diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A month ago I told you how badly wrong the eastbound Next Train Indicator at Bow Road station was.



But it was at least consistently wrong.

What the display saidWhere the train was going
PlaistowBarking (Dist)
BarkingBarking (H&C)
 Check destination on front of train  Dagenham East or Upminster 

If the display said Plaistow then the train was going to Barking. If the display said Barking then the train was going to Barking. And if the display said Check destination on front of train then the train was going at least as far as Dagenham East and probably as far as Upminster. Madness, but consistent madness, should any of Bow Road's waiting passengers ever have taken the time to deduce the underlying pattern.

A month later, something has changed. Or rather everything has changed.

 What the display says Where the train's going
Barking Barking or Dagenham East or Upminster 
Upminster Barking or Dagenham East or Upminster 

There is now seemingly no connection whatsoever between what flashes up on the display and where the train is going. If the display says Barking then the train could be going to Barking or could be going further. If the display says Upminster then the train could be going to Upminster or it might not be going that far. I've observed loads of eastbound trains this week, and I haven't been able to spot an underlying pattern at all.

Of all the Hammersmith & City line trains that arrived, destination Barking, sometimes the display said Barking but more often it said Upminster. Of the District line trains going only to Barking, half the time the display said Barking and the other half it said Upminster. Of the District line trains going all the way to Upminster, most of the time the display said Upminster but frequently it said Barking. Dagenham East trains are quite rare, but I've seen them flagged up as either Barking or Upminster too.

Overall there was only a fifty-fifty chance that the display would give the correct destination for the next train. It was like flipping a coin, no better, no worse. There was even one glorious spell when five consecutive trains came in with the 'wrong' destination.

The next stop up the line, which is Bromley-by-Bow, and the previous stop, which is Mile End, have no such issues. They always get the destination right, whereas Bow Road has an electronic tombola on the eastbound platform. What's more it's running to completely different rules to those which applied a month ago, which is doubly strange, and still completely unfit for purpose. If this Next Train Indicator genuinely can't be fixed, maybe somebody should switch it off.

I'm pleased to report that Bus Stop M has its timetables back. One of the panels went missing two months ago, then got ripped off completely five weeks ago, then got patched up with official TfL sticky tape three weeks ago. But yesterday a fresh new panel was added, with timetables and everything, and now we're all back to normal.



The 'everything' is a slight issue, because one of the spaces in the new panel is taken up by an advert for a West End bus consultation which closed two months ago. But all seven bus routes now have an up-to-date timetable, so let's not complain, just hope I never need to write about Bus Stop M again.

 Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I went to the cinema yesterday. I was pleased that I wasn't allowed to sit where I liked, because the nice lady at the desk chose a seat for me, and she's an expert. Before the lights went down it looked like she'd picked badly, because all the seats around me were empty, but as the sequence of car adverts rolled they soon filled up. I had to move my coat from the seat beside me, this because the cinema was almost a quarter full, and it was good to be reminded that I don't have a God-given right to drape my outerwear wherever I choose.

The couple who sat directly in front of me had brought popcorn and nachos, which delighted me, because it meant the soundtrack to the upcoming movie would be enhanced. As for the man who squeezed past me during the "forthcoming features" section, I know he didn't mean to tread on my coat because this was all my own fault. He also hadn't quite finished checking his Instagram feed, which is fair enough, and as the photos spun by in the darkness I noted he certainly had a lot of overtly exhibitionist acquaintances.

I hoped the two ladies sitting behind me would continue talking as the film proceeded, and they didn't disappoint. Both treated the upcoming movie as if they were sat on their own sofa, which felt very natural, providing an intermittent commentary on the latest plot details and how they thought the characters were progressing. Normally you'd have to wait for the DVD release to enjoy an additional background track, so this was a proper bonus. I was only disappointed that they didn't talk a little louder, because there were times when I couldn't easily take on board the thread of their discussion and was forced to concentrate on the main feature instead.

Meanwhile the Instagram feed reappeared every ten minutes or so, during natural breaks when the storytelling on the big screen dipped, and it would have been a shame for my neighbour to have to wait until the end of the film to see them. What a pity too that the nachos in front of me ran out barely halfway through the film, but one of the pair then unwrapped a giant Toblerone they'd smuggled in, which distracted me faultlessly every time another chunk was broken off. And what a good idea to start packing up a minute before the credits rolled, so as to be poised to make an almost perfect getaway during the final denouement on screen. I must go to the cinema more often.

I hear the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is closing down. I don't know about you but I haven't bought a bell recently, so I don't think I'll be inconvenienced. The company's been up and running since 1570, so perhaps it's not surprising that nobody wants to buy its products any more. They couldn't even cope with the London 2012 commission, because that was too big, so what hope is there for the future? It's not like there isn't somewhere else in the country that can cast bells, because there's still a working foundry in Loughborough, so any churches with campanology issues can head there.

I went down yesterday and it doesn't look especially closed, so things can't be that bad. What's more the building nextdoor is already behind a hoarding, so there's clearly some kind of redevelopment nexus underway in this part of Whitechapel. The former workshops immediately across the road have long been replaced by offices and some useful shops, while the buildings across Fieldgate Street have evolved into student accommodation with a Tesco Metro underneath. Both of these are much better uses of valuable land, in a part of town rife with housing pressure, but I fear the listed nature of the foundry buildings precludes subdivision into flats.



Well meaning campaigners have whipped up a petition to complain about the foundry's closure, and almost 5000 people have so far added their names. There's even a website to create awareness amongst the wider public, not that any of the wider public ever buy bells either, otherwise the foundry wouldn't be closing. Such are the harsh realities of modern economic life, and it's wrong to go round propping up businesses that should be allowed to fail. It's all too late anyway, because the contents of the building are already up for auction, should you fancy getting hold of a rotary furnace, thermal arc welder or 2 tonne travelling crane, not to mention various unsold bells.

When the foundry disappears some other business can become Britain's oldest surviving manufacturing company, because it's their turn now. Tourists don't want to hike out to Whitechapel anyway, not to to see the empty shell of a building when there are more interesting coffee shops and cocktail bars in town. We cannot afford to get nostalgic when what London needs is basic facilities to support a growing population. Our historic buildings are being lost forever, and who are we to stand in the way?

As every proud Arsenal supporter knows, it's time for Arsene Wenger to go. The team has suffered some embarrassing losses lately, and all of these are entirely the Frenchman's fault. It's true he was a miracle worker once, especially that week we won that thing, but recent results confirm his time is up. Nobody else is to blame for us crashing out of the Champions League, certainly not any of the players, and that crushing defeat by West Brom is the final straw.

Only reaching the last 16 in Europe is a disaster, just as it's been for the last seven years, and the only rational conclusion is that Arsene is past his best. A new manager will definitely bring more success, because that's always how change works, and our players will definitely up their game as soon as he's gone. Things couldn't possibly be worse than having the current boss around, so let's take the only surefire step to ensure our results improve.

I am very much looking forward to Article 50 being triggered next week. The resulting negotiations will help make our country more prosperous and a better place to live.

