diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 31, 2009

I never bring work home with me. I believe very firmly in the division between work and home. Work is for the office, and not for home. Home is for doing homely things, and not for work. Keep the two separate, I say, and then one never encroaches on the other.

I never offer to take work home with me. Not even one bit of work home, it'd be the thin end of the wedge. My home time is my own, and I don't want people thinking they can encroach on it. I have no intention of logging into my work email account in the evening, or whipping off a quick report over the weekend. Once I'm out of the office, I am not available.

If any work needs doing urgently, it can wait. There's always tomorrow morning, and tomorrow morning will be good enough. If deadlines get really close I can always stay at work late and catch up there. I'd rather work longer in the appropriate environment than drag a file of documents home and work on them here. Work/life balance, that's the key.

I appear to have brought some work home with me. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but it's happened all the same. I've had one of those weeks, and yesterday was one of those days, and not everything got done. Some bits were left over, and those bits really need to be done for Monday, and I appear to have brought some of those bits home. Damn.

I've only gone and brought some work home with me. I could have stayed in the office until stupid o'clock and got it finished, but I decided against it. Nobody works late on a Friday night, not if they can help it, not when there's a weekend kicking off. Exiting the office before the cleaners arrive is the only socially acceptable option.

I thought it'd be a good idea to bring some work home with me. I only thought it for a brief moment as I was exiting the office. Maybe it was guilt, or maybe it was knowing that Monday will be so much easier if I get the work done beforehand. All I know is it seemed a good idea at the time. I'm not so sure it was a good idea now.

I really have brought some work home with me. It's lurking over there in that bag, sealed away, out of sight. I haven't opened it yet. To be honest, I don't really want to open it at all. I know that the minute I open the bag and see what's inside I'll feel a guilty urge to do something about it. Probably best I keep it shut then, leave Saturday as a day of proper rest, and think again on Sunday.

I know I shouldn't have brought any work home with me. It'll just sit there, looming large over my weekend, and make me feel restless and uncomfortable for 48 hours. And I bet I'll get to nine o'clock tomorrow evening and decide that, you know, it's a bit late, and maybe I won't, and where's the harm in leaving it? Deep down, I already know I'm not going to touch it.

I don't believe in working from home. Work is for the office, and home is for doing homely things. That's what I think today, anyway. On Monday morning, once I'm back at work and various deadlines loom large, I may deeply regret that decision. But for now I'm simply ashamed for bringing the work home in the first place. It'll never happen again, I promise.

 Friday, January 30, 2009

Little Green Street

Little Green Street, from the westUp Kentish Town way, just off the Highgate Road, there's a rather special Georgian terrace called Little Green Street. It's a very short road, only about ten families live here. It's very old, dating back more than 250 years to the early 18th century. It's pretty much intact, untouched by the Blitz and modern development. It's rather photogenic, indeed you can imagine the BBC shooting a costume drama here (so long as they painted over the yellow lines and covered the bollards). It's Grade II listed, as you might hope and expect. It's cobbled, and you don't get a lot of cobbles in Camden. It's also very narrow, less than three metres wide. And therein lies the problem.

Running parallel to Highgate Road, accessible only via Little Green Street, is an old trackway called College Lane. This restricted backwater used to be home to a British Rail Staff clubhouse, long since closed but now very much ripe for development. Not surprisingly, perhaps, a private company has eyed up the site with plans to build "20 mews houses arranged in terraces of 2 and 3 storeys and a block of 10 flats comprising studio, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom flats" with "provision of underground car parking". Which is a heck of a lot of construction work in such a small space. Things would be fine if they could drop in the building materials by helicopter, but no, it's got to be lorries. And the lorries would have to go down Little Green Street. The residents aren't best pleased.

Little Green Street, from the eastConstruction traffic would need to negotiate Little Green Street's narrow roadway several times a day for a prolonged period of time, with an awkward turn at each end. It'd only take one careless driver to knock over a bollard (or, more worryingly, a wall). Construction traffic would be rumbling along inches from each front door, and householders wouldn't want to walk out into the street when a lorry was going by. There's only one pavement, and a very narrow one at that, so pedestrians would have to keep well out of the way if a truck were going through. Anyone with a pushchair trying to cut through Little Green Street to the Ingestre Estate beyond might want to think again and find an alternative route (not that there's a convenient one).
An aside. Having visited the street, I'm at a loss to see why the council don't organise site access via the Ingestre Estate instead. This postwar estate is most definitely not a Grade II listed location, more a patch of characterless boxes, and it has proper sized pavements and roads which lorries could drive down with far less hassle. OK, so there's a pedestrian ramp and steps and a gate in the way, but these could be modified or removed for only a small cost. And yes, obviously the estate's residents don't want lorries rumbling past their homes and children either, but the distance would be yards not inches. Alas it seems that a private estate can say no, whereas a narrow public street has no say.
A long battle between the residents, the council and the developers has been underway for the last eight years. The residents are extremely good at publicity. They have their own campaign website and blog, they've generated scores of column inches in the press, they've enlisted the help of local celebrities and they've persuaded various people to lie down in the road to demonstrate just how narrow it is. The council have been caught in the middle. They've ruled one way and the other, with their final judgement last February to refuse planning permission. Hurrah. But the developers are very resourceful. Every time Euro-Investments are turned down they keep coming up with revised plans, for example using smaller (but more frequent) trucks. And most recently an independent adjudicator has overruled the council, like what do they know, and pronounced that the housing development can go ahead after all. That's our wonderful planning process for you - try often enough and eventually one of your proposals will slip through.

So the Little Green Streeters are seeing in 2009 under the threat of major disruption. Their only hope is the current depressed state of the housing market, which might delay the College Lane development until people actually want to buy property again. Here's hoping that day's a long way off.

Little Green Street campaign website
Little Green Street blog

 Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jumping the whale

Oh my word, what's happened to Twitter in the last month? Or, indeed, in the last week? Twitter used to be a semi-obscure micro-blogging platform on which bloggers, geeks and socialites indulged in occasional interaction. People like you and me, mostly. We used it to share our woes about work and to moan about idiots on buses. We scrutinised the thoughts of acquaintances in far flung locations and responded instantly to their emotions and enquiries. We revealed our innermost anxieties and spewed forth a dribble of heartfelt irrelevances. In short, Twitter was both intimate and trivial.

And then Twitter changed. People started broadcasting less and conversing more. A greater proportion of messages were directed not @everyone, but @someone. Twitter became more of a public email service where online friends chatted openly, and the rest of us saw only half of their conversation. Meanwhile marketing gurus recognised the usefulness of an unregulated social network and moved in to groom advocates for their products and online services. Twitter became less parochial, more worldly-wise, and activity ratcheted up a level.

