Radio 1 is fifty years old today, indeed fifty years old at 7am this morning. Tony Blackburn is recreating that first show right now, over on, erm, Radio 2.
To celebrate, the BBC have launched a pop-up station - Radio 1 Vintage - which'll be be broadcasting 50 hour-long documentaries each based around a particular DJ or show. That's a John Peel hour, a Noel Edmonds hour, an Anne Nightingale hour, a Tim Westwood hour, a Johnnie Walker hour, a Kenny Everett hour, a Radio 1 Roadshow hour, even a Kevin Greening hour, which'll be bliss. If I pace myself at two a day, I reckon I can get through the whole lot before they all fall off the iPlayer.
Here's a snapshot of Radio 1's regular daytime schedule every five years since 1967. What a lot of fun I've had doing all the research to pull this together.
I came to Radio 1 later than I should. I came for the hits, but stayed for the DJs who held the station together, and they opened my ears to other music I grew to love. I flirted elsewhere but gained no pleasure from shallow playlists, and I hated the adverts, so instead stuck loyally with the Nation's Favourite. I tuned in obsessively, as my family will attest - a permanent musical backdrop to my life for a decade or three.
I switched on every morning as my clock radio kicked into life, I tried to guess the Golden Hour before the first vocals started, I flocked to the Roadshow when it turned up in my town, I craned my ears outside the Sixth Form Common Room every Tuesday lunchtime to try to hear the new chart rundown, I did my university slog to the background banter of the afternoon crew, I drove miles around the countryside singing along to the best songs, I recorded all the new tunes off the Top Forty every Sunday afternoon, I stretched my musical limits throughout the evening, and I drifted off into sleep after a final burst of whoever was on over midnight.
I admired Radio 1's breadth and underlying intelligence, and carried on listening far longer than demographics might suggest. I’d still be there today except I can no longer endure the daytime burble that counts as mainstream music, and once our cultures no longer overlapped I switched off.
Back in 2006, The Building Centre in Bloomsbury held an exhibition called London's Moving. Subtitled How Transport is Changing, it sought to shine a light on proposed improvements to transport in the capital. In particular it tried to suggest how likely each project was to be realised.
Each of the schemes featured in the exhibition has been given a special 'rating' by specialist consultancy LCA. The rating aims to give a 'score' for each scheme's overall likelihood of success, where 100% represents the highest guarantee of success, 50% is where things might be said to hang in the balance, and anything lower than 50% means the scheme faces such challenges that overall deliverability must be questioned, to a varying degree. The scoring is based on three factors - logistics, economics and politics.
I thought it'd be interesting to revisit three dozen of the projects then in the pipeline, and see how those probabilities turned out. How long ago 2006 now seems. At the time Ken Livingstone was well into his second mayoral term, Boris Johnson hadn't expressed any interest in taking over, and nobody was expecting the imminent economic slump. So, how did the experts do in the face of sheer unpredictability? (n.b. a lot of the coloured text is clickable)
A few thoughts.
» The experts did quite well, with a lot of green at the top and most of the red at the bottom.
» It's amazing how many projects still aren't complete, eleven years after they were on the drawing board.
» Very few projects completed between 2012 and 2016.
» Some real biggies are scheduled for 2018.
» Some projects we now think of as dead certs were looking questionable in 2006 (e.g. Crossrail).
» Some projects that looked like dead certs in 2006 just vanished (e.g. Tramlink to Crystal Palace, DLR to Dagenham Dock).
» That Croxley Rail Link percentage (53%) still looks quite prophetic.
» Imagine how wrong a list of planned transport projects from 2017 will look in 2028.
» A few other projects happened instead...
THE HEIGHTS OF ABRAHAM Location: Matlock Bath, Derbyshire DE4 3NT [map] Open: 10am-4.30pm (Easter-ish to October half term) Admission: £16.00 (20% off for those arriving by train) 3-hashtag summary: #cablecar #leadmines #panoramic Website:www.heightsofabraham.com Time to set aside: half a day
England's other cablecar is in Derbyshire. It doesn't travel quite as far as the one in London, but it rises almost twice as high, was installed 28 years earlier, and the view is arguably much better.
The Heights of Abraham is a hilltop attraction above the spa resort of Matlock Bath. It's of Victorian origin, laid out with serpentine paths on steep wooded slopes, and so named because it was said to resemble the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. But hiking up the cragside was a bit of a schlep, so in 1984 the owners invested in a cablecar to whisk visitors to the summit, and hundreds of thousands of people still visit every year.