 Monday, March 20, 2017

Half a dozen things to do in Cardiff Bay

The centre of Cardiff lies a mile and a half from the coast and the former docks that made this coaltown rich. But the port's long decline has recently been turned around by some serious millennial investment, creating a new commercial, cultural and administrative hub on the waterfront. A major re-engineering project transformed the bay from mudflats to freshwater lake, and now it seems everybody's down here, from the Welsh government to Doctor Who.

Walking to Cardiff Bay is a bit of a schlepp through some mundane estates, but you can catch a bendy bus shuttle to the farthest extremity, or a waterbus to Mermaid Quay, or take the train. Every twelve minutes a one-car Sprinter shuttles south along a low embankment to deposit passengers at a lowly terminus alongside a derelict station (recently pencilled in as home to a new military museum). But all the good stuff lies a little further south, and my word there's a lot of it.
[Visit Cardiff Bay]

1) Visit the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru)



You'll no doubt recognise this building from its striking steel dome, with the upper windows spelling out two poetic lines in Welsh (Creu gwir fel gwdyr o ffwrnais awen) and English (In these stones horizons sing). The site had long been pencilled in for the Welsh National Opera, with construction delays almost leading to a shopping centre being built here instead, but phase 1 was eventually completed in 2004 and phase 2 in 2009. Having gawped at the facade for a while, yes, visitors are very welcome inside. A long desk of ticket vendors lines the foyer, which opens out at both ends into glittering lofty atria with hardwood trim. Don't expect to get higher than the toilets on the first floor unless you're here to see a performance, but instead the cafes and restaurant downstairs will happily take your cash, and are a popular place for the cultured to socialise. Apparently the Tourist Information Centre is down here somewhere too, but I totally overlooked it, and I'm normally drawn like a moth to these things.

2) Try to locate Torchwood HQ



When this Doctor Who spin-off began in 2006, we were asked to believe that its top secret headquarters lay beneath a huge oval basin leading down to the Cardiff Bay waterfront, now known as Roald Dahl Plass. Specifically there was an invisible lift leading down from the foot of the 20m-tall Water Tower, and a more mundane entrance through a door on a quayside jetty. A fountain still gushes down the tower, which dominates the lowered piazza alongside, and seems a bit of a waste of space unless an open-air concert or something is happening within. Meanwhile the doorway has been covered up by a makeshift shrine to Ianto Jones, a character who had the misfortune to be killed off by child-snorting aliens, and is now commemorated by a ragtag wall of fan art, laminated tributes, plastic flowers, ill-judged poetry and a guestbook in a plastic briefcase. Initially tolerated, now embraced by the leisure complex above, the shrine has lasted longer than the show.

3) Mourn the Coal Exchange (Gyfnewidfa Lo)



Once the hub of Cardiff's international trade, this magnificent 1880s building filled Mount Stewart Square and is reputedly the site of the world's first million pound business deal. The Coal Exchange closed in 1958 and the fabric of the building entered a slow decline, although there were always several plans for re-use, and from 2001 to 2013 the main oak-panelled hall was used as a music venue. The Welsh government investigated various options to fund the rescue of this crumbling structure, and eventually threw in their lot with a luxury hotel developer. Since last year they've been transforming the place into boutique bedrooms, a spa and wedding venue, and hope to include 'a small museum' too, with reopening supposedly scheduled for Spring 2017. This deadline looked wholly unattainable from what I saw of the poor state of the exterior and the workmen sat amid rubble out front, and there are fears that refurbishment of the most profitable parts of the interior has been prioritised over more widespread restoration and weatherproofing.

4) Tour the Welsh parliament (y Senedd)



As part of the regeneration of Cardiff Bay, the devolved Welsh government selected a waterfront site as the permanent home for the National Assembly. The Senedd is a dramatic glass-walled building topped off by a wood ceiling and steel roof, and was officially opened by the Queen on St David's Day 2006. What's more the public are welcomed within, at least once they've passed through a full security scan bolted onto the side. Free tours are offered three times a day, but generally have to be pre-booked, and I arrived in the lunchtime gap so had to explore alone. I got to see a large public foyer, with views down to some of the committee rooms on the private basement level, and rode the escalator up to the Oriel which sits on top of the main assembly chamber. Nobody was legislating, so all I saw was a few plush seats and keyboards beneath the slate plinth, plus a couple of armed police enjoying the splendid panorama across the bay. Up here is a cafe and a small exhibition, which seems scant reason to come inside, but the undulating ribbed roof is pretty amazing, rising up from the floor like a hallucinogenic mushroom.

I was better looked after in the Pierhead, a terracotta beauty once containing the dockmaster's offices, now administrative assembly overspill and with a couple of heritage galleries to explore. As the sole vintage building prominent along the waterfront, it provides a highly photogenic contrast to the modern architectural cluster behind.

5) Experience the Doctor Who Experience (Doctor Who Experience)



When BBC Wales took on production of the revamped sci-fi series in 2005, it was inevitable that Cardiff would feature heavily in its filming. New drama studios have recently been built on the dockside at Roath Lock, a remote location which has yet to attract substantial office development, and BBC Cymru's long castellated building is also now home to Casualty and Pobol Y Cym. You won't get in there, but Doctor Who fans can flock to a separate warehouse-style building (past the Norwegian Church) opened in 2012 as a full-scale interactive experience plus museum. It's busy too. I was expecting maybe a couple of us but instead there were over twenty, including one gent dressed up as the Seventh Doctor and a blackclad accomplice who made an even more convincing Ace.

I'll attempt to keep my review of the half-hour drama spoiler free, but writer @JoeLidster has attempted to cater for all generations with a dash-through plot that tenuously links together a few old favourites. Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi pops up on screen throughout, conversing in agitated fashion with your Museum Guide, and sometimes drowning him or her out. There is a bit where you 'fly the Tardis', with the set perhaps more impressive than the effects, and yes, the monster you'd most expect to find on your travels appears with a demonic inrush of steam. Monster number 2 fits the scenario well but isn't as scary, and the location of the final denouement certainly made me smile.



Once out of the tunnels you're let loose - time and photography unrestricted - into a large collection of original props and costumes from the TV show. Various Tardises and consoles have been preserved, one of the latter with a Dymo 'Yearometer' label, along with K9 and a rather frail old Bessie. The upstairs collection is rather larger allowing you to meet variants on numerous monsters, some actual sonic screwdrivers and outfits worn by more humanoid members of the cast. Whilst the rebooted series gets most of the attention, including an entire gallery devoted to individual episodes from 2015, several totally classic aliens complete the line-up. I'm unconvinced the Belgian school party pouring through recognised much, but I was as excited to see my childhood's Giant Robot and Zygon as any Cyberman or Ood.