Last Friday Stephen Fry blew the doors wide open. He blustered briefly about Twitter on Jonathan Ross's inaugural post-scandal chat show, and suddenly the entire UK took notice. Anyone could be Stephen or Wossy's friend, or link up with an increasing number of savvy celebrities, and everyone it seems was interested. Boom! The Twitter phenomenon exploded as the previously ignorant or unwilling signed up in droves. It's just like Facebook updates, innit, only without the poking, Scrabble and drunken photos. With Twitter you can become close friends with the rich and famous without relying on them wanting to be friends back with you.

Twitter's now changed, perhaps irrevocably. It's not a secret any more, it's gone mainstream (Last year I averaged 25 new Twitter followers every three months - this week I've accumulated 25 in three days). There's a lot more tweeting going on, so fresh screenfuls of messages wheel past in minutes rather than hours. The latest tranche of new recruits are most likely here to network, not narrate. And Twitter's stream of mundane chatter is slowly becoming diluted amidst a rising tide of obsequious star-gazing. People are increasingly preoccupied with nattering to celebrities in the vain hope they'll answer back, because sometimes they do, and maybe the lucky one in ten thousand could be you. Twitter's becoming more a measure of social success than a simple communication platform.

But hey, I still rather like Twitter. I've been on there since 2006, intermittently spouting forth, and I still treat the service with the cautious curiosity it deserves. I know far more about a handful of global citizens than I could ever find out otherwise, and feel closer to them as a result. I can stalk people I've never met, and control how far I allow other people to stalk me. I can publish irrelevant phrases at irregular intervals and wonder why quite so many people find them of interest. And, if necessary, I can vent my despair via text from a rush hour tube carriage and know that a distant audience shares my pain.

I hope that Twitter doesn't evolve into something too vacuous and unwieldy as 2009 passes, full of tedious dialogue and irrelevant bluster. Or maybe all you newbies will get bored after a few weeks and go back to Facebook or real life or wherever, and leave the rest of us to it. Hey, @stephenfry, what do you reckon?

20 genuine Twittercelebs: Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, Phillip Schofield, William Shatner, Neil Diamond, Neil Gaiman, Britney Spears, Richard Branson, Demi Moore, MC Hammer, Mike Skinner, Lance Armstrong, Jamie Oliver, Charlie Brooker, Andy Murray, Dave Gorman, Danny Wallace, Yoko Ono, Prince Charles

 Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Comfort stations

How often do you find yourself on the tube with that nagging feeling that you probably, desperately, imminently need to find a toilet? You might be on your way back from the pub, you might have a cola-sozzled toddler in tow, or it might just be that your body can't hold it in like it used to. Travellers once had to remember, or worse guess, where to find a station with a convenient public convenience. But no longer. TfL have finally published a detailed map on which appear all the toilets on the underground network, and you need cross your legs no longer. Such blessed relief.

And here it is - the Tube Toilet map. Good news, it's much simpler than yesterday's step-free map. There are only a handful of symbols to cope with, and they're all the obvious ones. The usual bloke for a gents, the usual woman for a ladies, and the usual side view of a wheelchair for one of those extra large disabled loos with a grab pole. Up to three symbols can appear at each station, depending on which of the above they've got. And these symbols can be either red or black. Red means the toilet is inside the ticket barrier, so you'll only get to use it if you have a ticket. And black means the toilet is outside the ticket barrier, so anyone can use it.

Essex loosHere's an example from the eastern end of the Central line. At Buckhurst Hill there's a gents and a ladies on platform 2, and at Loughton there's a gents and a ladies in the public half of the ticket hall. Debden has nothing (sorry) while Theydon Bois has one of each. Erm, hang on, these symbols are quite small, aren't they? Which gender's black and which gender's red? It's really quite hard to tell when the only difference is a couple of tiny pixellated triangles at groin level. But just remember, on this map (if not in real life) the gentleman always comes first. So Theydon Bois must have a (red) gents exclusive on the platform and a (black) ladies free-for-all in the ticket hall. Desperate travellers in wheelchairs should make their way instead to Epping, platform 2, where there's an Oyster-only unisex accessible convenience. Sorted.

OK, there is a little more to it. Some of the stations on the map have asterisks, like at Epping, which means check out the special information on the back of the map. An asterisk has one of two very different meanings. It could mean you have to pay to use the toilet or, on the other hand, it could mean there are baby-changing facilities. But be warned, not every toilet with an entrance fee has an asterisk, neither is there an asterisk at every station with baby-changing facilities. Also, two of the toilets on the map have both an entrance fee and baby-changing facilities, but only one of these has an asterisk. I am at this point losing the will to live. Just check the list on the back of the map, it's all explained there. Probably.

And then there are stations marked with a dagger. This is TfL's way of saying "there's a toilet at this station but it's not one of ours, so don't blame us if it costs you to get in or if it's a bit mucky". Most of these are at mainline stations, such as Victoria or Ealing Broadway, although some are just council-owned toilets that happen to be close to a station entrance. But still within the station itself. If the toilet's outside in the street or in a nearby shopping centre, it doesn't count. It may exist in close proximity in real life but it won't be on the map (probably). Conversely there's some debate as to whether all the toilets marked on the map are still open. Morden may have done once but it doesn't now, so I'm told, and Ickenham's not 100% convincing either. Have your silver coins ready, just in case.

urinally blessed MetrolandSo what can we learn from the distribution of London's tube toilets as indicated on this new map? Well, it appears that some parts of town are urinally blessed. Every single station here in Metroland boasts a restroom, for a start, plus most of the overground extremities along the Central and Piccadilly lines. It's possible, for example, to ride from Finchley Road to Acton Town via 20 consecutive cubicle-friendly stations. Certain tube companies in certain eras appear to have placed a high priority on providing complete toilet facilities for all their passengers. But not others.

If you're caught short in central London, it's more miss than hit. Apart from the mainline rail termini there aren't many underground toilets shoehorned into Zone 1, although Bank, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus are useful boltholes when the urge strikes. The ultra-modern DLR may be 100% accessible but it turns out to be a 90% toilet-lite wasteland, so keep well away if bladdered. Likewise there's an inconvenient void along the Hammersmith & City line, and down the southern extremity of the Northern line, and across almost all of Islington. As for the Bakerloo line, whose name might suggest better, try not to venture northwest beyond Paddington or you'll need to hold yourself in.

It's a bit of geographical lottery, this lavatorial availability, which is why TfL's new map could be so useful. Why not slip one into your pocket or handbag to help you to target the porcelain next time you get caught short underground. You won't be able to pick up a paper copy of the map anywhere, sorry, because apparently it's download only. Better fire up your colour printer, then. And try to make it A3, if you can, because the skirts on those symbolic toilet people are well tiny.

 Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Free steps forward

Yesterday TfL launched two brand new tube maps, each with elderly and disabled travellers in mind, but both with a rather wider potential audience. One identifies where there are public toilets on and around the tube, and the other details step-free access across the network. Let's concentrate on step-free access today, and then do toilets tomorrow.

