diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 31, 2011

One day they'll finish Stratford station, one day. But not yet. Next for a spruce-up is the bus station out the front, which closes tomorrow for a three month refit. Expect mild awkwardness and lengthier walks until late October.

It's served well, has Stratford bus station, ever since the canopy went up in 1994. Architects designed an array of inverted conics, each individually lit, although to you and I they better resemble windblown umbrellas. Four shelters beneath, where the public could wait, and a large turning circle beyond, where Destination Stratford services could rest up. Most forward-looking it was, as befitted a then up-and-coming corner of East London. But no match for the greatest show on earth. The Olympics are coming, so it's time for a change.

You've been to nicer bus stations. The roof is great, but the layout beneath rather less so. The four bus shelter segments act as glass-walled prisons, ideal for those golden days when passengers used to queue, less well suited to a scrum. When certain buses arrive they turf folk out onto tiny ledges of pavement, or into the middle of long-term roadworks. The toilets down the far end, where the Greenwich Meridian slices through, have been closed "due to illegal activities". The cafe (called Well Food, presumably to encourage those with a rock-bottom reading age) serves biryani and every kind of low-cost canned drink imaginable. Cars pull up illegally, regularly, to allow lazy station-users to jump out. The central passageway narrows awkwardly outside the newsagents, opposite the unwelcoming travel centre window. It's not ideal, Stratford bus station, especially when the world's due to arrive this time next year.

So, tomorrow, the bus station is to be sealed off so that restructuring work can begin. All four bus stops will be closed, and travellers will have to walk further to board outbound services. A lot further, in some cases. You can see the full details of Stratford's bus stop shift in this helpful pdf. There's no news yet on where terminating buses will stop, nor how far away, but let me summarise outbound services below.

Bus Stop A (towards Leyton/Leytonstone): 69, 158, 257, 308 - walk up Great Eastern Road to bus stop U (250m) or bus stop P (400m)
Bus Stop B (towards Ilford): 25, 86 - walk up Great Eastern Road to bus stop P (400m) or through Stratford Shopping Centre to bus stop S (450m)
Bus Stop C (towards Bow): 108, 425, D8 - walk through Stratford Shopping Centre to bus stop E or bus stop L (both 350m)
Bus Stop D (towards Plaistow/East Ham): 104, 238, 241, 262, 276, 473 - walk through Stratford Shopping Centre to bus stop G (300m) or bus stop S (450m), or up Great Eastern Road to bus stop P (400m)


Don't worry, there'll be helpful TfL staff out to guide lost souls tomorrow, and I'm guessing there'll be a lot of souls lost. It's only for eleven weeks, but I wouldn't want to be elderly or lugging suitcases (or both) during that period. Stratford's one-way system makes interchange less than perfect at the best of times, and many passengers have always faced a long walk to reach their designated stop. But from Monday, that's everybody. The best-connected station in East London is about to get the least-connected bus service.

Midway through this hiatus, however, a brand new bus station opens. That'll be Stratford City bus station, on the opposite side of the railway alongside the mammoth Westfield Shopping Centre. Westfield opens on Tuesday 13th September, but the bus station opens early on Saturday 10th for a special three days of serving absolutely nothing. We know so far of two buses whose routes will be extending to terminate at Stratford City. One's the 97 from Chingford, arriving via Angel Lane, and the other's the D8 from Docklands, arriving via Wharton Road. Westfield promise two more services arriving later, the 241 from the Royal Docks and the 339 from Shadwell. Here's a map, still speculative, showing what's likely to happen.

And maybe there'll even be a proper bus service to Stratford International, the ghost station on the High Speed line, currently linked to the world via a wholly inefficient meandering shuttle. Expect the DLR extension to finally (finally) arrive on Monday 22nd August, so I'm reliably informed. One day they'll finish Stratford station, one day. But not yet.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Hackney Wicked Festival, which was ace. Scores of artists studios to explore, proper-decent food a-cooking, stalls selling crafty stuff, ultra-trendy East London types milling in the streets, and oh-so-much to experience. I won't repeat my write-up from last year, because it was just as enjoyable then. But I will recommend that you go this afternoon, if you've nothing else planned - and there's a Fete and a Coracle Regatta scheduled too. [map]

If you can't get there, then here are six rather different photos I took of the Olympic Stadium from the heart of the HW action, just to give you a flavour.
» Films on Fridges (a highly original pop-up cinema on Fish Island) [website]
» Stadium reflections, taken through the fence behind FoF
» The roof terrace at Forman's Smokehouse, Fish Island [website]
» The view from the roof terrace at Forman's Smokehouse, Fish Island
» Floating Forest (take a fantasy ride on an astroturf boat) [website]
» The view from the fifth floor at Mother Studios, Hackney Wick

 Saturday, July 30, 2011

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

Ace Discovery, Along the Central Line, AngloAddict, Autolycus, The Banbury Man, Bella's Web, blinking heck and blimey, Blogging Up The Works, blue mai, Blue Witch, Brian Micklethwait, Brockley Central, CabbieBlog, Cabin Essence, Cameron Counts, Caroline's Miscellany, The Charlton Champion, Chelley's Teapot, Chertsey, Chicago Addick, Clandestine Critic, Clapham Omnibus, crinklybee, Dave Hill's London Blog, Dave Moran, Days on the Claise, The Deptford Dame, Depthmarker, dig your fins, Dogwash, Down on the Allotment, dsng.net, D4D, 853, Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, English Buildings, evilmoose, A Fistful of Euros, Fresh Eyes on London, Games Monitor, ganching, Gareth Wyn, the gold-digging ant, Goodnight London, The Good Things In Life, Goonerholic, The Great Wen, Human Nature, informationally overloaded, The Innocent Bystander, In the Aquarium, In the Mists, IsarSteve, Itinerant Londoner, Jane's London, John Flood's Random Academic Thoughts, John Nez Illustration, Jottings, The Knit-Nurse Chronicles, Lazylaces, Liberal England, Life must be filled up, LinkMachineGo, London Cemeteries, London Daily Photo, london pub crawls, The London Review of Breakfasts, Londontopia, Londres Calling, Make Lard History, McFilter, Mick Hartley, Mike Hall's workblog, Miss Alice, the mogs blog, The Musings of a Red Dalek, Northern Food, A Novice Novelist, one man blogs, Order of the Bath, Ornamental Passions, Philobiblon, Pigeon blog, The Piranha Brothers, Private Secret Diary, Rarely Wears Lipstick, rashbre central, theRatandMouse, round the merseyrail we go, St Margaret's at Cliffe Photo Diary, Samizdata.net, Scaryduck, Scoakat's blog, Short and sweet & sour, Silent Words Speak Loudest, Smaller Than Life, The Swiss Ramble, Strawberry Yoghurt, That's So Pants, things magazine, Three Legged Cat, Tired of London, Tired of Life, To be a Pilgrim, Tory Troll, Town Mouse, Transblawg, The Transportationist, Travels around London, A View from England, Westminster Walking, Wibbo's Words, The Willesden Herald, Yurt16
(blogs that weren't on last year's list are underlined)

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 year (which in turn was 20% shorter than the year before that) (which in turn was 20% shorter than the year before that). Ouch!

