diamond geezer

 Monday, August 19, 2019

Local History Month
Every Station (Tower Hamlets)

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've explored the street I worked on, walked the length of the river Fleet and crossed the capital on a line of latitude, to name but a few of my many quests. This year I thought I'd go to every London borough in turn and attempt to visit all its stations in as short a time as possible, in a series I'm calling Every Station.

Obviously I'm starting in my home borough, which means visiting every station in Tower Hamlets. Checking carefully on a map, that means visiting these 30 stations:

Overground: Shoreditch High Street - Wapping
Overground: Bethnal Green - Cambridge Heath
Central: Bethnal Green - Mile End
District: Tower Hill - Bromley-by-Bow
DLR: Shadwell - East India
DLR: Bow Church - Island Gardens
Jubilee: Canary Wharf

I'm hoping for a record-breaking time. Fingers crossed I can visit Every Station in under two hours.

00:00  I have decided to start my quest at Cambridge Heath because this station has the most infrequent service. I start my stopwatch as the doors close.
00:02  I have reached Bethnal Green. I am not staying on the train as far as Liverpool Street because this is not in Tower Hamlets. Instead I walk through the streets to the other Bethnal Green station. This takes rather longer than I was expecting.
00:11  Damn, I have three minutes to wait for a Central line train. That's a worse than average gap for a weekday.
00:16  Mile End, by contrast, is a breeze. I am up and over the stairs and straight onto a westbound District line train and this is all going swimmingly.
00:21  Having ticked off Stepney Green I alight at Whitechapel because I want to do all the remaining Overground stations from here. I wish the phone zombies would get out of my way.
00:25  Swapping platforms at Shoreditch High Street I see on the display in the ticket hall that the next southbound train is five minutes away. Dammit. But when I climb up to the platform I discover another train is only one minute away, because the evil liars who program Next Train Indicators in ticket halls are risk-averse bastards.
00:32  Near Shadwell my first onboard beggar of the day shows me a piece of paper, pauses briefly while she deduces I'm not going to look at it and walks away.
00:34  Doubling back at Wapping means using two tiny sets of stairs. Thankfully it's only two minutes until the next northbound train arrives, because the subsequent gap is eight minutes.
00:39  I've been through Shadwell before (and will be back again in 15 minutes time). Beggar number 2 wants to tell the carriage a poem.
00:41  Hurrah, a westbound train is just pulling in at Whitechapel, and it's a District not a Hammersmith & City. Perfect.
00:45  After Aldgate East I nudge down the carriage a bit to be in the right place for the exit at Tower Hill.
00:49  Tower Gateway isn't actually in Tower Hamlets, despite being just across the road, but using it is the quickest route to where I need to go next. I have got lucky - the next train leaves in three minutes, whereas it could have been nine.
00:56  Limehouse is my first new station for ages, but Westferry quickly follows.
01:00  No need to change at Poplar, I'm already on the right train.
01:02  Blackwall is my halfway station. Best scenery of the journey along this stretch, assuming you like skyscrapers and a bit of river.
01:05  Technically I didn't need to go further than East India, but I have continued to Canning Town for a cunning Jubilee line connection outside the borough in Newham. An instant connection too, excellent.
01:08  But at West Ham, a depressing surprise - the next westbound District line train is six minutes away! This is a much much longer gap than usual. Also I didn't think the Next Train Indicator at West Ham was capable of announcing times beyond one minute, but now it can, so hurrah for signalling upgrades.
01:19  Getting to Bromley-by-Bow has taken ages, and I fear I may not hit my target.
01:21  It feels odd making the street level connection between Bow Road and Bow Church, because I never normally do this because I live here.
01:25  Damn, just missed a train - I can see it just down the line at Devons Road - but the gap on the DLR is never long, so all's well.
01:31  That's Langdon Park dealt with, followed quickly by All Saints, and then I'll be passing through Poplar for the second time.
01:34  West India Quay could have been tricky if I was coming from Westferry, but I'm not because this was all part of my cunning plan.
01:35  I considered getting off at Canary Wharf and walking over to do the Jubilee line station while I was here, but I think that's best left until the end, so I simply cross the platform to board a Lewisham train.
01:40  I'm now at Heron Quays heading away from my final station. The clock is ticking if I want a sub-two-hour time.
01:45  The train captain edges down the carriage checking tickets. He gets to me not at South Quay, nor at Crossharbour, but at Mudchute.
01:46  Island Gardens is the last of 17 DLR stations, and phew, a northbound train has just pulled in on the opposite platform! I'm going to do this...
01:52  Back at Heron Quays all I have to do is descend an escalator, walk across a piazza, descend an escalator and I'm inside Canary Wharf station.
01:55  My rules say I have to actually arrive or leave on a train, and it looks like the eastbound will be the next train out.
01:56  As the platform doors slam shut I stop my countdown at 1 hour, 56 minutes and 57 seconds precisely, and that is the time to beat on the Tower Hamlets Every Station Challenge.

I'm sure my time can be beaten. I didn't run any of my connections, and I got unlucky at West Ham, and I suspect there's a more efficient way of using the Jubilee line, but I'm going to claim the record on the basis that I don't think anybody else has tried to do what I've done. Let me know if you try. Or maybe you could try to visit all the stations in your own borough so that when I get that far I have a target to beat. The Guinness Book of Records are going to be all over this, I just know they are.

 Sunday, August 18, 2019

Local History Month
Bow Plaques

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've followed John Betjeman's footsteps through Metroland, walked the length of the New River and explored Olympic venues outside the capital, to name but a few of my insane quests. This year I thought I'd track down the blue plaques on my doorstep in a series I'm calling Bow Plaques.

English Heritage oversee more than 900 blue plaques across the capital, a fair number of which are in Bow. In this series I intend to discover the characters and stories behind these much loved memorials and how they came to be in E3 in the first place. An impressive range of famous people and inanimate objects are commemorated, so let's kick off with this diverse quartet...

Mahatma Gandhi  Powis Street, E3

Gandhi has two blue plaques in the capital, one in Kensington where he lodged as a law student and one in the backstreets of Bromley-by-Bow. He rejected a suite at the Hilton when he came to London in 1931 to discuss constitutional reform, choosing instead to bed down in the East End "living among his own kind, the poor people". He stayed at Kingsley Hall, a pioneering community centre set up by sisters Muriel and Doris Lester to help the local populace to meet its cultural potential. Muriel is the star of this Pathé newsreel filmed just before Gandhi's arrival. He began each day with a walk around the neighbourhood - unless he was up in town speaking at the conference, off meeting cotton weavers in Lancashire or inspecting goats at the Royal Agricultural Hall - and also spent a lot of time meeting with local families. Talks with the British government did not go well, however, and after twelve weeks he booked passage home and never left his homeland again.