At the end is a shop, with numerous fan-raking merchandising opportunities, although you don't need to have gone round the museum to get in. The Target novelisation and magazine gallery is a nice extra touch, and I recognised a few classic covers from my childhood here. If you're not a fan (or chaperoning one) then I wouldn't bother stumping up for the full Experience, but if you are then the combination of drama and reverent heritage works rather well. And come soon, because it'll be closing permanently in July when the five-year lease on the building runs out! [£14 plus £1.60 booking fee in advance, or £16 on the door, which is barely worth the differential]

6) Cross the Cardiff Bay Barrage (Morglawdd Bae Caerdydd)



It's hard to flog a seafront housing development when the view for half the day is mudflats, so in the late 1980s a Welsh civil servant came up with the extraordinary idea of sealing off the tide so that Cardiff Bay became a permanent freshwater lake. What's more the government took him seriously and invested £120m in the project, and by 1999 a concrete barrage had been built with giant sluice gates to manage the flow of water. Environmental campaigners had been severely worried about the effect on habitats, but the resulting lake has greatly enhanced appeal for homo sapiens, most of whom would judge the aesthetic effect a storming success. As well as promoting watersports activities, and giving restaurant diners at Mermaid Quay something nice to look at over lunch, another success has been the creation of a footpath and cycleway across the dam linking to Penarth on the opposite headland.

I walked the lot, following the path round the extremities of the Port of Cardiff and up onto the bouldered embankment. This was the only time during my day out that the sun came out, to dazzling effect, looking back towards the aforementioned cultural cluster, or out across the Bristol Channel to the island of Flat Holm and the coast of North Somerset on the opposite shore. Partway along the barrage is a set of covered exhibition boards commemorating Captain Scott's voyage to the South Pole (he sailed from Cardiff), and I was passed along the way by an empty 'land train' which looked like it would have been more at home at a seaside resort. The sluice gates are towards the western end, followed by massive lock gates linked by bascule bridges, each with lights to control any passing traffic. I was duly wowed. Then rather than retracing my steps I walked on into Penarth, enjoyed some lofty views and caught the train back into Cardiff. You probably won't be able to fit all that in if you ever spend the day here.

My Cardiff gallery
There are 48 photos [slideshow]
(sorry, you're never going to want to scroll through 48 photos)


(this has been the 7000th post on diamond geezer)

 Sunday, March 19, 2017

Half a dozen things to do in Cardiff

Cardiff has only been the capital of Wales since 1955, before which the country muddled by without one (for which read 'had been unduly subjugated by the English since the 16th century'). Cardiff has only been a city since 1905, its importance founded on being the port for the coal mines of the Welsh valleys. But it's been around a lot longer than that, with a Civil War battle on the outskirts and a castle dating back to Norman times, and now has almost half a million residents. Shamefully, this was my first visit, so naturally I zipped around and tried to see as much as possible. [Visit Cardiff]

1) Explore the National Museum (Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd)



Housed in an imposing classical building in Cathays Park, this museum looks like it's going to contain all things Welsh. Not so, it focuses very much on natural history and art, with the rocks and animals downstairs, and gallery after gallery of fine art upstairs. The rocks were my favourite part, with a lengthy geological trail weaving through stories of the landscape and various dinosaurs to a giant woolly mammoth watched over by wolves. Key treasures to hunt down elsewhere include a silver gilt toilet service (that's an 18th century dressing table set, before you wonder), a dazzling Venetian Monet and a nugget of Welsh gold. If you do only have an hour to look round, don't do what the visitor's map suggests and waste time on a coffee. [closed Mondays, free admission]

2) Relive the Cardiff Story (Stori Caerdydd)



If you're wondering where all the history is, it's in the Old Library in the centre of the town. This was refitted in 2011 to tell the story of the city, which it does with big sweeping graphics, a focus on community and a low density of actual artefacts. One unexpected challenge in a bilingual museum is to work out which half of each information panel you can actually read, a necessity which also halves the amount of information each panel can contain. Although the single upstairs gallery was interesting, the 'City Lab' downstairs was targeted more at residents and/or children and didn't detain me long. Do make sure you find the ornate tiled corridor opposite the entrance desk. As for the history of Wales itself, if that does have a museum, it's not here. [free admission]

3) Wander through Bute Park (Parc Bute)



This is gorgeous, and huge, stretching for 130 acres along the River Taff from the edge of the city centre. It's gorgeous because it was once the garden of the richest man in the world, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, and public because the 5th Duke handed it over after the war. Bute Park's arboretum contains more of the UK's tallest types of tree than any other park, For the herbaceous borders you want to be here in summer, but the spring brings forth daffs, of course, and some quite magnificent pink droopy mega-magnolia-type blossoms. An hourly waterbus service runs from here down to Cardiff Bay, which is otherwise a not insignificant hike. [free admission] [waterbus £4]

4) Tour Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd)



Unusually for a large castle, Cardiff's is bang in the middle of town, opposite the shops. It's also older than it looks, built by William the Conqueror on the site of a Roman fort, and with a 12th century shell keep at its heart. Anglo-Welsh battles kept the place busy in medieval times, after which it became more of a home than a fortress, and eventually passed into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute. An expensive transformation took place, with most of the older buildings within the walls demolished, and a large Georgian mansion grew within. The 3rd Duke - him again - oversaw further transformation in Gothic revival style, the interiors verging on fantastical, and heavy on opulent iconography. Like the neighbouring park the castle's now in public hands and is probably the city's top tourist attraction. I should have gone inside and been amazed, but time was tight, so I went everywhere else instead. [admission £12, plus £3 for a 50 minute tour of the house]

5) See the Millennium Stadium (Stadiwm y Mileniwm)



Unusually for a large stadium, Cardiff's is bang in the middle of town, opposite the station. This makes it ridiculously easy to get to, and also ridiculously easy to spill out of into the main shopping area and get pissed. Opened in 1999, one of its first jobs was to host the Rugby World Cup final, and the FA Cup Final was also held here for six years while Wembley was being rebuilt. From ground level the four spires are the stadium's most prominent feature, but it's the retractable roof that's properly defining - one of the world's biggest, and fully openable in 20 minutes. Unless you pay for a match or a tour all you'll see is the perimeter, specifically a boardwalk along the River Taff, along which a series of mosaic tiles represent each of the major rugby playing nations. Lurking beneath the northern stand is a much lower grandstand for Cardiff Arms Park, squashed up alongside, and the much less impressive former home of Welsh international rugby. [tours £12.50]

6) Go shopping (siopa)



Cardiff has a lot of shops, obviously, particularly along Queen Street and a central thoroughfare called The Hayes. There's also a massive new shopping centre named after St David, on one wall of which is a London tube map with all the station names replaced by places around Cardiff. More picturesque are the Victorian arcades which thread off from the High Street, eight in total, housing livelier boutiques and the occasional tiny little business up at lantern level. In Morgan Arcade is Spillers, the world's oldest record shop (established 1894), where a lengthy screed of this week's latest new releases is still pinned up in the window, and keen millennial staff oversee racks of CDs and vinyl. But my favourite retail location was Cardiff Market, still trading in a glass-roofed Victorian hall. Most of the stalls are downstairs (including Bakestones where I purchased far too many off-griddle Welshcakes), whereas the rim of the upper balcony is considerably emptier and offers by far the best view.

