diamond geezer

 Friday, December 13, 2019

Vote2019: The morning after

21:59 The polls close in one minute's time. Is Boris Johnson heading for a famous victory, or has Jeremy Corbyn inspired a Labour surge that'll hold him in check? It'll be the former, most likely, unless...
22:00 Bloody hell, that's massive. The exit poll shows the Conservatives on 368 seats, which is a comfortable majority of 86, and a convincing victory however the margin of error falls.
22:01 So that's Corbyn humiliated, and Labour stuffed, totally.
22:02 So that's Brexit getting done, next month, end of.
22:03 So that's the climate emergency ignored.
22:04 So that's the pound shooting upwards.
22:05 So we can all go to bed now.
22:10 Howls of despair online, alongside jubilant cheers.
22:45 Blyth Valley should have declared by now, because the North East likes to be first. Instead there are murmurings of a recount.
23:00 Everyone's stopped saying "if the results of the exit poll are correct".
23:04 Everyone's stopped talking about the Liberal Democrats.
23:30 The former mining community of Blyth Valley has gone Tory by 700 votes. The new MP thanks the returning officer, and thanks Boris.
23:55 Two hours ago nobody was quite sure where this was going. The Conservatives' triumph is now retrospectively obvious.
00:15 Seats that have been Labour-held for decades are predicted to turn blue across Wales, the Midlands and the North. Candidates are openly pointing the finger at Jeremy Corbyn and the party's position on Brexit.
01:00 The swing in the first few declared seats isn't quite as high as the exit poll suggested. But it's still very high.
01:20 Workington Man has indeed switched to the Conservatives, overturning a 4000 Labour majority with a 4000 Tory one.
01:55 ...but Putney has switched from blue to red, suggesting London may be swimming against the national tide.
02:20 Momentum are blaming Brexit, not Jeremy and his policies. Tories are thanking Jeremy and his policies.
02:40 Results are coming in thick and fast. The Conservatives (63) now have more seats than Labour (60).
02:45 The DUP are paying the price for propping up Theresa May, and losing seats to a co-ordinated opposition.
02:55 In Cities of London and Westminster, a split opposition (13000/12000) has allowed the Conservatives to slip through and win (17000).
03:00 The first update to the exit poll predicts the Conservatives will get 357 MPs (a majority of 64).
03:20 Jeremy Corbyn, after winning his Islington North seat, says he won't lead his party into another General Election. Simultaneously, the Conservatives snatch Tony Blair's former seat of Sedgefield.
03:40 Boris Johnson is comfortably re-elected in Uxbridge. His victory speech repeats all of his campaign's soundbites. Standing alongside, Lord Buckethead beats Count Binface.
03:45 The SNP defeats Lib Dem party leader Jo Swinson by just 149 votes.
04:00 Prediction is back up to 362 (maj 74).
04:20 Brighton retains its Green MP, and she is angry.
04:25 Kensington remains ultra-marginal, but is now marginally blue. And there's my constituency at last, with Labour taking 73% of the vote.
04:45 With fewer than 90 seats left to declare, mostly in the shires, the Conservatives pass 300.
05:05 And that's 326 seats, and that's an overall majority, and that's five years of Boris. Now, how long can I sleep?

 Thursday, December 12, 2019

On polling day, let's have a sweepstake on the size of the Conservative majority.
Pick a number, add it to this → comments box and tomorrow we'll see who's closest. comments

n.b. If you don't think the Conservatives are going to get a majority, go negative.
n.b. Because of the way subtraction works, pick an even number.
n.b. Try not to choose a number anyone else has picked.
n.b. Just one number, without extra waffle, thanks.
n.b. Please don't leave the name box empty.
n.b. Polling closes at 9.59pm.


  Size of the Conservative majority - (your guesses)  
-44-30-20
-22
-24
-26
-28
-10
-11
-12
-13
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-18
-2
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-9
01
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If you'd rather discuss the mathematics of majorities, or howl into the electoral void, or drone on telling other voters how wrong they are, use the comments box below for that.

One of the benefits of a five week election campaign is that the Houses of Parliament have no business to complete so their restaurants are empty. It wouldn't do to send the catering staff home, so instead they open up their tables to private bookings. Both the Members' Dining Room and Peers' Dining Room take part, so pick your chamber and pick your date (Nov 12th - Dec 13th (excluding Dec 9, 10 and weekends)).

BestMate chose the Peers' Dining Room, and yesterday. The elected house on the day of the actual election might have been more appropriate, but I was delighted to be spending my 20,000th day eating lunch somewhere really special. BestMate'sParents and BestMate'sOtherHalf came too.

Getting inside the Palace of Westminster isn't hard, so long as you don't mind airport-style security. Getting inside the Peers' Dining Room is a little trickier and requires a booking reference, a bit of a walk and 'smart casual' clothing. Do not wear trainers. Gentlemen, ensure your shirt is collared. If you've never been inside the palace before, as BestMate'sParents hadn't, the walk through Westminster Hall into Gothic splendour is damned impressive. Now put your phone away, because photography is not allowed.

From first contact in Central Hall to the clearing away of the plates, it's clear that Peers' Dining Room staff are warm, friendly and very courteous. Expect to be called m'lord or m'lady, with a glint in the eye, even though everyone knows damned well you're just a member of the public taking advantage of an electoral gap.

No snooty coat check is provided, just a rack of hooks wheeled into the corridor which doubles up as part of the Peers' Library. The shelves along each wall are stuffed with useful books rather than vintage volumes, including a history of the KGB and another of the SAS, covering all bases.

Be sure to enjoy the opportunity of a drink in the Peers' Guest Room before you dine. Small cosy tables offer a view of the river Thames, a hearty fireplace, a giant oil painting or a wall covered in red flock wallpaper, depending on orientation. The bar menu is reasonably priced, as befits a public service institution, including a gin for under £3 and cocktails for under ten.

The Peers' Dining Room is a sumptuous L-shaped space with space for 80 covers, we were told, and faces an internal courtyard rather than the river. Its ceiling comprises numerous painted panels adorned with arms and fruit, but the real eye-grabber is the original herringbone wallpaper designed by the architect Augustus Pugin. Its pattern of crowned flowers on an off-yellow background would be too in-your-face for most dining rooms but looks perfect here.

I'd worn some proper trousers and got my black shoes out of retirement, but still felt a little underdressed compared to the other diners. A lot were men in suits, some were ladies who lunch, and others middle-aged couples at least one of whom looked like they worked in government. The set price of £50 per person perhaps pre-selects the clientele somewhat, but the waiting staff were just as nice to us as to them, and our dining experience was never the slightest bit uncomfortable.

The menu is firmly British with the emphasis on regional ingredients, conjured up onto the plate in modern style. This month's Public Dining Experience offers four well dressed starters (one broth, one salmon, one crab and one Waldorf salad with a celery panna cotta). My fish arrived on a disc of pressed cucumber floating in assorted creams and dollops, plus a black confection we later deduced was pumpernickel. As for the accompanying bread basket, none of us had ever experienced egg-shaped Marmite butter before. The others generally approved.

For the main course I resisted the Christmas turkey option as a tad too obvious, plumping instead for a half-plate of confit Aylesbury duck with artfully-arranged beets and pickled blackberries. It was rich and succulent, but a glance to my left confirmed that what I should have ordered was the haunch of venison. Those who plumped for the hunk of cod or frothy lemon sole were well pleased with their selection. It fell to the foreign-born member of the party to point out that on the menu Brussel sporuts had been misspelled.

What a pleasure to enjoy a meal in a room where nobody had their phone out and where every plate went unphotographed - like a trip back to the 20th century. It was a little odd to have to ask to go to the toilet, but wandering willy-nilly through the corridors of power isn't allowed so every loo visit has to be escorted. I made sure to look round while I was eating to remind myself what an utterly atypical restaurant this was, and tried to imagine all the lords and ladies who might have sat on my red leather chair before me.

