diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 31, 2009

167 current* blogs with diamond geezer on their blogroll**
*(at least one post since May 1st)   **(blogroll must appear on blog's main page)

Ace Discovery, affable-lurking, AngloAddict, anglosaxy, Aprosexic, Arseblog, Autolycus, Bella's Web, Big n juicy, The Big Smoke (Time Out), bitful, Blazing Saddle, blinking heck and blimey, Blogging Up The Works, Blog KX, Blue Witch, breakfast at britannia, Brian Micklethwait, Bridget's Blog, Brockley Central, Brought to Book, CabbieBlog, Cabin Essence, Caroline's Miscellany, Charity Shop Tourism, Clandestine Critic, Clapham Omnibus, crinklybee, The Daily Smoke, Dave Hill's London Blog, Days on the Claise, The Deptford Dame, Depthmarker, Discovering Britain by Full Moon, D-Notice, Dogwood Tales, The Doorman's blog, Down on the Allotment, The Drugs Don't Work, dsng.net, D4D, 853, English Buildings, evilmoose, Fallen Not Broken, Fed by Birds, Firmly Wedged, A Fistful of Euros, Fresh Eyes on London, FunJunkie!, ganching, Gareth Wyn, Geofftech - iBlog, Germany Doesn't Suck, girl with a one-track mind, the gold-digging ant, Gonzogeography, Goodnight London, The Good Things In Life, Goonerboy, Greavsie, Green Ideas, The Greenwich Gazette, Groc's various musings, hurry on home, I am Livid, IanVisits, I'm A Seoul Man, informationally overloaded, In the Aquarium, IsarSteve, Itinerant Londoner, Jakartass, john davies, jon bounds/ramblings, John Flood's Random Academic Thoughts, John Nez Illustration, Jottings, Klong Walking, The Knit-Nurse Chronicles, Life On A Roll Of Film, LinkMachineGo, Little Man, What Now?, Little Miss Rachel, Logistical, London Daily Photo, The London Review of Breakfasts, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Mad Teacher, Make Lard History, the maturest student in the world, McFilter, Mick Hartley, Miss Alice, miketoons, Momentary lapses of insanity, Mother of the Bride, A Mug of Tea, The Musings of a Red Dalek, My Boyfriend Is A Twat, My Thoughts Exactly, nb Warrior, Nik Rawlinson, Notes from a Defeatist, nothing much to report, A Novice Novelist, Now What Happens?, O, Poor Robinson Crusoe!, Order of the Bath, Ornamental Passions, Osbornia octodonta, Pauly's 'Stoney Soapbox, Philobiblon, Pigeon blog, Private Secret Diary, poons, Put 'em all on an island, qwghlm, The Rabblers, Rachel from North London, Random Acts of Reality, Random Reflections, rashbre central, theRatandMouse, Ritual Landscape, Rosamundi's ramblings, Route 79, Russell's Theatre Reviews, St Margaret's at Cliffe Photo Diary, Sallyscape, Samizdata.net, Scaryduck, screaming yellow fizz bang, Secret Songs of Silence, Short and sweet & sour, Shorty PJs, Silent Words Speak Loudest, Sim's Blog, Strawberry Yoghurt, Studio Living, [T3G: 2], things magazine, This is Stoke Newington, Three Legged Cat, To be a Pilgrim, Toppsy Turvy, Tory Troll, Town Mouse, The Transportationist, Travels around London, troubled diva, Twenty Major, Unnatural Vision, A View from England, Volume 22, Wanderlust, wee birdy, What was the score?, Where's Rhys?, Wibbo's Words, The Willesden Herald, wine woman & song, World of Chig, The Worship St Irregulars, A Yankee in London, Yurt16, zerochampion

Blimey, that's a lot! I'm duly honoured by each and every one of these blogroll links, so many thanks to you all. But I also notice that the list is 20% shorter than last time...

I compile this list every year, so I started by checking all 200+ blogs on last year's list to see how many of them still linked here. About one in three have fallen by the wayside and don't appear this year. Some have just vanished, which is a pity. Some are now on hiatus (either deliberately, or through month-long neglect) which is a shame. Some have deleted their blogroll altogether, because blogrolls are so passé aren't they? And a few are still going strong but have removed me from their blogroll, which I guess is the way it goes, and I'm not bitter, honest. Still, at least several new blogs have come along and added me instead, so I'm not losing out completely. Which is nice.
(blogs that weren't on last year's list are underlined)

I've always tried to keep my blogroll manageable (20 sites max), although I'm aware that this means I don't link to as many other blogs as I could/should. So today's post is a small way of making up for that omission. I hope it's a fairly complete list, courtesy of Technorati and various other useful web services, but I bet it isn't. Let me know if I've missed you/anyone off the list. And the rest of you, maybe you'd like to click on a few of these 167 links to see what you're missing.

 Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seaside postcard: Walton-on-the-Naze

Walton-on-the-Naze cliffsI'm sitting on a grassy slice of England that probably won't be here in ten years' time [photo]. The cliffs at Walton-on-the-Naze are an unstable layer cake of clay and sand [photo], and every so often another few metres crumble and fall to the beach below [photo]. The first time I saw a minor landslip I assumed it must be a rare event, but now I'm almost blasé about spotting tumbling streams of fine golden sand and claggy rock [video!]. Walton's cliffs are supposed to be packed with world-class fossils, though I've not yet managed to find even a shark's tooth, let alone an evolutionary missing link. Up top is a broad expanse of mowed grass peppered with picnic benches, safely back from the edge but affording no view of the dangers beyond. For the perfect panorama you have to climb 100 or so steps up the Naze Tower, a turret-y navigational aid built in 1720 before the advent of lighthouses. Spiral staircases link its seven floors, containing tea rooms, a small museum and an art exhibition. And the view is excellent, from Felixstowe round to Frinton, via the glistening curve of an estuarine marsh [photo]. Visit soon, before time and tide steal the clifftops and even the tower away.
posted 11:21
salt marsh at the NazeThe two mile walk round the Naze is rather special. This marshy tongue of land pokes north towards Harwich, with seabirds and wildlife the only permanent residents. They enjoy the nature reserve at the peninsula's core [photo], and visiting humans get to enjoy a single remote path around the perimeter. Make sure you stick to the overgrown upper track on the sea wall to get the full view of creeks, yachts and salt marsh. There'd be more birds at migration time, but there's still plenty of flapping, swooping and worm-tugging going on. Painted ladies flutter by, yellow rape plants bend in the onshore breeze and there's even a cuckoo to be heard in the bracken. Delightful, and far less busy than the sandy beaches of the main resort [photo]. Essex folk are here in sunny Walton today in large numbers, prowling the promenade or hemmed in behind flapping windbreaks on the sand. There's much tanned paunch on show, from both sexes, while grinning children lick lollies in the surf. And I'm now sat on the tip of the pier, the third longest in Britain, with a handful of hardy anglers waiting for an offshore fishy tug [photo]. As the lady in the tiny Tourist Information Office said, if the choice is Clacton or Walton-on-the-Naze, this place wins every time, no contest.
posted 13:59
Seaside postcard: Frinton-on-Sea
Frinton Barrier (automatic)South of Walton pier the shoreline is overlooked by more beach huts than I have ever seen in my life. Stacked four or even five avenues back up the slope, they look like a timber village of oversized dog kennels. Like the majority of second homes, most are locked and empty, but some are thrown open to reveal towels, lilos and bottles of orange squash [photo]. A single line of huts stretches over a mile south to Frinton, above groyne-edged sandy segments dotted with tanners, sporty kids and picnickers. The People's Enclave of Frinton, beyond the clifftops, likes to think of itself as an exclusive bastion of Middle England. There's nothing downmarket in their High Street [photo] (although there is now a pub, the Lock and Barrel, which for some heralds the unstoppable march of depravity). Old ladies pushing two-wheeled trolleys coexist with teenage clusters in bikinis and t-shirts, at least for the summer months. At the top of the town is The Barrier, a level crossing which marks the entrance to Frinton Within. Houses on the southern side of the railway line have premium value, and local newsagents know to stock more Mails and Telegraphs than all the other questionable publications combined. Sadly for many, last month National Rail committed sacrilege and replaced the old manual crossing gates with automatic drop-down barriers [photo]. They don't like change round here, but they can't keep it out forever.
posted 16:34

(Tracy Jacks) left home without warning
(Tracy Jacks) at five in the morning
(Tracy Jacks) got on the first train to Walton
(Tracy Jacks) and stood on the seafront

 Friday, May 29, 2009

JLONDON A-Z
An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Jewel Tower

Location: Abingdon Street, Westminster SW1P 3JX [map]
Open: daily (10am-5pm)
Admission: £3
Brief summary: small remnant of medieval Westminster
Website: www.english-heritage.org.uk
Time to set aside: half an hour

Jewel TowerSome tourist attractions sound more exciting than they really are. The Jewel Tower is one such place. They're right about the tower bit, but the jewels are long gone. One wonders how many foreign tourists take one look at the queue snaking out of Westminster Abbey nextdoor and decide instead to spend their valuable time visiting its exciting-sounding neighbour. They must be terribly disappointed. But if you come to look at the building, not its contents, you shouldn't be too upset.

The Palace of Westminster was the pre-eminent site of power in medieval London. Much of it survived until a very serious fire in 1834, after which only three fortunate corners remained. One of these was Westminster Hall, another was the crypt of St Stephen's Chapel, and the third was the Jewel Tower (which lay beyond the palace garden, far enough away from the flames). To pay a visit to this lucky remnant, find Westminster's non-Big-Ben end and then walk across College Green (where TV cameras wait patiently to interview anxious MPs). Tread down the steps and try not to fall in the remains of the moat (look, it still goes under the road towards the palace proper). Once inside, first stop is the shop.

Jewel Tower windowAfter the nice lady has taken your money (I got the nice lady, you may not be so lucky), the tour begins two floors up. To get there requires ascent of a stone spiral staircase, of the kind that there really aren't enough of in London. The Jewel Tower has only two rooms per floor, but they do at least feel proper medieval (with thick Kentish ragstone walls to match, so that's your mobile reception gone). The top floor's all about recounting the tower's history, which means a lot of information panels to read and not too much else. The building was originally the "King's Privy Wardrobe" where King Edward III secured his treasures, constructed in 1365 (or thereabouts) by master mason Henry Yevele. Some of the original elm foundations are on display on a ledge by the window. Eventually all the royal gold moved out to the Tower of London, and the building was used for several centuries as a document archive for the House of Lords. Fortunate, that, what with the big 1834 fire and all. Most recently the Jewel Tower was home to a weights and measures office, and examples of gallon, pint and bushel cups are on show in room number two. It gleams, sort of, but this can't be the treasure tourists expect when they visit.

