diamond geezer

 Monday, May 21, 2018

(This is the 7500th post on diamond geezer)

Since the start of the year, I have ridden on every London bus route.
Not many people have done that.

It seemed like a reasonably sane thing to do. I do have a fair bit of spare time, and a Travelcard, and this has been an excellent time filler, especially on dull, grey days. It's also been a great way to see all over London, from Ruislip to Biggin Hill and from Chingford to Chessington, and to keep my mental picture of the capital up to date.My initial plan was to complete the challenge across a full year. That's approximately 10 buses a week, which seemed very doable. But in the end I managed rather more than that, because once you're in Uxbridge you might as well do everything, which is how I managed to finish the task in 20 weeks flat.Tube and rail challenges are much more common, ticking off all the stations on a network in a set amount of time. Bus challenges are less popular, and less glamorous, plus you can't visit all the bus stops, there are far too many, and even riding every route end to end would take an absolute age.
I'm by no means the first to complete the task. Several Men Who Like Buses have ridden (and photographed) them all. The Ladies Who Bus rode all of every route and blogged about it. The All The Buses crew managed to ride them all in a single 24 hour period, although there were five of them, and they shared the list out.If you really went for it, and had absolutely nothing else to do, I suspect it's possible to ride all the bus routes in London in a week. It definitely isn't possible in a day, because London's simply too enormous, and one or two of the bus routes are wilfully infrequent and/or peripheral. No, I didn't blog about it. Imagine how tedious it would have been if I'd written about every one of my rides. But I did report back on four of the routes, namely the H13 and the 603, plus the last buses I ticked off, the 507 and 521. I left those two until the end because they were easy.

I should clarify what I mean by "every London bus route". My list included all bus routes operated by TfL, with the exception of school and nightbus services. I didn't want to be bundling on with the kids, nor did I want to be traipsing over to Ealing at midnight to grab the N83. I also didn't include buses that cross the London boundary but aren't operated by TfL, mobility buses like the 969, or temporary routes like the 508 which operates only when Crossrail works intrude.

But that still left a heck of a lot of buses to ride. To be precise, it left 543 buses, a number I checked with the All The Buses team to make sure I wasn't missing any out. These 543 buses included 442 numbered routes, from 1 up to 607, and 101 lettered routes, from A10 to X68. I've ridden on every single one of these at some point over the last twenty weeks, swiping in and riding at least one stop.

According to my rules, just one stop was enough to claim I'd ridden a route. I did sometimes feel a bit self-conscious dinging the bell to get off at the next stop, but if another passenger had dinged first I didn't feel so embarrassed. The best buses for riding one stop are the New Routemasters, because you can slip out the back door, and the worst are the small single deckers which only have one door so you have to walk out past the driver who's only just let you on.My Oyster history has been a good way of checking I have indeed ridden the lot. On only two occasions was the Oyster reader on the bus not working, which is a 99.6% success rate, which is pretty good going given how flaky the technology has sometimes been. Checking my Oyster history confirms that I only rode 47 bus routes more than once, mostly those near home, and I rode 496 bus routes once only. Some I may never ride again.

As for tactics, I started out in the first week of January by wiping out every route from 1 to 30, just so I'd know I'd done them all. No, I didn't do them in order, because that would have been unnecessarily awkward. I ticked off central and northeast London first, which took a couple of months, then moved on to the northwest quadrant, then the southwest and finally the southeast. I wasn't absolutely rigid about that, but basically I worked round London anti-clockwise from home, because it helps to be methodical.

I found the printed London bus maps absolutely invaluable. Even though TfL stopped updating them two years ago, they're still a excellent guide to what runs where, and only occasionally was I completely thrown (hang on, where's this 483 suddenly sprung from?) (hmmm, what the hell have they done to the 110?). I don't think I could have managed the challenge if these five bus maps didn't exist. If you are the TfL manager who scrapped them, for reasons of cost or because you think you know best, what a miserable bastard you are.One reason for doing the challenge now is that numerous potential bus changes are due at the end of the year aligned to the introduction of Crossrail. My five printed bus maps won't be as accurate or as useful once those come in, so 2018 seemed like a now or never moment. But I expect I'll still pop out and and ride all the new routes if and when they appear, which should be eminently doable, and then I'll continue to be able to claim I've ridden all the buses.
If you ever decide to do this challenge for yourself, you'll quickly discover you don't have to go absolutely everywhere to complete it. Ticking off every single bus in central London, for example, also ticks off a fair few that stretch out into the suburbs. By doing Heathrow, Hayes and Uxbridge I never bothered with West Drayton, nor did I ever need to go to Sidcup. But there are some places you simply can't avoid, like Barnet, Romford and Kingston, thanks to local routes which don't head anywhere else.The most annoying bus routes to tick off, it turns out, are the far flung and the infrequent. I shake a fist at the hourly 467 from Hook to Epsom, I bemoan the outlying 428 from Erith to Bluewater, and I curse the occasional 375 to Havering-atte-Bower. The hardest to catch are the R5 and R10 in Orpington, which run every two and a half hours in opposite directions, but by riding one into Orpington station and the other straight back out, I managed to grab both with speed and ease.

I won't bore you with all the details.

The most buses I rode in one day was 32, round Merton and Sutton.On my 10 busiest days, I rode over half of London's buses.My first bus was the 1, my second the 488, and my last the 521.Strategically, try to focus on hubs and high streets, not outlying roads.
A typical heavy day involved wiping out one or two boroughs.On my 20 busiest days, I rode 85% of London's buses.Obviously I rode the heritage Routemaster when I did the 15.Thank you Citymapper, thank you, your app saved me hours.

One thing you soon spot, if you ride enough buses, is how excellent the vast majority of London's bus drivers are. They pause to let elderly passengers reach the stop and climb on board, they halt at red lights rather than speeding up and whizzing through, and they drop off Hail and Ride passengers as close to their homes as they can manage. And OK, so the occasional driver on the 33 may decide not to stop in Twickenham because the bus stop's full and they're in a hurry, leaving a man by the roadside waving his crutches in abject fury, but they were very much the exception.

Never underestimate the importance of buses in shifting pushchairs around.Spider maps at bus stops are dead useful. I cursed every time I found one of the new non-geographic diagrams.Don't a lot of London buses go to hospitals? I seem to have gone to loads of them.People in the outer suburbs really appreciate being able to pick up a Metro on the bus.
Never underestimate the importance of buses in keeping the elderly independent.When changing buses, it's not always easy to locate the nearest bus stop on another route. It can be a long hike.Thanking the driver on leaving the bus is still impressively commonplace in the outer suburbs.Filling the front luggage space with a box of Metros isn't great for those with heavy shopping.
Somewhere around 3pm, buses stop being the preserve of mums and the retired, and become full of schoolkids.Sometimes, if you accidentally go one stop too far, it's a heck of a long walk back.The driver of the 399, on his last day, had brought a box of biscuits for all his regular passengers to share.When three buses turn up at the same stop at the same time, it's not always easy to catch the back one.

But I think the main thing I've taken away with me, after my extended safari, is how wonderfully frequent London's buses are. Most of them run five or more times an hour, so the next one's rarely more than ten minutes away, so not much of a wait. Even the every-20-minuters weren't too much of a trial, and only when the gap reached 30 minutes or an hour did I have to start making extra special effort to be in the right place at the right time. We Londoners are blessed with an absolutely wonderful turn-up-and-go bus service, covering the breadth of the capital, and riding all the buses in Manchester or Dorset would have been a much more arduous task.

Since the start of the year, I have ridden on every London bus route.
Not many people have done that.
But I don't necessarily recommend it.