I love that the nearest blue plaque to my front door remembers one of the most planet's most famous role models, and also that the great man would have walked the same streets as me. They're very different streets today, with almost all of the Victorian housing wiped away and many of their residents originating from the country whose partitioning Gandhi opposed. Kingsley Hall is still an empowering concern, and opens its doors to a community cafe on Tuesdays, a Romanian church on Wednesdays, CND on Thursdays and ballroom dancing on Friday afternoons. It usually gets involved in Open House, in case you'd like to see the small cell on the rooftop where Gandhi slept. There's also a campaign up and running to give Muriel and Doris their own blue plaque outside, which I rather think he'd have preferred.

Thomas Barnardo  32 Bow Road, E3

Yes, that's the Doctor Barnardo of childrens' home fame. Originally from Ireland, he arrived in the East End in 1866 and was shocked by the poverty he saw so hung around and initiated several local philanthropic projects. This four-storey townhouse on Bow Road was his home for four years in the 1870s, a considerably more well-to-do abode than his coterie of destitute boys in Stepney would have enjoyed. Thomas was in his late twenties and had just married Syrie Elmslie, their move to Bow perhaps precipitated by the birth of their first child William. While he was living here he opened his first 'ragged' school in Mile End, started to transform a site in Barkingside into a residential village for homeless girls and had two further children of his own.

After the Barnardos departed, number 32 was renamed Sturge House and used as a training home for girls over the age of 14, then extended to fill the next two houses in the terrace. The Salvation Army took over in the early 1900s and used the facility as a Home for ‘lads’ instead. Number 32 is now divided up into ten or so flats and very very conveniently located for the tube station, not that anybody without a job these days would have a hope of affording the rent. Also Thomas Barnardo's reputation isn't quite what it was, the controversy about 'philanthropic abduction' having first started while he was living in Bow (but they never told me about that part when they gave me a little yellow house and invited me to fill it with pennies).

Flying Bomb  Grove Road, E3

This one's very much not your normal blue plaque, and commemorates the first V1 bomb to land in London. The date is 13th June 1944, one week after D-Day, and residents of the capital are pleased the war finally seems to be going Britain's way. At 4.25am an unusual throbbing is heard passing overhead, then abruptly the sound ceases and a ton of explosives crashes out of the sky. Its random target is the railway bridge on Grove Road which is completely destroyed, along with numerous adjacent houses on Burnside Street, Bellraven Street and Antill Road. Six people are killed, 42 injured and 200 left homeless. Survivors are mystified by not being able to find the body of the German pilot in the rubble. A replacement railway bridge will be operational by the end of the following day.

The Germans sent five V1s that night, the first landing short in Swanscombe, Kent, and another hitting nobody in Clapham. Londoners would soon grow to fear the noise of the 'doodlebug', especially if they heard its engine shut off because that meant it was about to crashland, but this was the very first and nobody quite knew what it was. The first even scarier V2 would arrive eight weeks later in Chiswick, and the attacks only ceased in March 1945 when the Allies overran the launch sites in northern Germany. Burnside Street and Bellraven Street were never fully rebuilt and now lie beneath Mile End Park. This end of Antill Street eventually became flats. V1 bombs killed 5500 Londoners altogether, but only the first six got a blue plaque.

Israel Zangwill  288 Old Ford Road, E3

Israel Zangwill was a famous author at the end of the 19th century, if somewhat less so now. He was born near Aldgate in 1864 to Eastern European émigré parents and described himself as a 'Cockney Jew' in later life. His launchpad novel was Children of the Ghetto, an exploration of the assimilation of Jewish culture in the East End, published in 1892 and later dramatised as The Melting Pot. Buoyed by success on both sides of the Atlantic Zangwill became a prominent spokesperson for the emerging Zionist cause, but later changed his mind on the basis that Palestine was already occupied. He married outside his religion, and in 1906 he and his new wife deserted the East End in favour of a village in West Sussex.

Israel's blue plaque, on a prestigious Victorian villa facing Victoria Park, does not reveal when he actually lived here. It's also part covered with scaffolding at the moment, as is the entire listed terrace, hence the very poor photo. But it must be within these walls that he wrote the world's first successful 'locked room' whodunnit, because its title is The Big Bow Mystery. The victim Arthur Constant is found dead by his landlady on a foggy morning after a cab ride from Bow station, and the cast of characters somehow includes Prime Minister William Gladstone. Hollywood has remade the story into a movie on three occasions, and although the denouement would be somewhat of a cliché today Zangwill got away with it by being the originator. If you fancy reading a post-Dickensian thriller on your daily commute the full text of the Big Bow Mystery is here.

Update: Except it turns out there are only four blue plaques in Bow, so there's nobody else to write about. If I lived in NW3 rather than E3 there'd be 68, but I don't. Even if I extended my quest to neighbouring postcodes there's only one blue plaque in E2, two in E9, two in E14 and none at all in E15 or E16, so essentially this feature is unsustainable.

 Saturday, August 17, 2019

Antwerp is the centre of the global diamond industry, and has been for centuries, which is quite a boast.

Over 85% of the world's supply passes through the city on the way "from the mine to your finger", thanks to a concentration of skilled diamond cutters and four separate trading exchanges to help sell them on. The diamond district lies immediately alongside the central station, literally across the road, where dozens of tiny jewellers offer the ultimate in window shopping. Their shelves sparkle, their jewellery is generally unpriced, and every so often a pair of hands appears behind the glass to tweak the display. A lot of the businesses are Jewish, as the occasional burst of Hebrew confirms, but everyone is welcome to browse and buy if their pockets are deep enough.

A lot of the most important trading places are in Hoveniersstraat, an otherwise insignificant backstreet except that it's barriered at both ends, a double dogleg ensures that nobody in any connecting street can see what's going on and the army have two trucks parked in the centre just in case. I decided against taking any photos. The district is branded with 'DnA' banners, this supposedly standing for 'Diamonds & Antwerp', and was amok with ring hunters scouting for a good deal. And OK, because it was the middle of August a lot of the dealers were on a fortnight's holiday and their shutters were firmly down, but even a diamond geezer like myself could sense I'd only scratched the surface.

