diamond geezer

 Monday, November 12, 2018

3 miles from central London

Where, precisely, are three miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square?
[1 mile], [2 miles] [map]

THREE MILES NORTH: Hilldrop Lane, Holloway
(behind St Mungo's on Camden Road, N7)



This isn't pretty. I had hoped it might have been. Walking towards my target destination I passed through several streets of solid four-storey Victorian villas, but also crossed several undistinguished modern estates, and this road felt closer than most to the bottom of the heap. A back lane, divided by a barrier, once home to greenhouses and a garage, now a row of mundane flats and lock-ups. No front gardens, just an iron grille facing onto tarmac. Some homes have floor-to-ceiling grilles behind their ground floor windows, just in case. In the shared garden, someone's discarded three broken office chairs. Humps ahead, maximum speed 5mph.

Lined up on one windowsill, a collection of commemorative beer glasses. Pinned up on one door, Beware of the dog. Attached to the foot of several up-and-overs, a mechanical 'Garage Defender'. Last time the lockups saw fresh blue paint, heaven knows. Private parking only, with permit, penalty £100. Just two streetlamps, and good luck after dark on the stretch inbetween. No access to Belmont Lane. A row of bollards. The Tansley Close Community Garden, leaf-strewn and locked. The sound of drumming from the Baptist church at the end of the lane. A trio in trapper hats walk past drinking from cut-price cans. The shadow of Moelwyn Hughes Court. For several Londoners, home. One mile from New King's Cross, three from Trafalgar Square.

THREE MILES EAST: Park Vista Tower, Wapping
(Cobblestone Square, opposite Tobacco Dock, E1W)



Go back forty years and this spot was off-limits within the London Docks, midway between the Western and Eastern Docks, bookended by two swing bridges. Then the basins were filled in for extensive housing, none of it especially highrise because this was the 1980s, leaving a single ornamental canal to snake through the development. But what I've managed to hit here, quite by chance, is Wapping's sole multi-storey tower, squeezed in where Ballymore spotted a slim gap. It's long and thin and stacked and silver, with an Italian restaurant at the bow, rising increasingly steeply to a penthouse pair. It's very 2014, so glass not brick, which is probably in its favour.

Whoever called this Cobblestone Square was having a laugh, or a liar hoping the name'd put prices up. A long slabbed walkway leads to a locked gate which keeps the riffraff of Wapping Woods out, but also the joggers of Park Vista Tower in. A fake canal runs along one side, pumped to ensure movement. An empty chamber of muscle-flexing machines props up the ground floor, because residents have paid extra for gym and concierge. Somebody's moving out today, their worldly goods being trolleyed in taped-up boxes into the back of a van. At the end of the road London's hippest musical youth are milling by, making their way into BBC Introducing Live at Tobacco Dock. Early arrivals are taking advantage of a break between masterclasses by smoking alongside the pirate ships. I feel hideously off-trend.

THREE MILES SOUTH: Cottage Grove, Clapham
(Fenwick Estate, nr Clapham North station, SW9)



The Falcon, with its mustard frontage and beer terrace, is certainly trendy enough for Clapham. But Cottage Grove alongside is the gateway to a dead end council estate, knocked up in the 1960s and hidden away beside the railway embankment. The Fenwick Estate, a loop of courtyard and linear blocks, has seen better days. The Vehicle Testing Station on the way in is a big clue, with its blue MOT triangles and the offer to fix CARS, MOTOR CYCLES, THREE WHEELERS. Shabby wooden doors face the pavement, or can be accessed up backstairs along balcony walkways. A tabby cat looks down from a concrete ledge. Children kick about in a high-fenced football corral. A mural commemorates Billy Cox, 1991-2007. Someone's rice takeaway fills a puddle. The Residents Association Winter Party is pencilled in for mid-December.

A few runs of flats are boarded up, their windows firmly pinned shut. Squibb Group Limited started demolition last month within a zig-zagged sliver alongside the railway. The site's being developed by TfL as part of their new role as the Mayor's housing provider, and will shoehorn 55 all-affordable flats into this awkward space. If I say bricky and balconied, you already know exactly what they'll look like. The remainder of the Fenwick Estate is on Lambeth council's regeneration list, hopelessly delayed, but already pumping out newsletter after newsletter to keep existing residents informed. Everyone'll be sequentially decanted, rather than kicked out in favour of rich incomers, but not for a while yet. Don't expect open staircases in the replacement.

THREE MILES WEST: Kensington Place, Notting Hill
(at the junction with Hillgate Street, W8)



Here's your sharp contrast. Kensington Place runs a couple of streets back from Notting Hill Gate, sloping down towards Kensington Church Street, and is nowhere the hoi polloi would normally go. One side is perfect pastel terraces with sash windows, basement steps and prices approaching three million apiece - ideal for purchasers who want reconfigurable internal space with hardly any garden to fuss over. The other side is a school playground, colourfully marked, and a block of brown flats built on the site of a garage on the site of a disused reservoir. The street could have traffic both ways, but folks need to be able to park their Mini Coupés out front so it has to be one way only.

A kid from the flats speeds down the pavement on his silver scooter, and thanks me ever so politely for stepping to one side. Two floppy haired blonds with brogues and Barbours walk down the middle of the road, confident of not being run over. Some terribly nice vases are on show on parlour tables, unless the shutters are down because there's nothing, or too much, worth ogling. Someone in the unpainted stretch has got the scaffolders in. The primary school offers weekend classes in Family Yoga. A copper-spired church on Campden Hill dominates the top of the street. The display of autumn colours at number 30 is currently stunning. What a difference a compass point makes.

 Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 years after the guns fell silent at the end of the First World War, many will stand and remember this morning in front of one of Britain's thousands of war memorials. I've been out tracking down the war memorials in Bow (specifically the E3 postcode, specifically outdoors, specifically WW1-related) from a time when Tower Hamlets was very different to how it is today.

Bryant & May War Memorial Grove Hall Park, E3



Bow's famous match-making factory was at the height of its success when WW1 broke out, employing over 2000 women and girls. The company's war memorial is a slender affair, a white stone shaft topped by a cross, and unmarked other than by a Bryant and May monogram on one side. Five names were once visible at the base, representing a handful of male employees to be sent to the Western Front, but these have long since eroded. Since the factory closed in 1979 the cross has stood in the centre of the Memorial Garden in Grove Hall Park, and a few years ago was fenced off in an attempt to prevent vandalism.

Bromley Recreation Ground St Leonards Street, E3



When it was erected in 1921 this granite obelisk had pride of place at the entrance to Bromley Recreation Ground, at the head of the walkway from the main entrance to the bandstand. It's not been moved, but the Victorian gardens have been altered beyond measure to accommodate the Bromley-by-Bow Centre in one corner, and this millennial building now dominates. These days it's all too easy to miss the significance of a 6m-high cenotaph hidden away behind a brick wall, and the words LEST WE FORGET in the wreath at the top feel somewhat prophetic.

