diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 28, 2017

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Fourteen years later, I can confirm it's changed quite a lot, yet not changed too. Below are my counts for February 2017 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
Yes, I know February's not over yet, so all the figures below are based on best estimates for the final 24 hours. But don't worry, I'll come back and update the 2017 data as today plays out, before settling on the finalised figures at the end of the day.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been another good month for people turning up to read what I've written, indeed it's been the busiest February ever, having passed 2016's total yesterday afternoon. I'm averaging comfortably over two thousand visitors a day, which is as good as it's ever got, so I can't complain. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about sightseeing in Devon, footpaths in Thamesmead or another essay on my local bus stop, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average person in the street. But I try to provide you with a varied diet where possible, rather than endless recycled press releases, because I believe there's still demand out there for original subject matter. It's not all high octane stuff here, not by a long chalk, as a whip round Bromley Library and two bus rides to Barking will have confirmed. But as one of my regular two thousand, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety, or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2017: 63770
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012:40018) (2013: 55369) (2014: 51727) (2015: 58380) (2016: 60609)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. I'm pleased to report that this has been an extra-chatty month, with comment numbers into double figures every day, which has never happened in a February before. Altogether this month you've fired over 750 comments my way, which represents an average of 26 comments per day, which is a fantastic level of engagement. Most blogs have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking, nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic query, a nostalgic nod, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, and a couple of my more obsessive followers average more than one comment a day. But one amazing statistic is that more than 250 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. Somehow a community has evolved here, where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2017: 752
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440) (2013: 546) (2014: 477) (2015: 625) (2016: 687)

Count 3 (Blog content): I continue to write too much. 2017 is my most prolific February yet, with my blog output averaging almost 1200 words a day. I always mean to keep things more succinct, but rarely manage. There's usually something extra I want to add, another fact to flesh out, another sentence to squeeze in, and before I know where I am I've written another essay. Twelve hundred words a day is not to be sniffed at - it's the equivalent of writing six novels a year, except I never end up with a book to show for it. And I write relatively slowly too, the words don't usually pour freely, not least because there are facts to check and links to add even after I'm done. I know you'd still read this blog if I wrote less, but something keeps driving me to write a bit more, and then a bit more again, and I haven't learnt my lesson yet. Tl;dr.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2017: 33094
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698) (2013: 29410) (2014: 32283) (2015: 30362) (2016: 31192)

Count 4 (Sleep): My bedtime is directly related to how late I stay up writing you stuff, and often this creeps past midnight, I won't say specifically how far, but if I'm going to be publishing something at 7am sharp it is of course crucial that I get to the end of my final paragraph before turning in for the night. So I get by on just over six hours a day, on average, which I suspect may be less than most. And yet I can still bounce through my day sufficiently refreshed without needing buckets of coffee or having to gulp down a Red Bull to kickstart my morning, which is brilliant because less sleep leaves me more time to do everything else in my life. I have managed on average half an hour more in bed each morning than last year, which is undoubtedly a good thing. But if I needed to sleep more, you wouldn't get fresh bloggage in the morning on a regular basis, I can assure you of that.
Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2017: 188 (28%)
(2011: 172) (2012: 167) (2013: 163) (2014: 165) (2015: 169) (2016:174)

Count 5 (Nights out): After a couple of years with eight February nights out, this year I've slipped back to six, although that's still very much within my typical envelope of social inactivity. The month started really promisingly with two consecutive pub nights, with multiple real people and beer, but that flurry didn't last. The remainder of my tally were all trips to BestMate's sofa, where we watched old episodes of Blake's 7 and put the world to rights, which is rather more par for the course.
The number of nights in February 2017 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 6
(2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9) (2012: 6) (2013: 4) (2014: 6) (2015: 8) (2016: 8)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count, my definition of alcohol is a specific gassy bottle of German lager. I cling to Becks for familiarity and ease of ordering, plus it doesn't give me hiccups, but it's become increasingly hard to source on a night out. So you can imagine my delight when the first pub I went to in February actually stocked the stuff, and my amazement when the second did too. It means my Becks count is a precise reflection of my public alcohol consumption this month, which may never happen again... and no, is nothing to be over-excited about.
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2017: 10
(2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20) (2012: 14) (2013: 2) (2014:4) (2015:0) (2016:1)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains impressively consistent. Every February other than 2005 has fallen within a narrow range of 120-140 teas, despite very different behaviour on weekdays and at weekends. My deskbound days are always brimming, brown-liquid-wise, whereas days out invariably find me rushing around without pausing for refreshment. I am on average, it seems, a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2017: 122
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008:134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135) (2012: 133) (2013: 127) (2014: 129) (2015: 128) (2016: 133)


Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally remarkably consistent too... always just over a hundred a month. That's apart from the year when I had a "one train" commute rather than two, when the total dipped a bit, and apart from the year when I upped the total by blogging relentlessly about the Bakerloo line. I'm back in the zone again this year, averaging about four train journeys a day, because we Londoners do swan around in carriages a lot.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2017: 108
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007:100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109) (2012: 118) (2013: 139) (2014: 101) (2015: 124) (2016: 132)


Count 9 (Steps walked): Here's a relatively recent innovation to The Count, introduced four years ago when I got myself a smartphone and uploaded the Moves app to keep track of my daily step count. It's a brilliant app, if no longer free to new users, and a bit of a battery hog. It's also potentially stalky because it records everywhere I go (both when and where), plus how I travelled inbetween. And this has been my fittest February yet, thanks mostly to daytrips to Yorkshire and Devon where I walked over thirty thousand steps each time. My other daily totals may have been somewhat variable, but I'm proud to have walked over 100 miles this month, a total that'll only increase as spring approaches.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2017: 328100
(2013: 273300) (2014: 254600) (2015: 282300) (2016: 238200)

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I know, I'm as unimpressed about the outcome as you are. But even if 2017 has thrown up yet another big fat mystery zero, there's always a chance next year, surely?
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2017: 0
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0) (2012: 0) (2013: 0) (2014: 0) (2015: 0) (2016: 0)


» The Count 2017

 Monday, February 27, 2017

Seaside postcard: Dawlish
A trip to the South Devon coast brightens the soul, especially when the sun's out, it's not too cold and an ice cream shop is open. Which is why I hopped on a train from Exeter down to Dawlish - it's only ten minutes if you get the right one - and enjoyed the panoramic views across the Exe estuary. At Dawlish Warren a sand spit stretches out across the mouth of the river, home to a nature reserve, a popular beach and a golf course, plus somewhere to buy chips and beer. It's here that the railway breaks through a gap in the sandstone bluff and curves right, running along the sea wall at the foot of the cliffs and exposing itself to the vagaries of the English Channel. This wave-hugging track continues for the next mile to Dawlish, where there's a seafront station, before plunging onwards in similar style (and through a succession of tunnels) to Teignmouth. I fail to understand why anyone would choose to sit on the right hand side of the train.