 Sunday, May 20, 2018

Route 521: Waterloo to London Bridge
Location: Central London
Length of journey: 3 miles, 40 minutes

The 521 is London's most frequent bus service. Paradoxically, it doesn't run at weekends. The 521 is a true oddity, the commuters' friend, and exists because it's a lot cheaper than digging a new tube line. It crosses the Thames twice to connect two rail termini to places of work around Holborn and the City. It would be quicker to walk from one end to the other than to take the bus, not that any regular passenger would ever dream of riding all the way. So I did.

Never let it be said that queueing is dead. Visit the bus stops along the flank of Waterloo in the morning peak and you'll find several, two of which are for the 521. One aligns with the front doors and another with the centre, each with its own shelter in case the weather is inclement. As one bus vanishes the queues build up again, ready for double boarding, as the next vehicle lines up round the corner ready to take its place. Between half past seven and half past nine the 521 sets off every two minutes... as it'll do again between half past four and half past six, except then there'll be hardly anybody here waiting.

I've joined the crew who don't need to be at their desks by nine, but maybe nine thirty, so the bus I board isn't quite as rammed as those which left a few minutes earlier. Even better I manage to grab a seat, but the majority behind me in the queue are not so fortunate. They nip on with their free magazines and gym bags, their books and massive headphones, and clutch the handrail. Those packed beside the windows stare out in purgatorial indifference, displaying a fine range of tailored jackets, floral blouses and natty scarves. It's time to head across the river.

The on-board screen suggests we'll reach Holborn in five minutes and St Paul's in 17 (whereas anywhere better reached via the Waterloo & City line is conspicuously absent from the list). Nobody seems interested in hopping off on the south side of Waterloo Bridge, so everyone gets to enjoy the world-class view along the river Thames... unless they've seen it umpteen times before, or are squished somewhere in the middle of the bus from which it is invisible.

Wahey, here comes a unique bit of road no other London bus follows, namely the Strand Underpass. What's more only the northbound 521 uses it, because the former Kingsway tramway subway now only has room for one-way traffic. A serious left-hand bend intrudes part-way through, somewhere near the basement of Bush House, requiring a foot off the accelerator to negotiate. And in case you're wondering whether this tunnel might be an architecturally fascinating treat, no, it's basically a wall of concrete blocks and the occasional safety sign.

I can't help noticing that the lady sat in front of me is answering her office emails to fill the time. She's spotted a pertinent feature in the morning's freebie, so emails Lisa to ask if there are "any other verticals going out we need to know about". She asks Georgina about travel to Amsterdam, and Sarah about the Elite Singles partner proposal. She opens up an enquiry from Mark about his confidential salary review, and invites him to speak to her in the office later. I've changed the recipients' names to protect her PR agenda, but I wonder how much other confidential communication is undertaken in full public view on the 521.

Around half the passengers on the bus alight at Holborn. They could have caught any of seven other bus routes to get here, and I saw a particularly long queue for the 243, but I guess this crowd prefer the frequent express through the tunnel. A couple of people duly climb aboard, and I notice one of them fails to touch in, indeed I've spotted a fair few (on the 507 as well as the 521) treating the middle door as an excuse for a free ride.

On High Holborn a lady steps off the pavement in front of us having failed to spot the traffic lights have changed, because her phone is more interesting, and is blasted by a loud beep on the horn for her trouble. At Chancery Lane the number of passengers aboard halves again, and is now down to more like fifteen. The display screen has started to suggest it'll be 25 minutes before we reach London Bridge, which seems a ridiculously improbable length of time (but turns out to be correct).

At Fetter Lane a button is pressed to announce "The driver has been instructed to wait at this stop for a short time to even out the service". This is ridiculous for three reasons. Firstly, these buses run really (really) frequently. Secondly, it turns out the extra wait is only for a minute. And thirdly, absolutely nobody else is waiting to get on board at any of the remaining stops. Whatever, the majority of the remaining passengers alighted when faced with this announcement, and now there are only 4 of us left.

I note that the 521s going the other way are mostly standing-room only, packed with passengers who clearly don't have to be at their desks terribly early. And there are a lot of 521s, they're everywhere, indeed it takes 27 electric vehicles to keep this brief service on the road. But heading my way, from St Paul's Cathedral onwards, there's only me on board. In terms of time, that's half the journey that the driver would have had nobody else for company if I hadn't made the journey. A heck of a lot of driving hours are being wasted transporting air, just so that dozens of people can cram in for the first bit of the ride.

"This bus is now on diversion and will not be serving Cannon Street station." Oh joy. Gas escape repair works have blocked King William Street since the end of April, one way only, so we're to be sent round the long way. Specifically that's via Bank, and worse than that it's via Threadneedle Street, because impromptu roadworks are a central London curse. Until the start of June the eastbound 521 has become a wholly inefficient experience, which must be infuriating the regular commuters on their homeward journey, but for now is only inconveniencing me for an extra ten minutes.

I spy someone in the heart of financial territory scudding along the pavement on a scooter. I spy a smart woman entering the back door of Lloyds Bank carrying a bag of shareable treats. I spy a queue of buses snaking ahead waiting for the lights to change. I spy workmen legs-deep in a hole manipulating a spaghettisworth of plastic pipes. And I spy the last hordes of the morning commute flooding over London Bridge, because not everybody catches the bus.

We finally roll up the ramp into London Bridge bus station, the driver and me, 40 minutes after starting out. It feels like forever, but actually it's only five minutes longer than mandated in the timetable, so not too bad. He now gets to rest awhile before carrying the day's final stragglers back towards High Holborn, and maybe nobody at all into Waterloo, as the service winds down to a less hectic daytime frequency. The 521 might seem a terrible waste of money, but its contribution (for a few hours a day) is invaluable, and it is a lot cheaper than digging a new tube line.

Route 521: route map
Route 521: live route map
Route 521: timetable
Route 521: route history
Route 521: The Ladies Who Bus

 Saturday, May 19, 2018

Route 507: Victoria to Waterloo
Location: Central London
Length of journey: 2 miles, 25 minutes

A couple of central London buses are not like the others. They have numbers in the 500s, they exist to ferry commuters to and from major rail termini, and they vary wildly in frequency. One of the pair is the 507. It's part of what was once the Red Arrow network, launched in 1966, and rebranded as such in 2016. Only the finest cattle truck conditions for the civil service traveller.

You can tell the 507's important because it's been gifted one of the rare slots in the bus station in front of Victoria. Come during the peace of midday, or in the vacuum of the weekend, and you might wonder why. But at the height of the morning rush hour the buses are three deep, a queue waits politely, and the last step of the commute awaits.

I was expecting worse, but there are 'only' 25 of us standing by the time the bus swings out. Some are on their phones watching the next bit of their latest episode, while others simply stare straight ahead, having run out of Metro to read halfway across Surrey. We kick off down the Vauxhall Bridge Road, then bear off through Westminster's administrative backside. Nobody's especially interested in the first two stops, but Strutton Ground, near Channel 4's whopping deconstructed digit, proves rather more popular.

A dozen police motorcyclists go by, perhaps on their way to outride for a minister. Schoolchildren of all heights walk past bearing bags and rucksacks. Marsham Street is the chief disembarkation point for the Home Office and various other government departments, which leads me to believe I've probably been sharing the bus with a number of administrative assistants and civil service highfliers. One suited gentleman has brought his young daughter with him, their loud conversation culminating with an announcement from Sophie that she has "done a poo".

One joy of these new electric vehicles is the display screen hanging from the ceiling behind the driver, which announces the number of minutes to the next few stops and lists potential departures from Waterloo station. This would be particularly useful if anyone was about to commute home, which at 8.30 in the morning they are not, and if the jams ahead didn't mean that by the time we reach Waterloo all these trains will have left.

