diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 31, 2019

My year (and a bit) of English Heritage membership expires today, so I've decided to switch over to a different cultural deal. I've thrown some money behind an Art Pass, which is the magic plastic operated by a charitable organisation called the Art Fund. They award grants to museums and galleries, and cardholders get to visit some of them for less, or for nothing. And that's why when I went to Handel & Hendrix in London, as blogged yesterday, I paid nothing rather than the usual £10.

A National Art Pass covers hundreds of sites across the country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. One year's membership costs £70 (plus an extra £38 if you want to add a Plus One). Pay by direct debit and they'll offer a 25% reduction on your first year (which if you're only intending to join for one year, like I am, is much better value).

Your Art Pass arrives by second class post, along with your annual Art Map. This isn't a map but a chunky pocket-sized handbook (ideal for Barbour-sized pockets) including regional listings and a handful of maps. Mine arrived in a cardboard box too thick to fit through my letterbox, which initiated the dreaded "sorry you were out, please collect" charade, which is never a great way to start a relationship. The over-sized package may have been because the Art Fund are currently giving away a free tote bag with every new membership (which is lovely if you want one, but I didn't because I already have more freebie tote bags than the planet deserves). A quarterly magazine entitled Art Quarterly arrives every three months, but I haven't seen one of those yet because it's not March.

For comparison, a year of the National Trust costs £69 and a year of English Heritage costs £56. But whereas those deals allow you free access to everything, a £70 Art Pass usually doesn't. Only 240 of the 676 properties in the Art Pass handbook remove the admission fee entirely - hundreds more offer 50% off, others only give reductions on exhibitions and several merely provide 10% off in the shop or cafe. A significant number of the listings are free to enter anyway, and simply hoping to increase footfall by appearing in the book. The sliding scale of rewards drops off sharply.

As an example, here's precisely what the Art Pass offers in London.

Free admission: Brunel Museum, Charles Dickens Museum, Dorich House, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Fan Museum, Foundling Museum, Guards Museum, Handel & Hendrix in London, Heath Robinson Museum, Household Cavalry Museum, Jewish Museum, Keats House, Kensington Palace, Leighton House Museum, The Postal Museum
Free admission to NT or EH property: 2 Willow Road, Apsley House, Carlyle's House, Chiswick House, Eltham Palace, Ham House, Osterley House, Ranger's House, Red House
50% admission: Benjamin Franklin House, Cartoon Museum, Churchill War Rooms, Cutty Sark, Estorick Collection, Fashion and Textile Museum, Freud Museum, Garden Museum, Hall Place, HMS Belfast, House of Illustration, Painted Hall, Royal Observatory Greenwich, Spencer House, St Paul's Cathedral, Strawberry Hill House
Smaller reduction: Emery Walker's House, Photographers' Gallery
Free admission to exhibitions: Ben Uri, Horniman Museum, ICA
50% off exhibitions: British Library, British Museum, Design Museum, Courtauld Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Guildhall Art Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Imperial War Museum, Mall Galleries, Museum of London, National Army Museum, National Gallery, National Maritime Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National History Museum, Science Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, V&A, Whitechapel Gallery
Reduced entry to exhibitions: Barbican Art Gallery, Royal Academy
Small discount in cafe or shop: Bankside Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, Cubitt Gallery, Gasworks, Jerwood Visual Arts, Kelmscott House, Mosaic Rooms, Museum of the Order of St John, Sir John Soane's Museum, South London Gallery, Two Temple Place, Wallace Collection, Wellcome Collection, William Morris Gallery
Free anyway: 25 other museums/galleries

The top box (free admission) is a pretty decent collection, with Kensington Palace possibly the biggest prize. If you visited all 24 of these over the course of a year you'd easily save more than your Art Pass cost in the first place. I'm not over-excited by the inclusion of nine places I could have got into for nothing with my National Trust or English Heritage membership, and I've been to most of the others already. But expect to see reports from several of these Art Pass freebies popping up during the year, starting yesterday.

Half price admission isn't such a great deal, although it does make certain attractions a lot more attractive. There's certainly a few places in that list I might be tempted to go back to, or visit for the first time, at that rate. I'm also intrigued to see the Old Royal Naval College's Painted Hall on the 50% list, given it hasn't reopened yet after its refurb and always used to be free, but won't be in the future.

The Art Pass's strongest sales pitch is the Half Price Exhibitions list. This includes some real big hitters, including all the much-sought-after exhibitions at the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate and V&A. Admission prices for these are often extremely high for what's essentially a slow walk round a couple of rooms, and the Art Pass cuts this down to more reasonable levels. It's still not cheap, but I guess the idea is that anyone who's already forked out £70 on an Art Pass can easily afford £9 to see Sorolla, Bonnard or Ashurbanipal.

You won't be surprised to hear that London is the region with the most Art Pass listings, with approximately 15% of the national total. Adding in the three regions surrounding the capital raises that percentage to 40%. You may not get your annual moneysworth if you live in Glasgow, Norwich or Plymouth. But don't discount looking further afield, because there are some cracking discounts to be had.

Here are a few Art Pass highlights from outside London (in a list that's mostly for my benefit, obviously).

Free admission: Cardiff Castle, Christ Church Picture Gallery, Colchester Castle, Ditchling Museum, Dove Cottage, Duff House, Historic Dockyard Chatham, Ironbridge/Coalbrookdale etc, Lewes Castle, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Norwich Castle, Royal Pavilion, Saffron Walden Museum, Shakespeare's Family Homes, Soho House, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Verulamium Museum, Watts Gallery, Wedgwood Museum
50% admission: Bletchley Park, Brooklands Museum, Chatsworth, Jane Austen's House Museum, Jerwood Gallery, Mary Rose Museum, Museum of Carpet, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Tate St Ives
50% off exhibitions: Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Higgins Bedford, Kelvingrove Gallery, Tate Liverpool, Towner Art Gallery, V&A Dundee

Let's see what opportunities my Art Pass opens up before it expires one year today. And if you're interested in being my Plus One on a future visit, do let me know.

 Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Let's visit... Handel & Hendrix in London
Location: 23/25 Brook Street, Mayfair W1K 4HB [map]
Open: from 11am (closed Sundays)
Admission: £10.00 (children free on Saturdays)
Website: handelhendrix.org
Four word summary: two famous musical neighbours
Time to allow: about an hour


When George Frideric Handel was 38 he rented a new house on the edge of London in up-and-coming Mayfair and stayed there for the rest of his life. When guitarist Jimi Hendrix was 25 he rented a flat in trendy Mayfair and stayed there for three months. What's extraordinary is that they lived nextdoor to each another, over two centuries apart, as two adjacent blue plaques now attest. Both properties are now part of one museum devoted to their lives in London, successfully linked in 2016, and making the transition from classical to rock is as easy as crossing the landing.


As well as being a prodigious musical talent, Handel had the good fortune to be living in Hanover shortly before its Elector crossed the Channel to become King George I. A favourite at court, he soon became firmly embedded in London society, and wrote many of his most famous works here at number 25. He could easily have afforded to buy the place, or move elsewhere, but instead continued to rent the property until the day he died (upstairs, in 1759). Damned Europeans, bringing their talents to the UK and never going home.  A prodigious musical talent, Hendrix's unmatched guitar skills brought him attention and acclaim at the flowerier end of the 1960s. 50 years ago this month he and his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham moved into the top two floors of number 23, partying hard and sleeping late, regularly inviting musicians, journalists and hangers-on into their domain. Early 1969 was a rare spell of relative calm for a musician who'd then spend the rest of his life moving from hotel room to hotel room, until it was cut tragically short in 1970.