Dawlish had already risen from fishing village to minor seaside resort before the railway came, with Jane Austen the most well-known early holidaymaker. But it was Isambard Kingdom Brunel's decision to route the Exeter to Plymouth line around the coast, rather than across more challenging moorland terrain inland, which brought the town to prominence. Initially the line was run as an 'atmospheric railway', powered by air pressure, but this proved susceptible to all sorts of mechanical failure and lasted barely a year before steam took over instead. But stormy seas were always the main hazard hereabouts, sometimes splashing the trains as they sped by, and in 2014 wiping out 40 metres of wall and ballast, disrupting travel to the southwest for two whole months.

The station's westbound platform is the most interesting, maritime-wise, with planks protruding out above the sea wall, and seagulls perching in the timber supports beneath. There's even a short section adjacent to the canopy where the boards stretch further back, allowing a longitudinal view of what you've just been standing on. A footbridge crosses to the station entrance on the eastbound, but if you have heavy luggage (and are accompanied by the stationmaster) you can cross the tracks rather than haul everything over the top. Immediately adjacent to the station exit is a diner called Geronimos, which is as quaintly Native American retro as you'd hope, and then you're straight out into Dawlish proper.



The resort is unusual in that you can't reach the beach without crossing the railway, either by footbridge (of which there are three) or by ducking under a very short viaduct where the Dawlish Water enters the sea. I didn't see much of a beach when I visited, but there is allegedly a lengthy strip of sand at low tide rather than simply waves lapping at a wall. Never mind, the walk along the wall is plenty interesting enough as it is.

Head east and before long you reach the section that tumbled into the sea, the dividing line between old and new wall clearly visible, immediately adjacent to a single row of houses risking it all at the foot of the cliff. Every several minutes a train rushes by, more usually passing through Dawlish station than stopping, so you're likely to come right up close to an Inter City 125 or some lesser loco as you proceed. Indeed the stone wall between path and railway is unusually low, and would be no problem whatsoever to scramble over, hence a red sign warns of the £1000 fine which awaits those who trespass against it. A popular constitutional is to continue all the way to Dawlish Warren, but I didn't have the time.



I did, however, walk west along the wall, which was noticeably wavier than the east. This runs for a few hundred metres from the station before meeting the foot of a lofty headland, as does the railway, except this promptly burrows inside. On foot it's possible to walk round the foot of the red sandstone cliffs, past beach huts and a burnt-out ice cream kiosk, to Coryton's Cove on the far side. Here you can watch trains plunge into their next tunnel, but not the next three immediately beyond, each named after local landowners when the railway was built. But better to climb the zigzag path to the top of the outcrop, named Lea Mount where a sloping public garden offers panoramic views of the coast. There's Dawlish spread out below, and the railway snaking along the coast, maybe even a tiny train... and best get here before the leaves come out, I reckon.

And what of Dawlish itself? It's charming, I'm pleased to report, especially the central landscaped strip. The local river was ornamentalised in early 19th century, sandwiched by greenspace called The Lawn, and overlooked by a Regency street called The Strand. This, rather than the High Street, has the best of the shops, while the river is draped with fairy lights for enchanting after-dark illumination. Watch out for the famous black swans, originally introduced from Western Australia and now the town's proud emblem. There are currently eleven a-swimming somewhere, and according to the latest egg count three chicks on the way.



Which just left me the ice cream to source. I was tempted into Gay's Creamery on the western bank by a windowful of goodies and its promise of 'old fashioned Devonshire ice cream", not to mention Scrumpy, Gifts, Pasties and Cakes. I was so very not disappointed. Not only was the ice cream thick, vanilla-y and lush, in portions verging on the over-generous, but for an extra 20p I got a thick layer of gloopy Devon cream spooned over the top. My arteries will no doubt complain at some point, but blimey, that put scuzzy London ice cream vans in the shade. I confess I'm not sure how holidaymakers ever spent a week in Dawlish, even cream-loving train aficionados, but I'm chuffed I decided to drop by.

My Dawlish/Exeter gallery
There are 30 photos (15 of Dawlish, then 15 of Exeter) [slideshow]

 Sunday, February 26, 2017

A dozen things to do in Exeter

Although half the size of Plymouth, Exeter is the county town of Devon, and was founded at the lowest bridging point on the River Exe. The Romans called it Isca, the wool trade made it rich, and the Germans destroyed much of the city centre on a single night in 1942. Exeter's therefore a mix of old and new, with charm, and a fair amount to see should you ever be in town. [Visit Exeter]

1) See what's left of Britain's earliest hotel
The Assembly Rooms opened on Cathedral Green in 1769, advertising itself the following year as an "hôtel", most probably the first in England. It was renamed the Royal Clarence Hotel after William IV's consort dropped in, hosted concerts by Franz Liszt in 1840, and was taken over by a celebrity chef in 2000. But last October all its history burned away, after a fire in a neighbouring building spread through its timbers and firefighters were unable to douse the flames. When the facade had to be knocked down this proved a complete heritage disaster, although the entrance and porch survive, and the owner has plans to rebuild in identical style. A crane, a demolition team and stacks of scaffolding now despoil this formerly picturesque corner of the Green, although the adjacent tearooms still trade, and the row of medieval buildings alongside look delightfully untouched.



2) Look inside the Cathedral
An Exeter postcode, a date with Evensong or seven pounds fifty gets you inside this unusual Norman building. Because its tower is off-centre the cathedral boasts the longest uninterrupted medieval vaulted ceiling in the world, complete with ribs and compound piers, creating a particularly striking prospect. Also on the list of "stuff to see" is the the astronomical clock, one of not very many in Britain, and the unique minstrels' gallery fronted by twelve instrument-playing angels.

3) Take a free tour with a Red Coat
This is a nice tourist touch which other historic cities might emulate. Twice a day, bar Christmas, red-jacketed tour guides wait outside the west front of the cathedral primed to offer 90 minute walking tours of Exeter. A different pair of tours runs each day of the week, and each is completely free of charge. I didn't join one because I was dashing around elsewhere, but I suspect they're a lot busier in August than in February.

4) Follow one of three self-guided heritage trails
If you don't fancy listening to an expert you can walk round the city centre by yourself following one of a trio of trails (download here, or pick up a leaflet from the Tourist Information Office). One tracks the city walls, still 70% intact, and based on foundations laid by the Romans. Another hunts down numerous medieval buildings, while the third follows the woollen trade, which isn't as tedious as it sounds. You'll know you've stopped in the right place because an information board is provided, and these are rather good in themselves.



5) Go shopping
Exeter has a lot of shops, as befits the largest place for miles. Many of these are in the High Street - a particularly post-war affair dotted with the occasional timber-fronted survivor. But the city's modern pride and joy is Princesshay, a revamped retail quarter completed about 10 years ago, and full of all the favourite brands that Visitors Who Spend Money enjoy. It covers the most heavily firebombed part of town, but a few heritage features have been incorporated, including a chunk of city wall, some almshouse footprints and the statue of a Blue Boy. A second more typical mall off Market Square is unusual for curling round a 13th century sandstone chapel, while all the more interesting independent shops are located on a steep descent down Fore Street.