As the bus empties at Millbank someone shuffles into the seat behind me and sneezes three times, which doesn't worry me too much because it's hayfever time. I become more concerned when they proceed to sniffle, sneeze again, and generally make known that they have a column of thick catarrh bubbling in their throat. It would be impolite to turn round and complain, plus I might risk a direct hit, but I expect to spend the next few days living in fear of catching whatever my mucus-riddled nemesis might have got.

Our complement now somewhat depleted, we depart Westminster across panoramic Lambeth Bridge, then pick up our last fresh passengers outside Lambeth Palace. A steady stream of cyclists files through on the nearside, initially us overtaking them, but increasingly them overtaking us the closer to St Thomas's we get. The 507's a useful service for nursing staff as well as civil servants, it seems... but less good if you want to hang on to the final stop, because the traffic on York Road is grim.

With roadworks blocking the usual route, our driver pulls up at a unlabelled stop near the London Eye, where all but 4 passengers nip off. One of those fleeing is the phantom sneezer, who turns out to be a glum 11 year-old boy in a grey hoodie stuffing his face from a giant pack of pain aux chocolats. The rest of us should have got off too, because we now get to crawl towards the IMAX roundabout, trapped in our red box in full sight of where we want to be. It takes nigh on five minutes to circle back to the opposite side of the road and escape, a lesson the regular commuters probably learned yonks ago.

Route 507: route map
Route 507: live route map    
Route 507: timetable
Route 507: route history
Route 507: bendy bus report
Route 507: The Ladies Who Bus

SI unit quiz

Here are crossword-style clues to the names of 27 SI units.
That's 7 base units, and 20 derived units.
How many can you name?

  1) rhythm
  2) behind one
  3) morning Dad
  4) Dodd holds 56
  5) friend of Ratty
  6) can delay endlessly
  7) back from what Margo likes

  8) nemesis?
  9) van rental
10) eight kings
11) right Diana?
12) broken slate
13) Unilever soap
14) shake a clasp
15) Carl Maria von
16) distant advert
17) cool bum steer      
18) swirling sluices
19) went on drifting
20) restively restive
21) sounds like a gem
22) interrogative pronoun
23) reverse Cornish cheese
24) in the park at a loose end
25) sounds like toilet attendants
26) Bond, but not Secret Service
27) queer celeb, messed up without E

All answers now in the comments box.

 Friday, May 18, 2018

Everything we weigh, from aircraft to atoms, ultimately depends on a small block of metal stored in a Paris laboratory. The International Prototype Kilogram is a squat cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy, created at the behest of the 1st General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1889. It's approximately 39mm tall, but it's exactly 1kg in mass, because one kilogram is defined to be precisely what this lump of metal weighs. [video]

Six copies were made, and 40 further replicas dished out amongst the countries important at the time. The UK got copy number 18, and every 40 years or so it's taken back to France to be compared against the original. The rest of the time it's kept in a basement at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, the UK's chief arbiters of everything to do with measurement, so is very rarely seen.

Every two years the NPL holds an Open House event to showcase their work to the general public, including research and expertise across the entire spread of SI units. This year's event was held yesterday afternoon, so as a confirmed IPK groupie I made sure to go along.

This is the UK copy, the National Standard Kilogram, which was on display in a laboratory on the ground floor of Module 7. [video]

It's wasn't especially visible, being housed inside a metal casing inside a glass belljar inside a locked storeroom behind a pane of glass, but it was good enough for me. I've been longing to see the National Standard Kilogram ever since I saw it in a television programme at school in the 1970s, and now here I was finally in its presence.

Pictured below is the automatic mass comparator used to compare the UK national standard with its copies. Up to four copies can be compared simultaneously to an accuracy of one microgram, that's 0.0000001%. These copies are then used for calibration elsewhere, and so on, until ultimately the Co-Op knows precisely how many pasta shells should be in a packet.

But there is a catch, a serious one, with worldwide scientific implications. Every time the National Standard Kilograms are compared to the International Prototype, they're found to differ in mass. It's only a very tiny change, due to minor amounts of wear and tear every time the kilograms are cleaned and compared, but a troubling distortion all the same. When the entirety of science depends on measurements underpinned by mass, it's by no means ideal to define the kilogram based on an impermanent block of metal.

A similar problem once existed with the International Prototype Metre, when the set of platinum-iridium bars knocked up in 1889 were found to differ fractionally from the original. Here's the UK's original National Standard Metre, in the wooden case, being watched over by its official Open House guardian. She was only allowed to handle it using thick gloves, and even the later copy (resting on the table in front) was treated with a certain degree of reverence. [video]

The solution was to move away from physical blocks and switch to universal constants. In 1960 the official definition of the metre was changed to correspond to 1650763.73 wavelengths of the radiation from a krypton atom, and in 1983 upgraded to the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299792458 seconds. This switched the problem to accurately defining the duration of one second, which is now determined by using a laser to measure emissions from a caesium atom. Here's the laser the NPL uses.

But finding a more accurate, independent means of measuring a kilogram has proved more difficult. Whatever methods anyone came up with, it transpired that weighing a block of metal was better. But a solution looks to be on the cards, thanks to a machine devised here at the NPL in 1975 by Dr Bryan Kibble. The Kibble Balance uses the force produced by a current-carrying wire in a magnetic field to balance the weight of a mass. The original balance was a messy beast made from large coils and wires, but over the last few decades the design has been refined to something smaller and more accurate.

What the Kibble Balance actually determines is another physical invariant, the Planck constant, to an accuracy of nineteen parts per billion. That's not perfect, but with several Kibble balances in operation around the world an average value can be taken, and that'll do nicely. The kilogram can then be defined using the equivalent energy of a photon via the Planck constant, throwing in the definition of the second and the metre for good measure. And with the kilogram now defined entirely via universal constants, nobody needs to rely on a block of metal in a basement any more.

The International Committee for Weights and Measures are meeting in November and are expected to agree to the fundamental redefinition of the kilogram, as well as the tightening up of the other SI units. If accepted, the entire metric system would become wholly derivable from natural phenomena for the very first time, under conditions reproducible experimentally anywhere on the planet. The anticipated date of the switchover is 20th May 2019, coinciding with World Metrology Day, after which physics will never be quite the same again.

With the next NPL Open House not due until a year after that, yesterday was the last opportunity to see the National Standard Kilogram while it still has inherent meaning. The clock is ticking... and yes, the NPL regulates the nation's timekeeping as well.

Other things I saw, played with and chatted about at NPL Open House included a hydrogen-powered car, a microwave anechoic chamber, the world's most accurate thermometer, a caesium fountain clock, a linear accelerometer, machines for measuring air pollution by nanoparticles, 3D optical microscopes, an underwater acoustic tank, a functioning Computer Aided Design System and Alan Turing's employee record. Here's the full 40 page programme, if you want to see what you missed. It was an entirely brilliant afternoon/evening for anyone of a scientific bent, and as well-frequented by schoolchildren as by adults. Stick a reminder in your calendar to check for tickets in April 2020 (or wait for Ian Visits to remind you).

 Thursday, May 17, 2018

Location: Luxted Road, Downe BR6 7JT [map]
Open: daily from 10am (reduced opening Nov-Mar)
Admission: £12.00
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house (@homeofdarwin)
Four word summary: where Darwin reasoned evolution
Time to allow: a couple of hours

In 1842 Charles Darwin and his young family grew tired of living in London and sought somewhere new to live. They nearly ended up in Chobham, but a house in the Kent village of Down proved cheaper, and the Darwins grudgingly decided it'd do. London was commutable if necessary, but the area was also properly rural and, winningly, surrounded by an impressive network of footpaths. Since then the village has gained an extra 'e', and the London boundary has reached out and swallowed it whole. But Down House remains deep in untarnished countryside, and Darwin's local landscape is secure. [10 photos]

Charles Darwin lived here for 40 years, after a busy early life involving medical school, Cambridge University and a life changing round-the-world voyage. His five-year trip aboard the Beagle allowed him to observe variations in geology and natural history, and to collect innumerable specimens for later study. As a result Darwin became increasingly convinced that various species must have had a common origin, and his theory of natural selection gradually surfaced. Although these ideas were already developing before he reached Down House, it was here he dug deeper and made his arguments watertight before bringing evolution to public attention in 1858. Our world was never quite the same again.

