diamond geezer

 Friday, October 20, 2017

A City of London
The City of London has always remained outside the administrative system of the other London boroughs, so there was never any danger of the Herbert Commission adding it to Greater London. It's always done its own thing, its planning department especially so, including a pioneering network of elevated walkways in the late 60s and early 70s. The 'pedways' were supposed to become a 30 mile network across the City keeping pedestrians above the traffic, but development ground to a halt and only a fraction were ever built. I've been out in search of what remains, with the aid of this 1992 map usefully tweeted by @MrTimDunn (the numbers and colours are my addition). Why not head down and explore for yourself?
[green - still walkable, amber - somewhat stunted, red - since redeveloped]


Pedways of the City of London



1) The Barbican Highwalks
The one set of pedways every Londoner knows is the maze of passageways around the Barbican, if only as somewhere it's notoriously easy to get lost. The estate was built during the precise period that pedways were in vogue, hence all the main thoroughfares run above ground level, leaving down below for water gardens, car parks and deliveries. The concrete highwalks exhibit considerable variety, from tight tunnels to broad esplanades and from smart crescents to narrow gangways, linking visitors to the central concert hall and residents to the outside world. For lovers of practical brutalism it gets no better.



Most of the original network survives, looping beneath slab blocks and skirting the towers, but the eastern end hasn't been so lucky. The Moorfields Highwalk comes to an abrupt end in midair above the edge of a building site, the remainder of the rooftop empire demolished as part of Crossrail-related development. Some new kind of connection will be created once that's complete, but in the meantime don't try following the fabled yellow line to Moorgate while a less than satisfactory diversion remains in place.
I could devote this entire post to the Barbican's pedways, but you don't need me to tell you where they are to be able to explore for yourself. The City's more elusive pedways deserve our attention instead.

2) Baynard House
Where you find pedways, you often also find concrete. Baynard House is a total concrete eruption, a three storey office block smothering the site of a royal Tudor mansion, located just to the east of Blackfriars station. Architect William Holford built his grey fortress with pedway principles in mind, its main entrance at first floor level, and an elevated walkway set back alongside Queen Victoria Street.



40 years later this gloomy passageway feels somewhat dour, frequented by BT employees and pigeons, twisting past boarded-up doorways, men in sleeping bags and a single potplant. It begins in a raised square with a Shakespearean totem pole depicting the seven ages of man, continues above the Mermaid Theatre accompanied by whiffs of urine, and descends on the far side of Puddle Dock outside a little-known entrance to Blackfriars station. As M@'s video attests, this is a pedway worthy of (brief) psychogeographical exploration.

3) Peter's Hill
According to the City of London's classification, the long pedestrian avenue which slopes down from St Paul's Cathedral to the Millennium Bridge was officially designated a pedway. It's still very much in situ, and easily the busiest on the map, but totally lacks that essential elevated pedway vibe, so I'm going to skip it and move on.

4) Fyefoot Lane
This meanwhile is a proper pedway, one of a series built to span Upper Thames Street when it was dual-carriagewayed in the late 1960s. It begins on Queen Victoria Street, slipping between a couple of office blocks wherein financial drones can be seen sat patiently tapping on computers. It's named Fyefoot Lane after a medieval alley which once ran this way down to the docks, previously known as Five Foot Lane because one end was only five foot wide.



The land hereabouts drops quite steeply towards the Thames, hence the walkway emerges at lamppost-top-height, just to the east of the Upper Thames Street tunnel. A double bend leads pedestrians to a sleek footbridge above the road, propped up on thin concrete wedges, with the City's coat of arms decorating the railings on each flank. No attempt is made to reach the building on the far side, there are simply steps down, but maybe that's why this pedway has survived riverside redevelopment and several of those downstream have not.

5) Suffolk Lane
Located just to the east of Cannon Street station, this pedway's had a modern makeover. At its heart, spanning Upper Thames Street, is an flat concrete slab much like that at Fyefoot Lane. But someone - I suspect the Japanese bank in the new building to the south - has clad the bridge's exterior with timber struts, and replaced the treads in the staircase with modern metal. Employees now trot out of the security door at first floor level with gym kits poised, before returning with a bagged-up noodle feast, while other local workers get to walk up from street level instead.



On the northern side the path bends round a much more 20th century office block, channelled through a pillared promenade, through whose windows Prudential employees are going about their business. The landing point is a backwater junction on Laurence Pountney Hill, with boltholes where "any sandwich and a drink" costs £9, and besuited souls do deals over a ciabatta and a glass of red.

6) Swan Lane
I will confess to never noticing this one before, which perhaps isn't surprising given it's been almost completely severed. An ummarked staircase rises on the corner of Swan Lane and Upper Thames Street, one block west of London Bridge, filling a space where you might expect to see two storeys of office windows. I ducked somewhat suspiciously past two ladies chatting, cigarettes in hand, and climbed five flights of stairs past a doorway marked Out of Order and a second landing with similarly non-existent access.



At the top of the final flight a diagonal railing brought my ascent to an abrupt halt, at the point where the pedway would have continued across the road. The footbridge disappeared when the building across the road was redeveloped in a more private manner, leaving an unintentional triangular landing which now functions as a kind of balcony overlooking the street corner below. This stumpy staircase should never have survived, but hurrah that it does, as easily the quirkiest pedway remnant on my list.

7) Pudding Lane
This is probably the best of the pedways outside the Barbican, both for length and for variety. It also has a splendid staircase to link roadside and footbridge level, curved in South Bank style, with no-expense-spared granite treads. A broad path heads Thamesward through St Magnus House, one of the chunky office blocks between London Bridge and Billingsgate, emerging onto an expansive terrace with fine views down to Tower Bridge and immediately opposite to the Shard. A sign at riverwalk level attempts to lure tourists upwards, but the vast majority pass by, leaving the upper terrace free for fag puffers, sandwich munchers and windblown litter.



On the northern side of the footbridge one prong of the pedway runs parallel to Pudding Lane, joining it roughly where 1666's fateful bakery once stood. The other prong runs parallel to Upper Thames Street, down a featureless corridor seemingly ideally sheltered for overnight sleeping. I found a small tent, a rolled up sleeping bag, and one alcove neatly laid out with carpet tiles, shoes and clothes on coathangers. If the worst ever happens, bear this pedway in mind.

8) Bishopsgate
The City's second-largest pedway network used to span the area around Bishopsgate, from Leadenhall Street north towards Liverpool Street station. No more. This part of town lies at the sweet spot for skyscraper development, unencumbered by protected views, and sequential rebuilding projects have wiped most of the highwalks away. The imminent behemoth rising at 22 Bishopsgate ensures that nothing survives of the former footbridge (and all points east), while the warren of paths around the foot of Tower 42 has (very) recently been cut by the intrusion of a gleaming glass row of bars and restaurants.



To find the one surviving chunk of pedway head to Wormwood Street, look for the concrete span across the road and climb the unmarked staircase alongside. Although it's possible to cross the bridge in perfect freedom, the main exit past the office block on the far side is fenced off and the other ends intrusively beside a second floor meeting room. Meanwhile a service corridor weaves south from the footbridge past several emergency back-exits and an open courtyard before terminating down a second corridor in hostile semi-darkness. The closure's only temporary, according to a brief notice, but it's hard to see how it'll ever again continue onwards through that new barrier of wrap vendors and burger eateries. A total dead end, in both directions, and easily the spookiest surviving pedway.

