diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saturday 8am: waking up, cup of tea
Sunday 8am (or is it 9am, I'm confused): waking up, cup of tea

Saturday 9am: planning to go out somewhere
Sunday 9am: every time I think I've turned the last clock back, I remember another

Saturday 10am: with every other East London tube line shut down this weekend "because of planned engineering works", the Central line is a bit cattletruck
Sunday 10am: still finishing yesterday's newspaper, cup of tea

Saturday 11am: the suburbs rattling by, carriage entirely to myself, not been this far out in 30 years
Sunday 11am: getting the washing done, bagging the recycling

Saturday noon: it's lucky this museum has a devoted band of local volunteer friends, because there's not much here to justify the two quid entrance fee for visitors
Sunday noon: that's the middle of daylight hours already (should've got up earlier)

Saturday 1pm: the autumn colours in the Chilterns are particularly fine this weekend
Sunday 1pm: have tidied up, so my flat looks a little less like a bomb's hit it

Saturday 2pm: when I asked for a baguette, I wasn't expecting to have to wait for five minutes while some nice lady in the back kitchen rustled up a foot-long chunk of bread filled with sizzling pigflesh (damned nice though)
Sunday 2pm: it beats me how HMRC can describe filling in the online annual Self Assessment form as "straightforward"

Saturday 3pm: defective train at Holborn, sigh
Sunday 3pm: I would go out somewhere, but it'll be dark in an hour and a half

Saturday 4pm: not convinced these shoes go with these trousers (I never was any good at dressing non-casual)
Sunday 4pm: chicken's nowhere near defrosted yet

Saturday 5pm: a depressingly high number of people appear to be enjoying shopping at One New Change
Sunday 5pm: sigh, dark already (the next time the sun sets after 5pm will be in the second week of February)

Saturday 6pm: yes, let's do the à la carte menu, despite the fact I really don't like anything on it, except the desserts, oh but we're only having starters and mains are we, never mind, I'll cope
Sunday 6pm: unexpected phone call from a former colleague to discuss general business unpleasantness

Saturday 7pm: the usual mess when five people try to settle a restaurant bill and one person's only got plastic
Sunday 7pm: there was a time when I cared passionately what the Number 1 record was, but in this manufactured X Factor era I no longer care

Saturday 8pm: watching Yes Prime Minister from the stalls, and have almost come to terms with the fact that Jim, Humphrey and Bernard are being played by three completely different actors
Sunday 8pm: Hallowe'en's no problem when you live in a London flat - no trick or treater ever bothers to buzz your entryphone

Saturday 9pm: thoroughly enjoying this modern take on the 1980s Whitehall classic, even if at times it feels like three sitcom episodes strung out to the length of four
Sunday 9pm: sitting in the dark with just three IKEA tealights for illumination, as is my Hallowe'en tradition

Saturday 10pm: emerging, smiling, into West End streets full of drunken witches and unconvincing zombies
Sunday 10pm: cup of tea, Club biscuit

Saturday 11pm: Edward Scissorhands rides past on a BorisBike
Sunday 11pm: feels well past bedtime already (because it is)

 Saturday, October 30, 2010

It being Saturday, a lot of you are probably thinking of going out shopping. But not to the City. It shuts down at weekends, when the bankers and office workers go home, so the shops shut down too. Newsagents shut, shirtsellers shut, even the whopping great House of Fraser at the top of London Bridge shuts, because it's not worth opening when there's nobody around. On weekdays, financial hub of Western Europe. On Saturdays, no spending power at all. But One New Change hopes to change all that. It's a brand new shopping mall in the very heart of the City, immediately to the east of St Paul's, and it opens Saturdays. And Sundays. And weekday evenings. Proper transformational, they hope.

One New ChangeNot everybody's impressed. The new building's a brown glassy thing with curved edges and an inner gash. It screams 21st century, whereas nextdoor stands a cathedral which embodies everything architecturally splendid about the 17th. Stick One New Change in a Kent quarry next to Bluewater and nobody would blink, but here it looks joltingly out of place. Still, it's jobs, innit? And somewhere new to spend money.

I've read several reports cut and pasted from press releases about how great One New Change is going to be. But nothing as yet from anyone who's actually been since it opened. So I thought I'd step in and tell you, because it's only fair you consider whether this might be a better location that your local mall or high street to go shopping today.

One New Change opened at noon on Thursday, but I didn't get there until after dark. Too late to see the Hoosiers perform, but in time for some warbling jazz trio in little black cocktail dresses. Which was useful, because it gave the thousands of people who'd turned up something to do apart from buy things. Thursday was definitely the day for acclimatisation and window shopping, deciding whether this was perhaps somewhere you'd want to spend more of your time. Or not.

One New ChangeI soon sort-of got the hang of the place. The ground floor's sort-of cruciform, with a main funneling passageway leading in from the St Paul's end. The cathedral's perfectly framed if you look back, with the best views currently reserved for those taking the lift up to the first floor. There are a few fewer shops up here, and walkways that won't take you long to walk round unless you venture inside somewhere.

Getting to basement level proved more of a challenge. I assumed there'd be an escalator down from the central atrium (just as there's one up), or even some public stairs, but apparently not. Instead you have to take the lift from G to LG, or walk all the way out to the street and then slope back down the main escalator there. I assume this is a deliberate design feature, but I bet it significantly reduces the number of downstairs shoppers.

There'll be two main reasons to come to One New Change - for food or for clothes. Umpteen café and restaurant outlets clog the floors, presumably because the City's dining requirements are voracious. More lunchtime-oriented than evening-based, to be honest, but still with sufficient poshnosh diners to satisfy a lengthy client list. Jamie's here soon with a meatfeast diner, because celebrity sells, and Gordon will be along later.

As for clothes, the mall's guide makes no mention of 'shops', merely 'brands'. If your idea of retail heaven is nipping from Kurt Geiger to Banana Republic to Superdry then back to Kurt Geiger for those gorgeous leather wedges, you'll be well at home. There's nothing here as common as a TK Maxx or a JD Sports, but neither is there anything too exclusively luxurious. Bankers can continue to blow their mega-bonuses elsewhere - this place is targeted at a more mainstream aspirational audience.

Thursday's ambling crowds gave One New Change a vibrant buzz, which might be amplified in a fortnight's time when the 6th floor public roof gardens open. But in truth this is merely an extremely central shopping mall, whose opening means the City's now slightly less shut at weekends. Unless you're a gourmand brandoholic, I'd not rush.

 Friday, October 29, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Earl's Sluice/Peck


Southeast London's two lost rivers, the Earl's Sluice and the Peck, merged somewhere in the vicinity of South Bermondsey station. It's no coincidence that this station lies on the border between Southwark and Lewisham. If you trace the borough boundary from the Old Kent Road up Ilderton Road you're following the route of the Peck, near enough. And if you carry on along that same boundary to the east, you're following the final mile of both rivers down to the Thames, pretty much. Indeed, these rivers once marked the county boundary between Surrey and Kent, which is impressively significant for a minor river that no longer exists.