Down House overlooks a single-track lane round the back of Biggin Hill Airport. One of London's least frequent buses runs past the front door, that's the R8, and the driver will let you step off into a hedge if you ding the Hail & Ride at the right time. Then traipse back through the car park, locate the gift shop, and you're inside. I was impressed how many visitors were here on a weekday in the middle of almost nowhere, but that's the pull of a great scientist, a nice house and a splendid garden. Also, no photographs indoors thanks very much, but outside as many as you like.

Visitors are urged to go upstairs first, to see the exhibition, which runs through the life and times of everything Darwin-related and is very good. His family tree is impressive, and includes several Wedgwoods. The rooms detailing the voyage of the Beagle, and the controversy surrounding On The Origin Of Species, are detailed and chock full with actual artefacts. The stuffed birds in the cabinets on the landing aren't as creepy as they might be. One room is set aside for children to do childreny things, and another is a library. The only period room upstairs is the Darwins' bedroom, recently restored so I'd not seen inside before. The bed is lined up to face the window and the meadow beyond, which helps to explain how the great naturalist spent quite so long living here. I watched as a bee buzzed the wisteria just beyond the glass, a fairly everyday observation, but here somehow imbued with a special significance.

Downstairs an audio tour is provided to help guide you round, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, which gives it extra oomph. Make sure you pick it up otherwise you'll be round the four rooms and the hallway in no time, and that's all there is. The parlour was the heart of the house, with doors opening out onto the garden and a backgammon set primed by the fireplace. The study is where books were written, and letters answered, and religion's traditional hegemony challenged. The table in the billiard room was sometimes used for relieving stress, and sometimes for laying out skulls, plants and other specimens. And the dining room was used for eating, obviously, so the recorded commentary does the best it can.

Step out through the tearoom, and the glories of the garden are yours to explore. This is where you want the other half of the audio guide, narrated by Andrew Marr, to make sure you uncover all the garden's nooks and crannies. The flowerbeds by the sundial are all tulippy at the moment, the lawn is lush, and somebody's filming the mulberry in timelapse for a documentary or something. Cross to the orchard to find the beehives, and a last burst of apple blossom, plus the "worm stone" which Darwin experimented on as part of his last published work, because he'd always found earthworms inherently fascinating.

The sole indoor part of Darwin's garden laboratory was his long thin greenhouse, which has been restored (and refilled) by English Heritage. At one end are a crop of carnivorous plants, similar to those he kept for study, along with notices asking you politely not to touch. A separate compartment focuses on orchids, because he was even more obsessed by those as a means of investigating fertilisation and variation. Immediately outside is the kitchen garden, which looks mostly empty at the moment. But don't be put off, because right down at the far end is a gate leading offsite to a public footpath, and the woodland loop where Darwin took his daily constitutionals - the Sandwalk.

The Sandwalk is special because it's where Charles came to think, up to three times a day, along a strip of land specially purchased from his neighbour. One side of the loop runs through dark woodland, mainly hazel and birch, and the other along an open privet hedge with views across the valley. It looks glorious out there at present, although Charles wouldn't have had the joys of seeing a golf course across the fields, or endured the racket of private jets heading into Biggin Hill. I only made one circuit, rather than Charles's more usual five, but out here is where I felt closest to the first homo sapiens to spot the meaning in his surroundings.

English Heritage 2018: Apsley House & Wellington Arch, Eltham Palace, Kenilworth Castle, Dover Castle, Wrest Park

 Wednesday, May 16, 2018

I received a marketing email this week from a lady very keen to bring her event to your attention. Let's call her Adrienne.
Happy sunny Monday!,
That's an exclamation mark followed by a comma. I am already twitching.
I'm really hoping that you can tell your readers about <roaming restaurant>'s next pop-up in HACKNEY.
No, I never do that.
We've been producing sell-out Michelin level restaurant experiences around the UK for six years...
Note: a "Michelin level restaurant experience" need not involve a Michelin-starred restaurant. And this one doesn't.
...and the next one is in Hackney 1st & 2nd June.
Tickets went on sale on March 28th. I assume they're not shifting.
It's a collab with London's first vodka distillery (because who isn't a bit sick of gin?).
If you hurled something at the screen at the sight of the word 'collab', you are not alone.

Also, the assumption that everyone in London is "a bit sick of gin" is indicative of a privileged middle class lifestyle, callously discounting the majority of the population who aren't smug moneyed hedonists.
All deets in the press release below.
Adrienne's mutilation of the English language left me gasping.
Images in the link below but please let me know if you would like to see images with different aspects/colours etc.
Three images were provided via a Dropbox link. None of them quite matched the brand palette I was seeking.
Thank you!
I doubt that Adrienne is thanking me now.

Next came the deets of the press release itself.
Hackney pop-up reinvents ancient tradition of pairing vodka with food
As headlines go, that is seriously dull. Pairing vodka with food is neither unusual nor exciting.
A pop-up restaurant in Hackney Downs this June...
I won't submit you to the full oozing smarm of what follows. Instead here are several of the choice phrases contained therein, in the form of a brandspeak bingo board. Perhaps you could utilise this next time you read some marketing fluff about a foodie experience.

tailored vodka infusionsa light, smooth mouthfeelrounds out, cuts through and balancesurban micro-distillery
pop-up restauranthand-bottledmonth-long culinary extravaganzasa flight of infused artisanal vodkas
foraged and best of season ingredientsroaming restaurant conceptcarefully curated craft beersperfect bespoke vodka infusion
unique product and passiona re-edit of the centuries old traditionsingle estate producera unique yeast
locally sourced ingredientsa floral and citrus nosea menu that both pairs and preparesfoodie infusions

And below that came the entire details of the email again. It seems Adrienne had sent an identical email to Nick at Men's File four days earlier, and accidentally forwarded that to me with all the content re-cut and re-pasted at the top. It was around this point that I lost confidence in her marketing professionalism.
Happy sunny Thursday!,
Please don't feel too sorry for Adrienne, because she has other irons in the fire, including a Secret Cheese Event in Leeds.

Whatever, this is your regular reminder not to send me marketing emails, because I will either ignore them or rip the piss out of them. If your roaming restaurant experience lacks eager punters, best look elsewhere.

 Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A brand new tube map will be rolling out this weekend, with a whole new line in West London appearing for the first time.
n.b. I found this poster map on the tube platforms at Liverpool Street. There are no digital or paper copies yet.

This is the current Heathrow Connect service, running from Paddington to Heathrow. On Sunday Heathrow Connect disappears and becomes the latest arm of TfL Rail. Come December, this'll be Crossrail's western end. But for now it's just a blue line on a map, and some trains with TfL Rail stickers on.

Five new stations are making their debut on the tube map - Acton Main Line, West Ealing, Hanwell, Southall and Hayes & Harlington. That makes five Ealing stations in total, and seven Actons.

Yes, West Ealing is in zone 3. Yes, Hanwell and Southall are in zone 4. Yes, Hayes & Harlington is in Zone 5. But the poster map is being misleading, or downright disingenuous, by suggesting that Heathrow is in Zone 6. Because TfL Rail fares to Heathrow will be considerably more expensive than taking the Piccadilly line, and the tube map has no hint whatsoever of the extra cost.