You might think there's already a step-free tube map - i.e. the standard map covered with big blue wheelchair blobs. But no, that's just a ghastly simplification, a mere summary of the underground nightmare which faces disabled Londoners. The big blue blobs reveal only whether it's possible to get from the street to the platform, and there's a lot more to getting around than that. Which means that the new step-free map is rather complicated. OK, let's be honest, it's incredibly complicated. Deep breath.

step-free East LondonHere's a snippet of the map taken from my patch of East London, just to show you how it works. Looks like one of those atomic models your chemistry teacher used to have, doesn't it? Admit it, you're baffled already. So let's start with a simple bit. Mile End station, the perfect cross-platform interchange between the Central, District and Hammersmith & City lines. That's what the coloured rings show - three colours in each so this is a three-line step-free interchange. But you can't escape to the street, not in a wheelchair, so the rings are empty. If there's step-free access to the street then the map shows a filled-in coloured blob. As an example see Bow Church or Pudding Mill Lane, both of them DLR stations with a lift to permit entry and exit. OK so far?

But why are the blobs different colours? Ah, that's to explain how you cross the gap between the platform and the train. Some gaps are too wide, and some gaps are too high, and you'll not be wheeling aboard the train if that breach is too great. The colours warn you about vertical height (green means up to 2 inches, amber up to 5 inches, and red up to a foot) and the letters warn you about horizontal chasm (A means no more than 3½ inches, B no more than 7 and C no more than 10). Bow Church's green A means that the gap's a doddle to cross, whereas Stratford's red C suggests a hoverchair might be needed to climb aboard. Quick test for you - can you instantly say what the two blobs at West Ham mean? No, I thought not. This stuff really takes a lot of unravelling.

And there's more. An exclamation mark beside a station name, such as that at Stratford, hints that there's important information you need to know written on the back of the map. You can access that via this pdf, but I hope your eyesight's up to scratch because there's a phenomenal amount of information on here. Normally we bemoan TfL for dumbing down and over-simplification, but not here. This is incredibly elaborate, allowing affected citizens to undertake detailed route planning appropriate to their needs. The disabled will not be patronised, not any more, not here.

step-free BankThe map only shows stations where either step-free interchange or exit are possible. All the other stations, and there are a lot, are greyed out so that you can ignore them. See above at Bow Road or Bromley-by-Bow, for example, both pointless destinations in a wheelchair. Or consider the situation here at Bank/Monument. The Central and Northern lines sweep through without stopping, and there's no point even considering the Waterloo & City because you'd not get in or out at either end. Check out the complete map and you'll see how Zone 1 is virtually devoid of decent access, with lines threading through like disconnected spaghetti. What the map's really showing is how appalling step-free access is, especially in central London, and how you'd probably be better off in a taxi.

In case this is all too much to take in, TfL have kindly provided details of an example journey down the side of the map. It's from Sudbury Town to Borough - not a simple journey even for the able bodied - but ridiculously tough for those in a wheelchair. Here's a brief summary (and you can confirm this as the optimum route using advanced options in TfL's Journey Planner).
» Enter Sudbury Town (via the Station Approach entrance, not Orchard Gate)
» Take the Piccadilly line (big step up, medium gap) to Green Park (big step down)
» Via lifts and along a 220m passage to get on Jubilee line (big step up) to London Bridge (small step down)
» Via lifts and via street (410m in total) to get on Northern line (level access)
» Ride southbound through Borough station to Clapham North (big step down) and cross the platform (big step up)
» Return northbound to Borough (big step down) and exit via lift to street
I don't know about you, but all that seems a heck of a lot of effort just to make a single independent journey. Four trains, five lifts, seven steps and a long trek through the streets of SE1, these aren't the hallmarks of an inclusive 21st century society. But then much of our tube network is either Victorian or Edwardian, pre-dating accessibility legislation by at least a century, so it's a miracle there's any step-free access down there at all. Thank goodness Londoners have several other public transport options, completely absent from this map, which mean things aren't quite as grim as they appear. Richmond to Willesden Junction may look nightmarish by tube but it's tons easier on the Overground, omitted here. There's no sign either of Croydon's tram network (which is fully accessible throughout), nor even a hint that you might prefer to take the bus (ditto).

So all hail the new step-free tube map. It's over-complex. It requires an above-average IQ to use. It's completely useless to the colour-blind. It reveals 90% of the network as an inaccessible sham. But it's great that those with limited mobility now have all the information they need to decide whether to give cross-London tube travel a try or not. And, now that this map exists, do you think TfL might finally remove those ugly blue blobs from the mainstream tube diagram? Yeah, I know, fat chance. We're not quite there yet.

[As an alternative to the map, you might consider using the hugely impressive Direct Enquiries website. This includes access details for every station on the tube network, including a diagrammatic summary of the journey from street to platform, plus photos of every escalator, ramp and set of steps you might encounter along the way. At Bow Road station, for example, it's up these 2 steps, through this ticket hall, through these ticket gates, along this passage and down these 32 steps to catch a westbound train. Think you could manage that with a pushchair? Make up your own mind.]

 Monday, January 26, 2009

BLONDON A-Z
An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Burgh House (Hampstead Museum)

Location: New End Square, Hampstead NW3 1LT [map]
Open: Wed, Thur, Fri, Sun (noon-5pm)
Admission: free
Brief summary: life by the Heath
Website: www.burghhouse.org.uk
Time to set aside: half an hour

Burgh HouseEver been for a proper walk round the heights of Hampstead? Not the grassy Heath-y bit, but the cluster of houses on the hilltop alongside? You don't have to walk far from Hampstead tube to find yourself amongst narrow lanes, intimate alleyways and asymmetric squares - quite unlike any other part of London. Those who live here don't get a lot of garden for their money, but they do get their choice of glorious Victorian townhouses and detached cottages and bold modernist infill, plus some of the capital's most famous neighbours. The rest of us are restricted to eyeing up this enclave via a jealous wander, and maybe paying a visit to a small museum which tells the area's story.

Burgh House was built in 1704, around the same time as Hampstead burst forth onto the London scene as an upmarket spa. Chief physician Dr William Gibbons moved into the house shortly afterwards, and it was he who encouraged visitors to gulp down the foul-tasting chalybeate waters. The spa's respectability didn't last, tarnished by drinking dens and vice, and it took several decades for Hampstead to regain its status as a desirable upper middle class haven. One of Burgh House's Victorian residents was Thomas Grylls, designer of Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner rose window, while the garden was later overhauled by legendary landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll. Quite a comedown after WW2, then, to end up as a crumbling Citizen's Advice Bureau, and only a concerted campaign by locals saved the building as a museum.