6) Explore Exeter's Underground Passages
This is the best six quid spend in town. When cathedral clergy needed a fresh supply of drinking water in the 14th century they dug a cut and cover tunnel from a well outside the city walls and laid a lead pipe within. Exeter's townsfolk followed suit 150 years later, digging a second tunnel for civic use, and around 80% of the original network survives. Guided tours have been offered since 1933, but the redevelopment of Princesshay allowed for a much-improved visitor experience, and flashlights are no longer required. From the new interpretation centre under the shops (which reveals more about medieval water supply than anyone would generally need to know), groups of up to 15 are led through to watch a video and then kitted out with safety helmets. The helmets are genuinely necessary, because what follows is a guided crocodile through quarter of a mile of very narrow brick-lined tunnels, including a fair bit of crouching and with some definite 'duck' moments. Our jovial guide pointed out pipe supports and sentry positions and former floor levels on the way through, and we wondered how on earth so cramped a facility was ever used as an air raid shelter. On our return (from a point six metres below the King Billy pub) we were offered a choice of routes, the passageway with less than a metre's headroom being taken up only by the most agile in the party. An utterly unique experience, either way.

7) Explore the Guildhall
Exeter's Guildhall juts out into the High Street on four granite pillars, and claims to be the oldest municipal building in England still in regular use, although the existing structure 'only' dates back to 15th century. No longer the centre of city government, receptions and the occasional council meeting are still held here, and the public are welcome to pop in and gawp... so long as the building isn't closed all afternoon for a private tour, meh.



8) Stroll round England's oldest public park
Rougemont Castle once perched at the highest point in town, but was replaced by a courthouse in the 1770s so now only the walls and a Norman gatehouse remain. Don't come for that, come for a stroll in Northernhay Gardens which run in a crescent-shaped sweep around the northern slopes. First opened up to local residents in 1612 this curving park is apparently the oldest public space in England, though now laid out in a more Victorian style with statues, lawns, flowerbeds and a bandstand, plus fine views across the northern suburbs.

9) Take a look round the RAMM
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, as it much prefers not to be called, is Exeter's cultural repository, and very much not your typical local museum. All the Devon history stuff is downstairs, in galleries that perhaps focus more on craftspersonship than telling a story, plus another that's heavily geological, plus the obligatory cafe. Upstairs features stuffed Natural History, a series of artefacts from classical cultures and a parade of dusty ethnographic displays from all round the world, like walking through the old Commonwealth Institute or perhaps the Pitt Rivers. Throw in three art galleries, tucked where you least expect, and the RAMM is one meaty portmanteau treasurebox.

10) Head down to the Quay
Exeter used to be an thriving port, linked to the Channel via ship canal, but now very much no longer is. Instead the Quayside has been done up as a heritage quarter, probably more successfully so in the summer months, with pubs and restaurants, watersports and climbing wall, visitor centre and craft market, though it left me somewhat cold.



11) Walk a bridge across the Exe
Only a handful of bridges span the Exe in Exeter, the most recent of which is Millers Crossing, a millennial cable-stay footbridge leading to some playing fields. But the oldest is quite something else, an 800 year-old stone structure that crossed the medieval river, and now lies landlocked amid the ring road, just off the modern realigned channel. Not only can you trot down the grassy banks to walk beneath the arches, but you can also walk across the top (at your own risk, according to a spoilsport council notice), perhaps imagining you're entering the old city with a straggle of livestock following behind. Quite fantastically out of place.

12) Hike up to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum
To find the main campus of the University of Exeter and its fascinatingly unusual museum, follow the streams of students north out of town, or up the hill from the station. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum houses tens of thousands items of moving image ephemera, bequeathed eponymously, and displays a crowded selection of these over two floors in The Old Library. Upstairs it's cinema-going and Hollywood stars, from James Bond jigsaws to James Dean ashtrays, while a much larger space downstairs focuses on how cinema came to be. Magic lanterns, panoramas and zoetropes each get their own case, along with early works from Friese-Greene, Lumière and other moving image pioneers. The curator works in an adjacent office, approachably if you want to learn more, as dozens of students on the university's Film Studies course evidently do. And because the museum is embedded in a university library, free public access is available daily, and highly recommended.

» sixteen photos of Exeter

 Saturday, February 25, 2017

This blog abhors an inept Next Train Indicator, and Bow Road station has a particularly hopeless pair. In the past I've focused on the westbound display, which currently works, if belatedly and part-obscured through condensation. Today I'm going to focus on the eastbound display, which totally fails to perform its core task thanks to inappropriate legacy systems. For a start it doesn't show when the next train is due, only where it's going, but that's common to most of the District line east of Tower Hill. More importantly "where it's going" is generally either incorrect or unhelpful, which means you can't trust what flashes up on the display.



I've long thought there was something wildly wrong with the eastbound screen at Bow Road, because Check destination on front of train appears much too often, and particularly because Plaistow keeps flashing up even though trains no longer terminate there. But only when I stood watching for a while on the platform did it finally click how badly wrong things were, and did I manage to unravel the underlying pattern...

LineWhere the
train's going
What the display says 
 Hammersmith & City BarkingBarking
DistrictBarkingPlaistow
District Dagenham East  Check destination on front of train 
DistrictUpminster Check destination on front of train 

If a Hammersmith & City line train is next, then Barking shows up, and that's correct. But if a District line train is next, bad information is given. If the train's going to Barking then Plaistow (Plaistow!) is displayed, but if the train's going further then the display gives up and offers a default message. In fact if Check destination on front of train pops up then it means the train must be going at least as far as Dagenham, and probably to the end of the line at Upminster, not that you'd know. It's madness, but at least it's consistent madness.

It's well known that the signalling system on the District line is archaic, indeed that's why TfL are spending millions to upgrade it. The current automatic train description system dates back to a solution conceived in 1905, and is based on a set of four-digit binary codes. Even though the electrics have been upgraded since, there's nothing modern about the underlying technology, and I'm told the current signalling system around Bow Road is hanging onto life as if held together by string. But the Next Train Indicator used to work until a few years ago, and no longer does, so what might be going on?

There are only a set number of reversing points on the District line, which to the east of Bow Road have long been Plaistow, Barking, Dagenham East and Upminster. Each of these is allocated one of those four-digit binary codes, and perhaps these have somehow got muddled up. A new reversing point was added at West Ham in 2011, which might be around the same time this problem first arose, so I wonder if that's at fault. Also my table is missing data regarding what's displayed for trains terminating at Plaistow, but there's now only one of these a day, at ten to midnight, and I can't be bothered to check.

It's not the end of the world, because with eastbound trains it's not a matter of which way they go, more how far. Indeed one stop up the line at Bromley-by-Bow the display merely says Eastbound trains: District & H&C lines all the time, which at least is true, if not especially helpful. But for whatever reason, the eastbound Next Train Indicator at Bow Road displays incomplete information, lies repeatedly to passengers, and is not fit for purpose. The long-delayed signalling upgrade can't come soon enough - we live in hope.