It's no longer possible to enter the building via Handel's front door, you have to head round the back (via exclusive Lancashire Court) to find the rear entrance. Even once inside there's nothing to see until you've climbed a couple of flights of stairs, or taken the lift, because downstairs is now commercial property selling leather goods and cashmere. Climb high enough and the wooden staircase is original, with (to modern feet) unusually shallow treads.


First to see in Handel House is his composing room, the actual room where he wrote the actual Messiah (in 24 days flat), Zadok the Priest and all those oratorios he brought to public favour. That's also his actual bookcase on the wall, packed with scores, although all the other furniture is borrowed, rescued or reproduction. A video screen on the wall ensures that a loop of Handel's music still rings out across his former property. The front room was his parlour where he performed his latest compositions to invited guests, relaxed and also dined. Musicians still drop by to play the harpsichord or perform in recitals, generally in a baroque manner (check website for details). Upstairs is his bedroom, dominated by a plush red tester, plus a further selection of bewigged (and unbewigged) portraits. If you fancy a photo-opportunity, a mix of Georgian hats, Sixties velvet jackets and other crazy mixed-up clothing hangs from a rack in Handel's dressing room. The ambience is strong.  Climb to the third floor to reach Hendrix's flat. This is no poky bedsit but a decent-sized gaff with a spare room and an (unseen) pink kitchen upstairs. The initial gallery describes his career with a particular focus on the London years, including that Albert Hall concert, plus tales of nights in either with the speakers turned up (on drugs) or watching Coronation Street (with a mug of milky tea). A video screen on the wall ensures that Hendrix's guitar still rings out across his former property. A particularly nice touch is Hendrix's vinyl record collection recreated on plywood squares for you to flick through. But the best space is the perfectly reproduced bedroom, complete with fabric drapes, overflowing ashtrays and Beogram turntable. Here Jimi would have laid back with that guitar on the bedspread, or picked out another scarf to wear, or perhaps indulged in some sci-fi from the bookcase. This is where you'll linger longest.


It's a perfect pairing. The second best thing about the museum is all the information there is to read, on walls or in the individual room guides. The text is packed with entertaining anecdotes and exquisite detail, for example the 18th century socialite who suddenly died of a heart attack after being surprised by a ventriloquist, or the time Jimi popped round to John Lewis soft furnishings department. But the best thing must be the museum's staff, liberally scattered across all floors, and better than most at imparting entertaining counsel. They know where the Georgian fireplace and the box of Monopoly came from, what the shop used to be originally and how old the floorboards are. They may also tell you the same anecdote about Jimi buying a couple of Handel LPs from HMV just after he moved in, twice, but you won't mind that.

 Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Today's post is about word chains, where the last letter of one word is the first letter of the next, and making the chains as long as possible.

For example, if you were trying to make a word chain out of the signs of the zodiac, this is the longest you could make.
The longest word chain using only the names of signs of the zodiac
Libra, Aries, Sagittarius, Scorpio
No sign ends in L or starts with O so four is as long as we can go.

Specifically today's post is about making word chains from the names of stations on the tube map.

Here's one I made earlier, using only the names of stations on the Overground.
The longest word chain using only the names of Overground stations?
Cambridge Heath, Honor Oak Park, Kew Gardens, Seven Sisters, Surrey Quays, Shepherd's Bush, Hampstead Heath, Hackney Wick, Kentish Town West, Turkey Street, Theobalds Grove, Euston, Norwood Junction, New Cross, Stonebridge Park, Kensington (Olympia), Acton Central, Leyton Midland Road, Dalston Kingsland, Dalston Junction, New Cross Gate, Emerson Park, Kilburn High Road, Denmark Hill, London Fields, South Acton, North Wembley
My word chain contains the names of 27 different stations, which out of a total list of 112 isn't bad.

No Overground station starts with M or Y, so that's 13 stations ending in M or Y which can't be included (unless it's at the end of the chain, as I did with North Wembley). No Overground station ends in B, C, I, P, Q or W, so that's another 39 excluded for similar reasons. Only 3 Overground stations end in H, all of which I fitted in, but this left 12 starting with H with nowhere to go. Similarly only 3 Overground stations start with D, all of which I fitted in, but this left 13 ending with D with nowhere to go. Those four restrictions have already ruled out over half the stations on the network. These are the some of the trials and tribulations which face the would-be maximal word chain compiler.

But reader Mark B has beaten my 27 with the following, which contains 30!
The longest word chain using only the names of Overground stations
Barking, Gospel Oak, Kensal Rise, Edmonton Green, New Cross, Seven Sisters, Shadwell, Leyton Midland Road, Dalston Junction, New Cross Gate, Emerson Park, Kensington (Olympia), Acton Central, Leytonstone High Road, Dalston Kingsland, Denmark Hill, London Fields, Shepherds Bush, Hampstead Heath, Hackney Downs, Stonebridge Park, Kew Gardens, Surrey Quays, Stamford Hill, Liverpool Street, Turkey Street, Theobalds Grove, Enfield Town, Norwood Junction, North Wembley
If you think you can improve on this, either by slotting in some extra Overground stations or coming up with a completely different ordering, I'd be interested to know.

I'm going to leave the next three word chains up to you.
The longest word chains using only the names of TfL tram stops
Mitcham, Merton Park, King Henry's Drive, Elmers End, Dundonald Road
Gravel Hill, Lloyd Park, King Henry's Drive, East Croydon, New Addington
The names of the 39 tram stops don't connect very well, so the longest chain is rather short. Reader steeevooo has found more than one way to reach five (the only fixed point being King Henry's Drive in the middle).
The longest word chain using only the names of Crossrail stations
Iver, Reading, Goodmayes, Seven Kings, Slough, Hanwell, Liverpool Street, Taplow, West Ealing, Gidea Park
That's any of the 41 stations which will be on the line once it's finally fully open, whenever that is. Reader Ali C has successfully linked 10 of them together (which is also the best I can do).
The longest word chain using only the names of DLR stations
Bow Church, Heron Quays, Shadwell, Lewisham, Mudchute, Elverson Road, Devons Road, Deptford Bridge, East India, All Saints, Stratford International, Langdon Park, King George V
This time there are 45 DLR stations to juggle, which gives a bit more wriggle room. Reader Ali C has fitted 13 of them together (which I think is the maximum).
As for individual tube lines, I've started off these lists...
The longest word chain on each of the tube lines
Bakerloo: Waterloo, Oxford Circus, Stonebridge Park, Kilburn Park, Kensal Green, North Wembley (6)
Central: Ruislip Gardens, Shepherd's Bush, Hainault, Theydon Bois, St. Paul's, South Ruislip, Perivale, East Acton, Notting Hill Gate, Epping, Gants Hill, Leyton, Northolt, Tottenham Court Road, Debden, North Acton, Newbury Park (17)
Circle: Blackfriars, St James's Park, Kings Cross St Pancras, South Kensington, Notting Hill Gate, Euston Square, Embankment, Tower Hill, Liverpool Street, Temple, Edgware Road (11)
District: Plaistow, Westminster, Ravenscourt Park, Kew Gardens, Southfields, Sloane Square, Earl's Court, Temple, Elm Park, Kensington Olympia, Aldgate East, Turnham Green, Notting Hill Gate, East Ham, Mansion House, Edgware Road, Dagenham East, Tower Hill (18)
Hammersmith & City: Plaistow, Whitechapel, Ladbroke Grove, East Ham, Moorgate, Euston Square, Edgware Road (7)
Jubilee: Southwark, Kilburn, Neasden, North Greenwich (4)
Metropolitan: Chalfont & Latimer, Ruislip Manor, Ruislip, Pinner, Rickmansworth, Hillingdon, North Harrow, West Harrow, Wembley Park, King's Cross St Pancras (10)
Northern: Waterloo, Oval, London Bridge, Elephant & Castle, Edgware, Embankment, Tooting Bec, Clapham South, High Barnet, Tufnell Park, King's Cross St Pancras, Stockwell, Leicester Square, Euston (14)
Piccadilly: Hammersmith, Hyde Park Corner, Ruislip Manor, Ruislip, Piccadilly Circus, South Harrow, Wood Green, North Ealing, Green Park, King's Cross St Pancras, Sudbury Hill, Leicester Square, Eastcote, Earl's Court, Turnpike Lane, Ealing Common, Northfields, South Ealing, Gloucester Road (19)
Victoria: Pimlico, Oxford Circus, Seven Sisters, Stockwell (4)
...and you've completed the full ten, thanks! But could they be even longer?

