diamond geezer

 Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's the other people I don't like.

They do things differently, the other people.

Have you seen some of the different things the other people do?

I don't like the way other people behave. We've been doing things one way for years and they come along and do things a different way, and it's just not right.

I don't understand the other people. How could anyone want to do the things they do? It's different, and it's wrong, and it disturbs me.

They make me uncomfortable, the other people. I don't like the idea of them doing their different things, and what's worse, doing them quite so close to where I live.

They worry me, the other people. They do these different things that I don't like, and I worry that one day they'll want everyone to do them, because that's their ultimate aim, it always is.

We didn't used to have this problem with the other people doing these things, back when the other people weren't around to do them. Let's be up front, I preferred things how they were, and I bet you did too.

What's more the other people can't see that doing these different things is wrong, they just carry on like doing these things is perfectly normal, whereas in fact it's different.

We should tell the other people they're not welcome being different, that'd stop them doing the things they do. If we all tell them I'm sure they'll get the message, loud and clear.

We'd be a lot happier, and a lot safer, if the other people weren't doing these different things they do.

The other people want to change the things we do, forcing their way of life on ours, and I'm not having it. We should force them to do things our way before they force us to do things theirs.

The other people always stick together. I see them out together, doing their different things, and I don't like it.

I'm proud not to be one of the other people. I bet you're proud not to be one of the other people too. We should stick together.

How dare the other people do things differently to us? It offends me. We should stop the other people doing things differently, it's only right.

We'd be better off if it wasn't for the other people. If we got rid of all the other people doing their different things I'm sure we'd all be better off, in fact I know we would.

We'd have better prospects if the other people weren't being different, if only they went away. The other people are getting in the way of us doing things better, and that's not right.

The other people and their different ways are a threat that must be stopped. The other people are a danger to us all.

So say no to doing different things, say no to being different.

Together we can stop the other people from doing different things. They'll still be the other people, but they won't be doing different things, so that'll be much better.

We must all clamp down on these other people doing different things. Let's focus our efforts on preventing difference, and join together in this uplifting righteous cause.

And then let's turn our attention to the other people doing other things differently.

They do things differently, the other people.

It's always the other people I don't like.

 Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Design Museum
Location: 224-238 Kensington High Street, W8 6AG [map]
Open: 10am - 5:45pm (last entrance 5pm)
Admission: free (but two of the exhibitions cost)
brief summary: showcase for contemporary design
Website: designmuseum.org (& Twitter)
Time to set aside: at least an hour

The Design Museum started out in 1989 in a converted banana warehouse on Shad Thames. We never quite hit it off. Getting any further than the shop cost money (£6 in 2005, £11 in 2012), and the restricted gallery space upstairs meant a visit to the ever-changing pair of exhibitions never felt like good value. I rarely went. The Commonwealth Institute opened on Kensington High Street in 1962, an amazing building with hyperbolic paraboloid copper roof and a series of ethnic treasures within. I went once as a child and then, a decade after the place went into liquidation, was first in the queue when they opened up the shell for Open House. Still wow.

Over the last few years the Commonwealth Institute has been gutted and transformed into a new home for the Design Museum. A completely new interior has been installed, with three times the floor space of the old museum, and exhibits have been brought out of storage in readiness for last week's grand opening. But has the upgrade been worthwhile?



It's no longer so easy to see the Grade II* listed building from Kensington High Street, as a substantial sum for the refit has come from plonking three large apartment blocks into the former grounds. Only residents on the upper floors get a good view of the whizzy copper roof, and the size of some of the cars nosing out of the underground car park suggests they've paid a hefty price. Mere mortals can access the museum's entrance from Holland Park, or by dipping under one of the new blocks where the flagpoles used to be, past a shop and some dribbly fountains. The original setting wins hands down.

Walking into the building still brings a wow, but in a different way, the interior no longer a cohesive whole. A new expansive rectangular atrium rises up to roof level, its purpose to showcase the ribs and swooshes careering overhead, which otherwise would be lost to view. A sequence of open stairs and balconies loops up and round to the second floor, a shared circulation space which'll be appearing in thousands of Instagram photos before the end of the year. The first staircase has terraced seating as does the first mezzanine, a visitor-friendly facility other museums often lack. But a lot of the doors you'll pass lead to event spaces, offices and other off-limits facilities, for economic reasons, and the proportion of the building's volume given over to display is disappointingly small.



As a freeloader you can make your way all the way up to the second floor, and the permanent Designer, User, Maker gallery. A lot of this stuff was in the old museum, but more of it wasn't, and end result is a dense comprehensive celebration of global design. An opening timeline skims from Wedgwood to 3D printing, including a forelock-tugging nod to museum sponsor Sir Terence Conran along the way. There is a fair whack of 3D printing in the exhibition, because it's modern and quite cheap, positioned alongside the actual 3D printer on which it's produced. Yes, there's a tube map - they've gone for the 1968 version which looks boss - and also a section on Kinneir and Calvert road signs, including the museum's ginormous blue 'M1 J25' sign propped up above.

All aspects of design get a look in, from the first fitted kitchen to Olivetti posters to a selection of chairs. The Design Museum has always liked chairs. You'll like the evolutionary wall of gadgets, where all the branches (be they music, time, photography, communication or whatever) appear to end up at a Samsung smartphone. I remembered the modernist lemon squeezer from the previous DM's display, and wasn't surprised to find it again later in the museum shop. Almost everything's well labelled, and educationally so, although there are several hints that some of the displays aren't quite finished yet in the rush to get the place open. The filmed interviews on the big video wall, for example, are very interesting but aren't listed in sequence alongside, so felt like they'd probably have gone on forever if I'd stayed to watch. So much has been crammed in that this gallery's going to get quite squashed at weekends, so be warned that staff with clickers are poised to close it off if density passes critical.

So, what else can you see for nothing? The upper floor also has a wall of crowd-sourced design classics, and a small gallery devoted to a selection of Designers in Residence, some of whose goodies can be touched, and others merely admired. Clementine Blakemore has an additional exhibit outside in the one corner of the garden that isn't flats, a small geometric pavilion covering a bench, which on my visit absolutely no other visitors had spotted. Back inside the building there's a surprisingly cramped and downbeat cafe, technically a Coffee & Juice Counter, and a first floor restaurant whose absence of menu keeps all but the gilded of Kensington safely without. Oh, and don't forget to peek in the basement, where the Institute's opening plaques and its lovely Commonwealth map have been retained.



And then there are the paid-for exhibitions. One's in the underground gallery, a two-storey showcase of the Designs of the Year, and the other's at the back of the ground floor and more general. Neither is cheap, and if you want to see them both it'll set you back more than £20, which is the privileged Kensington aesthetic writ large. I skipped the downstairs and treated myself to Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World. Eleven different scenarios are given space within, each with an emphasis on 'design in context', although you'd be hard pushed to guess the connection simply by wandering round.