Here's a graphic to show the cost of getting to Heathrow from Paddington via three different railway routes. I've kept things simple by rounding to the nearest pound.
n.b. The precise fares are no more than 20p different.

Airport-goers who take the Piccadilly line from central London pay £5 each way at peak times, and just £3 off-peak. That's a bargain. But anyone deciding to use TfL Rail (and later Crossrail) will be paying £10 - at least twice as much - to reach the same destination. TfL won't be pocketing the entire difference, because Heathrow charge a premium on trains arriving through their special tunnel. But every passenger who switches from the tube to TfL Rail will be generously donating to TfL finances, and without necessarily noticing.
n.b. It is true that Heathrow is in Zone 6 if you have a Travelcard. Anyone with a Travelcard which includes Zone 6 can swan into Heathrow for nothing. Maybe that's what the new tube map is supposed to show. But for the rest of us, the jump from Zone 5 to Zone 6 is a secret expensive hit.

The shareholders of the Heathrow Express must be pleased too. Their trains aren't being taken over, but their core route now appears on the tube map for the first time. That'll boost the number of £20+ tickets they can flog to tourists flying in with minimal local information.
n.b. Yes, it costs less to ride the Heathrow Express if you book more than a fortnight up front, and a lot less 90 days in advance. But you can never beat the Piccadilly line.

You may have noticed a dagger on the tube map at Heathrow Terminals 2&3. Maybe the dagger references the fare differential, maybe the key says "Special fares apply"?

No, it doesn't. Indeed it does quite the opposite, and manages to slip in the word 'free'.

TfL Rail services will terminate at Terminal 4, so passengers for Terminal 5 need to alight at Terminals 2&3 and switch to the Heathrow Express instead. Despite involving London's most expensive train, that last step of the journey will be free, because all train and bus travel around Heathrow is free.
n.b. Don't try interchanging between TfL Rail and the Piccadilly line at T2&3. It can be done, and doesn't cost extra, but requires a really long labyrinthine walk.
n.b. On Sunday ticket barriers will be in operation at all the Heathrow rail stations for the first time, and you'll need to touch in with something even if you won't necessarily be charged.
n.b. When Crossrail is properly up and running, trains will be heading to Terminal 5 as well as Terminal 4. Just not yet.

And don't expect any hint of the extra expense inside the trains either. This is what it says on the TfL Rail line diagram.

Again, the free transfer to Terminal 5 is mentioned, but not the expense of getting to T2&3 in the first place. On the other branch of TfL Rail, out at Shenfield, they've printed "Special fares apply" on the line diagram. But not at Heathrow. Heathrow's special fares are somewhat more hush hush.

Which brings us to the new TfL Rail timetable. Here's the core of it, from Monday to Saturday.

At this early stage, there'll only be two TfL Rail trains an hour from Paddington to Heathrow. That'll involve some careful timetable checking, or else some potentially long waits. Another two trains an hour will run from Paddington only as far as Hayes and Harlington.
n.b. Once signalling issues have been fixed, there should be a TfL Rail train to Heathrow every 15 minutes.
n.b. In the meantime, TfL Rail are running two shuttles an hour between Terminals 2&3 and Terminal 4 to maintain an approximate 15 minute frequency overall.

Acton Main Line and Hanwell are only getting two trains an hour. It won't be possible to get a direct train from Acton Main Line to Hanwell. Getting to Heathrow from Acton Main Line will involve changing trains, and take 10 minutes longer than getting there from Paddington.

Sundays are worse. On Sundays there'll only be two TfL Rail trains an hour. Both will operate from Paddington to Heathrow, but missing out three of the stations. Acton Main Line, West Ealing and Hanwell won't be getting any Sunday service at all. There are no daggers on the tube map to hint at this.
n.b. If you thought Crossrail was going to be brilliant news for West London, think again.

What you don't get in a timetable focusing purely on TfL Rail is any idea of how long it'd take to get from Paddington to Terminal 5. Cross-referencing against the Heathrow Express timetable, it turns out you'll always have to wait for eight minutes at T2&3 before your free shuttle to T5 departs. So that's 31 minutes on the train from Paddington, then an 8 minute wait, then a 5 minute rail journey to Terminal 5. That's 44 minutes altogether... which is exactly the same time it takes to get from South Kensington to Heathrow Terminal 5 on the Piccadilly line.

Essentially, the new tube map is a big advert for TfL Rail services to Heathrow, as a prelude to Crossrail serving the airport from December. But what the tube map poster doesn't say is that fares via TfL Rail will cost significantly more than fares via the Piccadilly line, and you may not get there any quicker either. Perhaps someone's hoping that with contactless you won't even notice, you'll just swipe and pay. TfL certainly need the money, but this does seem a somewhat unfair way of getting it.

 Monday, May 14, 2018

Location: Silsoe, Beds MK45 4HR [map]
Open: daily from 10am (reduced opening Nov-Mar)
Admission: £10.90
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wrest-park
Four word summary: gardens! (and a house)
Time to allow: at least half a day

Centuries ago the De Grey family made their home in the centre of Bedfordshire, at Wrest Park. They haven't lived there for some time, the house has been through the wars, and the A6 has lopped off the edge of the estate. But the gardens, evolved through centuries of aristocratic fashion, are fantastic.

They're popular too, as English Heritage properties go, and on a sunny summery Sunday the hordes descend. I suspect a lot have been before, so spend a lot of time slouching in deckchairs, throwing frisbees on the formal lawns or wandering slowly once around the Long Water.

Now's a good time to enjoy the wisteria on the walls of the Italian Garden, and to revel in the bright spring colour of the parterre. The Rose Garden has yet to do its thing. Pick your day carefully, because I suspect any resemblance to Versailles is somewhat less convincing in gloomy weather.

The house, intriguingly, isn't the high point of the visit. It's grand, occasionally glitzy, and contains a well-delivered exhibition. But having been used as a WW1 hospital, company HQ and research institute, the downstairs reception rooms have something of an institutional touch.

If visiting for the first time, be sure to grab an audio guide from the front desk, because from what I saw almost nobody does and it explains a lot. It's for the gardens rather than the main house, and I doubt I'd have spotted the Bath House hidden behind the Orangery otherwise.

The best part of the audio trail was hunting for the monuments in the horseshoe of the Woodland Garden, essentially a game of heritage orienteering. I found Capability Brown's peculiar pillar, two half-houses, a dog cemetery and a fake Mithraic altar the De Greys had built to deceive their friends.

The focal point of the gardens is the Archer Pavilion, a six-bayed baroque hideaway (currently undergoing preservation) with domed trompe l'œil ceiling. Two ridiculously tiny spiral staircases rise up within, leading to garret rooms where servants would have been strategically concealed.

Do pop inside the Dairy Gallery to see the classical sculptures now thought too vulnerable to remain outside in the body of the park. On the day of my visit a jazz trio were doing their thing under the trees, but you might get Sherlock Holmes, or jousting, or nothing extra depending.

The vast majority of visitors to Wrest Park drive, Silsoe's Sunday bus service being non-existent. I walked in from the nearest station, which is Flitwick, which isn't very near at all but the four mile walk proved very pleasant. You can see that walk handily documented here.

The route crosses a lot of Flitwick Moor Nature Reserve, then a less muddy lane, before hitting open country on a surfaced track. Along the way it passes three proper country pubs, which may swing your vote. And at the halfway point is another EH property, very rarely open, but I timed it perfectly.