9) Middlesex Street Estate
Out on the far eastern edge of the City, and primed for unwealthier citizens, the Middlesex Street estate was built between 1965 and 1970 and so wholly embraced the pedway concept. One tower block and a ring of elevated flats surround Petticoat Square, with one upper gangway around the rim, and a series of access stairs squeezed in with the emergency services in mind.



When first built anyone could have wandered in, but the main entrance opposite Wentworth Street is now blocked off, and security doors prevent public access elsewhere. Laminated notices confirm that this is Private Property, No Loitering, and that rough sleepers will be arrested for trespassing. You will not be visiting this pedway any time soon.

10) London Wall Place
Somewhat unexpectedly, for those who thought pedways were out of fashion, a brand new City development is embracing them in a big way. London Wall Place is being built across a long splinter of land to the north of London Wall, to the southeast of the Barbican estate, with construction requiring the demolition of the former St Alphage Highwalk. The developers have been obliged to add new pedways amid their jungle of office blocks, mainly because the surrounding infrastructure includes several upper level links on all flanks which would otherwise be defunct.



Construction of the chain of bridges is well underway, not in concrete but in weathered steel, because architectural tastes move on. You can already see one of the seven bridges suspended above Wood Street, close to Jamie's Italian, and another over Fore Street close to Salters Hall. The closest to completion spans London Wall on a jaunty diagonal, and yesterday was being scrubbed down by a workman with a big cloth. Once open it'll breath fresh life into the Bassishaw Highwalk, formerly the Barbican's link to the Guildhall, and the workers in the adjacent offices won't be quite so shocked to see people walking past their window. It seems pedways are no longer the dead end concept they used to be.

» The Pedway: Elevating London (40 minute video)

 Thursday, October 19, 2017

And while we're talking big screens...

It's been a a year since TfL hung two huge LED screens in the heart of Canary Wharf station. They blaze, the surrounding lighting dimmed for added contrast, drilling advertising messages into the eyeballs of millions of passing passengers. The CEO of Exterion Media described the screens as "enhancing the customer experience through delivering a truly world class estate". He may be keen, but my experience has not been enhanced.



But Canary Wharf was just the beginning, because TfL have coffers to fill.
Known as Hello London, the eight-year media partnership between TfL and Exterion Media aims to excite and engage the customers that make more than a billion journeys on TfL's Underground and rail services each year. Hello London will be bringing investment and innovation to the outdoor media market, installing improved digital screens and offering brands new opportunities in sponsorship, pop-up retail and experiential marketing. The partnership is expected to generate £1.1bn in revenue to reinvest in the transport system.
Another big screen has recently been installed at King's Cross St Pancras. Specifically it's attached to the balcony in the western ticket hall, on the St Pancras side, close to the Circle line ticket barriers. It's nowhere near as big as the screens at Canary Wharf, but it's still much bigger than the Tube usually employs, and will be pretty much unmissable to those passing underneath. I've not seen it up and running, but its dancing pixels look like being a permanent distraction, and a full time moneyspinner.



It's a fair bet that the original designer of the western ticket hall didn't have a commercial intrusion in mind. Instead it feels like TfL's Chief of Economic Deliverance walked round all the prime stations in Zone 1 looking for big high-up rectangular gaps, noted this one with glee, and hey presto a huge digital screen has appeared. Expect more. Some of you may even have noticed more at tube stations elsewhere. Do tell.

Update: Apparently the King's Cross screen is for an Art on the Underground project, 'The Bureaucracy of Angels', a 12 minute film depicting the demolition of 100 migrant boats in Sicily. It's supposed to be running from 28 September to 25 November, so should be a temporary intervention, although I've only ever seen a blank screen when walking through.

Meanwhile you might be wondering where all the digital projectors on tube station platforms have gone. These large white boxes first appeared in 2008, firing moving adverts onto the opposite wall between trains, but last year they were all switched off. I was going to say they've all been removed, but then I found this one on the southbound Victoria line platform at King's Cross, dormant and a bit grubby.



These projectors vanished because Exterion Media are bringing in a better system. It'll be bigger (half as as big again), brighter (twice as bright) and with enhanced HD screen resolution. They call it DX3.
DX3 is a network of large digital screens (4.5m x 2.4m) installed cross track on London Underground. With a projection from the platform onto custom-coated surface, DX3 will cut through any ambient light conditions, ensuring high-defnition, premium resolution across the entire network. These screens allow for full-motion, dynamic digital content.
DX3 is also running over two years late, so there's a blessing, but the new projectors will finally start to appear next month. 20 units will be live by the end of November, and 60 by the end of January, with the focus being busy stations in Zone 1. Expect to see them popping up in Liverpool Street, King's Cross St. Pancras, Waterloo, Oxford Circus and Bank, amongst others.

According to the people whose job it is to get excited about these things, the DX3 network will target "the ultimate premium consumer audience", reaching an annual footfall of 750 million with 5.5 million fortnightly impressions. These same people also describe the act of being shown moving adverts while you wait for trains as "a positive disruption to the everyday commute", on the basis that the average passenger would rather be sold to than be bored.

In reality, the advertisers need to provide something pretty damned wow to drag our eyes away from our phones. Ever since wifi was installed at stations most of us whip out our phones and check what the world's up to while we wait for trains underground, hence the hope that dazzling animated adverts projected in front of us will prove even more attractive. Stop watching what you wanted to watch and look at we want to show you, is the unspoken intention. And because most of us are really rather predictable, we'll probably fall for it and help provide TfL with their money.

Also coming soon are continuous 'ribbon' video screens along the sides of escalators, replacing the sequence of single screens we see today. Several escalators are already ribbon-ready, for example at Tottenham Court Road, with shiny blank metal surfaces awaiting all the electronic gubbins being slapped on top. Again the intention is to stop you whipping out your own phone for 20 seconds and to stare lovingly at all the marketing messages instead.
"Personally, I'm most excited about the ribbon screens," said Chris Reader, TfL's Head of Commercial Media. "I think they will offer a very innovative canvas for brands."
Underground advertising will become even more entrenched once Crossrail starts up next year. Unlike, say, the Jubilee line extension of 20 years ago, all of Crossrail's new stations have been specifically designed with spaces for advertising in mind. Expect to see "a wide range of innovative and high impact formats that best complement the stations' large proportions and modern design elements" as you pass through, including vertically mounted TV screens between the platform edge doors.

And it's not just the tube. Drivers aren't being left out, as TfL scour their arterial estate in search of locations for giant screens. Here's the big screen above the underpass at the Sun In The Sands roundabout, playing out ads for Ford, British Airways and LBC to vehicles on the A2.



Other pixel-based distractions are to be found looming above the A3 in Kingston, the A40 in Ealing, the North Circular in Brent, the Uxbridge Road in Hillingdon and the A12 in Leytonstone. Digital roadside advertising is certainly nothing new, but what's fresh is TfL's emboldened embrace of their outdoor portfolio.