The cablecar sets off from a pseudo alpine chalet round the back of Matlock Bath station. It's nothing big and flash, so there's no sponsor's name emblazoned round the rim. The cable is one continuous loop, and the cabins are grouped together in four lots of three, so there's always a front, a middle and a rear. I got one complete triplet to myself, which was fabulous, whereas an hour later the pods were rammed with pensioners on a coach trip.
The whole set-up runs at three possible speeds, depending on how busy it is. I got slow on the way up, which was also fabulous, and the maximum 13mph whizz on the way back down. That said, there's always a pause halfway as the system slows to a crawl to allow passengers to alight and board at both ends, which means you get to hang almost motionless above a deep gorge with panoramicviews of crags and trees and a little snaking road beside the river.
There's never been a mid-air evacuation, but you might feel quite exposed when the cable pauses and strands you briefly in the sky. I was doing fine despite being the only person up there, until my camera gently slid off the seat and I realised what that meant, and then I stopped thinking about what it meant and I was fine. The ascent continues above the hillside through an avenue cut into the trees, and up and over a final tower, and then you disembark.
Your cablecar return ticket entitles you to visit all the other attractions at the top of the hill. One of these is the chimney-like Victoria Prospect Tower, knocked up in 1844, inside which a 54 step spiral staircase corkscrews to the roof. The staircase lacks a central support so is seriously hairy if you meet a group of people coming the other way, but the view down across the Derwent valley is great (and oh, it's even hairier coming down).
Yes there's a cafe, whose terrace hogs one of the best views, plus a restaurant on top if Hunter's chicken is more your style than jacket potato. Yes there's a gift shop,with a particular focus on gemstones, including a little £5 box of Derbyshire Minerals I remember buying 40 years ago. There's even a museum, on the small side but the story's nicely told, with Matt Baker's midair cablecar rescue for Blue Peter screened partway round.
But the real reason everything's here has nothing to do with cablecars or Victorian pleasure grounds, it's mining. Rich seams of lead were mined here for over four centuries, chipped away from the surface downwards, then within the hillside itself, by successive generations. A series of artificial caverns now exist inside the rock, conveniently exhausted just as the railways came to town, and since converted into a subterranean tourist attraction.
There are two underground tours to take, the first (and best) into the Great Massow Cavern. Your half hour trek follows a hollowed-out pipe seam to reach the great chamber, impressively illuminated, with stops along the way for the guide to explain all the slog and shenanigans that once went on down here. The full underground climb includes 171 steps and emerges at the very top of the shaft, on a hilltop with even better views of Matlock across the valley.
The other cavern system is a lot lower down, and much more capacious, if briefer to explore. The chief rock down here is limestone, with mineral-rich seams threading through, though almost none of the valuable lead remains. At one point an animatronic miner will talk to you for ten minutes, which the guides must be heartily sick of standing through, but you'll know everything there is to know before you leave.
I love a good geology/history field trip experience, and this is most definitely that. It's also delightfully scenic, in a way that southeast England never is, and should look even better as the autumn colours spread over the next few weeks. Plus of course there's another ride in the cablecar to enjoy on the way down, and by timing that right I got the descent all to myself again. A cracking half-day out, these dizzy heights.
And while you're here, explore Matlock Bath
How very genteel. Matlock Bath sweeps along the west bank of the river Derwent, occasionally making a break for the higher ground above. For Midlanders this was a premium resort, as the string of tasteful shops attests, along with an aquarium and an amusement arcade to maintain the fun. Come promenade, or visit the pump room as your ancestors would have done, although it's only a museum now.
What struck me most was the number of fish and chip shops - I counted seven. Some of these serve something I've never seen advertised before, namely Mini Fish, Chips & Peas, which may particularly appeal to pensioners' palates. The main street was also packed out with motorbikes, and cod-chomping bikers, midway through an exhilarating Peak District joyride.
Autumn is the season for the Matlock Bath Illuminations, a weekend-only flotilla of dressed-up model boats, a bit like Blackpool but afloat. Green netting ensures visitors can't get a glimpse unless they've paid up to enter Derwent Gardens, where a collection of food stalls (fish and chips included) await.
