diamond geezer

 Monday, October 20, 2014

Scotch whisky is clearly a thing, English whisky less so. Indeed for almost all of the 20th century there was no such thing as English whisky at all, not since the Lea Valley Distillery Company closed down in 1901. Stratford's whisky factory was located on Warton Road, inbetween Palmer & Co Ltd (oil & candle manufacturers) and A Boake Roberts & Co (manufacturing chemists), backing onto the river Lea. All the old buildings along this stretch were cleared a few years ago, and for a very good reason, which is because the site's now in a prominent position in the Olympic Park. The Lea Valley Distillery Company stood almost precisely where the Aquatic Centre is today, in fact on top of the car park slightly to the south. No plaque marks the site, indeed the Park's industrial legacy is mostly overlooked. But English whisky's last hurrah was here, at least until Norfolk took over.

St George's Distillery was opened in 2006. It lies in the southern part of Norfolk, the bit most tourists drive straight through, just off the A11 past Thetford. There is a station very close by, that's Harling Road, but this is one of the least used stations in the UK and has a pathetically infrequent service. So you'll probably have to go by car, ideally someone else's car, because the whole point of going on a tour here is the taster samples afterwards, and you don't want to be the designated driver.

The distillery's the big barnlike building by the tropical fish centre with a couple of red and white flags flapping outside. The St George's branding is a little blatant, perhaps, but still the right side of patriotic rather than über-UKIP. Two different tours are offered, one for £10, the other identical but £20 more and with five drams of "world whisky" tacked on at the end. Both are supposed to start off with a video, but we got a bloke talking instead which was probably more interesting if a little harder to hear. Delivery as dry as a fine malt, I thought, without the burning aftertaste.

This isn't the biggest distillery you'll ever see, more an oversized chemistry set in one large room, but at least this means you get right up close to the action. We were led round from each large copper still to the next, the various stages of the process duly explained, of which there are several. Each still has its own specific temperature and duration, precisely controlled by digital instrumentation, and most were warm to the please-don't touch. In a couple we saw the pre-whisky bubbling its way through, here resembling an aerated gloop, whereas what emerged at the end of the process was condensed reflux that was almost clear.

Out the back, in a large dark shed named Bond 1, we saw the stacked up barrels inside which the distillery's cargo matures. This takes several years of 'breathing in and out' through the wood, but fewer years than in Scotland because temperatures in Norfolk are generally higher. Then it was back in to see the bottling plant, a surprisingly minor feature, where half-dozens of Marks and Spencer's English Whisky were being boxed up. And then to the taster sampling finale, both peated and unpeated, cunningly located in the shop so that if you enjoy your swig you might walk off with more. Personally I'm not a fan, the single malts either too bitter or too smoky, hence most of the contents of the well-stocked gift shop left me cold. But almost everyone else off the tour wandered out with a bag dangling, indeed a bit of a hit all round.

You no longer have to go as far as Norfolk to see English whisky being made - a small number of English micro-distilleries have set up since. One of these is the London Distillery Company, opened last year in Battersea, but whisky officially takes at least three years to mature so they'll not be selling anything local until 2016. Instead Norfolk's your nearest supplier, should you be a connoisseur in search of an unusual day out, by George.

 Sunday, October 19, 2014

When in Norfolk, you'll likely want to visit Brother's House. This homely attraction lies on the outskirts of Large Town, just down the road from the paper shop, near that field they might be building on soon. A regular bus service links the neighbourhood to the town centre hourly, except on Sundays when it's probably too far to walk. The railway also passes close by, except nobody's ever thought to add a station in the immediate vicinity, so best hope that someone with a car offers you a lift instead.

You'll recognise Brother's House by the defensive line of shrubbery in the front garden, and the seeming impossibleness of getting to the front door without walking over the grass. Step carefully towards the late 20th century half-timbered facade, raise a finger to the bell and await a warm welcome at the front door. Be sure to remove your shoes before venturing too much further!

The entrance hall is a grand split level space, with key pieces from the family's glassware collection on display in cases along one side. Look up, and the faces of the current ruling dynasty stare down from the walls in a series of colourful historical portraits. Some of these are by the notorious School Photographer Collective, while others depict a golden day of hired morning suits and flowing dresses.

You'll likely be spending much of your visit in the Magenta Salon. This long room features period furnishings from the trading estate just off the ring road, and a pair of candlesticks that must never be lit. When visitor numbers are high be prepared to squeeze into the last seat by the fishtank and sink deep into the cushions. Expect all eyes to be on the big screen in the corner, perhaps for a lengthy sporting extravaganza or else for an archived documentary from the upper echelons of the Sky Programme Guide.

Refreshments are provided in the adjacent cafe, which is open 24 hours. The young chef's roast dinner is a speciality, especially on Sundays, and advance booking for the Christmas luncheon is recommended. But there are meals to suit all budgets, including stacked-high sandwiches, beans on toast and a bespoke jacket potato option with your choice of toppings from the fridge. Expect to wait a little longer for tea, or for a granulated café au lait, while the heritage gas kettle fires up to whistling point.

On certain days each year the first floor is opened up and guests are invited to take a tour. Most of the bedrooms date back to the house's original construction, although the enlarged Skyblue Chamber is the product of a post-millennial knock-through. In the master bedroom the drapes may be closed, temporarily, to shield the more precious contents from excessive daylight. And listen out along the hallway for the ghosts of departed students, at least until Reading Week or the midwinter festivities when they return and the corridor sings again.

In better weather events often spill out into the grounds of the mansion, and in particular to the lawn between the Bird Bath and the Summer House. Your guide will be able to point out the ring where the trampoline once stood, and the corner formerly blessed by a rabbit-based menagerie. At this time of year, however, a carpet of slippery leaves covers the majority of the kitchen garden, right down to the ancient perimeter fence where the neighbouring property begins.

Admission to Brother's House is free, but must be booked in advance, especially if overnight accommodation is required. But warm hospitality is always assured, and a friendly reception from the team of volunteers guaranteed, almost as if you were part of the family.

 Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not only am I the sort of bloke who still buys the Radio Times, I keep back copies too. Not all of them, because that would be obsessive, but I like to retain a handful for nostalgic reasons. The edition with the triffids on the front, EastEnders' first appearance, every double Christmas magazine, Paul McGann's Doctor Who Movie, London 2012, that sort of thing. I stash no more than half a dozen a year, rather than all fifty-one, but that still adds up to a tidy total when you've been accumulating since the 1970s.