Burgh HouseIt's not the most obvious of museums, you have to look hard to be reassured it's OK to enter, but the volunteer on the front desk will probably smile broadly at the sight of a visitor. There's a small shop here - not the usual tea towels and tourist tat, but a proper collection of Hampstead ephemera and locally-sourced books. Off to the left is the creaky-floored Music Room - mostly empty apart from a grand piano, and bookable for weddings so long as the guests don't mind having nowhere to park. There are a couple more period rooms downstairs, again lightly furnished, connecting through to a modern extension at the rear. This is currently being used for a minimalist exhibition about artist John Constable, who lived out his last years a few doors up the road. Best not use the ladies or gents toilets to either side while there are visitors - the walls are rather thin and your flush may prove an embarrassing interruption.

The main Hampstead Museum is upstairs. Don't expect a lot, just a couple of bedroom-sized spaces decked out with Heritage Lottery displays. Room 1's the old stuff, including maps and models of the spa-time Heath. There's a bit more to see in Room 2. An Isokon long chair for a start, indicative of the modernist Lawn Road flats where Agatha Christie once lived. There's a section on wartime Hampstead, including a bed lifted from the deep level shelter on the platforms at Belsize Park tube station. You'll also see a few old High Street shopfronts, and a Mayoral chair, and a Scout flag (from the UK's first ever Scout troop). We're not talking proper exciting here, but at least a decent reflection of life beyond Hampstead's hilltop enclave.

There's one little interactive feature that ought to be quite fun, and that's an electronic map. Touch the screen and you can locate the houses of scores of famous people who've lived in Hampstead over the years (only the dead ones, obviously, it's no good trying to stalk Glenda or Esther). That blue circle on Christchurch Hill, who lived there? Press it, come on, try to press it, press it again. Who was it, ah him, never heard of him. Alas there are no names on the map, they're hidden inside an impenetrable indexing system, and trying to trawl through the anonymous coloured blobs soon gets rather tedious. Your lottery money would have been better spent on an ordinary paper-based map, perhaps of the kind available downstairs in the shop (Who Lived Where in Hampstead, £2.95).

A series of regularly-changed small exhibitions help to keep visitors coming back, but from what I saw all the genuine action is in the basement. Here you'll find the Buttery Cafe, packed out even in mid January, yet so poorly signposted that surely only local people know of its existence. Ideal for brunch or a slice of cake, so I'm told, but I slipped out through the shop without succumbing to either. Off to explore the streets and blue plaques on foot, my appetite suitably stimulated.
by tube: Hampstead

B is also for...
» Bank of England Museum (I've been, twice)
» Barnet Museum (I'm saving it for a jamjar moment)
» Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee (it's closed til later in the year)
» Brent Museum (I've been)
» British Museum (I've been, obviously)
» Bromley Museum (I got as far as the front door)
» Bruce Castle Museum (I've been)

 Sunday, January 25, 2009

 Scottish towns quiz: To celebrate Robert Burns 250th birthday, today's quiz heads north of the border. Here are cryptic clues to the names of 32 Scottish towns and cities. How many can you identify?

    1) ock
    2) cake
    3) F1 winner
    4) never sins?
    5) behind rug?
    6) jacket span
    7) candle cord      
    8) stupid chips
    9) shop? never!
  10) Welsh author
  11) Shatner & Bill
  12) Australian city
  13) Ken, I presume
  14) mostly nitrogen
  15) Ulster firebrand
  16) Nigel in disguise      
17) did strong cable
18) is your Mum OK?
19) matricidal beating
20) innards of hairdrier
21) sounds as a pound
22) 'e murder new wife
23) comes before Fri 1?
24) gas mixture in flame
25) valley confuses others
26) dumb nuclear explosion
27) everything, nothing, one
28) trip as Enterprise captain
29) what Harold did at Hastings
30) Bonnie's partner and their target
31) the hand is worth two in the bush
32) what walls in a stupid gallery have

(All answers now in the comments box)

 Saturday, January 24, 2009

St Giles Circus

A familiar corner of central London is entering a period of transformation. The junction of Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street at St Giles Circus, beneath Centre Point, has been a busy but unloved location for years. Impenetrable crowds of shoppers and tourists, a misplaced fountain and a giant silver Freddie Mercury, they all add up to a less than exhilarating environmental experience. But get your last looks in soon because one corner block in particular, right round from the Astoria to Waterstones, is about to vanish. And the replacement, inspired by the arrival of Crossrail, will be very different indeed.

Dionysus, closingIs there a better chippy in the heart of Central London than Dionysus (well, yes probably, but not one with such prolific footfall). This fine dining establishment has been dispensing salty vinegary potatoes and finest Greek cuisine to a discerning late night clientele for many years. It'd only recently reopened after a nasty fire, but last weekend the fish fryers spluttered their last and the shutters came down, and Dionysus is no more. Earlier in the week I watched as staff gutted the interior, then piled sinks and ovens into the back of a hired van and drove off to start anew elsewhere. In future years the existence of a mere McDonalds across the road will come as scant comfort to post-pub bingers.

Astoria, closedThen there's the Astoria, faded concert venue of legend, which has hosted most of the top bands of the past few decades plus a motley assortment of mainstream and cliquey club nights. Nowhere else in London, other than their balcony bar, have I ever mixed with such high-powered celebrities as Janine from Eastenders. And I shall always be grateful to the coatcheck staff, one distant birthday, for letting me have my jacket back when I lost my ticket somewhere on their beer-stained floors. The Astoria used to be a pickle warehouse, believe it or not, and was converted into a 2000-seater theatre in 1927. All now doomed, alas. The old auditorium stands silent, the snarling doormen have been made redundant and there's no next event to be announced in red letters on the board above the front entrance. I feel it should say something - either "Thank you, goodbye" or, more likely, "Coming next: DEMOLITION".

It's not taken long for the other shops here to fade away. It's shutters down at the Bureau de Change, and the front of the bright pink candy shop up the road is already boarded up. No chance of window shopping at the Harmony sex shop - the pavement's been barriered off and pedestrians now trudge along what used to be the road. And round the corner at Waterstones bookshop - terminated back on Christmas Eve - part of the illuminated sign above the door has been removed to reveal a Dillons shopfront underneath. This is an urban quarter in enforced and instant decline. And things can only get bleaker until, in a few weeks, there'll only be a gaping hole where these thriving buildings once stood.

The new Tottenham Court Road station is coming, and it's going to be huge. Roads are being closed, buses diverted and piped utilities shifted - and that's just for starters. A new St Giles piazza will be created, replacing the island fountain beneath Centre Point (and considerably more pedestrian friendly). There are transformational plans for a sweeping new underground ticket hall with additional entrances and greater access to the platforms below. And all so that Tottenham Court Road station can cope with the influx of passengers when Crossrail services arrive in (maybe) 2017. That's a heck of a long way off, but then this re-building project is scheduled to last longer even than the construction of the Olympic Park. There are eight years of disruption ahead until this corner of the West End is finally reborn in shiny steel and glass. But will the replacement coffee shops and cafes serve up a decent bag of chips? Not a chance, sadly.