DIVA (€10)

In order to capitalise on the city's reputation and attract more fashionista tourists, a brand new museum called DIVA opened last year halfway between the cathedral and the river. It describes itself as "a cocoon of luxury and extravagance, filled with diamonds, jewellery and silverware", or in other words it's a museum of bling. Visitors are offered a headset on the way in, indeed it's essential, with instructions to point and click at the special symbols beside the cases to discover more. Sometimes the audio tracks deliver factual content and sometimes contextual fiction imagining who the wearer might have been. A digital butler called Jerome butts in and talks to you every time you enter a new room. Essentially you're here to look and listen, not to read.

The first room was full of dazzling jewellery in tiny cases, so I listened to a few stories but thought I'd better press on in case I ran out of time. The second room purported to be a Workshop but was really just half a dozen sit-down touchscreens explaining the tools of the trade so I walked straight through. I listened to one of the international stories in room 3 but baulked at a nine and a half minute playing time on the next so moved on. The Dining Room was beautifully laid out but mostly silverware, and then... oh, it turned out there wasn't much upstairs. The Vault only really looked the part from the entrance, and the final Boudoir ended with an opportunity to take a quiz and email myself a selfie. I got very little out of my DIVA experience, and suspect that even at half speed I'd still have left disappointed.

Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) (€10) [13 photos]

That's the 'Museum By The River', but in Dutch, or MAS for short. It too is a recent creation, born in 2011 when the city sought to close two musty old museums and erect instead an architectural statement to revitalise the dockside. What they created was a ten-storey block clad in Indian red sandstone, with a spiral of curved glass panels winding upwards level by level. The exterior looks equally striking from any angle, and the contents outweigh DIVA any day of the week... Mondays excepted.

Between floors two and eight every level is its own huge exhibition gallery, with the former Maritime Museum having decamped to the sixth floor and the Etnografisch Museum to the seventh. Other layers major on sustainable food, rites of passage and Pre-Columbian art. My favourite by far was the temporary exhibition across Level 3 devoted to Le Corbusier, specifically the new town he wasn't allowed to build in Antwerp and the thriving city he bequeathed to Chandigarh in India. It closes today, sorry. Generally you're only allowed inside the galleries if you've paid for a wristband, but one or two have free admission, and it's also free to walk up inside the building to the roof.

The pathway to the top is fabulous, each set of escalators leading to an long atrium, three walls of which are rippling glass, presenting a different elevation across the city with each quarter rotation. But the best panorama is from the open rooftop, Antwerp having very few other tall buildings to get in the way. From here you can fully appreciate the sweep of the river, the vast extent of the adjacent port, a few spires in the city centre and suburbia spreading to the horizon. I thank the designer with the foresight to drill one small porthole in the centre of each glass barrier to allow non-reflective camera shots in each compass direction. Of all Antwerp's museums, I spent the longest time here.

Red Star Line Museum (€8)

Not the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, but a separate American company which shipped passengers across the Atlantic between 1874 and 1934. The Red Star Line chose Antwerp as their European base and the museum is housed in their former offices close to the northern dockside. But if you're expecting the exhibits to be about ocean liners the true story turns out to be something distinctly more human, the flow of migrants from Eastern Europe and Russia to the United States and Canada. It's a fascinating (and familiar) tale, not least America's changing point of view from 'as many as you like' to 'we need to screen everyone in advance' to 'no more immigrants thanks'. Many of those rejected ended up staying in Antwerp and changed the city forever.

The whole thing's really well presented, and the English language handout which enables you read some of the Dutch information panels doubles as a gorgeous souvenir. I finished my circuit feeling educated, enlightened and engaged. And then I walked up the observation tower via six loops of spiralling concrete steps to an open platform (or you can be dull and take the lift). From up here you get a fine view of riverside cranes and warehouses, but also ongoing demolition as the dockland periphery regenerates. It was also from here that I finally got to glimpse Zaha Hadid's startling Port House, a 100m-long crystalline office block dumped on the roof of a former fire station to shimmering effect. The diamond city now boasts another gem.

By yomping round Antwerp and not stopping for anything as unnecessary as lunch, I managed to fit in visits to five museums and one cathedral during my seven hour stay. That's six admission fees saved by buying an Antwerp City Card, plus no need for a one-day travel pass, meaning I got €59 of value for a €27 outlay. At current exchange rates that's £25 spent and £30 saved, which is top touristing (but come soon before sterling slips too much further).

My Antwerp gallery
There are 60 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Friday, August 16, 2019

I wanted to make the most of my seven hours in Antwerp so bought an Antwerp City Card. This allows free admission to 15 museums, discounts at others and free travel on the city's bus and tram network. The price is €27 for one day, €35 for two and €40 for three, so it's not for everyone, indeed a daytripper might struggle to get value. But I reckoned I could cram in enough visits to make it worthwhile, so bought my card on arrival at the Central station (at the top of the stairs), and what a lot of goodies they handed over.

The plastic card is dated by hand, and has to be scanned at each venue because you can only use it once. It comes with a sturdy book of vouchers, attractively branded, and a leaflet explaining where you can go for nothing and which stingy attractions will only offer 10% off. I was also given a free Visit Antwerp guide, recommended retail price €3, plus an almost-useful map of the city (which is free to anyone, just ask). I had my itinerary planned in advance, of course, because only a novice wastes the first hour of their €27 allocation ploughing through the paperwork. But good show, Antwerp, indeed everything about their marketing was sparkily professional.

Right, clock's ticking, let's see how we do...

Rubenshuis (€10)

Of all Antwerp's cultural accomplishments, its proudest boast is that the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens lived and worked here. Not only that but he thrived and became enormously wealthy, so was able to rebuild a Flemish townhouse in palazzo style on the banks of a canal, add a spacious studio and gardens, and generally lead a fabulous life. His home is now a walk-through gallery displaying his works and those of his Flemish contemporaries, as well as several of the Italian artists he admired so much. Pick up your ticket (and seriously good little guidebook) from the pavilion in the street outside. Try not to read the smallprint on page 2 which says the building was "fundamentally altered" in the mid 17th century after Rubens' death, because then you'll believe you're about to walk round his actual rooms, which alas you're not.