And now the BBC has put the whole lot online. Not just the copies I've collected, but every single Radio Times from 1923 to 2009. All the TV and Radio listings are there, for every BBC channel, from Organ Recitals on 2LO London to Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny on BBC2. The project's called Genome, and has involved scanning 4469 issues of the Radio Times to grab the printed listings for each day. This means there are occasional spelling mistakes and inaccuracies, especially when events dictated that the scheduled programme was never broadcast. But what an absolutely brilliant resource, for historical research or simply digging idly through.

For example you can discover that television returned after World War 2 on 7th June 1946 with a broadcast including Mickey Mouse, Mantovani and Master of Ceremonies Leslie Mitchell. I can check that there really was a children's TV quiz in 1974 called Brainchild, hosted by John Craven, which featured a 'computer' called BERYL, I haven't been imagining it all these years. And we can confirm that Ghostwatch really was broadcast only once, on Hallowe'en 1992, with Teletext subtitles on page 888.

I suspect a lot of people will want to dig back into the archive to dates that were personal to them. I can pinpoint the only BBC TV programme I've ever appeared on, recorded in West Watford in 1973. The following year I can track down the Radio London show on which the presenter read out joint birthday greetings to my Mum and me (ah, bugger, no, they haven't scanned that one). And of course, like all the rest of you, I can see what was on TV the day I was born.

My 1965 birthday's a bit of a jackpot. Children's programmes that day included Andy Pandy, The Woodentops and Animal Magic. Schools programmes featured the art of thatching and trade union history, while in the afternoon Peter O'Sullevan introduced Racing from Cheltenham. Well known black and white faces on screen that day included Ray Alan, Ted Moult, Jonathan Miller and Richard Baker, while over on BBC2 was a programme on child development aimed especially at new fathers. I suspect my Dad was otherwise engaged. Marty Feldman and Barry Took wrote the evening's comedy drama, The Walrus and the Carpenter, while the genre of proto-soap was represented by an episode of Compact. Peaktime viewers were treated to a documentary on canals and a lecture on the future of transport, which might have interested me had I developed the use of language and been allowed to stay up late. And the evening rounded off with the Variety Club Awards ("An edited recording of today's Luncheon at the Savoy Hotel, London"), in which Morecambe and Wise, Rita Tushingham, Eric Sykes, Sir Laurence Olivier and Jimmy Tarbuck got the nod.

Your eyes will surely have glazed over during that paragraph because it has no innate relevance to your life. Or more likely you'll already have surfed off to dig through the 4,423,653 programme records in the Genome archive yourself. Go on, can you beat this?

BBC1 9th March 1965
17.30 ANIMAL MAGIC (a fortnightly series introduced by JOHNNY MORRIS)
17.55 THE NEWS
18.05 TOWN AND AROUND (News and views from London and the South-East, introduced by Richard Baker)
18.30 FIRST IMPRESSIONS (The panel tries to identify well-known personalities in a game of question, answer, and deduction)
18.55 TONIGHT (Introduced by Cliff Michelmore with the Tonight team)
19.30 COMPACT (A serial by HAZEL ADAIR and PETER LING - Blow Hot, Blow Cold)
20.00 THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER (starring HUGH GRIFFITH and FELIX AYLMER)
20.25 THE DANNY KAYE SHOW (in which DANNY KAYE and his special guests PETER FALK, MICHELLE LEE, PETE FOUNTAIN entertain to the music of Paul Weston and his Orchestra with the Tony Charmoli Dancers and the Johnny Mann Singers)
21.15 THE NEWS
21.25 VOYAGE INTO ENGLAND (with Macdonald Hastings, CANALS AND INLAND WATERWAYS)
22.15 MONITOR (with Jonathan Miller - Matters of Time)
23.00 VARIETY CLUB OF GREAT BRITAIN (Awards for 1964)
23.25 NEWS SUMMARY and THE WEATHER
23.30 THE SCIENCE OF MAN (Series 4: Heredity and Evolution)
  0.00 CLOSEDOWN


But am I throwing away my paper copies of the Radio Times? Hell no, over my dead body.

 Friday, October 17, 2014

For 24 miles between Tower Bridge (T) and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (Q), no bridges cross the Thames.

TRiver ThamesQ

The QE2 Bridge lies just beyond the capital's borders, linking Thurrock to Dartford, so technically East London has no bridge crossings at all. But road vehicles aren't completely blocked by the river, of course. There are three other Thames crossings - the Rotherhithe Tunnel (R), the Blackwall Tunnel (B) and the Woolwich Ferry (W).

T R B W Q

None of these is ideal. The Rotherhithe Tunnel is old and narrow with awkward bends and a 20mph speed limit. The Blackwall Tunnel is even older, and just as bendy northbound, but with an additional southbound bore dug in the 1960s to double the flow. And the Woolwich Ferry is a ferry, for heaven's sake, taking ages to cross the river and with very limited capacity. Still, at least all three are free, for the time being.

T R B W Q
        £

The Blackwall Tunnel has been described as the most critical road link in the capital. It's particularly susceptible to closure, for example when the driver of a high-sided vehicle ignores the warning signs at the entrance and gets stuck within, creating tailbacks that ripple out for miles. And when that happens, northeast and southeast London might as well be two different cities.

T R   W Q

So TfL have a plan, which is to build a brand new tunnel beneath the Thames, almost precisely underneath the cablecar. The Silvertown Tunnel (S) will be straighter and wider than its Blackwall cousin, allowing clear passage for lorries and double decker buses. Not only will this greatly increase capacity it'll provide additional resilience, meaning drivers can pretty much guarantee being able to cross the river rather than joining a queue.

T R B S W Q

On the northbound side of the river a new landing point will be served. While the Blackwall Tunnel surfaces in Tower Hamlets, the Silvertown Tunnel will rise in Newham on the opposite banks of the Lea. This will split the increased volume of vehicles, with more through traffic following the original route to the A12 and more local traffic taking the new tunnel. But things aren't quite so well balanced on the southern side.

T R B/S W Q

The Silvertown Tunnel is essentially a third bore of the Blackwall Tunnel and will dive underground from exactly the same location. A new road junction will be created on the southern approach road, and all traffic attempting to cross to the north will have to pass through this point. North Greenwich's roads won't get relief, they'll merely suck in additional vehicles hoping to use the new crossing under the Thames. So TfL have a plan to stop that.