For dessert my Shropshire take on blackberry and apple was tasty but insubstantial, a victory for style over substance, whereas nobody had a bad word to say about the cherry ice cream coated in smooth chocolate ganache. Finally came the teas and coffees and trays of petit fours, and you know you're having a posh meal when those appear. We could have washed all this down with a glass of heavily subsidised vintage port, but the sun had already set and the staff looked like they were probably ready to go home.

On the way out we declined a visit the House of Lords' gift shop, where we could have purchased an iced Christmas cake for £15. Instead we somehow managed to sweet talk a security guard into allowing us a quick look inside the Commons chamber, a room which which bowls me over every time because it's like walking onto a TV set and the centre of our democracy. Today we'll all be out voting for who gets to sit on its green benches, and thereby confirming the destiny of our nation. Pick carefully. Don't be the one who regrets ordering the duck.

 Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Today is my 20,000th day on Earth.
It's quite a milestone.
I'm going out for a celebratory meal.

People don't normally celebrate round numbers of days, only multiples of years, although you could argue days are even more significant. And why stop there? How about marking special numbers of months, hours, minutes or even seconds? Any excuse for a party.

To save you the hassle of excess mathematics this webpage will calculate all those special dates for you. For example I was one and a half billion seconds old on Wednesday 19th September 2012, and I'm going to be half a million hours old on Wednesday 23rd March 2022.

As a helpful overview I've compiled this summary list to show which special anniversaries crop up at which age. I've emboldened the dozen I think are the most significant. Maybe you've got one of your own coming up soon.
19: ten million minutes, one thousand weeks
22: two hundred thousand hours
27: ten thousand days
31: one billion seconds
34: three hundred thousand hours
38: twenty million minutes, two thousand weeks
41: fifteen thousand days
45: four hundred thousand hours
47: one and a half billion seconds
54: twenty thousand days
57: thirty million minutes, half a million hours, three thousand weeks
63: two billion seconds
68: six hundred thousand hours, twenty five thousand days
76: forty million minutes, four thousand weeks
79: two and a half billion seconds, seven hundred thousand hours
82: thirty thousand days
83: one thousand months
91: eight hundred thousand hours
95: three billion seconds, fifty million minutes, five thousand weeks
My 10,000th day was a Saturday, and was (obviously) half my life ago. It's also the only day in my life I woke up in Northampton and went to bed in Luton. And because I keep a diary, I remember it in ridiculously fine detail.

Saturday 25th July 1992 kicked off very much as the morning after the night before. That had involved beers and barbecued venison sausages at the Olde Coach House Inn in Ashby St Ledgers, a small village close to Watford Gap, before crashing out in bed on the outskirts of Northampton. I was woken around 10am with a cup of tea, a bowl of cornflakes and a glass of orange juice, but probably not a kiss because of morning breath. Congratulations, you've caught me halfway through my very first relationship, which clocked in at all of five weeks.

All the clues were there that it wasn't going to last, not just the repeated sneaking off to the bathroom for a cigarette, but also the underlying preference for a good cuddle over and above anything more intimate. That morning I spent a long time alone on the sofa while bathroom ablutions were completed, after which any prospective plans for the day were wiped out by the comment "ah right, now I've got to get on". I was duly driven back home to Bedford, with DLT playing on the car radio, my offer of a cuppa turned down in favour of a "more urgent" trip to Sainsbury's.

Once indoors the first thing I did was ring my brother. He'd sent me a postcard in the week confirming that his girlfriend had moved in, and was wondering how our parents would take the news. It turns out they'd taken it well. I didn't mention where I'd spent the night, which was for the best because my relationship had 20 days left and his is still going strong 10,000 days later. Then I went out and bought a newspaper and a bag of chips, liberally doused in vinegar, and ate those while catching up on Brookside and Eldorado which I'd recorded earlier. What a time to be alive.

Then in the evening I took the train to Luton for an amateur pop quiz. My friend Steve was hosting at his house, on Russell Street, and while we waited for the other contestants to arrive we watched the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics. I ended up in the team with Mike and Hazel, on the sofa nearest to the bowl of crisps, and soon we were three thousand points behind. I was better on the audio rounds than the video questions, because I'd taken the narcissistic decision to leave my glasses at home so couldn't see any fine on-screen detail. I was even worse at Pictionary.

The quiz went on and on, deep into day 10,001, but not even a 1980s round could sneak our team into the lead. Ah well. We moved on to playing Mousetrap, and waiting for a wine box that'd been stored in the freezer to defrost. Finally around half past three I went to bed in the lodger's room, which was fine because he was on shift reading the news on a local commercial radio station. Reading back now, I cannot believe how atypically packed my Day 10,000 was. Better still, I'm chuffed to note that I recognised it was my 10,000th day at the time, having spotted its significance pre-internet using just a calendar and pocket calculator.

Day 10,001 proved additionally significant because it was the day that persuaded me to give contact lenses a go. I'd enjoyed going spec-less for the weekend, and Steve reassured me that he'd been using them for years, so I decided I really ought to take the plunge. On Day 10,002 I went to Vision Express and got fitted for contact lenses, and on Day 10,003 I learned how to take them out, and after that I never looked back. Then Day 10,004 was my first ever trip to a nudist beach and Day 10,005 was the first time I got bad sunburn, but those are tales for another time.

Day 20,000 won't be so wild, but my celebratory meal is booked in somewhere very special indeed. I then face a very long wait until Day 30,000, which if I'm lucky should be just after my eighty-second birthday. My Dad reaches Day 30,000 this time next year. Maybe you could check out when your next milestone birthday is, and stick an alarm in your online calendar so when it finally comes round you won't forget.

 Tuesday, December 10, 2019

This weekend's two other new bus routes were the 218 and 306. They overlap.

 North
Acton
 Acton Acton
Vale
 Hammer
smith 
 Fulham 
218              
306              
 formerly 440formerly 266formerly 391

I say new, but the North Acton end of the 218 used to be served by the 440, the Acton to Hammersmith core used to be served by the 266 and the Fulham end of the 306 used to be served by the 391. These aren't genuinely new routes, this is just TfL shortening three other routes and joining up the leftovers.

Also the 218 and 306 could have been one new bus route, but no. Instead TfL have constructed two shorter overlapping routes, at five miles apiece, because shorter routes are more reliable. It also enables them to use single deckers at one end and double deckers at the other, and to run an increased frequency in the middle.

Let's ride both.


[NEW] Route 218: North Acton to Hammersmith
Location: London west
Length of journey: 5 miles, 45 minutes


The 218 begins its journey alongside North Acton Square, a windswept piazza which workmen are attempting to evacuate before Christmas. Here we find a shelter and two bus stop poles, bafflingly organised. Bus Stop Z has a 218 timetable but not a 218 tile. The other stop has a 218 tile but is actually a bus stand, so clearly states "Buses do not pick up passengers here". But in reality they do, because the driver can't reverse back to stop Z and start there, indeed there's likely another vehicle parked behind. This is exactly the kind of contradictory cock-up we have come to expect from TfL's Bus Stop Team in recent years, and I bet they can't be arsed to come back and fix it.



North Acton is an increasingly highrise hotspot, as in "Aha, here's a station with good connections to central London, let's build lots of tall apartment blocks around it." The odd old building hangs on, like the turreted Castle pub, but otherwise the multi-coloured boxy towers are winning. It's good to escape, even if queuing to cross the A40 takes some time. Anyone heading for Acton shouldn't be taking the 218 - we're going all round the houses - but boarding route 440 instead. Until last week it was the 440 which went all round the houses, but that's now been switched to the main road to provide a better bus service at future Crossrail station Acton Main Line. I do hope local residents are keeping up.

And it's not just round the houses, it's round the recreation ground. North Acton Playing Fields are a giant green rectangle, upon which children are bouncing tennis balls and kicking footballs, and we'll be deviating around three sides of it. The road gets a bit narrow at times, but our driver's persistence is appreciated by local residents who flag us down on each flank. In the distance the towers of North Acton erupt incongruously above a row of semis. But the true attraction on the northwest corner is sight of the official coffeestop from The Apprentice, the legendary Bridge Cafe, where the losing team gather to debate failure and pass blame. A stack of souvenir You're Fired mugs is on display, and up for sale, in the window.