Down on the first floor is an exhibition entitled Parliament past and present. In this case 'present' means 1997 not 2009, which under current circumstances is probably a good thing. This untimely freeze-frame means that when you see the Speaker's robes in a glass case it's that nice old Bernard Weatherill, not the current discredited incumbent. It also means a big laminated photo of PM Tony Blair at the dispatch box, plus a giant grinning Gordon Brown exemplifying the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The historical panels are probably of more interest, unless you feel patronised by paying good money to read what is essentially a nicely illustrated pamphlet in 20-or-so bite-sized chunks. Again, foreign tourists probably pass though relatively fast.

Jewel Tower gargoyleAnd finally back to the ground floor shop, because this is the most interesting room in the building. Not the selection of English Heritage goodies at eye level, but instead look up at the 14th century roof. That's the original rib vaulting, complete with decorative bosses and grotesque heads, and a fine example of medieval mastercraftsmen at work. It's not worth three quid just to see this bit, although you might get into the shop for nothing if you claimed you were only here for heritage jams and a teatowel. Whatever, it's wonderful that this small part of the old Palace of Westminster survives. At least something round here has long-term integrity.
by tube: Westminster

J is also for...
» Jewish Museum (closed for major renovation until the Autumn, otherwise I'd definitely have gone there instead)

» All my A-Z posts (so far) on a single page

 Thursday, May 28, 2009

I have banking inertia. I'm one of those over-loyal creatures of habit who leaves his money where it is, even when it's obvious I could be earning better elsewhere. Indeed, I've only ever entrusted my money to two financial institutions. And this time next year, thanks to a bunch of brand-hungry Spanish financiers, neither of them will exist any more.

Abbey NationalMy first building society was the Abbey National. I signed up with them in the 1970s, back in the days when they were represented by a married couple under a roof-shaped umbrella. I threw my savings at them, I opened additional accounts, and I even whacked through a five-figure mortgage when the time came. I stuck with the Abbey National when they transformed from a building society to a bank, even though I wasn't 100% convinced demutualisation was the right way to go. Even when the boss decided to drop the 'National' and just call the company 'abbey' (in bright neon lower case), I still hung around.

And now the bank's new owners are taking away the Abbey bit as well. By next Easter everything old will have been gobbled, swallowed and re-packaged under the Santander label. Abbey may have been owned by the Spanish for five years, but now they're taking over everything including the bank's public face. This'll help UK customers to "leverage" global opportunities, apparently. But it'll also help shareholders to close down lots of "unnecessary" branches, and to sack long-serving "colleagues", and to "consolidate" customer service. Ultimately it means even less choice on the high street. And it's a damned shame.

I rather like the idea that my current bank started out in a Baptist Church in Abbey Road, West Hampstead, in 1874 (erm, this church, here), and that the Abbey name has transferred all the way through to the present day. I trust the bank more as a result, even though its underlying operations are now identical to those of its Spanish overlords. I know a mere re-branding really ought not to disappoint me, but it does, it really does. Maybe this is the kick up the backside I need to finally take my business elsewhere.

National GirobankAs for my first bank, that was gobbled up two decades ago. I entrusted my first salary cheque to the National Girobank, and many's the financial transaction I sent off in a Freepost envelope to a mysterious postcode in deepest Bootle. But, like many a long-serving building society, somebody suddenly thought it would be a good idea to float the privatised bank on the stock exchange. Lots of lovely income from the Alliance and Leicester deal to start with, but then the takeover sharks circled and gobble gobble munch munch gone.

Both the Abbey National and National Girobank are now consumed within a faceless pan-continental bank. There are lots of other historic names absorbed in there too, all of whom started out with big ideas but none of whom could quite survive through a century and a half of turbulent financial opportunism. The future of all these institutions can now be spelt out in nine letters. Sad innit?

Santander
— swallowed Abbey (2004) (to be eradicated by Easter 2010)
—— rebranded from Abbey National (2003)
————— swallowed Scottish Provident (2001)
————— swallowed National & Provincial BS (1996)
—————— merged from the Burnley BS and Provincial BS (1984)
————— swallowed Scottish Mutual (1992)
—— merged from the Abbey Road BS and National BS (1944)
——— established as the Abbey Road & St John's Wood Permanent Benefit BS (1874)
——— established as the National Freehold Land and Building Society (1849)

— swallowed Alliance & Leicester BS (2008) (to be eradicated by 2011)
————— swallowed Girobank (1990)
—————— established as Post Office Giro (1968)
—— merged as the Alliance and Leicester BS (1985)
——— amalgamated as the Alliance BS (1945)
———— established as the Brighton & Sussex Equitable BS (1863)
——— merged with the Leicester Temperance & General (1974)
———— established as the Leicester Permanent BS (1853)

— swallowed Bradford & Bingley BS (2008) (to be eradicated by 2010)
————— swallowed Hendon BS (1991)
—— merged as the Bradford & Bingley BS (1964)
——— established as the Bradford Second Equitable BS (1851)
——— established as the Bingley, Morton and Shipley Permanent BS (1851)

 Wednesday, May 27, 2009

 Breakfast quiz: Here are cryptic clues to 30 foodstuffs you might eat for breakfast. You might even have consumed several of them already this morning. How many can you identify?