I'll update the post with your best efforts as they come in, and tell you whether I think they can be beaten.

Finally a seriously tough challenge, widening the scope to every tube station on the network. This word chain contains 99 of them.
The longest word chain using only the names of tube stations
Bromley-by-Bow, West Harrow, West Ruislip, Pimlico, Oxford Circus, Seven Sisters, Stockwell, Liverpool Street, Tottenham Hale, Euston Square, Euston, North Harrow, Waterloo, Oval, Leicester Square, Eastcote, East Ham, Marble Arch, Hatton Cross, South Harrow, Westminster, Ruislip Manor, Ruislip, Pinner, Ruislip Gardens, St. Paul's, Shepherd's Bush, High Barnet, Totteridge & Whetstone, Edgware, Elm Park, King's Cross St Pancras, Shepherd's Bush Market, Tooting Bec, Canary Wharf, Fairlop, Piccadilly Circus, Stamford Brook, Kennington, Northwood Hills, South Ruislip, Plaistow, West Ham, Mornington Crescent, Theydon Bois, Sudbury Hill, Lancaster Gate, East Acton, North Acton, North Greenwich, Hyde Park Corner, Rickmansworth, Hornchurch, Holland Park, Kew Gardens, South Ealing, Grange Hill, Lambeth North, Hammersmith, Hounslow East, Turnpike Lane, Ealing Common, Northfields, Southfields, St James's Park, Kensington (Olympia), Amersham, Mill Hill East, Tower Hill, Ladbroke Grove, Earl's Court, Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, North Ealing, Green Park, Knightsbridge, Elephant & Castle, Embankment, Turnham Green, Notting Hill Gate, Edgware Road, Dollis Hill, Leyton, Newbury Park, Kilburn Park, Kilburn, Neasden, Northolt, Tottenham Court Road, Debden, Northwick Park, Kenton, Northwood, Dagenham East, Temple, Epping, Gants Hill, Latimer Road, Dagenham Heathway.
With 270 names to choose from, potential word chain length increases significantly. I managed to link 91 together (by shuffling cells around a spreadsheet), then Ali C trumped that with 92 (via some nifty computer code), then Jerry connected 95 (as a distraction from doing some work), then reader X-Plaistow emailed an even longer string of 97, which I tweaked to squeeze in one more. That record of 98 stood for six weeks until X-Plaistow sent in a 99, and also attached a six-page proof that this must be the maximum possible. Alas 100 just can't be done, but who doesn't love a 99?

Rules
» Station names should be as given on the tube map.
» Station names must not be repeated (even if there are two Hammersmiths in real life).

Housekeeping
» Please write your word chains as a long string of names, not a vertical list.
» Your updates to the longest word chains on the Overground, trams, Crossrail and DLR and individual tube lines in the appropriate comments box please.
» Musings about the all-tube-stations challenge can go in the comments box too.
» But potential solutions to the all-tube-stations word chain by email only, thanks (because they're likely to be rather long, and because it makes for a better individual challenge).

If it helps, here are full lists of tram stops, Crossrail stations and DLR stations, here are Wikipedia's lists of tube stations and Overground stations, and here's a tube map.

Current maxima
Overground 30
Trams 5
Crossrail 10
DLR 13
Tube lines 19
Tube 98

 Monday, January 28, 2019

Yeading (pronounced Yedding) is undeniably one of London's lesser known suburbs. It's hidden away on the eastern edge of the London borough of Hillingdon, rubbing up against Ealing, roughly halfway between Hayes and Northolt. Drivers miss it because it's sandwiched between the Uxbridge Road and the A40. The Grand Union Canal splits it off from Greenford, so driving in that way doesn't work either. It's never had a station because no railway goes within a mile of the place. I'd never been, other than straight through on a bus, so I've rectified that and today present a post which namechecks Yeading no fewer than 36 times.



Welcome to Yeading
Yeading was a tiny village far longer than most, its first mention in the 8th century, and still a small huddle of cottages at the start of the 20th. Development started creeping north from the Uxbridge Road in the 1930s and finally jumped the stream during the war. Yeading's unusual therefore as a late-developing suburb, which now sprawls in all sorts of directions covered by a variety of modern-ish housing. Tying down its boundaries isn't easy. TfL reckon it stretches as far north as the White Hart roundabout, even though every Ealing streetname confirms this area is still Northolt. Hillingdon council reckon it starts at the borough boundary, just south of Kingshill Avenue and continues only as far as the river. But they also insist on writing Hayes on all the local streetname signs instead (apart from a very select few which inexplicably say Yeading, in very disparate locations, and basically this is all terribly confusingly vague).



Yeading Lane
Maps from 100 years ago show an isolated country lane threading across a patchwork of fields to connect the hamlet of Yeading to the rest of Middlesex. That lonely track is now Yeading Lane, a busy local corridor, and the spine road for most of the postwar development. The original village centre lay around the big crossroads, where not a single original building survives. Instead a typically-bricky shopping parade sweeps down one flank, boasting insufficient parking and a lowly bevy of shops. I'm impressed it still has a Boots, and somehow still an independent men's, children's and ladieswear emporium called Vicky's. The fruit and vegetables arrayed in boxes outside Mor Foods look bountifully splendid. Retail categories featuring twice along the parade include betting shops, fried chicken vendors and Polski skleps. The furniture store spells Sofa's with an apostrophe but not Tables, Chairs, Beds or Wardrobes.



Yeading Fork
Although it sounds like a posh restaurant, or perhaps some kind of farming implement, Yeading Fork is just a road. This short spur used to be the route by which the country lane entered the village, winding round Manor Farm and a water pump, but it was bypassed early last century to give through traffic a clearer run. At one end are a scrap metal yard and a bus stand, and at the other end a corrugated iron hut with a cross on top. Yeading wasn't initially large enough to merit a church of its own, so this hut does for the Apostolic lot... while the C of E gained St Edmunds down the lane in 1961 with its fire-station-like tower and colourful stained glass. If anything in Yeading is an attraction it's probably those windows, but only if you can get inside the building.