Back on Noel Road we pass an abundance of palm trees on street corners and a cluster of Japanese businesses outside West Acton station. Negotiating past another 218 coming the other way takes some doing. And just when I think the journey's going uneventfully an old lady boards, with questions, and attempts to engage the driver in conversation. He has to open his door to hear her, but seems unable to provide all the reassurance she needs. Unsatisfied she works her way up the now busy bus, her eyes seeking out a spare seat next to a passenger she can moan to as the ride progresses. She selects me.

It's always been the 440 along here, she says, which was good because that went to Chiswick and she likes shopping there. They used to have a Clarks shoe shop in Chiswick, but it's gone now, the high street's not the same. She's very cross about the 218 because that doesn't go to Chiswick, and that means she'll have to change and she's not sure where. She tells me how she's fought several local campaigns before on diverse topics, and how good the local schools are, and how two of her 93 year-old friends died recently, and how good the Christmas decorations are at Chiswick Business Park. Like Lego, that's what they remind her of, like blocks of Lego. I don't risk telling her it hasn't always been the 440 along here, but I do suggest she gets out by the marketplace. She gets out by the Old Town Hall instead, and I wish her luck.

It's now quite busy aboard, this being the stop where the 266 newly terminates, so anyone who's Hammersmith-bound has to cram into our 29-seater. Folk in Christmas jumpers are spilling out of several pubs. A dozen mopeds are lined up on the pavement outside McDonalds. The Art Deco cinema building now contains a climbing wall. And beyond Acton Central station hurrah, TfL's Bus Stop Team have totally mucked up the tiling again. What they should have done is remove the 266 tiles and put up 218 tiles instead, but instead they've added the 218s and left the 266s in place, ensuring that passengers may continue waiting for a bus that's never coming. I've got a list of the seven consecutive bus stops along The Vale at which this error has been made (VQ VP VR VN VS VM and VT), in case anyone's ever interested.

[NEW] Route 306: Acton Vale to Fulham, Sands End
Location: London west
Length of journey: 5 miles, 50 minutes


I could have stayed aboard the 218 to Hammersmith bus station, and rest assured I have, but for narrative purposes let's switch to the alternative 306. It's a double decker so has a better view of its surroundings, plus it's less crowded, mainly because it's going somewhere nobody around here has heard of. My driver decides to stir things up by failing to change the destination on the display so it still says Acton Vale. I can hear the blinds whirring after we set off.



The first stop is called Second Avenue and the second stop is called First Avenue, just for a laugh. After this comes the painfully slow right turn into Askew Road, the traffic lights only allowing through a dribble at a time. But Askew Road is a meandering middle class delight, the kind of quirky Zone 2 neighbourhood Time Out goes crazy for, mixing Georgian terraces with bijou outlets like Monkey Temple, Happy Sky and Ginger Pig. If you live close by, you've done well. We appear to be running just ahead of a 218 so are picking up plenty of passengers. Last week Askew Road was only served by the 266, but now it has two new routes going the same way at increased total frequency, so everyone's a winner.

Top marks to our driver for pausing to let a blind man cross the road ahead of us, even before he's stepped onto the other half of the zebra crossing. Paddenswick Road is perhaps even more pleasant, though lacking in shops (if that's your measure of desirability). Ravenscourt Park (the park) is accessible alongside one of the older houses, and Ravenscourt Park (the station) hidden somewhere beneath the viaduct at the far end. Because King Street is one-way we have to approach Hammersmith via the backstreets, past a lot of cosy-looking pubs and the rear end of a Christmas market. Everyone in the know gets out beside the Hammersmith & City line station rather than enduring an extra stop across the gyratory and a lengthy twiddle round the bus station.

This is where the 218 terminates, at the lower bus station, whereas the 306 continues via the upper bus station. This divergence is only truly annoying for passengers heading back the other way, who have to decide whether to wait at the Upper or Lower for half the buses to Askew Road, and no way of knowing which is best.



Now for the bit of the 306 that used to be the 391 - initially heading east, then making a break for the Thames. Hammersmith Road has become an odd mishmash of glassy offices, mansion blocks and redbrick Victorian. The 21st century appears to be winning. Before we get to Olympia it's time to turn off down North End Road and follow it for just over a mile down to Fulham. This will take twenty minutes, thanks to bad traffic, especially the queue to cross the A4 which takes six attempts because the yellow box is never quite empty enough. There is much honking.

I spot one lady checking the posters @LDNBusUpdates have taped to a bus shelter, because they've been busy here too. She's ultimately not interested, but the family waiting outside West Kensington station are, and up they come to join me on the upper deck. Daughter wants the front seat so she can pretend to drive the bus, so Daddy sits alongside and humours her, then Mummy shuffles in next to me so as not to be left out. "Have you been drawing on your hand again?" she asks. "Pink label Christmas trees are better than yellow label." "I don't think we've got time to go back for your glasses." "Daddy's being silly now, isn't he?"

North End Road is an eye opener for those who think Fulham's upmarket. It starts posh, with billboards advertising designer handbags, but eventually descends into pawnbrokers, jerk chicken and those minimarkets with colourful plastic containers stacked outside, before finally returning to creperie respectability. Iceland is packed, the cake boutique with ice-white decor dazzlingly empty. At the end of the street Daddy guesses wrongly which stop the family should alight at, and the trio face a hike back across the Broadway. Meanwhile our 306 is proceeding unhindered riverward, into the mean streets beyond the New Kings Road.

Welcome to the moneyed world of Chelsea Harbour and Imperial Wharf, luxury Thameside bastions built upon former gasworks and industrial powerhouses. We pass several recently demolished zones awaiting transformation into prime real estate, and Laura Ashley's Head Office, and signs listing the byelaws of the pseudo-public promenades beyond. Most residents take taxis if they need to get anywhere, or hop onto a train at the Overground station the developers gifted. But the 306 is always there if they feel like slumming it, finally pulling up at a temporary stop opposite a two-floor Sainsbury's, and does anyone fancy a slow haul back to Hammersmith?



Route 218/Route 306: timetable
Route 218/Route 306: route map
Route 218/Route 306: live route map
Route 218/Route 306: 2017 consultation

 Monday, December 09, 2019

[NEW] Route 278: Heathrow to Ruislip
Location: London west, outer
Length of journey: 11 miles, 60 minutes


Of this weekend's four new bus routes, only the 278 could truly be described as new. It links Heathrow Airport to Ruislip for the first time, and creates a fresh north-south connection across the borough of Hillingdon. When the Mayor promised to boost services in the suburbs to make up for culling those in central London, this is the kind of thing he meant. It's also being operated with brand new vehicles, each USB-enabled, but for my journey they wheeled out an old (unplugged) one so I had to survive on battery power alone.

Heathrow Central bus station is a frenetic place, and also poorly signed. The bus shelter displays two nightbus maps and only one of daytime routes, which contains at least one spelling mistake and is now out of date. Stop 19 has an N140 timetable but not an N140 tile, and a 278 tile but not a 278 timetable. Indeed I never spotted a 278 timetable at any stop anywhere along the entire route, possibly because TfL's Bus Stop Team are overstretched or possibly because they're inept, you decide. My 278, when it arrives, is not mobbed*.

* An important fact about Heathrow airport is that it's surrounded by a Freeflow zone within which all public transport is free. That meant the 140, when it started here, used to be packed with passengers boarding (legally) without paying. Officially travel was only free as far as Harlington Corner, but usually nobody checked, so once passengers were on board it was perfectly possible to ride all the way to Harrow for nothing. The X140 express closes that loophole because, like the X26, it's been excluded from the Freeflow zone. This means the scroungers option is now the 278, at least as far as Hayes, and will be once everyone's sussed the new system.