Location: Flitton, Beds MK45 5EJ [map]
Open: 2pm-4pm (1st Sunday in April-September only) (plus three summer Wednesdays)
Admission: free
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/de-grey-mausoleum
Four word summary: top notch monumental effigies
Time to allow: 20 minutes

When the first De Greys passed on, they had themselves buried in a chamber annexed to the parish church at Flitton. But when more De Greys died they enlarged the space to create a full-size mausoleum, cruciform in shape, and stashed further generations inside ever more elaborate tombs.

What they accidentally created is an illustrated history of funeral statuary, from pious Jacobean effigies to romantic Victorian tableaux. To walk round is to experience the rise and fall of overzealous afterlife commemoration, as the volunteers on duty will ably explain.

One sad corner contains three large tombs to young adults who died early, each depicted in heroic classic pose. Round the corner Henry De Grey's marble wall is mostly an inscription detailing his life and that of his two wives, one in rather greater detail than the other. Wrest In Peace.

Looking round won't take long, but won't disappoint, if only you can time your visit for the 18 hours a year the gates are unlocked. The De Greys's maxi-mausoleum (and House, and Gardens) have successfully ensured they'll be long remembered long after you and I are long forgotten.

 Sunday, May 13, 2018

If you know someone who knows someone, whose place of work is the Houses of Parliament, it's possible to get taken for a quick tour after hours. And it turns out I do know someone who knows someone, which I discovered when an unexpected invite slipped through earlier this month, which was a more than pleasant surprise.

Last time I visited the House of Commons, to watch a debate, I entered through the main visitor entrance on Cromwell Green. But this time we slipped in via a scaffolded passage up the far side, through Black Rod's Garden, and this proved a somewhat more chummy affair. I was expecting to have my photo taken so I could wear it round my neck, but this time the dangly badge was generic, and I assume a hidden camera behind the scenes somewhere had already recorded what I look like and deduced precisely who I was.

Parliament's backside is unexpectedly mundane. Behind all the gothic splendour is a long courtyard which runs pretty much the entire length of the building, and a narrow service road which actually does. This part-arched passageway looks like it was designed with horse-drawn vehicles in mind, perhaps to bring supplies in, or to whisk MPs out. The whole backyard area is somewhat dreary, part used as car park, part as storage bay. I don't know whether every night is bin night at the Palace of Westminster, or whether I just turned up on the wrong day, but blimey there were a lot corralled outside.

The ground floor passageway closest to the river connects to a variety of hospitality and function rooms. After hours these host a variety of lubricated gatherings, perhaps a symposium for specific delegates or perhaps individuals invited by a single MP. We walked past open doors behind which were neatly laid tables, wine glasses sparkling, and past closed doors from which emerged a variety of smartly-dressed guests nipping to the loo. What they thought of plebs in jeans wandering through these hallowed corridors I don't know, but I could hazard a guess.

This being a government building, no unnecessary expense has been spared. Printouts of parliamentary business poke out of recycling bins on cheap thin grey paper. A machine stands ready to dispense Trainline tickets, first class and open returns no doubt entirely discouraged. Canteen food is massively subsidised, according to the priced menu outside, so Monday's breakfast kippers cost only £1.41, a toasted teacake is yours for 62p, and a crumpet with honey considerably less than that.

The lowly corridor linking refreshment to democracy proceeds drably from the waterfront. At one point a service road crosses its path, somewhat unexpectedly, with STOP splashed across the tarmac to avoid accidentally running down a peer. What passes for a grand staircase rises up and splits towards debating level, all wooden panels and drapes. Or take the private back stairs, meandering past office doors with mysterious painted designations, the Parliamentary Labour Party's internal postbox, and a gloomy portal beckoning towards the eyrie of Brexit overlord David Davis.

If Parliamentary business concluded long enough ago, the central lobbies are jarringly quiet. Security keep watch as a handful of staff wander through, on a sliding scale from intern to grandee, many of them with eager guests in tow. The red screens and the green screens have nothing further to announce. Ceilings dazzle. Huge Victorian paintings line ceremonial corridors. The "No Photography" signs are still in place. "Sure," nod the clerks, "it's still open."

It's always an amazing privilege to step onto the floor of the House of Commons, especially as an unelected voter. Britain's chief debating chamber is a gladiatorial saloon, green benches set two sword's-widths apart, surrounded by a mostly-unused gallery. Microphones hang from the ceiling like innumerable black spiders, and TV cameras point down from on high, making the chamber look wider and less tall than it really is. A set of order papers lies scrunched up on a back bench, near Jo Cox's coat of arms. The despatch boxes are clear.

To exit requires walking past the Table of the House, from which the Mace has been removed overnight. Those in the know walk down the government side, rather than the opposition, through a gap from which the greatest speeches of our time have been delivered. I wonder what that button in the armrest of the Speaker's Chair is for? Two giant electronic screens continue to tick down the time, despite nobody watching. The Queen has been in this room less often than I have.

The House of Lords is a more magnificent beast, in timber and gold, like the heart of a county cathedral. Its benches are a luxuriant red, with speakers embedded so that peers can listen in while pretending to be asleep. At the far end is the glittering throne where the Queen very occasionally sits, fenced off to keep out the aristocratic hoi polloi. If your parents had the right parents, or your God is the right God, or your achievements once impressed the Prime Minister of the day, you too might one day be entitled to sit here, but rarely turn up.

The neighbouring chambers are also wildly impressive, if less historic than the Victorians tried to make them out to be. Here are writing desks with inkwells, and screens painted with royal wives, and partly-hidden fire extinguishers, and fenced-off corners where the tiles are being replaced, and giant murals celebrating the two battles 19th century Britons were most proud of, and suites of recycling bins, and the mirror where the Queen adjusts her crown. If the country ever needs to sell off some of its gold, a fair wodge of it is on the ceilings.

And the best place to finish such a private tour is back on the Terrace, up the steps past the cafeteria, overlooking the Thames. At tables along the river are staff relaxing with after-work pints, and suited folk with laptops and glasses of wine, and merry souls spilling out of hospitality pavilions. One bonus is that guests aren't allowed to frequent the Strangers' Bar, so your guide has to pay for the round, and emerge with it two glasses at a time. The downside is that this discourages progression onto a second drink.

A Serjeant-at-Arms keeps watch on Terrace decorum. Two armed police keep a permanent eye on the river, lest anything untoward might emerge from the least secure flank of the Parliamentary estate. The view towards Westminster Bridge is unnervingly unusual, and somewhat privileged. Sip your beer for long enough and the lanterns along the Thames light up, and the London Eye glows red, and the overtopping planes become mere pinpricks of noise. And when you're done, go take one last look at Westminster Hall, be sure to thank your host, and push back through the turnstiles to reality.

 Saturday, May 12, 2018

Yesterday the Mayor of London announced an eye-catching plan to ban adverts for harmful junk food across the entire TfL network. Wow, said everyone.
Chef and campaigner, Jamie Oliver, said: "This is a game-changing moment, protecting kids from relentless junk food advertising on their daily journeys to school and around our amazing city."
The proposal is to ban all advertisements for "unhealthy" food and drink, as defined under the Food Standards Agency Nutrient Profiling Model (the same rules used by Ofcom to regulate advertising on children's television).
Chair of the London Food Board, Claire Pritchard, said: "I welcome this ambitious step taken by the Mayor, which recognises the barriers families face when trying to make healthy food choices and the influence advertising has on our families and communities."
The ban would cover the Underground, Overground, trams, DLR, buses and bus shelters, as part of a package of measures to tackle child obesity.
Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer prevention, Alison Cox, said: "This is a really great step for London, where junk food advertising dominates in some boroughs."
The Mayor's proposal has attracted considerable positive reaction across digital media, but also concerns that this isn't the thing to be doing during a fares squeeze.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "The evidence is clear that although it is not a silver bullet, restricting the amount of junk food adverts children are exposed to will help reduce obesity."
But how great might the impact of the Mayor's policy actually be? To find out, I took a trip round London to see how much junk food advertising there actually is on the TfL network. And, spoilers, there isn't anywhere near as much as you might think.