» Oooh, forty-eight photos of Cardiff

 Saturday, March 18, 2017

7 Beddington & Wallington/Carshalton/Sutton & Cheam
Here's another London borough which ended up exactly as the Herbert Commission had proposed. They bundled together the Municipal Borough of Sutton and Cheam, the Municipal Borough of Beddington and Wallington and Carshalton Urban District, each previously in Surrey, to create the single entity of the London borough of Sutton. You can no doubt imagine my ennui when my deck of cards directed me once again to my bête noire London borough. But I've found plenty of interest in Sutton before, and hopefully managed to find more this time. Two more in fact, both of them pioneering forms of housing.

BedZED
The world's first carbon neutral housing development can be found in Sutton, specifically in Hackbridge. It's the Beddington Zero Energy Development, or BedZED for short, a pioneering scheme opened up to tenants in 2002. The surrounding neighbourhood has a real mix of housing types, from interwar semis to flats, and overlooks a scrappy patch of gravel workings and sewage sludge beds. But you'll know when you've found the place because its skyline is so utterly out of the ordinary. Just what shape is that upper storey, and what are all those colourful vents on the roof?

the crash location, beneath the bridge, east of St John's

The development contains 82 homes across approximately half a dozen timber buildings, each resembling a large wooden longhouse, and carefully aligned for optimal solar gain. The south-facing walls are almost entirely glass, while the other walls are much thicker, which helps to keep heating costs down. Everyone has either a front garden or a skygarden, and a double-glazed conservatory for good measure. A communal boiler supplies hot water, and dual flush toilets were a relatively new concept when they were installed help reduce consumption. As for the twirly wind cowls on the roof, they're to draw in fresh air from outside, pre-warmed by outgoing stale air via heat exchangers. London could have built more high-density eco-friendly estates like this over the last 15 years, but they don't come cheap, and instead low-investment brick boxes have become the capital's default.

Not everything about BedZED has worked. The communal biomass wood chip boiler turned out to be unreliable and had to be replaced by a gas boiler. The on-site water recycling facility wasn't clean enough and cost too much to be viable, and levels of passive heating proved insufficient. As a result the estate turned out not to be carbon neutral, more like 70% over its emissions budget, but that's still hugely impressive when compared to the 'average' British home. Lessons have been duly learned, and successfully applied elsewhere. What's more, water consumption is generally half that of you or I, half of the homes remain low cost rent or shared ownership, and the car club has been standard since day one. That was called ZEDcars, obviously.



An official tour costs £18, aimed at interested parties whose place of employment or study would pay. But I wandered round the 'streets' for a couple of minutes, avoiding the large greenspace where the kids were out playing, and found the development rather appealing. The central walkways were quiet and characterful, with a series of private footbridges arching overhead, and the one resident I spoke to was friendly rather than barking me off the premises. But I'm not sure I could live with the lack of privacy afforded by the glass frontage. Walking past the southern flank felt like staring into the residents' souls, their possessions shoved up against the windows... but I was then swiftly distracted by the spring gardens, and of course those bright colourful things on the roof.

Little Woodcote

Stepping back a century, here's a tale of Homes For Heroes. After the Great War was over, Surrey County Council looked to create employment for returning soldiers by providing smallholdings on open land south of Carshalton, previously used for the growing of lavender and peppermint. Construction began in 1920, and 79 cottages were built (total cost £87,875), each with a few acres of land. Somewhat unexpectedly these weatherboarded semi-detached beauties are still there, if mostly no longer used for their original purpose, in what by London standards is very much the middle of nowhere.



One way to get there is by 166 bus, alighting at the lavender fields and walking for a mile, but a better way is to head south down Boundary Road in Carshalton On The Hill. Eventually the rise of Rustic-bethan commuter homes gives way to a country lane, bollarded to traffic - the so-called Telegraph Track. A battered green sign on the verge indicates that Holdings 21-42, 8-3 and 15-11 lie ahead, that is if I've interpreted the missing digits properly. Approach from the other end and a slightly more modern sign even gives the surnames of some of the tenants, including two Watts, a Glanville and a Chittenden, although I'm assuming that's now substantially out of date. When an 87 year old tenant died in 2009, the local paper reported that only four of the smallholdings were still in operation.

You can still see them as you go by, with their polytunnels and greenhouses, and sheep and (mostly) ponies grazing in the fields. The occasional small tractor hums ready to shift a bit of feed, and the latest generation of hired hands stands around mulling over their next agricultural priority. Down one rough drive is Sutton Community Farm, keeping up the old traditions with a more diverse selection of volunteers and a weekly veg box delivery, with the pak choi and mixed salad locally sourced. Somewhere out in the fields are a specialist herb growers, family-run for the last 35 years, and also a large carnivorous plant nursery, with visits by appointment only. It does still feel ridiculously rural round here. And yet.



Most of the servicemen's cottages are now in private hands, their gardens encompassing a much smaller acreage than before, and often with a Range Rover in the driveway. Some are hedged in, others warn of dogs running free, while others retain an open charm. Stand at the central mini-crossroads and a security camera watches down on you from a pole, no worse than any inner London estate but somehow here more unsettling, which is probably how the nouveau residents want it to be. They have to put up with a public footpath running through, and a cycleway connection to Oaks Park, but all the better for the rest of us to see the preserved isolation they enjoy, and the ultimate council houses they live in.

 Friday, March 17, 2017

I don't buy drinks.

Don't get me wrong. If we're down the pub getting rounds in, I pay my way.

But when I'm by myself, which is most of the time, I don't buy drinks. This may not be normal.

What I drink at home, most of the time, is water and tea. Water's free, obviously, apart from the fact it's metered and so technically does cost something negligible. And tea is just boiling water with leaves in, so technically does cost something, mainly the boiling and the teabag and the splash of milk, but it's not a lot. Me, I drink drinks that come ultimately from my tap, because I'm fine with tap water, and hence I don't buy drinks.

So when I go down to the supermarket, I don't buy drinks. I buy tea bags, obviously, but they're not drinks in themselves. I buy milk, but only to pour onto and into things, and generally not to drink. But I don't buy any other drinks. I wouldn't dream of buying bottled water to drink at home, because that's insane in my book. I don't buy juices and flavoured fruit drinks, because they're mostly sugar. I never ever buy fizzy drinks, because they're totally sugar. I never buy sugar-free fizzy drinks, because what's the point? I do occasionally buy what you might term 'squash', but I only have one bottle of dilutable fruit syrup at home at present, and its sell-by-date is March 2016, and it's not yet half empty, so that hardly counts. The one aisle in the supermarket I never walk down is the one that's stacked solely with drinks. It makes walking home a lot easier.