The most memorable installation is an industrial robot whose arm follows you around, then gets bored and goes off and follows someone else. The meatiest installation is a 20 minute multimedia presentation about Grindr, the gay dating app, and how its location-based functionality has liberated millions but targeted state oppression on others. I was most unnerved by a series of crystalline death masks, Alien facehugger-style, artistically created to capture the wearer's last breath. I learnt a bit about Mongolia and recycling clothes by colour, and stayed an hour mostly by watching all the videos through to the end, but overall found the exhibition disjoint, inextensive and a bit hit and miss, so hardly a £14 must-see.

The must-see is the building, obviously, and the excellent free galleries on the second floor. Hurrah that the Design Museum is now housed somewhere worthy of the name, and that some of our country's finest technologies have been proudly recognised. If you have any youngsters with a creative bent, bring them, and have some plastic bricks or tools out ready to funnel the inspiration when you get home. But maybe avoid the next few weekends, because it's going to be rammed, and rightly so.

» Go on then, sixteen photos of the new museum (mine all mine)
» And 36 from inside the former Commonwealth Institute in 2011 (not mine)

 Monday, November 28, 2016

One of the pleasures of alighting from the Overground at Hackney Wick station is the whiff of bagel. Beyond the foot of the ramp on the corner of White Post Lane are the premises of Mr Bagels, a fully automated £3m facility opened in 2003, pumping out steam-baked dough rings for the benefit of major retailers and catering companies. But no longer. I walked out of the Overground yesterday to see a large knocked-down space behind blue hoardings, now almost entirely rubble apart from a couple of wall-less rooms awaiting the chop. The boys from Havering Demolition Ltd have been hard at work, probably for some time, and have succeeded in levelling the former bagel factory to the ground. It's going to become flats, obviously. And it's not alone.



Over the next few years the site at 52-54 White Post Lane will become "a mixed use sustainable development of 2330m² of flexible and high quality employment spaces aimed at creative industries with 55 residential units above". Specifically that's seven employment spaces to retain job provision on site, with 13 affordable and 42 non-affordable apartments perched above. It's very much the modern approach, making good use of space by stacking flats on top of commercial units, then submitting planning applications full of generically upbeat phrases. No building here is due to rise higher than six storeys, so the development won't be overly intrusive, but neither will it be interesting. It's more of this, I'm afraid.


ADDRESSING THE AREA’S INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE. OUR APPROACH HAS BEEN TO CREATE SIMPLE AND ROBUST ELEVATIONS, WITH A RHYTHM INSPIRED BY FISH ISLAND’S INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE. REGARDING THE ELEVATIONAL TREATMENT, OUR APPROACH WILL BE TO USE SUBTLE CHANGES OF DEPTH TO CREATE A DYNAMIC AND MODERN LOOK.
I often wonder why we still teach English Literature to children, when what they should instead be studying is a GCSE in Marketing. The ability to make something ordinary sound amazing is key to success in 21st century Britain, and nowhere is this more evident than in the descriptive world of property development. The estates team have been hard at work here crafting glossy verbal sheen, rarely less meaningful than in their claim that the "elevational treatment" will range "from rigid grids to playful windows". What these weasel words really mean is that this development will look pretty much the same as the typical brick vernacular now springing up across the capital, so nothing special, and indeed pretty much the same as the even larger development pencilled in nextdoor.



This is 24-26 White Post Lane, another brick cluster on similarly brownfield land. Allegedly the architecture "takes inspiration from the existing area where creative industries and residents live side-by-side in the converted warehouses and factories left over from the Victorian industrial buildings", but in fact it looks exactly like everything else going up everywhere else at the moment. This time there'll be 103 homes alongside 2900m² of commercial space - all well and good for contributing to the area's economic and residential needs, but aesthetically dead compared to the grimy post-industrial Hackney Wick that's existed up until now.

Some online digging swiftly reveals what's planned for other parts of this Olympic-side neighbourhood. The long wedge between White Post Lane and Wallis Road, currently McGrath Bros Waste Control Ltd, is ultimately destined to become another 54 residential units, plus 630m² of retail space and 221m² of studio space. The site opposite Mr Bagels, behind the bus stop on Hepscott Road, has already been knocked down and is destined for flats. The former Lea Tavern site is pencilled in for "a contemporary interpretation of the adjacent warehouse vernacular", for which read "glass monstrosity which looks nothing like what was here before". And then, blimey, there's the enormous bit around the station.



Hackney Wick Central is a significant redevelopment scheme covering six hectares on either side of the railway line, including many of the creative industries that currently give Hackney Wick its buzz. The affected zone runs from the edge of Leabank Square in the north to White Post Lane in the south, and east all the way down to the edge of the river. All the listed buildings in the target zone will be retained, and there are several, but the remainder of the less distinguished warehouses and studios will be knocked down so that a brand new mixed use neighbourhood can be created. Commercially it's a far better use of space, but the chances of the area's long-term vibrancy surviving within these sanitised ground floor units must be small.

A new pedestrianised north-south spine road will be cut through, leading to an upgraded (and more central), station. A new retail centre will be established, with sufficient shops to support residents from existing local neighbourhoods and local neighbourhoods yet-to-be. It's proposed that the much-graffitied long-closed Lord Napier is brought back into use as a public house, so that's a plus. The Eton Mission boathouse will also survive, its facilities for rowing unmolested, at the heart of a new public space faced by cafes and restaurants. But expect much of the riverside to be turned into apartments, because waterside is where the real money is, as a walk south along this stretch of the Lea increasingly proves.



The Omega Works has stood at the end of the Hertford Canal for some years, but developers are now squeezing in another block of 35 designer apartments called Carpenters Wharf on the other side of the new footbridge. There aren't enough bridges across the Lea, apparently, so the artistic community at Vittoria Wharf are due to see their buildings demolished to make way for another - who'd not be angry? Construction on the primary school across the river has just begun, as Sweetwater neighbourhood starts to take shape, and the footpath behind the Big Breakfast cottage has recently been sealed off. Fish Island Village is scheduled to arise unimaginatively alongside the Hertford Union from 2018, which means considerably more of the same. And then there's the waterside overlooking Old Ford Lock, empty since being used by Formans for hospitality in 2012, now boarded off and due to be reborn as this ugly bulkhead.



We've always known that the aftermath of the Olympics would be a developmental whirlwind, indeed that was the original intention. But commercial pressure is now proving unstoppable outside the borders of the original park, as Hackney Wick inexorably succumbs to widespread gentrification. We'll gain more thousands more boxes in which to live, all urgently required, and ideally located to meet public need. But this corner of East London will lose the vibrancy that once made the place special, as characterful spaces are replaced by a blander more tedious landscape, which because it's the late 2010s means "gridded brick" all over. If you get to move in, congratulations. But if the rest of us decide not to visit this hackneyed landscape any more, don't be surprised.

 Sunday, November 27, 2016

A self-guided tour of Chez DG

A downloadable annotated map is available here.