T R B S W Q
    £ £   £

They plan to charge vehicles to drive through the new Silvertown Tunnel. What's more they plan to start charging vehicles to drive through the existing Blackwall Tunnel too, because you can't toll one and not the other, it just wouldn't work. Put simply, TfL want to double the capacity to improve connectivity, but then slap on a Congestion Charge because connectivity's been improved too much. Tolls will likely be higher than on the Dartford Crossing during peak periods, closer in price for the rest of the day and with free passage at night. Existing users of the Blackwall Tunnel may not be best pleased.

T R B S W Q

Moving downstream, there are also plans in the pipeline to improve the Woolwich Ferry. The boats are old and nearing retirement, so an additional upgrade would be necessary to keep things running. And yes, if this happens TfL would bring in tolls on the Woolwich Ferry too. Suddenly the free-to-use Rotherhithe Tunnel is looking more appealing.

T R B S W Q
    £ £ £ £

But upgrading a ferry is a pathetic 19th century solution, given that what's really needed is another fixed crossing. So TfL have longer-term plans, if the money's forthcoming, to build a 21st century bridge further downstream. This would be the Gallions Crossing (G), running above the Thames from Beckton to Thamesmead, along an alignment long protected from development. It would need to be properly lofty to allow ships to continue to pass underneath, but once built TfL could shut the Woolwich Ferry for good.

T R B S G Q

The Gallions Crossing would be another major boost to connectivity, landing close to the end of the North Circular, although TfL claim it'll be used mostly by local traffic. Again they're keen to keep vehicle numbers down so tolls would be introduced from day one. The money collected would also go towards the cost of building the bridge in the first place, because governments don't tend to go round dishing out generous infrastructure handouts these days. And this would create four consecutive tolled crossings on the lower Thames, where previously there was only one.

T R B S G Q
    £ £ £ £

There are some groups who think that a Gallions Tunnel would be a much better idea. A subterranean crossing would eat up a lot less land than an enormous bridge, increasing the available area for new houses and bringing greater benefits overall. But tunnels are also much more expensive than bridges, hence TfL aren't keen, and since when were they responsible for housing policy anyway?

T R B S G Q

We're years off any of this lot being built. A Gallions Crossing won't be completed before 2025, if at all, and even the Silvertown Tunnel isn't pencilled in before 2021. The latter project is currently at the consultation stage, with TfL now seeking your opinions on the tunnel's design rather than whether it should be built in the first place. Many are not pleased, given the pollution and traffic noise the tunnel will bring, especially on shared approach roads south of the river. But the alternative is a disconnected and inefficient city, and a river it's remarkably difficult to cross.

T R B W Q

Tolled tunnels and greater capacity, or the status quo and queueing traffic - we'll likely end up with one or the other. Read the facts, take your pick, have your say.

 Thursday, October 16, 2014

WALK LONDON
The London Loop
[section 19]
Chingford to Chigwell (4½ miles)

Section 19 of the London Loop involves walking along the edges of only-just Essex, from Tebbitsville to Birds of a Feather, via all and none of the stereotypes you'd expect. There's forest, there's mud, there's the Roding Valley to cross, and there's some of the worst signage I've found anywhere on the Loop. So long as you can follow a map, it's got its moments. Best hurry, before TfL take it down. [map]


As you exit the platform at Chingford station there's a plaque on the wall exhorting you to follow section 19 of the London Loop. I'm not sure anyone ever pauses to study it carefully, it's rather too close to the ticket barrier for that, but if you take heed and cross the bus station on your way out you can be on the walking trail in a couple of minutes. Beware Cattle! I suspect the message is more for drivers than ramblers, but with several square miles of Epping Forest ahead it pays to be careful. This section of the Loop's only crossing a small part - section 18 does more - but this corner is possibly the busiest with daytrippers, dogwalkers, picknickers and general amblers. Almost immediately the signs disappear, but stick towards the main road round the back of the Brewer's Fayre and you'll not go far wrong.

And here you should break your walk, even though you've barely walked any distance at all, to enjoy two old visitor attractions and a very new one. Most obvious from the path is Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, a three storey viewing deck from which Tudor monarchs surveyed the royal hunt. It's a great whitewashed survivor, and free to enter for an insight into what King Henry VIII used to do when he came here, and maybe some juggling lessons too if you turn up at the right time. Nextdoor is a fresh, lively 'visitor interpretation centre', barely two years old, called The View. Alas the upstairs balcony is currently closed due to a broken glass panel, and looks like it's normally locked anyway, so the building doesn't really live up to its name. Nevertheless there's a rather good exhibition over two floors covering the history and natural wealth of the adjacent Forest, plus a tasteful gift shop in which small kids can run amok. Meanwhile newly restored on the other side of the Lodge is Butler's Retreat, one of Epping Forest's traditional refreshment blocks, converted from an old barn in the 1870s. Originally part of the Temperance movement, the new owners serve a bit of alcohol as well as bacon ciabattas and cake, and on Sunday afternoon the place was buzzing. Even if you don't fancy the whole walk, don't be afraid to consider Chingford Plain for an outdoor excursion of your own.



The Loop continues across the road, again unsigned, so you'd probably never think to take the path left through the edge of the car park. The small brook at the end of the wooded trail is The Ching, because what did you expect Chingford's river to be called. It also marks the dividing line from London into Essex, and what lies beyond is pure Home Counties. A broad grassy clearing rises steadily upwards, long and wide enough for an entire horse race, and not currently as muddy as it gets sometimes in midwinter. At the top of the ascent is the Warren Wood pub, and a main road, and a further climb to the edge of a cricket pitch. And this is Buckhurst Hill, a commuter suburb with a split personality.

Initially the Loop threads through the slightly posh bit, on the top of the ridge. A two bedroom flat in gated Roebuck Heights will set you back £600,000, the neighbouring cottages around North End a little more. And now, sorry, it's time to get lost again. Green signs point you down an umpromising cul-de-sac, then fail to point you left into what looks like a house's private drive. That narrow track curving off round the fence is a proper public right of way, indeed in days of yore was a cattle drive for leading livestock through the Forest. The City of London still owns North Farm, to one side, retained as a buffer zone to stop housing spreading across the valley. In spring the bluebells in adjacent Linders Field are worth a diversion, but in autumn best continue beneath the tinted canopy and follow the carpet of leaves downhill.