I compile this list every year, so I started by checking all 142 blogs on last year's list to see how many of them still linked here. As many as one in three have fallen by the wayside and don't appear this year, which is a heck of an attrition rate. Most of these are on hiatus (either deliberately, or through month-long neglect) which is a shame. A few have simply vanished off the face of the internet. Several big-hitters have removed their blogroll altogether, because blogrolls are so passé aren't they? And a few are still going strong but have thinned out their blogroll and I'm not on it, which I guess is the way it goes. Usually I can refresh my annual list with several new blogs, but this year there aren't many to find. My list is ever-shortening, and it's shortening ever quicker.

Because blogging is changing, shrinking, evolving. Fewer people blog these days because alternative platforms exist (and take far less effort to update). Blogrolls have become invisible and irrelevant to anyone subscribed via an RSS feed. The majority of fresh 2011 blogs have no blogroll at all, because that's the way templates look these days. Most importantly, new readers no longer come clicking via a long-standing blogroll in a sidebar, they arrive via a one-off reference on Twitter/Facebook/whatever. A blog is now only as good as its last post, and long-term reputation counts for very little.

Anyway, I hope that my list is fairly complete, but I bet it isn't. Let me know if I've missed you/anyone off the list, and I'll come back and add you/them later. As for the rest of my readers, maybe you'd like to click on a few of these 113 links to see what you're missing. I can't promise they're all thrilling verbal discourses, but I'm sure you'll discover plenty that are.

 Friday, July 29, 2011

  Walk London
  CAPITAL RING
[section 9]
  Greenford to South Kenton (5½ miles)


The crossroads east of Greenford station doesn't look the most promising spot to start a walk. Busy traffic, a railway viaduct and a retail park through the trees - it's not lovely. But divert off down the cycleway and things get lovelier fast. This is Paradise Fields, the slightly over-the-top name for a golf course left to nature, now a wetland area with ponds, reed beds, hedgerows and wildflower meadows. This month it's a riot of purple and white, frequented by cartwheeling butterflies, best experienced down the narrow footpaths that thread off to each side. Mid-January, maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed it so much.

And back to the Grand Union Canal. This is the branch from Paddington, unlike the arm from the Thames which the Ring followed two sections back. It's tempting to cross the bridge and caper off into the open land beyond [photo], but don't, stick to the towpath. It's leafy and shaded along here [photo], and quiet enough that I managed to get right up close to a heron before an approaching jogger startled it into swooping flight. The only other souls I met were two workmen with chainsaws hacking excess branches and a lone teenager throwing bread at a clump of moorhens. Cross at the hump-back bridge (old, weak, single lane only), then continue past a hamlet of homely narrowboats. Small visitors will appreciate the children's playground blessed with sturdy models to climb on, most notably a wooden canalboat pulled by a wooden horse.

Here, at the foot of Horsenden Hill, Ealing Council have kindly thought fit to build a visitor centre. I was expecting a cafe and a rack of souvenir pencil sharpeners, but instead found a few locked buildings and a painted shed [photo]. It's a very nicely painted shed, complete with Horsenden mural on one end, but inside nothing but a few information panels and a trio of long-empty Capital Ring leaflet dispensers. Better than nothing, for sure, but the only 'welcome' was carved in wood over the gate at the entrance. The hill, however, is a real treat. It rises fairly steeply on all sides - unusual for London - with a couple of grassy plateaux on the way up and at the summit. Ideal for dog-walking, kite-flying and probably a few unmentionable after-dark activities. There's no 360° panorama, there are too many trees for that, but stare one way for a sea of Metroland roofs, turn another for Wembley Stadium, look beyond for the City, squint back for Heathrow [photo]. When you're finally ready to leave, and not before, the Ring descends through an ancient forest, then back past bushes of immininent blackberries. Oh yes, Horsenden Hill is this walk's 'best bit'.

And then, ah, it's road-walking time again. It's been 20 miles since the Capital Ring last retreated to suburbia quite so relentlessly as this, so don't expect to be thrilled. It's also been 20 miles since the last parade of shops, way back in Wimbledon, so this might be an ideal opportunity to break off for supplies. Sudbury Hill's busy retail strip is bookended by two very different stations - a Charles Holden Piccadilly cuboid at one end [photo], and a deserted Chiltern outpost at the other. Ignore both, continue. A brief respite from pavement is provided by an ascent up Green Lane, known locally as Piggy Lane, better described as Mundane Footpath. And then Sudbury Hill itself, a relentless meandering climb between villas, courts and cottages, and a streetscape to make estate agents salivate. Alas this was the first section of Ring to be inadequately waymarked. Don't rely on green signs, bring a map, else you're going to get lost.

Here's highlight number two, Harrow-on-the-Hill. Arrival is somewhat unexpected as the street suddenly morphs into the heart of an academic village [photo]. Here benches are dedicated to old masters, bistros frequented by past pupils, and shops devoted to boaters, blazers and cricket whites. It's not what you'd find outside a typical London secondary school, resembling more the precincts of some provincial cathedral. I got lucky, I arrived on the last day of term to find children pouring out of Speech Room into the arms of their parents [photo]. Proud sons clutched merit shields while Father took a photo, beaming daughters massed on the steps for a last pre-summer gossip. Hang on, daughters? These weren't Harrow's boatered boarders, these were maroon-blazered scholars from some other local private school whose headteacher had paid to hire the facilities. I followed them down Football Lane, then Music Hill (where James Blunt learnt to sing), to the car park at the bottom where everyone had left their vehicles.

Ah, the glorious playing fields of Harrow [photo]. As a rambler I got to cut across a permissive path between pitches, whereas the day's educational visitors were forced to queue in their 4×4s and estates to exit. The groundsmen work fast here, already painting next term's white lines as rugby posts replace wickets. Still to be cleaned off, the scoreboard announcing Harrow 60 Visitors 69. Still to be cleared up, a lone gumshield decaying in the long grass. School's out.

But enough of history. Nip over a stile, the only stile on the entire Capital Ring, and the last mile of section 9 is far more mundane. A long brambly path slips apologetically up the back of Northwick Park Hospital (number of architectural awards, nil). You'd never spot the entrance if you walked the other way, and I suspect the adjacent golf club prefers it that way. Welcome to Northwick Park, a featureless greenspace bounded on two sides by tube lines... one of which will shortly take you home. I wouldn't hang around. But weren't the two hills great?

» Capital Ring section 9: official map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Mark, Darryl, Paul, Tim, Jo, Tetramesh, Richard
» On to section 10 (or back to section 8)

 Thursday, July 28, 2011

London 2012  Olympic update
  365 days to go


As the Olympic Games approach, it's clear that there's going to be a never-ending stream of news, opinion, publicity and critique spewing forth over the upcoming year. So I think it's now time I dedicated my blog completely to London 2012. I'll be bringing you 365 days of information and comment from the borders of the Olympic Park, leading up to the greatest show on earth. Please, don't switch off, it'll all be terribly interesting.