  1) gesg
  2) energy
  3) sleepers
  4) Papal ova
  5) can speak?
  6) dread fibre?
  7) raised glass
  8) small label 9
  9) naked babes?
10) #sepia #beige
11) pulp chambers
12) sounds regular
13) talks too much
14) the Spice Girls?
15) prison sentence      
16) sack the Spanish
17) where golf begins?
18) America in wise herb
19) hides in tall branches
20) dark chocolate sorbet
21) policeman in henhouses
22) Kevin, Richard or Francis
23) limb dipped in French sick
24) evidence of peeling toes?
25) one invading angry insect
26) slime gunged all over you
27) made from geek and deer
28) price to pay for throat-clearing
29) something gamekeepers try to prevent
30) Anneka, Akabusi, lemon meringue & custard

(Answers in the comments box) (All now guessed, thanks)

 Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A walk in the (Epping) Forest
with mini-postcards

Epping Water TowerParallel to the north-eastern arm of the Central line, on a ridge more Essex than London, lies the ancient woodland of Epping Forest. It covers almost 6000 acres, from Epping in the North to Wanstead in the south, and it's all owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. And, for some reason, until last weekend I'd never properly visited before. So, walking boots laced and map in hand, I took the train out to Epping and set off from there on a ten mile stroll. And blimey, why did I wait so long?

Epping Foresters Cricket ClubLess than half an hour's walk from the station is the edge of the forest proper. A broad grassed path curves across Bell Common to a very innocuous cricket pitch, but the thin soil hides a multi-million pound secret beneath. When the M25 passed this way in the 1980s, local protests ensured that a cut and cover tunnel was dug beneath the outfield. Stand here today and the motorway is entirely invisible, even if the sound of peaceful birdsong is tinged by the distant murmur of traffic noise.

Ambresbury BanksSurprisingly few official pathways pass through the forest, although there's nothing stopping you stepping off beneath the tree cover and making your own way. Off-track's the way to go, especially if you're one of the many sporty bikers for whom Epping Forest is undulating heaven. It's rather more of a trial for cycling families seeking energetic togetherness, however. "Is this the last hill, Daddy?" asked one particularly sulky young girl on a pink bike. Whatever Daddy told her was undoubtedly a lie, but it worked.

Woodredon HillEvery now and then the oak and beech trees cleared, and there was an excellent view out across the surrounding countryside. Down below are the flat plains of Essex and Hertfordshire, whose fertility is the main reason they've been cultivated and populated while up here hasn't. The finest view was from the top of Woodredon Hill, from which it was possible to make out the M25 threading west towards Cheshunt, with Waltham Abbey beyond and a giant Sainsbury's distribution centre in front. Well worth a stare.

High Beach tea hutAfter relative solitude on woodland tracks, High Beach came as a jolt to the system. This is the forest's social nucleus, where cyclists meet bikers meet Essex drivers (for picnics and kickabouts, from what I saw). No need to venture far from the visitor's centre for a variety of tasty options. The King's Oak pub was trumped by the excellent refreshment kiosk nextdoor (burgers, rolls, ice cream), or else there were a couple of tea huts dispensing hot liquids and snacks. On a sunny bank holiday weekend, the (well hidden) bikers' tea hut throbbed with merry leather.

Jack's HillBack in the forest, it was easy to lose the crowds by walking more than a few hundred yards from the nearest car park. I was passed by several whooshes of lycra-clad two-wheelers, and many a gaggle of weary parents pushing toddlers, and even by a gang of huffing hiking cub scouts, but most of the time I wasn't passed by anyone at all. Perfect natural solitude. And don't expect (at this time of year) to see any colours other than green and brown - the handful of pink rhodedendrons I spotted were rare exceptions.

Buttercup meadowAfter my lengthy stroll I needed to get back to the Underground, which here is always further away than it looks. I don't think I'd have made it back to a station without a map. The forest trails are completely unsigned, and most lead far from civilisation, so you really have to know where you're going. This must be a real problem for cyclists, and I saw several temporary bike trails waymarked with flyaway sawdust. I was also surprised that some of the tracks were still muddy in places - this must be proper wellington boot territory after heavy rain.

Theydon BoisI ended my walk by making my way northeast to the commuter village of Theydon Bois, not least in order to discover what this mysterious tube network extremity looked like. My favourite spot was a meadow on the outskirts filled with golden buttercups, where sunsoaked couples lounged in the long grass. Then, finally, across the over-sized triangular village green to the iris-edged duckpond, wondering how much it must cost to live in rural commuter heaven. But when it's this easy to get to, I shall be out here more often.

 Monday, May 25, 2009

Exactly ten years ago today I did something I thought I'd never do. I lived together. And I have to say, I don't know how I did it.

Two delivery vans pulled up at the house that day. All my stuff went into either the spare room or the boarded loft above the garage, because it never was quite an arrangement of equals. But it was proper sharing of house and garden and stuff, proper living together, which I'd never managed before and have never managed since. Because I don't know how you do it.

Two people, one bathroom. How does that work?
"I'm just going for a shower." "But I wanted to wash my hair." "Sorry, you'll have to wait." "But I'm going out in half an hour, I need to get in the bathroom now." "Hang on, this shower's cold, there's no hot water." "Ah yes, I used it all up when I had a bath earlier..."

Two people, one TV. How does that work?
"Have you got the remote?" "Yes, course I have. Why?" "My favourite programme's just starting on the other channel." "But I'm watching this." "That's not fair, we always watch what you want to." "Can't you record it and watch it later?" "But that's not the same, and someone's bound to put the result on Twitter before I get round to watching it." "Ssh, it's just getting to the good bit..."