"Ooh this is new", says one lady to her friend. "I normally catch the A10 but let's give this a try." They sit downstairs and I sit alone on the upper deck, having held back fifteen minutes to give the Young New Bus Route Chroniclers an undisturbed run. The 278 ploughs into the tunnel beneath the runway, then turns left onto the perimeter road so that it can eventually turn right. I have a particularly fine view of a Delta Air Lines Boeing taking off. At several stops along the Bath Road potential passengers mutter with the driver before boarding, having never seen a 278 before and having no idea which route it takes. Some are willing to take the chance.

We reach Harlington Corner in twelve minutes, whereas the express X140 managed it in more like five. A trio of Jehovah's Witnesses are standing on the corner holding out religious pamphlets to non-existent passers-by, and drinking coffee. When we pull up at West End Lane a teenage girl squints up at the blind, mouths "Whaaaaat!" and opens up her phone to check what this apparition might be. By the time she works it out we've driven on. Another group of five are similarly untempted further up Harlington High Street. When there are no timetables and no updated maps, and all it says on the front of the bus is 'Ruislip', who'd risk it?

We reach Hayes and Harlington station after twenty minutes, our duty as the 140's replacement now complete. Temporary traffic lights force us to wait by the canal, between an Oxfam and a burger joint, before progressing along the oh-so-'30s high street. Shoppers are blindly walking in the cycle lanes, these being irregular and hard to distinguish, while a cyclist rides merrily down the white line in the centre of the traffic. I finally gain company on the upper deck when a married couple take the other front seat, she ringing a friend and yakking for the next two miles, he sitting stoicly mute.

Church Road contains the HQ of the Hayes and Harlington Conservative Association, but front gardens only display Labour election posters, because the Shadow Chancellor isn't at risk in this safe seat. The Fountain House Hotel proudly displays a plaque stating that George Orwell lived here, but only when it was a private school and he was Senior Master, and only for a year. Nearby St Mary's church is of 12th century origin, and a reminder that the heart of Hayes has been dragged irrevocably south since the arrival of the railway. We're not picking up many passengers, nor indeed stopping much at all.

Next it's time to slog up a couple of miles of the Uxbridge Road. This is not London's most inspiring experience. Its flanks are a hotchpotch of minor shops and businesses, occasionally interspersed by flats and houses, but mostly the former. I spy used cars for sale, and pubs flogging Christmas trees, and kebab shops waiting for custom, and a scrap of a park, and repair shops stacked with tyres, and a dozen hydraulic platforms awaiting hire, and a peeling Chinese laundry, and a silver office block resembling a disused grain silo. We are not the only bus up the Uxbridge Road, nor yet a bus local residents require.

n.b. When I said the 278 was an entirely new route, this wasn't strictly true. For the last four paragraphs, i.e. since Harlington Corner, it's been following the route of the H98, and only at this point does this break away and terminate. Before 1990 the H98 was of course the 98, connecting Hounslow to Uxbridge, and until the 1960s it followed exactly the route we're about to use towards Ruislip. The 278 is essentially the fifty-year old 98 with Hounslow switched for Heathrow, but I'm sure I didn't need to have to tell you that.

Without fanfare the 278 has passed from John McDonnell's constituency to Boris Johnson's, because my bus tale is nothing if not topical. It's soon time to turn off up Long Lane, a much more salubrious corner of Hillingdon with large semis and leafy gardens, and the point at which the 278 starts to offer something properly new. There are bus stops along Long Lane that've seen nothing more than school buses for decades, the only other local service twiddling around the backstreets instead, then turning back at the station. Imagine the shock of waking up one morning to find proper double deckers down your street... before hopping into your car and driving to the shops as normal.

One side of the shopping parade at Hillingdon Circus is redbrick and the other is Mock Tudor, as if the architects couldn't make up their mind. The long footbridge spanning the chasm to Hillingdon station is no longer as white as it should be. And by crossing the A40 we create that new link the area's been crying out for, connecting Hillingdon to Ickenham by bus. The U10 runs hourly nearby, but the 278 is the first half decent bus service hereabouts. It's great news for anyone attempting the Tube Challenge - your chances of catching a ride between West Ruislip and Ickenham just multiplied.

This part of London is packed with pubs prioritising food over beer - I hesitate to call them gastro. HS2 also have a massive building site up the side of the existing Chiltern railway, with scores of yellow cones encroaching on what used to be golf course. We're nearly home, but first we have to join the queue of traffic on Ruislip High Street. The windows of John Sanders' department store are bedecked with gifts, numerous Christmas trees and a lot of sensible knitwear. And sadly there isn't room for the 278 to stand outside the tube station so we have to terminate an annoying distance away outside an off licence, where someone's extended a normal bus stop using yellow paint, wiping out a parking space. It's OK, the return journey does start somewhere more useful... and the bus is now quicker than taking the tube.



Route 278: timetable
Route 278: route map
Route 278: live route map
Route 278: not very good spider map
Route 278: 2017 consultation

The 10 lowest numbers that aren't London bus routes

NowA year ago
  10  unused since 24th Nov 2018
  48  unused since 12th Oct 2019
  82  renumbered 13 on 1st Apr 2017
  84  (the 84 Barnet - St Albans doesn't count) 
239  unused since 16th Feb 2008
304  unused since 27th Mar 1995
305  unused since 1st Sep 2018
310  (the 310 Hertford - Waltham Cross doesn't count)
311  (new route rejected after consultation in 2018)
334  (never used)
  10 
  82 
  84 
218  [reused 7th Dec 2019]
239 
278  [reused 7th Dec 2019]
301  [reused 13th Jul 2019] 
304 
305 
306  [reused 7th Dec 2019]

 Sunday, December 08, 2019

[NEW] Route X140: Harrow to Heathrow
Location: London west, outer
Length of journey: 11 miles, 50 minutes


In 2008 Boris Johnson's first Mayoral manifesto promised to "commission a trial of orbital express bus routes for outer London". A decade later, his successor has finally introduced one.

The 140 is one of London's top five busiest bus routes, a proper orbital big-hitter, at last count carrying over 13 million passengers a year. It runs roughly north-south from Harrow Weald to Heathrow Airport with a direct hit on the Crossrail station at Hayes and Harlington which it needs to serve as efficiently as possible. And that's why yesterday TfL split the original 140 into three manifestations — the 140, X140 and N140 — a cunning plan to use exactly the same number of vehicles in a somewhat different way.

 Harrow
Weald
 Harrow Northolt Hayes &
Harlington 
 Heathrow
Airport
 
140           
X140           
N140           

The N140 is precisely what the 140 used to be, but only runs at night. The new 140 has been curtailed at the Heathrow end so now only runs as far as Hayes and Harlington, almost as frequently as before. The real gamechanger is the X140, TfL's fourth express bus route, which runs from Harrow bus station to Heathrow Central bus station stopping only eleven times inbetween. You can bet this confused a number of passengers yesterday, and delighted many others.




Harrow Bus Station is a bustling hub, conveniently situated for the shops and the station, and the point of departure for the X140 express. Not that you'd know. The X140 hasn't been added to the list of routes above the entrance to Stop B, nor have any of Harrow's spider maps been updated. The X140 also fails to appear on the bus station's live departure screen (although arrivals are shown, pointlessly, at their final stop). The only clue is a single timetable stating that "buses only serve the stops shown", that buses run five times an hour and proposing a 48 minute running time to Heathrow Airport. Apparently staff were handing out leaflets earlier, but I never saw one.



Passengers shouldn't be able mistake the express bus for its X-less namesake - its blinds are blue, it has a fairly prominent X and it says Limited Stop on the front. Nevertheless people will, and do. A goodly crowd pour into the double decker when it arrives, with the upper deck front seats promptly taken by the Young New Bus Route Chroniclers. One of the teenagers has a notebook and will be jotting down whether we're running early or late, while the other has a cracked tablet pinned up against the window to record every minute of our upcoming journey.

The advantages of an express bus route are immediately evident. The normal 140 veers off into West Harrow, as it always has, but we don't need to serve those four stops so we head to South Harrow direct. Playing fields and semi-detached houses spread to either side, plus the occasional crooked cottage and grim office block. It's already going well.