And while you're here, walk to Matlock
Do I have time to do this, I wondered, but I'm so glad I did. Not the tame valley road but the proper two mile hike over limestone heights, ascending steep zigzag paths to the rim of High Tor. These are some of the highest inland cliffs in England, and it's exhilarating when the track suddenly reaches a rocky perch above a sheer drop, with the lush shades of the Derwent valley laid out across and below.
Walking gets a bit easier from the summit onwards, as the town of Matlock arrays itself across the hillside ahead. I approached via the top of Pic Tor, where the huge war memorial looms, then stepped through St Giles' graveyard to descend to town level. Matlock's full ofcharacter, in places smart, but I only had time to scratch the lower streets. I did however manage to source the Bakewell slice I'd been craving, thickly iced, in the cafe by the bandstand, before starting the long journey home.
Sorry to do this to you again, so soon after Folkestone and Open House, but here are 33 photos I took during my Derbyshire day out. A lot of them have cablecars in.
The Ineffectual Train departs Derby for St Pancras at 16:36. Staff beg you not to catch it. Hang around and catch the five o'clock, they plead (and even the next train after that arrives earlier too). The Ineffectual Train takes almost three hours to reach London, whereas direct services can speed you there in half the time. But I booked onto the Ineffectual Train because it's really cheap - buy in advance and you can ride all 145 miles for six quid. And I also booked because it takes a rare diversion over Britain's longest masonry viaduct, a track-bashing treat enjoyed by only four trains a day, and one of the finest sights in Rutland.
The Ineffectual Train heads south to East Midlands Parkway, the outpost station dominated by eight cooling towers, then dodges Leicester by swinging east onto the line to Melton Mowbray. When Adrian Mole summarised Leicestershire's pastoral landscape in the title of his book Lo! The Flat Hills Of My Homeland, he was not wrong. The next stop is Oakham, county town of Rutland, beyond which a brief glimpse of the county's mega-reservoir can be seen. And then at Manton Junction the Ineffectual Train veers off onto twelve minutes of special track that nobody else gets, including the Welland Viaduct.
This line dates back to the late 1870s when the Midland Railway sought to create an alternative route to London. The broad valley of the River Welland provided an expensive challenge, but an army of navvies moved in and constructed a low brick crossing in two years flat. The Welland Viaduct is just over a kilometre long and supported on 82 arches, and has been a bit of a nightmare tomaintain over the years. It's also never more than 18 metres high, and straight, so alas the one place you can't see the appealing regularity of its structure is from a train. Best go stand nextto it, or grab adrone, but I can at least say I've been over the top.
The Ineffectual Train wasn't busy on my journey south, but a music student nipped on at Oakham and sat opposite. Unfortunately the lady with the trolley shuffled up just as we approached the viaduct and sold him a bottle of water, and then because that didn't meet the minimum contactless threshold sold him a packet of crisps too. This meant that my view to the left was of a rack of snacks, cans and bottles, rather than whatever the upstream valley actually looks like, for the duration of the crossing. So I made do with the view to the right, a patchwork of fields grazed by sheep and post-harvest furrows, with a seemingly insignificant stream wiggling briefly underneath. Atmospherically scenic, but nothing to rush for.
Past what was once Harringworth station, and after a rather long tunnel, the Ineffectual Train swiftly reaches Corby. And here it sits for ten minutes before metamorphosing into just another hourly train to London, like those which have been shuttling south since 2009. But the real misery comes at Kettering, where the Ineffectual Train is scheduled to linger for 23 minutes so that yet another train from Derby can overtake. Go catch that one, pleads the guard, it'll get you into London 23 minutes quicker. That is unless you've got an advance ticket for the Ineffectual Train, in which case you're trapped, and will limp into St Pancras eventually. Best not.
Passenger trains across the Welland Viaduct (Mon-Fri) 0600 Melton Mowbray → London St Pancras 0926 Corby → Derby 1636 Derby → London St Pancras 1800 London St Pancras → Melton Mowbray
Sometimes, when I visit somewhere, I'm not there long. For example I went to Derby yesterday but I only had 40 minutes to look around, and I spent half of that 40 minutes walking from the railway station to the town centre and walking back from the town centre to the railway station. So today's post on a major East Midlands city is based on dashing around in 20 minutes flat trying to see everything, and therefore woefully shallow.