Olympic Report: Tom Daley officially opened the Aquatic Centre last night with a dive from the 10m board. You may have seen the shenanigans on the TV last night. But what you won't have seen is how long it took the crowd to get there. They were arriving at Pudding Mill Lane DLR two hours before the event, passports and official identification in hand. Schoolchildren and their teachers, genuinely excited to be invited, were pouring off the trains. Also present were streams of grey men in suits, and ladies in something more summery, each representing government or sports bodies or community groups. They all filed down the narrow path past a wall of concrete blocks, directed by umpteen helpful LOCOG staff bedecked in yellow hi-vis. They queued patiently at the southern entrance, waiting to be ID-checked and security-frisked. And then they queued patiently round the edge of the compound, waiting to be ushered onto one of 13 buses lined up to take them to the Aquatic Centre. Gaining entrance to the Olympic Park isn't easy, or quick, and this wasn't even a stadium-ful. But wow, didn't the pool look impressive on the telly? For us lucky folk out here in Stratford, come 2014, that's our new local swimming pool, that is.

Olympic Fact: The Aquatic Centre will double the number of Olympic sized swimming pools in London. (from 1 to 2)

Olympic Comment: The Princess Royal unveiled the London 2012 Olympic Medal design last night to an underwhelmed crowd in Trafalgar Square. The front's nice, with a depiction of the goddess Nike echoing designs used recently in Beijing and Athens. But the obverse is pig-ugly. They've taken the 2012 logo nobody likes. They've plonked it on top of a representation of the Thames (but obscured the loop which defines which river this is). In the background is a 'pick-up-sticks' grid which "radiates the energy of athletes and a sense of pulling together" or some other artistic bollocks. And finally there's a square, for no particularly good reason except apparently it balances the design. Shamefully poor, the backside is, all bling and no beauty. If I won one of these I'd definitely wear it logo-face downwards.

Olympic Traffic News: There were terrible traffic jams on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road (southbound) last night. Nothing was moving, apart from the occasional engine-spluttering shuffle forward, all the way back to the Bow Flyover roundabout. And that was with two lanes open. Imagine what it'll be like in a year's time when one's been coned off for athletes, officials and "special guests".

Olympic Rant: According to last night's Evening Standard, David Cameron wants senior politicians to travel to the Games next summer by public transport. Nice soundbite, Prime Minister, but what a bloody stupid idea. When large portions of London's road network have been sealed off for the benefit of VIP travellers, it would be criminal not to use them to their fullest capacity. There'll be plenty of room for ministerial limousines, so that's where the ministerial limousines should be. We don't want government ministers squeezing onto the tube with the rest of us, making our travelling conditions even worse, when they could be using roadways already dedicated for their use. However much Londoners hate the idea of Olympic Lanes, they're an unavoidable necessity imposed on every host city by the IOC. So let's fill them as much as we can, it's only common sense... eh David?

Olympic Fact: Four skeletons were discovered and removed from a prehistoric settlement discovered on the site of the Aquatic Centre.

Olympic Exhibition: A small exhibition called Your 2012 has opened at the Museum of London Docklands, showcasing photographs taken around the Olympic site. These aren't photos of a completed scrubbed-up locale, they're an honest record of what the place looks like now, including razor-wire fences, algae-filled rivers and rusting Hackney Marsh goalposts. In one corner is an archive section which shows what the area used to look like, and I'm rather chuffed because they're using one of my photographs. The curator asked nicely, and sought official permission, so mine is the official pictorial record of the long-lost Manor Garden allotments. All of the exhibition's photos have been bound into a special Your 2012 book, of which only two copies exist, and which you can flick through when you visit. These will help future generations to remember what was here before, and to judge whether the legacy transformation has been for good or bad. (exhibition continues until February 5th 2012)

Olympic Innumeracy: Apparently, according to a press release hurled out by London 2012 yesterday, there are "just 365 days to go" to the Games. That's true today, what with 2012 being a leap year, but it most definitely wasn't true yesterday. Further down the same piece, IOC President Jacques Rogge praised the city that will welcome the world "in only 365 days’ time". Whoever his scriptwriter is, they got the apostrophe right but they can't count.

Olympic Roadsign: There's a big sign on Stratford High Street which reads "Marshgate Lane and Pudding Mill Lane - unsuitable for coaches." But this is a lie, given all the official coaches I saw down there last night. It's just that nobody wants nasty provincial coach parties on sightseeing tours clogging up the Park entrance.

Olympic Confession: No, don't worry, I won't really be writing about the Olympics every day between now and next year. Even though I so could. But expect more, ever more, as 2012 approaches.

 Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The London Olympics 2012

Friday, July 27, 2012


London 2012Olympic opening day

00:01 They've been 2578 days in coming, but the Games are finally here. London's Olympic Opening Ceremony takes place today!
00:02 Last minute rehearsals continue inside the stadium. Danny Boyle still can't get his troupe of Cockney tapdancers to throw their flat caps into the air simultaneously.
00:30 Following last night's Torch Relay fiasco, Buckingham Palace is still burning.
01:30 Somewhere in West London, Seb Coe can't sleep.
05:16 Sunrise. There's gold in the east.
06:00 Traffic cones are laid out along the Games Lanes between Park Lane and Stratford. 10 points for the first person to spot a coach full of executives.
07:12 Severe delays on the Jubilee line due to a signal failure at Waterloo. Not a problem. Twelve hours later, now that would be a problem.
08:00 The newsagent on Stratford High Street quietly doubles his prices.
08:50 Time to pull an Olympic sickie and ring your boss claiming you can't get to work due to excess road traffic. It's all lies, obviously, but your boss lives in Surrey so won't see the flaw in your excuse.
09:00 London's first Olympic event kicks off - the preliminary ranking rounds of the Archery at Lord's. Even better, this is not a ticketed event... so tens of thousands of people have turned up, because it's good to be first, and because they didn't get tickets to anything else.
10:03 Police carry out a controlled explosion on a carrier bag in Greenwich town centre.
11:00 Bob Crow opens his mouth to threaten strike action on the tube - but a level-headed bystander knees him in the groin, and he shuts up.
11:37 Several groups of lost Chinese tourists are wandering around Plaistow taking photographs, probably for the first time ever.
12:00 Police arrest street traders trying to flog fake Olympic t-shirts in Hackney Wick. They needn't have bothered, because that logo still hasn't grown on anyone yet.
12:45 Wenlock and Mandeville go for a walk on Tower Bridge. They are not mobbed.
13:10 Police wander up and down Bow Road randomly searching people, because you can't be too careful.
14:22 Did you sign up to be an Olympic volunteer? Well, good news - there's a toilet at the Basketball arena needs unblocking.
15:30 Police complete their third check beneath manhole covers on Stratford High Street.
15:31 A bomb explodes in a shopping mall in Birmingham. Didn't see that coming.
16:00 Outside City Hall, several lines of BP-sponsored bunting flap in the drizzle.
16:48 Sue Barker and Gary Lineker take up position in their BBC penthouse above the Greenway. They won't be coming out for a fortnight.
17:00 Olympic refuseniks get in their cars and leave town until the whole bloody thing's over.
17:05 Major traffic jams on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road (unless you're the Prime Minister of Belgium, Chair of the Venezuelan Water Polo Association or the Marketing Director of McDonalds).
17:30 The Olympic Stadium is filling up with spectators. There are still two hours to go before the Opening Ceremony begins, but LOCOG can't risk having any empty seats, plus everyone needs to be trained in waving their coloured flag at the right time.
18:00 That noise you can hear, that's Olympic buzz, that is.
18:30 Over in the Olympic Village, thousands of athletes start dressing up in national costume and bickering over who gets to carry the big flag round the stadium.
18:55 Huge crowds are milling expectantly around the Stratford area, several hours too early to see the fireworks and unable to gain admittance to the Olympic Park. Most of them go shopping at Westfield instead.
19:02 Mobile phone coverage across east London suddenly collapses.
19:15 In Paris, life continues uninterrupted, unjammed and unspecial.
19:29 Ready? The world is watching. Curtain up!