TO THE MEMORY OF THE MEN OF
THE N.E. WARD OF THIS BOROUGH
WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-19.
SACRIFICE.
HONOUR.
DEVOTION.

All Hallows Church Blackthorn Street, E3
St Barnabas Church Roman Road, E3



Although several Bow churches have WW1 memorials inside, these are the only two I could find outside. The stone plaque outside All Hallows is seriously weathered, and almost impossible to read, and includes a long quote from Luke's gospel. St Barnabas has a much better maintained Portland Stone panel with a carving featuring St George and a slain dragon, with the background picked out in blue mosaic. Both are dedicated to the war dead of the parish, 260 from one and 130 from the other, and both make very clear that the Great War was seen at the time as a quest for freedom.

THE GREAT WAR FOR FREEDOM 1914 1918
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF
THE 260 MEN FROM THIS PARISH & CONGREGATION WHO
GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR THEIR COUNTRY AND A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE
AND WHOSE NAMES ARE INSCRIBED WITHIN THIS CHURCH

TO THE MEN
OF THIS PARISH WHO
GAVE THEIR LIVES
FOR FREEDOM
1914 – 1919

Gas Light & Coke Company Twelvetrees Crescent, E3



The E3 postcode has a slight bulge across the River Lea into Newham, which allows me to include this extremely unusual war memorial which burns day and night. Between 1873 and 1976 Bromley Gasworks was one of the largest in London, and its unique group of seven gasholders still stands. To the south is a memorial garden, lightly wooded, where the war dead of the Gas Light & Coke Company are remembered. Of the 950 names inscribed, well over half are from WW1, giving some impression of the scale of the workforce at the time. The gasworks chose to remember its dead with an 'eternal flame', an iron-framed octagonal gas lamp set on a stone column, whose cluster of tiny flames can still be seen burning orange should anyone ever think to walk off the main road and look up. The original bronze plaques around the base were stolen in 2007, for scrap, but the replacements thankfully look just as good.

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Southern Grove E3



E3's most significant war memorial can be found in Tower Hamlets Cemetery. It used to be in the centre, but five hits on the cemetery during the Blitz led to significant damage, and the replacement memorial is much closer to the main entrance. It's nothing showy. Sixteen bronze plaques across a granite wall list all 280 servicemen and women interred here, considerably more from the First World War than the Second. A local history website aims to tell the story of each and every one of them, listed here, although the project's not yet complete.

1914 - 1918   1939 – 1945
THOSE HONOURED HERE DIED
IN THE SERVICE OF THEIR COUNTRY
THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVERMORE

I was intrigued by the years in which each of the servicemen had died, because something looked odd, so I scanned through each plaque in turn and made a note. I was not expecting this.

19140 
191512 
191617 
191731 
191893 
191936 
192013 
19212 

More deaths in 1918 than any other year, by far, and 1919 somehow the second most common year, despite the war having officially finished. 100 years on, the magnitude and duration of this conflict are almost too great for us to fully comprehend.

A pdf detailing war memorials across Tower Hamlets can be downloaded here, and you can explore the Imperial War Museum's war memorial register for sites near you here.

 Saturday, November 10, 2018

As the centenary of the Armistice ticks closer, I thought I'd look back into my own family's First World War story, based on genealogical research and the occasional treasured artefact. Don't expect anything unduly horrific or outstanding.

My grandparents were born between 1900 and 1905, so were children during the Great War and thankfully missed out on active service. But my great-grandparents were born in the 1870s, part of the generation most directly affected, so they're the group I've been investigating.

My Mum's grandfather, Harry, signed up six years early. The British government launched the Territorial Force in April 1908 as a volunteer back-up contingent for the British Army, a bit like today's Territorial Army but with a higher chance of seeing active service. Harry signed up within the first fortnight, putting his signature to an official document agreeing to a four year term and to payment of a £5 fine if he failed to attend the necessary number of drills. Question 15(c) asked 'Do you understand that when a proclamation has been issued in case of imminent national danger or great emergency calling out the first class Army Reserve you will become liable to be embodied?', to which he answered Yes. He can't have imagined quite what he was letting himself in for.

Harry was part of the Hertfordshire Regiment, one of a small number of Territorial units who were called up alongside the regular army in August 1914 to form the British Expeditionary Force. The regiment were ordered to assemble at Romford the day after war broke out, then moved north to Bury St Edmunds for two months of training. On 5th November the regiment took the train to Southampton, sailed at midnight for Le Havre, swiftly moving onto Saint-Omer. Their march to the front took them through Ypres, and their first trench action came on 14th November, relieving troops after the Battle of Nonne Bosschen. That's from Suffolk to front line fighting in nine days flat.

Thanks to the internet, and a transcribed war diary, I know exactly what Harry's regiment got up to for the next four years. I even have a map. As well as Ypres they were involved at Loos, the Somme and Passchendale, last seeing service in Picardy on 5th November 1918. What I don't know is how much of those four years my great-grandfather spent in the thick of things. He wasn't killed, nor seriously injured, nor outstandingly valiant, so he doesn't crop up in dispatches. All I have is his digitised medal record, which shows he earned all the usual ones, and that he made it through to the end of the war intact. It would have been amazing to hear first hand of his experiences on the Western Front, however terrible, but he died in 1952 so I never will.

My Dad's grandfather, Edward, was 44 when World War One kicked off. He didn't enlist straight away but waited until January 1915 before throwing in his lot with the Royal Army Flying Corps. One of the things he did that day was fill in an official postcard, which we still have, to confirm to the rest of the family the major step he'd just taken. It's addressed to his wife in Maida Vale, with a tuppence ha'penny stamp and a South Farnborough postmark, and reveals the crucial regimental number she'd need to quote at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. Imagine entrusting yourself to a brand new technology as international warfare took to the air.



I know Edward was an Air Mechanic 2nd Class, a rank which included acetylene welders, blacksmiths, engine fitters, gear mechanics, aircraft riggers and electricians, but I don't know which of those he did. His first 'Theatre of War' was in France on 24th July 1915, because it says so on his medal record, and I think he was assigned to No 3 Squadron if that's what the Roman numerals mean. But I'm not certain precisely where he was based, whether he flew or stayed on the ground, or anything much about his time in service. All I do know is that his military career was cut short at some time in November 1917.

Edward's record gives the reason for his discharge as "sickness", in common with most of the other men in the register at the time. I understand this was a euphemism for mustard-gassed, 1917 being the peak of that appalling chemical weapon's use. He was discharged through South Farnborough on 5th December, and intriguingly the official War Office register lists his age as 36 when he was actually ten years older. Alas Edward's health never really recovered and he died of lung complications in 1921 aged just 50. Just because the Armistice was signed in 1918 doesn't mean casualties suddenly ceased, and the war continued to take its toll for many years.