Tube advertising is nothing new either, it's been with us since Victorian times. What's changing is the scale of the distraction we customers are being presented with as we travel, no longer just multi-coloured static rectangles but brightly illuminated consciousness-piercing screens.

Ultimately we can blame our leaders rather than TfL. We live in a country where the government is extinguishing the subsidies it pays for public transport, and in a city where the Mayor has hamstrung investment by imposing a four year fare freeze. Both policies are nakedly political rather than economically sane, and both conspire to focus TfL on raising money via every other means possible.

Bear this in mind the next time you see another intrusive screen has gone up, and your brain nags you to watch what it has to say. As flexible dynamic messaging takes hold, going forward, there's little hope this flashy underground filmshow will ever go away.

 Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Well this is exciting.



This new pilot screen at Shoreditch High Street station shows you how busy each of the carriages are before you board your train. Green means It's quiet in here, amber means It's getting a bit busy and red means This is rammed (or words to that effect). Something similar happens on the new Thameslink trains, although on Thameslink the displays are inside the carriages, not in the stations.

Shoreditch's new animated display appears at the far end of the ticket hall, at the point where the staircase splits towards the two platforms. At the start of the animation it looks like any other digital Next Train Indicator, listing the next three departures in each direction, but then several train graphics rush in from the right revealing the colours carriage by carriage.

During most of the day everything's green. But as the afternoon peak approaches some of the carriages go amber, occasionally covering most of the train, and at the busiest times there might be some red.



Use this information wisely and you could wander down the platform to the appropriate place to board the carriage with the most available space. That's assuming you can make your way to the right point before the next train arrives, of course, and can push past all the other people waiting in less optimal locations.

This might all seem a bit pointless on a walk-through train, but there is a potential benefit, namely a more efficient service. Encourage passengers to board emptier carriages rather than squeezing into full ones and departures can become more punctual. One display in Shoreditch isn't going to make a lot of difference, but imagine if this were rolled out more widely elsewhere - the cumulative effect on dwell times could be significant.

Another first is that you don't have to be standing in front of the display to see it, it's also available online. Surf to shoreditch.opencapacity.co and you can view the crammedness of Shoreditch's Overground trains from home, from the office or from outside in the street, exactly as the display appears within the station. Again imagine this kind of functionality rolled out for Overground stations elsewhere, or how this data could be employed within the usual transport apps.



Now let's stop and wonder what the hell is going on here.

For a start, how do they know where all the people are on a particular train?

Well, it's not all guesswork, it's down to a specially-installed electronic system called Orinoco. Every single one of the Overground's fleet of 57 Class 378 trains has been fitted with sensors and special software which monitor the weight of each carriage, specifically the pressure inside the air suspension bags under each carriage. These rise and fall to help keep the train's doors at platform height, and this allows the onboard computer to calculate how many people are in each carriage.

This "loadweigh" data is transmitted via 4G to Bombardier in Derby, then onward to a German company called Hacon who specialise in transport software systems, and it's they who generate the information on the display. Initially Orinoco was provided exclusively for Overground staff, who by using apps and tablets could direct waiting passengers to the least crowded carriages. But the release of the Shoreditch High Street data into the public domain is the first sign of spreading the information benefits more widely. [more info]

It's all damned clever but obviously it's not accurate. The software doesn't know precisely how many people are in each carriage, only how much they weigh, so (for example) an infant school outing or a rugby team with suitcases could seriously skew the readings. To counter this Hacon also cross-reference their data with other sources including "CCTV cameras, door sensors and ticketing information", with the expectation that if it was busy at six fifteen last Friday it probably will be again this week. Not perfect, but more likely to be correct.



But hang on, are we watching actual loadings now or a prediction for the future?

I'm willing to believe that a train arriving in 1 minute might actually be loaded as the display shows, but for those further away, how can they possibly know? Any train heading north and more than 2 minutes away has yet to pass through Whitechapel, ditto 10 minutes for Canada Water. Loads of people are going to alight and board at the intermediate stations, upsetting the pattern of which carriage is the busiest, so by the time the train arrives the current information will be badly out of date. A display you can only read on the stairs won't be much help if the train you intend to catch is several minutes away.

What's more, some of these southbound trains haven't even left yet. Trains to New Cross and Clapham Junction start from Dalston Junction, which is only 6 minutes up the line, which means the display frequently shows loadings on trains which haven't yet set out. Look for example at the Clapham Junction train at the bottom of the display above. It's 10 minutes away from arriving at Shoreditch, so must be waiting at Dalston Junction and still four minutes from departure. That means there's no way it can already be amber-busy in its front two carriages, away from the ticket hall, while the rear three carriages remain green.

I can only conclude that the display isn't showing genuine real time information, only computer predictions for what might be turning up later, in an attempt to manipulate passengers into the optimal position.

So don't necessarily believe everything you see on these displays, you're being toyed with, and who's to say what the borderline between a green carriage and an amber carriage is anyway. But the future is increased public data, the future is informed passenger choice, and the future is being nudged into position to speed up the service.

 Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Most of you don't leave comments on this blog. Today's post is about the 5% of you who sometimes do.

When you enter a comment on this blog there are four boxes. One is for the comment itself. One is for 'Name'. One is for 'Email'. And one is for 'URL'.

Most of you leave a name, of sorts. Some of you leave an email address. But not many of you write anything in the URL box. Today's post is about why the URL box is usually empty.

First off, I've tried to quantify how empty the URL box is. I've scanned back through all the comments made by readers in the first half of this month. Thanks for all roughly-400 of them. And then I've totted up how many of these comments include a web address in the URL field. It's about 5%. Only one commenter in every twenty leaves a URL.



Sarah's one of the handful of people who left a URL. She has an actual blog. So does Andrew, and so does DrD, and so does Margaret, and so does Richard, and so does rasbhre, and they still update them regularly. A couple of other October commenters have a blog but haven't posted lately. But that's it for bloggers leaving comments so far this month. A paltry eight.

A couple of people left a personal website address in the URL box - Adrian left his Twitter handle and Tetramesh left his Flickr ID. These are both good ways of dropping a hint about the person who's actually leaving a comment, something deeper than just a name. Nobody left a Facebook login or an Instagram feed in the URL box. Nineteen out of every twenty commenters left nothing at all.

I wondered if URL-less-ness had changed over time, so I went back five years and ten years and took a look. I checked for URLs in all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2012, and then did the same for all the comments made by readers in the first half of October 2007. In each case there were about 300 comments to consider. Here's what I found.

» In October 2007, about 45% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2012, about 20% of comments included a web address in the URL field.
» In October 2017, about 5% of comments included a web address in the URL field.

That's quite some decline. What is going on? Here are ten possibilities.

1) Far fewer people have blogs these days.
We know this one's true. Blogs have had their day and people don't start writing them any more. A few of us maintain them, keeping the faith and providing the web with longform content on a semi-regular basis. But most people don't blog, and most people who did have long given up. When there are so few blogs out there, the URL box is almost always going to be empty.

