diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 18, 2019

Location: Rainham, RM13 9YN [map]
Open: 10-4.30pm, closed Monday, Tuesday (but open every day in July)
Admission: £9.00
Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/rainham-hall  [Facebook] [Twitter] [Instagram]
Five word summary: merchant's house as 60s canvas
Time to allow: about an hour

Rainham Hall is the only National Trust property in zone 6, and fills a useful space on the eastern edge of their London tea towel. A fine example of a Queen Anne style house, it was given a much-needed £2.5m refurbishment in 2015 and reopened with a gorgeous community garden alongside. Rather than focus on the building itself the Trust has chosen to celebrate its residents, picking one as the inspiration for an immersive experience replaced on a two-yearly rolling basis. Previously they've done Captain John Harle, the merchant who built the Hall in the first place, followed up by some babies from a postwar nursery. But in 2019 they're playing their trump card - a photographer for Vogue - and hoping very much you'll be inspired to visit.

Anthony Denney was born in Norfolk in 1913, studied at the Royal College of Art and worked for British intelligence during the war. Afterwards he started working as Staff Photographer for Conde Nast, featuring in Vogue and House & Garden, and started up his own business "principally concerned with the interior design of luxury steam yachts". After expanding his portfolio via advertising agencies and the Tate, in 1964 the National Trust nodded him into the role of tenant/custodian at Rainham Hall. They hoped he'd bring some style to the run down property, and they were right. A copy of Denney's business card, dispensed in the Stables cafe, gains you access to the exhibition in his honour.

It's called The Denney Edition. What the curators have done, which is very clever, is kit out the entire house like a glossy magazine. The entrance hall is the contents page, the first room is Editor's Notes, the kitchen is the cookery section and so on. The exhibition notes have also been published as a glossy magazine, a genuine beautifully-produced 100-pager packed with photos, history, in-depth articles and louche photoshoots. "You can recycle it at the back door on the way out or take it with you in return for a £5 donation" they said, safe in the knowledge that nobody has a hope of reading it properly on the way round.

On the ground floor we meet Denney the man, including his CV, his address book packed with socialites, a couple of his Jaeger bowties and various internationally-sourced objets. Some of these have been provided by his widow, but don't come expecting a full retrospective, more a tantalising flavour. In the kitchen we learn that Denney did most of the photography for Elizabeth David's groundbreaking series of cookery books, sometimes jetting off to snap French provincial spreads, occasionally utilising Rainham. It also turns out he only ever graced the cover of Vogue magazine twice, once with a shoe and once with a hat.

The two upper floors are more about Denney's tenets of interior design and interpretations of his work, many of these by local groups and artists. Various quirky interiors are recreated, including his advice that the best thing to do with a small dark room is make it darker. Denney's former bedroom has been decked out by modern aesthete Jermaine Gallagher, whose presence very much impressed two young visitors whose banter confirmed they were well-conversed with London's fashion scene. Two more typically grey-haired souls enjoyed the opportunity to sit in front of a Queen Magazine backdrop, lit as if in a photographer's studio. The magazine had sprung to life.

You could argue the exhibition is a triumph of style over substance, but Denney would probably have considered that the perfect review. It's certainly the case that if Rainham Hall were in Chelsea the local populace would lap this exhibition up, whereas being on the fringes of Essex provides the National Trust with more of a challenge. What's certainly the case is that if you are ever planning to visit Rainham Hall, The Denney Edition is as mainstream as it's ever going to get.

Peer out of one of the few unblocked upstairs windows at Rainham Hall and the view is now of pylons, wind turbines, an industrial estate and the Bexley incinerator. Local shops include an army surplus store, a cold-blooded reptile house, two fry-up cafes and a soulless megaTesco. But the heart of Rainham, aka Rainham Village, is a minor treat, as a hardcore of local residents know well. Last week they were out sprucing up the square around the clocktower and picking litter from the 13th century churchyard in readiness for the visit of the London in Bloom judges. They take this competition extremely seriously out here in RM13, what with arch rivals Walthamstow, Ham and Petersham to vanquish, and very nearly won the title of London's Best Village last year.

Here's the text of Sue Ospreay's poem posted up in the antique shop window.

For every hole dug & dead heads lopped
For all the hanging baskets outside our village shops
For the recycling walls from the fab Horticultural Society
And to those who planted bulbs in a tremendous variety.

Poppies on railings, flags on walls,
Cascading pocketed hessian with floral waterfalls,
For all the debris swept with our knackered yard brooms
So that Rainham could enter London in Bloom.

For all the litter pickers who filled up every bin,
You may well ask yourself well! What did we win?
Well Rainhearts be proud and behold,
Not bronze, not silver but a shining great

Fingers crossed when this year's result are announced on September 20th, Sue.

 Wednesday, July 17, 2019

For today's post I need a swear word to use, one your browser won't censor and your network won't ban. So I've invented one. It's the name of the relevant peninsula, anagrammed.
chewering (tʃuːəːrɪŋ) adjective & adverb - vulgar slang
    used to express anger, annoyance, contempt.

The Tide is the latest 'attraction' to grace the Greenwich Peninsula, an elevated walkway leading from the central square to the banks of the Thames. It opened a couple of weeks ago and has had all the tastemakers salivating because it sounds like it ought to be fantastic. It is not. It is a chewering disappointment.

The Tide begins on the far side of Peninsula Square, replacing the craft brewery outlet that used to stand here. What a chewering liberty. Look beyond the temporary sculptures and it presents a bold visual statement - multiple treetopped platforms supported on splayed white stilts. Access is via a single long ramp up one side (or there's a lift, but that wasn't operational on the two occasions I've been so best assume the lift is chewered).