My Dad's other grandfather, Thomas, was 35 when war broke out but I don't know what he did. If he'd signed up surely there'd be records, or maybe he had a more important job to do back home. As for my Mum's other grandfather, James, he died on New Year's Day 1914 and missed the whole thing. And my great-grandmothers of course never enlisted because times were very different, and so remained at home for the duration looking after the children. Those are four more stories I'll never hear told. Maybe they were nothing special, but the story of mass conflict is the accumulation of millions of individual narratives, and everyone's enduring experience counts. Lest we forget.

 Friday, November 09, 2018

Crossrail launches one month from today!

It doesn't, obviously. Potentially there's still another year to wait. But it never hurts to be reminded of what a massive project scheduling cock-up this has been.

But even if you can't yet ride Crossrail, you can already buy a ticket.



Pop down to your nearest TfL station, find a TfL ticket machine and request a ticket to Woolwich. This shouldn't be possible, because the station doesn't yet exist. But the machine will happily sell you a ticket anyway.

Don't rush out and try to bag yourself a souvenir. Tickets from TfL ticket machines don't include a destination, only the station you bought it from, a fare and a date. Your ticket will be perfectly valid to wherever, but it won't mention Woolwich.

I checked at several different stations, and all the machines were willing to take my money. The price is £4.90 for a single ticket from Stratford, Whitechapel or North Greenwich, for example, rising to £5.90 from stations in Zone 1. Return tickets cost twice as much.

Don't worry about how expensive this is. The price of cash tickets is artificially inflated to encourage people to Pay As You Go instead. This isn't a Crossrail-specific issue.

Although selling premature tickets sounds insane, there is a good reason. The software which runs TfL ticket machines is very complex, so is only updated a handful of times each year. The next update is in January, when fares rise, but this would have been too late for Crossrail's December launch, so the change had to be implemented as part of the previous update in September. The precise date was September 2nd, just two days after TfL announced Crossrail's launch was being delayed, by which time it was too late to stop the planned fares rollout going through.

Other Crossrail-specific tickets are available, for example to Abbey Wood, even though you can't yet follow the cheaper Crossrail routing.

In reality Woolwich station is nowhere near complete, just another unfitted box behind a hoarding. Indeed there was every chance its opening would have been delayed even if the rest of Crossrail had launched on time.



But you can already buy a Crossrail ticket to Woolwich, because life is strange.

The Shrouds of the Somme installation opened to the public in the Olympic Park yesterday morning.

All 72,396 wrapped figures are now laid out in rows across the South Lawn.



They represent all the British and Commonwealth servicemen who died in the Battle of the Somme but have no known grave.



Admission is free, but plenty of bucket-carrying stewards are available to take charitable donations.

Visitors are invited to walk around the perimeter, which includes an observation deck at one end.



Coachloads of schoolchildren are amongst those arriving to take a look.

Some of the figures are already damp and muddy, which only adds to the overall effect.



The artist, Rob Heard, was present and receiving plaudits from an appreciative audience.



A separate section, Lost Lives, includes one wrapped figure for each day of WW1 along with a daily casualty total.

For example, 14 soldiers were killed on the first day of the war in 1914, and 861 on the last day in 1918.



The total is almost more shocking when visualised this way, as relentless slaughter over such a long period of time.



The final tent includes a shop where figures can be purchased for delivery next year, as well as an individual roll call.



Shrouds of the Somme continues until Sunday 18th November. [8 photos]

 Thursday, November 08, 2018

This week's American midterm elections have shone a spotlight on the very different way the US organises its national politics. We have an elected House of Commons, an unelected House of Lords and a hereditary monarch, which is clearly unfair. They have an elected Senate, an elected House and an elected president, which is clearly fairer. Could we learn from the American way of doing things? What if UK politics were to be remodelled along American lines?

First of all, an elected second chamber has got to be an improvement, right? The Senate is simplicity itself, two senators per state, as defined in the US constitution. The USA has 50 states, so that's 100 senators, which is a nice round practical number. What's more every state is represented equally, be that California (population 40 million) or Rhode Island (population 1 million), so that's very fair.

If we were to mirror this with a UK Senate, we'd need two senators per county. Alas local government reorganisation since 1974 has messed up our county structures, chopping some into unitary authorities while leaving others whole. For example, it wouldn't be fair to give former Berkshire six times the representation of Oxfordshire nextdoor, simply because it's been broken up into half a dozen bits. The only fair thing would be to adopt ceremonial counties, as defined by the Lieutenancies Act 1997, bringing back traditional subdivisions we can all unite behind. What's more England has 48 ceremonial counties, which would mean 96 senators, which is an almost perfect total.

Although English counties have very different sized populations, the US experience confirms that such disparities are incontrovertibly fair. Indeed counties like Somerset, Derbyshire and Cheshire have very similar populations, as do the much smaller Cornwall, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, which would be very fair indeed. Rutland arguably gets an over-generous deal, with two senators for only 40000 residents, but they've suffered enough under local government reorganisation so we must leave them be. Meanwhile 8 million Londoners might be unhappy at being grossly under-represented, but in fact the City of London and Greater London are each defined as ceremonial counties, so that'd be twice as good, hence much fairer than expected.

As for the Home Nations, their plurality of administrative divisions is ridiculous, and we must not permit over-representation. Scotland's 32 unitary councils almost outnumber England's, adopting Northern Ireland six traditional counties would be inflammatory, and recognition for all of Wales's 22 counties and county boroughs would be excessive. Instead the only practical measure is to consider each nation as a single unit, contributing two senators apiece, making a grand total of 102. That's ideal.

UK Senate - number of senators
EnglandScotlandWalesN IrelandTOTAL
96222102

By reviewing the last set of General Election results county by county, it's easy to translate a potential UK Senate into each party's seats. For example, County Durham's voters preferred Labour, while Essex's voters preferred the Conservatives, thus balancing out at two senators each. Wales would send two Labour senators to Westminster, and Scotland two SNP senators, because winner takes all. What's more Northern Ireland now would be represented solely by the DUP, because Sinn Fein are in the minority across the province, so that'd solve the peace process at a stroke.

UK Senate 2017 (notional result based on county boundaries)
Conservative72Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, City of London, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, East Riding of Yorkshire, East Sussex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Northumberland, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Warwickshire, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Worcestershire
Labour26Bristol, Cheshire, County Durham, Greater London, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, Nottinghamshire, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Wales
SNP2Scotland
DUP2N Ireland

It may look from this table as if the Conservative party would have a built-in advantage, with shire counties dominant at the expense of larger metropolitan areas. On day to day matters of political business, yes, this would be the case. But residents of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire would suddenly find themselves in "swing counties" where their vote genuinely mattered, and where the vast majority of campaigning would take place, leaving the rest of us in peace.

In conclusion, the map below shows that the area of blue is easily outnumbered by the rest of the country, especially when the vastness of Scotland is taken into account, proving that a UK Senate would be much fairer than it looks.



As for elections to the US House of Representatives, these are structured along very different lines, utilising arbitrarily defined areas better balanced for population. This is a lot closer to the UK model of Parliamentary constituencies, except that ours are defined by an independent body operating to nationally-defined rules. Americans adopt a more practical system whereby each state legislature is able to redraw its congressional districts as it sees fit, a process sometimes called gerrymandering. Local boundaries lead to local results which better prioritise local priorities, creating a fairer outcome for all.