Yeading Brook Meadows
That river I've been mentioning is the Yeading Brook, one of west London's more significant streams, which feeds into the River Crane south of the Grand Union Canal. I've long wondered why a 10 mile river rising near Harrow should be named after this insignificant suburb, but checking an old map confirms that the hamlet of Yeading was the only settlement near its banks amidst a broad sweep of meadows. They survive here as Yeading Brook Meadows, a lengthy stretch of grassland still cultivated for hay, which divides definitely-Yeading to the north from possibly-Yeading to the south. The rare narrow-leaved water-dropwort grows here if you know where to look, as do the common spotted-orchid and the crack willow, while the sign by the footbridge promises kingfishers too. At this time of year it's more an expanse to rush round with the dog, well-wrapped, but I imagine it comes into its own in the summer. When I finally get round to walking the Yeading Brook end to end, I shall tell you more.



Yeading Library
Across the Yeading Brook, in what might not be Yeading, lies Yeading Library. It looks like a village hall with two conservatories trumpeting out at right angles, and is accessed down a short ramp past a minor flowerbed. Impressively it still opens six days a week, and somehow hasn't yet been rebranded Yeading Reading despite that being the obvious thing to do. I found it on the corner of Yeading Lane and Yeading Gardens, amid one of the area's earliest estates, where I spotted several bungalows, a lot of paved driveways and one of the ugliest semi-detached houses I have ever seen. The ground floor windows only cling to the outer corners, leaving a brutally blank expanse in the centre, and the walls are built from two-colours of brick layered like a chocolate wafer. You see this brick design on certain other houses nearby, where the developers tried adding variety amidst plain, plastered and pebbledashed, but thank goodness it never caught on.



Yeading Extra
Because Yeading Lane could never cope with serious traffic, a dual carriageway called The Parkway was carved through some years back. Beyond the Willow Tree Roundabout is car country - a massive retail park with several hundred parking spaces plus a Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency hub where would-be drivers take their tests. Queues of weekend shoppers first pass a choice of Burger King or Starbucks drivethrus, then a huge B&Q, then an even huger Tesco. I manoeuvred inside the Yeading Extra to use the loo, decided against fish and chips from the short parade piggybacked outside, then set off into a meandering hinterland of 1980s townhouses. Yeading really does boast some impressively unremarkable residential variety. Eventually I found a cut-through to Willow Tree Open Space, transformed from brickworks to nature reserve and sports pitches fifty years ago, and wandered past littered thickets and empty playgrounds to the Grand Union Canal. Yeading definitely ends here.



Yeading FC
As a postscript I crossed the Uxbridge Road to what definitely isn't Yeading to where Yeading FC, who no longer exist, no longer play. They used to be big, for non-leaguers, climbing the Isthmian League to reach Conference South, and with two big FA Cup ties under their belts against Newcastle United (2004) and Nottingham Forest (2006). But in 2007 they decided to merge with their neighbours to form Hayes and Yeading FC, enduring less success and a lengthy ground-sharing safari. Only last season did they return to The Warren, now rebranded the SKYex Community Stadium, which is tucked away at the back end of a trading estate behind several carpet warehouses and a Sikh academy. You'll know the original ground from Bend It Like Beckham, where it was used for most of the training scenes and matches, with the Southall gasholder rising in the background. Expect Hertford Town at home next Saturday, in the Bostick South Central, to be less of a performance.

 Sunday, January 27, 2019

Doreen Fletcher | A Retrospective

The Nunnery Gallery had a hit on its hands five years ago with an exhibition of pre-war streetscapes by the East London Group entitled From Bow To Biennale. This month they're back in similar territory, although the focus has shifted half a century later and all are the works of a single artist. Doreen Fletcher started painting the East End in 1983, kicking off with a bus stop in Mile End, and developed a particular eye for 'the almost gone'. If you like vanished laundrettes, grimy terraces and pre-demolished shops, her work is for you.



Doreen stopped painting the East End in 2004, and her oeuvre might have gone unnoticed had it not been championed a few years ago by The Gentle Author, inspiring her to take up her brushes again. The exhibition therefore mixes works old and new, not that it's always possible to tell which is which without checking the label alongside. That evocative stretch of the Commercial Road turns out to be 1989, the empty cafe in Limehouse 1996 and the dilapidated public conveniences in North Woolwich 2017. At least four of the paintings on display are dated 2019, which is going some for January, including one of a fox beside a petrol station in Beckton.



It's great when you recognise the subject. That's Canary Wharf rising as-yet unsurrounded, that's the front of Plaistow station and that's (ah yes) Benjy's nightclub in Mile End. But you don't need to know where it is to appreciate the subject, because a faded pub on a street corner or a brick arch beneath a railway viaduct instantly drags you back. Doreen's canvases and drawings are brightly coloured, where appropriate, bringing their subjects very much to life. What's particularly valuable is how the collection depicts both what's been lost over the past few decades and what will be lost over the coming years.



Her exhibition's on at the Nunnery Gallery until 24th March, Mondays excepted, and entrance is free. Head up the alleyway off Bow Road and the door to the Nunnery Gallery's on your left. Alight at Bus Stop M and you can't miss it. The main gallery is ringed with canvases, as is the corridor at the back, plus there are a few more on the walls of what used to be the cafe. I reckon there are about 40 altogether. If you're particularly enamoured, a book of Doreen's paintings is available from the table in the alcove doubling up as a small shop. To meet the artist in person, in conversation with The Gentle Author, buy a £5 ticket for the in-house event this Wednesday evening.



If you'd like to see Doreen's work before visiting, or in lieu of turning up, the internet is your friend. The Gentle Author has featured it several times, and a couple of news websites have taken an interest since the exhibition launched. I prefer to view the paintings on Doreen's own website, where a single image is blogged every week along with a lengthy anecdote-packed explanation of how it came to be. But her text resonates mainly because I've seen them for real, so if you are in the area over the next couple of months, do drop in.

 Saturday, January 26, 2019

A strange thing has happened at Bromley-by-Bow station.

The ticket machines have stopped accepting cash...



...which, OK, sometimes happens. What's odd is that TfL have no intention of repairing them until April.



Three months is a long time for the people of Bromley-by-Bow to be without means of paying for their travel by cash. Sure you could always use contactless or top up your Pay As You Go online, just as the noticeboard alongside the machines suggests, or even download the new PAYG app and add credit that way. But this isn't about you, it's about people who pay for their tube travel by cash. The community surrounding Bromley-by-Bow isn't especially affluent, so is likely to contain more cash-topper-uppers than most.

Bromley-by-Bow's ticket hall very rarely contains a member of staff, so customers must make do with advice in written form. Scrappy stickers have been attached to the ticket machines warning that notes and coins are not accepted. The two nearest Oyster Ticket Stops have been listed on a board alongside, although neither is especially close. Someone has printed out a Google map for each and drawn a line in pen showing how to get there, then stuck these up alongside the machine with sellotape. It shows initiative, but for a problem which started ten days ago and is due to continue for ten more weeks, it's not especially professional.



The reason for this lengthy cash-free hiatus isn't clear. Perhaps the issue affecting both machines is really serious and can't be fixed until something arrives in three months time. Perhaps new ticket machines are due in April and there's no point wasting money on updating the current ones right now. Perhaps there's no money for repairs in TfL's budget until the new financial year kicks off. Whatever the reason, I've never seen "No cash payments for tickets. Please use the nearest Oyster ticket stop or top-up/buy season tickets online" in TfL's Station closures six months look ahead list before, so it must be serious.

The ongoing redevelopment of the ticket hall might also be a contributory factor. This small space has been undergoing renovation works for the last three years, including the widening of the gateline, new interior tiling, fresh brick-effect cladding and a smart new glass roof, but nobody has ever quite got round to finishing it off.