Welcome, and please wipe your feet.
 
1 The front doormat is from the London Transport Museum, and the bristly image depicts London's zonal fare system. It was bought in a sale, presumably because nobody thought it worth buying until the price was under a tenner.

2 The stuffed toy on the side table is a Ty Beanie Baby, official name Puffer, introduced at the end of 1997 and retired on 18th September 1998. Once thought eminently collectible, similar puffins are now available on eBay for less than £2.

3 The 20th century cathode ray television set upturned by the front door malfunctioned four years ago, but is too heavy to be manhandled out onto the landing and down the stairs to the street, so here it rests.
 
Push open the door on your right to see the bathroom.
 
4 Yes, the lock's broken. The mechanism ought to push back in with the aid of an Allen key, but the only Allen keys in the flat are too big. Fortuitously almost nobody ever visits, so the lock is invariably superfluous.

5 The lime green and orange alarm clock on the toilet cistern was already here when the flat was rented, because who would buy such a thing? The hands still show British Summer Time, because they could be changed but life's too short.
 
The next door along the hallway leads to the kitchen.
 
6 Legend has it that the magnetic letters on the fridge were arranged by a visitor who understood what the phrase portrayed actually means. The use of the letters G and I to form a makeshift question mark shows levels of artistic creativity.

7 Eagle-eyed visitors may be able to spot a selection of Earl Grey teabags, two particularly jaunty sideplates from Stoke-on-Trent, a slightly leaky London 2012 water bottle, and five Creme Eggs left over from the early 2016 season.

8 The brown towel hanging over the rail on the oven is meant to be brown, and was purchased in the early 1980s from the Co-Op as part of a package of essential things to take to university (see also 8a - plastic tray, and 8b - pepper grinder)
 
Ahead is the spare room - a wasteful luxury in 21st century London.
 
9 Although now faded, the geometric pattern on the waste paper bin matches that of the wallpaper of the current tenant's bedroom when aged nine, and could hardly be more mid-1970s if it tried.

10 Cassettes were once a popular means of playing recorded music. The assembled collection represents a considerable financial outlay, and can still be played on some (but no longer all) of the hi-fidelity decks scattered around the property.

11 It is conceivably possible that the cardboard packaging which once housed the HP Officejet G55 printer will one day again be useful to relocate the 20th century reproductive device to another location, but it would probably be better chucked.

12 This stack of heritage classics speaks for itself.
 
Follow the illuminated winter lights to the next doorway.
 
13 The bedroom is off-limits on this tour, but by standing behind the protective barrier it should be possible to see 13a - a complete set of toy Clangers on top of the bookshelf, 13b - clean socks, 13c - that big purple cushion Mum knitted.
 
The main living room is the heart of this famous abode.
 
14 According to the landlord the dining table is a Seventies classic, but he doesn't have to use it, and the matching Seventies chairs aren't exactly practical either.

15 Every home has a Mr Men drinks coaster, and this is no exception, here depicting popular character Mr Happy. Coincidentally of a similar vintage to the dining table, it has become slightly lumpy in the middle through overuse.

16 The west wall is dominated by a geographical map of London, because obviously it is.

17 It remains possible to watch video cassettes on the flat screen television, presumably, if it were possible to work out where the cables plug in round the back without pulling any others out and wrecking the current fortuitous set-up.
 
Step through the double doors and enjoy the view from the balcony.
 
18 Alas no, you can't really see anything, can you?

19 This Christmas cactus has flowered every year since goodness knows when, except it got waterlogged during the summer when it rained a lot, so this winter looks like it's dead, which is bloody 2016 for you.
 
Step back inside, taking care to wipe your feet again.
 
20 Yes, that is the actual laptop on which the popular blog diamond geezer is composed. Tomorrow's post may even be partly written. No peeking.
 
Exit via the gift shop. Exclusive merchandise available.

 Saturday, November 26, 2016

Reducing the number of buses along Oxford Street has long been on TfL's radar. They've taken several steps already, altering certain bus termini, diverting routes and cutting services back. But a consultation launched yesterday takes matters firmly in hand and proposes changes to 21 different routes, many of them West End stalwarts, with the aim of reducing the number of buses along Oxford Street by as much as 40%. Additional reasons for change relate to a reduction in passenger demand in central London due to slower traffic speeds and the introduction of Crossrail in two years time, and the effects will ripple out as far as Wembley and Ilford.

So comprehensive is the consultation that TfL have had to divide up the affected routes into eight different groups, as follows, should you wish to click through to see the specifics.

[3, 137, N3] [6, 15, N15] [8, 172, 242] [22, C2, N22] [23, 46, 332, 452] [25, 425] [73, 390] [N2]

And because it's always best to understand in advance what might be happening, rather than to nod now and look surprised when the changes roll out, here's what's proposed group by group, and route by route...

RouteCurrent situationProposed changeEffect on
Oxford Street
3Runs from Crystal Palace to Regent Street, via Trafalgar Square.After Trafalgar Square will instead run via Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road, then pass in front of the British Museum to Russell Square.no longer turns here
N3As above, but terminates at Oxford Circus.Will run as above, terminating at Russell Square.no longer turns here
137Runs from Streatham Hill to Oxford Circus, via Marble Arch.Buses will now terminate at Marble Arch.REMOVED
6Runs from Willesden to Aldwych, via Oxford Street and Regent Street.Will be diverted at Marble Arch to run via Hyde Park Corner and Piccadilly, returning to the existing route at Piccadilly Circus.REMOVED
15Runs from Blackwall to Trafalgar Square, having been cut back from Regent Street in 2013 due to congestion.The temporary cut will be made permanent.none
N15Runs from Romford to Trafalgar Square, having been cut back from Regent Street in 2013 due to congestion.Buses will be extended up Regent Street to Oxford Circus, because congestion isn't so bad at night.will now turn here
172Runs from Brockley Rise to St Paul's (King Edward Street), via Ludgate Circus.After Ludgate Circus will instead turn up Farringdon Road (to link with Crossrail) and continue to Clerkenwell.none
242Runs from Homerton Hospital to Tottenham Court Road, via St Paul's.Buses will now terminate at St Paul's (at the former 172 stand in King Edward Street).no longer goes near
8Runs from Bow Church to Tottenham Court Road, having been cut back from Oxford Circus in 2013 due to congestion.The temporary cut back to Tottenham Court Road will be made permanent. Westbound buses will follow the 242's former route along High Holborn. Eastbound buses will no longer start by looping round via Gower Street.REMOVED
C2Runs from Parliament Hill Fields to Victoria, via Regent Street, Mayfair and Hyde Park Corner.Buses will now terminate after Regent Street, "reducing the length of route C2 significantly".none
22Runs from Putney Common to Piccadilly Circus, via Green Park station.Diverted at Green Park to follow the C2's former route through Mayfair, terminating at Oxford Circus.will now turn here
N22Runs from Fulwell to Piccadilly Circus, via Green Park station.Diverted at Green Park, to follow the C2's former route through Mayfair, terminating at Oxford Circus.will now turn here
23Runs from Westbourne Park to Liverpool Street, via Paddington, Oxford Street and Regent Street. A previous consultation has proposed cutting the City terminus back to Aldwych.Significant changes. Will now be diverted after Paddington to terminate at Lancaster Gate - a 5 mile reduction in route. To compensate, will now start in Wembley.REMOVED
332Runs from Brent Park to Paddington, via Kilburn High Road and Edgware Road.Will be diverted between Kilburn High Road and Paddington, via Kilburn Park and Warwick Avenue, then extended to Lancaster Gate.none
46Runs from St Bart's to Lancaster Gate, via Hampstead and Paddington.Buses will now terminate at Paddington (making room for the 23 and 332 to terminate at Lancaster Gate).none
452Runs from Kensal Rise to Vauxhall, via Ladbroke Grove.Start of route switched to Harrow Road, near Westbourne Park, joining the original line of route at Ladbroke Grove.none
25Runs from Oxford Circus to Ilford, but half the buses only run between Mile End and Ilford because of increased congestion at the western end of the route.*The Mile End to Ilford buses will be withdrawn, leaving buses running every 7-8 minutes along the entire route.fewer buses
425Runs from Clapton to Stratford, via Mile End.Will be extended from Stratford to Ilford - a 4 mile extension - to make up for cuts at the eastern end of route 25. Buses will run slightly more frequently.none
73Runs from Stoke Newington to Victoria, via the entire length of Oxford Street.Buses will now terminate at Oxford Circus, cutting the length of the route by 2 miles. Buses will run slightly less frequently.REMOVED from western half
390Runs from Archway to Notting Hill Gate, via the entire length of Oxford Street.Diverted at Marble Arch to run to Victoria instead of Notting Hill Gate. Buses will run slightly more frequently.unchanged
N2Runs from Crystal Palace to Trafalgar Square, via Victoria.Diverted at Victoria to run via Park Lane and Marble Arch to Marylebone (as daytime route 2).ADDED (slightly)