Gerrymandering allows parties to claim the greatest number of seats even when the overall public vote is against them, by grouping together their opponents so that as many as possible of their votes are 'wasted'. The state of Michigan is particularly adept at this, constructing wild sinuous boundaries to corral as many unwanted voters as possible, whilst spreading out the minority vote to give it the best possible chance of taking seats. Such creativity can keep parties in power for years, creating certainty and stability, which are qualities to be applauded.

Adopting the American approach in Britain would allow the full process of ingenuity and resourcefulness to be embedded in our electoral process. For example, the county of Leicestershire could redraw its parliamentary boundaries so that each of its constituencies included a slice of Leicester, ensuring that urban characteristics were dominated by the rural vote, thereby removing three Labour MPs at a stroke. For balance, some extremely careful subdivision on Merseyside could ensure that Southport is never again able to elect a Conservative MP, guaranteeing a red clean sweep.

Or take Croydon. This London borough currently has three constituencies - North, Central and South - most recently returning two Labour MPs and one Conservative. But a little cunning and forethought could tip the balance, American-style, simply by redrawing constituency boundaries elsewhere. Let's start by giving Croydon one extra MP, making a total of four, which cannot be anything other than positively advantageous. Next let's draw fresh boundaries in wholly natural locations, linking areas of undoubted similarity, to create four much fairer constituencies, thus:



Each dot on the map represents approximately 1000 voters at this year's council elections - red for Labour and blue for Conservative. As you can see, each new constituency contains exactly 20 dots, representing an equal number of voters, and must therefore be perfectly fair. The constituency of Croydon North would be a red stronghold, providing much greater confidence for Labour going forward. Meanwhile the three other new constituencies, through deliberate design, would lean convincingly to the Conservatives. Never mind that there are six more red dots than blue, the overall blue majority would be a much fairer reflection of the intended outcome.

The triumphant results of the US midterms have clearly shown the benefits of a seemingly perverse electoral model, which could easily be adopted in Britain. A UK Senate based on UK counties would be transparently fair, certainly more so than a room full of hereditary peers, bishops and obscenely political appointments. As for a UK House of Representatives with suitably gerrymandered districts, the advantages to the incumbent party are undoubtedly clear. Throw in an onslaught of voter suppression, coupled with deliberate disenfranchisement, and the superior US electoral model could be ours.

Then all we'd need to do is vote for a president to replace the Queen, and nothing could possibly go wrong there.

 Wednesday, November 07, 2018

As the centenary of the Armistice approaches, here are three very different commemorations - the one you've heard a lot about, the one you're about to hear a lot about, and the skippable one.

Beyond the Deepening Shadow (4th-11th November, 5pm–9pm)
Tower of London


Four years ago poppies filled the Tower's moat, but this year it's candles. Ten thousand are scattered around the grassy dip surrounding the battlements, and every evening this week the Yeomen Warders process out after sunset to light the first flame. As the evening progresses the entire moat lights up, accompanied by a haunting choral soundscape, until eventually the candles fade away. Those who paid a fiver in advance can walk around the moat on a walkway amid the flames, and everyone else is allowed to wander around the pathways on the rim, assuming they can get through to take a peek. It's a fabulous idea, and creatively very well thought through.



To avoid the crowds I turned up later in the evening, by which time some of the lights were already blinking out. I expected the way in to be obvious, but it wasn't, and no prominent signage was evident in or outside Tower Hill station. Instead a maze of barriers and one-way systems has been set up, entirely unexplained, and even though I've now walked round it I still couldn't convincingly explain where you're supposed to enter the system. The volunteer at one of the exit gates mumbled something and pointed towards Tower Bridge, the tortuous chicanes on Tower Hill looked somewhat more official, but hard to reach... and I eventually wandered into the melee down a set of unguarded back stairs.



The crowd was more Havering & the Home Counties than you'd normally see in central London, perhaps tipped off by their midmarket tabloid of choice. They lined one side of the narrow path, looking down into the moat with cameras poised, then shuffling on to the next gap to record the installation from a different angle. It was astonishing how few people were simply experiencing the lights and sound, and how many were filming it for shared consumption, either in stills or as an extended video. Even the retired crowd had their phones out. Their loss. The music was the truly bewitching part, drifting in and out of harmony, while I suspect the flames looked more impressive on the ground rather than as separate pinpoints from above. I shall long remember the scene, but never quite felt part of it, and only realised afterwards that it had not inspired me to reflect or remember. [website]

Shrouds of the Somme (8th-18th November, 10am–7pm)
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, South Lawn


Over one million soldiers were killed at the Battle of The Somme in 1916, of whom 72,396 British and Commonwealth servicemen have no known grave. Shrouds of the Somme is a unique installation designed to bring the magnitude of that number into sharp focus, and is the brainchild of Somerset artist Rob Heard. He's spent the last four years wrapping tiny plastic figures in cloth, his first target number the 19,240 body count from the first day of the battle. These were displayed in Exeter in 2016, and Rob's since upped production to create the full complement of 72,396 for 2018. That is an amazing personal commitment, and the outcome is every bit as striking as you'd expect.



A large area of lawn to the south of the Orbit has been fenced off, and a team of soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment has been laying out the models since the start of the week. Each row of 200 shrouds has to have precisely the right spacing, so this requires painstaking care, including the use of theodolites and guide wires. The top end of the lawn is already complete, though not yet perfect, hence a volunteer occasionally tiptoes out into the fray to ensure everything's optimally aligned. Meanwhile bags and bags of additional shrouds are scattered further down the lawn, ready to become part of the commemorative array, and beyond that scaffolders are constructing what looks to be a platform for an elevated view.



Shrouds of the Somme opens to the public tomorrow morning, and access will be free, although you will have to walk through a security tent and bag check first. It's hard to know what the public's reaction will be, but the people of Exeter were quite overwhelmed by their display, and the pink signs are already up at Stratford station in readiness for potential crowds. It already looks impressive, and that's from outside the barriers. Like the Tower of London's ceramic poppies it succeeds by creating a graphic representation of loss, bringing home the magnitude of war... although you'd need over 200 such lawns to match WW1's full casualty list. [website]

Remembrance Art Trail (8th-18th November)
Canary Wharf


Another location, another artist. This time it's Mark Humphrey, who first exhibited commemorative works at Canary Wharf two years ago, returning with a partially-fresh selection. Eleven artworks have been scattered all around the estate, so disparately that you'll need a map to find them all. A paper copy of the map is easily collected from one of the ubiquitous stewards, but even then you'll have to look carefully to see which level the artwork's on. There were at least three I didn't find, uncertain precisely what I was supposed to be looking for, even though I think I was in the right place. Still, at least this one was obvious.