20 minutes in Derby
Iron Gate What I thought: Now that's very English cathedral city. What transpired: According to publicity, this is the Cathedral Quarter - Individual, Diverse, Inspiring. Apparently it "has it all". Not at half past nine in the morning it doesn't. The "award winning delis" haven't really got into their swing, the "wealth of cultural venues" haven't opened, and "the heartbeat of the city" is as yet absent. It's quite pretty though, as "retail destinations" go, and there's a monument halfway down on the left commemorating local painter Joseph Wright.
Assembly Rooms What I thought: Ooh, my readers like a bit of brutal concrete. What transpired: The original 18th century Assembly Rooms were destroyed by fire in 1963, so a jarringly different style of building was opened on the same site a few years later, but this too was incapacitated by fire in 2014. The council now have plans to build an even more jarring building on the same site, a 3000 seater music and entertainment venue, maybe by 2021, aided by a £5m insurance payout.
Market Hall What I thought: Perhaps I can buy some Bakewell tarts. What transpired: There are some damned lovely Victorian market halls across Britain, and Derby's is the first purpose-built undercover example, opened in 1866. The roof is impressively high and wide, and was designed by the same bloke who did the single span at St Pancras. The identikit fairground-style stalls are attractive, if a little characterless, and a paltry number of them sell "proper" market stuff like fruit, veg and meat. Footfall was extremely limited at half past nine in the morning, and I failed in my Bakewell quest.
Rings of Derby What I thought: Someone's plonked some metal rings in an empty piazza. What transpired: This is the showpiece sculpture at the heart of the redevelopment of a rundown square, called The Spot, replacing a clocktower and some public toilets. The four stainless steel rings are each 7 metres in diameter, and are intended to become "a symbol for Derby." The Mayor was most effusive when she unveiled them last year ("London has Big Ben, Newcastle has the Angel of the North and now we have the Rings of Derby") but also somewhat misguided. I completely missed the 30-metre bench engraved with a timeline of Derby’s history.
The Derby Ram What I thought: Why is there a big sheep outside the Co-op? What transpired: A popular folk song called As I was Going to Derby emerged in the 18th century, telling the tall tale of a ten foot ram seen on market day. This is as good a reason as any for the local militia to have a ram as their mascot, and for the local football team to be nicknamed The Rams. The large sculpture at the junction of East Street and Albion Street cost £30,000, and was gifted to the city by some property developers in 1995.
I also saw...
• Derby Cathedral (from the outside at least)
• the Guildhall Theatre (originally Derby's Town Hall, hence the big clocktower)
• intu Derby (a huge over-chirpy shopping mall, much like anywhere else's)
Limescale, auto-play videos, the dregs at the bottom of a cup-a-soup that won't dissolve, my local supermarket stopping selling Chipsticks, over-optimistic weather forecasts, under-optimistic weather forecasts, discarded fried chicken boxes on the front doorstep, lists purporting to be "the best", the D8 being run with double decker buses, whichever neighbour it is can't be bothered to take their rubbish down to the bins, people who don't think you can be correct because they are, security checkpoints where they never used to be needed, paying over £2 for a teabag dunked in recently-boiling water, ill-positioned Next Train Indicators, moped-delivered pizza, Editors Who Write All Their Headlines Using Capital Letters, lickspittle crawlers, mucky windows at the top of tall buildings, autocorrect which changes what you've written just as you press send, the Evening Standard's political cartoons, how difficult trying to recycle something can be, business models based on repeatedly renting something rather than owning it, never-critical reviewers, "your computer must now be restarted", pundits over-confident they know what the outcome of a football match is going to be, people who haven't silenced the clicks on their smartphone, tweeting ICYMI more than once, pedants who haven't written anything over 500 words long since they left full-time education, people wearing hats in crowds at festivals, gin worshippers, being forced to wear a lanyard so everyone knows who you are, entropy, otherwise edible food contaminated with pesto, people who think the world's ended because they can't get a cheap taxi, five for the previous price of six, imperceptibly ageing, iPlayer expiry dates, articles written by copywriters assuming they know my lifestyle, depressingly low smartphone battery life, "I would have written that differently", Apple's self-decaying cables, believers, celebrity-focused reportage, pints which cost more than £5, artificially balanced voxpops, headlines which deliberately over-promise, "We'll see you there!", adult tantrums, having no control over some idiot ending everything, death
that annoy me