These spaghetti-like before, during and after maps may, or more likely may not, make things clearer.

If you fancy a long read here's the 'West End Bus Services Review' document in full, or you could follow the example of the lazymedia and simply skim the press release.

In summary, here's what's proposed for daytime buses travelling along Oxford Street.

yearMarble Arch to
Selfridges
Selfridges to
Oxford Circus
Oxford Circus to
Tottenham Court Road
2006 2, 6, 7, 10, 15, 23, 30, 73, 74, 82, 94, 98, 137, 159, 274, 3906, 7, 8, 10, 13, 15, 23, 73, 94, 98, 113, 137, 139, 159, 189, 3907, 8, 10, 25, 55, 73, 98, 176, 390
2016 2, 6, 7, 10, 23, 73, 74, 82, 94, 98, 137, 159, 274, 3906, 7, 10, 13, 23, 73, 94, 98, 137, 139, 159, 189, 39010, 25, 55, 73, 98, 390
2018 2, 7, 10, 13, 74, 94, 98, 159, 189, 274, 3907, 10, 94, 98, 113, 139, 159, 39010, 25, 55, 73, 98, 390

You might like a lot of the proposed changes. You might like some of them. You might not like some of them. But all of them are going to happen over the next couple of years, unless the public's input to the consultation suggests otherwise. London has until 29th January to respond.

* According to the West End Bus Services Review:
"Route 25 has been affected by a number of roadworks and permanent highways schemes that have reduced highway capacity over the past few years. The effects of this have been particularly severe in the past year with a weekday drop in usage of nearly 20% and an increase in journey times of around 10%, and up to 20% on the section between Stratford and Aldgate. Journey times have increased substantially west of Stratford and particularly on the section of routeing directly affected by the CS2 scheme. It is not expected that journey times will reduce significantly and it is therefore assumed that the current situation is now business as usual. Given this, it is not expected that passenger numbers will increase significantly in the near future."
There are three pages of graphs, data and conclusions relating to route 25 in the consultation report, and it's pretty damning stuff, if any journalists are reading this.

 Friday, November 25, 2016

Inside - Artists and Writers in Reading Prison
4th September - 4th December 2016 (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun)


A rare opportunity has arisen to look inside one of Her Majesty's more historic prisons. To be fair, the opportunity arose a couple of months ago, and there are only two weeks left, but it's not too late to go.

Berkshire's premier detainment facility, Reading Gaol, was modelled on the New Model Prison at Pentonville and opened in 1844. It took a new approach to confinement, replacing dormitories with individual cells, here laid out on three levels along three long wings. The cells continued in use until 2013, refitted and upgraded, and were last used as a young person's detention centre. And with the building standing empty, exhibitioneers Artangel have taken temporary possession and filled it with a diversity of artistic commissions. Art plus History = Wonder.



Reading's most famous prisoner was Oscar Wilde, incarcerated here in 1895 after unwisely prosecuting his lover's father for libel. Two years hard labour broke his spirit, but also inspired two of his most famous works - the unaddressed love letter De Profundis, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, an anonymous poem written later subsequently in Paris exile. So Oscar was the obvious focus for Artangel's contributory artists, and the opportunity to stand in his cell a compelling draw.

It's an peculiar experience to walk deliberately into a prison building, across the courtyard and through the internal unlocked gate into the heart of the institution. The inside of this Victorian jail looks utterly archetypal, as seen in dozens of crime dramas over the years, with thin narrow staircases rising through protective netting to galleries on the upper levels, and a high vaulted roof illuminated in striplight gloom. Look once to see middle class art lovers on a creative safari, but think harder and it's easy to picture generations of convicts slopping out, or queues patiently filing out for daily exercise, perhaps even a minor riot.

It's worth £9 simply for the opportunity to walk round freely inside a prison and explore. For many a convicted felon and for many a year these walls were all they knew, and for the best part of that a single cell. Dozens are open for you to step inside, a single high window at the far end, and a modern metal washbasin/toilet insert plumbed partway down. Some have latticed beds, perhaps a chunky table and blocky chair, each chosen for their unchuckability rather than for aesthetics. Others are completely empty, an echoing space, with room for pacing up and down and not much more.



Oscar's cell was C.3.3. on the second floor, since renumbered C.2.2. after some sacrilegious internal rationalisation. For this exhibition it's been left art-free, but with a single pink rose on the table and an unlit candle alongside. There are two power points and a shelf, luxuries Wilde wouldn't have known in his lifetime, plus a handful of orange lino tiles to break the pattern of the floor. It's easy to imagine how an even emptier lockup would have driven a social genius to empty desperation. Wilde was fortunate that the governor eventually allowed him more than the regulation one book a week from the prison library, and copies of his lending choices are displayed in neighbouring cells.