Poor old Bus Stop M isn't all there. It should have three boards to display timetables, but since the start of the year it's only had two. Initially the front of one of the panels was ripped off in some random act of angry vandalism, revealing a default background sheet urging the public to ring 0845 300 7000 during office hours if any timetables are missing. Then a couple of weeks ago that was wrenched off the pole too, and was duly kicked around the adjacent alleyways for a few days before disappearing. Now all that's left is a gaping grey metal groove where a timetable board normally slots in, and two proper boards on the other sides.



Seven different bus routes stop at Bus Stop M, but timetables remain for only five - those for the 276 and N205 have disappeared. Essentially all the buses that go no further than Stratford remain, but bad luck if you want to go beyond. What's more one of the spaces on the current boards is being wasted to advertise a bus consultation that closed four weeks ago, which confirms my suspicion that nobody from The People Who Update Stuff On Bus Stops has been here for a while. Still, what's new?



Meanwhile, a special shout-out to TfL's Digital Bus Stop team, whose online map continues to misrepresent the changes which have taken place at Bow Church in the last eighteen months. Bus Stop M, amazingly, is the only one of the six stops they've got right. In reality Bus Stop G disappeared in October 2015, and the empty blob to the left of it is Bus Stop E, killed off and removed at the same time. Should you click on the 'G' or the blank circle on the map you get the message This stop does not serve any TfL routes, whereas in reality This stop no longer exists. Meanwhile on the opposite side of the road Bus Stop K was removed in August 2016, but still appears on the map, while Bus Stop L no longer has any scheduled services, except the map insists nightbus N205 stops here. Continued congratulations, Digital Bus Stop team.

 Friday, February 24, 2017

Every several months we collectively giggle at the desperate folk who send me PR emails and marketing invites. Let's do that again.
Hi there,
As I'm sure you're busy, I'll try to be as brief as possible; my name is Jason and I'm a young writer looking to make a name for myself. I recently started a sports blog called <American sports blog> with a group of like-minded (young aspiring writer) friends from college and am actively looking to grow my audience. I think I can provide you with some great work and hope there is an opportunity for me to create some original work for you in a non-paid role.
Jason certainly knows how to write, because he goes on for another four paragraphs, so wasn't as brief as possible. Unfortunately his proposed subject matter failed to intersect with any of our collective interests.
Release
The <New Restaurant> in <east London location> has opened its doors following a transformational refurbishment. Managed by <unknown chef>, the <New Restaurant>, formally known as <Better Name>, brings sophisticated al fresco dining to <east London location>, from brunch through to evening. Celebrating the area’s rich history, the <New Restaurant> offers an eclectic destination to enjoy meals throughout the day,
You can probably write this sort of rubbish in your sleep, can't you Joanne?
Hi There,
Just to let you know that I’ve created a piece entitled “<Well Known Football Team> In Numbers” which could be of interest to your readers? <Well known football team> is one of the world’s largest and greatest football teams of all time, so we thought we would delve into the achieves and check out some of the <club nickname>’s most impressive stats to date.
Oh Daisy, you know where you can stick your sponsored infographic.
Also, just because a word doesn't have a red squiggle underneath it doesn't meant it's correct.
Hi there,
I wanted to take the opportunity to get in touch with you again in case my last e-mail evaded you.
That's Jason again. Alas no, Jason, your last email didn't evade me, I simply chose to disregard it.
Hi DG,
I hope everything is well! I have been a fan of your recent blog posts. We read your blog and adore reading about your adventures in London. My name is Doug and I’m e-mailing from <Party Planners>. We work with all of the top nightclubs, bars and restaurants in London as well as providing guestlists and organising and hosting events.
If you want to talk to me about nightclub guestlists, Doug, I suspect you haven't been reading the blog at all.
Hey there,
Are you able to please update something on your website? I found a broken link on your post here - http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2007/04/sixlinks.html (I know it's a few years old)
It's ten years old, Jessica. Do you know how long it would take me to check and update everything I've ever linked to in the past? Also, I'm not replacing it with a link to your crappy gaming website.
Good afternoon
My name is Cliff and as I'm sure you're busy, I'll try to be brief. I'm a young writer looking to make a name for myself. Having recently started a sports blog called <American sports blog> with a group of like-minded friends from college, I personally aspire to write about more than just sports...
Hang on, weren't you Jason last time? Or is this almost-identical email a sign that you're one of his 'like-minded friends'? Rest assured I'm still very much not interested.
Hi there,
I hope this email finds you well. New research has found that...
No it hasn't, Dean. No research quoted in a marketing email is ever as accurate as subsequent claims suggest. Also, your survey says "conducted on behalf of <car sharing app> in December 2017", which is the sound of you shooting yourself in the foot.
Dear Diamond Geezer,
Hope all is well with you. I'm the Communications Manager for a new start up called <Quite Frankly Who Cares>. Would you be interested in writing a blog post about us or mind tweeting about us on Twitter?
I know you have to try, Josh, because you're the Communications Manager, but 100% no, absolutely not.
Hello,
I wanted to take a quick moment to get in touch with you again in case my last e-mail snuck past you.
Just go away, Cliff. Or maybe Jason. In fact both of you.

In fact all of you. Your repeated attempts at asking me to write about your chosen subject are never going to work. Perhaps instead you could focus your efforts on providing a service people actually want to write about?

 Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pioneering Scottish pop-artist Eduardo Paolozzi, who died 12 years ago, is having a bit of a renaissance in the capital at the moment. Not only has an exhibition of his works just opened at the Whitechapel Gallery, but Art on the Underground have just brought out a map showing where some of his finest London works can be seen. These two facts may be related.

Let's start on the tube. In line with other Art on the Underground projects, the Eduardo Paolozzi Map is a deftly-produced, full colour affair, packed with informative detail. More booklet than map, it has 24 pages (or some other another number between 25 and 28 if you're the more tedious kind of pedant), and can be picked up for free at Underground stations across the network. That's by no means all Underground stations, indeed you may have to undertake a lengthy hunt, but I found mine at Liverpool Street, and there were also copies (as will turn out to be relevant) at Pimlico.

As well as a decent biography, the booklet features a fold-out Art Map with stylised tube lines showing the whereabouts of several of Paolozzi's works. Pride of place, as far as the Underground is concerned, goes to the newly restored mosaics at Tottenham Court Road station. Eduardo was responsible for the colourful mosaics which decorate the passages and platforms, a considerable undertaking in its time, with the last tile stuck down in 1986. It's fair to say that TfL lost the media war during the recent station upgrade when it was revealed that the arches above the top of the escalators would have to be demolished, and bare concrete walls then greeted passengers elsewhere at the station for a number of years. But replacement and restoration is now complete, indeed sparklingly so, and the map delights in explaining how much effort was put into making everything just right. [22min video]

One other featured artwork is on station property, although National Rail this time, outdoors. This is 'Piscator', a chink of cast iron on the forecourt of Euston station, which you'll have had to negotiate round if you've ever walked from there to Euston Square. A bit further down the road, this time on the forecourt of the British Library, is Paolozzi's bronze of 'Newton After Blake', a pensive twiddling form seen bending over through the entrance gate. As for the work supposedly at Kew Gardens station, that's actually inside the Gardens and will cost you £16 for a peek (plus the opportunity to enjoy innumerable pretty plants).