2) People now do their commenting elsewhere.
Commenting on blogs is old hat now that people have Twitter and Facebook to broadcast their every thought. Why leave a comment on a blog where almost nobody will see it when you can shout it to a far wider audience and get direct feedback. The conversation has moved, hence far fewer of my commenters now have a blog of their own.

3) People no longer have a single web identity.
People now have multiple identities across several platforms, rather than one go-to site of their own. And while some people still have a personal homepage which acts as a CV, privacy concerns mean few people want to leave a URL revealing their name and contact details in a blog's comment box.

4) People don't think Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook count.
There is a general feeling, I suspect, that what goes in the URL box ought to be a proper blog. A Twitter address doesn't come to mind, even though it could, and would provide a bit of background to what makes a commenter tick. Even an Instagram link, YouTube channel or Facebook connection would adds a bit more depth, rather than simply being a "Mark" or a "Chris" who could be anybody.

5) The people who leave comments on blogs have changed.
In the early 2000s most of the people who left comments on blogs were also bloggers, adding to the discussion. Today most of the people who leave comments on blogs have no focused online voice, they solely want to comment on what others have written. Social media is increasingly reactive these days, and a much smaller proportion of people now provide the original material everyone else comments on.

6) Regular commenters without blogs are skewing the figures.
Several of my most regular commenters don't have a platform of their own, which surprises me given how persistently opinionated they are, and how much they always seem to have to say. Get a platform, gents.

7) It's harder to enter an accurate URL on a mobile.
I wonder if this is a potentially important issue. On a laptop it's easy to cut and paste your own personal URL (or Twitter handle or whatever) from one browser tab to another. On a smartphone that's a hassle, perhaps a nightmare, so it's increasingly the case that people can't be bothered to go to the effort of typing from scratch or copying a URL across.

8) URLs have to begin with http://, not @
Web addresses aren't the same as social media IDs, so some people might not actually know what URL to put in the box. If you're @malcolm1952 on Twitter, for example, then what has to go in the box is https://twitter.com/malcolm1952 or https://www.instagram.com/malcolm1952 or whatever, and that's quite complicated. But remember to tick the box marked "Please store my details for next time" underneath the comments box and you'll only ever have to type it once.

9) People are lazier that they used to be.
The number of people who leave the "Name" box empty is also increasing, as certain commenters fire off accidentally anonymous comments, and others choose not to fill in a name because they know who they are. Without even a pseudonym to go on, all the rest of us see is an unattributed opinion, which I think devalues the content of the comment somewhat. And if people can't be bothered to leave a name, why would they leave a URL?

10) There are more trolls than there used to be.
A lot more commenters these days are on the snarky side, leaving pointed remarks to make a personal dig. These people don't want to be traceable, indeed the names they're using won't be their real names, so they don't have their own URL to add. As the internet gets nastier, so personal accountability is on the decline.

I'm getting more comments these days than I was five or ten years ago, thanks, so leaving comments hasn't yet fallen out of favour. But far fewer of those commenters are leaving a URL, which seems a shame. There are always reasons why some of you will never have, or want to share, an online identity. But if you do have one somewhere, perhaps you'll consider sharing it in the future, and the rest of us might even take more seriously what you have to say.

 Monday, October 16, 2017

Framlingham Castle is a castle. It is in Framlingham. Framlingham is in Suffolk.

It was built in the 12th century. It is a Norman castle. It sits on a big mound. It does not have a central keep. It has a curtain wall. The wall has thirteen towers.



The castle was built by Roger Bigod. The Bigods ruled Suffolk in early medieval times. King John took the castle from the Bigods. Then he gave it back. The Bigods gave it to Edward II. Edward II gave it to the Earl of Norfolk. Several other families owned it. Henry VIII got it at one point. Edward VI gave it to his sister Mary. Mary marched on London from Framlingham when she became queen. This is the most famous thing ever to happen in Framlingham. James I gave it to the Earl of Suffolk. The Duke of Norfolk got involved later. The castle ended up as a poorhouse. It now belongs to English Heritage.

Ed Sheeran wrote a song about Framlingham Castle. It is called The Castle On The Hill. It got to number 2 in the charts earlier this year. It is the UK's only million selling castle.



You can visit Framlingham Castle. You pay to go in. You get a wristband to show you have paid.

The best thing to do is walk around the walls. The way up is through the gift shop. The top of the wall is very high. There is a good view from the walls. You can see the grass inside. You can see the lake outside. You can see the barleysugar brickwork on top of England's oldest chimney. You can walk across high bridges linking the towers. You can take a selfie in an arrowslit. It is a good walk.

There is also a slide. There was not a slide in medieval times. The slide is a curly metal tube. It twists down from a high metal staircase beside the north wall. It is called the Time Tunnel. Children love going down the slide. Adults sneak a go when they think nobody else is looking. They can go down the slide as many times as they like.



The non-slidy way down from the walls is through the museum. The museum is in the Poorhouse. The Poorhouse is the only building remaining inside the curtain wall. The Poorhouse also contains the gift shop. The Poorhouse also contains the cafe. Once you have seen the walls and the Poorhouse you have pretty much seen Framlingham Castle.

But you have not yet seen Framlingham. Framlingham is a historic market town. It has cottages painted in pastel colours. It has a twisted one way system. It is frequented by people who wear red trousers and drive sports cars. It has a famous public school. It has a market triangle. The market sells chilli sausage rolls, knitted bags and hanging baskets. It also sells other things. The market is only a few minutes walk from the castle.



A good day out is to visit Framlingham Castle and Framlingham. Wave your wristband and you can wander between the town and the castle as often as you like. But you will have to go to Suffolk to see them.

 Sunday, October 15, 2017

Once a month the big screen comes to the village hall. A film is chosen, long since played out in metropolitan circles, but fresh to folk in the heart of Norfolk. Tickets are sold in advance for a fiver at the village store, but one pound dearer on the door. Skip Strictly and come down Saturday night.



A band of volunteers sets out rows of chairs on the wooden floor, approximately within the white lines of the badminton court. The overhead projector on the balcony is fired up, and a screensaver zaps around a large screen lowered to cover the stage curtain. The seating may not be of multiplex standard, but the table by the entrance has Cushions For Hire, seemingly sourced from a suite of local sofas.

The audience, when it arrives, is almost entirely past state retirement age, with occasional late 20th century infill. They queue patiently and show their tickets to the ladies at the trestle table, writing down their email addresses on a sheet of paper to be informed of future events. Seating is unreserved. Drinks are purchased. There is time for gossip and chatter, which stops abruptly at seven thirty sharp.

A B-movie has been scheduled, sourced from the BFI's Britain On Film series. Of the hundreds of available films, this month's archive treat features TV documentary footage from the East Anglian coast in the 1960s. We watch the lifeboatmen of Cromer run down to the pier, we reminisce with the officers of the Cley coastguard and we join the crews of once-essential lightships trapped for a fortnight offshore. It is all very evocative of the time. No women play any part whatsoever.

The inter-film intermission soon arrives, providing time for a loo break or a refreshment top up. Wine and beer are available for £3 through a hatch in the back of the hall, and mugs of tea for 50p. These prove popular. Proper tubs of posh ice cream are on sale, but far better value are the scoops of vanilla or raspberry ripple hewn from a supermarket tub and served in a small bowl. Exploitative popcorn, nachos and Haribo are not available.