We may be outside London but here's the Central line, specifically the section between Buckhurst Hill and Loughton. A metal footbridge links open fields to the housing estate beyond, a favoured teenage hangout I'd judge by the chocolate milk and Haribo packets littering the walkway. And here we're entering a very different part of the suburb, more Buckhurst Valley, and with the unmistakeable air of London overspill. The streets are pleasant enough, but that wife waving her cabbie hubbie off to work could be Sharon or Tracey, and the welcoming committee outside the parade of shops is most likely wearing a hoodie and smoking a fag.



Ahead are Roding Valley Meadows, the largest remaining water meadows in Essex. That's landscape code for "liable to flood", hence nobody lives right by the river. Instead the western banks of the Roding follow a sequence of sports grounds, here cricket, further up football and rugby, and a favoured spot for exercising dogs and children when no matches are scheduled. The Loop skirts round a big lake, ideal for bread-chucking, then crosses the river before doubling back (unsigned) on the opposite banks. Here I met a thin woman in a pink cardigan with two feisty hounds called Dapper and Boudicca, both thankfully distracted by the opportunity to play in the shallows by the weir. But five minutes later the pair bounded out of the woodland ahead of me and launched themselves at the ankle of a lady out walking a Highland Terrier. An actual Essex catfight ensued, with the injured party pleading for the offending hounds to be put on a lead and the owner screeching that her dogs weren't dangerous, when they quite clearly were.

If you're not obsessed by walking the Loop you should break from the proper route here and continue through the Roding Valley Nature Reserve to Debden station. The lush riverside route looks far more interesting than what I got to walk next, venturing to Chigwell instead. The access road to a David Lloyd tennis centre round the back of an unbuilt motorway service station is nobody's idea of a scenic stroll. From the bridge across the M11 there are distant views of City towers, plus the attractive residential ridge over which you've just walked. And the walk ends with a good half mile of Chigwell pavement, past the front of many an Englishman's castle, any of which could easily be Dalentrace. The personalised numberplate density is high, and the number of unpaved front gardens correspondingly low. And outside Chigwell station there's a plaque on the wall exhorting you to follow section 20 of the London Loop. That's a much better walk, but 19 had its moments.

» London Loop section 19: official map and directions; map
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Mark, Oatsy, Tim, Maureen, Richard
» See also sections 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24

 Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If you ever walk one of Walk London's walking routes, as I did at the weekend, they have news for you.
Changes are happening to the way you find information about the 7 walking routes we promote.
It's not good news.
From the 1st November the Walk London website will no longer hold the route information, so will be taken down. Route information will start to appear on TfL’s website, including great new Legible London maps and updated directions. We will be keeping a webpage to let you know about the walking weekends and direct you to the new information but all directions and downloads for the routes will no longer be found at www.walklondon.org.uk
That's right, TfL are taking down the Walk London website before its replacement is fully up and running. All the printable maps and directions for the Capital Ring, London Loop, Jubilee Greenway etc will disappear, and may take several months to reappear in a new format on the TfL website.
If you are walking any of the routes and were planning to download information in the coming months we suggest that you do that now as the not all of the new information will be on TfL’s site immediately. You will still be able to find maps of the routes on www.walk4ife.info of course. Any enquiries about the routes should be sent to walking@tfl.gov.uk
Bad planning, copyright issues or thoughtless management? Whatever, it's hard to view this move as anything other than contemptuously stupid.

Update: "The changes are due to limitations on what TfL can fund, like many government bodies they can no longer fund any external websites."

This sounds very much like the application of government cost-cutting protocols. But the remaining mystery is why TfL's replacement site won't initially be able to host Walk London's existing resources.

Last night, at a swanky adult education centre in Bishopsgate, one of London's finest websites celebrated its 10th birthday. Londonist has been firing out several posts a day since 2004, on a wildly diverse range of topics, so a slap-up alcohol-fuelled party was clearly called for. Not that yesterday was their actual 10th birthday, you understand. The first post in the Londonist archive - on drunkard-benches in Islington, since you ask - dates back to October 25th, not October 14th. But one should never let facts like this get in the way of a good room booking, hence invites were sent and the bubbly flowed.

Londonist, you may remember, evolved out of a less well known blog called The Big Smoker. The brainchild of Rob Hinchcliffe and Euan Mitchell, it lifted the Guardian's award for best designed British blog back in 2003. Euan then decided to get into bed with an American stable of websites ending in -ist, becoming their first overseas partner, hence the rebrand and the October 2004 relaunch. They even linked to my blog in their sidebar, back in the day when blogs did that sort of thing, in a rolling news and features kind of way. It's hard not to have a soft spot for a pioneering survivor. [Londonist history podcast]

The London skyline logo has been a constant throughout those ten years, apart from that fateful day in 2011 when the poor old BT Tower was ousted by a silhouetted Gherkin and Shard. The rest of the site's evolved rather more over the years. Time was when each story appeared sequentially down the page, like only the most stuck-in-the-mud old school bloggers do these days, and you could read the entire current output all in one go. Before long it was first paragraph only, then top level headlines and teaser text to encourage you to click through, and now we're in full-on mobile and tablet optimised territory.

The site's always covered a wide range of topics. It started out quite eclectic, more likely to comment than report, but carving out an informed niche of its very own. As Londonist has grown so its newsier side has been overtaken somewhat by an entertainment vibe, taking on Time Out at its own game (and, quite frankly, doing a better job). As a team-built website the diversity of its contributors is its strength, so that whether you're interested in cocktails, fringe theatre or videos of tube stations there'll be something for you soon enough. And OK, sometimes there's some full-on sponsored crap to pay the bills, but at least that's flagged up at the start of the article so you know you're being spun to and can move on.

You might well have got an invite to the 10th anniversary do at the Bishopsgate Institute - the Great Hall was packed. The mix include old-school contributors, occasional columnists and miscellaneous 'Friends of Londonist', of which there were several. They even invited me, never thinking I'd go, but when there's free food and booze on offer who'd say no? All descended on the inner East End, not so far from Londonist Towers, for an (early) evening outpouring of thanks.

And I was somewhat surprised, although I guess I shouldn't have been, that so many people I knew turned up. It was almost like the old days when Blogger Meetups were a thing, when people who normally only typed at one another came briefly face to face. Hello to Ian and Tom and Sarah and Andrew and that bloke from the local history website whose name I never remember, and to others too numerous to mention. If I missed you, apologies, I'm not a fan of hand-scrawled name badges, but rest assured that I was not the bloke who came dressed as a taxi.