South Harrow Station (5 mins) is our first stop, alongside the market hall under the railway. A quick check confirms that the X140 tile on the bus stop is white with the word 'Express' written in small type above the route number. One of the Young New Bus Route Chroniclers stands and takes a photo of the iBus display in an attempt to collect the full placename set. The other reaches for a bag of crisps and a bottle of water to sustain him as we progress onwards through Roxeth.

Station Parade (9 mins) is an unhelpfully mysterious name because it's never made clear precisely which station this is (obviously it's Northolt Park, with its hourly service into Marylebone, but you'd never know). Then it's on past the fire station and... ah, road works. A sign announces "Use bus lane when chevrons lit", and today they are, a succession of lamps pulsating in the tarmac. We join the queue waiting at the temporary lights, which thankfully keeps moving, and one of the Young New Bus Route Chroniclers instinctively reaches for a packet of biscuits. The other, of course, daren't eat for fear of his tablet slipping.

Northolt Station (14 mins) is next, indeed so far we're only stopping every time we hit a railway. Not very many passengers have been tempted aboard so far, perhaps because they want to alight at one of our intermediate stops, or perhaps because they've not yet worked out who we are. It's relentlessly 1930s along here, indeed the entire journey feels like a safari through sub-Metroland suburbs. The shop window at Jedi Robe features a stormtrooper in a Father Christmas outfit. Beyond the A40 we catch up with a real 140, and promptly overtake.

It's then that something entirely predictable happens - a passenger wants to alight at a bus stop we're not serving. They ding for Sycamore Close but we don't slow down, so they ding again but we don't stop, so they ding several times and we continue, then they ding for Northolt Library but we don't stop there either, so they ding again and eventually end up three stops past where they wanted to be. A route diagram stuck up inside the bus might have helped. Impressively, nobody else makes the same mistake later.

Yeading/White Hart Roundabout (21 mins) isn't the best name for a gyratory, given that the White Hart pub which overlooks it has been shuttered and is fenced off. Beyond that we get to follow Yeading Lane, with its fifty year-old church that looks disturbingly like a power station. We don't even bother to stop at Dilston Close because a 140 just hoovered up its queue.

Shakespeare Avenue (24 mins) is a different matter - it's busy because the 140 hasn't got here yet. Several passengers enquire of the driver where he's actually going ("Are you stopping at The Grapes?"), then board in numbers. They are more fortunate than the single woman waiting at the next non-stop. She waves at the bus as it approaches, then mouths "Whaaaaaat!" at the driver, then shrugs like a demon possessed.

The Grapes (27 mins) is better known as a Beefeater than a pub these days. The sun has come out, dazzling the video still being shot from the tablet propped up against the front window. We pass an assortment of minor shops selling used furniture, chicken and accumulators, plus the first of several hotels optimistically named after Heathrow. Approaching Hayes we pass three successive stops at which someone has their arm outstretched, expecting us to stop, and is left disconsolate.

Hayes Town (33 mins) is up next, thoughtfully serving the shops rather than the station. Six of the tiles on the bus stop have coloured stripes across the top, but not the 140 or X140, confirming that the rainbow branding TfL introduced in Hayes two years ago isn't being carried forward. (It also means those ghastly non-geographical spider maps aren't the future, and thank heavens for that).

Hayes and Harlington Station (36 mins) is the reason the route's been tweaked, even if it won't see a Crossrail through-service until maybe 2022. The rebuilt station is still very much incomplete. I'm expecting a pile-on of passengers because this is where the non-express 140 now terminates, but it seems nobody wants to use our X140 to piggyback on to Heathrow. We pass the 140's new stand near Asda, then rise up to cross the M4 at rooftop level.

Manse Close (42 mins) isn't helpfully named for a stop on an express route. It is in fact in the middle of Harlington, a former village nowhere near the station of half the same name. The mystery team from @LDNBusUpdates have been here earlier and stuck two of their helpful laminated sheets on top of the timetable panel. It says much about the paucity of TfL's Bus Stop Team that they've decided to leave the guerilla information in place.

Harlington Corner (45 mins), on the fringes of the airport, is our penultimate stop. A fair few people are still on board, though none with suitcases. We flit past the Marriott, Radisson and Novotel, before breaking off to join the ramp down to the roundabout into the tunnel. It's creepy knowing there could be a plane taking off immediately above your head.



Heathrow Central Bus Station (50 mins) is our last and final stop, where a dozen or so passengers alight. We've got here in fifty minutes flat, which feels fast, but is actually two minutes slower than scheduled. This time last week the ordinary 140 was timetabled to do the journey in fifty-nine minutes, so maybe it's not as impressive an express journey as it seems. But I know which bus I'd rather ride, and perhaps these orbital express routes should be something the rest of the capital gets to sample and enjoy.



Route X140: timetable
Route X140: route map
Route X140: live route map
Route X140: not very good spider map
Route X140: 2017 consultation
Route X140: Roger's report


(Three other bus routes also started yesterday, so there's something for you to look forward to as the week progresses)

 Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Mayor's four year fare freeze famously means that bus and tube fares at the end of his first term will be the same as on the day he entered office. But that doesn't mean tube users won't be paying more, potentially 12% more.

Even though individual fares have remained the same, daily and weekly caps have continued to rise. They have to increase at the same rate as other National Rail fares across the country because a zone 6 journey might be on a train rather than the tube. This is how those caps have risen.

All-day cap (Oyster/contactless)
 201620172018201920202016-20
Z1-2£6.50£6.60£6.80£7.00£7.20↑11%
Z1-3£7.60£7.70£8.00£8.20£8.50↑12%
Z1-4£9.30£9.50£9.80£10.10£10.40↑12%
Z1-5£11.70£11.20£11.60£12.00£12.30↑12%
Z1-6£11.80£12.00£12.50£12.80£13.20↑12%

A small increase of 2-3% every year soon mounts up, and is equivalent to an increase of approximately 12% over four years. And this 12% rise might well apply to you, even if you only ever ride on tubes and buses where fares haven't risen. Here's how.

If your daily commute consists of a tube journey into town and another out, you never hit the cap, so that's fine. But suppose your commute involves a bus to the tube, i.e. two bus journeys and two tube journeys every day, then you're one of those losing out.
Example: A Z1-5 bus→tube/tube→bus commute

In 2016 the journey cost £1.50+£4.70+£4.70+£1.50=£12.40, but capped at £11.
In 2020 it'll still cost £1.50+£4.70+£4.70+£1.50=£12.40, but capped at £12.30.

A cap which once saved you £1.40 a day, now only saves 10p.
That's £1.30 worse off, every day, compared to four years ago.
Here's how the same calculation varies across all zones.

Daily cost of a bus→tube/tube→bus commute
 2016 2020 now
paying
 farescapsaving farescapsaving 
Z1-2£8.80£6.50£2.30 £8.80£7.20£1.60 70p more
Z1-3£9.60£7.60£2.00 £9.60£8.50£1.10 90p more
Z1-4£10.80£9.30£1.50 £10.80£10.40£0.40 £1.10 more
Z1-5£12.40£11.00£1.40 £12.40£12.30£0.10 £1.30 more
Z1-6£13.20£11.80£1.40 £13.20£13.20£0.00 £1.40 more

In zone 6 we have now reached the stage where the daily cap is the cost of two tube journeys and two bus journeys, it isn't actually a cap at all.

Any other journey that breaks the daily cap will of course also cost you more in 2020 than 2016, not just the commute I've mentioned. Weekly capping has also risen similarly, again in the order of 12%.

It does mean TfL aren't losing out on quite so much fare revenue as they could be, which is good news for investment. But when you hear the 'fare freeze' being bandied about in the upcoming Mayoral election, remember that for many tube users it hasn't been a fare freeze at all.

 Saturday, December 14, 2019


 General Election - Lessons Learned

ConservativeLib DemLabour
1. Lying works, so long as it gets you into power.

2. Charisma outranks trust.

3. Scrutiny is unnecessary.

4. Relentlessly focusing on a handful of key slogans, over and over again, hits home with people who don't normally pay attention to politics.