This giant Airfix-kit soldier is located at one end of the roof gardens above Crossrail Place. It made me think of dismemberment, and the mass-availability of cannon fodder, although the apparent intention was to "demonstrate human sacrifice, comradeship and remembrance". I also appreciated the simplicity of Fallen Soldier in Cabot Square, where a series of poppy-filled tubes gently topple around the edge of the fountain, and the diverse ring of helmets on poles positioned outside Clifford Chance. Less so the soldier in the perspex pyramid facing the main entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, which occasionally blows poppies around like it's the end of the Crystal Maze, which draws the crowds.



Embedding meaningful art across the Canary Wharf estate is a fine idea, maximising the number of workers who'll see it and get their conscience jogged, and providing the Royal British Legion with a very visible presence. But I'm less convinced it works well as an Art Trail, indeed as I traipsed across yet another shopping mall it felt like some kind of Remembrance Orienteering, and there are better ways to be thoughtful. [website]

 Tuesday, November 06, 2018

I've been for a walk round the block.

The block on which I live is more interesting than most. One edge of it is the A11 and another is the A12. Its perimeter is three quarters of a mile long. Crossrail runs underneath the block, precisely from one corner to the corner opposite. At the other corners you'll find the Bow Roundabout and Bow Bus Garage. I walked anti-clockwise starting from the corner of Fairfield Road and Bow Road. Let's see what's new on my block.


A11 - Bow Road



» The cash machine where my bank card was stolen earlier this year has been removed. And good riddance. It was one of two on the side of the former Nat West Bank (or 'Westminster Bank', as the uncovered signwriting on the front now says)... and which are about to be replaced by one new machine. This is a Grade II listed building, so stonemasons have been along to restore the wall, good as new, and then to cut a fresh hole in the centre. A different set of workmen could be seen through the open hole yesterday, extending a tape measure to check everything's spot on. Let's hope the new cashpoint is unriggable.



» If anyone fancies a shop assistant job at the Nisa supermarket, please hand over your CV in person at the counter.
» The vacant office space above the supermarket is expected to become a "non residential education and training centre", so will be getting a new doorway, lobby and staircase adjacent to the current entrance to the supermarket. This is what you discover when you read the planning notices on lampposts.
» At Kebabish, scribbled marker pen confirms that the price of a 2 skewer kofte with pitta bread and salad, originally £2.75, has been raised from £2.99 to £3.50.

» The shabby exterior of City Lodge London, the 2-star hotel gracelessly converted from the former Kings Arms pub, must depress every traveller who arrives seeking "total renewal just steps away from the city's numerous attractions". Alas the latest Tripadvisor review tells how "a charming, funny and smart mice (I named him Bernie) smelled and explored my backpack especially by night". It is perhaps no surprise that those two Russian spies chose to stay up the road instead.

» November's exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery is Visions In The Nunnery P2 | Melanie Manchot. Her audio-visual work Out of Bounds "continues Manchot's ongoing exploration of the socio-economic and ecological microclimate of a Swiss mountain and its alpine community" and "addresses structures of maintenance, support and the socio-political urgencies of precarious environments in our care." It's closed on Mondays, which may or may not have been a blessing.
» The Carmelite Cafe, which has been the sole local bijou coffee'n'cake dispensary since 2012, went into liquidation last month and served its last Nude Espresso last weekend. Bow Arts promise "another café will be opening in the same space very soon".



» At Bus Stop M, the timetable for route 108 is missing. In more competent news, the timetable for route 425 has been updated to show it now goes to Ilford, and the timetable for route 25 has been updated to show its frequency has been halved. Weekday daytime services were previously "every 2-6" minutes and are now "every 6-10". The spider map in the shelter has not been updated, so still shows the 425 terminating at Stratford.

» The major housing development at 219-221 Bow Road has its own Instagram account, unusually focusing solely on construction rather than selling. The account is proudly advertised on the safety noticeboard out front, with a poster urging passers-by to "Follow us" by scanning a QR code. The account has 14 photos, of decreasing interest, and somehow has 17 followers. Meanwhile the latest pinned-up newsletter is dated August 2019.

Payne Road



» A company called Maximus Networks has put in a planning application to install a "public call box" on the corner of Bow Road and Payne Road, alongside McDonalds. It's hard to imagine a worse location for a shelter-free touchscreen audio connection than on the approach to the traffic lights at the Bow Roundabout, unless you're a greedy start-up keen on embedding digital advertising screens alongside major road networks.
» McDonalds has become a busy hangout for moped crews, keen to speed Uber Eats burger deliveries to surrounding streets, and hanging around watching their phones during the inter-order lulls.

A12 - Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach



» Checking the flyers on the lampposts on the exit from the Bow Roundabout, it seems Sevyn Streeter is live at the Electric Ballroom on 13th December, but you've just missed the Heartless Crew at Scala.
» According to the sign outside Harbrine Ltd, "a door is only as good as its ironmongery".
» This is a really unhealthy place to be walking, according to the nitrogen dioxide spikes on this London-wide 3D pollution map. I should not walk round the block too often.
» The footpath ahead beside the A12, under the railway bridge and along the back of Bow Quarter is open again, at long last, now that Crossrail are done.

Wrexham Road/Baldock Street/Ridgdale Street/Jebb Street



» For a bit of variety, here's a quartet of terraced streets built in the 1910s on the site of the Grove Hall Lunatic Asylum, and not quite demolished when the A12 was carved through in the 1960s.
» Everyone gets a tiny front garden, alas half-filled with obligatory refuse bins. You can park your car outside. All the streetlamps are special ones, from the Conservation Area catalogue. These are 'proper' houses, in sharp contrast to the stacked flats on Bow Road.
» Several residents still have carved pumpkins by the front door. Someone's left their keys in the lock. Linda & Val's house is full of knick-knacks. The roofing contractors are up on the scaffolding at three separate properties. £700,000, you say?

Fairfield Road



» Signs along the side of Bow Bus Garage urge staff (presumably the smokers) to be "Quiet please, this is a residential area".
» The Fairfield Express corner shop has seen better days, but still serves a mean cup of Nescafe instant cappuccino. Having an automated parcel collection point outside can't have hurt trade.
» A scribbled poster reveals that Mr Patel has a double-size room to let in the Upton Park area for £140 a week. A lot cheaper than living down here, that's for sure.
» This end of Fairfield Road has some superbly aspirational Georgian terraces, maximising the architectural contrast around the block.
» Bus drivers exiting towards Bow Road - which is every single one of them - are warned of low trees ahead, which just goes to show the importance of arboreal preservation in a conservation area.
» The cashpoints on the corner are being replaced, but then you knew that...

 Monday, November 05, 2018

Today's post is about Chichester Harbour, a large natural feature at the west end of West Sussex whose shoreline remains almost entirely undeveloped. Four long fingers of water stretch up from the Channel, like a huge claw has pressed down into the land and allowed it to flood. I visited either side of low tide, so experienced a thin navigable channel bordered by acres of sand and mudflats, and would have seen a very different topped-up environment at high tide. Here's a map of the places I walked between. And yes, this really is called the Manhood Peninsula.