I started off in Bow.
The bus shelter at Bus Stop M has 0 adverts.
The bus shelter outside Bow Church station has 2 adverts, neither for junk food.
Bow Church station has 8 adverts, none for junk food.
So far that's ten adverts, none of them for junk food. I should point out that I'm not including "TfL adverts" in my counts, for example I've ignored anything that just says "Why not use contactless?" or "Hold The Handrail".
Bow Road station has 68 adverts. None are for junk food.
Specifically that's 0 adverts in the ticket hall, 15 adverts on the platforms, 18 adverts on the eastbound staircase and 35 adverts on the westbound staircase. Four of these (on the westbound staircase) are for an Almond Protein Ball which, if I've interpreted the nutritional instructions properly, is sufficiently nutty not to count as "less healthy". Hence the big zero.

Next I caught a District line train and walked the length of it.
One District line train contained 139 adverts. None were for junk food.
Seriously, not a single one, not even borderline. Is the Mayor overplaying how much of a serious problem this is?
Mile End station has 7 adverts. One is for junk food.
I was expecting more adverts at Mile End, but no. There are none on the platforms, and the majority are housed in a rolling display halfway down the stairs from the street. One of these is for Dextro Energy orange sticks, which are essentially just sugar in a wrapper, so they'd definitely get the boot if the Mayor's ban came in. But that's all.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: "Children from poorer areas of our city are also being disproportionately affected, with young people in Barking and Dagenham almost twice as likely to be overweight as children from Richmond."
So I went to Barking and Dagenham.
Becontree station has 7 adverts. None are for junk food.
Dagenham Heathway station has 1 advert. It is not for junk food.
Dagenham East station has 13 adverts. None are for junk food.
One of the adverts at Becontree is for Beefeater Pink Gin, but alcohol is specifically excluded from the regulations. The only advert at Dagenham Heathway is for an exhibition at the Barbican. Banning junk food adverts from the tube is unlikely to affect Barking and Dagenham, because there aren't any.

But it's a different story on Barking and Dagenham's bus shelters.

Both bus shelters outside Becontree station have 2 adverts. Both are for junk food.
Both bus shelters outside Dagenham Heathway station have 2 adverts. None are for junk food.
None of the bus shelters on the road between Becontree and Dagenham Heathway have any adverts.
The 12 bus shelters along Ripple Road include at least 8 adverts for junk food.
Becontree's adverts are for Cadbury's chocolate bars and a carbonated multivitamin fruit drink. Neither of these pass the junk test. Dagenham Heathway's adverts include one for Tilda rice, which is fine. As for Ripple Road, which is essentially the A13, I spotted 4 adverts for McDonalds and 4 adverts for Milky Way chocolate. One of the McDonalds adverts was outside a McDonalds. There were no KFC adverts outside the KFC.

On the way back into town I took the DLR from Beckton to Bank.
Beckton station has 12 adverts. None are for junk food.
The 14 stations between Beckton and Bank have at least 150 adverts between them. I saw only 4 for junk food.
All four of those adverts were for Dextro Energy orange sticks. No other forms of junk food appeared. Most of the adverts across the DLR seem to be for online clothing retailers. The same few adverts appear over and over at all the stations, including film, theatre, Westfield and a budget airline. Nobody is flogging fizzy drinks, burgers, chocolate or ice cream on the DLR.

There are a lot of adverts at Bank station. For example...
On the DLR platforms, 1 junk food advert (Dextro Energy)
On the Northern line platforms, lots of adverts, none for junk food.
In the passageways between the platforms, 1 junk food advert (Dextro Energy).
On the eastbound Central line, 34 adverts, none for junk food.
On the westbound Central line, 30 adverts, none for junk food.
Up the escalators, 6 electronic adverts, none for junk food.
To summarise, after tracking down well over 100 adverts within Bank station, only two were for junk food. There's nothing significantly unhealthy here.

There are a heck of a lot more adverts at Chancery Lane station.
On the eastbound Central line platform, 50 adverts, none for junk food.
On the lowest escalator, 56 adverts, none for junk food.
On the westbound Central line platform, 42 adverts, none for junk food.
On the middle concourse, 20 adverts, none for junk food.
On the upper escalator, 90 adverts, none for junk food.
To summarise, there are over 250 adverts at Chancery Lane station, absolutely none of which are for junk food. Meanwhile in the ticket hall is a Lola's Cupcakes store, which is about as unhealthy as you can get, but presumably TfL are happy to continue collecting their sugar-based rent, no questions asked.

Shall we try Oxford Circus station next? Deep breath.
On the eastbound Central line platform, 40 adverts, none for junk food.
On the westbound Central line platform, 30 adverts, none for junk food.
On the northbound Victoria line platform, 30 adverts, none for junk food.
On the southbound Victoria line platform, 35 adverts, none for junk food.
On the northbound Bakerloo line platform, 40 adverts, none for junk food.
On the southbound Bakerloo line platform, 40 adverts, none for junk food.
Are you getting the picture yet?

I also walked lots of the connecting passageways at Oxford Circus, and rode some of the escalators, past at least 300 more adverts. Just eight of these were for junk food, all of them for Cocoa Loco, a "decadent chocolate ganache topped with caramelised hazelnuts." It's not aimed at children, but would definitely be banned under the new regulations because its nutritional composition smashes the limit. But that's all. Out of well over 500 adverts, a piddling eight are for posh chocolate.

But then there are the ticket gates, and they're nutritionally evil.

All the ticket gates at Oxford Circus are emblazoned with McDonalds adverts, as a hint that passengers might want to go stuff their face with cheap fat and liquid sugar at the earliest opportunity. These'd be instantly removed if ever the Mayor's ban came in... and McDonalds would presumably revert to advertising on telephone boxes and lampposts, like they are outside.

While I was outside on Oxford Street I made time to check on the buses. 16 went by, and none of them were advertising junk food on the side. During the day I also took a ride on four buses, both here and in Dagenham, and found absolutely no junk food adverts inside. Loan companies yes, evangelical religions yes, but Haribo no. Meanwhile...
On Oxford Street, four bus shelters had scrolling panels advertising McDonalds.
On High Holborn, two bus shelters had scrolling panels advertising Burger King and Cadbury's.
Across London there are a lot of bus stops without bus shelters, and a lot of bus shelters with no adverts, but it does seem as if bus shelters have the greatest concentration of TfL's junk food adverts. Scrapping all of those might just make a difference, by preventing children being enticed by sugar and stodge. Let's do that, let's do that soon.

On the tube and DLR, and inside trains and buses, scrapping junk food adverts wouldn't have much effect because there are hardly any of them. Overall I went to 24 stations and saw well over 1000 adverts, but fewer than 20 of these were for junk food. With stations in mind, it does look as if this Mayoral policy has been vastly over-hyped. But out on the streets it could be a very different matter, and surely there's no reason not to embrace this ban in full.

 Friday, May 11, 2018

Keeping your personal information safe and secure is our top priority. That’s why we’re getting in touch to tell you about some changes to our privacy policy in readiness for the introduction of the new data protection law on 25th May 2018.

Diamond Geezer is committed to protecting and safeguarding your personal data. As part of this commitment, we’re updating our privacy policy to meet the high standards of the new European data protection law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

If you are located in the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA), the Diamond Geezer Privacy Policy applies to you. We’ve made it available in your preferred language at diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/dgpp. Be warned, the full policy is very long, and you may have better things to do than actually read it.