5. Sufficient people don't pay attention to politics to balance out the votes of the informed.

6. A general election is a Hard Brexit referendum you can win with under 50% of the vote.

7. Always promise better services and lower taxes.

8. If you can't quash Islamophobia in your own party, nobody minds.

9. Nigel Farage deserves a peerage for standing half his candidates down.

10. It's OK, everyone's forgotten 2010-2019.
1. Nobody's forgiven you for tuition fees.

2. You'll only ever govern in coalition, so don't pretend otherwise.

3. Tactical voting only works if everyone agrees what the tactics are.

4. Standing down candidates in target constituencies might have lost you seats, but won you the election.

5. Sorry, nobody's forgotten 2010-2015.
1. The country doesn't want socialism.

2. When the Tories go right wing, don't go left wing.

3. 2017 wasn't a near victory requiring bolder policies.

4. Jeremy isn't your saviour, he's your problem.

5. A new leader might be thrashing this.

6. Many traditional Labour voters care more about Brexit than the NHS.

7. Massive public spending is no longer a votewinner.

8. If you can't quash anti-Semitism in your own party, you'll never run the country.

9. The old always vote. The young don't see the point.

10. Sorry, nobody's forgotten 1974-1979.

 Friday, December 06, 2019

Doesn't the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree look sparse this year?



Someone on Twitter mentioned how sparse it was looking, and the BBC and other national media picked up on it, and this made the tree's sparseness a proper bona fide news story. Calum reckoned it was the most anaemic tree possible, and another troll reckoned if it were any more sparse it'd be a twig. Absolute definitive truth from the armchair critics there.

I went down to Trafalgar Square specially, purely to be appalled, and was faced by the sight of a tree that looked nothing like I thought it should. I mean, just look at the size of those gaps between the branches! If this tree were propped up outside a garden centre absolutely nobody would take it home. Why is taxpayers' money being wasted on inadequate specimens like this? What was the Mayor of London thinking?



Apparently the tree is a gift from Norway, for heaven's sake, and they've been foisting one of their threadbare conifers on us every year since 1947. How embarrassing to send a stunted 79 foot specimen and expect us to make it the centre of attention in Trafalgar Square, a place of pure national pride. I have no idea why Norway send it, it didn't occur to me to check, but it's not like we owe them or anything. Typical EU.

I wasn't going to hang around for the official switching-on of the lights, because no way the would the tree look any better after dark. What's more they couldn't even get a proper celebrity to press the button, only the Mayor of Oslo, and for entertainment all they had was a brass band and a church choir singing carols. It's hardly Christmassy.

So obviously I went to the Olympic Park for their Christmas switch-on event instead. You can't beat the festive combination of an E20 housing estate and a live performance from a similarly postcoded boy band. At the heart of the East Village, a proper Nineties Christmas was about to kick off.



They said to be there at half six, in the apartment canyon between the Athletes Village and the newest block of flats. A line of food stalls had been set up alongside some squidgy grass, plus some late-opening dodgems, plus a central stage to host all the main action. An amateur choir of local residents stepped up to sing some poorly amplified carols, an experience surely better than enduring the St Martin-in-the-Fields crew in Trafalgar Square.

The organisers had promised "a *free hot chocolate and free festive sweet treats on arrival", admittedly with an asterisk saying subject to availability, but we Britons love a queue so I tagged on anyway. The girls in front of me drifted away once it became apparent there wasn't an oat milk option, because millennials have no backbone. Alas the free drink and tiny brownies ran out just before I got to the front, but that was fine because it had filled fifteen minutes and there wasn't much else to do.



The wind was whipping up something rotten, but with true British pluck we struggled on. Two of the sound engineers hung onto the gazebo above their control deck to stop it flying away, while the crew from Clownfish Events packed away their Wii and Snowcube because they couldn't withstand atmospheric conditions. I passed another quarter of an hour in a queue for the free mulled wine, a dribble of which was served up by a local bar in a non-recyclable coffee cup. A proper yuletide treat.

Events on stage were led by an East Villager whose favourite phrase was "we're only a few moments away from...". He introduced a steel band, then whipped the crowd into a muted frenzy for a countdown from ten to zero. Like magic the lights on the East Village Christmas tree burst into life, their cord wound tightly around the bulky conifer. It may have been significantly shorter than Trafalgar Square's whopper, but at least it was a British tree and had proper branches.



A 24 year-old singer-songwriter padded out the event further, being sure to mention his name a few times so we'd be able to find him on Spotify, until eventually it was time for the main act to take the stage. And wow, the East Village organisers had only gone and booked one of the greatest pop acts of the late 20th century, the legendary East 17. They bounded on in massive anoraks, looking very much like the middle aged uncles of the original band, and launched into a lively House of Love.

The crowd adored them, despite many being too young to have remembered them first time round, and showed their love by raising their phones to record the performance for posterity. I was having trouble trying to work out which band member was which, and why there were now only three of them. Only later was it revealed that 'East 17' now contains just one of the original band members (neither Brian nor Tony), plus some bloke who once had a hit with the Artful Dodger, plus someone else.



After all but one of the big hits, and several backflips, the lads nipped off and returned in pure white anoraks. The only possible encore was Stay Another Day, belted out with gusto and a splattering of fake snow, the crowd responding by raising dozens of recording devices into the air. It had been a dreamlike evening, the spirit of Christmas very much in evidence throughout, and no way could you describe it as sparse.

 Thursday, December 05, 2019

Six years ago, in a 125th anniversary series, I visited the sites of Jack the Ripper's five murders. They form an intriguing, if gruesome, cross-section of the East End. Yesterday I went back to see what's changed, and how they've been holding out against the developers. If you'd rather read about the murders, click on the titles to go back and read the old stuff.

Victim 1: Mary Ann Nichols - Buck's Row, Whitechapel (31 August 1888)
"So infamous were Jack's murders that Buck's Row got a name change, becoming Durward Street in 1892. That's still its name, although the street itself is vastly altered. Its cottages survived until the 1970s but were then demolished. The only surviving building from Victorian times is the four-storey Board School overlooking the station, opposite which is the Whitechapel Sports Centre. And then there's the latest demolition agent, currently barring all through traffic, which is Crossrail." [photo 2013]


Crossrail are still here, still blocking the street, indeed it's been impossible to walk past the site of Mary Ann's murder for years. Back in 2013 I thought they'd be gone by 2017, but no, trucks still rumble in, hard-hatted men still operate the barriers and construction workers still swarm the surrounding streets because Whitechapel is one of the two most-behind-schedule Crossrail stations. When everything's eventually unwrapped, I don't expect much of pre-purple mid-Durward Street to have survived. The closest the public can get for now is inside the station, on the lesser used footbridge linking the Overground platforms, but eventually a massive new concourse will be sweeping through.

What we find on Durward Street today is the 'temporary' entrance to the station, opened four years ago, with its stack of free papers out front, a steady stream of scurrying passengers and a man in a Santa hat playing Jingle Bells on a trumpet to minimal acclaim. On the opposite side of the obstruction is the back entrance to Swanlea School, normally a quiet cul-de-sac, but I accidentally managed to turn up at chucking-out time so it was awkwardly crowded. A few children dribbled out, chatting and smiling, but the main presence was parents and grandparents, waiting in far larger numbers than you'd expect outside a secondary school. Security is still high on the agenda hereabouts.

Victim 2: Annie Chapman - 29 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel (8 September 1888)
"In 1970 an entire block on one side of Hanbury Street was demolished and swallowed up by the Truman Brewery. The site of Annie Chapman's death is now an indoor car park, six days of the week, hidden behind a long brick wall, topped by a hangar-stepped roof which extends the length of an entire block. Part of the frontage is taken up by modern boutiques, but the section where 29 stood is almost featureless, except for a locked fire exit beneath a row of square windows." [photo 2013]


Hanbury Street hasn't changed much in six years, still at the heart of Spitalfields, a naan's throw from Brick Lane. The two streets cross a few doors down, where tourists mingle with locals and traders, and the hipster vibe is strong. Every shade of woolly hat seems to be represented, even the ill-advised, and I spotted one brave soul striding through flaunting a braided admiral's jacket. The pole announcing parking restrictions is covered with stickers in various languages. A fresh layer of graffiti adorns the brickwork. Through the windows the ground floor car park includes several vans and an ambulance, and appears to be an astonishing waste of space.