Bosham (pronounced Bozzum) is the largest harbourside town, if you can call a population of 3000 large. It has a long history, inhabited by Romans, Saxons and Vikings, attracted by waterside accessibility. Legend has it that King Canute tried to hold back the waves here (although several other places claim the same), and that his daughter died in the millstream. Far better documented is the visit of Harold Godwinson in 1064, just before he set sail to France for his fateful meeting with the William the Pre-Conqueror. Bosham's church has the honour of appearing in the Bayeux Tapestry, indeed Holy Trinity is probably the only church in the country with a comet stitched into its altar cloth.

Bosham today benefits from a quiet waterside setting, very much a place for wealthy sailingfolk who value having a main road and a commutable station nearby. This means brasseries rather than takeaways, and an art gallery rather than a corner shop, although there is a Co-Op half a mile up the lane. The small meadow by the quayside is National Trust-owned, and the place for a pint is the low-beamed interior of The Anchor Bleu. But what sets Bosham apart is the road round the back of the pub, between a long row of houses and the main channel, which floods twice a day. It looks the ideal place to park at low tide, but the gentle seaweedy gradient is deceptive - leave a car here too long and the harbour'll rise up and wet your wheels.



A short causeway crosses the inlet, as a temporary shortcut for those who live on the far bank, and remains somewhat damp underfoot as the tide drains away. Heading south? The public footpath which hugs the shoreline also disappears beneath the water at high tide, forcing diversion along a country lane, but I got to stride along the edge of the saltmarsh negotiating tree roots, crunchy shells and occasional sludge. After about a mile a scrappy causeway leads off at right angles towards the water's edge, with separate forks appropriate for low, medium and high tide. There's been a foot-ferry here since the 17th century and, despite feeling like it links the middles of nowhere, a tiny boat still shuttles across the Chichester Channel to this day.

The Itchenor Ferry is weekends only in November, but runs daily in the summer. I had wondered how you'd summon it across but thankfully the ferryman was already over, deep in conversation with a bloke with a dog. I felt a little cheated that the crossing would be so short, what with the water level being low, but we got up a decent speed weaving between moored yachts and Brexit-friendly boats. The dog proved extremely keen to play with the tennis ball its owner had brought, and proved adept at playing catch in the cramped arena of the boat's deck. Once initially engaged it then enjoyed poking its ball-stuffed jaws into the lap of another seated passenger, begging for further throws, and I was relieved we reached the far jetty before my groin was similarly tested.



West Itchenor is a stringy hamlet, a short street of decreasingly historic cottages with a pub at the top, and is dominated by its Sailing Club. The ISC has a long history of waterborne recreation and competition, with membership fees of £500 a year, and encourages visiting yachtspersons to drop in and enjoy the facilities. The main footpath graciously crosses its boatyard, then proceeds along the shoreline for the best part of three miles towards the mouth of Chichester Harbour. This is a fine tide-independent stroll, with views across a flat bird-rich foreshore towards the RAF base on the island opposite, occasionally interrupted by thick thorny hedgerows.

The settlement at the far end is West Wittering, a peculiar outpost of detached hideaways and bungalows, with more than its fair share of private roads. Some of the odder houses look to be channelling naff architecture from the 1930s, or Southfork ranch, and even the Norman parish church suffers from a disappointingly Victorian internal makeover. Local decorum survives thanks to residents buying up the half mile strip of farmland between the village and the sea in 1952 to prevent the emergence of a huge Butlins holiday camp, preserving a green buffer between their houses and the beach. And what a beach...



The south coast is not over-blessed with sandy beaches, but West Wittering's is outstanding. Its broad golden sweep runs for a couple of miles along the slightest curve of Bracklesham Bay, and at low tide its breadth cannot be under-emphasised. Most of the photos I attempted turned out as half sky, half sand, with a tiny strip of detail inbetween. In summer the beach huts are unlocked, the lifeguards are poised, and the queues of daytrippers piling onto the approach roads can be appalling. Not this weekend. Instead gusty winds meant the kitesurfers were out in force, with separate offshore clusters at both West and East Wittering, zipping through the waves beneath arcing coloured canopies.

At the tip of the peninsula, where Chichester Harbour escapes to the sea, is one of those amazing coastal features your geography teacher once taught you about. East Head is a sand and shingle spit, its shape inexorably in flux, with a well-established warren of dunes at its heart and a swirl of soft sand around the edge. It's connected to the mainland only by a narrow link called the Hinge, which was breached by storms in 2004 and is now more carefully defended using pebbles and groynes. It is a magical place.



One sandy loop around the perimeter of the spit is optimal for taking a dog for a decent walk, or tiring out small children, so long as water levels have dropped sufficiently to allow access. Visitors stream in from the West Wittering car park, hounds or offspring in tow, and set about a complete circuit in one direction or the other. A vast additional acreage of sand is exposed at low tide, rippled afresh, allowing an extended promenade in the general direction of Hayling Island and back. It was exhilarating to walk the sandblown periphery, but also to explore the tranquillity of the central dunes, on this unique temporary headland leased from the sea. I should come again at high tide for an entirely different experience. [5 photos]

 Sunday, November 04, 2018

Today's the day that sunset in London slips over from "nearer 5pm" to "nearer 4pm". Yesterday the sun set at 4.31pm, and today it's 4.29pm. Sunset then remains "nearer 4pm" through the winter solstice and out the other side, until 21st January. Sorry, that's 11 weeks.

I can do similar calculations for "nearer 6pm", "nearer 7pm", "nearer 8pm" and "nearer 9pm", again all for London. Dates are for the next twelve months. Greenwich Mean Time is in blue, and British Summer Time is in red.

Nearer 4pm4 Nov - 21 Jan
Nearer 5pm22 Jan - 23 Feb27 Oct - 3 Nov
Nearer 6pm24 Feb - 30 Mar5 Oct - 26 Oct
Nearer 7pm 9 Sep - 4 Oct
Nearer 8pm31 Mar - 5 May12 Aug - 8 Sep
Nearer 9pm6 May - 11 Aug

"Nearer 6pm" is a GMT thing in the spring, but a BST thing in the autumn, because the dates we change the clocks aren't symmetrical. More intriguingly, "nearer 7pm" only happens in the autumn, and gets skipped over in the spring. In southeast England, 7pm sunsets are a September thing. Meanwhile we only get one week of 5pm sunsets in the autumn (it's just finished), but a full month of them later in the winter.

Let's do weeks.

Nearer 4pm11 weeks
Nearer 5pm6 weeks
Nearer 6pm8 weeks
Nearer 7pm4 weeks
Nearer 8pm9 weeks
Nearer 9pm 14 weeks

The time of sunset changes fastest at the equinoxes, and slows down at the solstices, which is why the largest numbers appear at the top and bottom of the table. British Summer Time very much messes up the pattern in the middle. But if you need something to hang onto during the next 11 dark weeks, remember that "nearer 9pm" lasts a good bit longer than "nearer 4pm".