Two people, one fridge. How does that work?
"Where's the milk?" "I finished it off earlier." "Well, why didn't you buy some more?" "Because I don't need any milk, because I used up the last of the old bottle, didn't I?" "And what's this meat doing at the back of the fridge, it's well past its sell-by date." "I thought you liked that, I hate it, I bought it for you..."

Two people, one garden. How does that work?
"That lawn needs cutting." "There's nothing stopping you from getting the lawnmower out." "But it's not my turn." [30 minutes later] "You missed a bit..."

Two people, one weekend. How does that work?
"Lovely weather for it, what shall we do today?" "I need a coffee. Let's go somewhere that serves coffee." "But where shall we go later?" "I need some new shoes. Let's go somewhere that sells shoes." "But where shall we go later?" "The spare bedroom needs repainting. Let's go somewhere that sells magnolia emulsion." "But where shall we go later?" "Oh, I'll be too tired to go anywhere later..."

Two people, one bed. How does that work?
(well, obviously, that bit works fine. I meant for sleeping)
"Ready to turn the light off?" "I haven't quite finished this magazine article yet, and then I fancied reading the next one." "But I'm tired, and you know I can't sleep with the light on." "Go on then, but I want five minutes extra tomorrow." "Take your knee out of my back." "Only if you give me half my pillow back..."

Two people, one house. How does that work?
"I've brought you a cup of tea in bed."
(Ah yes, that's how it works)

OK, so I may not have had the best living together experience myself. But I'd rather live alone any day. How do the rest of you do it?

 Sunday, May 24, 2009

London 2012  Olympic update
  Olympic Park South


Olympic Stadium 2009London 2012 has a very big stadium, as becomes particularly obvious when you're parked in a minibus directly alongside the outer rim. Up top is a not-quite-complete ring of gleaming white roof trusses, all linked together like a set of giant drinking straws. Beneath that is a detachable ridged bowl resting on a framework of thin steel, where thousands of spectators will sit to watch tiny athletes sprinting around the inner track. Then you reach 'platform level', which is a concrete circle propped up on stilts around the perimeter allowing access to the seats in the permanent lower grandstand. And down at ground level is a temporary decorated screen, erected for reasons of safety and security, on which is displayed artwork produced by a dozen local schools. You've seen thrillinger stadia, to be honest, but then the best view is rarely to be had from the outside.

I think our bus had parked on top of the culverted Pudding Mill River, or thereabouts, but it was very hard to tell. There used to be a gentle hill here too, but both valley and earth have been levelled out and there are almost no distinguishing features left. Instead there's a new distinguishing feature, and it's of global significance.

City Mill River 2009Once our tour guide had outpoured every relevant nugget of stadium-related trivia the bus moved on. We passed beneath the green footbridge that crosses from the edge of the stadium to an office block of piled-high portakabins. This is the nerve centre of "Team Stadium", where construction workers change into muddy safety boots and engineers plot the progress of their grand designs. You wouldn't believe how busy Pudding Mill Lane DLR station is these days after they all clock off at the end of a workday afternoon. Our tour was after hours, however, so we encountered no congestion on our drive round the southern perimeter.

Another bridge crossing, because a network of rivers threads through the site so there need to be lots of ways of getting across. I was pleased to note that the City Mill River was still very much intact, glistening in the evening sun with its banks lined, infilled and strengthened. It provided a striking waterside setting for the grand arena, and who knows, it may even be the water and not the buildings which makes the biggest impression on world TV audiences in 2012.

Manor Garden allotments 2009One final port of call on our whistlestop tour of the proto-Olympic Park. The bus headed down what's left of Carpenter's Road to stop beside the fledgling Aquatic Centre. Only the building's inner skeleton was visible, a series of metal supports linked by struts and supporting girders, creating a signature waveform at roof level. The structure's already more interesting-looking than the stadium, and that's before it receives its outer layer of metal cladding. I rather liked the opportunity to see the Aquatic Centre's secret interior close-up, even if it was still a few months too early to see how all the curves and towers properly join together. A little too early as well to see the bridge that's going to sweep out of the neighbouring Stratford City complex and pass above the central neck of the building on its way to the stadium beyond. There's a heck of a lot of transformation still to go.

Time to round off the trip, backtracking past the stadium and dipping down beneath the Greenway. I was particularly pleased by this because I'm taking a set of photographs from the top of the Greenway bridge every month, and our minibus journey at last afforded the reverse view. We then exited the park through the southern transport interchange, a brand new hub where Park workers transfer each morning to the shuttles which will transport them to their various worksites. It's all run with buses, this London 2012 project, and having visited some of the outer reaches of the construction site I can see why.

And that was it, end of tour, so our bloggers minibus headed back to the layby outside Stratford station. Thanks were due to our 2012 hosts (and who knows, maybe they even spent your taxes on the petrol). And then we went down the pub.

Other reports from the bus
Jane's London (frosty)
Ian Visits (informative)
Onionbagblogger (audio)
London Daily Photo (pictorial)
Londonist (galleried)

 Saturday, May 23, 2009

London 2012  Olympic update
  Olympic Park North


The Olympic Park was sealed off from the outside world almost two years ago, and now nobody gets in. Not unless they work on the site, that is, or are a visiting dignitary. But on Thursday evening, after construction work had finished for the day, the barrier at the northern end of the park was raised and the bloggers tour bus snuck inside for a scout-round. This is the main entrance point for trucks and lorries delivering building materials, so there'll be a heck of a lot of those this summer as the peak of the 2012 construction timetable is reached. I do hope they hurry up and get the Prescott Channel dredged down south, otherwise the promise of eco-friendly delivery by barge is going to miss the tide.