Across the road it's not the 1970s, it's still the 18th century. Hanbury Street is one of Spitalfields' glorious Georgian survivors, a long terrace of unexpectedly prime real estate and occasionally non-vertical brickwork. Some houses retain painted shutters and potentially residential occupants. Others are Sichuan restaurants, religious centres and niche retail, catering for all things temporal and spiritual. There's a duplex office for rent above one of them, if you'd like a room with a murderous view while you work. Of all five sites, this is the one you're most likely to have walked past without realising.

Victim 3: Elizabeth Stride - Berner Street, Whitechapel (30 September 1888)
"At number 40 was the International Working Men's Educational Club, beside which was a gated yard, nine feet wide, then two cottages occupied by cigarette makers and tailors, then a corner shop. The club became a shop a few years later, then in 1909 it and several neighbouring buildings were demolished to make way for a school. That building survives as Harry Gosling Primary, a very typical three-storey LCC school, which means (somewhat inappropriately) that the precise murder site lies somewhere in the playground." [photo 2013]


Berner Street, since renamed Henriques Street, has become the least loved of the Ripper's locational quintet. Little traffic turns off the busy Commercial Road into this half-cobbled sidestreet, many of whose buildings have yet to be touched by the property whirlwind that's touched down close by. The old warehouse at the top end stands out, not just because it's painted orangey-brown but because original doors for hoisted delivery have survived at first floor level. Its shutters are closed, various windows are boarded up and the suspicion must be that it risks being transformed into a bland cuboid of flats... which is precisely what's happened nextdoor since I was last here. The short parade of shops I noted in 2013 has given up - the local flats no longer need a travel agent and a tailor - but the primary school still thrives, the sole focus of playful endeavour hereabouts.

Victim 4: Catherine Eddowes - Mitre Square, Aldgate (30 September 1888)
"Mitre Square, a gaslit quadrangle on the edge of the City, is today a shadow of its former self. Every building that used to stand around its perimeter has been knocked down, the last major redevelopment being in 1980, and today only the cobbles remain. Even these have been moved and realigned, but it's possible that some are originals that the Ripper fled across. The site of Catherine's murder is in the southern corner, beneath the tree, on the kerb close to the flower bed." [photo 2013]


In 2019 even the last few cobbles have gone. Mitre Square has been a building site for several of the past few years, or at least a holding pen for the supplies needed to rebuild an entire block closer to Aldgate. One Creechurch Place is as contemporarily monolithic as a 17-storey City office needs to be these days, and has an Illy coffee outlet out back because that's a 21st century priority. The footprint of Mitre Square remains as a uniformly-tiled grey space, its former flower beds replaced by a couple of relocated grassy patches. These have concrete rims for perching on when the weather's better, and some dwarf shrubs that magically flower in December though not in an uplifting way.

New to the Square is a sculpted obelisk called Climb by artist Juliana Cerqueira Leite. She filled a wooden column with clay then dug fitfully up the centre, casting the negative space in plaster to reveal her work. It is not a comment on past historical proclivities. The rear gates to Sir John Cass's Foundation school occasionally open, for staff cars rather than pupil egress. And the spot where Catherine's bloody body was found appears to be marked by... a small drain cover, which is neither intentional nor appropriate.

Victim 5: Mary Jane Kelly - Dorset Street, Spitalfields (9 November 1888)
"Dorset Street took many years to shed its unsavoury reputation. In 1928 all the houses on the north side were knocked down and in their place rose the London Fruit and Wool Exchange. This Portland stone edifice housed traders selling fruit and veg sourced from countries all around the world, conveyed onwards via fourteen loading bays still visible round the back. The slums on the southern side of the street lasted much longer, but in 1971 were replaced by the White's Row multi-storey car park." [photo 2013]


Go away for six years and some places change completely and utterly. The Fruit and Wool Exchange has been hollowed out, much to the despair of the Gentle Author, leaving a thin facade in front of an all-too modern office development. Its many trading rooms have been replaced by a stack of brightly lit offices, atop giant receptions where suited security guards silently glower. Its fine central staircases were ripped out to create a square outdoor atrium, featureless other than a few metal strips I almost slipped on and a pair of very corporate-looking Christmas trees. Most of the Divisible Retail Space remains unlet. Nothing about the place sparks joy.

As for White's Row Car Park, that's made way for a smaller block and what architects excitedly describe as 'public realm'. In this case it's a terrace for smoking on, a large patch of greenery screening the ventilation for whatever's in the basement, and some properly ostentatious brunch. That spiky glass and zinc pavilion on the corner contains a cafe/restaurant called Crispin, the kind of outlet which offers "rotating guest filters", "low-intervention wines", "three cheese toasties" and "wild boar ragu". The afternoon crowd looked set and cosy at their tiny elevated tables. The journey from murderous slum to prestige business schmoozerama is pretty much complete.

 Wednesday, December 04, 2019

It's that time of the year again. A new tube map has emerged.



It's not up in stations yet, nor on the website, nor available in folded form, because the big new thing it showcases hasn't happened yet. But Geoff tweeted a copy yesterday, and now Ian's blogged it, so we can all have a premature look.

The big new thing is 'Berkshire', specifically that TfL are taking over stopping trains to Reading in a week and a half's time. Sunday 15th December was always supposed to be the day that Shenfield and Abbey Wood were finally connected to Reading, but we all know what a hole Crossrail's in, so TfL Rail taking over suburban services is the next best thing. Hence the new map.



The extra nine stations had to go somewhere, so have been shoved into a thin gap to the west of the Central Line. Beyond Hayes and Harlington the new line bends sharply north, whereas Reading's really 23 miles west... but the tube map's always taken huge liberties with direction and distance, so that's fine.

Things to note
» Reading looks like it's near Northolt, whereas in real life it'd be a ten hour walk.
» Stations from Reading to Iver are outside TfL's usual zonal structure.
» Oyster cannot be used beyond West Drayton.
» Residents of Taplow, Burnham, Langley, Iver and West Drayton no longer have National Rail services.
» Stations between Slough and Paddington are not yet step-free, because installation is running late.
» Southall and Hanwell are the most-squished-together stations on the entire tube map.
» In real life, Reading, Twyford and Maidenhead stations are on the other side of the River Thames.

Things you didn't note because the map didn't hint at them
» Contactless works fine all the way to Reading.
» A single fare from Paddington to Reading will set you back more than £20.
» Burnham and West Drayton will be served by a few GWR trains in the rush hour.
» Trains to/from Reading won't stop at West Ealing, Hanwell and Acton Main Line (only Heathrow trains will).

There are now six stations on the tube map where trains to certain destinations stop and others don't. TfL's diagrammatic cop-out at West India Quay, Cambridge Heath and London Fields is a red dagger... with no other explanation given. Inexplicably West Ealing, Hanwell and Acton Main Line don't even get that.

While we're here let's just clarify how fares will work, because the rules change twice over the next four weeks. None of this is simple.

Stationup to 14 Dec15 Dec - 1 Jan2 Jan onwards
West Drayton zone 6zone 6zone 6
Iver
Langley
Slough
Burnham
Taplow
Maidenhead
Twyford
Reading
existing fares apply

no contactless
no Oyster
no capping

children half price
no Freedom Passes
existing fares apply

no contactless
no Oyster
no capping

children go free
Freedom Pass accepted
TfL Rail fares apply

contactless accepted
no Oyster
no capping

children go free
Freedom Pass accepted

The most important thing to remember is not to go beyond West Drayton with your Oyster card because you won't be able to touch out and it could get expensive.



Meanwhile, the other big change on the map is yet more dotted lines.

TfL introduced dotted lines in December 2018, meaning "less than 10 minutes walk between stations".

This time last year there were 23.
In May they upped the total to 26.
On the new map there are 37.