The gross overestimation of risk, web browsers optimised for smartphone viewing, extending the tube to Battersea Power Station, victories for common sense, the steady replacement of culture by commercialism, people who automatically take offence, bags of dog poo dangling from fenceposts, window seats that aren't by a window, a housing policy which prioritises profits over availability, people who can't leave their phone in their pocket at the cinema, poppy-worship, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, the neighbour who brings her baby outside when it screams, people who nitpick because they've assumed something I didn't assume, losing contact with friends after they migrate to a different messaging platform, playing the same interview clip twice in the first three minutes on the TV news, people who believe that Brexit will improve our country's future, the Netflixisation of popular content, dog owners who can't imagine why I might not like their hound as much as they do, racists, racists who don't think they're racists, feeds listed in non-chronological order, the academisation of education, Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, workplace appraisal schemes, bullocks in fields with public footpaths, the Katie Hopkins mindset, shops which only offer self-checkout, one-way upgrades to new versions with worse features, conclusion-jumpers, austerity, the fact that the Daily Mail is what millions of people want to read, the whopping cost of unplanned long distance rail travel, advertorial as journalism, new developments stuffed with boutiques and eateries, the blandification of London, people who've had enough of experts, the fact that favourite jackets eventually wear out, business models based on copying other people's stuff, locations named after the highest bidder, being trapped in a seriously suboptimal timeline thanks to idiots, climate change being ignored because it'll only affect future generations, the fact we might not get as far as "future generations", humanity's inability to learn from its past, society's relentless slide into intolerance, populism, blame, people who get angry about things
K♣ Wandsworth Wandsworth was the largest of the pre-1965 boroughs, so the Herbert Commission proposed breaking off the riverside chunk and bolting it onto Battersea. Today I'm visiting the other part, away from the Thames, the rump that eventually lost Clapham and Streatham when they were forcibly merged into Lambeth. And I'm focusing on one particular current resident, who grew up (and still lives) in the borough, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Sadiq Aman Khan was born on 8th October 1970 in a maternity ward at St George's Hospital in Tooting. The fifth of eight children, his parents had emigrated from Pakistan a few years previously.
St George's feels like an anomaly, a modern building adrift in a sea of suburban housing. Desirable Victorian terraces run up to its utilitarian boundary, stopping dead at a big fence or the ring road, and something much more contemporary (and uglier) rises within. It wasn't always like this - St George's began on what's now Hyde Park Corner in 1773, and only moved to Tooting in the 1970s. The site had previously been occupied by The Grove Hospital, an isolation unit opened in the 1890s to cope with an epidemic of scarlet fever in the capital. St George's took over The Grove in 1954, eventually demolishing it and the neighbouring Fountain asylum to create the higgledy mishmash of buildings we see today.
It often surprises me how busy hospitals are - not the wards where the healing happens but the internal public thoroughfares and associated services. The main corridor through the centre of St George's could almost be in a shopping mall, with coffee shops and eateries, a cashier's office for paying your bills, and even an M&S Simply Food. There again, most shopping malls don't also have a glass case of surgical treasures, a bronze bust of former medical student Edward Jenner, and a plaque unveiled by the Queen. It is still possible to be born here - the maternity wards are in the architecturally undistinguished Lanesborough Wing, complete with 13 delivery rooms and two birthing pools (please bring two forms of identification).
Sadiq, his sister and six brothers grew up in a three-bedroom flat on the Henry Prince Estate, a dense patch of Wandsworth council housing. His mother Sehrun was a seamstress, and worked from home, while his father Amanullah was a bus driver on route 44, which stops immediately out front.[video]
The Henry Prince Estate was built in 1938 on 10 acres of land near St John's church, fronting Garratt Lane and stretching back to the River Wandle. I've not seen any other development quite like it, a sequence of large square courtyards surrounded by four storey brick blocks, linked by a central service road carved through white streamlined arches. The Wandsworth coat of arms is emblazoned above the archway at the main entrance, and above that a modernist clock, eleven of whose numerals have been replaced by letters from the name HENRY PRINCE. Henry was a local Conservative councillor and had been chair of the Housing Committee for almost two decades before he died, just as the estate was coming to fruition.
There are 272 flats altogether, with no sign of obvious external disrepair. The sequential courtyards are a nice touch, providing a social focus and a green view from the windows, although I doubt they'd have been scattered with parked cars when the estate opened. These squares would also have provided a safe place to play, easily observed from a ring of surrounding lounges and kitchens. Today a much smaller area has been secured with proper playground equipment. I walked through when all the local children should have been at school, so saw only a few mothers returning with shopping and Wandsworth's gardening contractors clearing out the shrubbery, plus some toking youth on a bench round the back by the river. Social housing is still doing its job here, 80 years on.