The art elsewhere is quite varied, but a good excuse to explore every corner of the building. Some of the artists have provided paintings, in Wolfgang Tillmans' case self portraits of himself reflected in two of the cells' distorted mirrors. Other artists have gone for video presentations, with forbidden sexuality a common theme, and one particular cell has a warning outside of explicit adult content, which I can confirm is an erectile understatement.

Roni Horn's close-up photos of the Thames are disturbingly bleak, with suicidal undertones, and sharply provoking. Meanwhile several cells contain Letters of Separation, missives to loved ones by contemporary writers, which you can either read or listen to via headphones. The most moving of these, I thought, was Ai Weiwei's description of incarceration by the Chinese state, which he came to terms with by realising that his young guards were even more trapped by circumstance than he was.



Once the art becomes 3D it gets more hit and miss. A couple of lightbulbs on a wall, a gold-plated mosquito net on a bed, some upturned tables stacked with soil inbetween; these left me cold. More captivating were Robert Gober's hollow sculptures with flowing water features somehow placed inside, and top of the shop was the actual wooden door from Oscar's original cell placed on a plinth in the prison chapel. On Sundays famous actors including Ben Whishaw and Maxine Peake have sat here to read the entirety of De Profundis to an appreciative audience, if they can stick the full four hours.

Oscar's two Reading-based compositions are featured in the governor's office, which hangs at the heart of the prison providing excellent sightlines along each gallery. From here you get a good idea of the building's compact oppression, and can pause to wonder how you might cope with being locked into sensual deprivation should the state ever decree. But only for another couple of weeks. Reading Jail is top of the government's list for selling off, their intention to wipe away Victorian practices and to replace it with inner city housing. The main building is Grade II listed so will survive, but shamelessly neutered, and never as evocatively as this.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde, 1898

 Thursday, November 24, 2016

Greater London contains around 2000 National Grid squares, each 1km by 1km in size. I've taken to picking one of these at random and visiting it to see what I might find, and over the weekend I did it again. Last time I got Hounslow, and the time before that I got Barking and Dagenham, and this time I got Barnet. Specifically a square just to the south of High Barnet station, and teeming with outer suburban variety. There's little reason for TQ2595 to ever appear in Time Out, but that's not a reason not to visit, indeed there's tons to see. [aerial view, 1939]


20 Things To Do In Grid Square TQ2595

1) Enjoy the panorama from Barnet Hill
If you know the original town of Barnet, specifically Chipping Barnet, you'll know it perches at the top of a long hill leading up from the southeast. The bottom of that hill is in grid square TQ2595, the section where the road opens out to reveal a grassy embankment beneath and the rooftops of several housing estates beyond. This area's called Underhill, a name which forms the basis for most of the grid square to the west of the railway line. That's leafy Totteridge you can see in the distance, and the floodlights in the foreground belong to a former football ground, of which more in a moment. Don't look the other way, because that's a van hire yard piled high with containers in front of the railway, and less than scenic.



2) Sit on the railway bridge awaiting a platform
The Northern line approaches High Barnet on an embankment, then in cutting, before emerging briefly to cross the foot of Barnet Hill diagonally on a low bridge. Trains often pause here, above the traffic, waiting for a platform to become clear at the station a short distance ahead. If you're sitting in one of the front two carriages you might get a decent view over Underhill at this point, as well as mildly frustrated.

3) Follow the Great North Road
The Great North Road passes through Barnet, one horse-change from London, which helped bring the location to economic prominence. Climbing Barnet Hill often proved problematic, so in the 1820s Thomas Telford remodelled the ascent with a gentler gradient, the original road having run through the primary school now in position at the foot of his embankment. Barnet was comprehensively bypassed in the 1920s, so the A1 now runs elsewhere, but a broad mostly residential road still runs up from Finchley.

4) March up the hill and march down
In 1471 the Battle of Barnet, one of the more decisive engagements of the Wars of the Roses, was fought (three grid squares away) to the north of the town centre. But to get there the Duke of York had to march his men up Barnet Hill, and after victory he got to march them down again, which is either the direct inspiration for the famous nursery rhyme, or more likely one of many alternative fictional derivations based on several Dukes from several eras in several unconfirmed locations.

5) Mourn the loss of The Old Red Lion
Opened in the 1720s at the foot of Barnet Hill, this coaching inn once provided stagecoaches with an extra couple of horses to assist them on the ascent. These were known as a Hercules pair. Telford's reconstruction reduced demand, but a pint was always welcome, and the pub was rebuilt in the early 1930s to serve newly laid out estates. Alas the number of customers declined significantly when the local football ground closed, so the pub shut for good in February last year and is currently re-emerging as "a collection of six contemporary homes", for which read stark 4-bed split-level brick semis with prices starting at £895,000.



6) Mourn the departure of the Bees
Barnet FC once played their home matches at the Underhill Stadium, a bijou low-res operation whose pitch boasted one of the steepest slopes in professional football. The stadium opened in 1907, but never really proved satisfactory when the team were promoted to the Football League, and in 2013 they moved out following disagreements with the local council. That's the short version, anyway. Barnet now play in League Two at The Hive stadium, which is not in Barnet, and Underhill Stadium is used by the London Broncos rugby league club for training. If you've ever wanted to watch the Under 19s play I understand you can still get in.

7) Mourn the loss of Barnet Cricket Club
I don't know if you're spotting a pattern here. Barnet Cricket Club closed down at the same time as Barnet FC moved on, their pavilion now fenced off, and the pitch roughly unkempt and uneven. There are big plans for the football stadium, cricket pitch and adjacent greenspace to become an academy, but purchase of the land by the Education Funding Agency stalled, the proposed opening date has slipped back to September 2018, and as yet no works on site have taken place. A bit of a fiasco all round, really.

8) Play ping pong at the Barnet Table Tennis Centre
Thank goodness some sporting activity is still available in TQ2595. The BTTC is based at the foot of the playing fields in a large brick hut on the banks of the Dollis Brook. Coaching nights and practice tables are available within, a summer league takes place annually, and quite frankly it sounds like just the kind of social facility many a London neighbourhood needs, but doesn't have.

9) Run amok on Barnet Playing Fields
A large area of undeveloped meadow survives as Barnet Playing Fields, a sweep of green leading down to the river that's a cut above your average rec. A play area and an outdoor gym are provided, as well as a basketball zone and copious space for a kickabout. For centuries this was the site of Barnet Fair, a Michaelmas mass gathering visited by Samuel Pepys, founded in 1588 and once described as 'three days of pandemonium'. Horse racing was held up the hill where the tube terminus now stands, and even though that aspect has faded away a slimmed down equine fair is still held on the meadows upriver at Mays Lane each September.



10) Walk the Dollis Valley Greenwalk
11) Walk the London Loop (section 16)
The Dollis Valley Greenwalk is a ten mile path following Barnet's finest river from almost Edgware to nearly Hendon. Only 500m passes through TQ2595, but it's not bad, following the gentle meanders of the brook's middle course at the foot of the playing fields, then bending south towards the Brook Farm Open Space. The banks are leaf-strewn and occasionally deeply-banked, and magnets for dogwalkers and joggers. The London Loop arrives the same way, but breaks off after the Table Tennis Centre to climb the fields towards the railway bridge, then proceeds up a ratrun lane on the other side. As this is the only section of the Loop I haven't completed, I'll say no more for now.