 Friday, January 23, 2009

Walking the tube
"An alternative map of the London Underground has been published showing the number of paces required to walk between stations. The central London Tube map has been adapted by insurance firm PruHealth to encourage people to take more exercise."
Wahey, this sounds fun. Health and mapgeekery - a perfect PR mix. You might want to have a look at the map before proceeding any further. The BBC have it here [map/article], and the Evening Standard have it here [map/article]. Go on, I bet you can't resist. And now let's carry on with the story.
"It shows, for example, how alighting at St Paul's and walking 947 steps to Bank would burn almost 30 calories - equivalent of a double vodka."
a bit of a rubbish tube mapBlimey, it's almost 1000 steps between St Paul's station and Bank station. The researchers asked volunteers with pedometers to check, apparently, which is how they arrived at this very accurate figure of 947. I wonder what sized volunteer they used? And 947 steps equates to 30 calories, allegedly. They worked this out by calculating that "it took about 4.5 seconds to walk 10 steps at a rate of four miles per hour", and "at this rate, walkers burned about three calories per 100 steps". That's very brisk walking, especially for central London, but the maths sounds about right.

But hang on, surely a double vodka contains more than just 30 calories? Indeed, a few minutes of internet research reveals it contains more like 100. You'd have to march from St Paul's to Bank and back and back again to walk off a double vodka. The PR guff accompanying this survey is proving somewhat inaccurate. I wonder whether anything else might be wrong?
"The shortest walk is between Cannon Street and Monument, which takes 99 steps..."
Erm, is it really only 99 steps from Cannon Street to Monument? That sounds a bit low. The two stations would have to be so close together that there'd be almost no track between them. In fact, I doubted this particular statistic so much that I've been to check it out for real. I started on the pavement outside the corner of Cannon Street station and walked east towards Monument, counting my steps as I went. After 99 steps I was standing outside the Halifax Building Society, opposite Abchurch Lane, less than halfway there. It took as many as 223 steps to reach the entrance to the staircase down to Monument station, more than double what this survey is claiming. I'm sorry, but whoever came up with "99 steps" was either innumerate or a liar (or else they were 14 foot tall, which I suspect is unlikely). Did nobody check these figures at all?
"...while the longest is King's Cross to Farringdon, which takes 2,438 steps. People in search of a real workout could attempt the entire Circle line at 31,536 steps."
Oh please. No sane person would walk from King's Cross to Farringdon just for the exercise, it's a 2km trek. It's not even the longest walk on the map, because that's the 2780 steps from Green Park to Victoria (clearly miscalculated, because it's 25% shorter than King's Cross to Farringdon in real life, but 15% more steps on the map). And as for walking the entire Circle Line, that's something only attempted by Open House charity striders, and it takes them all night. This is nothing more than a marketing manager going wild with a calculator.

Eager journalists at the Evening Standard were so inspired by the map that they went out and did some step-counting of their own:
Monument to King's Cross (Circle Line)
Quickest walk: 7,888 steps
Burns: up to 236 calories
Equivalent to: one chicken tikka masala.
Oh where to start with this rubbish? If you're walking from Monument to King's Cross, the quickest walk isn't around the Circle Line, via Liverpool Street. You'd walk direct, via St Paul's, which'd be about 30% shorter. All the lazy journo has done here is to add up seven consecutive numbers on a map. It's not even a very good map, because the designer has accidentally missed one of these seven numbers out (and several other numbers elsewhere). And in what alternative universe does one chicken tikka masala have 236 calories? Try nearer a thousand (which means you'd need to walk all the way around the Circle Line to shake it off). Next time the Evening Standard bemoans the poor quality of education in our nation's schools, maybe they should look closer to home first.
"Chief executive Shaun Matisonn said: "Taking 10,000 steps a day can help protect you against a wide range of diseases including strokes, diabetes and some types of cancer."
Taking 10,000 steps in central London can also get you run over, asthmatic and lung-blackened, but never mind that. This is merely an exercise to scare you onto the PruHealth website to sign up for expensive healthcare protection. Don't bother looking. Indeed the Pru's media team are so non-web-savvy that this survey isn't even mentioned in their list of recent press releases. PR fail, guys. But, interestingly, there is a press release from 15 June 2005 entitled "The London Underground route to healthy living", which involved a remarkably similar calorie-counting inter-tube-station online calculator. The chancers at PruHealth have simply recycled a four-year-old campaign by adding a map, and splashed themselves across the media with minimal effort.

Yes, it's a great idea to walk more each day. But no, it makes no sense to get off the tube six stops early and walk the last bit. And shame on the media outlets who've been tempted by the Pru's shiny map and published this marketing bluster as gospel truth, without thinking first.

Monday update: at last, a link to the official PruHealth map (but it's still wrong)

 Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Well that was easier than I thought, Michelle darling."
"I know Barack dear, who'd have thought you'd take control quite so easily? But the reins of power are yours now. The world is at your feet, and the public are in the palm of your hand. Oh, my little devil, this is just too delicious for words."
"And nobody's guessed who I really am yet. Nobody apart from the Christian fundamentalists, the hellfire preachers and the obsessive Armageddon-mongers. And who's going to believe them? They have zero credibility after Bush."
"Electing Bush to office for eight years, that was a plan of genius. Squandering natural resources, accelerating climate change, inciting international instability - he's taken the blame for the lot. Puts you years ahead of schedule already!"
"And I look like an angel in comparison! If only they knew!"
"I've started Malia and Sasha off on the trumpet lessons, like you suggested. The two of them should be well up to Last Trump standards by the time the horned beast appears."
"The Chief of Staff showed me the button today, the big red one. Obviously I resisted pressing it, because it's not The Time yet. But it'll be really easy when The Time comes. I've got a book with all the passwords and everything."
"Lucky we've got our own deep level nuclear bunker now, eh? Ooh, I've just found the seven Seals of Office, over here in this filing cabinet. When do you want to open the first one?"
"Whoa there, not yet dear! We don't want to release the first horseman of the Apocalypse too early. I thought I might take Air Force One up to Alaska in the fall and let rip there. See how Governor Palin copes with an outbreak of plague and pestilence."
"I'm really looking forward to your State Visit to Brazil where you secretly unleash the wormwood, then fly home. The lake of fire should be really fun too, and the rivers of blood, and that big comet scheduled for Thanksgiving."
"Acolyte Blair has been doing such a great job in the Middle East already, don't you think? The World Summit in New Jerusalem should be a riot."
"They won't be expecting an all-consuming fire-breathing seven-headed dragon, that's for sure! I can't wait to watch the coverage on CNN."
"Once Babylon has been made desolate, and the ancient scriptures fulfilled, that's when I go to the Senate and force through proposition 666. Disciple Reagan's network of killer satellites will kick in, the heavens will be cast asunder and eternal darkness will descend forever. Oh yes, I promised change, and everlasting change I shall deliver."
"Barack darling, you'll be a Revelation."