For the best view of the area, head up to the elevated platforms at South Bermondsey. The footpath from the street is ridiculously long (all the better for corralling football supporters), and the curving narrow platform almost longer still. From the tip you can even peer down through a gap in the stands at The Den and watch Millwall play, so long as the ball's in one specific tiny patch of pitch. [photo]

My river walk continued down the embankment, outside the stadium, on one of the gloomiest streets I've ever encountered in central London. That's Bolina Road, a bendy backwater which burrows its way beneath as many as five railway viaducts in quick succession. The first cuts you off from the outside world. The second, and loftiest, is blessed by a pile of boulders and abandoned tyres at its base [photo]. The gap between here and the third feels scarily oppressive, as if some ne'erdowell might leap out at any moment and your body might not be found for months. The fourth is low enough to slice off the entire top deck of a bus, although its precise height is unclear because the official road sign's long since vanished. And the fifth is so narrow that cars wishing to pass have to honk their horns lest they meet a car, bike or even pedestrian coming the other way. I moved on fast.

It's hard to imagine the Hawkestone Estate as riverside fields (and worrying to imagine which council committee thought 'Regeneration Road' was a good name for one of its new streets). Another railway bars progress before long, this time the East London line, with a welcome footbridge at the point where the spur to Clapham Junction will one day divert. A thick white pipe crosses the tracks close by, reputedly the sewer-borne remains of our lost river, flirting anonymously with the open air. There's one last inferred sighting at the top of Rotherhithe New Road, where a green stinkpipe rises from the triangular traffic island. 200 years ago the view round here was rather more peaceful, with the Earl's Sluice rolling by beneath an arched bridge.

One last push to the Thames, along a stretch which last saw the light of day as the "Black Ditch". On Chilton Grove there's conclusive evidence of the river's burial - the Earl Pumping Station. It's housed in a boxy brick structure which could easily be a 1930s library, but instead houses some non-cutting-edge Thames Water pipework. You might expect the river to have flowed along the line of the South Dock [photo], but cartographical evidence suggests its replacement sewer follows Plough Way. A memorial stone inlaid in the pavement wall, past Baltic Quay, confirms that the former Kent/Surrey boundary passed this way (until 1899). It makes sense - those are indeed the Surrey Docks just to the north on the non-Kent side of the divide. [photo]

The final few yards in Helsinki Square are marked by what looks like a filled-in dock, lined by 21st century trees, leading to St George's Stairs [photo]. At low tide a pebbly beach is revealed alongside a pair of rotting wooden piers [photo]. Don't be tempted down the steps - a bold yellow Thames Water sign warns of a "sewer outlet 30 metres out from this board". Stay on the riverside promenade, turn left, and you'll find a preserved brick wall from a bridge over Earl's Creek. It was shifted here in 1988, and includes yet another boundary stone to admire. Surrey/Kent, Rotherhithe/Deptford, Southwark/Lewisham... not a bad tally for the former Earl's Sluice/Peck.

» A very approximate map of the Earl's Sluice and Peck's course (my best Google map attempt)
» Read all my Earl's Sluice/Peck posts on one page, in the right order

 Thursday, October 28, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
The Peck


The Peck is Peckham's lost river (obviously). It's not quite as lost as you might expect. Nor as interesting, sorry.

If reports are to be believed, the source of the Peck was on One Tree Hill in Honor Oak. That's the marvellously steep mound above St Augustine's church, the hilltop on which Queen Elizabeth I took her May Day picnic in 1602. You must know about this place by now, because this is the third time I've been here in the last six months. Tracing the river below is tricky because Beechcroft reservoir blocks the way. This is a cathedral-like vault of prime Edwardian engineering - the world's largest brick-built underground storage facility when it opened in 1909. But you'll only get to see the inside if you're a Thames Water employee, because it's long been grassed over and is now covered by a golf course.

In Peckham Rye Park, the river's much harder to miss. It wiggles across the entire park from east to west - only as a trickle in an artificial trench, but most definitely not lost at all. It's there flowing beneath a faux-rustic wooden bridge. It's there weaving through woodland between the playground and the skate park. It's there running in a grubby ditch beside the pea green toilet block. It's there curving through the Japanese Garden, and it's there dribbling down a cascade in the Ornamental Pond Garden. It's been creatively landscaped, and elevates the whole of Peckham Rye Park above the ordinary. But that's the last we'll see of the Peck, as it drains beneath a flowerbed into an anonymous pipe.

Peckham Rye Common is broad and green, still with a telltale slope down towards the western edge. On my visit the space was occupied by footballers and crows, in roughly equal numbers. Zippo's Circus had also taken root, setting up their big white top and surrounding it with articulated trailers. I listened as dramatic music played from inside, rising to an emotional crescendo which had the unseen audience applauding wildly. My journey could offer nothing more exciting than Peckham Rye, where the tip of the common intrudes between a parade of shops. Contours suggest that the Peck once flowed straight down the middle, where now the buses pull over and where flocks of pigeons crowd round the dogmess bin.

We'll not be following Peckham's main shopping street - the town's eponymous river didn't head this way. Instead it veered off towards the railway and across a mile of residential SE15. All of these houses owe their existence to an early 19th century culvert which tugged the Peck underground, creating more sanitary conditions on the surface. There's little to excite the urban walker here, unless you particularly enjoy dead pubs and relentless backstreets. I don't think I've ever taken a lost river walk where my camera's stayed so firmly in my pocket. [no photo]

It's all change at the bottom of the Old Kent Road, and not in a good way. A mountain range of tower blocks marks the start of Ilderton Road, then most of the next half mile is scarily light industrial. Tyre depots, car washes, textile wholesalers, that sort of thing... plus the real growth market around here - evangelical churches. It doesn't cost much to take over half a warehouse, or an entire chapel that Anglicanism abandoned, then fill it to the rafters with heartfelt praise. Within a very small area you'll find the Universal Church of God, the River of Life Centre, Reconcilers Evangelical Ministries and God's Church of Peace (amongst many others), each competing for their share of Peckham's Afro-Caribbean congregation. Try catching the P12 bus down Ilderton Road at turfing-out time on a Sunday afternoon and you'll be battling for space with scores of smart ladies in bright flowing dresses and wrapped millinery.

Surrey Canal Road has a lost waterway connection, but that'd be a canal, not our river, so I'll save that for another time. The Peck had a few more hundred yards to travel, before joining up with the Earl's Sluice roughly where I said it did yesterday. Fingers crossed tomorrow I'll convince you that the final mile down to the Thames is actually worth writing about.