If you've been down to the new Design Museum you'll have seen 'Head of Invention', a half-cocked face cut with grooves and slices, peering uncomfortably as you cross the external piazza. You're less likely to have spotted 'Vulcan', because that's outside a restaurant on the dockside at the northern end of the cablecar at Royal Victoria. It's also part of the meridian-based artwalk project The Line, who must be chuffed at one of their curated sculptures getting a mention. But I've chosen to visit artwork number six on the map, because that's the one I hadn't been aware of before.



This is the Pimlico Cooling Tower, which is in Pimlico, and is indeed a cooling tower. Paolozzi was asked to make something interesting out of the ventilation shaft for a new underground car park, so he came up with this silvery robotic sheath perched on a bronze plinth. The structure uses pipes for arms, and the four panels on the lower block have been raised to create cogs, wheels, chains and even butterflies, in a characteristically futuristic mishmash. The tower lurks in a small piazza off Bessborough Street, at the top of the ramp up from the station, and very much the kind of location where employees from neighbouring buildings nip out for a fag. A couple of these buildings have more security cameras than seems truly necessary, which adds to the dystopian feel, but it turns out one of them is the HQ of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Service, which helps explain why.

As for the major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery, this opened last week, and covers the full range of the artist's work from collages to fractured heads, and from textiles to animated films. It's also £13.50 to get in (or proportionally less if you can screw up your face at the offer of Gift Aid). Cheapskate visitors to the gallery will find there are three doorways where they can squint in and see a little of what everyone else is looking at, although that's obviously not optimal and may earn you some disapproving looks. Paid-up or not, don't miss the corridor round the back of Gallery 2 where a selection of period magazine articles and exhibition guides are on display, and open for your scrutiny.

Or simply track down an Art On The Underground map and enjoy the great man's works for free (plus the cost of a tube journey to Tottenham Court Road).

 Wednesday, February 22, 2017

3 Holborn/Finsbury/Shoreditch
From a modern perspective, this is the weirdest Greater London borough proposed by the Herbert Commission in 1960. It would have combined three small existing boroughs to create a long thin inner city strip, a concentrated mix of commerce and deprivation running from Tottenham Court Road to almost Dalston. Heaven knows what they'd have called it, but proposals never got to that stage and it was merely Borough Number 3 on the commission's list.



Instead Holborn became part of Camden, Finsbury joined up with Islington, and Shoreditch ended up in Hackney, helping to create three larger boroughs with a much better residential balance. But for my post today I thought I'd try tracking down places where these three extinct boroughs linger on in the public realm, specifically on street signs. For sake of argument I followed the route of the number 243 bus, which runs for three miles between Kingsway and Haggerston without ever straying outside this peculiarly-shaped borough. And I kept my eyes peeled for every old street sign I could spot... that's on foot, rather than from the upper deck.


My walk started on Kingsway, at the borough boundary, which is roughly where the underpass ends. And, bingo!



The first sign's on the first street corner, at Sardinia Street, the middle two are from consecutive sideroads on the western side, and the third is alongside the exit from Holborn station. Aren't they beauties? In the first sign I love the big bold sweep of KINGSWAY, and the quirky raised bar on the H in Holborn. But I also love how there are already three subtly different styles of layout and of typeface, not to mention the way the postcodes are sometimes italicised and sometimes not. I'm trying to work out which is the oldest of the three formats, and failing, but I do know each of these survivors must be over 50 years old.



Head up to Theobald's Road and the Borough of Holborn signs come thick and fast. I really wasn't expecting there to be quite so many, but here they are, still pinned up at the ends of several sidestreets. On the northern side of Theobald's Road there are only a handful of places where the pre-1965 signs have been replaced, Lambs Conduit Street being a notable exception, but the other signs display the name of the long-lost borough as if it were still running the show. What's more the design has changed again, this being a more modern take than we saw along Kingsway, considerably more plain and with less of a flourish. Emerald Street is the exception here, possibly my favourite of all the signs I saw along my journey, with a compact elegance that truly appeals.

And then this happens.



I don't know what was going on the Works Department at Holborn Town Hall, but the cluster of signs to the east of Gray's Inn Road has yet another different design. These too are lovely, especially the text across the top in red, with a clarity and sharpness still evident even five decades later. My apologies that I had to photograph Hatton Garden from the side because there's a big tree in front. But these are the kinds of street sign people pay good money for on eBay, even if only reproductions, to make a feature of in their garden or to hang on a pub wall.

Once across Farringdon Road the borough changes from Camden to Islington, as it would have changed from Holborn to Finsbury. It doesn't take long to spot the first evidence for this.



The red's faded a bit, and the postcode isn't in the corner, but this Clerkenwell Road street sign has similarities to the second batch I saw back in Holborn.



For the next few hundred metres approximately half the possible sidestreets have a heritage sign, generally written on two lines, reducing the length of the sign and fattening it up a bit. Old Street's an exception, perhaps because it has a really short name, but there remains a consistency of layout not seen in the previous borough. It seems the Borough of Finsbury stuck very much to one particular house style, and the modern Borough of Islington hasn't diverted much from its inherited template. To show you what I mean, this link leads to a couple of post-1965 Islington street signs (and, for further comparison, this link does the same for Camden).

But suddenly the old signs along Old Street peter out, and all those on view refer only to the modern borough. This switches again at the Old Street roundabout, now from Islington to Hackney, but any evidence of early street signs remains very thin on the ground. I think this is because a lot of the buildings around Silicon Roundabout have been replaced, as you might expect in a more dynamic part of town, and a wall has to be at least 52 years old to retain evidence of a former borough.



It took until the top of Great Eastern Street for me to spot my first Shoreditch street sign, and then only just. The object of my search lay part-hidden behind scaffolding on the corner of Singer Street (with a bog standard Hackney sign on the adjacent wall). The artist Camille Walala left this small rectangle intact when she painted the rest of the building in bright colours back in 2015, so let's hope it survives whatever work is underway at present, because it turns out there's little other evidence of the former borough ahead.

I walked the next mile without seeing another mention of the Borough of Shoreditch. It seems that most of the street signs they erected never included the name of the borough, only the name of the street, so even if any had survived I wouldn't be able to tell. What's more the Borough of Hackney has been much more diligent in erasing mention of its former constituent part. A large proportion of Hackney street signs appear on posts at the end of the road, not on the walls of buildings, making them a heck of a lot easier to replace. Indeed by the time I'd walked up most of the Kingsland Road I feared I wouldn't see another.



But just before Shoreditch's northern border, on the approach to Haggerston station, I spotted a second. It was up a minor sideroad called Arbutus Street, on the wall above what looks like it was once a small shop, and looking considerably worse for wear. There's a proper modern Hackney sign on a lamppost at the end of the street, so the old sign is entirely obsolete, but presumably it never needed to be taken down. It lives on as a reminder of a long-gone borough, one of many such reminders across the capital left behind with incorrect information because they'd be too expensive to replace. They linger on, we make do, and London's a richer city as a result.

 Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Let's take a look at three exhibitions currently underway in London...

Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion

Two Temple Place (28th January – 23rd April) [free] [closed Tuesday]

This is the sixth year that the Bulldog Trust has opened up Two Temple Place for an exhibition assembled from local collections around the country. This time they've gone to Sussex and selected a hundred-or-so items which illustrate creativity in the county in the early 20th century. Maybe it was the Downs, or perhaps the coastal air, but something here attracted well- and less-well-known names from the world of art and inspired a characteristically modern slant on their work.

The Bloomsbury Group had roots here, their members writing and/or painting with a distinctively bohemian slant. The De La Warr Pavilion graced the seafront at Bexhill, a pre-construction scale model of which is one of the highlights upstairs. Surrealist Edward James was based at West Dean and sponsored Salvador Dali to create, amongst other things, a red sofa in the shape of lips - seen here at the foot of the stairs. And Eric Gill was one of those to be found at Ditchling, hence some of his erotic sculptures are on display in the Lower Gallery for your perusal, and to scare more prudish visitors.

I particularly enjoyed this year's exhibition and would put it on a par with 2015's Lancashire-themed showcase (perhaps I just love a good regional focus). But the building was also as busy as I've ever seen it, so I feel I ought to go round again when things are a bit quieter. Or, as the exhibition intends, I should be inspired to go and visit the nine contributory institutions in Sussex, from the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester to the Jerwood in Hastings. A special website sussexmodern.co.uk lists them all, with a more useful (less blocky) version here. Oh, and next year's theme at 2TP is jazz, so there's something else to look forward to.

Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line
British Library (4th November – 1st March) [£12]



Whilst some nipped out and reviewed this exhibition when it opened, it's my job to remind you it's almost at an end. The British Library has dug into its not inconsiderable archive and pulled out a fantastic variety of cartographic treasures, less for their beauty or value and more for the story they tell. The 20th century was a time of often turbulent change, and many of the maps chosen depict a world in transition, or at war, or rebuilding after conflict. Although the exhibition is themed room by room, what shines through is an inspired curatorial selection, with every map having some fresh perspective to offer rather than simply more of the same.

From the trenches at Ypres to Midwest women's suffrage, and from postwar Berlin demarcation to North Sea oilfield carve-ups, a full social and economic history is being told. Yes Harry Beck's initial sketch for the tube map is here, but the exhibition has a refreshingly national and global spread, so London gets no special treatment and you're just as likely to see representation of Sunderland town centre or the outskirts of Glasgow, even a forest on the Vietnam border. Look out too for three of Sir John Betjeman's Ordnance Survey maps, with his scribblings on the cover, and JRR Tolkien's graph paper sketchmap which ensured his tales of Mordor had an underlying spatial rationale.

A few electronic maps get the nod, plus the odd aerial tile, but the vast majority of those on show are painstakingly hand-compiled and works of art in themselves. I was struck going round by how much of my early understanding of the world was based on a few maps in school atlases, whereas today's children have digital maps zoom-in-able to coffee shop level. There's also so much more to be read from a detailed map on a large sheet of paper than a scrolling online summary, which helps to explain how I spent two hours walking round and poring over the most intricate details.

There's not much time left to see the exhibition for yourself, barely one week, and only one weekend... which is likely to be rather busy. That said, none of the half-hourly segments between now and next Wednesday are yet sold out, if you don't mind jostling for a look at these treasures with dozens of others. One good thing about the last week is that the book of the exhibition is going cheap - at least 20% off the paperback - should you be tempted to take away a permanent illustrated reminder. If you can't get here in time, the new Maps section on the British Library's website may act as a welcome taster. But ideally you'll want to have enjoyed this inspiringly geography-tastic exposition in person, sheet by sheet, symbol by symbol, line by line.

Tunnel
Museum of London Docklands (10th February – 3rd September) [free]



Meanwhile, trains meet history. Crossrail isn't just a transport link, it's a pair of 13 mile holes cut through the soil under central London, plus a number of stations acting as sampling points along the way. Archaeologists were on hand at sensitive sites to make sense of what came out of the substrata, and made some eclectic and astonishing discoveries. A representative selection of what they found is now on display at the Museum of London Docklands, in their downstairs exhibition gallery (behind the main desk, turn left at the counter dispensing cakes and coffee).

It's not a huge space, but big enough, and I spent over half an hour zigzagging around the screens and labelled cases. All of the finds are laid out by station, kicking off with the tunnel portals and shafts on the eastern forks of the new railway. At Plumstead a Bronze Age axe was unearthed, at Canary Wharf one of the largest chunks of amber ever found in the UK, and at Pudding Mill the remains of medieval fish weirs on the River Lea. The worksite at Stepney Green proved an almost direct hit on a moated Tudor manor house, and four tonnes of resurrected bricks have been gifted to English Heritage to assist with period restoration elsewhere.

Liverpool Street proved the richest site, not unexpectedly given its City location, with the deepest finds a pair of 2nd century Roman wooden gates laid flat as a platform over the River Walbrook. On top of this layer came rubbish dumped in medieval Moorfields Marsh, and above that the burial ground of Bedlam Hospital, which archaeologists had been expecting to find on site. In total over 3000 skeletons were respectfully exhumed, including those from a plague pit which should finally provide epidemiologists with an sample of 1665's deadly virus. Meanwhile a grout shaft at Farringdon unearthed two dozen victims of the Black Death... which is something to try not to think about as you speed through on a train next year.

Not all the discoveries were so old, or as gruesome. The demolition of the Astoria at Tottenham Court Road revealed a vault full of discarded pottery from the Crosse and Blackwell pickle factory previously on the site, and at Bond Street they found one of the channels from the lost river Tyburn. Step up to Royal Oak, however, and the bones of bison and a reindeer were uncovered, preserved by the permafrost of a previous Ice Age. You can uncover more about each station's treasures in the index here.

The whole series of excavations reads like a timeline of London, linear but jumbled into unchronological order, and would merit an exhibition several times the size. Throw in some videos showing how certain bits of the new railway were built and there is a sense of Crossrail patting themselves on the back for how well they've done. Nevertheless this is a fascinating display, already justifiably popular, and demonstrates how much can be learned when archaeology and engineering go hand in hand. If the subject interests you, a £10 heavily-illustrated book is available, and several more scholarly tomes have been published looking into the individual discoveries. Ian can tell you more.

