announced yesterday, 70 per cent of the tickets have already gone. Better move quick, singletons.

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.