And no, I don't walk down the alcohol aisle either. I don't mind an alcoholic drink, and if you meet me in a pub you'll see I'm capable of drinking several. But I don't buy alcoholic drinks to drink at home. I don't have a stash of cans of lager in the fridge, or a rack of wine ready to be uncorked. I don't have a bottle of vodka on the go, ditto gin, indeed I have absolutely nothing even vaguely resembling a drinks cabinet. You might imagine that coming round to mine is therefore a dull and dry experience, but people tend not to come round to mine, so what I don't buy is for my own personal non-consumption. Admittedly I do occasionally buy a 12 pack of bottles of Becks in case I do ever feel the need to break my habit, but I tend to drink on average less than one bottle a month, so that 12 pack lasts me well over a year. Water and tea, That's what I'm having instead.

If I'm at work, I don't buy drinks. The company supplies its employees with a drinks machine, for free, because this keeps them tied to their desk, and because squirting liquid down a tube into a paper cup isn't exactly expensive. They also provide a branded coffee bar, because they've worked out that employees want something a bit better than granules in almost boiling water, and this again prevents them from leaving the premises. In all my time in the office I have never bought myself a drink from the coffee bar, partly because I don't like coffee, but mainly because I can dunk a tea bag in boiling water better and hugely cheaper than they can. Or I simply go to the water cooler and get a cup of water, several times a day. I look with some bemusement at people who walk into meetings clutching water they have paid for.

Likewise if I'm in the office canteen, I'll be the one with the plastic cup of water filled from the dispenser. I see other people dithering over the smoothies and cans and organic ionised slightly-flavoured cordials, and they always seem to end up paying a good 25% more than me at the till. I sit there particularly open-mouthed when I see colleagues with a can of non-diet Coke on their tray every day, because I've trained myself to think of such drinks as tooth-destroying marketing bluster, and this makes it much easier to never ever want to buy one.

If I'm out and about, I never ever pop into a coffee shop for a drink. Part of this is down to not liking coffee, even the frothy sweet swirly coffees upon which the modern coffee economy thrives. I don't care whether it's a grande latte or a venti cappuccino or a flat white or a double shot with syrup, I'm not buying. You may be perfectly happy handing over two quid for faffed-up beans, and that's fine, but these premises are not for me. Ditto I do like a good hot chocolate, but I am not going to walk in off the street and order one, then sit down and watch the world go by or open up my laptop or read a book. I could, but I don't, because I don't buy drinks.

Likewise if I'm out and about, I never pop into a shop and walk out with a can or bottle for refreshment. I know some people who can't go two hours without feeling the need to hydrate themselves with £1.20's worth of bottled liquid, but if they're out with me, I just let them get on with it. I can go for a considerable length of time without purchasing refreshment, which I put down to inner resilience rather than having the constitution of a camel. If I go out for a nice walk I don't want to have spent a fiver by the end of it on liquids which probably cost 5p to make. I have been known to take a drink with me, and invariably that's either water or tea, but every time I get my flask out for the latter I do worry I'm getting old before my time.

I think it's the scale of the mark-up which really puts me off. As soon as I stop to consider the gaping chasm between what a drink costs to make and how much someone's attempting to flog it to me for, I am perfectly capable of resisting purchase. I have not fallen for The Great Drinks Conspiracy.

But all that's when I'm by myself. What I've noticed is that whenever anybody else turns up, life suddenly starts to revolve around the purchase of drinks.

The pub's the obvious one. A group of people often needs a place to go, and a pub is an obvious place, and suddenly the entire evening revolves around the purchase of drinks. Or it could be a bar, which means pretty much the same thing, only with everything at a slightly higher price. Or it could be a meal, because this too always seems to involve the purchase of some unnecessarily expensive drinks. I'll always nudge for tap water rather than a bottle of sparkling in such a situation, but all that frugality is utterly lost as soon as someone utters the words "hey, shall we order some wine?" A significant proportion of the cost of any restaurant meal is drinks, and the restaurateur knows it.

Or it could be me and someone else in a cafe. As I've hinted, I don't go to cafes by myself, but the minute I'm out with someone else there's invariably a Let's Pop In Here And Sit Down And Have A Cup Of Tea moment. It's nice to have a rest and chat, isn't it, even if all the cafe did was fill a pot with boiling water or dunk a tea bag in a mug and point you towards the stirrers. I wouldn't normally have stopped at all, but I always capitulate when somebody else turns up, because I recognise that not stopping for a hot drink is abnormal behaviour. I know this because every museum, shopping arcade and country park seems to have a cafe, and they always seem to be full of normal people, but I only ever go accompanied, and never solo.

Or it could be me and someone else in a shop. Companions on a journey usually pop into a shop at some point along the way to buy a drink of some kind, and look at me strangely when I tell them honestly no, I really don't want one. They'll even attempt to share their bottle with me once they've bought it, because they can't believe I'm not as parched as they are, but I always politely turn them down. I'll even unnerve assistants trying to flog me a Meal Deal by telling them I don't want the drink even if it is only an extra 20p on top of what I've paid for the other items. It strikes me that the UK economy might collapse if everyone was like me and didn't buy drinks, but thankfully they're not, and we survive.

In summary, I appear to be internally hardwired not to buy drinks, and very successful in not doing so. But whenever I'm with other people I cave in and buy drinks, because buying drinks is what you do when you're with other people. Perhaps that is normal.

 Thursday, March 16, 2017

Like Monty Python's parrot, the Metropolitan line extension has ceased to be.
Mayor of London: I wish to complain about this project what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.
Mayor of Watford: Oh yes, the Metropolitan Purple... What's wrong with it?
Mayor of London: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, it's dead, that's what's wrong with it.
Mayor of Watford: No, no, it's resting.
Mayor of London: Look, I know a dead project when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now. This is an ex-extension.
The problem is money. When Hertfordshire County Council put together their business case in 2008, the expected cost of the extension was £170m. By cutting frills they got the cost down to £115m, and so in 2011 the government gave the project the go-ahead. By 2013 the total had crept up to £118m, but more detailed planning at the end of 2014 suggested the overall cost would be £234m. Herts struggled to deliver, so in March 2015 entered into an agreement with the Department of Transport (contributing £110m) and TfL (contributing £46m) for a grand total of £284m. In August 2015 TfL took over responsibility, making them liable for any additional overspend. But last summer there were questions about how accurate Hertfordshire's estimates had been, and in December the project disappeared from the TfL Business Plan.

You may remember I mentioned this at the time.