 Monday, February 20, 2017

The Every Day NewsThe nation has spoken, claims defiant minister Brexit outcome is obvious, says politicianBrexit proposal infuriates half the population
President wakes and tweets garbled furyPresident suggests insane clampdownPresident contradicts himself, and realityWhite House in disarray, claims media
Opposition hints that things are imperfectNo easy solution to please everyone, says PMScotland says it thinks differently to EnglandPoll definitely predicts result of next election
Another part of the NHS isn't workingScientific discovery expected to change livesNew figures suggest lifestyle changeCriminal sentenced for doing bad thing
Migration issues seemingly unsolvableEU leader's comment proves controversialForeign election may swing unexpectedlyIncident confirms Middle East no closer to peace
Social care funding crisis set to continueRail strike misery enters another weekDeeper cuts in local services inevitableLong-term outlook for millennials is bleak
Stock market heads in opposite direction Falling pound is excellent for someFalling pound is ghastly for othersFinancial situation less clear than it seemed
Small child almost dies in UK cityBriton dies in country you might holiday inSix die in nearby developed countryHundreds die in country nobody’s interested in
Unseasonable weather is on the wayUK to be warmer than another part of the worldBad weather may be sign of global warmingNatural catastrophe looks great on camera
Top player may or may not play in next gameSports team beats opponents as expectedSports team loses unexpectedly to opponentsSports manager under pressure after bad match
Singer from 1960s pop group diesActor from 1970s sitcom dies1980s entertainer not what he seemed Much loved artist diagnosed with disease
Unshakeable marriage ends in divorceSinger wears revealing dress to restaurantNew film released - stars say it will be good!Celebrity spotted looking older than she used to
Pet acts adorably while being filmedLook, people are being hilarious on TwitterReal life proves stranger than real lifePress release makes exciting claims
Hundreds takes offence at woman's actionsThousands takes offence at man's opinionsAlleged racist makes allegedly racist commentsBREAKING: President says something mad again

 Sunday, February 19, 2017

 Route EL3: Little Heath - Barking Reach
 outer London east; 7 miles, 40 minutes


Welcome aboard London's newest bus. The EL3 is one day old, replacing the 387 which until yesterday ran along (almost) exactly the same route. The change brings together all the buses serving Barking Riverside under the East London Transit brand, joining the longer established EL1 and EL2. And all three routes are to get brand new vehicles, previously unfamiliar in these parts, kicking off with overnight replacement on the EL3.



Regular passengers were surprised to see gleaming New Routemasters waiting outside Little Heath Food and Wine in place of the bog-standard double deckers they remember. "Are we sure this is the right one?" asks one, who hasn't read the freshly-posted notice at the bus stop. "Wow Mum, that door opens as well!" cries another, rather younger. "Nice bus, do you like it?" asks the beaming driver as I board. I hedge my response somewhat, but am relieved to see route EL3's been gifted the updated model with the opening windows, part of the last batch bought by Boris. Upstairs smells a bit of newness, and the windows are already a bit grimy because that never takes long, and off we whirr.

Don't worry, I'll not regurgitate the full details of the southbound journey because we covered that yesterday. Take it as read that the EL3 went round the hospital, down Barley Lane past all the houses, through Goodmayes, down to Longbridge Road past lots more houses, past the bus garage, along the bus lane past yet more houses, and onwards to the centre of Barking.

The EL3's groupies are waiting outside the station with their cameras. They often come out on the first morning, the Men Who Like Buses, to grab their own mugshots of London's very latest vehicles. Today not only do they have a new route to celebrate but this is the first time New Routemasters have been seen as far east as Barking and Dagenham, plus there are all these new numberplates to record in their notebook. The largest group of MWLB is hanging around by the bus shelter, while one man has crossed the street to get a more oblique profile. Although a couple of their lenses are quite big, they're nothing compared to the monster I saw being wielded by two gentlemen earlier in the journey with a massive furry microphone attached, which seemed somewhat over the top.

Now that the 387's route has the EL3 label, it's allowed through the centre of Barking Town centre and no longer has to negotiate its way round slower peripheral streets. I don't think most regular users had noticed this yet so they all got out at the station rather than the next stop which is more convenient for the shops. Here the next batch of passengers awaits, the EL3 being essentially two half-routes bolted together, as are its partners EL1 and EL2. I'm struck by how much quicker the journey from the station to Lidl is than previosuly, although on the downside residents of Barking Riverside no longer have a direct route to the leisure centre, the theatre or Asda, only three buses to the shops.



And then there's a whole chunk more route that we covered yesterday, down Ripple Road and Movers Lane, across the A13, and straight ahead into the industrial backwaters of Creekmouth.

I didn't spot it on my 387 journey, because I was too excited to have spotted 'The Men Who Change The Bus Tiles Over', but a new-ish bus depot has been stashed away amid the metalworks and cash and carries. This is the River Road garage, opened in May last year, and is home to all of the EL-branded double deckers. So far only the EL3 has New Routemasters, while the EL1 and EL2 retain their original vehicles, but eventually they'll all be swapped over, using up another 46 of Boris's belated bequest. As yet all of the new buses are red, but it's expected they'll eventually get the East London Transit's trademark dusky autumn shades.

The grimmest part of the EL3's existing route is along Long Reach Road, which is currently a dead end so the bus turns off before the end. But this used to be the boundary of Barking Power Station, and is now the edge of a burgeoning housing estate, so contractors have been busy laying a cut-through. Already complete and labelled Bus Only, it passes along the side of some fairly lacklustre new flats, but is currently barriered off. Come autumn this gateway should be open for the exclusive use of the EL3, as the route is permanently diverted to serve the west and south of the new estate. They've even painted two bus stops on the other side, at the foot of Crossness Road, just before the road ends at another temporary fence and disappears into a pile of earth.



A bridge of sorts is being built across drains that cross the mud that used to be a power station. This'll eventually border a landscaped pool and several more new homes, but for now is the one missing link between here and a broad somewhat austere boulevard already rising on the other side. Bellway have a well-hidden showhome open, and hundreds of flats to flog, while workmen yell at one another and lower slabs into place outside. The development's publicity rather oversells the site's accessibility, and hints that owning a car might be a better option than taking the bus, but there aren't many other places in London where a newbuild 2 bedroom apartment is available for under £290,000.



The EL3 is due to pass along the southern edge of the community's centre, now complete with church, school, clocktower and three whole shops. One's a pharmacy, one occasionally sells coffee, and the third is a small supermarket with a big notice on the door warning 'No Hoodies!' It may not be much of a parade, but it's infinitely better than the zero shops Barking Riverside had until last year, and I suspect that residents remain over-reliant on online grocery services. Again the EL3's exclusive bus lane is already ready but out of bounds, leading to a bus-only junction and a short link out of the estate.

And out of the estate means River Road, where the 387 used to venture twice a day, which is Creekmouth's bleakest corner. The place livens up once a week when the Dagenham Sunday Market is held, still annoyingly inaccessible from existing bus routes, then for the rest of the week returns to a less agreeable existence as a dusty half-demolished backwater. It's amazing to think that a location once served by two buses a day might very soon be getting sixteen an hour, but perhaps less amazing when you consider that the Sunday Market site is pencilled in for hundreds of highrise riverside apartments, with thousands more on neighbouring sites.



Welcome to the proposed site of Barking Riverside Overground station, currently a pile of soil behind a fence near a mega-pylon, down a mucky road where HGV drivers park up overnight. Beyond this is the biggest redevelopment challenge of all, a long-abandoned expanse of polluted earth between Choats Road and the Thames, worth nothing as is but hundreds of millions as flats. Thus far the only building on site looks like a giant stack of portakabins but is actually going to be a secondary school for 1800 pupils, already with its motto out front, but as yet disturbingly unwelcoming. An unlikely public footpath still skirts the side of the river, a bit quicksandy at present, but easily the best place to see the scale of the challenge that lies ahead.