And as for what happens in the Opening Ceremony, I still stand by most of what I blogged six years ago...

 Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My favourite shirt is dying.

At first I thought it was just the collar, the rim around the very top, wearing away through excess use. That's where shirt-erosion always begins. A few worn patches in the blue and grey check, initially restricted to the lighter bits of the pattern, then extending fast. But the collar still looked perfectly fine so long as you didn't stare too close, honest, and I can usually count on nobody peering too closely down the nape of my neck.

And then I washed the shirt one too many times. As I hung it up to dry I noticed daylight shining through beneath the collar, and I sighed deeply. The fabric's thinned to breaking point along the upper hem, just above each shoulder, and again a few centimetres below. Were I to wear this shirt again you'd see straight through to the skin behind, in four parallel stripes, as the craftsmanship slowly rips apart. If I'm honest, my favourite shirt is already dead.

It's been my favourite shirt for years - ten to be precise. It's a bit yoof, a bit sk8rboi, or whatever passed for cool in 2001. It's rather shorter than most of the shirts I own, definitely not a shirt for tucking in. It has a label on the outside, down at the bottom on the untucked bit, with the unlikely brand name of 'Custard'. It'll come as no surprise that I had help when buying it, in this case from a trendy outlet in deepest Covent Garden. I remain indebted to my wardrobe mentor because I'd never have known the shop was there otherwise, let alone spotted the ideal garment.

For the last ten years I've looked forward to summer, to another season of long-term wear. Thin fabric, short sleeves, ideal for a warm day. Whenever I couldn't decide what to wear, couldn't pick something else I felt comfortable in, I'd go back to this beauty. I'd slip it on, head out into the street and feel thirty-something (going on twenty-something) again. This may have been delusional, but I like to think we were a good match. Alas, after one too many spins round the washing machine, no longer.

All the signs were there. I was out in town earlier this month when a young friend of a friend twisted group conversation towards my shirt. He'd started by mocking my mobile, still a 2007 model, unlike his ubiquitous smartphone. Next he insulted my watch, first because I still wore one and then because it was a 1980s digital original. And finally he sneered at my shirt, born 2001, and wiped away all my confidence when wearing it. I assumed at the time he was thinking 'grandad', but maybe he'd simply noticed it had seen better days.

And so my favourite shirt has expired. I ought to throw it away, or at least bung it in one of those clothing banks outside a supermarket. But I can't bring myself to do that, because it's my favourite shirt. So I'm going to retire it to my special drawer of much-loved vintage clothes. There's a blue herringbone jumper I bought from a department store in 1987, back when I thought department stores were cutting edge. There's a black and white shirt with chess-board-sized checks from 1984, which so came back into fashion last summer but which I can no longer button up. And now there's my threadbare Custard shirt to stash away, something to get out in 25 years time and remember how sk8rboi I nearly was.

So now I need to fall back on the lesser second-rate shirts in my collection, umming and ahhing over which I'll feel least uncomfortable to be seen in. I have no clothes-buying sense whatsoever, alas, and never pick anything decent except by accident. But my new favourite shirt must be out there in some shop somewhere, surely, some day.

 Monday, July 25, 2011

London 2012  Olympic update
  One year to go


Ignore all those lies in the media. Ignore Tom Daley's inaugural dive into the Aquatic Centre pool. Ignore the half-hour TV special live from Trafalgar Square. Because it's not One Year To The Olympics on Wednesday. It's One Year To The Olympics today.

Oh yes, there are two Olympic events taking place before the Opening Ceremony on Friday 27th July 2012. One of these is the Archery, whose preliminary ranking round starts that morning at 9am. And the other is the Football, poor old unloved Football, whose matches kick off even earlier. There are so many Olympic Football matches to cram in that they need to begin not one but two days before the flame gets lit. There'll be eight matches on Thursday 26th July 2012, and six the day before. Glasgow and Coventry will each be hosting two of these games, but the honour of the very first Olympic session of 2012 goes to the city of Cardiff. Two as-yet unnamed women's teams will kick off in the Millennium Stadium at 4pm on Wednesday 25th July 2012. Which means it's 1YTG this afternoon. Don't expect to see anyone celebrating.

Come this particular day in one year's time, expect Olympic anticipation to be at fever pitch. The Olympic torch will be pottering around north London before spending the night in Haringey. The capital will be bedecked with celebratory sponsored bunting. Occasionally there'll be programmes on BBC1 inbetween trailers for the Games. Several lanes of traffic will be cordoned off to the annoyance of people trying to drive to work. The world's media will have descended on the capital to bring a flavour of the excitement to their folks back home. And you won't be allowed to walk anywhere near the Olympic Stadium any more, because the mega-cautious security perimeter will have been activated.

I went for a stroll round part of the mega-cautious security perimeter yesterday, purely because I won't be able to in 52 weekends time. I started at the Bow Flyover, where the new floating towpath isn't quite ready yet. That'll be opened, and temporarily shut, before the year's out. A walk along the River Lea here is about as close as you can still get to walking the waterways of the original Olympic Park. The channel bends off round a corner beneath two railway bridges to a remote industrial edgeland. Overgrown fence and grassy path on one side, deep green undergrowth and the backs of old brick warehouses on the other. They'll wreck it one day with a series of stacked waterside apartments, but for now these only encroach a little further north, leaving one brief stretch of heron-infested wildspace. [photo]

The towpath beyond the Greenway is now open again, freshly resurfaced with small grade gravel. A series of mooring posts have been installed opposite Swan Wharf, ready for those elusive Water Chariots to tie up and unload their cargo of Games spectators. Mind the cyclists, mind the joggers, mind the courting couples sitting dangling their legs over the quayside... the Olympic perimeter's a lot busier than it used to be. But it'll be hugely busier the other side of the Park boundary in 368 days time. A ring of temporary mobile phone masts is being erected to cope with anticipated levels of 3G, Angry Birds and tweeting once the Games begin, and one such structure is planned for the western flank of Old Ford Lock. It'll be 25 metres tall with 12 antennae and 4 dishes, which probably isn't as scary as it sounds, although there's a poster campaign across Fish Island to get planning permission revoked. Assuming that fails, you might be interested to know that spectators within the western segment of the Olympic Stadium are due to have the best mobile phone signal.