12) Ride London's shortest bus route
Here's a cracking reason to visit TQ2595, a chance to ride the only TfL bus route less than one mile long. What's more it's this grid square which creates the need for the 389's brief run, specifically the long thin Grasvenor Estate sandwiched between the playing fields and the railway, and with no way out except the way you came in. Buses depart the Spires shopping centre and run down Barnet Hill, turning off at Underhill to make a hail and ride circuit down to Western Way and back. Officially these count as two different directions, it being 1.1 miles down and 0.9 miles back, a duty generally completed in ten minutes flat. What's more buses only run between 10am and 3pm, hourly, six days a week, making this the third least frequent bus in London. Catching a 389 is tricky, but I succeeded, and was impressed how full of shoppers it was, fully justifying the vehicle's existence. Indeed the trip down from Barnet had the feel of a pensioners' outing about it, with most of the passengers known to one another, and a collective conversation underway. By listening in I learned lots about Joyce, she used to work in Pearsons, they found her body you know, such a shame. I was also treated to a heartwarming spectacle when the lady at number 72 flagged down the driver to ask if anyone had found her keys, she thought she'd probably left them in Santander but they might be on the floor under the seat behind the door, could everybody check. Not quite heartwarming enough that the keys were found, alas, but I got a real sense that the 389 is a happy community service that helps support several elderly residents in their own homes. Short, and sweet.



13) Track down the old Middlesex border
Before 1965 most of what's now north London was in Middlesex, and a small adjacent patch was in Hertfordshire. Barnet was a bit of an anomaly, a irregular finger of Herts intruding into Middlesex, and almost completely surrounded by it. The point at which the Great North Road passed out of Middlesex was a few yards south of the junction with Lyonsdown Road, now a neighbourhood of interwar courts and aspirational but slightly dated apartments. Confirmation of the area's administrative transition comes in the name County Gate for a cul-de-sac of executive semis leading down to the railway, but the boundary is otherwise unmarked.

14) LOL at Pricklers Hill
Ha, yes, the section of the Great North Road leading up to Underhill is known as Pricklers Hill. The name comes from the Prittle family who once lived in one the few medieval houses hereabouts, later known as Greenhill Grove. A milestone partway along the main road, still extant, marks the point that's precisely 10 miles from central London. Another oddly-named local resident with a street to their name is Lancelot Hasluck, whose demolished property is now covered by a string of near-£million semis along Hasluck Gardens.

15) Feed the ducks at Greenhill Gardens
When Greenhill Grove's estate was residentialised, two fish ponds at the bottom of the garden were protected from development. The smaller pond was filled in and grassed over, but the larger lake remains and the pair now form a not inconsiderable recreational resource. Ducks, drakes, geese and waterfowl of all kinds colonise the waters at Greenhill Gardens, and strut around on the muddy banks - I interrupted several on my five minute circuit. All credit to East Barnet Council for having the foresight to protect this land in 1928, and there's an even better example up the road, which I'll get to at the end of the list.

16) Pass your driving test
I thought I'd seen a lot of learner drivers on my wanderings around TQ2595, and when I stumbled upon Raydean House I realised why. This drab long block - the kind of building that gives the 1970s a bad name - is Barnet's driving test centre, and a Job Centre too for good measure. Even on a Saturday afternoon teenagers were nervously reversing their vehicles close to the kerb by the verge up the road before setting off on yet another tour of the surrounding quiet three-point-turn-friendly avenues.



17) Watch a movie in Art Deco splendour
The Odeon Theatre opened on the Great North Road on Wednesday 15th May 1935, with a columnar Moorish design across its frontage and over 1500 seats in its auditorium. The interior decoration continued the north African motif, with jazzy Art Deco detailing and alternating red and blue upholstery, but no organ because the Odeon chain didn't believe in that kind of thing. I can tell you what the first film was, if you're interested, and also the names of the three architects. In 1974 the cinema was subdivided into three screens, later to become five, and in 1989 the building was given a well-deserved Grade II listing. Then last year the long connection with the Odeon brand ended and Everyman took over, and it's their name which now glows out front in gold 'neon'.

18) Eat in style at Fresh Fry Fish and Chips
Listings magazines may be full of smart bistros and pop-up diners, but the average Londoner's average meal out is a more ordinary affair. A quick lunch at Fresh Fry Fish and Chips, for example, the end-terrace unit at Western Parade, where top quality maritime cuisine is de rigueur. I sampled the fresh fried chips from the takeaway, lovingly stacked in a plastic tray and sprinkled with non-brewed condiment. For many local couples, however, it's the fish, chip, bread, butter and tea combo at the adjacent sit-down restaurant which calls, competitively priced at £6.50 - an ideal treat. Other nearby dining options are of course available, including authentic Thai at the Rice Terrace, or pie, mash and liquor from the Hole In The Wall at the Meadow Works down the road.

19) Go for a drink at the Weavers Arms
The Old Red Lion may have been levelled but the Weavers Arms endures, at the far end of the shopping parade beside the butchers. A chalkboard outside announces that this is a 'traditional pub', and the beery blokes lingering out front with a fag certainly confirm this assertion. Upstairs is a Bed and Breakfast, should you ever be in the area without either, but perhaps avoid Friday when the function room is taken over by karaoke. Alternative alcohol opportunities are available beside the BP garage at the Queen's Arms, cavernous enough to have once coped with coach parties, and where 2-4-1 Peri Peri Chicken is always on the menu.



20) Follow the tree trail round Highlands Gardens
Here's a little treasure to end with, another preserved back garden lovingly maintained for communal good. Highlands House was built in 1897 on the high ground above Leicester Road for a wealthy stockbroker, and boasted an oak staircase, Crittall windows, and a copper dome on the roof for stargazing. The house was sold for flats in 1930, and the council bought up the garden as an ready-made park. It's gorgeous, with a pergola walk, several almost-convincing rock formations, a couple of rustic bridges and a tumbling water feature twisting down to an artificial lake. It reminded me of a Bournemouth chine, for some reason. And because this is a rich Victorian's garden the trees are both varied and mature, which has enabled the creation of a Tree Trail up to the top of the grounds and back again, with a dozen specimens labelled for inspection. I found the yew and the medlar, the maidenhair and black walnut, a palm and at least three different species of oak, plus a similarly diverse selection of leaves artfully spread around each. A lovely hideaway for the residents of Barnet Vale to have on their doorstep.

And all this is to be found in just one square kilometre of our capital, randomly selected, and appreciatively enjoyed. London is an amazing city, even the bits that used to be in Hertfordshire, with so much to explore if we only think to look.

 Wednesday, November 23, 2016

London placename quiz

Can you match these ten London placenames to their location on the map?