It's supposed to look like this...



...but instead it looks like this (and hasn't changed from looking like this for the last six months).



Step-free access was finally introduced last March, which is great, but since then the contractors appear to have given up and gone away. Scaffolding poles remain around the edge of the new glass lantern. The blue hoardings covering the unfinished spaces to either side of the entrance have not yet been removed. Strings of temporary lights thread overhead. A host of building materials lie dormant under the westbound staircase. "Reconfiguration of ticket hall including improved revenue generating opportunities" has not occurred. "Enhanced ambience through the renewal of ticket hall finishes" is not complete.

One day it'll look great, a welcoming beacon on the busy A12 to service the increasing population moving into hundreds of new flats beyond the dual carriageway. But for now it's just a building site in stasis, its ticket hall invariably unstaffed and with ticket machines that don't take notes or coins. Don't forget to top up in the newsagents down the road before you arrive. Or just stroll through the barriers without paying, they're usually left open, at The Station TfL Forgot.

Sunday evening update: An employee writes... "The reason for the no cash option is that contractors are working on the station including the area where the cash is sorted/bagged/collected, so for security reasons that's been stopped until the refurbishment is complete."

Wednesday update: The sign in the ticket hall has been updated.



This may not be the whole story.

 Friday, January 25, 2019

In 1963 the Worboys Committee was convened to agree a new standardised system for Britain's hotchpotch of road signs. We see the resulting designs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert all around us, their pictograms and typefaces much admired. Officially every UK road sign should have been replaced, but some slipped through, and a few Pre-Worboys signs linger on more than fifty years later. Here's one I stumbled upon in Stoke Newington.



They don't make 'em like this any more. You can almost see how it was put together, with black type on a white board pinned to a blue board, plus a separate white arrow pinned to one side. It's a bit rusty now, but still being looked after, and still perfectly legible.

I found it at the bottom of Manor Road, approaching the junction with Stamford Hill, outside the former Bismillah Kebab House. I didn't find any other examples close by, but I wondered where else in London there might be some.

I tried searching on Flickr. (Now is a good time to look because after 5th February anyone without a current subscription will be limited to 1000 photos, and every stored image above the limit will be deleted). I found a few potential pre-Worboys survivors, mostly in north London, and went out to see if they were still there.

This one was still there. But only just.



This is on Theobalds Road between Holborn and Clerkenwell, just before the junction with Grays Inn Road. The sign's constructed the same way as before, but hasn't lasted so well. The white panels are grubby, the writing's faded and the lower nameplate has been removed. Ten years ago it was cleaner, but still only two-thirds intact. Holborn was probably mentioned off to the right, and maybe the City. It's amazing, and delightful, that Camden council have left it up.

Here's another poorly-maintained sign, this time in Bowes Park.



It's at the top end of Brownlow Road, fractionally inside the borough of Enfield, approaching the junction with the North Circular. Again the bottom panel on the sign has disappeared (perhaps because it's the easiest to stretch up and reach) - it used to point towards Edmonton and Woodford. This time a chunk of the top panel has disappeared too.

What you can't see in my photo is the big Worboys sign a few yards in front which lists all the modern destinations inside green panels, including N. Circular, Brent Cross, (M1) and (M11). Normally its appearance would have meant removal of the old, but here the obsolete sign has survived.

While I was in the area, I also popped up to Southgate.



This is a very different kind of pre-Worboys sign, a cast iron fingerpost located where Waterfall Road meets Cannon Hill at the heart of the Southgate Green conservation area. It would once have stood at the centre of the junction, but was shunted off to one side when a mini-roundabout was built.

The craftsmanship is both splendid and functional, with immaculate raised lettering and bolts to attach each finger to the post. Road numbers were deemed more important in those days, hence A1003 and A1004 appear more prominently that potential destinations. This was Middlesex at the time, hence it's London which appears rather than Central London, eight miles distant.

But this is the finest pre-Worboys sign I found, in Muswell Hill.



It's on Muswell Hill Broadway, on a pole just outside Le Creuset on the approach to St James' Church. And if it looks in tip-top condition that's because Haringey council took it away a few years ago, touched it up and put in back. Well done to them.

Ahhh those fractions and those beautiful raised letters, all from an era when everything was hand-drawn. Perhaps this sign works so well because it's simple, clear and regular - every place name mentioned has eight letters, and also there are only two ways you can go.

I was pleased that all the pre-Worboys signs I went in search of were still there. But there must be more in London, actually definitely still present and not recently lost. Quick, while stocks last.

» Flickr Group - Pre-Worboys signs (currently contains 5.9K photos)
» Pre-Worboys preservation campaign (1564 forum posts)
» The current Traffic Signs Manual (several pdfs)

 Thursday, January 24, 2019

Scene: A pub near London Bridge
Background: I visited to meet a former work colleague.
Backstory: On arrival they'd already bought their beer, so I went to the bar alone.
Caveat: The pub did not have any Becks, so I ordered a different bottled beer.
Preparation: I had a ten pound note ready, but not on display.
Activity: The barmaid opened the bottle and placed it on the bar.
Surprise: Rather than telling me the price, she whipped out a card reader, typed in a number and showed it to me.
Shock: The price was £5.15. For a standard bottled beer!
Aside: Over Christmas I bought 20 bottles of Becks from the supermarket for £10. This bottle was over 10 times more expensive.
Action: I offered my ten pound note. This threw the barmaid slightly, but she recovered and gave me my change.
Observation: Along the bar I noticed another punter waving his card against the reader without checking the screen.
Key point: This is why why banks want us to use contactless, to train us to pay without necessarily realising how much we're spending.
Interlude: Beer was drunk, and conversation was enjoyed.
Follow-up: On my return to the bar, I opted for what I hoped was a cheaper brand.
This time: The total for this round was £11.10. I offered a ten pound note again, plus a pound coin.
But then: While I was scrambling in my wallet for the extra 10p, the barmaid gave me 90p change.
Consequence: Ha, I was now a pound up, which almost made up for the expensive beer earlier.
Observation: I'd not have been a pound up if I'd paid by contactless, because no mistake would have been made.
Conclusion: I know contactless is damned convenient sometimes, but there are reasons why I still like cash.