The Film Audience Network has provided questionnaires, completion of which will help them to gain further funding for rural screenings. The questionnaire stretches to 18 questions, which seems excessive for a night out, and at times intrusive. A precise age is requested, four alternative gender choices are provided, and Q12's interrogation of sexual orientation offers the option to self-describe in a separate box. Many sheets remain incomplete when the lights go down.

The main feature kicks off from a Blu-ray menu screen. The committee have picked well, choosing a wartime drama with a sense of humour, and events almost within the memory of many of those present. Laughs occur at infrequent appropriate moments. No phone calls are received during the performance, nor are bright screens switched on to check Facebook. There may be the odd tear in the eye during the final scenes.

Nobody stays seated until the end of the credits. It's already after ten o'clock, which is late for round here, and the hall has to be cleared prior to tomorrow's activities. The chairs disappear row by row, the washing up begins in the back kitchen and the poster for this month's film is unpinned from the noticeboard. Next month's film remains open to suggestion, please email with ideas, non-blockbusters preferred. The village cinema will return.

 Saturday, October 14, 2017

The M25 famously passes underneath a cricket pitch on the edge of Epping Forest, where the need to preserve sporting status quo demanded the creation of the Bell Tunnel. But another (longer) tunnel exists to the north of London, on top of which you can play basketball, pick fruit or even have a picnic (so long as you've checked the grass really carefully first).

The Holmesdale Tunnel carries the M25 through the built-up neck of the Lea Valley. The planners of Ringway D identified a thin strip of land where Waltham Cross touches London where they could drive through a six lane motorway with a minimum of demolition. The area had once been full of glasshouses for market gardening, but after the war these were mostly replaced by housing, leaving a green space locals nicknamed the Backfield. It divided Cameron Drive in Waltham Cross from Holmesdale in Enfield, with houses in the latter facing out across the grass. Many children used the Backfield as a playground, with camping and dogwalking also popular pursuits. Right, we'll have that, said the engineers, and they made plans to dig it up.



The Holmesdale Tunnel would be 670 metres long, linking M25 junction 25 to a viaduct over the railway and the River Lea. It would be a super-underpass, built to motorway standards, and constructed using cut and cover techniques. There'd be room for three lanes in each direction, plus a raised walkway either side for evacuation purposes, plus a central wall to keep the two carriageways apart. Once the trench was completed a concrete slab was laid across the top and then covered with topsoil, allowing a new recreational space to be created. When completed in 1983 it was the most expensive section of road ever built in Britain with a price tag of almost £30m.
If you'd like to read more about the technical intricacies of its construction, this four-page article from the July 1982 edition of Ground Engineering magazine will tell you more than you ever need to know.



Millions of vehicles have passed through the tunnel since it opened, but local residents see none of that, only the Holmesdale Tunnel Open Space. It's mostly grass, and mostly featureless, but there is a multi-purpose sports pitch up one end with basketball hoops and goals for football, plus a wildflower area beyond. At the other end is a brick building owned by the Department of Transport which houses the ventilation system and a pumping system for removing groundwater. Trees can't be planted because the topsoil is too thin, but a short line of fruit trees has been added along one edge, and a couple of footpaths wend across the centre to link the two sides.

The old Backfield site is still the boundary between Hertfordshire and London, with the motorway and everything above it in Enfield and the houses to the north in Broxbourne. It's also still technically private government land, "to which the public is permitted to have access". A Friends group exists to organise kickabouts for kids and help keep the Open Space in order, but there are several hints that this may be in decline. It's been three years since they last tweeted anything, their webpage has expired, and it seems their last meeting in August had to be cancelled. The golden years of replanting the fruit trees after they were "destroyed by Dogs jumping up and ripping the the branches off" appear to be long gone.



There have been a couple of important upgrades recently, however, one down below and one up top. The motorway has been widened by removing the raised walkways, which allowed a merge lane to be added to/from the J25 roundabout, removing a two-lane bottleneck for through traffic. Alternative emergency access points were provided in the tunnel in the gap between the two carriageways, and the life-expired ventilation system was upgraded for good measure. This keeps all the motorists happy.

Meanwhile at the eastern end of the open space, close to the portal where the traffic rushes out past the Tesco Distribution Centre, an arty Gateway feature has been created to mark the point on the High Street where two boroughs meet. Several 'alphabet cubes' have been scattered across the pavement, which read ENFIELD from one direction and BROXBOURNE from the other. A bee-friendly garden with raised planting areas has been created between parallel gabions, plus an actual bench to sit on, which is a bit of a departure around here. There's also a mysterious churchlike sculpture, tiled and ideal for clambering, but with no hint as to precisely what it represents.



What I liked most about the Holmesdale Tunnel, other than the surreality of an invisible motorway, were the information boards scattered along its length explaining the site's past and present. I'd never have been inspired to come home and write all this otherwise, indeed much of the backstory would have passed me by. Next time you're orbiting London by car give a thought for the community you're ducking under, dead ordinary but spared the wrecker's ball, and still playing basketball on the roof a third of a century later.

 Friday, October 13, 2017

K Cheshunt/Enfield
Had the Herbert Commission had their way, Cheshunt Urban District would have become part of Greater London, whereas in fact it stayed in Hertfordshire (and is now part of Broxbourne). That leaves Enfield, today the northermost part of the capital, its boundary following the line of the M25. I've been out walking within a mile of the motorway to visit six of the lesser known settlements across the top of Enfield, some of which you might never have known were there. Click on the placenames to read the Hidden London summaries of each.

Botany Bay

Beyond Cockfosters the northwestern quarter of the borough of Enfield is mostly fields, and rather attractive fields too. Botany Bay is the single settlement on a long ridgetop road between Potters Bar and Enfield, part of a landscape carved by two tiny brooks to either side, and part of what was once the royal forest of Enfield Chase. It's more hamlet than village, and doesn't stretch as far as a church (although there is a lowly shed called The Shack which local Christians are hoping to turn into a 24/7 prayer venue). At the centre of the string of houses lies the Robin Hood pub, which must rely on passing drivers rather than residents, and whose pre-book festive menu inexplicably runs from 1st November to 31st January. At Botany Bay Farm they're already ready to flog you pumpkins, plus almost-locally sourced sausages for Bonfire Night.



One thing Botany Bay has plenty of is open space, with a cricket club and a rugby club crying out for new members on posters attached to numerous walls and gates. The clubhouse appears to double up as a venue for almost anything, including the North London MG Club (every Monday), Googlies Jazz Supper Club (every Tuesday) and Big Boppa's Rock'N'Roll Club (every Wednesday). East Lodge Lane is very much Beware of the Dog territory, with angry hounds champing behind many a fence should a rare pedestrian walk by. I also surprised a lone pony in the next field, who leapt with brief delight to have company, then switched to indifference when it became clear I had no food.