 Wednesday, January 21, 2009

world news today
Wednesday 21st January 2009

AMERICA WAKES TO A BRIGHT NEW DAWN

President number 44America's first black president, Barack Obama, was inaugurated in Washington yesterday. Millions listened attentively as he delivered a charismatic address full of passion and hope, which cut to the heart of cataclysmic problems affecting a world in crisis.

"Things are going to be different round here," he said. "Stronger. Fairer. Hopefuller. This is a threefold challenge. We must acknowledge our responsibilities, face up to our duties, and aspire to our destinies. We must strive to attain, and reach for prosperity, and delve deep into our thesauruses. It's not going to be easy, because my predecessor made a complete balls-up of absolutely everything he touched. But change we can, and change we must, and change we will. And I am the catalyst of that change."

After Obama had finished speaking, he sat back down and his wife smiled a lot. The distant crowd burst into spontaneous cheers and waved flags. Some of the onlookers reflected on the turbulent life of civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King and his struggle for equality and acceptance. Others downloaded photographs to their Facebook accounts saying "look at me, I am here, and it is very special". Then a woman in a warm coat read a poem, and the world was born anew.

And so, from coast to coast across the land of the free, millions of Americans will wake this morning to a transformed nation. The sun will shine a little brighter, the economy will glow a little stronger, and the end of prejudice will edge a little closer. All hail the Obama nation! Because, for a moment in time, anything is possible...
 OTHER TOP STORIES
Immediate Gaza ceasefire announced
Gun amnesty overwhelms LA police
Washington to twin with Baghdad
Millions volunteer for community service
Starbucks rebrands as soup kitchen
US signs up to Kyoto Protocol
Guantanamo to be Disney theme park
Hillary reveals "I love Obama" tattoo
Homeless syndicate wins lotto jackpot
Osama Bin Laden hands himself in
World Bank finds $400bn under mattress
"I apologise unreservedly" says Bush
Free healthcare for all US citizens
Share prices on Wall Street double
Same-sex marriages get Papal blessing
Chocolate is good for you, official
Influx of Mexican immigrants welcomed
New oil gushes to surface in Texas
Entire Republican Party resigns
Antarctic melting reverses overnight
Islam adopted as Alaska's official religion
Survey shows racism eradicated
Senate stands down nuclear option
Fox News praises "a bright new age"
Chess-playing dolphin found off Cuba
Second Coming passes by unnoticed
Aliens land in DC with cure for cancer
Barack retires - "My job is done"

 Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Random borough (20): Croydon (part 3)

Somewhere famous: The BRIT School
BRIT SchoolIf fame costs, then SE25 is where you start paying. In Selhurst to be precise, in the UK's first state school for the performing arts. The BRIT School arrived here in 1991, and since then it's pumped scores of famous names into the musical mainstream. Leona Lewis for one, and Kate Nash, and Katie Melua and Adele, and even that Dane Bowers bloke who had a hit with Victoria Beckham. Plus Amy Winehouse, which just goes to show that not every school discipline policy works long term. Various record companies sponsor the place, not surprisingly given the royalties they recoup as a result. This is the type of educational establishment that ITV had in mind when they developed Britannia High, only rather more successful and with a far better long-term future. The school's on two sites, both along The Crescent and separated by a car park. One's a typical redbrick Edwardian building with high windows, nabbed from a former girls' school. And the other's much more modern, like a white-legged glass caterpillar squatting beside the road, and considerably lighter and brighter within. On a Saturday morning there's not much going on. I spotted a few extra-curricular students carrying instruments across the playground and heard the sound of animated performance somewhere within, but it was a pale reflection of the seething creating cauldron this must be on a weekday. I wonder which well-rounded alumnus wannabe we'll all be discovering this year.
by train: Selhurst   by bus: 50, 75, 157, 468

Somewhere sporting: Selhurst Park
Holmesdale Stand, Selhurst ParkTo the slopes below Upper Norwood, to the home of mid-Championship Crystal Palace Football Club. Selhurst Park is a 1920s ground that's been slowly upgraded and expanded over the years and is now a hybrid architectural hotchpotch. Along Park Road the stadium looks fairly traditional, all gates and turnstiles and tiny ticket windows. From Whitehorse Lane the stadium looks suspiciously like a boxy out-of-town trading estate, with a none-too-inviting staircase leading up from Sainsbury's front entrance towards the executive boxes. Meanwhile the Holmesdale Road grandstand resembles a very tall block of boring redbrick offices with a curved black roof on top and stacks of seating behind. I took the opportunity of a home match against Ipswich to explore more closely within the gated perimeter. Three hours before kick off the stewards were all in place, even if there was nobody to steward, and the programme sellers were similarly poised but premature. A cheery bloke in a red and blue scarf trundled by in his wheelchair, while a few bullet-headed stalwarts arrived early because Saturday is football day and it'd be wrong to stay away. Low winter sun glinted on the inscribed bricks in the Centenary Wall ("Palace 4 life", "Till I die", "Come on Eagles" "Glad All Over!"). Busy inside their solitary trailer, the executive chefs of the British Burgers Company readied their deep fat fryers for an expected onslaught of hot dog guzzlers. And in the official shop by the ticket office, twitchy retail staff watched an early trickle of punters buying not much, not even the 20%-off babywear. Oh yes, there was definitely a whiff of pre-match optimism in the air when I headed off to the bus stop. Alas, when I passed by later in the afternoon the floodlights were beating down on a 4-1 home defeat. Palace's intermittent glory years remain little more than memories amongst these suburban avenues.
by train: Selhurst   by bus: 468

Somewhere random: Purley Way
It's a three mile section of the A23. It was opened in 1925 as the Croydon by-pass. It was the first road in the UK to be lit with sodium lights. Today it's a grim arterial bottleneck. Let me take you on a journey.

Purley Cross Rotary ClockPurley: Welcome to Purley, a pleasant but rather ordinary suburb that looks like it'd much prefer to still be in Surrey. Purley Way starts at Purley Cross, once a focal crossroads but now a joyless concrete gyratory in need of urgent upgrade. No such luck, not until the Tesco supermarket alongside has its plans for expansion approved. Maybe they'll also give the Rotary Clock a kickstart, because it definitely wasn't half past six when I shuffled past into the underpass. No sign anywhere of a cemetery, alas, because I really wanted to take a photograph entitled Purley Gates. So onward up the hill, past Lucinda's handbag & blouse emporium, and very carefully across the treacherous one-way system. It's no fun for pedestrians round here, nor indeed up much of the rest of the road.