Expect a lot of wood panelling, a lot of doors to push open and a lot of art. Significant works of art are numbered, so you refer to your 80-page guide to see what it is, who it's by and a paragraph of information about it, which is a clever solution to gallery display in a country that speaks multiple languages. It takes until the second room for a painting actually painted by Rubens to appear, but you won't complain. In the chief ground floor gallery look out for number 19 - a Tintoretto altarpiece David Bowie liked so much that he bought it for his private collection back in the 1980s. The current owner wanted it displayed here, so many anonymous thanks.

Your wanderings bring you close to the outdoor portico, one of the few original structures to survive, and also into a lofty artist's studio hung with some of the larger works of art. Adam and Eve in oils confirms Rubens mastery of the skill of obscuring genitals with drooping foliage. The self portrait on the darkest wall is one of only four he painted. Enjoy the Breughel with monkeys dressed up as humans. And finally head out to the Italianate garden, which at the moment is a riot of mostly purples, to get some idea of just how contented Rubens must have been. Moved in 1610, passed on 1640, still marvellous 2019.

Museum Plantin-Moretus (€8)

While we're doing Golden Age Antwerp, head to a small square by the river to find this unique museum. Christophe Plantin was a highly successful 16th century printer who made his name by publishing a single edition of the Bible in six languages. On his death the business passed to his son-in-law Jan Moretus who upheld these high standards and diversified further into scientific publishing. So integral was their printing to the Renaissance, and so well preserved the building, that Plantin-Moretus is now the sole museum on UNESCO's World Heritage List. It is a book lover's dream.

Unsurprisingly for a museum of this type you go round armed with a beautifully printed map, plus a thick guide book it's probably too dark to read before you have to give it back at the end. Once round the ground floor to explore the printworks and once round the upstairs to ogle the books. The wood panel count is satisfactorily high. The feeling that it might still be 400 years ago is ever present. A brief foray into the central courtyard garden is very pleasant. The temporary gallery is currently hung with Grotesques, in an exhibition which introduced me to the works of Hieronymous Cock. But I was unprepared to meet the world's two oldest printing presses in the long workshop, plus racks and racks of gorgeous metal type, the epitome of how things used to be.

The collection of books upstairs is comprehensive and extensive, from Latin classics to medical treatises and early Dutch dictionaries to arithmetical texts. The content and layout is invariably exquisite. Everything is viewed through the prism of the company's extensive history, for example when a new family member took over and prioritised the production of religious material. But what really comes across is the explosion in learning as knowledge was suddenly made cheaply and readily available, with parallels today to the rise of the internet. It made those in power nervous then and it does the same today. The Plantin-Moretus is a museum which stays with you. And bring a €2 coin for the lockers.

Cathedral of Our Lady (€6) [8 photos]

You can't miss De Kathedraal, its soaring tower being one of the few tall buildings on the city skyline. The original intention was for there to be two towers, but one was put on hold in 1521 when the building was consecrated and construction's been on hold ever since. Sorry about the scaffolding, but they're restoring the stonework and repainting the clock, which is also why you won't be hearing the carillon again until the end of next year. At least they haven't started on the interior yet so that's still stunning, as befits a major cathedral at the crossroads of northern Europe.

The people of Antwerp are in thrall to the Virgin Mary, not only dedicating their cathedral to her but also placing several shrines to her on street corners. That's her on the altarpiece, which was painted by Rubens, and three of his other masterpieces hang elsewhere. Further old masters are slotted into the gaps between the pillars in the nave where the city's guilds once had their own individual altars. The carved wooden pulpit is amazing, a huge structure resembling a forest scene, but was actually shipped in from an abbey elsewhere. Enjoy the stained glass. Always look up.

Unsurprisingly the cathedral sits in the oldest part of town, surrounded by twisting cobbled lanes, tourist-friendly waffle cafes and countless tablefuls of lager-filled chalices. The densest concentration of tall thin Dutch townhouses is around the Grote Markt, which doesn't look at its most picturesque with the Town Hall under wraps, the cathedral tower sheathed Big-Ben-style and truckloads of workmen setting up a stage for this weekend's music festival. The only building to almost match the cathedral in height is the Boerentoren, widely recognised as Europe's first skyscraper and home to the KBC bank since 1932, but alas the public's no longer allowed to the top of that.

Two museums and one cathedral down, and my Antwerp City Card has saved me entrance fees totalling €24. Throw in that tram journey under the Scheldt and my running total is exactly €27, so I've broken even on my investment. Everything on top of this is profit. Further reports tomorrow.

 Thursday, August 15, 2019

On Tuesday I went to Antwerp.

This means several posts about Belgium, sorry (plus an entire albumful of photos).

I'd purchased one of Eurostar's Any Belgian Station tickets. Last time I did this you recommended I went to Ghent, so I went to Ghent. This time I went to your second-choice option. Cracking suggestion, thanks.

Antwerp is Belgium's most populous city. It's located about 30 miles north of Brussels, very close to the border with the Netherlands. It's a major port, an Olympic host city and the hub of the global diamond industry. In French it's called Anvers, but because it lies in the Flemish half of Belgium the locals call it Antwerpen because that's the Dutch. I got to spend seven hours in the city, which is pretty good for a day trip from London. And I arrived via what's sometimes described as the most beautiful railway station in Europe.

Antwerp Central [7 photos]

How often do you get to visit a triple decker station? That's properly triple decker, with the lines stacked up on top of each other and simultaneously visible? Antwerp Central didn't start out that way in 1905, it was simply the terminus of the line from Brussels, but a very major upgrade began in 1998 to allow inter city trains to pass through without reversing. Engineers retained the original glass and steel arched roof, itself hugely impressive, and dug down to create additional platforms at lower levels. High speed trains and connections from Brussels arrive down in the depths, which are admittedly a bit Stygian, but that's where your grand ascent to the surface begins.

The first set of escalators leads to a crossover walkway deep within the station box, then a second flight leads up through the middle of an open atrium. I was in a hurry so took the adjacent staircase rather than queueing for the escalators, but I now realise that this was a rookie error. This particular set of escalators flattens out in the middle then rises again, which is properly unusual, but I have at least consoled myself by watching this video of what I missed. Four platforms on Level -1 host terminating tracks, then it's up again to an admin'n'shopping mezzanine and street-level exit, then up again to six further high level platforms (this being the elevation of the original station). In central London only St Pancras comes close.