Crews Hill

This garden centre mecca is the northernmost settlement in London, assuming you can spot the houses among the retail sheds. Crews Hill is an entirely atypical location, essentially a collection of horticultural corrals subdivided into smaller units which'll flog you almost anything for your house or garden. Rattan, turf, bonsai, paving, resin, koi, rockery, fireplace, granite, trellis, lantern, sapling, rug, shrubbery, reptile, bench, mirror, decking, gnome, incense, jacket potato - it really is all here. One of the larger sites is a Wyevale, complete with pretend windmill, but most of the other businesses are as independent as they come, perhaps just a shed selling stone cherubs or a hut packed with New Age tat. On spring weekends hundreds queue in their cars to find a parking space, while on autumn weekdays a few pensioners find solace with a hyacinth and cuppa.



Given the nature of the goods on sale arriving by car or van is all important. You don't want to have to rely on the bus (the W10 is the 2nd least frequent bus in London), and while Crews Hill station has a pretty good service, it's also bleak and somewhat poorly used. Venture beneath the railway bridge to discover the eponymous hill and a few gated mansions, plus a golf course advertising several special offers should any individual, group or society fancy a round. But most visitors venture no further than the small business boulevard, perhaps topped off with a lager and an at-scale meal in The Plough, then spend a lot of time in the garden when they get home.

Whitewebbs

Whitewebbs Lane runs east from Crews Hill, parallel to the M25, and packs several fascinating features into its remote mile and a half run. First up is London's other transport museum, the Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, open Tuesdays and one Sunday a month. Its collection would best be described as eclectic, with various sheds and old vehicles outside and numerous smaller exhibits inside an elegant two-storey building which used to be a pumphouse for the New River. [my previous visit] [Ian Visits visit] [Londonist visit]



I kept walking, past a smallholding guarded by two angry rottweilers, to the edge of Whitewebbs Wood. It's large and dark, and somewhat oppressive, with muddy bridleways to follow should you choose to venture within. Keep going and it morphs into Whitewebbs Park, a slightly less dense patch of woodland almost nobody in Enfield lives anywhere near, complete with tarmac paths and the occasional lake. Half of the former Whitewebbs estate has been given over to a golf course, as is the modern way, but the grand mansion at the centre survives. Initially it was repurposed as a Home For Aged Men, but has recently become London's most architecturally impressive Toby Carvery. Sub-£7 diners feast within its sweeping wings, while the smell of gravy wafts out across the ornamental garden.



The carvery has competition from a 16th century pub back on Whitewebbs Lane, The King and Tinker, which claims to be one of England's oldest pubs. Its name comes from a fabled encounter between James I and a pub regular over an ale, after the incognito King slipped his courtiers after a hunt. As if that's not enough history for one spot, Whitewebbs Farm across the road is the site of a key meeting in the Gunpowder Plot. In October 1605 Guy Fawkes visited the house which used to stand on this site for a meeting with his co-conspirators, to discuss how Catholic peers might be spared the upcoming explosion. An ill-advised letter on the subject later blew their cover, rather than blowing up Parliament. Pop down to The King And Tinker and you can enjoy a pint in the Refreshment Garden's and a jump on the bouncy castle while reflecting on this remote spot's unlikely backstory.

Bull's Cross

At the eastern end of Whitewebbs Lane, within sight of the M25, a Premiership football team has bedded in. Tottenham Hotspur's training ground used to be a lot further up the A10, but this new state-of-the art site allows them to practice their ball skills in all weathers a little closer to home. Your best chance of catching sight of a top player is at the main gate on Hotspur Way, waiting for the blue and white barrier to raise. Elsewhere the perimeter is securely fenced off with a row of fast-growing shrubs immediately behind to inhibit paparazzi or over-zealous fans.



The hamlet of Bull's Cross can be found surrounding a mini-roundabout close by. It's been here a while. The Pied Bull pub claims it was once owned by James I as a kennel for his hunting dogs, which seems plausible given how much the king enjoyed living at Theobalds Palace close by. Bull's Cross is also home to the agricultural college at Capel Manor, and to Myddleton House, both of which have super-splendid gardens, and both of which I always urge you to visit whenever I write a post about the neighbourhood.

Bullsmoor

Bullsmoor is less lovely. This residential district is strung out between the new A10 and the old A10, squished into the last gasp of the Lea Valley conurbation before it slips into Hertfordshire. It has a peripherally arterial feel, with unpleasantly wide roads to cross and pylons stalking through the middle, and plenty of petrol stations and drive-thru takeaways to cater for the just-off-the-M25 market. Four separate shops in the local parade take the Bullsmoor name, the most appropriate of which is definitely the Bullsmoor Butchers, although that appeared to be shuttered and closed when I passed by... maybe something to do with its recent rockbottom Food Hygiene rating.



(there is one feature of particular note here, but I'll come back and tell you about that tomorrow, because it deserves a post of its own)

Freezywater

What a fantastic name for a London suburb. Freezywater can be found straddling the Hertford Road, the former A10, immediately to the south of Waltham Cross. It's been here a while too, with several avenues of late Victorian terraces tucked in between the main road and the railway, and some rather tasteful cottage villas scattered within. I searched in vain for the Freezywater Shopping Centre promised on Enfield Council's fading signs, but maybe a betting shop, chippie and Turkish food cash and carry suffice. I did however find a peculiar pocket park with contoured benches and artistic metal gates, apparently called Painters Lane Neighbourhood Park.



Freezywater is named after a marshy pond near the River Lea, which used to ice up in winter, but this disappeared a long time ago when the Rammey Marsh Sewage Works was built in it place. Now this too has vanished, replaced by the Innova Business Park in the late 1990s, a sprawl of distribution warehouses and low-key office units. Its streets have Blairite names like Kinetic Crescent, Velocity Way and Power Drive, a bit rich for the reality, but the central reedy lake is a nice throwback to the original Freezy Water. Enfield Lock station lies nearby, should a fast getaway be required.

 Thursday, October 12, 2017

I have a cold, and for once I know which complete stranger gave it to me. Thank you Kieran.

We met for two hours on Saturday evening, on the train home from Manchester to London. He had the window seat on the opposite side of the table to mine, as I discovered when I boarded and went hunting for my window seat. It genuinely was a window seat too, unlike on the journey up when I'd had a perfect view of a beige bulwark for the entire journey. My homebound window seat was essentially pointless given that it was dark outside, but I smiled all the same.

I faffed around getting all the necessary stuff out of my pockets and rucksack, stowed my jacket on the rack above, and sat down in my seat. I plugged my phone into the electricity it had been missing, and opened up the prize crossword in case it was actually doable this week. And then Kieran sneezed. Cheers Kieran.

Kieran was a slight lad with lank dark hair, probably in his late teens. His grey shirt and glasses made him look withdrawn and waifish, whereas his blue and white Cartoon Network Dr Marten boots suggested quite the opposite. An attempt at a beard made an advance across his face, still some way off needing a first shave, but still better than anything my cheeks have ever managed. His silver scooter gleamed above us in the luggage rack. And then he sneezed again. It was gong to be a long journey.

It rapidly became clear that Kieran was in the throes of a dispiriting virus. His sneezes were violent, and relatively closely spaced, interspersed with the occasional coughing fit. Kieran seemed a well-brought-up boy, and always attempted to cover his mouth when a respiratory attack emerged. But I could tell that his attempts weren't going to achieve 100% containment, not over the full 140 minutes and here I was sat immediately opposite him in a humid air-conditioned bubble. A Pendolino carriage makes the perfect incubation chamber.