Sadiq went to Fircroft Primary, a Victorian establishment over a mile from home, and then to the boys school just round the corner, which back in the 80s didn't have the best reputation. Sadiq took physics and maths at A level and was planning to become a dentist, until a teacher suggested he was argumentative enough to become a lawyer instead.
Fircroft was built by the School Board for London, according to some flowery stonework on the second floor, and its buildings and playground take up almost a whole block. A lot of happy shrieking was coming from the other side of its high perimeter wall when I walked by, passing posters for the 7.30am Breakfast Club. Sadiq is still a member of the Board of Governors, but no longer has the spare time to sit on any of the committees. As for Ernest Bevin, this has very much the look of a sports centre or utilities HQ, thanks to a complete rebuild in the 1990s, so the rooms where Sadiq learnt mechanics and trig are long gone. The sixth form students I saw shambling outside in the street suggested that school uniform is not a key part of their regime. Other successful alumni include snooker player Jimmy White, and TV presenter Ortis Deley.
Sadiq was very much into football, boxing and cricket, and as a teenager once had a trial for Surrey County Cricket Club. He and his brothers all attended Earlsfield Boxing Club, at the insistence of eldest brother Sid, who turned up as an 11 year-old and is now the head coach.
Earlsfield Boxing Club is based so far up Garratt Lane it's practically in Wandsworth. Kicked out of Earlsfield proper in 1971, the club set up shop in half of St Mary's Church, and now own the whole building. The red and blue boxing glove motifs decorating the bell gable are a nice touch, and a heavy hint that the C of E moved out some time ago. Inside the extensive hall you'll find boxing rings, a large gym and a flurry of straight-talking, so I'm told, at what's now one of the largest boxing clubs in the capital. Frank Bruno started out here, and recent Olympic medallist Joe Joyce is Sid's most recent world class protégé.
Long before becoming London's first Muslim mayor, Sadiq was a worshipper at the al-Muzzamil mosque in Gatton Road, which he still attends regularly. I believe this is where in 1994 he married his wife Saadiya, a lawyer he met soon after starting work as a trainee solicitor in Bloomsbury.
Turning off from the bustle of Tooting High Street, Gatton Road looks like a well-to-do terraced street, and on one side it very much is. But on the other side the houses break after a few hundred yards to make way for a large redbrick building with a golden dome perched on top, and thinner golden minarets to either side. It was built in 1972, and sort-of looks it, and was the first mosque to be established in the Tooting area. Males and females worship separately within, via separate entrances, and there are also dedicated Wudu facilities (for ritual washing). Nextdoor is Gatton School, pairing a typically tall Victorian building with more recent playground infill. The whole set-up looks ever so ordinary until you spot that the school's motto translates as Oh Allah Increase My Knowledge - this is in fact the UK's first purpose-built Muslim Voluntary Aided primary.
You can tell a lot from the street a politician chooses to live in. Ken Livingstone's home is a Cricklewood terrace, while Boris Johnson goes home to a grand townhouse in Islington by the mouth of the Regents Canal tunnel. The Khan family, in contrast, live in a much more mixed street in South London, just off Mitcham Lane.
Thrale Road is named after the family who used to own Streatham Park, a now-demolished mansion hereabouts, and whose most famous lodger was the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. Formerly known as Green Lane, it runs down the western edge of their former estate from the tip of Tooting Graveney Common. There are some big detatched houses up at this end, but also some terraced villas and more modern blocks of lowrise postwar flats, and further down an actual council estate - the Fayland. The photo I've chosen to depict the street isn't typical, but is typically atypical, and correctly hints that this is no shabby backwater.
Down towards Mitcham Lane are a chunky modern church and then a row of shops, including two barbers, an off-licence and a fried chicken shop called Kebabalicious. The big timbered pub on the corner used to be called The Samuel Johnson but was recently renamed The Furzedown, because literary figures are evidently passé these days. Mitcham Lane's shopping parade has seen better days but could be worse, and there is a Sainsbury's Local to which perhaps Sadiq nips for milk. His favourite restaurants are further away near Tooting Broadway tube, specifically Vijaya Krishna on Mitcham Road and Lahore Karahi on the High Street, according to his Visit London list of Six Reasons To Visit Tooting. It seems the local lad is in no rush to move away.