Aldersbrook, Blackfen, Castelnau, Furzedown, Hook,
Locksbottom, Osidge, Tokyngton, Shacklewell, Yeading




Answers are in the comments box. Please tell us how you get on.

London tube map quiz

Here are ten sections snipped from a black and white tube map, each containing one station.

Without looking at a tube map, can you name all ten stations?
(it should be possible from the shapes, rather than needing to decode the colours)



Answers are in the comments box. Please tell us how you get on.

 Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One of the unavoidable truths about our lives is that we only get to experience a tiny fraction of human existence. We don't get to experience events before our birth, and we don't get to experience events after our death. All we get are a few years inbetween.

not born yet dead

Time travel aside, and miracle drugs notwithstanding, that's our lot. Our lifetime is simply an insignificant snapshot of everything that has been and ever will be, and our purpose is to make the most of our allotted span.

The two grey bits in the timeline above are very different. We may not experience the time before our birth but we can find out about what happened. The older generation can tell us all about what their lives were like, and the tales of our ancestors are passed on. The recent past is documented in film and newspapers, and the centuries before in historical documents and buildings. The ground beneath our feet reveals how continents and the environment changed, while fossils confirm who we've shared our planet with. The period before our birth is unexperienced but known, if not in full then within the realms of possibility.

The time after our death is different. We have all kinds of expectations about how society will continue after we're gone, but never get to discover if our assumptions were correct. Will it rain tomorrow, will our team win the cup, will that airport ever get built, does all the ice melt, do the aliens ever come, who knows? There comes a point at which we wink out, and the remainder of recorded time is something we're entirely excluded from. Humanity chugs along without us, our former presence an increasing irrelevance, as days and years and centuries complete. The future is a legacy we contribute to but never see.

And the earlier we die the less we know. Those who died in the 18th century know nothing of a world of vehicles powered by electricity. Those who died before June 1969 may have imagined man landing on the moon but never saw it. Those who died last month never discovered the future was Trump rather than Clinton, and all this might entail. Live until 2050 and you'll know far more than someone who only reaches 2025, but nowhere near as much as someone who reaches 2100. Nobody yet alive will see the 28th century, let alone the 23rd, unless astonishing strides are made in longevity... which of course you'll almost certainly never know.

Specifically, nobody knows how many good years humanity has left. It might be ages, if our species grows in technological understanding and spreads out across the stars. It might be quite a while, until some calamity besets us, either of our own doing or some unforeseen cosmological disaster. I like to think it'll be quite a while, because that means humanity has a decent future in which science and culture flourish, and generations of humans get to enjoy their time on the planet, and our current existence is inherently worthwhile.

But it might not be long, relatively speaking. Climate change might be as serious as some scientists say, and allowed to run out of control, destroying the ecosystems life on earth relies on. A diplomatic misunderstanding might trigger nuclear armageddon, laying waste our planet and eradicating centuries of progress overnight. An incurable virus might emerge, or intelligent robots might rise up and crush all human opposition, or a thousand and one other world-ending scenarios ably illustrated by Hollywood. Someone dying in 2016 might not be missing out on much, should the worst happen, nor will they ever know how close they came.

 

I was feeling brighter about the future before 2016 came along. We're basically a good bunch, humanity, I thought, working together in the common good against whatever's thrown at us. But this year there are signs that countries are becoming more inward looking, more concerned for their own than for outsiders, and if that means others lead less good lives so be it. Our immediate future needn't all be bad, but it could be, as a period of relative global stability unwinds and who knows what comes next.

What nobody wants is to waste their lives during a period of dystopia, their time on earth blighted by living through one of the bad bits. East Germany 1961-1989, for example, or the Black Death, or Syria right now. Oliver Cromwell's rule after the English Civil War was one of these miserably unlucky periods, with freedom of expression banned in favour of a tyrannical puritan regime. If you were born in 1620 you got to spend your twenties fighting and your thirties being glum, before release finally came in your twilight years. Likewise the first and second world wars aren't periods you'd ever choose to live through, but millions had no choice, and bequeathed to us the far happier age we live in now. How long's it got?

There are numerous ways our comfortable lives could deteriorate, from economic collapse to rising sea levels, from autocratic government to nuclear winter. It could happen overnight (oh, the electricity's not working), we might see it coming (ah, the President just tweeted he was angry), it could be much more gradual (have you seen how much data MI5's collecting?), or we might simply vote it in. Our society is finely balanced, indeed it's a miracle it generally works so well, whilst still allowing choice and opportunity and free will. How frightening then to watch the rise of fascism, the advance of religious intolerance and an increasing disregard for the environment, at this stage only a potential threat to our survival, but a genuine threat all the same.

 

We're fortunate to have lived through a golden age since World War Two - not perfect, but the best that civilisation has yet offered. This might well continue for several more decades, indeed let's hope it does, but history warns us that one day things will go wrong, and continue to go wrong for some indeterminate time thereafter. It'll be no fun to be around when that day comes, whenever that may be, nor to have to endure the years that follow. The best we can hope for is that it never happens in our lifetime, only after we've slipped away, in the future we know nothing about.

 Monday, November 21, 2016

Blackfriars Pier has moved. It's a sign.

It's only been in place since 2000. The City of London Corporation and TfL provided the money as part of the Thames 2000 project, a plan to kickstart river bus services between the centre of the City and a certain millennial attraction at North Greenwich. It's still called Blackfriars Millennium Pier, or at least it was, because it closed three weeks ago after 16 years of service.



Here's the former pier at the eastern end of the Victoria Embankment, close to Blackfriars Bridge. It wasn't particularly special, architecturally speaking, more a double-decker box on a wooden platform, plus a short ramp down to a landing stage. Now its minimal footprint is sealed off behind a short blue hoarding, and a thin blue river bus flag flutters forlornly until somebody remembers to take it down.

You probably haven't used Blackfriars Pier. It's a rush hour only facility aimed at commuters, closed between 10.30am and 4pm, and all day at weekends. Boats head in from Woolwich and Greenwich, and also from Putney and Chelsea, allowing City employees to skim to work via a jam-free river route. But with journeys charged at eight quid a shot, which is the going rate these days for Thames travel, the closure of Blackfriars Pier has probably passed you by.

It's OK, a new Blackfriars Pier has been provided, now with the word Millennium dropped because that would be anachronistic. It's on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge - that's both the road bridge and the railway - about 250 metres east of the original. I'd say it's harder to get to, on Paul's Walk off the concrete flank of White Lion Hill, but it might be more convenient for some depending on where their office is located.



The new Blackfriars Pier is extensive, at least in comparison to what came before. A short ramp leads out above the river to a small fixed platform, where a timetable and electronic display board have been provided. If boats are running the onward gate is then unlocked, leading to a long latticed walkway which rises and falls with the tide, leading to a substantial permanent pierhead. Out here are a ticket machine, some seats and three boarding points, two of which are currently operational. I'd say it's possibly a two minute walk from the tip of the pier to the embankment, above the sloshing waves, and maybe five minutes to the station.