Up on the Greenway itself, construction work continues on the security checkpoint above the river. We're warned that "temporary narrowing" will continue until next January, which suggests some considerable building work to come. In a year's time this will be the western entrance to the Olympic Park, probably the least used way in, but an important frisk-zone all the same. In direct contrast alongside the footway, the wild flowers are currently a riot of colour - somebody evidently selected plants with the last week of July in mind. A mysterious "FINISH" line can be seen in the far distance, outside the View Tube, which turns out to be a temporary bike-related sculpture (well done to the German artists, it's terribly effective). [photo]

And there are people all over the place, even at eight in the evening, come to stare and point at the stadium and all its associated architectural hangers-on. There'll be even more people on Wednesday, plus cameras and microphones, staring and pointing in a One Year To Go kind of way. Sssh, don't tell them they're two days late.

 Sunday, July 24, 2011

Yesterday I went along to Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is holding on Open Weekend. This is part of the London 2012 Open Weekend, which is a nationwide event to encourage Britons to go out and do something active or cultural. I arrived on a free boat from the pier at the Dome, which was great because it was a small boat and I got to stand out on deck behind a thin railing as we scudded across the Thames. Then I went up the lighthouse, which is great because there's a 1000-year-long piece of music playing in the lighthouse and it's really loud up at the top. This was the view from the lighthouse lantern.



There were lots of mechanical sculptures on the quayside - maybe you can see some in the picture - like a pair of flapping wings and a series of rotating juddery brown-metal engines. Inside the main building there was watery art on show, as well as seats laid out for a come-along-and-play orchestra, although I arrived early so I don't know how that went. I had a stroll around inside Container City, which is the studio-space made up from piles of of brightly-painted metal containers, and met some jolly nice artists. Then it was a toss-up between a yummy milkshake from Fatboys Diner or something vaguely healthier from the recently-upgraded Driftwood Cafe.

And then I went home, because I had something hugely more important to do. But I thought you might be interested in going today, if you're not as busy as I am.

 Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's been a while (no, really, it has), so I thought I'd update you with some of the PR emails that have crashlanded in my inbox recently. As usual I'm presenting them with all the brand names removed, because these shameless requests deserve zero publicity. I don't play the marketing game, so if you're thinking of forwarding me something similar, please don't.
Hi Diamond Geyser,
I hope you had a great weekend!
I was in Iceland, Sarah. And you so didn't spot that.
Hi there!
I came across your fantastic blog online in the hope that you could possibly cover our event, <expensive waterborne event>, party of <Arty Festival>. Did you guys go last year?
Well that's grovellingly honest, Andrea. But no, "us guys" don't do expensive waterborne events.
Hello!
Thought this fun London Transport and gender story might be of interest to you.
You thought wrong, Sophie. Because it's not a story, it's an advert.
Hi
I was looking through your great blog and was wondering if you offer the chance for anyone to write a sponsored guest post? I also write about locations (such as London, New York, among others), and think a post by me would be very relevant to your readers.
How presumptuously smug do you sound, Jack. Absolutely no.
Hello!
Hope you’re well. I’m contacting you on behalf of <app title>, a new app launching today providing a safe, reliable and cost efficient booking service for black taxis in London.
You again, Sophie? No, I don't have an iPhone. And I don't use taxis. Apart from that, perfectly targeted.
Dear Diamond Geezer,
As a fan of your excellent site (it always inspires me when I’m researching the capital), I wondered whether my new book might be of interest to you?
It's strange, but nobody ever offers to send me their book after I've told them I won't review it.
Hi Diamond Geezer,
This might be a tad feminine for you but is a great event for your female followers!
I have some really exciting news about a fabulous event taking place in London’s Soho in August. To celebrate the launch of <minority Freeview channel> we introduce ‘<Cheesy-named Salon>’. The boutique will be offering free beauty treatments including waxing, hair styling, spray tanning, manicures and fish pedicures… everything the women of London need to be preened and polished for summer!
Sigh, more fish pedicure spam. Sorry Rosie, your definition of a 'fabulous event' doesn't overlap with mine.
Morning Diamond Geezer,
Hope you are well? I am contacting you from <tedious social media company>. What we do is pair advertising campaigns with bloggers to create perfect matches between brand and blog. We would like to invite you a chat/debate about the current mortgage market and the products/services that are currently on offer. In attendance will be <Some Bloke> (head of <unlikely mortgage platform>) amongst other experts who'll be there to answer questions. Attendance at the event will be free and we will pay £130 per blogger for attendance as well as post event article. In additions to this all travel expenses will be covered.
Next time you see a blatantly sponsored post in a blogger's timestream, remember that they may have been paid handsomely for it.

So PR folk, please take note. I don't regurgitate press releases, I don't attend brand launches and I won't take your £130. So don't waste your time asking, thanks.

 Friday, July 22, 2011

Cycle Superhighway 2: Bow - Aldgate

I'd hate you to think that Cycle Superhighway 2 is all bad. It isn't. If nothing else, a bright blue stripe painted down both sides of three miles of road is an ever-present reminder to drivers that perhaps they ought to watch out for bikes. But there's only one section of CS2 I'd be happy to ride, only one section where bikes and other vehicles are kept truly separate. The good bit is the first 400m, from the Bow Flyover roundabout to the foot of Fairfield Road. Join me on this one-minute-long ride, and let's see what the designers built right.

vi) CS2: Bow Flyover roundabout to Fairfield Road
Cycle Superhighway 2 was never meant to start at the Bow Flyover. It was meant to start in Ilford, five miles further east, but Newham Council refused to allow the blue stripe through their borough. So instead CS2 whimpers into existence on the far edge of Tower Hamlets, not on the flyover itself, but around the roundabout below. Two sides of the roundabout have gained a segregated bike lane, a curve of blue separated from two lanes of traffic by a low concrete barrier. This is precisely the sort of safety-conscious engineering you might expect to see along a Cycle Superhighway, but along CS2 it's resolutely rare.
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the roundabout, no benefits.

A special treat for cyclists exiting the roundabout - they're allowed to ride on the pavement. A special ramp draws them in, then a blue stripe swoops round the curve of the pavement to guide them into Bow Road. Its only twenty yards long, but it helps keep cyclists out of harm's way at a busy junction. One problem, there's no indication of the direction of travel. I've seen more than one cyclist riding the wrong way, because it's only a pavement isn't it, and the official eastbound blue stripe is completely inaccessible on the opposite side of the flyover. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the roundabout, that's been made more hazardous. There are no lights controlling traffic exiting the roundabout, so you still have to take your chances and dash across the road when you can. But the edge of the pavement is now covered by a blue stripe, so waiting brings additional peril from oncoming bikes.


For the next stretch of Cycle Superhighway 2, thank the medieval residents of Bow. They built their village church in the middle of the main road, which is really really wide, so there's plenty of room for four lanes of westbound traffic. In particular there's plenty of room for a straight blue cycle lane to roar uphill, uninterrupted, with a bus lane and bus stops to one side and two lanes of traffic on the other. You could feel a bit exposed on a bike, sandwiched between double deckers and lorries, but CS2 here still delivers an impressive degree of segregation.

Straight ahead at the entrance to Bromley High Street, and back onto the pavement. You've probably built up a good speed by now, wheeee! [photo]
But as a pedestrian, attempting to cross the road here, the last thing you need is a speeding cyclist. The pedestrian crossing by Gladstone's statue used to traverse only two lanes of traffic, but now crosses two lanes of traffic and a Cycle Superhighway. We all know that cyclists have a bad reputation for stopping at red lights, but they're proving particularly reticent to stop at this one. Maybe that's because they're on the pavement not the road, so they think normal rules don't apply. Or maybe they're not spotting the insubstantial white stop line where the blue line breaks. Whatever, I've already had a near miss here, when I crossed in front of a bus waiting properly at the lights but which shielded me from view from the cycle lane behind. I'm expecting several more such incidents in the coming months, but hopefully no collisions.

A fine fifty metres of CS2 follow. The pavement outside St Mary's Court is luxuriously broad, wide enough to drive a bus down, so the edge of it has been donated to cyclists. They get to ride along a fresh blue surface, six inches above the rush of traffic alongside. If all of CS2 was like this, I might start cycling to work. But no, because converting pavement to Superhighway is incredibly expensive. There were workmen here for months, shifting lampposts and realigning the kerb, then re-laying the paving slabs and re-laying them again until they were eventually flat. If you tried this along the entire length of Bow Road you'd bankrupt TfL's transport budget pretty damned quickly. Instead, cyclists, please make the most of this bit. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, CS2 means pavement disappearing. And there'll be even more disappearing soon when a huge Borisbike docking station arrives. It'll be the second largest in Tower Hamlets, 77 slots in total, although goodness knows why it needs to be so big. It'll involve undoing the last round of workmanship by digging up these same paving slabs all over a-bloody-gain. And it'll devour even more of what used to be pavement, cut from luxurious to sidelined in twelve months flat.

At the junction with Fairfield Road, CS2 returns to ground level. A short ramp down from the pavement and you're back on the road, in time to enter the large blue space in advance of the traffic lights. You probably won't need to stop, these lights don't go red very often. But how nice to have the full width of the road at your disposal while you wait. Except that having the full width of the road painted blue turns out to be pointless. The Cycle Superhighway continues along a thin strip to the left, so left is the only alignment you'll need to follow. You can't turn right at these traffic lights, not officially, not unless you're a bus. That doesn't stop local cyclists, obviously, but officially CS2 is straight ahead only. [photo]
But as a pedestrian, these revamped traffic lights make life worse. I complained about them back in May, you may remember, when it looked like a repeater signal had been removed. Well, bad call, a permanent third set of lights has since been installed at the end of Fairfield Road. Trouble is, it's a new 'improved' model with longer shielding around each light. Better for cars, the lights are better directed. But now much harder for somebody on foot to determine whether the red light is red or not before starting to cross. Indeed, heading from east to west, I'd say it's now impossible. Still, why not step out into the traffic anyway, it probably won't kill you.

So there you have it. The first minute of Cycle Superhighway 2 is undoubtedly super for cyclists. But you won't catch me on the rest. Lanes shared with lorries, bus stops to negotiate around, lanes shared with lorries, parked cars to ride through... and did I mention the lanes shared with lorries? However much has been spent painting the East End blue, this intermittent impractical stripe won't bring about a two-wheeled revolution.

 Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cycle Superhighway 2: Bow - Aldgate

Cycle Superhighway 2 isn't a joined-up blue line. It doesn't extend the full 1km length of Bow Road, but breaks in several places. At most road junctions, no problem, the blue line's been painted straight across. But reach a bus stop, or a parking space, or a pedestrian crossing, and you're briefly on your own. Or not so briefly...

iii) CS2: Bow Church station bus stop - eastbound
Who'd have guessed that the true enemy of the Superhighway cyclist isn't the car, it's the bus. And in particular, the bus stop. As soon as CS2 reaches a bus stop it stops, pauses, then picks up again on the opposite side as if nothing had happened. That's because bus stops are sometimes full of buses, and riding a bike through a bus isn't recommended. Instead, the "men who paint the blue stripe on the road" have an alternative means of alert. They iron a big rectangular stencil onto the road alongside the bus stop as a warning to drivers that there might be cyclists overtaking ahead. These big blue 'CS2's indicate the existence of a Cycle Superfuzzyway - a stretch of road where quite frankly there could be bikes anywhere. As a cyclist, you really don't want to meet a bus in a bus stop, because you're going to be forced to pull out to ride around it. Check behind you, make sure no car is closing fast, and filter yourself into the outer lane of traffic. But even a bus stop without a bus isn't as safe as you might think. There's never a blue strip painted through a bus stop, remember, so you're on your own if you stick close to the kerb. Thank goodness bus stops are short, eh?

Except on Bow Road the bus stops aren't short. Seven years ago they were extended to accommodate bendy buses, a really quite dramatic increase in size. Each bus stop became long enough for at least two bendies to arrive simultaneously which, when they're each 18 metres long, makes for a whacking great length. Here's the bus stop opposite Bow Road station, for example [photo]. I didn't have a tape measure with me so I paced it out, and I counted 55 paces end to end. Which means the Cycle Superhighway stops for 50m or so, purely to give a queue of bendy buses somewhere to stop. Except, as you'll remember, Bow Road doesn't have bendy buses any more. Boris removed them in late June to be replaced by much shorter double deckers. But when Bow Road was resurfaced at great expense back in May, in readiness for CS2, workmen insisted on re-laying double-bendy-sized bus stops. They should have shrunk them, in readiness for the forthcoming years of normal double decker traffic. But instead they stuck with supersize, needed for a few weeks only, and left us with an unnecessary anachronism. And this matters because CS2 has bus-stop-sized holes, and these bus-stop sized holes are at least twice as long as they need to be. Good luck cyclists, you're on your own. Verdict? Fail.

iv) CS2: Bow Road (near Payne Road) - parking space
The blue Superhighway is also a red route. Vehicles aren't permitted to pull over, let alone park, anywhere along the entire road from Aldgate to Bow. That's good news if you're a cyclist, because parked cars are one of the worst everyday obstacles to have to negotiate around. Drivers aren't completely banished, because there are a few off-road parking bays along Bow Road if you know where to look. There's a new one by St Clements Hospital and another outside the Bow Bells pub, specially laid during CS2 works to provide additional hardstanding. And then there are the on-road parking slots, delimited by dotted red lines, where parking is permitted for a limited period. That's 10am to 4pm, for no more than 20 minutes, or as long as you like on a Sunday. And the bad news is that Cycle Superhighways pass straight through these parking spaces. There you are hurtling along the bike-only blue strip, and the blue strip suddenly disappears under a parked car [photo]. If this were a bus stop the blue line would pause and there'd be a warning stencil in another lane. But parking spaces, for some reason, are treated differently. Beware of four-wheeled blockages outside the betting shop, and the taxicab firm, and the corner shop, and the church... as your zigzag ride along Bow Road continues. Verdict? Fail.

v) CS2: Coborn Road toucan crossing

You know what a toucan crossing is - like a pelican crossing but jointly for pedestrians and cyclists. As part of the funded works for CS2, one of Bow Road's many pelican crossings has been converted to a toucan. But I cannot for the life of me work out why this particular pelican has been selected. I can imagine a cyclist might want to wheel their bike across the busy street elsewhere, say at the bottom of Fairfield Road. But why it might be necessary outside the Tesco Express near Coborn Road, heaven only knows. And yet workmen have gone to ridiculous lengths to install additional features for the benefit of road-crossing bikes, which surely no sensible adult would ever use [photo]. Just before the toucan crossing, heading west, a brief blue on-ramp has been laid allowing cyclists to ride up onto the pavement. Ten metres later they're expected to wait and cross at the crossing, which is in two single-carriageway halves. And then they're invited to ride along the pavement and down the off-ramp on the other side... back in the same direction from which they came! Don't try biking the toucan eastbound, however - there may be an off-ramp but there isn't an on. And don't think of riding any further on the pavement. A tiny "no cycling" sign has been implanted on a bollard, backed with a "shared pavement for pedestrians and bikes" sign on the reverse. What? Why? How? Any cyclist who needs to cross Bow Road on a bike is surely going to pull into the central reservation and turn right, not hike tortuously across a special set of lights. It's as if some transport manager in an ivory tower has devised a system for toucan-crossing cyclists, without considering that nobody on the ground will understand it, let alone adhere to it. Construction of this folly took 32 days. Verdict? Pointless.

(more tomorrow) (more yesterday)

 Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cycle Superhighway 2: Bow - Aldgate

London's second two Cycle Superhighways opened yesterday. One (CS8) goes from Wandsworth to Westminster, while the other (CS2) goes past my front door. So you can probably guess which one I intend to drone on about for a few days. Millions of pounds have been spent rejigging junctions and laying down lane markings in an attempt to make two-wheeled East End traffic safer. But will CS2 encourage me to buy a bike, entice me onto the road and enrol me in the cycling revolution? Not a chance. Because this may be a Cycle Highway, but it most definitely isn't Super.

Before you accuse me of being unqualified to comment, not being a cyclist, let me assure you that many of CS2's features have been operational since well before Christmas. I've therefore been able to watch and observe how cyclists have been using the big blue stripe for several months, in a variety of traffic conditions. So, if you don't mind, let me demonstrate some of the inadequacies (and successes) of CS2 by using Bow Road as an example....


i) CS2: between Campbell Road and Tomlins Grove

Bow Road is a wide road. Wide enough 100 years ago for trams to run alongside horse-drawn traffic. Wide enough this time last year for two lanes of vehicles plus a cycle lane in either direction. Ah yes, there was already a cycle lane along Bow Road before Boris came along with his blue paint, please don't think that CS2 is somehow utterly brand new. But the original cycle lane wasn't terribly wide, less than a metre, so it didn't meet the necessary specification for a Cycle Superhighway. They couldn't simply paint it blue, they had to realign the carriageway to ensure that minimum cycle safety requirements were met. This was a white-line-repainting job, no option. So, did they make each of the two lanes of traffic fractionally narrower and squeeze a wider cycle lane in alongside? Not here they didn't. They made each of the two lanes of traffic wider, removing the original cycle lane. And then they took their paint and they painted the left-hand side of the inner lane blue. I'd say about 40% blue, 60% normal lane of traffic. If you're in a car, you might be able to drive along the 60% without encroaching on the blue. But if you're in a lorry or a bus or a coach, there is no way to avoid one set of wheels pounding straight down the centre of the bike lane. This is not good if you're a cyclist. There you are pedalling along the blue bit, and a giant vehicle creeps up behind and can't get by. Or, in busier traffic, there you are pedalling along the blue bit, and you come up behind a giant vehicle and can't get past. This is lane-sharing, not bicycle segregation. [before] [after]



The problem's worst in the rush hour when the two lanes of traffic are full. Either there are cyclists getting in the way of lorries and buses, or cyclists are unable to make good progress because there's too much blocking traffic in the way. But at other times, when traffic's light, something mysterious often happens. Car drivers notice there's a bright blue strip down the left-hand lane, decide it must be something to avoid and keep their distance. They all filter into the right-hand lane instead, leaving the left-hand lane clear for cyclists to ride in relative safety. One whole lane for bikes, one whole lane for other road users - it's not the way CS2 was intended to work, but sometimes it just does. But would you catch me riding along a lane-share like this? Not a chance, because even at quiet times there's nothing to stop something massive sharing my bike lane so closely that I end up underneath it. Alas, for a disturbing part of its length, CS2 is officially the left-hand half of a normal lane of traffic. It seems that Bow Road's original separate bike lanes were deemed unsafe because they were too narrow, so they've been absorbed into wider lanes that turn out to be even more dangerous. Verdict? Fail.

ii) CS2: Bow Roundabout - Advanced Stop Line

Let's shift to a strip of road which perfectly sums up how CS2 is well-meaning yet impractical. An idea which probably looked good on the drawing board but doesn't work. We're right at the far end of CS2, just before the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. There are traffic lights here, controlling flow onto the Bow Interchange roundabout. What's needed here, somebody thought, is an Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists. Give bikes some extra space, paint it blue, and then all the other traffic can wait patiently a couple of metres behind. Happens all over London, although not always in such dazzling colour, it's nothing special. Except here the planners forgot something important. An advance stop line is only any use if you can get to it. [photo]

When traffic's busy, cyclists can't get to this one. They whizz down the blue-painted stripe as far as the Bow Flyover bus stop, separate and safe, But then traffic narrows to two lanes outside McDonalds, at which point the Cycle Superhighway swings in to become the left-hand half of the left-hand lane of traffic. The lights are usually red so a queue of vehicles builds up, and there's usually a bus or a van or a lorry or something paused and waiting. And if there is, sorry cyclist, you're not getting past, not unless you're naughty and bike up onto the pavement and then back down again. Large amounts of money have been spent making the roundabout itself cycle-friendly, what with special ramps and segregated blue cycle lanes and all, but this Advanced Stop Line is an inaccessible white elephant. Whoever wrote the Cycle Superhighway rulebook, they clearly weren't thinking ahead. Verdict? Fail.

(more tomorrow)

 Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Whilst touring the backwaters of the East End over the weekend, I came across a second Olympic-related prototype. Not a Bus-Top this time. An actual Water Chariot. How excited was I?



Water Chariots, you'll remember, will be running the official waterbus service to the Olympic Park during the 2012 Games. You'll have to remember, I'm afraid, because their entire website was suspended for weekend maintenance on Saturday, and hasn't yet returned to life. I can't wait to see what their revamp looks like, and I hope the information therein is a little more finely-tuned that I told you about on Friday. But I have now seen their prototype craft, being fitted out at Old Ford Lock, and this reveals rather more about their intended business model. [photo]

See how white the Water Chariot is - gleaming white, week-old white. Notice also how wide it is [photo]. This is no narrowboat, this is twice as broad - wide enough fill an entire lock all by itself. It's the size of a typical sightseeing coach, which in effect is what this is. Got to cram the 70 passengers in somehow. The boat is clearly branded "2012 Games Canal Service", because this is an officially recognised form of transport. There's a Union Jack on the side, for tradition, plus a big swirly pink pattern like the tattoo on a snowboarder's arm. Each boat has a name, this one's Chloe-Jean. There's a solid white wall between the central windows, where the Water Chariots logo goes, so you'd better hope you don't get a seat beside that else you're not going to see much. And there's a graphic along the side to illustrate the route (LIMEHOUSE ---- OLYMPIC PARK ---- TOTTENHAM), even though each boat will cover only half of that.

This is the waterbus to the Olympic Park's Western Entrance, as you can see from the blue destination board attached to the side. Other days it'll be the waterbus to Swan Wharf or The IBC Centre (spare boards for other destinations hang on the wall inside the boat). But most importantly, look at the lettering above the window where Water Chariots reveal their true business plan. Sorry, I called this wrong on Friday. It's not a waterbus, it's a "Fast track Express Hospitality Service".

Water Chariots won't be making their Olympic fortune from members of the public. Even at £20 for a single ticket, that's not where the money is. No, it seems the real cash is to be made transporting corporate clients up and down the Lea on their way to a prestige package in a hospitality box. Entice businesses to the river with the promise of a novel waterborne journey to the Olympic Park, throw in some booze and nibbles, and they should pay handsomely. They might even believe the "Fast track Express" bit, at least until they turn up and discover the speed limit is 4mph.

Those seeking the complete corporate hospitality package are being invited to combine their Water Chariots journey with a London Water Taxi. Load your business guests onto a private motor cruiser in Central London, chug down the Thames to Limehouse, then transfer everyone to the canals for a half-hour party afloat. There's even a speedboat option for the initial river section, for companies truly seeking to impress their guests. I especially love this map, on the London Water Taxis website, which has invented a brand new canal through Poplar and Bow that doesn't really exist. Looks fast, looks direct, total fabrication.

Anyway, like I said, Water Chariot number 1 is now being fitted out ready for use. The company has plans for 25 more, of which I reckon less than half will be needed to run the full public waterbus timetable. This leaves more than a dozen gleaming white craft available to dedicate solely to executives, sponsors and businessfolk, all for a fortnight and a half of shameless revenue raising. It's genius really, truly entrepreneurial. And I'm sure, once the Water Chariots website finally returns, that you'll be nipping in to confirm your booking.

 Monday, July 18, 2011

I've long considered the 425 to be a rubbish bus route. It's indirect, it's slow, and the buses are never ever full. People travelled from Stratford to Clapton before the 425 was introduced, and will do again after someone sees sense and scraps it. At the very least, I've always thought, it should be downgraded to a single decker to save some of TfL's hard earned cash. But I've changed my mind all of a sudden, because the top deck of the 425 now offers a sight unique in London. The very first Bus-Top.

Bus-Tops, you may or may not remember, are the capital's artistic contribution to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Scotland's promised a timber football pitch, the West Midlands get a 10m-high Lady Godiva, and London's getting LED displays on bus shelters. That's LED displays on top of bus shelters, facing the sky, hence the name Bus-Tops. Each screen will be about the same size as a front door, maybe slightly longer, surrounded by a sturdy wooden frame of London plane. Thousands of points of electronic light comprise each array, in monochromatic red, capable of displaying anything from a single word to a panoramic landscape. Temperature and rain sensors help the screens to adapt to their surrounding environment. And, in a dongle-tastic twist, each display is 3G-connected allowing fresh artwork to be beamed in whenever the organisers deem fit. All very modern, all very clever, but if you're not on the top deck of a passing bus you're not going to see a thing.

The entire project kicks off for real on January 1st, with one Bus-Top scheduled to be installed in each London borough. But a prototype was needed to ensure that the entire set-up actually works, so the team hired an engineering facility to tweak one complete set of framed electronics and internal gizmos. Then earlier this month, as part of initial field trials, the entire structure was hoisted into place on top of a bus shelter in deepest Hackney. The organisers aren't admitting precisely where, but they've left enough clues if you know where to look. And there the panel sits, playing out its visual artwork to anyone who cares to look out of the left-hand window as a double decker goes by. [photo]

It's an interesting choice of bus stop. Seven different bus routes go this way, which you'd think would maximise the chances of this artwork being seen. Not so. Five of the passing buses are single deckers, so passengers in these won't have spotted anything unusual. One double decker starts only at the previous bus stop, so the number of upper deck passengers by this point will be minimal. The remaining bus is the 425, which we've already determined is a bit of a Marie Celeste, so is unlikely to bring many spectators to the party. And the entire street is one-way only for bus traffic, so there's not even the possibility of catching sight out of the right-hand window in the opposite direction. It's almost as if Alfie & Co really didn't want people to see this one. But I've seen it, and it works.

You don't get long to interact with a Bus-Top. The animation screens in a long loop, of which you'll only get to see a tiny portion as the bus draws alongside. If you're lucky the bus will stop, maybe even with your seat alongside the slanted display, but if passenger numbers are light it may speed straight past taking any viewing opportunity with it. So I can only base my opinions on what I saw during two brief drivepasts, and the mundane graphics may or may not be representative of the complete lightshow. First time past: a swirling red figure, could have been a human hand, perhaps a spinning fish, I genuinely couldn't tell [photo]. Second time past: flashing text, "Hello", then "Hi", then some foreign word beginning with "7". Except the foreign word definitely ought to have started with "Z", but it seemed there was a problem with malfunctioning LEDs across the entire bottom left corner of the screen. Prototype, to be expected, not a problem.

The graphics might have gripped me more if they'd been brighter. The display looks pinpoint-sharp in the studio, a genuine eyecatcher, proper wow. But stick that display on top of a bus shelter, in full daylight, and everything fades. The red light also has to shine through a protective plastic sheet which shields the electronic gubbins from raindrops, bird poo and lobbed bricks, and this extra layer dims the light a little further. After dark this is going to look great, no question, like having Christmas decorations up all year round. But mid-afternoon in light drizzle, not quite the attention-seeker I'd been hoping to see. Prototype, to be expected, not (yet) a problem.

There are 32 more Bus Tops to come, in locations yet to be revealed, starting in approximately six months time. Will they brighten your daily commute, as you strain to peer out of the window each morning to see what fresh animated treat awaits? Will you be tempted to catch a double decker you never normally use, purely to see what all the fuss is about? Will you submit your artistic ideas to the website and watch them become part of the Bus-Tops phenomenon? Or will the entire project be nothing more than a minor sideshow, experienced by the select few, overlooked by the majority of Londoners. Whatever, Hackney's Bus-Top is already there for you to enjoy [photo]. Best hurry, before somebody decides the 425 really would be better off as a single decker after all.


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What's on this weekend?
Sunday 27 April (10am-4.30pm)
Perivale Wood Open Day
Annual opening of a bluebell-
infested nature reserve.

twenty blogs
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arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
thelondonphile
in the aquarium
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
london daily photo
london reconnections
150 great tube things

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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
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matchgirls
hurricanes
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brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
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leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
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meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
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