This week we discover, in a letter to the Conservatives on the London Assembly, that the cost of the project is now projected to be £50m more.
"The £284m project is set to connect the Metropolitan Line from Croxley to several new stations across Watford. The project received £49m from the previous Mayor of London, but recent cost projections by TfL show that £50m more will be required before it can progress."
TfL doesn't have £50m floating around, so has thrown the extension into its 'Growth fund' where such stalled projects reside (see also the Bow Interchange upgrade). TfL are blaming the price hike on more careful scrutiny of a project they didn't have control over from the beginning, and there's a strong hint that the previous Mayor may have been willing to take the risk of a financial hit but the current Mayor is not. An ongoing fares freeze makes financial manoeuvring almost impossible, and there seems to be particular resentment that TfL is being asked to fund a project "located outside of London".
Mayor of London: This project is definitely deceased. When I purchased it not 'alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Mayor of Watford: Well, it's probably pining for the suburbs.
Mayor of London: Pining for the suburbs?!?! What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home?
Mayor of Watford: The Metropolitan Purple prefers kipping on its back! Remarkable project, innit squire? Lovely plumage!
Remember when Boris threw out a lot of Ken's ongoing projects when he became Mayor? This is much the same kind of thing by Sadiq, only rather more silently executed, and with the complication of cross-boundary investment. A standoff has therefore developed between TfL and the government, with the Transport Minister insistent the extension must go ahead and TfL saying it won't without more cash. We have yet to see who'll win that battle.
A DfT spokesman said: “Croxley Rail Link will deliver significant transport benefits and significantly boost economic growth in Watford and the wider north-west London area. We wrote to the Mayor in January saying that we expect TfL to take forward the scheme in line with the agreements put in place in 2015. This remains our position.”

London Underground's director of strategy David Hughes said: “This does not mean the project has been cancelled and we remain open to helping assist the DfT in finding an alternative funding package for the project, or alternative schemes that may be more affordable.”
I'm quite nervous about that mention of 'alternative schemes' because this project has already been stripped down to its bare bones. The two new stations will be little more than halts, the main expense is in a viaduct which can't be cut, and the additional train needed to run extended services has already been purchased. Potentially one or more of the new stations could be cut, but that would lose most of the local benefits, or some wag could suggest a 'special bus service' instead, which was the ploy when the Croxley Green branch line was originally mothballed.
Mayor of London: The plumage don't enter into it. The project's stone dead.
Mayor of Watford: No, no, no! It's resting! There, it moved!
Mayor of London: No, it didn't, that was you hitting the cage!
What's awkward for the marginal constituency of Watford is that a huge amount of money is being spent on developing the land alongside the new extension, specifically on the Health Campus site near the hospital. A large area of West Watford has been cleared, new roads and an industrial park have been built, and hundreds of new homes are pencilled in. If none of the promised trains turn up, whose fault is that, and how is any of this sustainable?

Since the Croxley Rail Link was first proposed in 1975, a completion date has always been tantalisingly out of reach. Back in 2011 it was assumed trains would be running between Croxley and Watford Junction in May 2016. By 2013, when approval was granted, December 2016 was being mentioned. At the start of 2014, the target was suddenly December 2017, and by the end of the year the date had slipped further to May 2018. When TfL took over in 2015 the start of operational service had fallen back to May 2019, and by the end of the year merely December 2019. Last July we were told December 2020 instead, which is what the project website says today, except this latest news clearly hasn't filtered through. My money is on 2021, 2022 or 2023, or more likely never.
Mayor of London: This project is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it'd be pushing up the daisies! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PROJECT!!
Londoners could just say stuff Watford, we don't live there, what's the point, which is probably how thing's'll end up. But what a mess, and all because there is no money to do anything with any more, and no powers to raise any either.

 Wednesday, March 15, 2017

We must trigger Article 50
We must start to leave the EU
The People of Britain have spoken
It's what they demand us to do

      We must not let MPs derail us
      We must remain fixed on the plan
      The People of Britain have spoken
      Let’s get out as soon as we can

We must stifle all opposition
We must speak with unified voice
The People of Britain have spoken
We cannot deny them their choice

      We must shape a principled nation
      We must hold our true values dear
      The People of Britain have spoken
      A glorious victory is near

We must clamp down on immigration
We must keep the foreigners out
The People of Britain have spoken
Of this there's no possible doubt

      We must roll back decades of Europe
      We must crush the Brussels elite
      The People of Britain have spoken
      Their overthrow must be complete

We must break our ties to the mainland
We must trade on unequal terms
The People of Britain have spoken
It’s what the referendum confirms

      We must let the pound find its level
      We must make our imports more dear
      The People of Britain have spoken
      Their mandate is perfectly clear

We must get a deal we can live with
Or else we must leap off a cliff
The People of Britain have spoken
It's all about when and not if

      We must repeal bad legislation
      We must cut back on workers' rights
      The People of Britain have spoken
      We have a new dawn in our sights

We must set up checkpoints in Ireland
We must join the slow passport queue
The People of Britain have spoken
How dare you dictate what to do?

      We must not let Scotland escape us
      We must keep the Union in place
      The People of Britain have spoken
      The Scots can't be a special case

We must despise incoming scroungers
We must send the bally lot home
The People of Britain have spoken
They just want to live home alone

      We must press the ejector button
      We must press as soon as we can
      The People of Britain have spoken
      They don't care if we have no plan

We must heed democracy's outcome
We must keep our eyes on the prize
The People of Britain have spoken
They yearn to see Europe’s demise

      We must drive an unflinching Brexit
      We simply must take back control
      The People of Britain have spoken
      We must go along with their goal

We must carry on driving forward
We must proceed at any cost
The People of Britain have spoken
Get over it losers, you lost

      We must back the will of the people
      We must do whatever it takes
      The People of Britain have spoken
      And electorates don't make mistakes

 Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Consultation hats on.
"TfL are working with the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham and the London Legacy Development Corporation to enhance the transport links and public realm at Bromley-by-Bow and Marshgate Lane. The proposals would make it easier for people to cross both the A12 and Stratford High Street by providing new or upgraded pedestrian and cycle facilities, improving access for vehicles, enabling new bus routings, encouraging more walking and cycling, and connecting local communities and new developments in the surrounding area."


I've told you this story before, last November, when the LLDC published plans to redevelop the area northeast of Bromley-by-Bow station. What's different this time is that TfL have launched a consultation based on road junctions and transport, rather than new blocks of flats.

We'll come to Marshgate Lane in a minute. I only mentioned the place on Sunday, sorry. Instead let's focus on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, which is where all the meat of this latest proposal is based. In short TfL want to add two new road junctions on the A12 where currently there are none. This will be both extremely useful and annoyingly unnecessary, depending on who you are. [summary map]

At present you can drive all the way from Redbridge to Bromley-by-Bow and beyond without meeting a traffic light - that's six miles undisturbed. The new plans propose adding two sets of traffic lights, barely 200m apart, between Bromley-by-Bow station and the Bow Interchange. Here's where the first one's going.



Roughly where that red van is, at the current exit slip onto St Leonards Street, a big gap will be carved out of the central reservation to create a bus-friendly junction. Traffic exiting from the new development on the Tesco site will have to turn left onto the A12, as now, so cars will see no benefits whatsoever. But buses will be able to cross six lanes of traffic and continue along the slip road opposite into St Leonards Street, avoiding the big loop south they currently have to make round Twelvetrees Crescent. Intriguingly buses will also be allowed to emerge from this slip road, against the current one-way traffic, but will then have to turn left onto the A12 in a sort-of giant dog-leg.