But why go to enormous expense to shift an under-used pier to a less accessible location? The answer is the Tideway Tunnel, Thames Water's controversial solution to excessive sewage outflow, a 21st century update to the comprehensive Victorian network of outfall pipes bequeathed by Bazalgette. These generally still function well, but are overwhelmed several times a year and end up discharging their excess into the Thames rather than funnelling it all down to Beckton and Crossness.

By 2023 the Tideway Tunnel will zigzag down the Thames from Hammersmith to Rotherhithe, before following the Limehouse Cut to Abbey Mills where it'll feed into the already-finished Lee Tunnel. Along the way it'll join up the outflows of several long culverted rivers, including the Westbourne and the Effra, acting as a safety valve at times of storm flow. And London's most famous lost river is of course the Fleet, which historically disgorges from an outlet underneath Blackfriars Bridge. This needs diverting, as does the Northern Low Level Sewer which runs beneath the Victoria Embankment, and this is why the old Blackfriars Pier had to go.



Once it's gone, 200m of riverside will be transformed - that's from HMS President, which has been temporarily shifted, to the opposite side of Blackfriars Bridge. Thames Water's contractors need to dig a deep shaft down to tunnel level, connecting two key sewers to the new overflow, and that shaft is planned to be an impressive 24m in diameter. When it's built it'll be in the river, but will then be covered over to create a new wedge of foreshore so that future tourists need never guess it was there. You'll notice. You'll think blimey, where did that new sticky-out promenade come from, but not until 2022 which is how long all this work is scheduled to take.

The end result will be "a new area of public space", basically a paved triangle with landscaping offering realigned riverside access. A freestanding kiosk and "info point" will be provided, as well as a stepped planted terrace at the eastern end with plane trees, a reflective pool and rainwater cascades. What perhaps won't surprise you are the plans for the undercroft beneath the end terrace, which is for a run of shops and a café, because no new development these days is complete without a commercial opportunity. The City of London is getting fractionally bigger, and part of the extension will be somewhere new to buy a coffee.

All of this is five years work, kicking off over the next couple of months with the installation of a new set of stairs and a lift to link Blackfriars Bridge to the new pier. Once they're in place "the pedestrian Thames path along Bazalgette Walk will be diverted to the northern ramp footway outside Unilever House." Also in January "the existing east-west Cycle Superhighway along Bazalgette Walk" will be closed, and cyclists redirected "to the new diverted route along Victoria Embankment". All of this was known when the Cycle Superhighway was in its planning stages, so TfL should have everything worked out. But "this diversion will be in place for approximately 4 years", which is a heck of a long time for a diversion, and all to make the Thames less brown.



I blogged back in 2005 how if you want to see the outfall of the River Fleet you should wait for low tide then stand at the bottom of the staircase down from Blackfriars Bridge and hang out over the edge, or stand on Blackfriars Pier and peer into the gloom beneath the first arch. If you've ever wanted to do that, get here soon. The staircase is being removed, the waterside walkway is being closed, the old pier is being demolished, and the Fleet sewer outlet is being realigned along the new foreshore wedge.

Blackfriars Pier has moved. It's a sign of major Thameside change. Further details here.

 Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dull London: The Oak Compass
Sutcliffe Park, Kidbrooke, SE3


Kidbrooke's changed. Its concrete heart is now a pert landscaped 'village', with thousands of former residents decanted to make way. But the dull landscape feature I'll describe below dates back to just before the Ferrier Estate was knocked down, specifically 2004, specifically June.



The Oak Compass can be found on a small mound at the southern end of Sutcliffe Park, close to Eltham Road. The park started out as a water meadow on the banks of the Quaggy, before being transformed into municipal playing fields in 1937. At the same time the river was diverted underground, but this proved problematic in terms of large-scale flooding, so plans were drawn up at the turn of the century to exhume the flow. Soil equivalent to the volume of 35 Olympic swimming pools was excavated, giving potential floodwaters somewhere to overspill, and the park was comprehensively relandscaped at the same time.

The Oak Compass is the least exciting of the features that were added, which you can tell because it's number 6 on a list of six on the map on the information boards. Rather higher on the list are the Lake and Wetlands, with their zigzag wooden boardwalk, from which I watched a heron-like bird I think was a little egret take off. Just above it at number five is the Viewing Platform, which is a raised area off Tudway Road with panoramic possibilities. The Oak Compass is none of these things, but instead a kind of compass, made of oak.

The Oak Compass consists of four oak trees, one planted at each compass point, atop a low artificial mound. The mound was designed as a communal focus, with a circular seating area around the edge created using reclaimed oak timbers from the River Thames. A few of these remain, no longer appropriately aligned, and some clearly pushed or shoved over the rim making them impractical for group conversation in the round.



At the centre of the former ring is a small plaque, its lettering now partially eroded, confirming that Sutcliffe Park and the Quaggy River Flood Alleviation Scheme were opened by Baroness Young on 12th June 2004. But the Oak Compass fails to get a mention, the sole reference to its existence being on the information board as "a space for orientation." Well, good luck with that, because not only is this a pretty vacuous description but no attempt has been made to label which tree marks which compass point. Perhaps there never was anything, or perhaps it's been lost or moved or shifted like the surrounding ring of trunks, but a compass without an obvious north is more than a trifle ineffective.

The oak tree marking east looks to be in the best shape. It's now around twelve feet tall, and dense with leaves, most of which are still in place (or were before Storm Angus blew through). The tree marking west is doing almost as well - of a similar height and form but mostly denuded of leaves. However the tree marking north looks rather less mature - around half the height and with only a handful of stumpy branches and crisp yellowing leaves - suggesting that the original must have suffered somehow and been replaced.

But it's the tree marking south which is in a particularly forlorn state. Of the original tree only a couple of feet of stump remain, thin enough to suggest it didn't grow far, and abruptly sawn. There is a replacement oak alongside, a spindly specimen of a similar height, bedecked with a few dozen brown leaves, but I don't rate its chances. The other three trees are protected by wire netting at ground level, but south has none, almost as if someone planted an acorn as an afterthought and walked away, hoping for the best. One angry vandal could remove the new south tree with ease, leaving just that stump, and an even more incomplete lopsided compass.



All the love in SE3 at the moment is being showered on the Kidbrooke Village development, a massive long-term regeneration project delivering four thousand stacked flats. At its heart is a landscaped central park meandering down the spine, and this green thread has all the architectural and horticultural attention, with pristine lawns, shrubberies and water features. Sutcliffe Park has somehow become an afterthought, still ruggedly pleasant and with workmen aplenty all over its athletics stadium, but with wear and tear generally unaddressed. The Oak Compass is merely a symptom of civic underinvestment, barely twelve years old, but already overlooked, forgotten, and yes, dull.


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the diamond geezer index
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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
unlost rivers
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

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
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
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
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