Every three years Folkestone orgnises a Triennial, commissioning a couple of dozen artists to showcase some fresh creations somewhere unexpected around the town. Nine years ago Tracey Emin cast a baby's bootees in bronze, six years ago Martin Creed composed a soundscape for the cliff lift and three years back headless chickens spun around on rooftops. 2017's Triennial runs from 2nd September to 5th November, with Hosts on hand at the various exhibits from 10am to 5pm, and it's always a grand day out. Grab a free map from the station and you should be able to track down the whole lot by following a long and sinuous walk around town.
Here are six of my favourite installations this year.
Holiday Home: Richard Woods has created six one-third sized houses, in a variety of dayglo colours, and plonked them around Folkestone in unlikely places to live. One's in the middle of a roundabout, another in the middle of the harbour, another skewhiff on the shingle and another on a clifftop facing France (which was actually visible, how splendid). It's an idea that's been tried before, but here the emphasis is supposed to be on the invidious nature of second homes, and our increasing willingness to cram housing anywhere it'll go. Plus the mini-bungalows are really terribly photogenic, if your aim is collecting Instagram images nobody else will have seen, and isn't that what most people want from a trip to the seaside these days? [6 photos]
Halfway to Heaven: Emily Peasgood's contribution is a musical intervention in a graveyard. The Baptist Burial Ground on Bradstone Road is a tiny elevated scrap of land left behind when the railway viaduct was carved through. She's recorded a six-part choral work based on the lives of some of the interred, then installed speakers in the form of "those stone blocks with holes you normally stick flowers in". Stand in front of one of these and the music plays, move away and it stops. I was fortunate to arrive at the same time as a large group of pensioners, and between us we managed to set off the full sextet, which made for some delightfully evocative harmony. After they left and it was just me, a rather more mournful experience. [photo]
Wall: This is the artwork the furthest out of town, which seemed to have deterred a lot of people from walking a mile to see it, which meant the Host sat alongside was having a relatively easy time. Alex Hartley's wall isn't Trump-related, but a site-specific intervention dangling partially off the cliff. It's made from a cage evocative of the barriers at The Jungle in Calais, and weighed down by hundreds of Iron Age querns, or millstones, recovered from the slump of material down below. The structure's not going to topple over any time soon, which might well annoy those residents in the bungalows immediately behind, whose clear view of the White Cliffs is now part-blocked by a white box. [2 photos]
Jelly-Mould Pavilion: Art doesn't always have to have a meaning. Lubaina Himid has collected jelly moulds for years, so for her pavilion she imagined a particularly large one upturned on twisted golden poles. Seats provide a nice place to stare up at the shell design swirled into the ceiling, whilst perhaps reflecting on the amusement park that once covered this site, back when seaside fun was something Britons embraced. A new twisty timber boardwalk leads down the beach towards another temporary pavilion, Sol Calero's bright cross-cultural shelter, but I wasn't able to get too close without disturbing the outbreak of yoga taking place inside. [4 photos]
Lamp Post (as remembered): Here's an interesting concept beautifully realised. Artist David Shrigley was inspired by the lamp posts strung out along The Leas, Folkestone's demure clifftop retreat. He invited along Scottish student Camille Biddell to look at one of the lamp posts for precisely 40 seconds, then to go away and attempt to recreate it from memory. Her 'replica' is the wrong height, a bit different up top and much more ornate down below, but more than holds its own on the elevated promenade. [2 photos]
Folkestone Harbour Viaduct: This isn't a Triennial artwork as such, but the latest stage in the redevelopment of the harbourside. When Folkestone was a thriving ferry port trains used to run down a viaduct and across a listed swingbridge to the maritime station on the waterfront. The viaduct's been disused for years, but has just been converted into an elevated walkway across the marina (commercial reason: to provide a direct link to the new foodie destination on the harbour arm). Access is still via a temporary set of stairs, but the renovation is very nicely done, with hardy plants alongside footpaths curving across the points. Normally one of the Triennial's artworks is located in the former station, but this year that's a building site as the canopies are refurbished and an access path driven through. Expect to find three railway carriages plying food and drink by the time the whole thing's complete, maybe next year. [5 photos]
Meanwhile here are three installations that didn't quite work.