The other winners are pedestrians. Currently they can only cross by subway, this route forced by a whopping great barrier down the centre of the A12. In future they'll be able to walk at street level via a staggered crossing, which'll be ideal for residents of the new development trying to get to the station. Meanwhile the subway adjacent to the station will be made more accessible - we're not told how - and the subway opposite Tesco will be removed. The adjacent scrappy patch of grass will see its poorly-used footway improved, as well as the addition of a brief segregated cycle lane.



The second set of traffic lights will benefit buses, cars and pedestrians alike. This is where northbound traffic on the A12 will be allowed to turn right into the new development - currently they have to go up to the Bow Roundabout and turn back. This might even ease congestion, but more likely it'll create congestion as the 99% of traffic that doesn't want to turn right is forced to wait at lights. Local residents will be able to bring traffic on the A12 to a halt at the press of a button, and that's every time they want to go to the shops, which could be quite often.



Interestingly the new road into the development has already been added. It's called Culvert Drive, and it runs along the edge of the first blocks of flats at 'Bow River Village'. At present the road's a cul-de-sac ending in a small children's playground, but when the final set of flats are added this'll become a through route and the climbing equipment will have to be moved elsewhere. For now the road ends on top of a gabion wall above the River Lea, but in a few years there'll be a bridge here, for buses, bikes and pedestrians only, linking to the much bigger Sugar House Lane development on the opposite side. The red line is mine, and is purely indicative.



There isn't yet a road through the dirt on the other side of the non-existent bridge. Neither are there any flats, just a load of diggers scooping and raising and flattening the land. But there will one day be a link, and this'll connect to the second part of the consultation, which involves sending buses up Marshgate Lane. This manoeuvre wouldn't work at present because the junction at the end of the lane comes before the end of the Bow Flyover, so the intended solution is to create another bus/bike/pedestrian-only bridge. Approximately here.



It'll branch off from Stratford High Street directly opposite the end of Sugar House Lane. There is already a signalled junction here, it was added last year, so this isn't an issue. The new link will then pass through the old Porsche dealership, which has just been demolished, before crossing one of the Bow Back Rivers, namely St Thomas Creek. Then it'll smash through the Marshgate Business Centre, I'd say taking out the timber workshop, or maybe the fruit and veg wholesalers nextdoor. It's OK, the redevelopment of the Pudding Mill neighbourhood has long had this entire run of businesses pencilled in for demolition, so it's not as if the new bus link will kill anything extra. [summary map]

And here the bridge joins up with the bend in Marshgate Lane, so perfectly you'd think it was recreating an original roadway. According to November's consultation buses will terminate by the station, then turn round and head back through the two new links to Devons Road and ultimately to Limehouse. If that's the case it won't exactly be the most useful bus in London, but it will wiggle past a heck of a lot of new homes. It'll also be the catalyst for some expensive road modifications, and some useful extra river crossings for cyclists and those on foot.

Here's why I'm cross. This is what part of the proposed new bus route looks like today.



This is the cooking sauces aisle in my local supermarket, which cars and buses will be one day be driving straight through. The existing Tesco interrupts the proposed street pattern so will be knocked down and replaced by a new store, less than a quarter of the size, built slightly further to the north. The new store won't offer anywhere near as much choice, neither will it have a car park because it's being downgraded to a 'walk-in' rather than a 'drive-to' facility. Given that the new flats won't have parking spaces either, this means vehicle movements will undoubtedly be lower than they are today, but for this TfL intend to gouge out two brand new junctions on the A12.

The downsizing of my local supermarket has nothing to do with TfL, and everything to do with the price of land. Diverting the D8 and a brand new bus route through two large new estates makes perfect sense in terms of passenger accessibility. But I still can't help thinking that slowing down the traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, twice, for a couple of underused bus services isn't the smartest of moves. Sure, it helps heal a long-standing pedestrian severance and supports the Mayor's new Healthy Streets initiative, but it's the exhaust fumes on the A12 that'll kill us, not the fact we can't easily cross it.

Meanwhile, hidden quite a long way down the consultation page is the admission that another long-standing aspiration has bitten the dust. TfL had been hoping to replace the Bow roundabout and flyover with an at-grade crossroads - much safer for pedestrians and cyclists alike - as part of the last Mayor's Vision For Bow. No longer. Instead it says...
"We have looked at further options to redesign Bow Interchange and remove both the roundabout and flyover, giving pedestrians and cyclists more direct access to facilities. However, we have now deferred development of this scheme until we can identify the significant funding required to take the plans forward."
...which is shorthand for "there is absolutely no money for this". Indeed upgrading the Bow Interchange is now languishing in the same non-existent pot of money as the Metropolitan line extension, so is probably doomed, with the current Mayor's fare freeze a significant contributing factor. And this almost certainly means that the 'interim scheme' delivered last summer, the one which diverts pedestrians across the centre of the roundabout, is the last that we'll get.

If you'd like to meet the TfL team behind the latest consultation, public exhibitions will be taking place at Kingsley Hall on Saturday 8th April (1200-1600) and Thursday 20th April (1600-2000). The advisory letter posted through my letterbox yesterday also gives a date of Monday 27th March (1600-2000), but hints that these dates may not be especially well fixed. Or simply fill in your response to the consultation online, by Sunday 23rd April. If you plan to live locally in one of the new developments, I think it's thumbs up all round. If you only ever drive past Bromley-by-Bow on the A12, and don't want me pressing buttons to slow down your journey, I'd complain like hell.

 Monday, March 13, 2017

Ever open the fridge and discover your milk's finished... or even worse, off?

You need milko, the home delivery app.

We've all been there. You need that first cup of tea of the day, but there's no milk. You meant to buy some, but you never got round to it. Maybe there was plenty of milk last night, but your thoughtless flatmate must have used it all. Perhaps a late night macaroni cheese emptied the carton, or an impromptu custard, and now you're stuck.

Nobody enjoys going down to the shops to buy milk. For a start, what a waste of effort, only to buy one thing. There's plenty of other food in your fridge but the milk always runs out first, so you could have stayed indoors if only you had some milk. Worse, this means changing out of your pyjamas, or at least throwing something to camouflage them over the top. All those photographs the tabloids print of celebrities looking awful in trackies, you just know they were only popping out for milk.

And once you get to the shop, it's never only milk you end up buying. Some bread would be useful, you think, because that's bound to run out next. That stack of sweets by the checkout is clearly tempting for this afternoon's sofa marathon. The beer's on special offer, so it would be a pity to miss out. And because you've bought more than you expected the carrier bag's going to be another 5p! Running out of milk can cost you dear.

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milko delivers fresh milk direct to your door so that you need never run out. Simply place your order in advance and our milkomen will be round at crack of dawn with all the fresh milk you need to set you up for the day. And we'll take away all your empties at the same time - it really is the perfect recycling service!

Whether it's two or four pints you require, or maybe six for that special occasion, all you have to do is let us know. A few simple presses on our milko app, that's all it takes, and you could be smothering your cornflakes or knocking up a light sponge shortly afterwards. Or simply place a regular order with us, say one pint a day, and we'll have a steady supply of milk on your doorstep every morning come rain or shine.