Step through the intricately imposing facade with the clock and you discover... another intricately imposing facade with a clock. The ticket hall is an entirely separate space, complete with marble tiled floor and lofty dome, perhaps more reminiscent of a cathedral or concert hall than a city station. I confess I wowed a little. And the entire Antwerp Central complex is free to explore, even all the way back down to the lowest platforms, because Belgian stations aren't blighted with anything so restrictive as ticket barriers. Just remember to leave and take a look around the rest of the city too, else you'll miss the most diamond-geezer-friendly attraction of all.

St Anna's Tunnel [12 photos]

Antwerp lies on the River Scheldt, a major waterway navigable from northern France to the North Sea via Belgium and the Netherlands. Almost all of the city lies to the east of the river but a small chunk lies to the west in an area known as Linkeroever (or Left Bank). Originally the only way across was by ferry but in the 1930s, to stimulate development, a proper connection was proposed. A bridge proved impractical because of passing shipping so the burghers instead plumped for tunnels, one for traffic and one for pedestrians. The Sint-Annatunnel opened on 10 September 1933, as did its motoring counterpart, is still free to walk through and OMG the escalators are to die for.

To give you some idea of the distance traversed, the Scheldt here is roughly as broad as the Thames is at Woolwich. But whereas the Woolwich Foot Tunnel is a dank narrow bore through which bikes are discouraged, St Anna's Tunnel is drier, wider and an integral part of Linkeroever's cycling commute. Each side of the tunnel is marked by a substantial brick building, with no especially obvious signage explaining its purpose and tall enough to house sufficient lift machinery. And yes you could go down into the 'Underpass' by lift, but why do that when there's an original wooden escalator to transfer you to the depths.

Not only are the treads wooden but the sides are too, providing a refreshingly retro Art Deco ambience. Best not think about the fire risk - London Transport replaced all theirs for good reason - so step aboard. You're not required to stand on the right and walk on the left, it's not that busy, plus any attempt at walking is likely to be blocked by someone carrying a bike. I made my Sint-Anna debut during the evening peak and dozens of people were accompanying their bicycles onto the escalators both up and down. It must be quicker than waiting for the lift.

And it's not just one set of escalators it's two. Halfway down you have to step off the first, twist round on a semicircular landing and join the second. Not even the longest escalator on the London Underground goes as deep as we're going, which is 31½m. No adverts grace the walls, only historical photos of the tunnel and the locality. The underside of the treads is painted chocolate-brown to match the woodwork. Intermittent red buttons allow you to press 'Nood' to execute an emergency stop. And assuming nobody does that, you'll eventually glide down to the mouth of the tunnel.

The tunnel proper, to be fair, is dull. For a start it's entirely flat, whereas the Thames foot tunnels slope downwards to the centre providing an ongoing change of perspective. The walls are tiled entirely in white along their entire length, although to their credit the authorities have pasted up a chronological series of posters about the development of the Linkeroever tunnels so it's not as monotonous as it could be. And because the tunnel is over 4m wide the authorities have decided that cycling is permitted, officially with a maximum speed of 5kmh but I don't think I saw anybody sticking to walking pace.

No lanes have been painted so it's a bit of a free for all, especially at half past five in the evening, although I think there's an unwritten rule that you're supposed to stick to the right. All kinds of bikes swooshed past me from sleek racers to cargo bikes, plus young children pedalling furiously to keep up with their parents. Each successive arrival of the lift sent another pulse, but because so many cyclists use the escalators the traffic never died down for long. The tunnel's official length is 572m - I timed my crossing at seven minutes precisely - and then another pair of escalators awaits to take you back to the surface.

Linkeroever on the far side is a sprawling suburb of 15000 residents, so nothing sightseeingworthy, but if you step back to the waterfront a fine view of the Antwerp skyline can be enjoyed across the river. The skyline would have been more impressive before 1944 when the Germans started doodlebugging the port, and generally missed, but it's fine enough. And you could walk back, or catch the free ferry, but I hopped down onto the premetro and caught a tram back through the Brabotunnel. It was a lot quicker, but I really missed the wooden escalators.

 Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Today's post is about the correct use of words.


'surely' means undoubtedly, without fail.
It should be used in situations of 100% certainty.
"Bus Stop M" ...surely the most written about bus stop in London?
Surely someone at TfL looked at all those posters before they were given the ok?
I think the most famous person to come out of Bewdley must surely be the lead man of Underworld, Karl Hyde?
Surely that should read "If there are any further errors"?
It does not mean 'This is my personal opinion.'

It does not mean 'I haven't checked this, but hey.'

It does not mean 'Well that's what I'd have done.'

It should not mean 'You idiot, let me point out that you are wrong.'

If you need to add a question mark, the use of surely is probably inappropriate.

Consider instead using the word presumably.


'presumably' is used to convey that what is asserted is very likely, though not known for certain.
It should be used in situations close to 100% certainty.
Presumably air pollution is always high in Central London.
Presumably the TFL Rail link to Heathrow is now in zone 6?
Presumably due to laziness the author never bothered to check.
Presumably you wouldn't go to Ilford specifically looking for moth repellent.
It does not mean 'I have not considered any other options.'

It does not mean 'I have always assumed this to be the case.'

It does not mean 'I would have done this in the circumstances.'

It should not mean 'I think I know better than you.'

Consider instead using the word probably.


'probably' means that something is more likely than not.
It should be used in situations with a probability over 50%.
The USA has Trump, we have Bojo. They're probably in bed together right now!
If there was a general election called and they had enough candidates, the Monster Raving Loony Party would probably stand the best chance of winning!
The EU will probably make us cough-up for a Green Card
If you see smiling tourists pointing at buses with destination Penge they're probably Danish.
It does not mean 'This could potentially happen.'

It does not mean 'This is one of several possibilities.'

It does not mean 'I have no idea but...'

It should not mean 'I am making this stupidly unlikely suggestion as a joke.'

Consider instead using the word possibly.


'possibly' means that something could happen, it is not impossible.
It should be used in situations with a probability over 0%.
This is possibly the first website I visit every day.
W12 8QT was once quite possibly the most recognised postcode in the country.
'Brunel' is possibly the example par excellence for this.
It's possibly to do with the extra length of the bus.
It's hard to go wrong if you use the word possibly.

Be more possibly, perhaps.

 Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Local History Month
Upperdeckers: 142

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've explored the length of the River Fleet, walked around the edge of Tower Hamlets and crossed the capital on a line of latitude, to name but a few of my exciting quests. This year I thought I'd ride all the double decker London bus routes which run outside the capital and write you a running commentary, in a series I'm calling Upperdeckers.

Tourists often spend a fortune riding sightseeing buses around central London but rarely explore the outskirts. And yet top deck front seat tours are available at an exceptionally reasonable price... if only there was a commentary to accompany them. So I've set myself the task of writing real-time commentaries for bus journeys beyond the London border in an attempt to stimulate peripheral travel. Simply reset your screen reader to audio mode and the spoken text will automatically synchronise with your bus journey, no matter how bad the traffic. Let's start in Hertfordshire and ride the red double decker that runs past the place where I was born, because it doesn't get more local than that.

Bushey Heath → Watford Junction
(I'm riding the 142, but you can also ride the 258)

Our upperdecker journey begins at the crossroads where Stanmore Common merges into Bushey Heath. Today this marks the boundary between London and Hertfordshire, although prior to 1st April 1993 the dividing line crossed the road a short distance ahead. The next pair of bus stops are still operated by Transport for London, not Hertfordshire County Council. When you reach the Harvester restaurant look out for the boundary stone on the pavement opposite. It has Herts carved on on side and Middx on the other. This used to be the highest point in Middlesex. You are now 505 feet above sea level.

On the right hand side is Windmill Lane which once led to a smock mill used for grinding corn. The shopping parade at Bushey Heath is relatively modern, and in sunny weather attracts a certain silver-haired cafe culture. Note the pair of semi-detached cottages on the right, one named Alpha and the other Omega. St Peter's parish church is unmissable ahead. It was founded as a small chapel in 1836, extended in 1891 and mostly rebuilt in 1911. The foundation stone in the Chapel of St George was laid by General Edmund Phipps Hornby, who earned his Victoria Cross in the Boer War.

The Three Crowns is Bushey's oldest public house, in continuous service since 1749. This would have been the first building 18th century travellers reached after crossing open heathland from Stanmore, providing welcome respite from the threat of highwaymen. Bushey Heath is said to have been a favoured haunt of Dick Turpin, because this is said about virtually every heath everywhere. A short distance up the Elstree Road, on Little Bushey Lane, is the scout hut in which George Michael performed his first gig as a teenager. You cannot see this from the bus because it is around a different corner.

The road ahead is Sparrows Herne, a former turnpike opened in 1762 to carry traffic between here and Aylesbury. The land drops away steadily from this high point, but from the top deck there are excellent views across the entire Colne Valley towards the distant ridge of the Chilterns. Note the iron sign outside the cottage-style public library depicting two readers sitting back to back. Bushey used to lie within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police, and the tall villa on the left with the high chimneys operated as a police station between 1884 and 2011. It is now flats, a fate which may soon befall the Royal Oak public house.

The bus now descends between some properly villagey housing, the oldest of which is Fern Cottage on the right hand side. A plaque outside says 1518, but its listing details reckon it's only early 17th century. Look back up School Lane to see Bushey's war memorial, designed by Sir William Reid Dick, depicting a mournful female figure with her head bowed. St Hilda's School celebrated its centenary last year. Across the hillside to the left is Bushey Golf Course, a municipal nine-holer which closed last year. Bushey Country Club closed at the same time because Hertsmere council found operations financially unsustainable.

On the corner of Melbourne Road is the entrance to Bushey Rose Garden, a beautiful public space with sunken fountain, pergola and summerhouse. It used to be the front garden of Lululaund, an amazing Romanesque home built for the acclaimed artist Hubert von Herkomer in 1894. Alas after he and his wife died the council only wanted the gardens, so everything other than Lululaund's front porch was demolished. Across the road a notionally similar block of flats called Herkomer House is almost complete. Herkomer's story is well told at Bushey Museum and Art Gallery, a welcoming collection of paintings and antiquities up Rudolph Road. Why not pause the audio description at this point, hop off and explore?

Ahead is the historic heart of Bushey (the name derives from the Old English ‘bysce’ meaning ‘place covered with wood’). St James's church has a 13th century chancel, 14th century timbered roof and 15th century tower, but the majority of the building is late Victorian. The original Red Lion pub dates back to 1648. Mavis has been selling wool and craft materials on the corner of Cow Lane since 1935. The wisteria-covered cottage opposite the village green was for many years occupied by Lucy Kemp-Welch, the artist who illustrated the 1915 edition of Black Beauty. The huge scary effigy on the tower of the Catholic church was carved by John Green.

At the top of Chalk Hill, by the Baptist church with the fluted octagonal spire, we pass from Hertsmere into Watford. Because of the one-way system we need to divert past Bushey station, its main building designed in characterful redbrick style. Two of the arms on its weathervane are somewhat bent. Can you see which two? Ahead is Bushey Arches - a very early brick railway viaduct carrying the London to Birmingham railway over the valley of the River Colne, and built by Robert Stephenson. The arches look a lot more impressive from the other side. A further viaduct, just beyond B&Q, carries the Overground to Watford High Street.

The Lower High Street appears to be mostly car showrooms, because these are quite easy to evacuate if the river ever floods. Jaguars, Mercedes, Suzukis, Seats and Saabs are locally available. Tesco's hypermarket beside the Colne was the first in the UK to open a Giraffe restaurant. The yellow-painted Pump House Theatre has been alternatively cultural since the 1970s. On the left are the offices of the Benskins Brewery, repurposed in 1994 as Watford Museum, an unexpectedly gloomy warren that's not worth getting off the bus for. Watford High Street station is closed this week so that its main staircase can be repaired.

Watford's town centre was encircled by an inner ring road in the 1970s, but buses continue to enter the foot of the old high street. Half-timbered buildings include The One Crown on the left and Pizza Express on the right. Look out for the Hornet statue outside McDonalds, formerly Woolworths, and note that Littlewoods has been reborn as a Primark. Returning to the ring road, the modern houses on the far side cover the site of King Street Maternity Hospital where thousands took their first breath between 1930 and 1969. Lovers of Modernist architecture will adore the spiral ramp of the Church Street multi-storey.