Another Time XVIII 2013: Antony Gormley's loaned two of his cast-iron effigies to the Triennial, one of either side of the harbour, but underneath the main promenade where they get drowned by the tide. As such you can't see them either side of high tide, which proved problematic when I visited on a day with a lunchtime peak. One I finally reached, staring white-cliffward beneath the harbour arm, but I had to pass on the more evocative body under Coronation Parade, dammit. [photo]
Folke Stone Power Plant: We've had this great idea, said the Urbonases. You know that dodgy streetlamp round the back of the Museum? We'll power it using an organic battery, and hide the apparatus inside a fake walk-in rock. The Triennial board must have been impressed, but unfortunately the technology doesn't yet work, and even then 60 mushroom-sourced cells would be needed to illuminate the bulb. [photo]
The Ledge: Bill Woodrow's concept was an Inuit on a thin snowy shelf supported above a big black puddle, a perilous balancing act with climate change connotations. Unfortunately the "independent fabricators" haven't yet delivered, so a blank pedestal sits at the foot of the western cliffs between the beach huts, and might or might not be filled soon.
And that's only about half of the works. There's a big yellow horn up on the cliffs redolent of a sound mirror, an outstanding geospatial history of Folkestone on display inside the restored Customs House, and a lovely set of 3D-printed golden boats on poles down one of the shopping streets. If you fancy a treasure trail there's a collection of gnarled mini metal sculptures resembling seashells scattered across buildings and businesses across the entire town. One timber-vaulted work has been squeezed into the Triennial's visitor centre, which is normally a cafe, in the hope you'll stop for some tea and cakes and something from the shop. I didn't. There are also a few installations which can be best summarised as "oh, I seesomebodypaintedsomething", and which are often more interesting as a concept than as somewhere to linger.
Whatever, I can unhesitatingly recommend the Folkestone Triennial as a fascinating day out, particularly if you enjoy combining urban exploration with a splash of thought-provoking culture. It's also really pretty in myriad ways and styles, as I hope my set of photos will convince you. You can bone up on the basics on the website, or by downloading the free app, or take a look at the map before you go. I'll remind you that Southeastern are offering £10 off-peak return fares from London, so long as you book before 6pm the previous day - this offer finishes next Sunday. What's more you'll also be able to see 28 works left in place after previous Triennials, as Folkestone slowly accumulates a world-class anthology of outdoor art. Remember to get there before November 5th. I have 2020 pencilled in already.
Users of Bow Road station might appreciate an update on how the westbound Next Train Indicator is doing.
In good news, it's stopped doing this.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
2 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
3 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
In better news, it's started doing this, and being generally correct.
1 Richmond via Earl's Ct
2 Hammersmith via King's Cross
3 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
Generally speaking, the first train is going where it says it's going, and will be arriving in approximately the time it says it will. That's progress.
Even better, the second train is also going where it says it's going, and will be arriving in approximately the time it says it will, and so is the third. That's unheard of.
There is a but, which is that trains aren't necessarily arriving in the order they say they are. The system appears to have a blind spot, around 8 minutes distant, at which point trains silently blip out on the display allowing those coming up behind to appear instead.
For example, this happens.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Ct
3 Richmond via Earl's Ct
Looks convincing. And all those trains are in fact on their way, in that order, at those times. But suddenly the display changes to this.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Ct
3 Hammersmith via King's Cross
The Richmond train has entered the signalling black hole, and disappeared, allowing the Hammersmith train to nudge up into third place. Then, less than a minute later, the Richmond train reappears.
1 Ealing Broadway via Earl's Ct
2 Wimbledon via Earl's Ct
3 Richmond via Earl's Ct
The Hammersmith & City line train is still on its way, and still around 10 minutes distant, but is the fourth train on a three-train list so no longer registers.
I watched for a while, and four consecutive trains disappeared briefly when they were around 8 minutes away. Eight minutes away would be somewhere around Upton Park. I wonder what that's all about.
There are also issues, as you'd expect, as trains are brought into service further up the line at Barking. Any train over 12 minutes away probably isn't in its correct position in the sequence of trains that'll eventually turn up. But it is probably as far away as it says it is. So that's reassuring.
Anyway, in summary:
• Trains are disappearing briefly from Bow Road's westbound display when they're around 8 minutes away.
• All the trains you can see on the display are on their way, but other trains might be arriving sooner.
• If all the trains on the display are less than 8 minutes away, then everything's probably correct.
• This is what I've seen happening recently. Other things might be happening. Things could change again.
• The display may be a bit wrong, but it's fantastically better than we've had for the previous 50 years.