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Simply register your basic details on the milko app and you're ready to go. Create a repeat order or order anytime till midnight, or even leave a little note in your empties - we'll be sure to notice! Our excellent delivery team will then target your neighbourhood in their sleek electric vehicles and place your personalised order on your doorstep. Just open your door and pick it up anytime after 7am. We'll even cope if you go away on holiday! Simply tap in your vacation dates in advance and we'll not leave any telltale bottles behind.

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Nobody has ever had an idea like milko before. This level of extreme convenience could never have existed in a pre-digital age. Personalised home milk delivery is a cutting edge solution to an age old problem. Our grand scheme is so far ahead of its time that we're convinced it'll be an enormous hit nationwide. Your daily doorstep pinta is guaranteed.

 Sunday, March 12, 2017

It's always exciting to announce the reopening of a road into the Olympic Park. It's also a little surprising, given that The Games finished five years ago. What's more, this particular road actually closed eight years ago, on 1st November 2009, and was originally supposed to reopen in Spring 2015. Crossrail may have had quite a lot to do with the delay.

The newly-reopened thoroughfare is Barbers Road, which runs for a few hundred metres west of Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. Just before reaching the River Lea it bends south, here becoming Cooks Road, which heads down to join Stratford High Street alongside the Bow Flyover. Cooks Road didn't close, but it did become a long-term dead end for pedestrians as well as for traffic. Anyone wanting to reach the DLR had to walk up Marshgate Lane via a number of different variations of route, threading through whichever bit of building site current works decreed available.



Let's start at the station. When Barbers Road closed this was still a lowly halt, but with the misfortune to be located precisely where Crossrail wanted their trains to emerge from underground. Thus a new station was built, the most massive on the DLR, and a new viaduct erected to loop trains away from the Crossrail portal. The switchover came in April 2014, and the new station has looked vastly overwrought for its back-of-nowhere location ever since. But maybe no longer. The Crossrail worksite surrounding the station has finally been swept away, and it now opens out onto a (still fenced-off) piazza under the viaduct and a pristine tarmacked road.

One day this will be Station Square, adjacent to Pudding Mill Square, proposed centrepiece of the Pudding Mill neighbourhood. "Comprising soft and hard landscaping elements this will be a significant point of arrival linking the heart of the new development to the DLR station and the wider area," which can only mean the masterplanners have been busy with their word salad again. Eventually there'll be retail units and "a vibrant local centre", whereas any coffee outlet that opened here now would fold within a week for lack of interest. Before you get too excited, here's what the area around the station is expected to look like - worthy, populous and bland.



Crossrail aren't finished yet. Although two concrete tunnels now burst forth where the old DLR station once stood, no connecting track has yet been added so that trains can pull into, and out of, Stratford's platforms just along the line. There's also work being done parallel to the DLR viaduct to complete a pedestrian ramp up from Marshgate Lane to the top of the Greenway. A satellite settlement called Bridgewater is to be built on the other side, between the allotments and Stratford High Street, and this sloping infrastructure link is crucial to transport accessibility. As yet, however, Thames Water bridge-strengthening works mean the adjacent stretch of the Greenway is unlikely to reopen before (sob) the end of July 2018.

Meanwhile, back on Barbers Road, pavements and yellow lines and lampposts have suddenly sprung into life ready for flats that don't yet exist. They'll be shoehorned into the extensive space along one side of the road, which over the last few years has been an Olympic logistical zone, a Crossrail building site and a dumping ground for West Ham seats. Somewhere in there is an electricity substation that must not be moved, but the rest is all pencilled in for "a range of housing typologies all tied together through a high quality public realm". More interesting at present is the side of the road that rubs up against the DLR viaduct, where a broad cultivated border is being created. It might eventually boast trees or flowers or shrubbery, but is already sealed behind permanent metal railings so will be very much a case of look but don't touch.



Where Barbers Road bends, the intended Pudding Mill neighbourhood abruptly terminates. Somewhat unexpectedly all the businesses and warehouses that survived Crossrail's invasion have been left to stand, and the masterplan suggests their brick footprints will survive. One's a waste recycling depot, still functioning, another supposedly Dacca Caterers Ltd but looking echoingly defunct. Wanstead Welding Works Limited remains, at least in name, but is currently being used as an entrance for those building phase 1 of Legacy Wharf (a Bellway Homes project) and due to be demolished as part of Phase 2. Almost 200 homes are going in here, completely separate to the Pudding Mill development nextdoor, and a little less affordable too.



We're on Cooks Road now, where Crossrail works are still very much in charge of the riverside. The National Grid are building a new electricity substation to help power London's newest train set, located immediately above the tunnels as they burrow upwards from under the River Lea. The towpath's still diverted by a floating pontoon while remediation is finished off, but a couple of sets of shiny wired-up coils are already obvious, and the substation building looks externally complete. It's not immediately clear what's destined to appear on the adjacent land, but for the time being there are double-decker portakabins, cranes and a flurry of workers behind the blue barriers.

What I remembered most from Cooks Road of old was the smell. Before the Olympics sanitised the Lower Lea Valley, much of the area was given over to getting rid of nasty stuff, including refuse, electricals and waste products. So I was surprised and delighted when my nose was assaulted by the same ghastly reek as I stepped gingerly across a questionably puddled patch of pavement. There behind the wall at Vulcan Wharf stood the same cluster of elevated rusty silos I remembered from 2009, and people bustled behind, because it seems City Oils Ltd is still trading. Their site has been processing fats and greases since 1896, although producing "renewable oil materials for use in biofuels" is presumably a more modern service. I love that an age-old business remains in operation and is providing employment, in spite of Olympic redevelopment, and that residents in the flats over the road will have to put up with the whiff.



At the foot of Cooks Road, what used to be a carpet factory is almost reborn as Capital Towers, the tower block pair marketed in the Far East as an exclusive "no riff-raff" investment. All the cladding's now pretty much in place, plus the mysterious linking floor where the gym's going, but workmen are still very much in charge at ground level. As a symbol of how post-Games housing was mismanaged, this 100% unaffordable bastion is almost unmatched, and I hope the new residents (should they ever turn up) will enjoy their views of the Bow Flyover and the smell of cooking oil. Now all that's needed is for someone to come along and remove the sign that says "Crossrail Works, Barbers Road closed from 1st November to Spring 2015" from the lamppost outside. You'd be a fool to venture this way to the Olympic Park, but you could, and that's what we've been waiting eight years to hear.

In other local news, the View Tube cafe reopens under new management on Thursday. The old team threw in the towel after a sizeable rent hike, which was a damned shame, but the new lot must think they can make a go of things anyway. They're from The Common E2, a cafe and architectural studio in Bethnal Green, and seem to be renaming the place The Common Greenway. They soft-launched yesterday, and as an act of artistic heresy repainted some of the lime green exterior with a jaunty fresh design. Their E2 menu has a lot of sourdough on it, and insists on writing all the prices to one decimal place, so may be a bit more pretentious than what came before. But let's wait and see, and it'll be good to have a community-focused facility back in the Pudding Mill corner of the park.


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