Our updated policy explains your rights under this new law and will become effective on 24th May 2018. By continuing to use the website after this date, you agree to these updated terms, even if you haven't read them. In truth we're very much hoping you won't read them, especially item 6 subsection 3b, and will simply tick all the the boxes we present you with.

You can adjust your privacy settings, such as choosing how we communicate with you and which spam you receive, by logging into your Diamond Geezer account and changing your account preferences. The changes don’t alter what we use your personal information for, but make it easier for you to find out how we use and protect your information, and for us to exploit you with impunity.

The introduction of the GDPR provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stem the flow of unnecessary messages to your inbox and social media channels, and to conceal private data you might wish to keep hidden. We're only telling you about it because we're legally obliged, as your value to us is in direct proportion to the volume of public data we have on record.

Your personal information is an important part of our service. For instance, it allows us to match you with select advertising services whenever they have offers or deals they've paid us to tell you about. If you are happy for us to do so, it also lets us get in touch with begging emails, automated phone messages and repetitive marketing filler.

The fact that the law is changing only builds on what we already do today – and that is to give your personal information the respect and security it deserves. We will never deliberately sell your private details to a third party, and are keeping our fingers crossed that our bespoke firewall will prevent wholesale theft of your personal data by a Russian botfarm.

You may already have received several messages like this from other agencies, each desperate to make an impression before the deadline. Please remember, however, that this is the most important GPDR message, certainly from our point of view, and we would be obliged if you would treat it with the seriousness we think it deserves.

You do not need to take any action. However, we are literally begging you to allow us to carry on using your personal information as we have before, because without direct consent your digital footprint is of no monetary value to us.

Because this is the eleventh paragraph in an already long email, we are very much hoping that your eyes have already glazed over and so you won't spot the possibility of opting-out from all future communications. Before you take such a drastic step, however, consider the remote possibility that one of our marketing emails might one day be of tangential relevance to your life, and think again.

If you would like to defer opting-out from specific data options, be sure never to not untick the relevant box.
I have read the terms and conditions
I am happy to agree with whatever you say
My soul is yours
Our updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy go into effect on 25 May 2018. If you continue to use Diamond Geezer on or after 25 May 2018, you are agreeing to the updated Terms of Service and our use of your data as set out in our Privacy Policy.

If you don’t want the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to apply to you, you can delete your account and stop reading. But we're counting on you carrying on blindly, as normal, so thanks for that.

 Thursday, May 10, 2018

JRR Tolkien, author of The Lord Of The Rings, is undoubtedly literature's most famous Ronald. He was also a Brummie, and the city is very proud, so much so that there's an official Tolkien Trail to follow [pdf]. With the manuscript's help I've been on an epic quest round the suburbs of Birmingham, and tracked down diverse treasures.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in South Africa in 1892, and by rights should have stayed there, and we'd never have heard of him. But at the age of three his father died while the rest of the family were on a visit to Birmingham, to see the grandparents, so his mother Mabel decided to stay and try to make a living. They moved around a bit, so much so that Birmingham Council could erect nine blue plaques if they so wished, but once JRR got a place at Oxford he moved on, and spent the rest of his life there instead.

Between 1896 and 1900 the Tolkiens lived in Sarehole, a tiny hamlet with a watermill, for which the multi-billion pound fantasy industry should be truly grateful. At the time there were only half a dozen cottages, so Ronald and his brother Hilary had the run of the surrounding fields, and the place clearly left an impression because it became the inspiration for Hobbiton and The Shire.
"It was a kind of lost paradise. There was an old mill that really did grind corn with two millers, a great big pond with swans on it, a sandpit, a wonderful dell with flowers, a few old-fashioned village houses and, further away, a stream with another mill."
These days Sarehole has vanished into the suburbs of Birmingham, between Moseley and Hall Green, and 5 Gracewell Cottages has become 246 Wake Green Road. Alas the current residents don't have a plaque, so they can't be impressed, or else they don't want cosplay hobbits walking up their garden path.

Thankfully Sarehole Mill survives, mainly because of its Tolkien connections, and is operated as part of the Birmingham Museums portfolio. Don't come outside British Summer Time, or on a Monday, unless it's a bank holiday. You may also not want to turn up while a school party are eating their packed lunches in the courtyard. But I did at least pick a lovely day for it, and it was a pleasure to take a look around.

The interior retains all the usual watermill bits and pieces, including a big wheel, several hatchways and an atticky storeroom on the top level. Small children can be kept entertained by hunting for the LOTR character plaques amongst the industrial archaeology - nothing whatsoever to do with the mill, but Gandalf, Bilbo and Smaug each have their secret place. Only when you reach the second half of the building do the proper Tolkien information boards appear, including a focus on the local area, and how the miller's irritable son ended up in the books as the White Ogre.

One of the outbuildings contains a tearoom, which could easily double the length of time you spend here. But the best part of the circuit is probably the millpond out the back, the same one JRR would have been able to see from his garden gate, but now hidden by a thick screen of trees. From the terrace I counted as many as three herons standing in the rushes, which is a personal record. Don't forget to walk through the willows to the far end, where your micro-quest is to spot the tree trunk carved into an angry dragon.

Another local survivor, this time round the back of the Tolkiens' cottage, is Moseley Bog. Originally an additional millpond, it was left to silt up and became a patch of marshy woodland. Young JRR knew it well, and it inspired the Old Forest where Tom Bombadil lived. Today it's an atmospheric space with boardwalks threaded a few inches above the mud, ripe for exploration, though you're more likely to find dog-walkers and pond-dippers than an army of orcs.

As for the local river, a strip of land down the Cole Valley has been protected from development and renamed Shire Country Park. Nice touch. Green Road still has a ford where the mill race enters the stream, much as Tolkien would have remembered it, only he never saw local residents in Range Rovers sluicing through the water as some kind of justification that their vehicle purchase was worthwhile.

The Tolkiens moved on from Sarehole to Moseley, then to Ladywood, where Mabel died because diabetics in those days rarely outlived their thirties. The two orphaned brothers were taken in by the local Catholic priest in Edgbaston, then by an aunt in Stirling Road, where JRR lived between the ages of 12 and 16. This marvellous protuberance is what he'd have seen at the end of the street every time he set off to school, and it proved inspirational.

This is Edgbaston Waterworks Tower, erected in 1870 as part of a complex of buildings alongside a covered reservoir. It's now owned by Severn Trent Water, so you won't get inside the compound without a white van and security clearance, but this thin brick tower with a nozzle-like turret on top still looms menacingly above Gothic rooftops.

In a "what are the chances?" coincidence, a second tower of approximately similar height exists barely 200 metres down the road. This is Perrott's Folly, a much older crenelated construction knocked up as part of an 18th century hunting lodge, and later repurposed as one of the country's first weather recording stations. It's now owned by an arts collective who are trying to restore it as a community space, indeed a kinetic sculpture exhibition opens tonight if you're lucky enough to be in the area.

Tolkien's last Birmingham address was a short distance away in Highfield Road, the other side of the Oratory, where he was lodging when he learned he'd got a place at Oxford. This particular building does have a plaque, but is also now a nursery, so don't expect to get up close. And blimey, the view from the end of the road is unmistakeably of two towers, and it's believed (but not proven) that they may have been the inspiration for The Two Towers in the middle volume of the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

If so, nobody's certain which is Minas Morgul and which is Minas Tirith, but both towers are surely architecturally atmospheric enough to justify a place in canon. If you can't be bothered to trek all the way out to Edgbaston to see them, Sarehole Mill has plonked a couple of metal models in a garden outside the toilet block. But how amazing to think that Middle Earth was based, at least in part, on a couple of Birmingham suburbs.

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream