diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Before the month's too far gone, here are three things I did in January but never got round to writing about at the time...

You might have missed: Going up the Orbit
The Shard isn't the only lofty London landmark with a special annual deal. The Orbit in the Olympic Park has a similar offer, except it's cheaper, and properly unlimited, and the view isn't anywhere near as good. Book online and you can go up to the observation platform as many times as you like for £12 (or £2 less if you're a resident of an Olympic borough). But I fear the number of people seeking to view their neighbourhood from 80 metres up is rather low. It's not an attraction where you ever see queues, indeed I've always had the full attention of the staff when I've been. Admittedly the last time I went up was during a full-on storm, just to see what the experience was like, but the upstairs crew let out an audible sigh of relief when I appeared because they'd seen nobody for ages. Standing outside on the platform in driving rain was, let's say, an experience, even if my house was rather hard to spot through the gloom. With the attraction losing half a million pounds a year (I know, who would have guessed?), bosses hope that the adding the world's longest slide will finally draw visitors in. The lower of the two platforms was closed to visitors a few weeks ago so that construction of the slide can begin - it'll be heading down from the square hole in the middle, if any of you have actually been. When the slide opens to the public, sometime in the spring, you'll be able to whizz down five spirals and a long straight at up to 15mph (in 40 seconds flat) for the paltry fee of £5. Unfortunately that's on top of the entrance fee of £12, so not the bargain it might appear. And adding this exciting extra is costing the public purse £3.5m, which might be argued to be throwing good money after bad. But if marketed correctly (yes, seriously, the world's longest slide) this might just possibly validate the decision to build this red swirling oddity in the first place.

You might have missed: Green Chain 11
When BestMate wondered what to do at the weekend, I suggested section 11 of the Green Chain. We've walked several bits of this southeast London network before, but this is one of the better stretches, plus it (almost) passes the house where he grew up. We started at Crystal Palace, where BestMate declared the coffee in the station cafe to be the best he'd ever tasted (and that's no mean praise). We diverted off the designated path to the palace footprint beneath the TV mast, to enjoy the view, then crossed into the lesser known (but beautifully maintained) Sydenham Wells Park where unbelievably the rhododendrons were already out. Up on Sydenham Hill we disagreed over which of the grand houses we'd like to live in, a battle I later won when it turned out 'Six Pillars' was a Grade II*-listed Modernist classic by Berthold Lubetkin. Descending into Sydenham Hill Wood we were relieved we'd worn our boots - the former railway alignment was a quagmire - and we were almost embarrassed to walk into the Horniman Museum, past umpteen parents and pushchairs, caked in mud. And a fantastic panorama from the bandstand, especially for those who like 60s social housing and 21st century City skyscrapers. The next street turned out to be part of BestMate's walk to primary school, and we later found the family home up the end of a grand avenue subdivided into flats, and paused to worry the current residents by taking photos of their frontage. Camberwell Cemetery appeared to have a serious drainage problem, with several of the graves effectively underwater, which couldn't having a positive effect on any human remains below. There are a lot of cemeteries in this second half of the walk, the meandering path always really well signposted, and ending up in the Victorian splendour of what's now Nunhead's nature reserve. Five and a half miles of fascinating inner suburbia just goes to prove you don't have to spend your free time doing the obvious.

You might have missed: Streets Ahead
The latest exhibition at the Building Centre in Store Street is about streets. How they grew, how they are now, and how they might grow in the future. A series of information boards lead you through various aspects of London's streetscape, from sepia photos of early motor vehicles mixing with horse-drawn traffic, to artists' impressions of potential priority bus corridors. With London growing at a rate of nine new residents every hour, something has to be done to accommodate that growth whilst simultaneously ensuring excessive air pollution doesn't choke our lives. There are statistics aplenty (by 2041 there'll be 32 million trips on London's roads each day, up from 26 million today) and details of fresh new schemes that might help improve flow. This being a TfL-supported exhibition it's all terribly positive, hence proposals for the Silvertown Tunnel are presented as a boon, and a quite frankly scary proposal to burrow new road tunnels around central London is praised for "reducing severance" and "improving local environments"... unless you have the misfortune to live where it might burrow to the surface. Probably the most interesting feature is a 24-hour speeded-up video showing a representation of Greater London's daily passenger flow, while I also rather liked the abstract arrowed artwork based on Fitzrovia's one-way system. It's a fifteen minute sort of exhibition, so not one to drive in specially for, but you can always stop and stare at the amazing (and recently updated) 40-foot model of central London building projects to check what's planned. And don't forget to cast your votes in the wholly unscientific transport poll in the perspex containers on the wall, where it seems driverless cars split public opinion, whereas that road tunnelling idea is surprisingly popular. Runs until 24th February, alongside a small programme of get-involved events.

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