Update: In response to a comment from a reader in the Orkney Islands, where the time of sunset ranges from 3.14pm to 10.28pm, here's the Orkney data.

Nearer 3pm6 weeks
Nearer 4pm8 weeks
Nearer 5pm4 weeks
Nearer 6pm6 weeks
Nearer 7pm4 weeks
Nearer 8pm6 weeks
Nearer 9pm7 weeks
Nearer 10pm 12 weeks



Update: A reader points out that Orkney is further west than London as well as a lot further north, making sunset a little later even before taking latitude into account. So here's the data for Newport, Wales, which has the same latitude as London but the same longitude as Orkney.

 London
51½°N 0°W
Newport
51½°N 3°W
Orkney
59°N 3°W
Nearer 3pm  6 weeks
Nearer 4pm11 weeks9 weeks8 weeks
Nearer 5pm6 weeks7 weeks4 weeks
Nearer 6pm8 weeks7 weeks6 weeks
Nearer 7pm4 weeks5 weeks4 weeks
Nearer 8pm9 weeks8 weeks6 weeks
Nearer 9pm 14 weeks13 weeks7 weeks
Nearer 10pm 3 weeks12 weeks



Update: A reader asks what the underlying pattern is, i.e. what the data would look like if we didn't put the clocks forward and stuck to GMT all year round. Here's London, GMT.

Nearer 4pm11 weeks
Nearer 5pm9 weeks
Nearer 6pm9 weeks
Nearer 7pm9 weeks
Nearer 8pm 14 weeks



Update: I was expecting sunrise times to look similar but, because we yank them in the opposite direction when the clocks change, the spread looks very different. Here's sunrise in London.

Nearer 5am14 weeks
Nearer 6am13 weeks
Nearer 7am14 weeks
Nearer 8am 11 weeks



Update: A reader has opened up the can of worms relating to what would happen if we no longer put the clocks back, i.e sticking to GMT+1 throughout the year. This is what'd happen to sunrise and sunset in London.

Nearer 5am14 weeks
Nearer 6am9 weeks
Nearer 7am9 weeks
Nearer 8am9 weeks
Nearer 9am 11 weeks
       
Nearer 5pm11 weeks
Nearer 6pm9 weeks
Nearer 7pm9 weeks
Nearer 8pm9 weeks
Nearer 9pm 14 weeks



Update: Another reader mentions Singapore, which lies one degree north of the equator. Here the maximum difference in sunset times is only thirty minutes, the earliest being in November (6.50pm, today!) and the latest in February (7.20pm). Reasons for this are complicated.

Nearer 7pm 52 weeks

n.b. Geography dictates that Singapore's time zone should be GMT+7, whereas in fact it adheres to GMT+8 to match Malaysia, China and the Philippines, which is why sunset is always nearer 7pm than 6pm.

 Saturday, November 03, 2018

Yesterday was a glorious day, so I decided to go on a day trip from Bow to Box Hill by bus. That's the entire journey by bus, which is almost as far as you can go on TfL services. Dorking's a little further, and so is Slough, but they weren't quite such enticing destinations. I left Bow at 7.30am and travelled 24 miles (as the crow flies) by bus. Then I hiked up Box Hill, had a cup of tea and hiked straight back down, before bussing another 24 miles in reverse. Before you read through to the end of my account, I wonder if you can guess what time I got home.

Route 25: Bow to Bishopsgate   [07:30-08:00]
It's early, but I want to make the most of today's daylight. Every other passenger at my first stop bundles onto a 205, because it starts here and is empty, but I need to catch London's busiest route instead. Upstairs is full, and steamy, so I cram in downstairs in one of the reverse seats people usually try to avoid. I'm impressed that we keep moving, rather than the Mile End Road being one rush hour jam. The first great outpouring comes in Whitechapel - mostly hospital staff and schoolchildren - and by Aldgate the 25 resembles the interior of a 'normal' bus again. I have arrived in the City just in time for the start of the working day.

Route 344: Bishopsgate to Clapham Junction   [08:13-09:08]
Damn, just missed one. I'm taking the 344 because it bypasses the busiest hubbub of the West End, instead crossing the river early to thread through Southwark. On the way I spy the daily surge of commuters flooding across London Bridge and the cycling peloton overpowering Southwark Bridge. Progress is good until we reach Elephant & Castle - now one hour into my journey - but things then become slower on the crawl to Vauxhall. One gentlemen insists on broadcasting his bank business from the top deck, including five minutes of hold music and a dictated list of his most recent transactions. 20 white cranes surround Battersea Power Station. The rush hour is easing by the time we reach Battersea proper.

Route 37: Clapham Junction to Putney Heath   [09:18-09:45]
I need a quick loo break here, rather than trying to endure several inconvenient hours without. There are three possible buses for the next bit, and the 37 turns up first. It should be a quick hop through Wandsworth but the traffic is bad, eased a little by a conveniently-placed bus lane.

Route 85: Putney Heath to Kingston   [09:47-10:42]
The top deck of the 85 is steamy, with long wiggly window-drips. I squeeze in next to an unnecessarily wide passenger and hope the view clears. Roehampton Lane is jammed solid all the way up to the A3, and we make painfully slow progress forwards, even after turning onto the dual carriageway. It turns out that a water main has burst outside Putney Vale Cemetery, and a short section of cones in one of the two lanes has caused enough rippled-back congestion to delay us by half an hour. We're so late that the driver turfs us all off outside Asda, to much grumbling, and directs us to board the next bus (thankfully only two minutes behind). A student alighting at Kingston University mutters that she's missed most of her lecture.

Route 465: Kingston to Box Hill   [11:12-12:07]
Damn, just missed one, which is annoying when buses only run every 30 minutes. I spend several of these minutes battling with the appalling touchscreen "next bus" display fitted to the bus shelter by an outdoor advertising company who'd rather passengers were looking at curated content instead. The 465 is a peculiar bus route which spends as long in Surrey as it does in London. It's decently busy throughout, with pensioners, pushchairs and numerous bags of shopping, and the occasional member of staff heading to Chessington World of Adventures. We exit the capital at Malden Rushett, then cross the M25 and provide a useful service to the residents of Leatherhead. The Mole Valley proves to be mostly dual carriageway, with a single diversion through a picture postcard village. I finally hop off (after 4 hours 33 minutes) outside the Burford Bridge Hotel.



It is a glorious day to be climbing Box Hill. The path is initially breath-taking, and rapidly breathtaking, and not yet endowed with the slipperiness of winter. It's exhilarating to be looking down across the valley, above trees in shades of orange and brown, towards the harvested vineyards on the opposite slope. The gradient becomes shallower on the upper ridge, which leads to the cafe where some of the less adventurous visitors have settled. I plonk down by the trig point and look out across the vastness of the Weald, watching the planes landing and taking off at Gatwick, and enjoy a welcome thermos of tea. When a black labrador comes snaffling for my teacake it's time to move on, this time down the steep zigzag of steps towards the famous stepping stones. The descent is somewhat slippery, but I do get to grin politely at all the walkers who still have the entire climb ahead of them. By the time I reach the valley floor I've walked barely a mile since leaving the bus, but also 400 feet up and 400 feet down.