By now, Crossrail should have been up and running for a month and a half. But how's it really doing? Papers prepared for next week's TfL board meeting state the following...
Since Crossrail Limited announced in August 2018 that the central section of the Elizabeth line (Paddington through to Abbey Wood) will not open in December 2018 as originally planned, Crossrail, TfL, and MTR (the operator) have been carrying out a review to determine the priority tasks needed to open the central section as soon as possible.
A progress review has been underway for at least four months.
Following the review, Crossrail will provide a revised schedule to open the central section and open the full Elizabeth line, from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east as soon as practicable after that.
The review's not yet finished, so no future dates have been set.
Crossrail has made progress on developing a revised delivery plan and has identified two critical paths to opening the central section of the Elizabeth line between Paddington and Abbey Wood.
Two entirely separate delays are holding things up, one technical, the other physical.
The first is completing the installation of railway systems along the route, start and finish dynamic testing and carry out trial running and trial operations. The second is completing and integrating all works and associated safety assurance documentation in the stations, shafts and portals.
A lot of crucial processes are incomplete.
The completion of the rail systems infrastructure in the tunnels remains a key issue and productivity has been disappointing.
Signalling is the biggest problem of all.
Any outstanding work remaining after the start of Main Dynamic Testing (MDT) will have to be undertaken around the testing programme and the plan for MDT reserves some time for this.
The forced overlap of installation and testing wasn't planned, and isn't ideal.
Crossrail started MDT on 14 January 2019, which allows for integrated systems tests with trains running at full speed through the tunnels.
The testing of trains has only just started, five weeks after the line was supposed to have opened.
The initial tests involve a single train completing a number of planned tests.
So far, testing involves just one train.
It is obviously very early in the testing programme, but so far the train and rail systems have been stable and tests successfully completed. The forward programme of tests in the coming weeks includes testing with multiple trains in the tunnel and also the transitions to the Network Rail infrastructure.
There is a heck of a lot more testing still to go.
Crossrail’s focus for the completion of stations, shafts and portals has been to focus on the dates (a programme milestone called “TOSD”) for the substantial demobilisation of Tier 1 contractors.
Stations aren't yet complete, so the current focus is 'substantial demobilisation'.
It is encouraging that these dates have been achieved for Custom House, Woolwich, Farringdon, Whitechapel platform areas and several shafts and portals.
Substantial demobilisation has not been achieved at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street
Achieving the remaining TOSD dates in the next six months is a key programme priority.
It is by no means certain that Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street will be complete by the end of July 2019.
Crossrail has continued to develop a reprioritisation of tasks and integration activities across the programme that will provide the basis of a new schedule and opening date.
Don't expect a revised opening date for Crossrail, let alone an opening, any time soon.

And TfL were totally in the dark about all of this until the end of August, honest.

 Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Famous Works of Literature With One Letter Missing

• Liver Twist - a book of offal recipes
• Avid Copperfield - a metal detector's tale
• Beak House - children's book set in an aviary
• Our Mutual Fiend - everyone hates the mother-in-law
• Hard Ties - some of the greatest Cup Finals
• Ride and Prejudice - cyclists confront taxi drivers
• Of Ice And Men - the science of climate change
• Madame Ovary - life as a gynaecologist
• Rave New World - the second Summer of Love
• The Canterbury Ales - the publican's story
• The Lord Of The Rigs - epic North Sea drama
• Lack Beauty - the Elephant Man's autobiography
» Nineteen Eighty-Fur - the fashion industry in the Thatcher era
» Far from the Adding Crowd - pupil plays truant from maths class
» The Hird Man - autobiography by Thora's husband
» The Hose at Pooh Corner - fire precautions in the Hundred-Acre Wood
» The Lion, The Itch and The Wardrobe - big cat gets fleas off clothing
» Laughterhouse-Five - a clown's wartime story


Famous Works of Literature With One Letter Changed

• As You Hike It - walking the Pennine Way in real time
• Rodeo and Juliet - young lover heads to the Midwest
• King Liar - Henry VIII promises to be faithful
• A Midsummer Night's Dread - horror story under the stars
• Oh Hello - two strangers meet and it's love at first sight
• The Merry Wines Of Windsor - viniculture comes to Berkshire
• Haslet - tragedy about a pork loaf
• Twelfth Fight - the latest in the Rocky series
• Watch 22 - the joy of football
• Lord Of The Fries - chip shop wars
• The Milk On The Floss - what the dental hygienist found
• Animal Fare - a carnivorous cookbook
» Death of a Balesman - a terrible farming accident
» To Fill a Mockingbird - recipes for birdseed
» Teas of the d'Urbervilles - Victorians enjoy a nice cuppa
» Groat Expectations - Pip doesn't think he'll come into much money
» Treasure Inland - a pirate story but without the ships
» Three Men in a Bout - a boxing referee gets stuck in


Famous Works of Literature With One Letter Added

• All's Well That Bends Well - documentary set in a rheumatology clinic
• Judge The Obscure - tales from an Orkney magistrate
• Warm and Peace - a fireside companion
• Vanity Fairy - morality tale about an egotistical elf
• A Broom With A View - on tour with a witch
• The Malteser Falcon - bird of prey learns party trick
• Hi Claudius - bumping into the Roman emperor
• Crimea and Punishment - life under Russian occupation
• Beast Of Eden - the snake tells its story
• Peter Pain - masochism in Neverland
• The Colour Purple - how it should always have been
» The Old Man and the Seat - pensioner watches TV all afternoon
» Brave Newt World - Ken Livingstone looks to the future
» A Farewell to Farms - rural depopulation and its consequences
» The Study - Jackie Collins does it indoors
» Pickwick Paupers - something didn't come up
» Of Mince and Men - An epic tale of butchers and butchery


Famous Works of Literature Differently Spaced

• Tristram's Handy - public schoolboy takes up odd jobs
• Robins On Crusoe - island recluse makes friends with the birds
• Middle March - remembering the time just before Easter
• Lorna, Do One - childhood friends fall out
• Kid Napped - parents share their bedtime secrets
• Bright On Rock - a sunny day in Gibraltar
• Waters Hip Down - how to dilute a leg joint
• The Cherry Or Chard - what would you like in your fruit & veg box?

 Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Yesterday was an exciting day for Men Who Like Trains, as Class 717s were finally introduced to passenger service on services out of Moorgate. As someone who can't tell his 156s from his 465s I wasn't particularly interested in filing a report, so instead I sent out diamond geezer's Rolling Stock Correspondent, Dan Gricer, to investigate...

Great Northern's eagerly-awaited replacement for Class 313, the 717, has been a long time coming. 313s are now the oldest EMUs in regular service on the British mainland, introduced on Hertfordshire-bound routes in February 1976. As replacements for diesel classes 105 and 106, these elderly pantograph/shoegear hybrids have long been ready for retirement, their camshaft-controlled DC GEC G310AZ traction motors having ceased to be cutting edge some time ago. So there was great excitement in May 2016 when GTR announced that a new fleet of dual system Desiro City electric multiple-units with Liebherr air-conditioning was to be built at the Siemens plant in Krefeld, Germany, with an expectation that all 25 units would have been introduced to service by January 2019. Not even close.



At first glance the Class 717s bear a striking resemblance to the Class 700s recently introduced across the Govia Thameslink franchise, but there are several crucial tweaks. Most obviously the 717s have emergency end doors, with steps unfolding from the drivers' cab in case evacuation is required in the single-bore Moorgate tunnels. This also means no yellow front, because that's allowed now (as I'm sure everyone knows). 717s are only being used on relatively short commuter hauls which means no space wasted on first class seating, and also no toilets (a similar exemption to 345s and 777s). Also, count the pantographs. The average commuter may never notice the differences, but we enthusiasts note every nuance every time.

Technically the first Class 717 entered passenger service in September last year, when a single unit crept out of Moorgate to minimum fanfare simply so that management could claim to have met a target. Software issues and incomplete driver training have caused continuing delays, ensuring that no units entered service for the December timetable change, and only this week has a (very) limited 'preview service' been introduced. Three trains are scheduled to run each weekday from Moorgate to Gordon Hill, departing 1037, 1137 and 1337 respectively, essentially to give drivers a bit of practice rather than as useful commuter options. I took my pick from 2G82, 2G72 and 2G74 and went for a ride.



The DMIs at MOG displayed no information about 717006 until six minutes before its departure. The halogen glare of the headlamps down the tunnel provided further confirmation that something novel was approaching, as did the small crowd of enthusiasts keen to document the first day's operations. I never tire of watching a sleek new EMU making its debut, and it seems neither do they. 717s are indivisible six-car units which almost completely fill these short underground platforms on the former Northern City line, and so can't be doubled up to provide extra capacity. Stepping through the doors the smell of 'new train' was unmistakeable. Initial loadings were not high.