Manor Garden allotments 2009You only get a true picture of the scale of Olympic construction if you've been here previously. Most of the northern chunk of the park was once covered by vegetation, be it the rolling slopes of the Eastway cycle circuit, the riverside plateau of Arena Fields or the fertile ridge of the Manor Garden allotments. All had been utterly and entirely swept away, with the former carpet of green long-vanished beneath a landscape of brown. There were earthworks everywhere, including some fairly substantial hillocks that will one day become contoured parkland, but for now really rather desolate.

A network of temporary roadways and pedestrian routes weaved their way through this vast undulating building site. Every now and again there was a row of diggers or a fenced-off worksite or a lonely bus shelter or clump of roadsigns, but most of the space was still yet-to-be-built-on soil. Our tour guide pointed out the Velodrome compound where construction had already begun, then apologised that the gates were closed so that absolutely nothing was visible from outside. Drive round here in a few months time and you might see something poking above the fence, but for now it's like nipping around the backlot on a feature length episode of Bob The Builder.

to the VillageWe paused for a while on a particularly open corner to scan the eastern horizon, where a series of tall concrete lift shafts marked the accessible heart of the Olympic Village. The planners have been very good at replacing like with like. Just as the Velodrome is being built over a former cycle track, so the Olympic Village is being erected on top of a former communal housing estate - tower block for tower block. The new Stratford International station (over there, that distant glass box) covers part of an old railway goods yard, and will whisk in Javelinned spectators from St Pancras at 140mph. And heavens if that wasn't a brand new Westfield shopping centre rising faster than everything else, because the deadline for shopping always arrives first.

The bus retraced its steps through a strip of vanished vegetables and across the River Lea via a temporary bridge. A telltale pavement revealed that we were now driving along what remained of Waterden Road - formerly the site of three bus garages but now boasting nothing more than the "Handball Arena" bus stop. A brief row of verdant sycamores had somehow survived obliteration, so not (quite) every tree you see here in 2012 will be a transplanted sapling. To our right work had begun on the architecturally bankrupt International Broadcast and Media Centre. It'll be so big, our guide informed us, that you could fit five Jumbo Jets inside. One only hopes that no evil foreign power ever attempts to put this particular statistic to the test.

mid-Olympic-Park

Over the railway and into ex-Carpenter's Road, and I couldn't help but try to visualise what used to be here in place of what was springing up. A car spares backyard here, a low-rise dairy there, and... ooh, blimey, exactly the same Victorian factory block as I remember from two years ago. The former textile mill at Kings Yard is apparently the only building on the Olympic Park site to be retained, and will later become a Visitor Centre in the shadow of the hi-tec Energy Centre nextdoor. Your grandchildren may one day pop along to show their kids what 2012 was all about.

Our guide got especially excited by some green soil-washing machines to our left, describing them as one of her favourite things in the entire park. I wondered whether this was to encourage us to take lots of photographs of them (so, that worked), and maybe a subliminal hint to describe them in our post-tour write-up as evidence of London 2012's innate environmental committedness (so, that worked too). To my mind the soil-washers served only to symbolise the Lower Lea Valley as a contaminated industrial playground, now requiring large amounts of public money for urgent deep-level cleansing. But, speaking as a local resident, I'm more than delighted by that.

Next stop the Olympic Stadium. But that'll be tomorrow.

 Friday, May 22, 2009

London 2012  Olympic update
  Bloggers bus tour


I find it hard to believe, but it's only a year ago today that construction work began on London's Olympic Stadium. Last May an expanse of knocked-down warehouses; this May a towering bowl visible for miles around. It still takes my breath away walking home from my local supermarket, because I'm not yet used to there being a shiny international sporting arena poking out above the Bow Flyover. But it's not easy to see what's going on around the rest of the Olympic Park, even from my favourite vantage point up on the Greenway, because this is one vast construction site and only the bits around the edges are really visible.

London 2012 tour busYesterday I got rather closer to the heart of the 2012 action when a motley collection of ten-or-so London-y bloggers were invited on an hour-long bus tour around the Park, from top to bottom. We had to report to a lay-by outside Stratford station where the official Olympic tour minibus was waiting, and we had to wave some official form of ID like a passport or a driving licence to prove we weren't evil nation-hating terrorists. When it became clear that we weren't going to be allowed off of the bus at any time during the journey many of us wondered whether the ID check had been entirely necessary, but I guess the Games organisers can't be too careful. Even media-savvy tourists are potentially dangerous these days, especially when they're armed with zoom lenses, Twitter-enabled iPhones and audio-blogging devices.

The first 20 minutes or so of the tour were spent crawling very slowly through the rush hour streets of Leyton, but at least we had a motivational video to watch instead, like you do on an Olympic tourbus. There was also a brief quiz to fill the time, which I might have tried harder at if I'd known what the prizes were going to be. And then we got to stare out of the dirt-speckled windows for a bit, wondering whether it would be worth taking any photos when we got to the Park or whether everything would be all splotchy.