Hold tight as the ring road unexpectedly leaps over the middle of the high street on a brief flyover. Intu Watford is the former Harlequin shopping centre, recently extended to include a cinema and an ill-advised Debenhams. Clarendon Road has become a magnet for ugly office blocks, including the current European HQ of TK Maxx and also the larger HQ they're building for themselves opposite Watford Junction station. Before alighting at the bus station look out for the decorated buses taking Harry Potter fans to the Studio Tour in Leavesden. Do not join their queue - the commentary is distinctly poor.

Update: Except that most of the double deckers venturing outside London follow far less interesting routes. You might well enjoy the 107 through Borehamwood but the 403 to Warlingham is nothing special, the 467 to Epsom underwhelms and the 279 to Waltham Cross is ridiculously brief, so essentially I don't think this feature can be completed.

 Monday, August 12, 2019

Local History Month
Bow Down: St Leonard's

August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've explored the street I worked on, followed John Betjeman's footsteps through Metroland and climbed to the highest point in every London borough, to name but a few of my summer quests. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Bow Flyover so I thought I'd dig back and discover what was wiped away to build it, in a series I'm calling Bow Down.

The Bow Flyover was built as part of the construction of the East Cross Route, a dual carriageway intended to form one side of a ringway box around Inner London. Elsewhere that never happened, thankfully, but the eastern edges of Poplar and Bow were decimated by a concrete ribbon slicing up the Lea Valley. In this series I intend to rediscover the terraced streets, wharves, mills and factories that were summarily destroyed, even the lost frontage of a tube station, but let's start with the parish church that traffic now thunders through.

St Mary's, Bromley St Leonard

Here we are on the busy A12 just south of the Bow Flyover where the underpass comes up for breath. The parish church of St Mary's stood right here - not to be confused with the parish church of St Mary's in Bow less than 300 metres away. This parish grew up along the River Lea in a completely separate village by the name of Bromley - not to be confused with Bromley in Kent or any other Bromleys anywhere else. It owed its existence to a Benedictine nunnery called St Leonard's Priory, first recorded in 1122 with a complement of nine nuns and a prioress. Its chief claim to fame is that Chaucer wrote about it in the Canterbury Tales, which is pretty much the medieval equivalent of celebrity status.
Ther was also a nonne, a prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire gretteste ooth was but by seinte loy;
And she was cleped madame eglentyne.
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
And frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of stratford atte bowe,
For frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe.
The priory was dissolved in 1536, courtesy of Henry VIII's version of Brexit, but its chapel was retained for use as a church for the local village. In the western wall was a large round-headed Norman arch, through which the nuns had originally processed, and on the roof a steeple with a well-hung belfry. A vault in the chancel contained the remains of John de Bohun, fifth Earl of Hereford, fourth Lord of Essex and Constable of England (died 1336), and various further effigies, plaques and monuments were added over the years. St Mary's had a well-appointed interior, with Norman features uncommon in these parts, but also became increasingly hard to maintain. [full history]

In 1842 the churchwardens agreed to extend the building to support the area's fast-growing population. They started by taking the roof off, then removed the south wall... at which point the Norman arch in the west wall collapsed. That also had to be entirely rebuilt, at which point it was discovered that the north wall was too weak to support the new roof so that was rebuilt too. The original east wall now looked very much out of place so a wealthy parishioner paid for that to be upgraded, and hey presto the entire church had been unintentionally replaced. They kept all the monuments and tombs, and the interior looked splendid, and what a treasurehouse it might now be if only it hadn't been destroyed.

The agent of destruction wasn't the A12, however, it was the Luftwaffe. St Mary's suffered terrible bomb damage in 1941 and its ruins were never rebuilt, so when planners came to draw the line for the new dual carriageway the route was clear. But they did spare the churchyard, which is why the road swings east on its way to Bow Bridge. It was only ever an acre of land, and very few of the graves remain intact, or even recognisable, but the dead have at least been left in peace. The only surviving structure of significance is the How Memorial Gateway, which commemorates a long-serving Victorian vicar, erected in 1894.

Today the churchyard is a nature reserve, or community garden, or some kind of recreational greenspace for the local neighbourhood. A faded peeling board beside the entrance reveals the first rebranding attempt in the 1990s - the St Leonard's Adventurous Playground - although no equipment remains, and no parent would risk their offspring playing amid the broken gravestones today. More recently the charity Trees for Cities have erected information boards detailing the site's history and hidden wildlife, although the board nearest to the entrance already looks worse for wear and will likely be illegible within a few years.

A few benches have been scattered around the perimeter, where on my last visit I found a homeless sleeper and the time before that a likely drug deal underway. More normally if you encounter somebody within the churchyard they're watching their dog defecate. Only having one entrance doesn't help feelings of security, nor the far end of the site (where the church doors were) being invisible from the road thanks to an all-obscuring hedge. Someone is keeping the undergrowth down, so basically they've tried, but this churchyard's a pretty miserable place to linger.

Next into the conservation fray are the Women's Environmental Network, in conjunction with the council, who hope to rebrand the space as St Leonard's Priory Park. They've relaid the paths, brought in gardening volunteers and run a consultation on future use, which might mean shifting the gravestones, reinstalling playground equipment and adding allotments to help combat 'gendered health inequalities'. A poster on the noticeboard invites interested parties to a Next Steps meeting on Wednesday 29th August, except that's actually last year's date so I guess the whole project's already foundered.

Poor St Leonard's - dissolved by Henry VIII, accidentally rebuilt by the Victorians, blown apart in the Blitz, buried beneath a dual carriageway and now neglected and forgotten. If you should be driving through the nave any time soon, do spare a thought for the Prioresse of Stratford-atte-Bowe.

Update: Except that's by far the most interesting building to have been demolished to make way for the flyover. Bow's medieval bridge is long gone, James I's royal palace wasn't in the line of fire, nobody wants to hear about an obscure cooperage, and essentially I don't think this feature can be completed.

 Sunday, August 11, 2019

Twenty years ago today, as you'll no doubt remember, a total solar eclipse could be seen from the UK.

Total solar eclipses don't come around very often so I booked a week long holiday in Cornwall at great expense and awaited the glorious spectacle. It was sunny at ten past eleven on every other day that week, but on Wednesday morning the clouds rolled in and I saw pretty much nothing. Friends in London told me they'd seen the whole thing perfectly, but all they really saw was the sun 97% obscured and the magic only kicks in at a hundred.