It's all because the tube map has suddenly got very excited about river piers. TfL launched a Passenger Pier Strategy last month hoping to better promote river services, "including looking into ways of better representing river services on the Tube map". Four weeks later, here they are.



Piers previously appeared as little red boat symbols beside the name of the station. Now they have their own blobs on the riverbank, joined to the nearest station by a dotted line.

Hence we see Westminster linked to Westminster pier, Waterloo linked to London Eye pier, Embankment linked to Embankment pier, Blackfriars linked to Blackfriars pier, London Bridge linked to London Bridge City pier, and Tower Hill and Tower Gateway linked to Tower pier. Piers are not named, which is probably just as well otherwise the map would be crawling with extra words.

Not every pier appears. The "less than 10 minutes walk" rule still applies, so Greenland pier in Rotherhithe is missing, ditto the new pier at Battersea Power Station, and Millbank pier is not quite close enough to Pimlico to count.

TfL's definition of 10 minutes is a walking distance of 700 metres. I reckon Putney pier is fractionally less than that from Putney Bridge, and Royal Wharf is borderline from Pontoon Dock, but I guess they've got to draw the line somewhere.



The most intriguing omission is Canary Wharf pier, which is definitely less than 700m from Canary Wharf DLR but not from the Jubilee line, and it seems dots can't be used to distinguish that particular technicality. A separate link to Westferry DLR might have solved it, because that's only 500m away, but that's not been included either.

Another oddity is that there's no dotted line connecting North Greenwich pier to the Dangleway, only to the tube station, which is actually further away. But let's not suggest adding even more dotted lines, because there are quite enough already.

Personally I think adding extra lines to river piers is a bloody stupid idea and only serves to make the tube map look even more cluttered than it already is. It smacks of TfL including icons simply in the hope you'll notice them and go for a ride, at £7 a time, in much the same way that the Dangleway's red line is solely of interest to tourists. These additional intrusions serve only as a distraction from the map's core focus, a battle which admittedly was lost some years ago. Where will it all end? Please make it stop.

 Tuesday, December 03, 2019

As the general election approaches, have you read the party manifestos? They contain a much broader statement of intent than a few soundbites in the media and soapbox sloganeering. Admittedly they're also quite dull, so you're unlikely to make it past page 10, let alone reach page 48. But they also set the agenda for the next five years, which is a significant portion of your lifetime, so it pays to take note.
» Conservative: Get Brexit Done - Unleash Britain’s Potential
» Labour: It's Time For Real Change
» Liberal Democrat: Stop Brexit - Build a Brighter Future
» SNP: Stronger For Scotland
» Brexit: Contract With The People
Jeremy Corbyn's socialist blueprint can be discounted because his best hope is coalition, and that'd swiftly dilute his plans. Likewise all the smaller parties are merely signalling a negotiating position rather than anticipating power. Which means the only manifesto that truly matters at this election is the Conservatives', because they're the only party with a realistic chance of majority government. Let's see what's tucked away near the back of theirs.

Page 48 is where we find a section titled Protect our democracy. It asserts that Parliament is broken, having failed to deliver on the referendum result, and that a damaging rift exists between politicians and people. You may not see things that way, but the Tories claim what's needed is to put obstructive Members of Parliament in their place because that would have helped a minority government to get Brexit done.

First up, scrapping the pesky Fixed Term Parliaments Act.



The FTPA seemed like such a good idea back in 2010, a safety catch to prevent the Liberal Democrats from scuppering the Coalition, but has since proved to have unforeseen restrictive ramifications. Despite this the UK has somehow managed to shoehorn in two additional general elections before 2020, when the next was originally scheduled, by twice circumventing the Act with a two-thirds Parliamentary majority. But the current Prime Minister would rather regain the ability to call an election whenever it best suits, and a Conservative majority after this election will see his strategic power restored.

Next up, reshaping constituencies.



We've been here before, indeed equalising our constituencies should already have happened, twice, since it was first proposed in 2011. The background to the proposed change was the expenses scandal, a time when having fewer MPs sounded like a way to "cut the cost of politics". Hence the proposal to slim down their numbers from 650 to 600, an undertaking which couldn't be achieved without entirely redrawing the political map of Britain... and various existing constituencies falling through the cracks.

At the same time the Conservatives proposed making UK constituencies roughly the same size, a property they currently lack. English electorates vary from 55,377 in Wirral West to 110,697 in the Isle of Wight (average 74,000). Scottish electorates vary from 21,769 in the Outer Hebrides to 86,955 in Linlithgow and East Falkirk (average 69,000). Welsh electorates vary from 40,492 in Snowdonia to 76,006 in Cardiff South and Penarth (average 57,000). Scotland and Wales, proportionally, have a greater Parliamentary representation than England. Urban areas tend to have smaller electorates than the shires. It's no surprise the Conservatives would rather change that, and Labour would rather leave well alone.

Figures based on the December 2010 electoral register set the proposed size for a UK constituency at 76,641, with a wriggle room of 5% allowed either way. Only the remoter corners of Scotland and the Isle of Wight would be exempt, for geographical reasons, ending up with smaller electorates than everywhere else. The Boundary Commission set to work with the rules they'd been given, but the 5% limit proved tricky to implement as local government wards didn't always combine conveniently. When proposals were published various areas complained, for example east Cornwall really didn't want to be coupled with west Devon, despite mathematics dictating otherwise. But in the end Nick Clegg scrapped the process in response to David Cameron dropping proposals to reform the House of Lords, and the entire review was closed.

The 2015 election was held on existing boundaries, after which David Cameron restarted the process. This time the December 2015 electoral register was the baseline and the new target quota was 74,769. Again the Boundary Commission set to work, in each of the home nations, publishing their proposals and working through two rounds of feedback before submitting final proposals in September 2018. Again they were hamstrung by the 5% rule, so some of their constituencies looked administratively peculiar, but that's equality for you. A private members bill suggesting a leeway of 10% instead got nowhere, indeed the implementation process has since gone unexpectedly quiet, and that's why we're still fighting the 2019 election based on 2008 boundaries.

If the Conservatives gain a majority on the existing boundaries, expect full steam ahead towards implementing new ones. It's not clear whether the Boundary Commission will have to start again, using up-to-date data from the December 2019 electoral register, or whether the government will stick to existing plans. Areas with fast-growing populations and high numbers of unregistered voters, like Tower Hamlets, could end up missing out. Whatever, the opportunity to cut the proportion of MPs elected from Scotland by 10% and from Wales by 28% won't be missed, because increasing the influence of the English to 'fair' levels can only entrench a Conservative future.

The manifesto's next promise is Voter ID.



At present all you do is turn up at your polling station, give your address and receive your ballot paper. That's except in Northern Ireland where photo ID is required, and has been since 2002. Passports and driving licences are acceptable, as are railway SmartPasses, and an Electoral Identity Card has been introduced to plug any gaps. These contain a photo but not an address, so don't need regular updating as long as the photograph remains "a good enough likeness". It sounds watertight, but as well as deterring voter fraud it also deters voting, with the disadvantaged most likely to fail to clear the additional hurdle. In a multi-format ID trial at this year's local elections, 100 times more voters were turned away (and didn't come back) than were convicted of electoral fraud across the entire country last year.

And finally, there's this.



This is a constitutional biggie, with the relationship between government, Parliament and the judiciary coming into question. Over the last few months the Prime Minister's plans have been thwarted by MPs (and the Speaker) in the House and by judges in the courts, and just imagine where the country could be right now if that hadn't happened. Boris reckons the Brexit-voting public will be on his side if he makes changes that enable "effective government" and prevent "needless delays", hence his intention to set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission - a body which could have a very wide remit. Others might prefer that current checks and balances remain in order to prevent potential abuse by an increasingly authoritarian government, but they may not get a say.

An election manifesto doesn't have to contain everything a party intends to do, indeed some things it's better to keep quiet about. But if something potentially controversial is included, it's easy to argue afterwards that people "knew what they were voting for", even if they never realised. This is why reading manifestos is important. Whether you agree or disagree with what's proposed, it pays to know what the victor intends to impose.


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