I'll tell you rather more about the main bit of the trip tomorrow (yeah, I know, it's a bank holiday weekend and you won't be around to read it, but sorry, I'd quite like some sleep). In the meantime I can direct you towards what some of my fellow passengers have already written. Here's Ham's stadium shot over at London Daily Photo, and here are some of Enzo's Twitpics. For rather more detail (including several chunks of audio commentary from en route) the Onionbagblogger has an impressively full review.
6pm update: Ian's written a marvellous lengthy illustrated post over here, and there's a gallery of excellent photos in a Londonist update from M@ here.

And I can let you look at some photos. They're not too splotchy, thankfully. There aren't too many reflections of the bus window (although there are some). And because the vehicle was moving most of the time, I won't be showing you the 90% of photos that were either too blurry or where a big fence suddenly got in the way (or more usually both). You can leap to my selection of ten best shots here. Or you can pick and choose from the list below. Or you can just enjoy all the other bloggers' photos and come back here tomorrow.

» Former allotments; Olympic Village; A new bridge; Soil washing
» Olympic Stadium; Upper bowl; Riverside view
» Aquatic Centre; Ooh!; Aah!

 Thursday, May 21, 2009

TfL snuck out a press release yesterday in which they announced several additional weekend closures on the Jubilee line later this year. They hid the details well by cramming them into a footnote, preferring instead to highlight why this interminable series of shutdowns is necessary. Better signalling, faster journeys, more frequent trains... it sounds like 2010 is going to be Jubilee heaven. But for the remainder of 2009, weekends are going to be Jubilee hell.

The list of closures in TfL's press release is incredibly difficult to follow. Plus they've only mentioned the additional line closures and not the existing ones, so it's nigh impossible to get an overall feel for how much disruption there's going to be, and when, and where. And there's a lot. So I've had a go at collating all the relevant information myself.

Here's a table showing every weekend closure on the Jubilee line for the six months from June to November. Each pair of columns represents a weekend, and grey shading means the line's closed. Grim, innit?

JuneJulyAugustSeptOctNov
 6 132027 4 111825 1  8 152229 5 121926 3 10172431 7 142128
Stanmore
 
W Hampst'd
 
Green Park
 
Waterloo
 
Stratford

For example, over the weekend June 6/7 the Jubilee line is closed between Green Park and Stratford, while over the weekend November 28/29 it's closed between Stanmore and Waterloo. Saturday closures aren't always the same as Sunday. And there are two days when the closure isn't all day, so they're in slightly lighter grey.

If you live at the Docklands/Greenwich end of the line, then weekends look choked up until the middle of July. But after the summer holidays the disruptions disappear, and then it's plain sailing round to Stratford until the end of the year.

It's the northern end of the line where the relentless closures will hurt most. Most weekends until September, and then every single weekend from the top end downwards. If you live in Stanmore you're going to be bloody sick of rail replacement buses by Christmas.
If that's not bad enough, there are also 19 days when the parallel stretch of the Metropolitan line will be shut down (between Harrow-on-the-Hill and Aldgate). I've marked these dates in purple, if you squint carefully enough.

We have contractors Tube Lines to blame for these extra closures, because they're not managing to complete this Jubilee re-signalling work as quickly as they initially promised. It will all be worth it in the end, honest, although these umpteen extra network shutdowns are absolutely nothing for TfL to crow about. All I can recommend is that Londoners make the most of Saturday 29th August, because that's the only weekend-day during the next six months when the entire Jubilee line will be running normally.

 Wednesday, May 20, 2009

You are cordially invited to a lynching.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr Michael Martin MP, will be executed at Tyburn Gallows at 3pm this afternoon.

This man has presided over the greatest ever crisis in confidence in parliamentary history, and you the taxpayer have paid for his misdemeanours. Every plasma TV, every flipped mortgage and every crumpled receipt for twelve toilet rolls, all of this was Michael's fault. He should have had the hindsight to see how corrupt the system was, like the rest of us now have, and forced our greedy politicians to toe the line. But he failed. And now he must pay the price.

site of Tyburn TreeWe thought it would be nice to erect a gibbet in the traditional location, at the western end of Oxford Street, on the traffic island opposite Marble Arch. Tyburn used to be plenty big enough to accommodate an angry mob back in the 18th century, but things were rather less built-up back then. Now Boris tells us we can't even erect grandstands in the Edgware Road for the spectators, something to do with smoothing the traffic flow, so we're relocating to Hyde Park instead. [Event will be held in the Odeon cinema if wet]

It's time for Gorbals Mick to go, and you can be a part of his departure. Do come along this afternoon. Bring a friend, why don't you, and maybe bring a can of petrol and a cigarette lighter too. Justice will be swift, and retribution will be sweet. He had it coming. Come and throw the first stone.