I'll not repeat my 1999 eclipse story because I've blogged it before. Instead I thought I'd look forward to the UK's next total solar eclipse, and more specifically London's next total solar eclipse, because they could be spectacular. Just don't get your hopes too high, because you'll likely be dead long before either of them happens.

Total solar eclipses are rare beasts because the moon's orbit doesn't usually pass precisely between the Earth and the sun. And even when everything does align the shadow cast is fairly narrow, so the path of totality can never be more than 167 miles wide. On average a single point on the earth's surface only sees one total solar eclipse every 375 years, which is why you haven't seen one from your back garden recently.

We can expand the chance of experiencing a total solar eclipse by considering an entire country, in this case the United Kingdom, so let's do that. The UK last saw a total solar eclipse on August 11th 1999, and before that 30th June 1954, and before that 29th June 1927. Sounds promising. But here's a clickable list of all the years a total solar eclipse has been visible from the UK over the last four centuries, and that's not very promising at all.
17th century: 1652, 1654
18th century: 1715, 1724
19th century:
20th century: 1927, 1954, 1999
So, just seven, and with a 203-year gap skipping the whole of the 19th century.

And it's worse than that, because not all of these total eclipses were readily visible. The total solar eclipse of 1954, for example, only clipped the northernmost of the Shetland Islands so crossed the homes of only two thousand people. The total eclipse of 1927 only lasted for fifty seconds as it sped from Middlesbrough to Snowdonia, whereas the total eclipse of 1715 managed over four minutes. I should also point out that I'm using the current definition of the United Kingdom, which didn't yet exist in 1654 when a total eclipse swept across the north of Scotland.

Now let's look forward. Here's a clickable list of all the years a total solar eclipse will be visible from the UK over the next four centuries.
21st century: 2090
22nd century: 2133 2135 2151 2160 2189 2200
23rd century: 2289 2290
24th century: 2381
The 21st century is a real disappointment with just one total solar eclipse lined up, on 23rd September 2090, and that's 71 years distant. Again Cornwall and Devon are the favoured locations, but this time with the south coast cast into shadow as far as Hastings. The timing's not great though, occurring just before sunset on a September evening, so quite low down in the western sky. I should add that another total eclipse will have hit the Channel Islands a few years earlier, on 3rd September 2081, but they're not officially part of the UK and you'll likely be dead for that one too.

By contrast, the 22nd century truly delivers. An astonishing six total solar eclipses will be visible in the UK between 2133 and 2200, which is the same number as occurred during the previous 400 years. A seventh will cross Jersey in 2142, but again we can't count that. Two of the six are distinctly peripheral - 2133 scrapes the Outer Hebrides and half of Shetland, and 2160 is essentially the Scillies and Lands End only. But others hit the mainland more convincingly, with most of the UK seeing at least one total eclipse, and residents of York, Morecambe, Glasgow and Downpatrick seeing two. South Uist in the Outer Hebrides appears to be in the sweet spot with three total solar eclipses within 18 years.

Another galling feature, from a current perspective, is that in 2133 and 2135 total eclipses will occur just two years apart. But the 23rd century can offer a pair even closer than that, with one in January 2289 and another in June 2290 - both of them visible from St Kilda. The most common gap, however, is about 90 years, including 1999-2090, 2200-2289 and 2290-2381.

Which brings me to total eclipses visible from London. And they're disappointingly rare.
17th century:
18th century: 1715
19th century:
20th century:
21st century:
22nd century: 2151
23rd century:
24th century:
The total eclipse of 3rd May 1715 followed the discovery of Newtonian mechanics so was the one of the first to be accurately predicted in advance. Edmund Halley made his name by calculating path and timings, and by conveying this information to the wider populace via a simple map. The eclipse was visible across most of England and Wales, with its line of totality stretching from the Wash to the Lizard. The entirety of what's now Greater London fitted comfortably within the shadow's path (as did the whole of the West Midlands, East Anglia and the South West). Even the weather played ball.

And then a 436 year gap.

Greater London's next total eclipse will take place on 14th June 2151. It'll be a Monday, and the great spectacle will occur around half past seven in the evening, British Summer Time permitting. You won't be here to see it, but if you're reasonably young your grandchildren might.

But only part of Greater London will see it, a very small area to the northeast of the capital, and the other 93% misses out. Here's an approximate map I've knocked up (and here's a more accurate map from NASA).

The edge of the path of totality enters London in Crews Hill and heads southeast via Chingford, Fairlop, Chadwell Heath and Elm Park. Enfield Lock is in the zone, but Enfield Town misses out. One end of the platform at Roding Valley station gets lucky, the other end does not. Romford and Upminster are comfortably inside, but Barking and Dagenham are out. London's maximum eclipse will be near junction 28 of the M25, where totality almost scrapes one minute. But you'd be a fool to watch the eclipse from London when you could enjoy a minute and a half in Southend, two minutes in Colchester or over two and a half in King's Lynn, Leeds and Lancaster. Here's a map showing the full extent of totality across the UK (with the longest duration down the centre of the red stripe).

Glasgow gets it, Edinburgh doesn't. Durham's in but Newcastle's out. Llandudno yes, Anglesey no. Dover's a hit but Folkestone's a miss. Cambridge is properly in the dark whereas Oxford's only 99½% obscured. Unusually this particular total eclipse will cross all four of the home nations (assuming they're still part of the UK at the time, assuming the UK still exists).

While we're here, let's list all of London's total solar eclipses for the remainder of the millennium. Both of them.
25th century:
26th century: 2600
27th century:
28th century: 2726
29th century:
30th century:
The total eclipse of 5th May 2600 should be visible from most of the western half of Greater London, which is encouraging, but takes place at about six in the morning so will be low in the eastern sky. The total eclipse of 21st July 2726 will be a noonday event, therefore easier to see, but will only be visible south of a line from Twickenham to Sidcup. Overlap all three of this millennium's total eclipses on the same map and it shows that most of London will see at least one, but a significant chunk near the Thames estuary will see nothing. Kingston and Hainault get two. The Royal Greenwich Observatory is alas in not quite the right place.

Of course by the time these eclipses occur London will probably be larger than it is now, or administratively unrecognisable, or partially flooded, or completely destroyed, so delving this far into the future is essentially pointless. But the machinations of the stars and planets remain reliably predictable, whatever mess we've made on the ground, so the moon's shadow will still blot out the sun whether or not anyone's around to see it.

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