717s are laid out in 2+2 transverse formation, as opposed to the 313's 3+2, which increases the overall capacity and enhances the peak hours service. Total capacity is 943 passengers per unit, with 362 seats (including 64 priority and 15 tip-up seats), whereas 313s offered 492 seats but an overall capacity of only 846. I checked the steepness of the seat-backs and can confirm it's identical to Class 700s, as is the thin cushioning which has attracted "like sitting on an ironing board" comments from many travellers. There are no seat-back tables. The passenger information screens were not yet enabled. Wi-fi comes as standard. Your plug is under your seat.



In my opinion the acceleration was excellent, and although the 717s are capped at 30mph in these tunnels they will be able to hit 85mph in the open. This should allow the tightening of future timetables, speeding journeys for all, but not while the 313s remain in operation. On this particular diagram the train skipped through the first two stations without stopping, picking up the first ordinary passengers at HHY even though it wasn't scheduled to stop. Regular northbound commuters will be used to a pause at DYP while the driver switches to AC traction and raises the pantograph. Our switchover was similarly protracted, but only because we were running ahead of time.

I do not understand people, so I'm not sure why two new passengers at FPK chose to squeeze themselves into a seat with tiny legroom when several spacious bays were available instead. They did not look up from their phones alongside Siemens' Hornsey depot, where four of the new 717 units were proudly on display, so I guess they cannot have been real enthusiasts. They also did not appear excited when a DB Schenker/EWS Class 66 diesel overtook us approaching AAP, nor when Grand Central's 180102 pulled up alongside us at BOP. Our driver only had to apologise for "being held at a red signal" once. We reached GDH forty-seven seconds early.



Notebook-tickers and rolling stock aficionados will want to make haste to Moorgate to enjoy the weekday preview service for themselves. Commuters who like sitting down may not be so keen, whereas those sometimes left behind in the rush hour crush should be well pleased. As yet no date has been scheduled for the final Class 313 operation, and the current snail's-pace changeover period suggests full decommissioning may still be some time off. But Class 717s will be an inexorable presence on the Hertford Loop for decades to come, and at least they're not 144s or 390s, eh?

 Monday, January 21, 2019

If you're up and awake and zipped into your anorak right now, no doubt you're as excited as I am by the prospect of seeing this morning's super blood wolf moon. A scientist would call it a total lunar eclipse, but we live in media-debased times so super wolf blood moon is obviously a better name. A wolf blood super moon doesn't come along very often, which is why millions of Britons have awoken early today to capture the blood wolf super moon for themselves and to share the wolf super blood moon with their online friends. But what exactly is a blood super wolf moon, and why the hype?

The blood bit is easy. During an eclipse of the moon some of the sunlight refracted through the earth's atmosphere reflects off the lunar surface as a deathly shade of red resembling the colour of a gushing wound. No actual blood is involved, but punters are far more likely to dash out of the house to see a blood moon than an eclipse, hence the successful rebranding of the latter in recent years.

The super bit is easy. The moon's non-circular orbit sometimes brings it closer to the earth and sometimes further away, and when when a close call happens during a full moon we call it a supermoon. Astrologers disagree over the precise dimensional borderline between supermoon and non-super moon, but why should ill-defined ambiguity stop us? A supermoon looks bigger than an average full moon, but not by enough for your average punter to spot the difference without being told, hence the flurry of supermoon articles in the media during the preceding 24 hours. Astronomers prefer the term "full moon around perigee", but that's not catchy enough, so supermoon it is. Usually there are three or four supermoons a year, which just goes to show how fantastically rare they're not.

The wolf bit is less easy.

Our ancestors were much more closely tied to the phases of the moon than we are, the electric light bulb having not yet been invented. A full moon made it possible to continue some outdoor activities into the evening, whereas a new moon meant stay indoors and light a candle. For many the dates of the full moon were a more useful long-term subdivision than calendar months, and so they gained special names according to whereabouts in the year they fell. For example, one of the autumn full moons was known as the Hunter's Moon (because it was a good night for going out and killing things), and one of the winter full moons became the Snow Moon (because it often did).

However, because long-distance communications had not yet been invented, different local communities called their full moons different things. A full moon in June, for example, might be called the Rose Moon, Flower Moon or Strawberry Moon according to local horticultural conditions, while a full moon in March might be the Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon or Lenten Moon depending. In an internet-focused age such variety is clearly not ideal, hence our historic Anglo-Saxon names have been superseded by whatever Native Americans called their full moons, which explains the global adoption of Sturgeon Moon, Full Corn Moon and Beaver Moon despite their local irrelevance.

Originally full moons were defined on a seasonal basis, with a list of three names for winter, three for spring, three for summer and three for autumn. For example summer's trio were the Hay Moon, then the Grain Moon, then the Fruit Moon, starting with the first full moon after the summer solstice and ending with the last full moon before the autumn equinox. Autumn's list always ended with The Moon Before Yule (before the winter solstice), then winter always began with the Moon After Yule (after the winter solstice). If four full moons sneaked into a single season, as occurred roughly every two and a half years, a so-called Blue Moon was inserted to keep the cycle on track. But all this celestial palaver proved much too complicated for modern generations who prefer things simple, which is why journalists now allocate names on a month by month basis. January? Wolf Moon. Sorted.

So it's a blood moon because of unscientific dumbing down, it's a supermoon because of an entirely arbitrary threshold and it's a wolf moon because it's January and some Americans said so. Super blood wolf moon, QED.

To help you observe the super blood wolf moon, here are the exact timings of this morning's phenomenon. Look west.
02:37  Faintly super blood wolf moon begins
03:34  Partial super blood wolf moon begins
04:41  Total super blood wolf moon begins
05:12  Maximal super blood wolf moon
05:43  Total super blood wolf moon ends

06:51  Partial super blood wolf moon ends
07:48  Faintly super blood wolf moon ends
The good bit's from quarter to five to quarter to six, and you might not notice much outside that hour. All times are GMT, so you may need to adjust for local circumstances. Nothing will be visible from Australia or most of Asia because your side of the planet's facing the wrong way. In Africa or continental Europe the moon may have set before the light show is complete. Obviously you won't see anything if it's overcast, because clouds are the evil thwarting nemesis of the eclipse chaser. And do try hard not to miss it because the next decent blood moon visible from London won't be until December 2029... and that won't be even super, let alone wolf.

 Sunday, January 20, 2019

Here's the hole the last piece of my jigsaw fitted into.



I decided to go and visit it.

But, given it was entirely blank, where precisely was it located? I decided it must lie between Dagenham Heathway and Elm Park reading across, and between Upton Park and West Ham reading down. These limits provide the four edges of a rectangle in real life, so that's where I've been today, just north of the A13 spanning Barking & Dagenham and Havering. Intriguingly the rectangle is over two miles long but only half a mile deep, because the tube map really does squash reality something rotten.



To help get your bearings, think Ford of Dagenham. Their enormous car plant was the dominant feature hereabouts for 70 years until it mostly closed in 2002 and almost completely folded in 2013. Its disused buildings are currently being levelled, courtesy of Scudder Demolition, whose operatives can be seen grinning in front of photos of what they've been knocking down, pasted along the perimeter hoardings. Interspersed with these are schoolchildren's artworks and (I kid you not) several photos of an employee's Lego model of the demolition works. The former cinema building facing the car plant's main entrance has evolved into an Afro-Caribbean church, as has the former bank on the corner opposite. On Sundays both are frequented by flocks of the immaculately behatted (and on Wednesdays and Saturdays by visitors to the Dagenham Food Bank, because loss of employment has consequences).