Route 465: Box Hill to Hook   [13:12-13:54]
I've timed my Box Hill exit to slip quickly onto the next 465 from Westhumble. The driver's chirpy, but struggling with the door to her cab which refuses to slam shut. She tries leaving it loose and rattling, then repeatedly grabs out to hold onto it, her caution delaying our progress north. Later she spots that she can tie her scarf through the gaps in the window and fasten the door that way, although it's not ideal. "They gave me a broken bus," she tells a passenger up front. Eventually the depot advise her to give in, but only once we've reached far enough into London for an alternative bus route to be available. When we're asked to alight, the Hopper fare ensures that nobody complains.

Route 71: Hook to Kingston   [13:56-14:14]
I wasn't expecting to need this extra bus, but it follows the 465's route most of the way back to Kingston, and might even have got me there slightly quicker.

Route 85: Kingston to Putney   [14:17-14:56]
This bus's Oyster reader has a telltale red dot on it, so the driver waves us all aboard without swiping. This is the most pleasant ride of the day, lightly trafficked and with plenty of seats. Because we're heading east we sail past the burst water main, and the continuing queues heading the other way, and I finish another chapter of my book.

Route 337: Putney to Clapham Junction   [15:07-15:25]
I could have got the tube home from East Putney, and it'd only have taken an hour, by instead my enforced bus safari must continue. Oh joy, the man behind me has opened a bag of something crackly which smells very strongly of meat. He compounds the issue a few minutes later by opening a second packet, doubling the meaty whiff, and only when he's finished crunching does he relocate to the front seat (and eat nothing).

Route 344: Clapham Junction to Bishopsgate   [15:25-16:27]
Yay, that was a perfect switchover out of one bus and into the next. It's also a long slog ahead, the first time a leg of the journey has taken over an hour, but that's often the penalty when you travel by bus. An academy in Battersea is building 31 flats in its playground. The highest lift tower at the Power Station is only eight storeys high, so far. Bars in Borough are starting to fill up with the after-work crowd. I've been out so long that the surge of commuters on London Bridge is now flooding in the opposite direction.

Route 25: Bishopsgate to Bow   [16:36-17:15]
I've saved the worst until last - riding London's busiest bus route at the start of the evening peak. A single empty seat has become available at the rear of the upper deck, which saves me from the miserable maelstrom downstairs. "Please move down inside the bus." The 25 is the homebound choice for those who'd rather not spend extra on the tube, including the sleepy, the headphoned and two schoolgirls forking burger and chips into their mouths. "Please move down inside the bus." It's finally dark now. "Please move down inside the bus." Progress is slow, and from my vantage point it's hard to see quite how bad the traffic is. I only just manage to squeeze out through the crush at Bus Stop M before the doors close.

So, a journey that kicked off at 7.30am finally came to an end at 5.15pm, after almost ten hours. That's five hours from Bow to the summit of Box Hill, and five hours back. Obviously it wasn't the best way of getting there, especially when only a single hour was spent doing all the fun stuff at my destination. But it is amazing how far a London bus can take you, and what sheer glories can await you at the other end.

 Friday, November 02, 2018

Tube quiz

These Underground stations are missing their compass points.
Add North, South, East and West once in each column to complete the eight names.

Clapham    Ealing
Hounslow    Ruislip
Aldgate    Hampstead
Lambeth    Acton

Extra points if you can do it without looking at a tube map.
The first column's easier than the second.

Please don't give the answers, or drop heavy hints, in the comments.
But do tell us how you get on.

Yesterday I spent some time filing away several months of paperwork, including bank statements, updates to terms and conditions, council tax demands and fuel bills. I should do this more often.

While I was doing so, I noticed one particular missive kept cropping up - a letter from my electricity provider urging me to get a smart meter. I shuffled all of these into one pile and discovered that I've been sent no fewer than thirteen such letters since February last year. I fear there might have been more, but I binned them.
Feb 2017: Have more control over your energy with a smart meter
Apr 2017: Important - book your smart meter change today
Jun 2017: We're installing smart meters in E3. Book your smart meter change now!
Aug 2017: We're installing smart meters in E3. Only pay for the energy you use!
Sep 2017: We're installing smart meters in E3. Take control of your energy by claiming yours today!
Nov 2017: We're installing smart meters in E3. Only pay for the energy you use!
Dec 2017: Great News! You can now get a smart meter installed
Dec 2017: Don't forget to book your free smart meter upgrade
Jun 2018: We're installing smart meters in E3. Only pay for the energy you use!
Sep 2018: Great News! You can now get a smart meter installed
Sep 2018: We're still installing smart meters in E3
Oct 2018: Great News! You can now get a smart meter installed
Oct 2018: Don't forget to book your free smart meter upgrade
They sound increasingly desperate, I thought. Why are they so very keen for me to sign up?

Smart meters allow householders to view real-time usage data on an in-home display screen, and send back information about power consumption to the supplier, ending the need for estimated bills. The government would like all meters for electricity and gas in UK homes to be smart by the end of 2020. Connected consumers can make better decisions about over-hungry appliances, saving money, and energy companies are better able to manage demand. Installation is free, you can't be forced to have one, and it's your choice whether data is passed on half-hourly, daily or monthly. Unless you're employed as a meter reader, it all sounds pretty positive. [more]

But I've been holding back because there are two kinds of smart meter - SMETS1 and SMETS2. Almost all of the 12 million smart meters installed so far have been first generation SMETS1, which don't necessarily continue working if you switch to a new supplier, deterring early adopters from exiting a duff contract. SMETS2 meters use better technology so avoid such drawbacks, but are being rolled out painfully slowly. Only 2000 SMETS2 devices had been installed by the end of June, and at the end of September that total had only risen to 47000. [more]

The switchover from SMETS1 to SMETS2 was originally intended to take place in 2014, then 2015, so you can see how incredibly behind schedule this rollout is. Issues with a lack of trained installers slowed things down, as did delays to the secure data network which SMETS2 uses to communicate. Eventually the government set a deadline of 13th July 2018, after which SMETS1 would be mothballed and only SMETS2 meters could be installed. In January this year they pushed the deadline back to 5th October, and then at the very last minute extended it again to 5th December. It's no wonder I've been receiving letters with increasing urgency. [more]

Many energy companies, mine included, have a large stock of SMETS1 smart meters which they had hoped to have installed by now, and which will suddenly become entirely redundant after 5th December. Sending repeated mass mailouts to their unsmart customers may be expensive, and mostly unproductive, but it's still cheaper than having to bin a warehouse full of SMETS1 devices in five weeks time. I'm expecting at least a couple more letters before then, which I shall be disregarding because I don't want to be palmed off with the old version merely to hit a target. They need us at the moment more than we need them. Great News!


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