» A very approximate map of the Earl's Sluice and Peck's course (my best Google map attempt)
» Londonist follows the Peck (with far more photos)

 Wednesday, October 27, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Earl's Sluice


South of the Thames, lost rivers are always harder to find. The land's flatter, the contours less distinct, and any former watercourse more completely eradicated. Take, for example, these two conjoined streams flowing north from sort-of-Peckham towards Rotherhithe-ish. To the west was the Earl's Sluice, and to the east was the Peck (I'm sure you can spot the suburb-naming connection there). Neither is especially well documented. Wikipedia's take on the Peck, for example, stretches to less than 50 words and an irrelevant photo. My apologies, therefore, because these latest watery jaunts are going to be less precise than usual. But I'll do my best.

First I'm going to follow the Earl's Sluice from its source to its confluence with the Peck. The river's named after the Duke of Gloucester, allegedly, who was Lord of the manor round here in the time of Henry I. Its headwaters were on Denmark Hill (yes, there's a clue in the word 'hill'), close to the twin healthcare behemoths of the Maudsley and King's College Hospitals. But there's nothing in Ruskin Park today to hint that a river ever started here, apart from a mild slope and an ornamental lake. The closest water feature to the source is the park's paddling pool, currently drained for the winter (and ideal for teaching your toddler how to ride a bike). The river flowed north, where the electricity substation now is (and where 71 residential units and a mixed office development soon will be). A series of backstreets follow, some pleasantly terracey, others the sort of social housing where a teenager named Edvin might be stabbed to death. We're in Camberwell here, a settlement named after its groundwater. The original "Camber Well" provided liquid sustenance for ancient residents of Peckham and Dulwich, and was recently uncovered in Noreen's back garden in nearby Grove Park. There's tons more here, if you're interested (and I was).

From Camberwell Green we head north along Camberwell Road as far as the park entrance, at which point the Earl's Sluice dog-legged abruptly right. Burgess Park didn't exist in those days - it's a surprisingly recent intervention, created since the war by filling in a canal and demolishing umpteen streets. The most charming bits of the park are the bits they didn't destroy, like the old lime kiln and the ornate Passmore Edwards Library. There's also a more recent Arts Centre, plus an undulating cycle track where I watched a lone fox sunbathing in broad daylight. But the Earl's Sluice missed all of that and ran instead along Albany Road, where the park rubs up against the monstrous slab blocks of the Aylesbury Estate. There's one single clue to the river's burial, which is a green stinkpipe emerging from the pavement at the junction with Bagshot Street.

Next up, Monopoly's bargain basement - the Old Kent Road. It's a brief crossing, straight into the Southernwood Retail Park (where Currys and Argos no doubt each pay considerably more than £2 rent). More interesting is Rolls Road, whose Victorian brick wall sort-of follows the old river. This gappy barrier was formerly the southern perimeter of the Bricklayers Arms Goods Depot - the last remnants of a misguided early Victorian attempt to create a major London rail terminus far from the centre of town. The station complex is now covered by boxy housing, but a couple of buildings survive as the local stables and a still-functioning forge. And then somewhere along the Rotherhithe New Road, close to Millwall's Den, is the point where the Earl's Sluice joined up with its partner the Peck. Tomorrow I'll guide you back here via river number two.

» A very approximate map of the Earl's Sluice and Peck's course (my best Google map attempt)

» Previous rivers in this series: Fleet, Westbourne, Falcon Brook, Counters Creek, Neckinger, Hackney Brook, Effra, Walbrook, Pudding Mill, Stamford Brook

 Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wasn't the weather nice on Sunday [in a crisp autumnal way]? So I thought I'd go somewhere outside London for a nice long walk [because I had nothing else to do]. My chosen destination was the Surrey Hills, because I've not been there for a while [and because it's dead easy to get there on a train]. A delightful six mile stroll awaited [because I did my usual weekend thing of deciding to visit somewhere remote in the middle of the countryside, then attempting to walk there]. Let me tell you all about it [not that you care, you'll never do this walk, it's in Surrey for heaven's sake].

I started off at Box Hill And Westhumble station [a pastoral retreat that somehow gets two trains an hour]. And then, unlike most people, I crossed the bridge into Westhumble village [whereas you, if you ever came, would head east towards Box Hill, no question]. A quiet country lane rose gently up the hillside, along which I met absolutely nobody [except two evil joggers, who stood panting in precisely the spot from which I could have taken an excellent photo]. Then a stretch of solitary woodland [really, nobody's interested], then a swooping back lane down which weekend cyclists love to speed [the whole area was swarming with two-wheeled lycra]. By mid-morning I was standing in a field with 500 sheep [jealous? thought not], searching for a rear entrance to the local stately estate.

Polesden Lacey

Polesden Lacey is one of the National Trust's most popular properties [probably because it's in Surrey]. Almost everybody enters via the car park [obviously], but I wandered into the grounds up a rocky back lane from the middle of nowhere. The path led to a long elevated promenade hugging the side of the valley, with excellent views [damn, into the sun] towards fiery autumnal forest. I could almost see why the Queen Mum and dearest Bertie had come here for their honeymoon [life wasn't exactly wild in 1923]. I had plenty of time to explore the grounds further [because I was stupid enough to arrive before the house opened], even if the Rose Garden was past its best [well past, to be honest].

I noticed [with a mounting sense of dread] that all the other visitors were wearing green 'Polesden Lacey' stickers on their outerwear. I assumed they'd been given these when they paid at the site entrance [but I never found the car park, so I never got a sticker]. Would the nice NT volunteer inside the front door of the house confront my stickerlessness [how middle-classly embarrassing would that have been]? No, she merely asked if I'd been before and sent me into the hall with a smile [I bet she thought the sticker was under my jacket, but was too polite to ask]. So I wandered around the entire house being stared at by all the guidespeople [and there were scores of them] but never once had my credibility questioned. Don't get me wrong, I had my Trust membership card poised ready in my pocket [but I guess what I'm saying here is that if you fancy a free trip round a posh house, then hike in from three miles away and wear a coat].