Airport HouseCroydon Airport: In the week that the Government planned to turn open fields into London's main airport, here's a location where things went the other way. Croydon Aerodrome was the departure point for airbound bright young things of the thirties, saw fighter service during World War 2 and limped to a commercial close 50 years ago. Hey presto, a runway replaced by open space - it can be achieved. I would tell you more, but I've visited this airport previously as part of my random borough trip to neighbouring Sutton. Rest assured that the Art Deco terminal building still stands, that the De Havilland Heron perched on the grass outside has seen better days, and that one day I will come back on the first Sunday of the month when the Visitor Centre is actually open.

Waddon PondsWaddon Ponds: Off-road, surrounded by housing estate, is a thin strip of municipal parkland with a secret. That curvaceous lake surrounded by trees is all that's left of the River Wandle in Croydon. It's an impressive remnant, not just for the amount of water visible but also for the many colonies of waterfowl that make their home here. Maybe it's because it was mid-January but there were birds everywhere, including up on the grass and footpaths (Important notice: Please do not chase the wildfowl). I'm not very good at identifying any bird more complicated than a duck, but I think there were coots aplenty and some geese-y creatures plus some red crested small things, erm, sorry, dunno. And, other than a lone couple walking an agitated dog, I had the flocking lot of them to myself.

Purley Way Centre (outside Sainsbury's)Big shops: Ah, so that explains the traffic jams. The northern end of Purley Way is a series of massive out-of-town shopping centres with giant warehouses fronted by expansive car parks. This is where South London comes to buy stuff, be it plasma TVs, cheap carpets or a month's worth of groceries. Start at one end and you could spend all day traipsing from one megastore to the next, and probably visit several big chains more than once. But only car drivers seemed welcome. There was no expectation that any pedestrian might dare walk this way, and at the top end they're banned from the flyover altogether. Instead I had to divert via a bleak alley past two foul-mouthed cherubs sitting on a wall (don't look at them, they'll lose interest if you don't look at them). For the first time in my life I was glad to reach IKEA, although I didn't risk my life further by popping in beneath the landmark power station chimneys for a 93p cooked breakfast.
by train: Purley   by tram: Waddon Marsh   by bus: 289

 Monday, January 19, 2009

Random borough (20): Croydon (part 2)

Somewhere historic: Addington Palace
There's not much that's proper old in the Croydon area. Creeping suburbia wiped out most of the ancient hamlets, and manors, and kings and queens of old generally gave the place a wide berth. But the market town has one long-standing connection, to the Archbishops of Canterbury, who had their summer residence in Croydon Palace from the 12th century onwards. Some of this building still stands, now part of an independent girls school, and guided tours are available on a handful of days throughout the year. But not in January, so I didn't go there. Instead I followed in the archbishops' 200-year-old footsteps, fleeing Croydon town centre for a place in the hills.

Addington PalaceAddington Palace, formerly Addington Manor, is a Palladian mansion a few miles southeast of Croydon. It was bought by the government in 1808, paid for by the sale of the old palace, and as many as six consecutive Archbishops of Canterbury spent their summers here. No, I hadn't heard of any of them either. When the seventh moved back to Canterbury instead, the palace was sold on to a diamond merchant, then to the Red Cross who used it as an isolation hospital. In 1953 the lease was taken over by the Royal School of Church Music, an august body charged with maintaining ecclesiastical choral tradition. And it was they who once invited me to visit the palace, back when I was a cherubic youngster with soaring vocal cords. I don't remember much of the occasion, alas, apart from a few vague wood-panelled flashbacks.

I didn't feel quite so welcome on this visit. Addington Palace has moved down the spiritual ladder and is now a wedding, conference and banqueting venue. For a small fortune (plus deposit) you can hire the chapel for a bit of knot-tying, then dispatch your guests to the permanent marquee dumped in the back garden. Smart guests were arriving when I turned up, so I kept my distance behind the hired limos and tried extra carefully not to tread on the grass. The surrounding greenspace is owned by the Addington Palace Golf Club, a rather exclusive bunch ("shirts must have collars and sleeves") serving a very exclusive neighbourhood, and I didn't think they'd appreciate former choristers stepping out onto their fairway for a better photo opportunity.

St Mary's, AddingtonDown the hill is Addington Village and tiny St Mary's Church. This is the borough's oldest building, complete with part-Saxon chancel, a medieval belfry and an unusual pyramid-capped tower. It's also, unexpectedly, the burial place of five of the six Archbishops who lived up at the Palace. You'd expect their bones to be stashed in Canterbury, or at least Lambeth, but instead their ties as Lord of Addington Manor drew them to rest here instead. The church offers occasional tours in the summer, but again not in mid-January, so instead I made do with a stroll around the compact churchyard trying to spot mitred memorials.

New Addington tram stopThat's old Addington. New Addington is a completely different matter, and a completely different world. This huge local authority housing estate, originally planned as a 'garden village', now sprawls unchecked across 1000 acres of former farmland. Sadly New Addington never achieved its aim as an aspirational community, not by a long chalk, and lack of facilities and isolation from the outside world led to the place being nicknamed Little Siberia. Today more than 20000 people live on its downmarket slopes, and few are the sort who play golf. The main shopping parade is awash with charity shops, bakeries and bookies, and the only supermarket options are the Co-Op or Iceland. This is a land of mobility scooters, sneering dogs and hoodied youth, and a million miles from the wealthy suburbs across the valley.

But one thing's rescued New Addington from abject misery, and that was the arrival of Croydon Tramlink in 2000. Line 3 terminates at the top of town, with regular services down the hill towards central Croydon and civilisation. It's an enjoyable journey - through switchback woodland and through a couple of old railway tunnels - and much quicker than the old crawl by bus used to be. Another great example of improving social cohesion through investment in public transport infrastructure, and one of Croydon's most useful resources. You may never use it, because it's hard to think of a good reason for coming out this far, but the residents of New Addington can only be grateful that Tramlink reached them pre-Boris.
by tram: Gravel Hill   by bus: 130, 466

Somewhere pretty: Addington Hills
Canary Wharf from Addington HillsCroydon boasts some stunningly pretty countryside, at least by normal London standards. The rolling hills and verdant valleys of the North Downs Green Belt are rather gorgeous, and the perfect "somewhere pretty" for me to visit. Except I've already been, a couple of summers back, for a walk along section 5 of the London Loop. I strongly recommend this undulating hike around the southern rim of the capital, especially the views from Farthing Downs, but probably not in January. So I left that old favourite alone and explored a different council-recommended viewpoint instead. Just south of Shirley.