Event Timetable
1330: Richard Littlejohn welcomes the baying crowd and whips them up into a frenzy
1335: Warm-up entertainment begins (sponsored by British Gas)
1336: Katherine Jenkins sings Time To Say Goodbye
1340: A wooden mock-up of Parliament is set on fire (or, if the crowd's really angry, maybe the real thing)
1350: T-Mobile flashmob erupts into spontaneous choreographed fist-clenching, to the tune of We Will Rock You
1355: Sacrifice of convenient scapegoat (will then be turned into kebabs to feed the crowd)
1400: Warm-up show-trials begin (sponsored by Rentokil)
1405: Ordeal by water - Douglas Hogg MP is thrown into the Serpentine, because it's the nearest thing round here to a moat (if he floats, he's guilty) (if he sinks, he's also guilty) (because all MPs are guilty as hell, aren't they, every last one)
1420: Ordeal by fire - John Prescott MP has two toilet seats hung around his neck, which are then set alight (if he burns, he's guilty) (if he merely chars, he's toast)
1430: Ordeal by combat - Two obscure backbench MPs with questionable mortgage claims fight to the death over which of them followed the rules better (with commentary by David Dimbleby)
1445: Two Minute Hate (sponsored by the Daily Telegraph)
1447: The Lord High Executioner leads the procession to the gallows, wearing his finest ermine hoodie
1450: The Speaker is transported in an ox-cart from the steps of Primark (bottles may be chucked)
1455: Ceremonial tying of the noose (followed by commercial break)
1500: Hanging (further programmes may run late if extra time is required)
1510: Drawing
1520: Quartering
1530: Moral bloodlust duly cleansed, the British public get back to their mucky money-grabbing lives

 Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Euston ArchOf all the acts of post-war architectural vandalism wreaked in the capital, few rankle quite so greatly as the wanton destruction of the Euston Arch. This towering Doric gateway stood in front of the original Euston station from 1837 until 1962, when it was unceremoniously demolished to make way for the characterless dingy shed from which trains to the northwest now depart. Many voices were raised in protest at the Arch's imminent demise, and snowballing public interest subsequently saved many a heritage building, but "progress" at Euston was alas unstoppable.
[Read more about the Arch and the campaign to restore it here. It's mighty detailed and interesting stuff, which I'm not going to repeat here]

But what do you do with 4420 tons of demolished arch? The chief contractor responsible for smashing the arch to bits was called Frank Valori, and he managed to find two particularly interesting hiding places for the dismembered stonework. One of these was his own back garden (at "Paradise Villa" in Kent) where a row of stones was used to create a fetching (and very cheap) terraced rockery. The other, rather more considerable, dumping ground was in Bromley-by-Bow in East London. British Waterways had problems with a scoured-out riverbed that needed infilling, so roughly 60% of the Euston Arch was dumped into the tidal waters of the Prescott Channel. And, hurrah, yesterday they started lifting the stones back out.
[Watch a 1993 programme about the dismantling of the Euston Arch, and Dan Cruickshank's hunt for the remains, here. Proper historical detective work it is, ending up in a rose garden]

footbridge across the Prescott ChannelYou'll know the southern end of the Prescott Channel well. It's one of the Bow Back Rivers, round the back of Three Mills Studios, and in the summers of 2000 and 2001 it appeared on your television every week. The first Big Brother house was built on the opposite bank to the TV studios, so every Friday the evicted housemate made their exit across the footbridge to reveal all to Davina. Yes, that river. Who'd have guessed there was a couple of thousand tons of dismembered railway arch in the waters directly underneath?
[Watch a 1994 programme where Dan Cruickshank (and Kevin the Diver) discover a chunk of Arch in the Prescott Channel, here. Blimey]

More recently the Prescott Channel has been the site of major Olympic development. In order to bring building materials into the Park by boat, a set of enormous lock gates is being constructed to stabilise water levels upstream. It's meant the temporary sealing off of three local footpaths, and the permanent demolition of Davina's Bridge, but the outcome might just be ecologically worthwhile.
[I wrote a long post about the new lock and the old Big Brother house here, so I won't repeat it all today]

lockside building site at Three Mills Green
Blimey it's taking a very long time to build the new Prescott Lock - considerably longer than originally planned. Construction began in March 2007 and was due to be completed "in summer 2008 in time for the main construction phase of the Olympic Park." Nope. The deadline later slipped to "autumn 2008", with landscaping of the surrounding riverbanks to be complete by "February 2009". Failed, on both counts. There's still a sprawling worksite on Three Mills Green, sealed off behind an unwelcoming wall, and there's no sign that anyone's even close to prettifying the scenery or re-laying turf. All three footpaths are still closed off, no longer with visible signs to indicate diversions nor anything to suggest when these riverbanks might reopen. At the moment they're still at the "dredging the river" stage, and this explains why the Euston Arch is finally being exhumed.
[You can flick through five year's worth of photos of the Prescott Channel here, courtesy of LoopZilla's Flickr account]

dredging on the Prescott ChannelI popped down after work to try to take a look at the site, but it wasn't easy. Riverside access to the Prescott Channel is still impossible, even if the tourist map outside the House Mill already shows a not-yet-complete configuration of new cross-lock footpaths. After a failed scout-round on all sides, perturbing more than one security guard in the process, I realised that the only decent view was to be had by train. And so it was, staring out of the window of a rattling Hammersmith & City line carriage, that I finally managed to catch sight of a lone dredger in the mud. All the workmen had gone home so no Doric chunks were being lifted out of the water while I sped by. But the lock gates looked sturdy and intact so, once the channel's finally been cleared of all underwater obstructions, there might eventually be some proper 2012 construction traffic heading this way. Better late than never.
[Read the British Waterways press release here]

Hurrah for the London Olympics, because without their sustainable transport policy the remains of the Euston Arch would have been doomed to a forgotten underwater life. As it is, this grand gateway may yet be reborn beside the Euston Road, where it ought to look bloody marvellous. One day.
[Just to check, you have clicked on the website of the Euston Arch Trust, haven't you? It's here, and it's excellent]


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