Look carefully and two new roads are being carved out, or maybe it's two ends of just one road, the very beginnings of a brand new community hereabouts. But there's no sign of this utterly desolate land being ready for housing any time soon, despite the dozens of heavy lorries making their way into the site. If all goes to plan the EL3 (and EL1) are due to terminate outside the school this September, down roads not yet complete, the first tendrils of connectivity which'll help bring this estuarine pipedream to fruition. In the meantime the existing terminus at the Riverside Centre is where the buses turn, for pioneering residents only, as this long-awaited transformation slowly ignites.



» route EL3 - route
» route EL3 - timetable
» route EL3 - consultation
» My previous in-depth report on Barking Riverside and the amazing Footpath 47

 Saturday, February 18, 2017

 Route 387: Little Heath - Barking Reach
 outer London east; 8 miles, 40 minutes


Welcome aboard the bus you can no longer ride. The 387 used to exist until yesterday, or more accurately until the last vehicle rolled into Barking Reach just after midnight. As of five o'clock this morning the bus is now known as the EL3 - and the former route number exists in limbo until some other bus route one day wants it.

A quick geography: We're out east, in Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham. The 387's route runs almost due south, from almost the A12 to almost the Thames, via Barking.
A quick history: The 387 first ran in 1993 to replace the B1, part of a short-lived Barking-centred local network. At its southern end it serves the Thames View Estate, with peak hour extensions round the industrial estate at Creekmouth cut back in 2013.
A quick rationale: EL stands for East London Transit, a bus upgrade scheme introduced in 2010 to better serve an isolated community with considerable potential for growth. Until yesterday there were two routes - EL1 and EL2. Today there are three.
A quick future: Apart from one tweak in central Barking, the EL3's route is identical to that of the 387, but will extend this autumn to an as-yet unbuilt secondary school on the Barking Riverside development.



Little Heath is a little known residential corner one mile east of Newbury Park, once a tiny hamlet, now conveniently bypassed by a busy dual carriageway. The 387 starts its journey outside a closed pub, formerly The Hawbush, facing out across a decent-sized triangular green. But you wouldn't have known. When I made my journey earlier this week the timetable at the first bus stop had been changed over prematurely to that of the EL3, and the tile above gleamed freshly white. There was no danger here of being late for Saturday's rebrand, just unnecessarily early.

A number of buses visit Little Heath because it has a hospital, in fact it has two, one with a lofty Victorian water tower visible from some distance. The bus's first stop involves driving into the grounds of the King George's Hospital and negotiating the central turning circle, avoiding the cars of visitors too hurried to park where they're supposed to. By starting near a hospital the 387 already has a decent number of passengers, a state which increases because this is the only route heading south along Barley Lane. The houses to either side aren't the council homes found further out in B&D, but smarter villas from a time when this was the edge of the London conurbation, with Avenues, Drives and Gardens behind.

In the recreation ground by the High Road, a row of pigeons lines up along the top of a mucky bench, holding court over a large congregation of their fellows. Here the bus crosses into a bustling parade, past a giant Tesco that hasn't yet sucked out all the street's life. Many of the shops have fairly generic names, like Pharmacy, News or Food Store, perhaps enhanced by flags to suggest a more specialist offering within. This is Goodmayes, where a stacked blue portakabin outside the station heralds the not-yet imminent arrival of step-free Crossrail. Thousands live hereabouts but somehow I've never dropped in before, which is one of the serendipitous effects of taking a near-extinct bus journey.

Across Green Lane, past the millennial clocktower, another string of housing awaits. Older terraces merge into low-slung bungalows and then council pebbledash, with a sign up one sideroad pointing to the local Temple should fresh worshippers need to find their way. At Goodmayes Park we turn right onto the main road, now one of a number of buses on this key route. One of these is the EL2, providing an unnecessarily good combined frequency to the Thames View Estate, as the freshly minted EL3 tile makes clear. Just past the bus garage the turreted Royal Oak pub signals its preferred clientele with a surfeit of St George's Cross bunting, and a bus lane then speeds us towards the place most passengers actually want to go, which is Barking.

Along with every other numbered bus route, the 387 isn't allowed through the centre of Barking town centre so has to negotiate its way round slower peripheral streets. That's why most people get off outside the station, because it's at least a couple of minutes to the stop more convenient for the shops. The bus meanders past pre-redevelopment rubble, the edge of the market and a medieval abbey, because this town's mixed like that. And I note that somebody's already removed (and not replaced) the 387's tile and timetable, again unhelpfully prematurely, because it won't be coming this way soon. Once promoted to the title EL3 it'll be allowed through Barking's streamlined central shortcut along with the EL1 and EL2, because these are bus route royalty round here, and now there are three.

That's the only tweak to the 387's route this weekend, and past Lidl we're back on the direct line down Ripple Road. On the first bend another pub lies as rubble, now covered in withered buddleia, knocked down before plans for its rebirth were fully thought through. All the EL buses turn right into Movers Lane and queue to cross the busy A13, sometimes queueing for quite a while. It's this which makes the Thames View Estate feel quite so far away, despite the flood of high frequency buses that stream towards it. "Motorway!" exclaims the young child sitting with his mother on the top deck, then (rightly) queries why on earth the next miserable-looking stop is called something 'Gardens'.

We've reached the netherworld beyond the A13, originally marshland, then somewhere to hide a cluster of mucky estuarine industries. Homes came later, and the EL1 and EL2 swing off to service those, while the 387 continues down increasingly ill-kept roads past cash and carries, timberyards, metalworks and waste transfer stations. At Keirbeck Wharf I'm amazed to spot 'The Men Who Change The Bus Tiles Over', their white van parked up by the next stop, doors flapped open revealing a host of bus stop-related equipment inside. Every bus stop tile up to this point has read EL3, and every tile from this point on will read 387, which is correct but imminently endangered.

For its last hurrah the 387 turns back to serve Thames Road, a dated chain of warehouses and depots on some of the cheapest land in London. UPS, TNT and DHL have delivery centres here, alongside charismatic churches, skip hire firms, builders merchants, cheap fry-up cafes, haulage concerns, white van depots, frozen food wholesalers, forklift traders and the Lithuanian Beer company. Later in the year the EL3 will skip this section, prioritising newly-built homes on the Barking Riverside estate instead, but a new bridge has to be built first and that's not ready, so for now Thames Road is fully served.

Two peak time services in the 387's timetable used to be extended round the most miserable streets in east London to serve Creekmouth, where Barking's original power station once stood, and on which site this enormous housing development is being built. Londonist's Will Noble visited a couple of weeks ago with a camera, and his detailed report will give you an appropriate flavour of this unnervingly downbeat location. But with most of the local industry defunct, those peak time journeys ceased in 2013, and the 387 nudged into the estate instead, terminating on a loop by a lake beneath some pylons. Here residents queue to escape, which this morning they'll be doing by EL3, and they might even have some New Routemasters to ride in too.



» route 387 - EL3 consultation
» route 387 - route history
» route 387 - The Ladies Who Bus


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