The easiest way to get to Addington Hills is by tram. Alight at Coombe Lane, which looks like a forgotten halt in the middle of rural England, and then take the path into the undergrowth. No really, don't be afraid, this muddy track is another stretch of the London Loop, and the woodland doesn't stay dense for long. You emerge beside what must be London's most remote Chinese restaurant, and then the path turns left away from the car park towards an elevated stone podium. Oh my word, look at that. The land drops away beneath you, across the capital's largest expanse of heathery heathland, and there's a great (and unusual) view across most of London. To the left that's the metropolis of Croydon, its skyscraper office blocks clearly evident. A bit further round, surely that white arch can't be Wembley 17 miles away, but yes it is. There are the two south London TV masts and, across to the right, a prominent cluster of pointy topped buildings that can only be Canary Wharf. Hang on, back a bit, rather fainter than expected, there's the Gherkin and the towers of the City. A series of metal plaques around the edge of the platform confirm what you're seeing - even on a clear day, apparently, Amersham. Splendid stuff. Just be careful which route you take back to the tram stop, because some of the couples lurking in the car park looked like they might have a completely different view on offer.
by tram: Coombe Lane   by bus: 130, 466

 Sunday, January 18, 2009

Random borough (20): Croydon (part 1)

Croydon props up the capital from beneath, and it's also the London borough with the largest population. So big, indeed, that the council have their sights set on reinventing Croydon as London's Third City. Much of the northern part of the borough is suburban sprawl, but down south the land gets hillier, and greener, and (in places) considerably more exclusive. I spent yesterday attempting to explore some of the borough's more interesting locations, which wasn't easy because no matter where I went the transport network kept dragging me back to the centre of town. Definitely town, Croydon's no city yet.

Somewhere to begin: Museum of Croydon
Museum of CroydonBeneath the Town Hall clocktower, in the very centre of Croydon, is the borough's main cultural centre. It's not particularly obvious from outside quite how many different arts-y facilities are crammed within. It's not that obvious inside either, and I got a bit lost trying to work out where to go. Ah, hang on, past the main library, up the stairs and through the door marked 'Then'. 'Then' turned out to be an empty-ish black room with some maps on the wall and a model of the Crystal Palace atmospheric railway on a table and some motley objects shut away in separate illuminated containers. And that's all I saw, because within two minutes of my arrival the building's manager walked in and closed the museum down for the day. Staff absence problems, apparently, so the young bloke supervising the museum had to be relocated to the more-important cafe-bar instead, sorry. And with that I was locked out and never got to explore the place properly. I suspect I didn't miss much. The museum's exhibits aren't labelled in the conventional sense, no printed text alongside, but instead you have to interact by touching a video screen to discover background and emotional statements attached to each. Too much effort for too little reward, I thought. Plus it really didn't help that one of the screens was displaying a Windows Outlook Express error message instead. Plus you can interrogate the entire collection online from home, so why bother turning up? I shan't be rushing back.
by train: East Croydon   by tram: 1, 2, 3

Somewhere retail: Whitgift Centre / Allders
Whitgift CentreOne thing Croydon's great for, and that's shopping. The centre of town is one big shopping island, hemmed in by a ring of dual carriageways and circling trams. Take your pick of the high street stores, they'll have a branch in here somewhere. And at the heart of things are two Croydon classics - Allders department store and the Whitgift Centre. Until recently the Whitgift was London's largest shopping mall, at least before that upstart Westfield came along. It's a revamped 60s complex, unusually airy, with labyrinthine passageways on two levels connecting three individual atria. They've seen better days, to be sure, but they still have more character than any recent artificial hellhole. The main action is downstairs, while the upper floor has slightly more of a backwater feeling. Solid, safe, comfortable, and a bit of a middle-aged family hangout. On a Saturday morning the place to be seen is Cafe Giardino (of which there are three) - the ideal spot to squeeze behind a plastic table and enjoy a frothing beverage with optional pastry while you flick slowly through your mid-market tabloid. Or ride the escalator to buy a personalised pen, somewhere halfway between the tropical fish cavern and the independent sewing shop. Probably nothing more special than where you live, just bigger.

AlldersExit through Allders Square to Croydon's biggest department store. Allders may have retreated from the rest of the southeast, but here it's still trading as a bought-out independent behemoth. Oh my word, the ladies shoe department is enormous. Rack after rack after rack of pointy heeled must-haves, which seemed to have attracted several excitable Croydon footwear devotees. I moved on, slightly more tempted by the basement offering of Vacuum Cleaners, Domestic Appliances, Fitted Kitchens and 'Gift Food'. They do things slightly differently in department stores. In particular here, where there's a thin crescent mall curving within the store, with small concessions devoted to key-cutting, hair-dressing and cake-icing. You can easily imagine that Terry and June might walk down here at any minute. Alas, Allders's future still looks rocky, and the store may not survive repeated attempts by the council to redevelop this prime central site.

And on the corner of George Street, back to Whitgift again. This time it's the Whitgift Almshouses, a row of Elizabethan properties that have somehow survived to the present day, despite sticking out into a major crossroads. They're a rare exception round here, they're not shops. Neither are they under threat, because not even the local council would dare build a skyscraper here. You can see the projected plans in a plastic scale model just up the road in the brand new Croydon Visitor Centre. Shiny towers ahoy, that's the proposed future for the metropolis of 2020 Croydon. Personally I reckon the current handful of classic old 1960s and 1970s designs just outside the town centre are uplifting enough.
by train: West Croydon   by tram: 1, 2, 3   by bus: tons of them

 Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random borough (20): Time once more for me to take another random trip to one of London's 33 boroughs. As I write I have no idea which one of the 14 remaining borough names will be revealed when I unfold the slip of paper I'm about to pick from my legendary (and as-yet unseen) "special jamjar". I could pick any one of the other London boroughs - inner or outer, urban or suburban, small or large, fascinating or dull. I just know it won't be Merton, Islington, Enfield, Sutton, Lewisham, Southwark, Kensington & Chelsea, Hackney, Hillingdon, the City, Bromley, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Hounslow, Brent, Redbridge, Ealing or Harrow because they're the nineteen (dark grey) boroughs I've picked out already.

Blimey, I've finally reached the twenties. There's a fair chunk of East London still to visit, and a thin strip of boroughs across west London, plus Croydon, but that's all. Which of these leftovers will be my destination for the day? Will I have to filter through the bountiful cultural highlights of somewhere central and important, like Westminster or Camden? Or will I be dispatched somewhere rather more peripheral and attraction-lite, like Kingston or Havering? More to the point, can I possibly avoid the epidemic of engineering works on the tube this weekend. Fingers crossed.

Once I've researched my randomly-chosen borough online then I'll head off and visit some of its most interesting places (assuming it has any, and that they're open in the middle of January). As usual I hope to visit somewhere famous, somewhere historic, somewhere pretty, somewhere retail, somewhere sporty and somewhere random. I might even take lots of photographs while I'm at it, if the borough's photogenic enough. Then after I've made my grand tour I'll come back tomorrow and tell you all about it. Let's see where I'm going this time...


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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
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
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concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
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beckton
blogads
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letraset
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gherkin
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everest
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