Did I mention the free food and booze? Most of this came courtesy of clearly-named sponsors, but nobody was expecting the editorial team to have spent Monday night baking, so that was fine. A tiny chocolate cake on a stick was the most unusual freebie, topped off with an edible Londonist 10th birthday sticker, and carefully wrapped in plastic for health and safety reasons. Two grinning ladies from a pie company had turned up to hand out an equally tiny filled pastry, and another bloke had set up a pump of <insert name of supplier here> beer to wash it down. There was even champagne for raising a glass at the appropriate moment, or at least there was something sparkling for raising a cup, but no complaints.

Kris was doing live street art in the corner, this with chunky pens rather than aerosols, and elsewhere Geoff was doing interactive things with tube maps, because you can't go wrong at a London-based party with one of them. And then all the chat and action paused for the special coming together moment, which featured a loved-up video you'll be able to see on the Londonist website later today. There were speeches too, from some of the proud parents who've shepherded this ten year old child towards early adolescence, and I suspect not all the words were as 'unplanned' as their orators made out.

The evening's general flood of appreciation was an appropriate way to celebrate a site that's grown from one man's part-time output to a full-time team-built concern. If it happens in London it's more likely to get a mention on Londonist than on the BBC, and more likely to be of interest to ordinary people than the majority of stuff in the Evening Standard. Indeed just last weekend my Saturday revolved entirely around something I read on Londonist the night before and would never have known about had they not mentioned it. Ten years down, one expects more than ten to go.

 Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Over the last decade or so, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been home to some pretty massive artworks. That blazing yellow sun, for example, or the big slides, or the stacked-up cardboard boxes. Last year the space took a year off, but as of yesterday the sequence continues with a giant wooden orange and red thing. [3 photos]



There have been bigger things. Occasionally artists use the entire length of the Turbine Hall to house their masterwork, whereas this latest one sits down the end - pretty massive, but stretching barely halfway.

It's called I Don't Know. The Weave of Textile Language for reasons half-guessed and half known only to the artist himself. He's Richard Tuttle, an American sculptor with half a century's work under his belt. Richard is the sort of guy who chops off three inches of rope and calls it art, so we're fortunate to have a more substantial undertaking suspended from the ceiling. Picture a twelve metre high wooden frame, longitudinally symmetrical, occasionally smothered in fabrics of three different hues. That's about it really.

Actually, look a bit closer and the structure's got form. The end nearest the mezzanine is distinctly aerodynamic, and those are two big wings, and the whole thing's representative of a plane or glider. And you'd never guess unless you'd been told but the creation deliberately resembles aeroplane parts in order to "raise the issue of genocide". Richard once qualified to be a pilot, then realised this would have mean dropping bombs on Vietnam, so chose a different career. I can't say I'd ever have spotted this underlying rationale unaided.



His sculpture creates "a huge volume of joyous colour and fluidity", apparently, whereas I thought it had an element of bus station about it. Segmented bays with a curved roof, creating shelter from the elements, and various bits of windswept fabric blown across the surface - that says suburban bus station to me. Obviously it's art so it's whatever you'd like to be, but you're probably on safer ground thinking aeroplane.

Yesterday being launch day all ground floor access to the sculpture was sealed off. This left viewing from the central mezzanine the only option, not ideal when attempting to view a linear artwork. But not to worry, the piece is striking enough hanging in the air... or so you'd think. Instead Richard's piece managed something I've rarely seen in the Turbine Hall before - it was mostly ignored.

Hordes of foreign schoolchildren sat nearby, but they were busy chatting rather than staring. I watched one fresh group approach convinced they were about to pause, but instead they trotted off down the stairs with barely a glance. Adults too generally gave the piece a miss. One rested on the adjacent balcony facing the wrong way, tapping into her phone, while others didn't even wander across that far. And OK, so I looked, and at least one other bloke did too, but the general level of artistic nonchalance surprised me.



One particularly unusual feature of this Turbine Hall presentation is that it's a companion piece to an exhibition taking place elsewhere. Richard Tuttle has a retrospective opening at the Whitechapel Gallery today, across two floors, including that three inch piece of rope and several much larger pieces. I think it's a clever idea, the one major gallery promoting the other, although how many of the Tate's millions of visitors will make it to the East End I have my doubts.

Anyway, the Whitechapel exhibition continues until 14th December, while the Turbine Hall's enormous wooden plane thing will be hanging up until Easter. Surely you'll be able to pop in at some point before then, if only to judge for yourself the level of spectacle or underwhelm. Not as good as the crack in the floor, rather better than the bunk beds with books on - you'll not be able to decide for yourself without a taking a view.

 Monday, October 13, 2014

Somewhere at TfL Towers is a desk where you are the enemy. That's you the humble tube passenger who insists on taking the train all the way to your intended destination via the quickest route. In particular that's you if your final destination is Covent Garden, because a lot of problems could be solved if you got off one stop early and walked. They've been trying for years to get people to do it, and now, with two of the lifts out of action for repairs, they have a brand new tactic.

Covent Garden's long been a bottleneck station. It's one of the few deep tube stations in London where escalators have never been installed, necessitating the use of a bank of lifts or a challenging flight of almost 200 steps. And that was fine when the nearest big thing was a flower market, but as Covent Garden has evolved into tourist central so congestion at the station has become worse. People see the name on the tube map and assume the Piccadilly line is the only way to get there, never thinking it might be possible to walk from nearby.

TfL have tried all sorts of things to persuade people to travel differently. They're run a campaign entitled "Don't Follow The Crowd" to ward people off arriving here. They've pointed out that Leicester Square is only 300 yards away, making this the closest pair of stations anywhere on the network. They've added directional signs at street level to try to shepherd visitors from Leicester Square via an above ground route. They've even made Covent Garden station exit only at weekends so that the lifts only clog in one direction and passenger throughput is maximised. And now they've spotted another class of passenger they can divert, and are attempting to nudge them into changing their behaviour too.

Holborn station is the penultimate stop for many travellers heading to Covent Garden, in particular those changing from the Central line to the Piccadilly. They alight from one train, follow a lengthy subterranean trek to reach the next platform, and then take a one minute ride to their destination. What if, someone thought, what if these people could be persuaded to complete their journey on foot. Stop them from getting on the Piccadilly line train in the first place, ease congestion at Covent Garden, make life better for everyone. And so fairly recently this sticker has appeared.



Those exiting the Central line platforms see this black rectangle as they approach the foot of the stairs. There's no context, not unless they happen to have been fortunate enough to hear the relevant recorded announcement that's played out every ten minutes across the loudspeakers. This starts by explaining that Covent Garden is currently exit only, which may be true but is entirely irrelevant for those travelling towards the station. And then it goes on to say that at weekends westbound trains aren't stopping at Covent Garden, which is extremely relevant, and is the reason why you ought to leave the station now. None of this important backstory is evident on the black sign.