The volunteers were excellent, and proceeded to tell me the house's story [several times] as I wandered between rooms. How American Margaret Greville used money from the McEwan brewing industry to buy her way into British high society [and succeeded beyond her wildest dreams]. In particular Mrs Greville made friends with royalty from home and abroad [flattery will get you everywhere] and for three decades her house parties were the talk of the town. The estate passed to the National Trust after her death in 1942 [kids do so get in the way of a good knees-up] and today far less famous souls fill her rooms. [I would go on, but if you're interested a few photos will no doubt shut you up]

Back to the walk [which I found on the North Downs website - an excellent resource]. Up and over Ranmore Common [essentially a lot of trees] where I managed a full forested mile without seeing another soul. To the viewpoint at Steers Field with the highest point in southeast England visible in the distance [that'll be Leith Hill, I'll get there one day]. An ice cream in the car park [seriously, do you think your readers care]. And then a bit of treat - a mile through Britain's largest vineyard [pretentiously known as the Denbies Wine Estate]. The path hugged the top of the chalk escarpment, with regimented rows of vines cascading down into the valley [I bet it looked better pre-harvest, but here's a photo anyway]. There is of course a visitor centre offering guided tours [plus a packed-solid restaurant and a twee shop]. I watched, bemused, as a shivering bride arrived for her wedding [applauded by a gaggle of purple-clothed maidens] [I bet they were all pissed by nightfall].

Denbies Wine Estate

And back to Westhumble again for the train home [yeah, nice walk thanks]. I had so long to wait that, yes, I did go for a quick climb halfway up nearby Box Hill [because you can't not] And, er, that was my Sunday [like I said, you probably didn't need to know any of that].

 Monday, October 25, 2010

Roadblock - BarbicanThere's one part of London which would rather you didn't come visit. If you work there, great, come make lots of money. But if you fancy driving in, or passing through, a hidden barrier has been erected to try to keep you out. That place is the City of London, surrounded by its own Ring of Steel. This weekend I took a tour to take a closer look.

Security paranoia hit the City in 1993 after the Bishopsgate truck bomb blast. This must never happen again, they said, and hastily constructed a surveillance cordon around the central financial district. First it was policemen with traffic cones, then a more permanent technological solution was imposed involving chicanes, cameras and checkpoints. The number of entry points into the "Traffic and Environment Zone" was restricted, and roads remodelled to better suit perceived safety needs. So the IRA promptly drove their next truck to Docklands and exploded it there, to prove how pointless the whole thing had been. Today that Irish threat may have faded but the risk of international terrorism never goes away, so the Ring of Steel is still there. It's no longer manned, except at times of heightened alert, and has been expanded more than once to incorporate an even greater proportion of the City. Indeed, far from disappearing it's now so fully ingrained that we may never get rid of it.

My tour was organised as part of the This Is Not A Gateway festival - a small-scale urban gathering based in a Spitalfields hall. Leading the walking group was George Gingell, a London architecture student who's researched the roadblocks in considerable depth, and made for a most enthusiastic tour guide. There wasn't a date, location or strategic realignment he didn't know, so it seemed, as he bounced off through the streets with fifty of us following behind.

City security camerasFirst to Brushfield Street which runs along the south side of Spitalfields Market. It used to run all the way through to Bishopsgate, but now there's a row of bollards in the way so only bikers and pedestrians can pass. Many towns and cities have bollards, admittedly, but this set are part of a remarkably well thought-through plan to keep unwanted motorists out. As many as 46 streets have been sealed off around the border of the City security zone, leaving fewer than 20 accessible entrances. Each is watched over by electronic sentries, with one camera for automatic numberplate recognition, another to take a photo of each driver and their passengers, and a big bright light to make sure everything still works after dark. Much cheaper than hiring policemen to ask questions of every driver passing through, and more efficient too.

George handed out a map showing the resulting network, with the whole thing resembling a maze complete with one-way exit points and umpteen dead ends. There are, for example, only four entrances to the eastern edge of the security zone - one at Tower Hill, two at Aldgate and one coming down from Shoreditch. Attempt to gain entry via any other road and a deliberate physical blockage will stop you. And it's not only bollards. Flowers are a favourite, with big chunky planters strung out across the road as scenic barriers. To everyday eyes it looks like an endearing attempt at pedestrianisation, but in reality it's part of a grand scheme to lock central London down.

Vandy StreetThe best example of imperceptible fortification that George had to offer was Vandy Street, at the very northern tip of the exclusion zone. This used to be a short and insignificant sidestreet, whose only crime was that it connected to two other sidestreets immediately behind. So the City of London killed it off. They sold Vandy Street to private developers when an adjacent plot was redeveloped, who promptly set about turning it into an ex-road. Google Streetview caught them mid-revamp, with the road half dug-up awaiting its new fate. Most of the street was relaid with turf, with a paltry low hedge at either end and a series of big black planters filled with greenery along one side. Legally this is still a right of way so a path was provided where one of the pavements used to be, but made of light gravel so it's awkward to walk down. The whole thing looks like a very amateur garden centre display, but the overall effect is sufficient to keep the public at bay.

Until fifty of us walked straight down it. We hopped over the hedge, strolled across the squidgy lawn and trampled the gravel pathway, reclaiming Vandy Street as our own. And then we stood in the soulless grey courtyard at the far end where Snowden Street and Finsbury Pavement used to be - two more sidestreets sacrificed on the altar of protectionism. George explained how one day an even bigger building would probably be built, covering Vandy Street for good and strengthening the Ring of Steel still further. He didn't notice the security guard who'd grown increasingly nervous at 50 weekend visitors standing precisely where they shouldn't, and who'd wandered over to confront us all. The guard urged us to move on, somewhat earnestly, while we simply laughed at this perfect example of creeping security paranoia. And then we moved on.

The City of London's had a wall since Roman times, but this modern barrier is electronic, manipulative and insidious. London's financial institutions may feel better protected from IRA-style vehicular threat as a result, but terrorism moves on, so expect far more risk-led city planning in the future.

Blogpost by Henrietta, one of the walk's organisers (includes jpg of George's map, plus full Google Earth data)
My approximate Google map of the Ring of Steel
Excellent Evening Standard article about George's project
Matthew's Flickr set from Vandy Street and the Broadgate West no-go-zone

 Sunday, October 24, 2010

They appear earlier every year. Red paper petals on a green plastic stalk. Royal British Legion poppies. Who on earth let them out already?

The UK officially commemorates its war dead on the second Sunday of November - the Sunday closest to 11th November. This year that's the latest it can possibly be, on Sunday 14th November. Various very important people will lay wreaths at the Cenotaph, the country will fall silent, and everyone will be wearing a little poppy somewhere to pay their respects. But that's still three weeks away. Why on earth are people wearing these artificial scarlet flowers in mid-October?

I was wandering around London yesterday when I saw the first. Pinned to the coat of a middle-aged gentleman, strolling around the City with his conscience on his lapel. I thought he might be a one-off, but a few hours later I saw another on a younger bloke on the other side of town. Out shopping he was, and looked like he'd dropped some cash into a collecting tin somewhere earlier in the day. Only the two sightings so far, that's all I saw, but it appears the 2010 poppy season is suddenly underway.