I wondered whether Kieran's journey was really necessary. It's not generally a great idea to deliberately sit in a confined space with dozens of other individuals for two hours if you know you're at a contagious stage of an illness, even one as common as the common cold. Equally if you need to be at the other end of the country and have paid an extortionate amount for your ticket, and would need to spend even more if you travelled at a different time, obviously you're going to take your seat and hope for the best.

It can't have been fun being Kieran on that long journey south. He struggled to get settled, repeatedly interrupted by another involuntary sneeze. He flicked through his Windows Phone for several minutes, and looked pointlessly out of the window. He attempted to get comfortable across a double seat, pulling his coat on top of him and trying to get off to sleep. But every time he almost nodded off his throat jerked into action, and so the cycle repeated, and his misery continued.

I could have moved, but the train was busy and most of the other seats were taken. I could have moved, but I had a table seat and a charging point and they were like gold dust. I could have moved, but the lady sat beside me was fully settled and looked like she was attempting to fall asleep too. I could have moved, but I decided it'd look a bit odd to pack up all my things and then squeeze in next to someone else instead. I could have moved. I didn't move. I accepted my fate.

If you're wondering how I know Kieran's name, it's because he was wearing it on a plastic badge clipped to his belt. It amazes me how so many people these days are happy to display their full name (and often job title and place of employment) in public. I know a lot of workplaces and educational establishments now require their members to be readily identifiable at all times, but surely if you value your privacy you'd take that badge off (or at least turn it over) after stepping outside. Kieran Carter didn't seem to care.

Eventually he dropped off to sleep, lulled by the rocking of the train as it sped south. He managed a good hour, apart from the time he pulled out an inhaler to help him breathe a little more easily, and apart from the time the sneeze came anyway even though he wasn't ready for it. Oh great, I thought, that's settled it. And then I went back to failing at the crossword.

At Euston I was up and out of my seat before Kieran, who was still drifting back into consciousness and discovering how to sneeze again. I made it to the end of the platform before he caught up, scudding along on his silver scooter and overtaking me up the ramp onto the concourse. He swiftly disappeared off to wherever he was going to feel under the weather next, and I resigned myself to viral takeover later in the week.

Sunday passed with no negative health issues, and Monday too. By Tuesday I was beginning to think I'd beaten the odds but early in the evening an abrupt cough emerged, just the once, but a precursor of what surely lay ahead. A sudden sneeze before nightfall seemed to confirm the diagnosis, but nothing else materialised, so that was good.

Yesterday, however, the coughs and sneezes increased in frequency. I also got that queasy feeling you get in your stomach which suggests you're permanently hungry when you know you're not really. My embryonic cold was nowhere near as bad as Kieran had been suffering, but it is slowly ratcheting up in intensity, and this morning I've reached the stage where I'm wondering if what's next is runny sinuses and handkerchief-filling or simply more coughing.

I have no plans to sit opposite someone on public transport and let fly, nor to mix indiscriminately with the general public during what may be my infectious phase. Indeed my cold is nothing terrible, nor have I been slayed by a malevolent strain of manflu, so I don't want you to think I'm moaning about the inconvenience.

All that seems unusual in this case is that I believe I can pin down precisely who passed on the infection and when, rather than it emerging as a surprise cough of unknown origin, as is usually the case. My cold is Kieran's cold, and Kieran's fault, because Kieran boarded a train he might not have boarded and couldn't keep his viruses inside. Thank you Kieran, thanks for everything.

* All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned. But I know who you are, Kieran, OK?

 Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chocolate Week, the nation’s favourite themed week, returns from 9th to 15th October celebrating the world of fine chocolate. Chocolate Week aims to promote the finest British chocolate, independent artisan chocolatiers and the Fairtrade chocolate companies who work in direct partnership with cocoa farmers.

Hundreds of events are taking place this week around the UK, with the country’s top shops, hotels, bars and restaurants celebrating by hosting talks, tastings, demonstrations and sampling, as well as creating exclusive products, new launches, offers, chocolate meals, cocktails and recipes using some of the best chocolate brands from around the world.

I've been out to celebrate the very best chocolate experiences across the E3 postcode, and can confirm that Bow's chocolatiers remain at the very top of their game.


Step In Local, 9 Burdett Road, E3 4PH



To celebrate Chocolate Week, this independent minimarket on Burdett Road has devised a special cocoa-centric selection which places taste and beauty at the heart of the customer experience. Think tropical beans infused with Caribbean sugar, encased in plastic wrapping and optimally arrayed on sloping shelf units. It'd be toughness personified to have to choose between the many speciality bars on offer in this bespoke establishment. One of the many delights is the coconut-inspired Bounty, richly coated with thin dark chocolate. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with hazelnut is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 69p. Heaven.

Londis, 27 Burdett Road, E3 4TN



Choose wisely in this temple of wicked pleasure and you too can take home an eclectic basket of incredible chocolates. Select bottles of wine to match and you'll be able to host your own expert tasting soirée, including Aero Mint with a cheeky Riesling or four-finger Kit Kat with Cabernet Sauvignon. Spend a perfect evening on the sofa identifying the flavours and subtle differences in both the wines and the chocolates as you become the ultimate choco-connoisseur, proving the age-old adage that chocolate with wine is always fine. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with Oreo is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 70p. Bliss.

Tesco Superstore, Hancock Road, E3 3DA



E3's premier hypermarket is surely the ultimate destination to top off a week of chocolate indulgence. Tesco's lunch deal selection brings together all the world’s best chocolate brands under one roof, from Freddos to Kinder Bueno, not forgetting ever-present stalwart Yorkie Original. Make tracks to the multi-pack collection for some absolute tip-top bargains, with Wispa and Snickers priced at less than half what they cost individually elsewhere. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with chopped nuts is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 60p. Bargain!

Nisa Local, 161A Bow Rd, London E3 2SG



Nisa is celebrating National Chocolate Week with a smorgasbord of offerings across all its London venues. An entire aisle has been devoted to all things cocoa, the perfect way to tame chocolate cravings as those chill autumn evenings draw in. Up for grabs are some of the best chocolate brands around, including the ever-traditional Mars bar and a wistful Curly Wurly. Naturally there are quality vegan options on offer too. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with caramel is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 75p, but it's a Duo bar so that's excellent value. Excellent!

Cornucopia Market, 246 Tredegar Rd, E3 2GP



Any round up of Chocolate Week events has to include this chic convenience store tucked beneath the flats at Bevin Court. Eschew the aisles of vegetables and frozen goods and make haste to the display beneath the beady eyes of the cashier. Here you'll discover brightly-coloured samples of chocolate bars of different percentages and different origins to kick off your chocolate education. The best kind of education, we say. We have it on good authority that pure Dairy Milk untainted with extras is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 69p. We're sold!

London Food Centre, 407 Roman Rd, E3 5QS



If you’re looking for a quirky experience, try a tour of this fantastic Roman Road emporium. Follow the intimate guided trail to experience London in a different way and spoil yourself with truffles, pralines, caramels and creams, finishing with a stand-up mini-chocolate tasting. Don't forget to follow the LFC on Instagram for inspirational and ultra-shareable promotional images showcasing the cacao collection to perfection. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with wholenut is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. Inexplicably Double Deckers are not available, but a Snickers will cost you 70p. Chapeau!