Across the road, behind the McDonalds drivethru, lies the Rylands Estate. This whorl of Thirties housing is enclosed by Oval Roads North & South, and densely packed with curving avenues of not-quite semis (because they're joined in fives, sixes and sevens). Once upon a time all of these would have been pebbledashed, but Right To Buy means several are now painted, plastered or embedded with some approximation of crazy paving across their frontage. A typical house features a satellite dish, three bins and at least one parked car, maybe a van, possibly a taxi. Some of the residents are still elderly ex-Eastenders, but walking the streets confirms that the incoming demographic is considerably more pan-European/inter-continental. The local primary school has decided to offer free 'Breakfast Bagels' at the gate every morning to improve attendance, or fend off hunger, or both.



Behind the community centre and boxing club lies Beam Valley Country Park, a large expanse of remediated wasteland and former gravel pits where two rivers meet. One is the Beam River, the other the Wantz Stream, and between them an attractive reedy wetland area surrounded by raised embankments. Here the local populace walk their small children or their hounds, encouraging the former to feed the waterfowl and cleaning up as necessary after the latter. Come sit on a backless bench, or scan a vanished information board, or stroll briefly along a long-derelict section of the Old Romford Canal.



Across the river, in Havering rather than B&D, the Orchard Village estate stands out like a sore thumb. Its modern apartment blocks were built to replace a 60s cluster of highrises and maisonettes, but have proved notorious for poor construction, inadequate insulation, undrainable gardens and sewage backflow. Living next to a landfill site hasn't helped either, but a fourth stage of construction is underway undeterred, including denser flats and a rather tasteful curving terrace of brick townhouses. Alas a single Costcutter does not a community make, and you'd still think twice about living here. Continuing east we hit South Hornchurch, a suburb three miles distant from its namesake, where the bungalow count increases considerably. Think twitching net curtains, bulked-up sons washing their cars, the occasional St George's flag, and hey presto we've reached Rainham.



Where 20th century suburbia ends, facing off across New Road, a mile-long stripe of derelict brownfield is destined to rise again as Beam Park. This long-promised, half-affordable housing development was recently kickstarted by the Mayor after Havering councillors kicked up a fuss about the height of its towers. If you believe the hoardings the first of its 3000 homes will be opening in Early 2019, but the sole completion thus far is the showhome, a surprisingly narrow modern townhouse attached to a sales office nobody's quite got round to opening yet. The remainder of the site consists of hundreds of acres of flattened earth, occasionally piled up into terraces intended to raise ground floor apartments above flood level, but mostly still entirely featureless. One day its hoped that trains will stop on its easternmost flank, but don't expect to see Beam Park station on the tube map because it's on the wrong line, ensuring that this particular jigsaw piece remains entirely blank.



 Saturday, January 19, 2019

One of the presents I got for Christmas was a 1000 piece tube map jigsaw. Of course it was.

I started it last Saturday, and rattled through the tube map part fairly quickly. Coloured lines helped a lot, as did knowing the names of all the stations and their locations. Next I assembled the key and the roundel, then I worked out how all the bits of the River Thames snaked across the map, and then I worked out where all the floating National Rail symbols had to go. I was quite pleased with myself.

But all the remaining pieces were white, and I'd only got to this stage...



Why on earth am I doing this, I asked myself. Approximately 300 of the jigsaw's pieces were blank, that's over a quarter of the total, surely the sign either of a badly designed puzzle or a product targeted at masochists. I ploughed on. Usually the edge pieces are the best place to start, but in this case only 20 had anything printed on them and the other 106 were white. I knuckled down, patiently worked out what must connect where, and completed the jigsaw's outer border late on Sunday.

This left numerous holes of varying sizes all across the map, the largest west of Ealing, north of Edgware and east of Stratford. Any of the remaining 170 pieces might potentially fit anywhere, a truly staggering number of combinations, and finding the correct configuration would be a ridiculously arduous task. I considered abandoning the task at this point, scrunching up the pieces and dropping everything back into the box.

Instead I persisted. Here's how far I'd got by Friday. Only 147 to go.



Sigh.

One of the things making this difficult is that the tube map depicted is a pre-2015 version. It doesn't have the Overground out of Liverpool Street (which would have filled the gap between Cockfosters and Epping), it doesn't have the trams (which would have simplified most of the southern holes) and it doesn't have TfL Rail (which would have assisted on both flanks of the map). On the positive side, the tube map depicted on the jigsaw isn't the horribly squashed version of the diagram it was about to become, so the eventually-completed version will be aesthetically more pleasing. A pre-Overground map would have had loads more white space, making it been hugely more problematic to complete, so maybe the 2014 version hits the sweet spot between practicality and complexity. I'm also pleased to see that TfL provided an accessibility-free version of the artwork, so there are no blue blobs anywhere, and wouldn't it be nice if they provided a similar easier-to-follow version of the real thing?  Something else that's not helping is that virtually all of the remaining white pieces are approximately the same shape - two opposite lugs out, two opposite lugs in. There are plenty of subtle differences, like asymmetric bumps, varying widths and lengths, uneven indentations and miscellaneous curvature, but nothing that makes the remaining pieces easy to classify. Even when all four surrounding pieces are in place and you'd think it'd be relatively straightforward to identify the one in the middle, it really isn't because there are still well over 100 to choose from. The most impressive thing is that even in a jigsaw with 1000 pieces every one is unique, and when you do get one right it fits into place with a satisfying click. A very basic rule has turned out to be "If you're not quite sure whether it fits or not, then it doesn't". And with every piece that goes in there's one fewer to check against next time, so I'm hoping the task will get sequentially easier as I continue. It doesn't feel like I've got to that stage yet.
What started out as a task based on reconstructing the tube map has become something else entirely. When the only pieces remaining are white, and there are dozens and dozens of them, what you need to develop is a system. I started by laying out all the leftovers inside the box and the lid, then oriented them all the same way to make scanning through a bit easier. Sometimes I've got lucky and spotted one straight away, or been able to narrow down the field to "quite thin, with a bigger lug on the left than the right and sort of nudged off-centre, so it must be one of these ten", but that's by no means foolproof. The only reliable strategy has proven to be picking a gap and then trying every single piece, in sequence, until one fits. That's also horrifically inefficient, so in fact I've ended up trying each piece in about ten or so locations before putting it back in the box, and gradually, slowly, the larger holes eventually shrink. It's been a total slog, but oh the joy when one suddenly fits.  The thing about doing a jigsaw is that it's an essentially pointless task. Someone's chopped up a design into an unnecessary number of pieces, and you get to spend an unnecessary amount of time putting it all back together. There is ultimately the satisfaction of completion, but unlike assembling an IKEA bookcase you don't end up with anything useful at the end of the process. In an age before social media a jigsaw was always a useful means of filling time, say a quiet winter's evening or a rainy afternoon. Jigsaws were for people who didn't want to read a book, knit a scarf or kick a ball against a wall. They were also great for bringing together a group working towards a shared goal, ideal for 'family time' or for sitting down and doing something with grandma. We've lost that somewhat in an age of Xboxes, Westfield and Netflix, which is probably for the better, but the humble jigsaw is always there to provide a personal challenge. There'll be several in your local charity shop, hopefully with no bits missing.

I'm not one to give up on a pointless task, so I intend to plough on until my tube map jigsaw is complete. My mum would be well proud, or amazed, or both.


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