On returning home I switched on the TV and caught the end of Final Score. Look, three more poppies, one for each of the gossipping pundits. As Mark, Matt and Garth discussed Chelsea's chances, I couldn't help but wonder why each of them had matching red accessories. Next came the News, with a prominent poppy on the newsreader's jacket and another when they cut away to chat to a reporter in the field. Last year the BBC's official poppy season kicked off on October 24th, which was 15 days before Remembrance Sunday. Which idiot decided to jump the gun this year and start twenty-two days early?

When I was at school, poppy-wearing season lasted one week. The trays and collecting tins would appear on the Monday before Remembrance Sunday, and it was pretty much expected you'd contribute and buy one. Back then everyone had relatives who'd fought in World War Two, plus there were plenty of WW1 veterans still around. OK, so someone at school would always try to use the pin to stab a friend, just for a laugh, but we'd only ever wear the poppies on our blazers for five days. Remembrance was something you did briefly but respectfully, leading up to the big two minutes at the weekend, and nothing more.

Over the years, the Poppy Appeal has launched earlier and earlier. In 1997, when the Spice Girls were conscripted to front the campaign, the launch was 11 days before Remembrance Sunday. By 2000 the gap had extended to 17 days, a full two and a half weeks in advance, and it's remained at that interval ever since. This year's Poppy Appeal launches officially on Thursday, after which presumably red charitywear will be everywhere. But a few regional launches have taken place already, which seems wildly premature, but explains how some poppies have started dribbling out into the mainstream.

I can understand why the Royal British Legion no longer think a week is long enough to sell its 27 million poppies. But there does seem to be increasing pressure from the media and wider society to 'expect' people to wear their poppy for longer than ever before. There are diktats for TV presenters, and unspoken accusations should public figures dare not wear one once everyone else has begun. It's not a competition, it's not a club to join, and it's definitely not a fashion statement. Donating money to war veterans should require no public show. And three weeks is definitely far too long to be swanning around with the receipt pinned to your chest.

 Saturday, October 23, 2010

A map of London's Starbucks by postcode

HA1 HA5 HA8

UB3 UB8 UB8
NW1 NW1 NW1 NW1 NW1 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW4 NW6 NW6 NW6 NW8 NW9 NW11 NW11EN2 EN5

N1 N1 N1 N1 N1 N8 N10 N12 N13 N21
RM1 RM1
W2 W2 W2 W2 W2 W2 W2 W4 W4 W4 W4 W5 W5 W5 W6 W6 W6 W6 W6 W8 W8 W8 W9 W11 W11 W11 W11 W11 W12 W12 W12 W12West End W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1West End WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2City EC1 EC1 EC1 EC1 EC1 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4E1 E1 E1 E11 E14 E14 E14 E14 E14 E14 E15
SW3 SW3 SW3 SW3 SW3 SW4 SW4 SW4 SW5 SW5 SW6 SW6 SW6 SW6 SW6 SW7 SW7 SW7 SW7 SW7 SW8 SW10 SW10 SW11 SW11 SW12 SW13 SW15 SW18 SW18 SW19 SW19 SW19 SW20SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1SE1 SE1 SE1 SE1
SE1 SE1 SE1 SE1
SE1 SE1 SE16 SE22
SE3 SE10 SE10 SE10 SE10 SE18
TW1 TW3 TW6 TW6 TW6 TW6 TW9 TW9 TW9 TW9 TW11 TW12 KT1 KT1 KT3 KT6SM1 SM1 SM3CR0 CR0 CR0BR1 BR1 BR1 BR4 DA6
dg 2010)

This is an update of a map I first published in February 2007.
Since then, 53 extra Starbucks have opened across London.
But it's still really easy to spot the "rich" side of town.

Starbucks store locator
Map of London postal districts
List of London postal districts
Some much nicer independent cafes

 Friday, October 22, 2010

Yesterday was Mayoral election day in Tower Hamlets.
Alan or Helal or John or Lutfur or Neil.
Tough choice.

My polling card arrived several weeks ago along with an information pamphlet, and that was it. None of the candidates sent me anything else - not a leaflet, not a mailshot, not even a bar graph with arrows labelled "Cannot win here". There might have been some further background in Tower Hamlets' weekly council newspaper East End Life, but they don't bother sending me that any more. There was definitely some virulent propaganda in The London Bangla - a blatantly biased freesheet targeted on certain neighbourhoods in the borough. But I saw nothing targeted at me. It's a good job I remembered to vote anyway.

I normally vote on the way into work but this time I thought I'd vote on the way home. Rush hour, before it got dark, I emerged from Bow Road station to a barrage of leaflets. OK, so there were only two people handing out leaflets, but I made sure I took both. Only then did I discover I'd been given the same leaflet twice, once face up, once face down. Still, all credit to Labour for reminding homebound commuters that there was an election on, because I suspect most of them wouldn't have remembered otherwise.

My polling station's in a nearby school on Bow Road. Again there were canvassers outside, this time supporters of independent candidate Lutfur Rahman. But they were far too busy chatting to notice me wander up to the entrance, and completely failed to hand me one of their huge wodge of leaflets they had to give away. I picked one up out of the gutter on the way out, and saw that one side of the leaflet was an approximate copy of the ballot paper with a thumping big cross showing me precisely where to put my vote. A perfect pictorial representation for voters who don't follow written instructions, or spoken English, particularly well.

The polling station was not crowded. Indeed I was the only voter present, which I found surprising given the time of day. I was completely outnumbered by the five council scrutineers, two of whom dealt with me, and the rest of whom continued overseeing nothing. While they tried to cross my name off their list, I noted that only one other person on my sheet (out of about 50) had bothered voting during the previous 10 hours. Turnout up the slightly more affluent end of Bow looks likely to be rock bottom.

Not so nearby in Bromley-by-Bow. I passed the polling station in St Leonards Street at the end of the rush hour, after dark, and the pavement outside was seething. Canvassers, supporters, supporters of supporters, and a single policewoman keeping an eye on the lot. There was no unpleasant atmosphere and I was allowed to pass quite freely (indeed some of the folk with rosettes looked very disappointed when I didn't turn into the school playground as they'd hoped). But the contrast with my own polling station was stark. This was lively and animated, with the local Bangladeshi community considerably more engaged in the electoral process. Maybe that's because Helal Abbas lives just around the corner, but it wasn't only his followers massing outside.

I passed by one more time, half an hour before the polls closed. There were still umpteen political souls milling on the pavement outside the primary school, but now accompanied by two policemen. And a police van. And an unmarked police van. And even the Tower Hamlets CCTV van, parked up opposite to keep a recorded eye on proceedings. Did something kick off while I was away? Was there a big row between the Abbasers and the Rahmanites? No idea, but I've certainly never seen quite such a uniformed presence outside a polling station before.

Whatever the final Mayoral result, one thing seems clear. The final outcome will be decided by specific neighbourhoods that took great interest, and the apathetic will have do make do with whichever candidate those enthusiastic supporters select.