Ozzy's News & Shop, 52 St Paul's Way, E3 4AL



All your favourite E3 gourmet hotspots are getting in the spirit of things, and Ozzy's is no exception, with special recipe chocolate bars laid out in all the colours of the rainbow. By embracing your inner foodie not only are you indulging in a delicious treat, you’re also helping cocoa farmers get a better deal for their beans and additional income to invest in their community. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with fruit and nut is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. A Double Decker will cost you 55p, which is less than the proprietor would like to charge, but alas it's printed on the packaging. Awesome!

Food Sale Express, 564 Mile End Rd, E3 4PH



It's not too late to indulge in National Chocolate Week, and Food Sale Express delivers the ultimate finale to seven days of creamy excess. Sink your teeth into the hand-picked chocolates at this fragrant and colourful bazaar conveniently located for Mile End's most discerning commuters. Why not kickstart your morning with an extravagant surprise? We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with Turkish delight is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. It's unclear how much a Double Decker costs because all the chocolate stock is unpriced, so it could be extortionate, but surely all the better for reinforcing that feeling of sheer luxury as you bite down. Yum yum!

The News Kiosk, 50A Bow Rd, E3 4DH



Scientifically proven to make you live longer, it would be rude not to ditch the diet and embrace Bow Road's #NationalChocolateWeek celebrations! At this bijou chocolate market the artisan confections are spread across a pair of racked units, beneath the unsold newspapers and beside the milk. Discover the award-winning delights of a Picnic or Toffee Crisp, individually wrapped, as part of the five-star service that's de rigeur in this premier kiosk. We have it on good authority that Dairy Milk with toffee is one of the exclusive Cadbury offerings. Again all the chocolates are unpriced, so purchasing a Double Decker will initiate a mystery dip on your financial resources. See you there!

Why head to the West End and empty your bank account for some posh themed meal or cocktail when all the chocolate you could ever need is liberally spread across E3 for a fraction of the price? Embrace Chocolate Week. Snack local!

 Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Whistlestop Manchester: New Islington
Where? immediately east of central Manchester
Population Around 1700 homes (whatever that equates to)
How to get there? one tramstop from Piccadilly
Why? that's a very good question

When Manchester was Cottonopolis, the mills of Ancoats powered the economy. A network of canals bled off to the south, in an area since cleared to create Manchester's most innovative neighbourhood. Conceived for the Millennium, and named after somewhere old and local rather than a London suburb, New Islington is an architects' playground run rampant. Most striking is Will Alsop's apartment block 'Chips', designed to resemble three fat chips stacked awkwardly on top of each other, then boldly coloured, then labelled with the names of geographical features from the surrounding area. It's nuts, and looks better from afar than right close up, but a lot more interesting than most of the generic stuff that tends to go up elsewhere.



New Islington doesn't believe in generic, tweaking mills into apartments and throwing up luxury stacks. It's by no means complete, hence large areas remain fenced off awaiting development, but the park is done, and sadly so is the Free School. One terrace of super-modern modular homes, called 'House', stands ready to march south and replicate beside the marina. A desolate boulevard with half its decorative metalwork incomplete marks the dividing line between two building sites, frequented by distant residents carrying groceries home, and sweatshirted men with staffies. The path to the tramstop across the lockgates doen't look like somewhere I'd be too keen to linger after dark. One day this millennial district may be buzzing, but it's not there yet.



Ancoats proper, to the north of the Rochdale Canal, is in a more serious state of flux. A densely packed grid of streets contains proper heritage mill buildings from the 1800s in various states of repair, one proudly carved to commemorate the King and Queen's visit in 1942. Juxtaposed with these are blocks of recent residential infill, with whole chunks barriered off for the erection of more. Ancoats is Manchester's hippest district, if the hype is to be believed, and the yoof wandering through in search of Neapolitan pizza, craft beer or a beetroot latte suggest some truth to that proposition. It reminded me of parts of Docklands, or perhaps Hackney Wick, and is being culturally destabilised at much the same rate.
Set foot outside, and you’ll find all the must-have lifestyle choices of a most modern city. Major transports links are on the doorstep, and yet the refreshed areas of Ancoats and New Islington have a definite cosy feel. With no late night licensed premises, the neighbourhood balances dynamism with seclusion. And this mix makes it the ideal home for anyone looking for all the conveniences and panache of a European city, with a warm, inviting sense of home.
All the usual psychobabble, even up north.

Whistlestop Manchester: Rochdale
Where? 10 miles northeast of central Manchester (formerly Lancashire)
Population 216,000 (approximately the same as Luton or Portsmouth)
How to get there? rail (fast), tram (slow), M62
Why? Gracie Fields, cheap food and the Co-Op

Gracie Fields: Not a park, but a Rochdale lass who became one of the world's most famous actresses in the 1930s. A trail of eight purple plaques leads round the town centre, including the sites of her demolished childhood homes, but I didn't spot any. What I did find is her statue, unveiled last autumn in Town Hall Square, showing Our Gracie at the mike, dress-in-hand. The broodingly gothic Town Hall loomed behind, ringing out the hour with the Westminster Chimes, at one end of a recently cleared stripe of waterfront alongside the river Roch. A historic medieval bridge has been revealed, but Rochdale's centrally-cleansed zone felt achingly empty in the pouring rain.



Cheap food: All the usual eateries fill Rochdale's central lanes and shopping mall, at least by northern standards. Starbucks get no closer than a BP garage on the outskirts. At Crawshaws in Yorkshire Street, now the shopping precinct, I was impressed to see the butchers were offering a sausage roll or bacon roll and a hot drink for £1.50. Blimey I said, they know their target audience well, and that puts into perspective the prices we Londoners are prepared to pay for a brioche burger. Thankfully I resisted, because it seems Crawshaws entered into a "transformational partnership with 2 Sisters Food Group" earlier in the year, and a trip to Greggs felt pathogenically safer.



Rochdale Pioneers Museum: Rochdale is the original home of the Co-Operative movement, founded a few days before Christmas in the winter of 1844. The first store opened at 31 Toad Lane, now a museum, and has been recreated in all its simplicity in the very same downstairs room. Even though it's not obvious, remember to enter the museum through the old shop's entrance, not the fire door in the extension alongside, otherwise the nice ladies on the desk will rush outside and look at you with pity. Once within you'll find the story of the Pioneers, whose principled economics eventually grew to become a global enterprise with a over a billion members. Above the permanent gallery is a temporary exhibition, currently focusing on (99) tea and biscuits - an inspired choice. And above that, in a loft space often used by school groups, you can push a button and watch an old Co-Op-inspired film. I chose It's All Yours, a ten minute documentary from 1955 aimed at encouraging housewives to sign-up for the divi, and a reminder that the Co-Op was once Britain's biggest business. Things aren't quite so rosy these days, but the fairtrade-friendly retailer is a fine reminder that commerce doesn't have to be exploitative.

» Visit Rochdale


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