Another black sign appears at the foot of the main escalator, this time pointing upwards. It's been positioned at the entrance to the Piccadilly line portal, so you can't miss it, along with a map to show the suggested walking route. A red line shows which way to go (down Kingsway, then right into Great Queen Street and keep going), should you have the opportunity to take it all in. But to view the map you have to stand in the path of passengers descending from the ticket hall as they pour off the escalator, so hanging around long enough to memorise the route isn't really an option.

Ignore the black sign and you can carry on down to the Piccadilly line. On a weekday you could be at Covent Garden station in a couple of minutes, perhaps to join the queues for the lifts, but you're still going to get to the surface quicker than the 10 minute walk TfL are suggesting. On a weekday the black sign is best ignored. But at the weekend, at least until mid-November, you'd be best advised to take heed. Westbound trains aren't stopping at Covent Garden, remember, so you'd end up overshooting and having to come back, or getting out at Leicester Square and walking, and that's ten minutes plus.

Let's assume you do decide to follow TfL's black diversion sign out of the station. What happens at the top of the escalators? Well, here another black sign directs you left out of the ticket hall, but that's the sole extent of TfL's street level signage. There's no map, not up here, so if you didn't check the route earlier bad luck. There is one long-standing poster frame containing written directions to Covent Garden, but you'd never spot it, it's on the wrong side of the exit and faces incoming passengers only, so essentially you're on your own.

And there are no special signs along the walking route either. You might expect the occasional temporary fingerpost to point the way, but no. Instead you have to spot "Covent Garden ↑" and "Covent Garden →" on the black enamelled maps that now grace our streets. They're very good, if you notice them, and are present at all relevant points along the journey... except one. The offending junction is at Drury Lane, where the red line on the map said go straight on, remember, but visitors to our city aren't likely to be so certain and might well get lost.

I reached Covent Garden from Holborn station after an eight minute walk, not ten, because I know what I'm doing. That's still slower than taking the train would have been if it was stopping, except it wasn't, because it's the weekend, and sorry, see how complicated this whole mess is? But TfL's black signs admit no such complications, they just want to bump you out of the system at Holborn and abandon you to find the rest of the way yourself.

A more nuanced information campaign would provide different recorded announcements on weekdays to weekends. A more nuanced information campaign would state that the black diversion was important on Saturdays and Sundays so you didn't catch a non-stopping train by accident. A more nuanced information campaign would cover over the black diversion sign on weekdays because it's unnecessary. But this isn't a nuanced information campaign, it's a blunt tool to nudge behaviour, introduced barely five weeks before the ten month lift replacement programme is completed.

And if you haven't bothered to read most of that, because it was a bit technical, sorry, simply know this. Somewhere at TfL Towers is a desk where you are the enemy. A desk where someone loves to misdirect you around the system, for example sending you all round the houses at King's Cross or taking the long way to Covent Garden, to make the system run better overall. And they don't do nuanced, they don't do time-specific, they just slap up signs in the hope you'll do what you're told. Your sacrifice is very much appreciated.

 Sunday, October 12, 2014

Once a year four of London's tourist guide associations join together to present Local London Guiding Day. Each offers a free taster walking tour, hourly from ten til four, and anyone in the know can tag along. This year's theme was the Georgians, so each guiding association had to throw together a 45 minute itinerary visiting whatever local sights they thought fit, some more successfully than others. And if you went on all four walks and got your programme stamped you could enter a draw to win another free walk, a proper one given that they normally cost. I ticked off the lot and had a most interesting day, discovering several things (and even the odd location) of which I'd not previously been aware. Here's what you missed. And, next year?

Westminster Guides: Through a Fanlight Darkly
Departing: Charing Cross station
There's a peculiar part of town between the Strand and the Thames, a thin strip of streets not usually visited, much of which has a Georgian tinge. There's Benjamin Franklin House, for example, where the great American spent 15 years of his life before dashing back across the pond to fight for independence. That's fun, if you've ever been inside, but we spent most of our time further along the embankment behind the watergate. Several grand mansions once lined the river here, all lost, including York House, Northumberland House and Durham House. On the site of the latter, in the mid 18th century, the Adam Brothers erected the Adelphi Buildings. These neoclassical terraced houses were supposed to make their fortune, but the rich and famous were slow to move in, and in the 1930s the block was knocked down and replaced by the Art Deco Adelphi we see today. Several original Adam terraces survive round about, however, some beautifully decorated with stucco, others rather more plain. And one of the Adelphi's riverside vaults remains, now a secret cabbies' cut-through to embankment level, and a tale to be told some other day.
Thing I didn't know before: When George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham sold York House, he insisted that the streets laid out on the site bore his name. They were therefore called George Court, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Buckingham Street... and Of Alley.
The best of the four tours for... a) smiling chirpiness b) taking the backstreets c) uncommon architecture
What the guides usually do: three walks weekly, one on Wednesday and two on Saturdays, £8

Greenwich Tour Guides: Inheritance, Indulgence and Infighting
Departing: Cutty Sark DLR
Of all the four walks, this one hit the Georgian nail on the head the best. And that's because, perhaps surprisingly, central Greenwich boasts several direct hits from the Four Georges themselves. "That's where George I first held his first reception on arriving in the country," said our guide pointing at the Queen's House in Greenwich Park. Inside the National Maritime Museum we saw Prince Frederick's gilded barge, built for George II's unloved son and heir (whose parents were both secretly pleased when he died young from a cricket ball injury). In the Old Royal Naval College, where The Madness of King George was filmed, we saw one of London's only statues to his father George II, alas disfigured by paint removal after a student prank. And at the back of the Painted Hall we saw an ingratiating tableau to the Hanoverian monarchs and had its deeper symbolism explained. All this and some general Georgian stuff elsewhere, Greenwich having more than its fair share of four-storey terraces to admire, splendid.
Thing I didn't know before: Stable Yard by the Greenwich Theatre, until recently the Spread Eagle pub, used to be a 17th century coaching inn.
The best of the four tours for... a) professionalism b) Georgian relevance c) crossing the road properly
What the guides usually do: daily walks at 12.15 and 2.15pm, £8