2:30am - results update
Lutfur Rahman (Independent) 23283 (51.8%, elected)
Helal Abbas (Labour) 11254 (25.0%, humiliated)
Neil King (Conservative) 5348 (11.9%)
John Griffiths (Lib Dem) 2800 (6.2%)
Alan Duffell (Green) 2300 (5.1%)
Turnout: 25.6%

Yesterday Labour ruled Tower Hamlets, with 63% of the councillors.
Today they still have 63% of the councillors, but no power.
Radical triumph, or shadowy disaster? Time will tell.

 Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yesterday was a good day to bury bad news. So Boris slipped out the annual announcement on tube/bus fare rises while nobody was paying attention. Here are some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending).

Cost of a single central London tube journey
200120022003 20042005200620072008200920102011
£1.50£1.60£1.60Oyster£1.60£1.70£1.50£1.50£1.50£1.60£1.80£1.90
Visitor£2.00£2.00£3.00£4.00£4.00£4.00£4.00£4.00

The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare rises 5½% in January, to a new high of £1.90. Pessimists will note that this is 27% higher than when Boris came to power. Optimists, however, should note that it's still only 27% higher than a decade ago.

Cost of a single central London bus journey
200120022003 20042005200620072008200920102011
£1£1£1Oyster70p80p80p£190p£1£1.20£1.30
Visitor£1£1.20£1.50£2£2£2£2£2.20

The pay-as-you-go bus fare rises 8% in January. That's a whopping 44% rise since Boris came to power, which is awful... but only a 30% rise over the last decade, which maybe isn't so bad.

On average, across tubes and buses, we're told that prices will be rising next year by 7% (which is the rate of inflation + 2%). But this average hides a multitude of larger rises, for example...

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
 20102011% increase
Peak (Oyster)£4.20£4.50+7%
Off-peak (Oyster)£2.40£2.70+12½%
Visitor (cash)£4.50£5.00+11%

And then there's a subtly hidden yet very evil thing concerning One Day Travelcards. It's this.
"The One Day Travelcard range will be simplified and slow selling tickets withdrawn. The new range will comprise all-day and off-peak tickets valid in Zones 1-2, 1-4 and 1-6."
Come January there'll be just three different One Day Travelcards within London, whereas currently there are six. This is bad news if you currently use one of the One Day Travelcards being scrapped, most notably the Zone 2-6. TfL haven't yet released prices for the newly restricted range. Update: yes they have, grudgingly. So let me demonstrate what will happen in January once the range is cut back.

Cost of One Day Travelcard - any time   (updated)
 Z1-2Z1-3Z1-4Z1-5Z1-6Z2-6
cost now£7.20£8.60£10.00£12.60£14.80£9.00
to be retained?×××
cost in 2011£8.00£10.00£10.00£15.00£15.00£15.00

Cost of One Day Travelcard - off peak   (updated)
 Z1-2Z1-4Z1-6Z2-6
cost now£5.60£6.30£7.50£5.10
to be retained?×
cost in 2011£6.60£7.30£8.00£8.00

Consider, for example, the poor Outer London Travelcard user. At the moment they save cash by not travelling into Central London, but when the Zone 2-6 One Day Travelcard is withdrawn they'll be charged the same as if they had. That's a massive 57% fare increase off-peak, and an astonishing 67% increase for the all-day user. How on earth can this be justified?

You may be thinking so what, I never buy a One Day Travelcard anyway. But maybe you do, indirectly at least, through daily price-capping. Pay-as-you-go price caps are always set to match the relevant Travelcard, so if a paper Travelcard disappears then so will the matching electronic price cap.
» For example, if you use your Oyster to swan around in Zones 1-5 all day, you currently never pay more than £12.60. Once the Z1-5 Travelcard vanishes you'll have to pay up to £15.00 instead, which is the Z1-6 cap. Over a week, a month, a year, that'll really add up.
» Or consider an Oyster user who makes four off-peak Zone 2-3 tube journeys in a day, each costing £1.80. At the moment the price cap kicks in at £5.10, which means the fourth journey is free. Once the Z2-6 Travelcard vanishes the price cap leaps to £8.00, which means the the fourth journey costs full price. Ouch.

Fare rises are clearly essential if London's going to continue to have a vaguely world-class transport network. Somebody has to pay to keep our trains and buses moving. But there's a nasty undercurrent to these latest price hikes, disguised beneath a veil of simplification and rationalisation, and it seems that some travellers are being asked to pay far more than their fare share.

 Wednesday, October 20, 2010

» First they came for the quangos,
And I did not speak out because they're a bunch of squandering bureaucrats who perform no useful function.
» Then they came for the students,
And I did not speak out because I got through university when it was free so stuff them.
» Then they came for half a million civil servants,
And I did not speak out because there are 172 civil servants who earn more than the Prime Minister and that made me very angry.
» Then they came for the police,
And I did not speak out because I'm looking forward to committing more crimes and not getting caught.
» Then they came for the BBC,
And I did not speak out because Rupert has repeatedly assured me that the BBC are evil leftie wastrels.
» Then they came for the armed services,
And I did not speak out because I never thought they were all heroes anyway.
» Then they came for mummies on child benefit,
And I did not speak out because anyone earning 44K a year can always cut back on au pairs and tapas.
» Then they came for the arts,
And I did not speak out because a couple of DVDs on a Friday night is all the culture I need.
» Then they came for council tenants,
And I did not speak out because only losers live in council houses and I am not a loser.
» Then they came for rail subsidies,
And I did not speak out because I can drive there cheaper.
» Then they came for my pension,
And I did not speak out because I'm not going to be old and poor for ages.
» Then they came for the community centre round the corner,
And I did not speak out, although I'll miss the Spanish evening classes, and the jumble sales they used to run were good, and my nan went there a lot, and I guess they kept those annoying kids off the streets.
» Then they came for the benefit cheats,
And I did not speak out because anyone on benefit is a cheat in my book.
» Then they came for my local hospital,
And I did not speak out because I'm not planning on being ill any time soon.
» Then they came for the bankers,
And I said Oi! No! Bankers perform a crucial role in our economy and their obscene bonuses must be protected at all costs.
» Then they came for my children's future,
And I did not speak out because they can jolly well make their own way in life.
» Then they came for all the projects the last government started,
And I did not speak out because the entire global crisis was Gordon's fault.
» Then they came for the public sector,
And I did not speak out because the private sector can easily absorb half a million unemployed losers on part-time minimum wages.
» Then they came for something fundamental,
And I did not speak out because "we simply can't afford it".
» Then they came for the welfare state,
And I did not speak out because I'd forgotten what life was like before we had one.
» Then they came for my next-door neighbour,
And I did not speak out because cuts aren't a problem when they happen to someone else.
» Then they came for me,
And by then mine was just another livelihood on the bonfire and nobody gave a damn.
» And then they smiled, state rolled back, job done.

 Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We're electing a Mayor in Tower Hamlets on Thursday. Someone to act as a political figurehead for the borough. Someone with executive responsibility for the day-to-day running of local services. Someone to take charge of most of the high-level operational decisions the council makes. Someone with more power than anyone in this borough has ever had before. And so far, the electoral process has been an absolute complete bloody shambles. I fear it can only get worse.

There are strong undercurrents at work within Tower Hamlets' political system. On the face of it this is a clearcut Labour stronghold - of the 51 local councillors only ten come from any other parties. But there are deep factions within the ruling Labour group, and unconfirmed rumours that a rogue Islamic pressure group has been pulling strings behind the scenes. It's this fundamental factionalism that George Galloway exploited when he set up a completely new party back in 2004 and then successfully stood for Parliament. Respect's electoral standing may have collapsed back in May, but their destabilising influence continues.

You can't just magic up a Mayoral election out of thin air. It takes a petition signed by 5% of a borough's electorate to trigger one, which for Tower Hamlets means 7794 voters. Last summer Respect managed to cobble together a petition with more than double that number, which they duly presented to the council for verification. It turned out that 40% of those signatories were invalid - mostly unregistered, living elsewhere or with incomplete names and addresses. But enough were deemed valid for the petition to succeed, so democracy kicked in and the process moved on to stage two.

The borough's electors then faced a referendum on whether to have an elected mayor or not. The referendum was tacked onto the local and national elections last May, so most voters probably ticked yes or no without a great deal of thought. I voted 'No', because I thought a single Mayor would be unrepresentative in such a diverse borough, and because concentrating too much power in one individual only works if that one individual can be trusted. But 60% of voters said yes, on a relatively high turnout, so democracy kicked in and the process moved on to stage three.

Stage three is on Thursday. There are five Mayoral candidates, including Neil King for the Conservatives and John Griffiths for the Lib Dems. They don't stand a chance, not least because the Coalition will have announced the worst cuts in living memory the day before. There's a Green would-be, Alan Duffell, but realistically we can discount him too. The real battle's between the other two.

Labour's candidate is Helal Abbas, the current leader of the council, who was imposed by the National Executive after supposed irregularities in the local party vote. That had overwhelmingly selected former council leader Lutfur Rahman, but he was ejected from the party and duly flounced off to stand as an independent candidate instead. In second place in the ballot had been London Assembly member John Biggs, but he was summarily ignored in favour of third place Helal. Meanwhile Respect changed their minds saying "we were going to select a candidate of our own but now that Lutfur is standing we won't." There are accusations of racism, there are suspicions of vote-rigging, and there's no love lost between Abbas and Rahman. The whole process stinks on virtually every level, and yet one of these two men is almost certain to be crowned mayor this week.

I get to exercise my franchise on Thursday, making first and second choices against a somewhat compromised shortlist. But I suspect I'll be very much in the minority. Most Tower Hamlets voters won't even remember the mayoral election is taking place, let alone turn up and make their mark. Which'll leaves the door open for anyone who can get their supporters out in large enough numbers, or drum up the most postal votes by fair means or potentially foul. It would be unthinkable for the Labour candidate not to win, but then it was unthinkable for George Galloway to be elected as my MP and yet he managed that with the support of less than 20% of the electorate.

Tower Hamlets is a borough which regularly exploits democracy's greatest weakness - that the person with the most votes always wins. Whatever Thursday's result, I hope the man with the most votes is the choice the borough intended.

 Monday, October 18, 2010

I'm easy to spot at this time of year. I'm the one not wearing a coat.

Everyone else in the street is sporting a jacket, or blouson, or hoodie, or whatever. And there's me swanning along with nothing thicker than a shirt on top. Everyone else on the tube is dressed in black, or grey, or navy, or beige, or whatever. And there's me blazing away like a flash of colour in amongst a sea of neutrals. Everyone else arrives in the office and hangs their outerwear in the cupboard. And there's me getting funny looks at the end of the day when I wander out of the door in a single cotton layer. That's not normal, is it?

But it's not been cold yet, has it? Not proper cold. OK, I know I live in London where we get two or three degrees leeway over the surrounding countryside. But the temperature this autumn's not yet been low enough for me to feel a chill outdoors, even first thing in the morning before it warms up for the day. I know I'll be fine so long as I can make it to the station without shivering, because it's always warmed up by the time hometime comes around. Meanwhile loads of other people out there are already wrapped up tight in woolly hats and/or scarves and/or gloves. Goodness knows how they'll cope when it eventually gets proper cold.

Maybe I'm one of those people who doesn't feel the cold. I'm the last person in the office to say "ooh, it's a bit chilly isn't it, can you turn the thermostat up?" Or maybe I'm more tolerant. If it gets a little nippy then I put up with it, especially if it only means being outside for a few minutes. Or maybe I'm just being plain awkward. I mean, I haven't had the central heating on at home yet. Bet you have. I haven't even needed an extra jumper on indoors, which is my usual radiator-avoidance tactic. That's not normal either, is it?

I do own a coat, I just don't like it very much. It's a long-ish black number, wool blend, fairly smart. But it's also fairly old. Most trendy with-it people buy a new coat each winter season - the very latest must-have weatherproof style statement. But not me. My coat's nine seasons old, and neither military-chic nor blouson-tastic (or whatever this year's cutting-edge options are). Worse, it's well past its prime, as you'd notice if you got up to the fabric too close. It really is time I bought myself another.

But I hate shopping for clothes, as I think I've mentioned before. There are too many styles, in too many colours, and I never know what to get. Would I look stupid in brown, or is charcoal the only shade to consider? Knee-length, or calf-length, or short and jackety? Chunky cuffs, flappy collar, or preferably neither? Or is this the moment to head upmarket and get myself a smart suit, because men who wear suits can hold off wearing a winter coat for several more weeks? I don't know. Me, I look at outerwear in shops and I haven't a clue. And because I haven't a clue I buy nothing.

I fear this may be the week I finally admit defeat. The tipping point of autumn beyond which I can't get away with coatlessness any longer. Once the mercury dips too low it'll be futile to resist, and I'll be forced to admit that summer's finally ebbed away. Then I'll stick my old coat on, even though I know I should have replaced it by now, and revert to my unfashionable multi-layered persona.

You'll not spot me next week, I'll have blended back into the crowd again. But I'll be easy to spot again in March next year. I'll be the one not wearing a coat.

 Sunday, October 17, 2010

With the Coalition's spending squeeze imminent, I thought it would be instructive to see what life in post-cuts Britain might be like. So I visited part of London where cuts have been a way of life for some time, and where the council doesn't believe in supporting services if they can support themselves. That'd be Wandsworth, where the council tax is rock bottom but there's always a price to pay.
Wandsworth is famous for running a tight ship. We keep an eye on our costs and are constantly looking for new ways of making our services more efficient... Unlike many councils there is very little slack in the organisation. So when the main grants we receive from Government are cut, there are no easy ways to find the money... Our main priority must be to protect those essential services on which the most vulnerable members of our community depend. It will mean some hard choices in the weeks and months ahead.
Edward Lister, Leader of Wandsworth Council (February 2007)
My destination was the local museum. But not the old Wandsworth Museum - the much-loved repository in the town centre opposite the shopping mall. The council decided they couldn't afford that back in 2007, despite the protestations of locals and a petition with 17000 signatories. So they closed it down, and two nearby libraries too, then reopened one new library in the building where the museum used to be. Call it rationalisation or call it cuts - the outcome's much the same.

But hurrah, the Wandsworth public stepped in. In an early foreshadowing of the Big Society, a group of volunteers got together and vowed to reopen the museum somewhere else. It helped that two of them were philanthropists with £2m to spare, which isn't necessarily going to happen in your neighbourhood when something similar faces the axe. An independent trust was duly established and the borough's collection was saved from dispersal. It's taken a while but they've since moved into one of the two libraries that the council closed and established a brand new Wandsworth Museum there. Boris turned up last month to open it and praised "people with dosh stepping up to the plate helping create cultural institutions in tough times".

Wandsworth MuseumThe man on the front desk seemed very pleased to see a visitor, and gestured to the card which detailed the admission prices. Eight quid!?! He assured me that my money would permit entry at any time during the forthcoming year but, all the same, that's eight quid more than the previous incarnation of the museum used to charge. I hoped that the rooms which followed would provide good value.

Gallery 1 houses the museum's permanent collection. A timeline round the walls gave highlights of local history from the Iron Age up to the present day, and included a disappointingly low number of artefacts. The usual flint axeheads all local museums have, a paltry few Roman coins, and a metal cup (or something) to represent life in Stuart times. The Norman era was represented by a single metal sickle stuck to the board with no explanatory label (label-lessness was to be a key feature of my visit). Further neolithic flint tools shared a cabinet with a wartime ARP helmet and other 20th century ephemera, for some reason. A central panel promised "Human Stories" but then failed to give any, while another spoke of Wandsworth's "Cultural Landscape" without providing a great deal of evidence. Two highlights were the splendid Battersea Shield (possibly the real thing, more likely the Museum of London's replica) and a stone from the world's very first public railway. But highlights were most definitely thin on the ground.

Gallery 2 houses the museum's temporary exhibition. At the moment that's "Wandsworth - a history in 100 objects", which appears to be an excuse to half-fill a room with stuff. A wooden drainpipe, some stuffed birds and the Earlsfield baker's cart all have their place, as do an old telephone switchboard and a Young's Brewery barrel. Apparently "each object has its own story to tell", which is convenient because the curators haven't always bothered to tell that story for them. No more than half of the 100 objects had any explanatory text (but this was at least better than an entire wall of unidentified watercolours, most which could have been painted anywhere).

There is no Gallery 3. The only other public room is the café, which was shut throughout my visit for a private function. So I'd paid eight pounds to visit two galleries, both of which underwhelmed me. Not enough exhibits, not enough information, and a nagging feeling that the place wasn't yet quite ready for public show. What was trumpeted two years ago as a tax-free way to rescue a favourite museum has so far delivered an over-priced showcase that few will want to visit. Sorry Wandsworth, but I won't be reusing my ticket and rushing back.

If this is the future for Britain's museums, I'm concerned. Once culture's not centrally subsidised, and market rates for admission apply, I fear that only people with disposable income will ever bother to interact with it. Coming very soon to a neighbourhood near you?

 Saturday, October 16, 2010

While you've been busy staring at the Olympic ticket pricelist...
(and for goodness sake, stop moaning, what did you expect? Some cheap-ish tickets, some bloody expensive tickets, and access optimised for people with money. You can't complain the Olympics cost too much in one breath, and then complain there aren't enough free tickets in the next. If we're going to pay for these Games without raising taxes, then people are going to have to pay for admission. Living in London doesn't give anyone carte blanche to swan into the 100m final for nothing, for heaven's sake. Get a sense of scale. There are only 80,000 tickets for the opening ceremony so the price is irrelevant, you aren't going to get one. Indeed there are only 8.8 million tickets up for grabs altogether, which is sufficient for just 1 in every 7 Britons to turn up just once. The big story isn't going to be how much the tickets cost, the big story is going to be how few people get any)
...the London 2012 organisers have also sneaked out the Games timetable. It's only draft at the moment but it's probably mostly accurate. Want to know which days the basketball's on, or how little mountain biking there is, or even when the <spit> marathons are? The entire schedule's now online, so you can start planning your Olympic fortnight in advance. They've presented it by event, and by day, and also across a big matrix in a pdf. But I thought I'd do a really simple version here, for future reference.

London 2012 draft Olympic Games schedule
 
  weekend 1 
27-29 Jul
week 1
30 Jul-3 Aug
 weekend 2 
4-5 Aug
week 2
6-10 Aug
 weekend 3 
11-12 Aug
Opening ceremony     
Archery, Canoe slalom, Road cycling, Judo     
Badminton, Fencing, Rowing, Swimming, Tennis     
Beach volleyball, Equestrian, Table Tennis, Weightlifting     
Basketball, Boxing, Diving, Football, Gymnastics, Handball, Hockey, Sailing, Volleyball, Water Polo     
Track cycling     
Synchronised swimming, Triathlon     
Athletics, Wrestling     
Marathon, Race walk     
BMX     
Canoe sprint, Taekwondo     
Mountain bike, Pentathlon, Closing ceremony     

Oh, and I believe I've spotted another major reason why the Marathon isn't coming to Tower Hamlets. There are two marathons, both on Sundays - the women's on 5th August and the men's on 12th August. It's the men's that's the problem. It's taking place the day after all the rest of the athletics has finished, which means there'll be no spectators in the Olympic Stadium. And it's taking place on the same day as the Closing Ceremony, which is presumably why the Olympic Stadium needs to be empty. Tons of setting-up will be taking place to create a global televisual showcase, and the last thing the designers need is 80 runners turning up in the middle of the preparations. The marathon's avoiding the East End because it's been scheduled for a day the Olympic Stadium's in quarantine. Simple. The Games timetable is the problem, not the perceived ugliness of Whitechapel.

Anyway, as of now you can start planning which events you'd like to attend when, and possibly how much it might cost. But prepare to be terribly disappointed when everyone else beats you to buying the blessed tickets.


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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
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
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everest
muffins
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camilla
london
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robbie
becks
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