City of London Guides: Georgian Life in the City
Departing: Bank station
You'd think the City was rammed with Georgian treasures, but instead a lot is post-Fire Stuart, and a lot lot more is postwar redevelopment. Our guides therefore had their work cut out to find a circuit round Bank station that ticked all the right boxes. They sort-of succeeded. The Bank of England's curtain wall dates from the right period, as does the Mansion House, built in Palladian style on the site of a herb market. St Mary Woolnoth is about as early Georgian as you can get, Hawksmoor's only City church, with a most unusual columned facade topped off by twin turrets. And the Rothschilds' HQ on St Swithin's Lane may be as modern as they come, but the family rose to prominence during the relevant period so were duly included. Other than these highlights, this was more a tour round back alleys with a few supporting historical characters mentioned, plus a 1799 water pump thrown in for good measure. There was also competition from a City wedding emptying onto the steps of the Royal Exchange, although its attendees were easily distinguished from would-be walkers by their choice of non-sensible footwear.
Thing I didn't know before: The ticket hall at Bank station is located, near enough, in the former crypt of St Mary Woolnoth church.
The best of the four tours for... a) detailed historical information b) bustle c) brevity
What the guides usually do: numerous daily tours, at least two each day, £7 or £8.

Clerkenwell & Islington Guides: Bad, Sad,... and Mad!
Departing: Angel station
A slight problem emerges when trying to discuss the Islington area during Georgian times - it was mostly fields. Nevertheless Saturday's tour managed to connect various locations that did at least exist at the time. One of these was the Regent's Canal, which tunnelled in during George III's reign, and another was the New River, which had already been around for over 100 years. We stood by the former and in the latter, now a public park, as well as following the ex-waterway to its final stop. I'd been to New River Head before, obviously, but for most of the rest of the tour party it was an eye-opening find. Meryl Streep's been filming in nearby Myddleton Square, apparently, for a Suffragettes film due for release early next year. As for Sadler's Wells, even that's originally too old to be Georgian. Indeed the theatre had already descended to a "a nursery of debauchery" by the time George I came to the throne, so its ascent to a modern venue of high culture is somewhat surprising. Meanwhile Pentonville Road was a genuine 18th century intervention, part of possibly the world's first bypass, built to keep market-bound livestock out of central London.
Thing I didn't know before: One of Islington's two remaining wells can be found just off the foyer inside Sadler's Wells Theatre - just ask to see it.
The best of the four tours for... a) local insight b) friendly banter c) number of attendees
What the guides usually do: Supposedly a weekly walk every Saturday, although the website suggests fewer more irregular outings.

 Saturday, October 11, 2014

My phone goes unexpectedly at work.

On this occasion it's not number unknown, it's my letting agents. They could be calling about anything, perhaps a leaking pipe in the flat upstairs, perhaps a tedious document that needs signing, whatever. I slip away from my desk and answer.

"Hi it's Jason," says apparently-Jason. "Your landlord would like to do a valuation on the flat. It might be for the mortgage or something."

There is a pause while we both let the implications of that last little white lie sink in.

"Can I make an appointment to come over? How about tomorrow evening?"

When tomorrow evening arrives I dash home on the early side to make sure I'm properly prepared for Jason's arrival. The washing up is completed, a pile of trousers is relocated and some strategic dusting is undertaken.

The door buzzer goes as dusk is falling, and Jason makes his way up to my flat. He's young and dapper, maybe half my age, with a clipboard stashed underneath the arm of his jacket.

"Do I need to take my shoes off?"

Jason's brogues stay on his feet as I point him in the general direction of the first couple of rooms. A waft of something aftershave-y lingers in the hallway.

"The flat's bigger than it looks, " I venture, before realising I probably shouldn't be overselling the place, not in the circumstances. Too late, he's probably already converting my available cubic metres into equivalent property value.

"And is this the master bedroom?"

It's been a long time since any visitor to the flat asked that question. In this case the answer's no, it's bedroom number two, which again I realise is a black mark against the affordability of my rent.

He asks me whether I've been living here long, which compared to everyone else in the building I have. Indeed during that time I've paid my landlord a six figure sum, which ought to make me sob, but that's the reality of London life.

I briefly wish the lounge looked smaller as Jason gives it a brief once over.

"Well I think that's everything," he says, and within ten seconds we're shaking hands with pleasantries at the door.

It's possible that nothing happens next, that my landlord really did only want to know how much his buy-to-let investment is worth. But it's also possible that an email will arrive in the immediate future wondering whether maybe, possibly, thank you, I could stretch to another hundred or two a month.

Bow's gone up a bit in the world since the Olympics, somewhat beyond anything I might have expected when I moved in. Indeed I'll soon have near neighbours from Malaysia who've never even set foot in East London, let alone their new penthouse flats overlooking the roundabout. Jason, I suspect, still lives rather further out.

So I'm not expecting anything awkward to transpire following his visit, to become one of those edged out of a neighbourhood by property's rising tide. But I will be giving my inbox a sideways glance over the next week, just in case an unexpected demand fires in. In London these days it costs more simply to stand still.

 Friday, October 10, 2014

When TfL announce a New Tube For London you can sit at home and read the press release. Or you can go to the exhibition at King's Cross and discover what it's all about for yourself.

Depending on when you turned up yesterday you might have met Boris, or the MD of London Underground, or a bunch of news crews, or the design team that came up with the specification. Or you might have met nobody. The exhibition is basically some information panels and three screens, very nicely done, but with no real need for anyone official to stand around nearby. It is essentially a driverless exhibition, because driverless is the future, and why employ expensive experts if you don't need to?

The plan is for sleek new trains to replace all the existing stock on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Waterloo and City and Central lines. But not just yet. Train number 1 isn't scheduled to arrive until about ten years time (or, if you want the current official behind-the-scenes delivery date, 2023). The Piccadilly line is due to get them first, replacing rolling stock by then over 50 years old, and only after the first 100 trains have been delivered will any of the other lines get a look in. There's nothing in any way imminent about the New Train for London, we're merely at the electronic mock-up stage.

The key challenge in designing a new train for these four lines is the narrow width of the tunnels. Most underground railways elsewhere in the world have a broader bore, but those who dug London's deep tube lines over a century ago were thinking small. This limited cross-section restricts the amount of technology you can cram aboard, hence it was long thought that adding air conditioning units was one step too far. But the new trains will indeed contain the Holy Grail of underground travel, made possible by cramming the additional air cooling technology into gaps below the carriages between the bogies.

One important break from the past is that the New Tube won't have separate carriages, it'll be a walk through train. This allows the doors to be more equally spaced out, and wider, which will decrease boarding times and speed up travel. It also means greater capacity inside, which is PR-speak for fewer seats, although at peak times those struggling to push inside will be more than welcome of the additional space. Floor levels will be better aligned with platform heights, which will allow step-free access at a far wider range of stations than is possible today. And all the displays inside will be electronic, even the route maps and adverts, which will open up a whole new dimension of information transfer as you travel.

In some ways the New Tube for London is like the S Stock recently introduced on the Metropolitan and Circle lines - a long snaking train with aircon and plenty of standing room. But while the S Stock is mostly functional, plans for the NTfL reveal something rather better looking. There'll be an emphasis on quality of style as well as capacity, a nod to the design rhetoric embodied by London Transport in the days of Frank Pick, indeed a hint of the 1920s in the 2020s. The roof will be attractively grooved, the interior lighting refined and retro, and the front of the train streamlined to resemble a glowing horseshoe as it approaches. All budget cuts excepted, that is.

In other ways the New Tube for London is like the New Bus for London. A private design team has come up with the look and feel of the new trains - in this case a West End company called PriestmanGoode - and now all that's needed is a company to build them. Only when the end product has finally been delivered can we truly judge whether today's high hopes and expectations have truly been met. It's no good the travelling public adoring the exterior design if the aircon doesn't work, the inside smells and the rear doors don't open.

And the new trains are only the half of it. The other crucial part of the project will be the unseen upgrade to the signalling, requiring a brand new system to be tried out, tested and verified all along the line. It's going to be a real challenge to get this right, not least because old and new trains will need to run together throughout the changeover period, and also because there are sections of lines where NTfL and S Stock need to share the same track.

And don't get too excited by the thought of driverless trains, because that's a loooo-ong way off, if indeed it ever happens at all. All the new trains will have a driver's cab, despite Boris's pledge he'd never buy a new train with such a facility, because it won't be technically possible to run entirely automatic trains from day 1. Indeed there's a major expense with going driverless, the elephant and castle in the room, which is the need to install platform edge doors at almost every station along the way. Health and safety dictates no risk of passenger bugger-up, which'll mean glass walls need to be erected everywhere from narrow crowded platforms like King's Cross to open air beauties like Sudbury Town. Installation and maintenance costs will balance out any initial savings to be made from removing the driver - a policy borne purely out of political expediency, and requiring massive additional investment to complete.

For the next five weeks you'll find the NTFL exhibition parallel to the top of the escalators in the Northern Ticket Hall at King's Cross. Don't come along expecting to see a walk-in prototype, we're absolutely nowhere near that stage yet. But a model pair of carriages is on display and you can peer inside, like playing with a train set of the future. Quite a long way into the future, at present, but all the initial signs are that it'll be worth the wait.



 Thursday, October 09, 2014

Concealed in the woods on Shooters Hill is a building with a peculiar past and a brighter future. It's a 60 foot brick tower called Severndroog Castle, built by a grieving wife to commemorate her husband's military exploits, and not so much a castle as a widow's folly. Given its height and location it's incredibly well hidden, revealed only when you're right up close (or, in winter, from slightly further away). The building has an approximately triangular footprint, consisting of one central hexagonal tower with three smaller hexagonal towers on alternate sides. Sorry, that's probably over-explaining it.

Severndroog Castle honours Sir William James, one time Commodore in the East India company, who died suddenly at his daughter's wedding in 1783. His greatest maritime success had been to capture a fort off the coast of Malabar by the name of Severndroog, hence this was the title Lady James gave to the folly she had built in his honour. Sorry, that's probably under-explaining it - the full story has rather more to it - but I don't want to tell you everything you'll discover if you turn up.

The tower passed into the hands of various owners before ending up in the care of the GLC, then Greenwich council who planned to lease it to developers. Stuff that, thought a bunch of interested citizens, who promptly set up a Building Preservation Trust and raised the money to take over the lease. Their efforts and a half million pound lottery grant restored the fabric of the crumbling building, and earlier this summer they opened the place up to visitors for the first time in years. It was great to be back.

And very popular too. Perhaps it was Sunday's splendid weather, but quite a crowd had mustered around the foot of the tower, plenty enough to justify the tower's rebirth. One reason for the swarm was the tearoom located on the ground floor of the tower, spilling out onto sun-dappled tables in the courtyard. But the main reason was the 40 minute wait to go up the tower, which meant there was a pressing opportunity to visit the tearoom in the meantime.



On busy days the tower has to operate strict timed entry because only ten visitors are allowed on the upper platform at any one time. Admission into the building comes ten minutes earlier, allowing about five minutes on each of the two floors stacked above the tearoom (plus longer if you want to look again on the way down). The first floor contains the Lady James Room, an impressive chamber with painted ceiling and central brass light fitting (although LJ's original plaster designs are alas mostly lost). Then it's up the spiral staircase for a plainer room named after her husband, this filled with historical and heritage information, plus to one side an unexpected pair of toilets.

But it's the roof you'll really want to see, assuming it's a fine day, and quite frankly you should wait until it is. Initially it seems as if you'll only see treetops, but another set of stairs leads up onto the top of a satellite tower... and from here, suddenly, wow. The treeline means it's not a 360° panorama, more like two hundred and a bit, but the visible sector faces the City and the East End and opens out to reveal the majority of London spread out below. It's the tall towers that draw the eye, but in good visibility the hills of Harrow and masts of Croydon are clearly seen, and Wembley's arch, and the Olympic Stadium, and Dartford Mental Hospital, and that must be somewhere in Barking, etc etc.



The allotted ten minutes simply fly by, especially if you've spent most of the time taking photos and selfies. But how much better to simply stare and absorb the vast low-rise glory of the capital, before the kitchen pinger rings and the rooftop volunteer ushers you back down. The trust are looking for more volunteers, by the way, because they currently only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and would quite like to add Saturdays too, but only if they get more help. The £2.50 entrance charge only goes so far, so donations of small change and time are always very welcome.

And what of the tearoom? It's compact and cakey, with a menu ranging from frothy drinks to jammy toast. I plumped for tea and a panini, the latter properly baked and served up with coleslaw on a wooden platter. The sandwiches looked less special, and the service could perhaps best be described as bustlingly inefficient, although I'm willing to put that down to sheer numbers of orders. If you do pause here while waiting your turn up the tower, don't necessarily assume that your order will be ready in thirty minutes. But do come, because Severndroog's combination of heritage, rooftop views and cake are a definite winner, if you pick your time right.


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harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
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