A sign warns visitors not to take hot drinks or open food onto The Tide because it might stain the walkways, so expect a chewering security guard to watch over you as you climb. Zigzag round to the front and you'll be able to look down over the heart of the peninsula development, taking in the marketing pavilion, the line of sponsors' flags and the main teflon tent from a whole new angle. It's novel to see everything from above and for nothing, given that the chewers running "Up At The O2" normally charge £30.

Round the next corner is a large stepped terrace, which ought to be ideal for sitting down with a tray of noodles and a coffee except, as we've already ascertained, that's not allowed. An upper level leads off from the rear, so visitors are drawn to clamber up to see what's there, except the subsequent walkway is a brief dogleg which ends at a chewered lift so they swiftly return. The entire upper level, it turns out, is chewering pointless.

The actual connection is at first floor level, along a stripy walkway between brightly painted metal structures rising from the ground. These are in fact ventilation units and electrical cabinets, because The Tide is merely leading you above a depressingly bleak amenity corridor. The architects weren't able to build apartment blocks along this strip because the Jubilee line runs directly underneath, so they added The Chewering Tide to try and get some value from this wasted real estate.

The placemakers have a way of expressing this concept, which is to say "The Tide activates spaces above and below to provide a layered network of recreation, culture, and wellness." This is of course chewered-up nonsense, but no doubt excites the selfie-centred target audience. One particular bench even has a plaque encouraging visitors to download a wellness app, then "meditate here and breathe in the view". The view is actually of a steel and glass canyon watched over by college students and part-sold apartments, so don't chewering rush.

An inadequate number of birch trees have been planted around the walkways, growing in minimal soil within small square beds. These beds have thin metal rims, raised just high enough to cause injury if you smash your foot into one, which is exactly what I managed to do. Thankfully I was wearing trainers - anything open-toed and I'd have been shouting something a lot stronger than "chewerin' hell!"

Also, watch your step. The architects have attempted to make The Tide more interesting by including several changes of height but the edges are indistinctly marked. In particular the final platform has a raised centre, almost invisibly ramped, which it's proven chewering easy to accidentally fall off. On my first visit impromptu safety notices had been erected, but on my second visit this patent design error was being cabled off by The Tide's team of blackshirted workmen, reducing the risk but also wrecking the design aesthetic.

By the time you reach the far end you'll have walked almost 200 metres, making comparisons to New York's High Line chewering pathetic. You'll also have spotted some very large works of art, two of these by Damian Hirst, as a distraction from the fact there's chewering little else to see. Then perhaps you'll drop down and stop off at one of the bars and restaurants that have moved in like wasps around a honeytrap. But bring plenty of dosh - my Basque friend confirms that the pintxos bar charges chewering rip-off prices.

Eventually The Tide will be "a 5-kilometre network of public spaces and gardens", but don't get your hopes up that it'll all be elevated. Most of it will be the existing walkway around the tip of the peninsula, slightly tarted up, coupled to a stripe of parkland anyone could have walked through years ago. Also don't be fooled into thinking this is London's "first ever riverside linear park" because that's chewering brandspeak too... indeed it's not all riverside, it's hardly linear and there's not much chewering park.

"It's beautiful isn't it?" said a middle-aged cyclist I met on the boardwalk. I wasn't so upbeat, but he absolutely was, and I was reminded that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. He saw a shiny Insta-friendly walkway, exciting to explore, and I saw a pointless ill-designed pseudo-public space. Alas The Tide is nothing but a gaudy trifle, a shameless showboat for flogging flats, and all because the company that owns the peninsula are chewering greedy chewers.

 Tuesday, July 16, 2019

On 18th May 2009 the Greenway was sealed off between Stratford High Street and Marshgate Lane for pre-Olympic accessibility work. Yesterday it finally reopened.

Initially the plan was to reopen the Greenway in spring 2010, but by then Crossrail operations had taken precedence as part of a major worksite for the Pudding Mill portal. These were supposed to be finished by September 2013, sorry December 2014, sorry July 2016, but at that point Thames Water turned up to carry out strengthening works to the bridge over the Waterworks River. Initially their plan was to complete by July 2018, but asbestos removal slowed things down and somehow the entire closure contrived to last ten whole years.

The reopening took place at 10am in the presence of two Newham councillors, with very-local residents invited along too so that the ribbon-cutting photo would look more inclusive. Thames Water provided pink and blue balloons, and also set up a gazebo stocked with refreshments, souvenir biros and display boards praising community engagement. At the appropriate time the official photographer cajoled everybody into place and the rep from the waste-plastic-roadmaking company made sure his marketing collateral was in full view. After the ribbon was cut workmen finally removed the last row of plastic barriers, opening up access to the street and breathing life into the adjacent seven year-old pedestrian crossing. Most of the representatives then hung around for a bit of congratulatory networking, and only a small minority of pedestrians and cyclists actually went off to explore.

I was particularly excited to go off and explore because I've been waiting to do that since 2007/2009/2012. I last walked through here on my way home from the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, this being one of the alternative entrances to the Olympic Park during the Games. If you got security frisked at the Greenway Gate, that was here. But other than those few weeks nobody's passed this way in ten years, creating the only break in the sewertop path between Hackney Wick and Beckton. Here's a map showing precisely what's just been opened up (and what still hasn't).

The main drag starts by crossing the Waterworks River and proceeds along the alignment of the Northern Outfall Sewer. The surface has been split into a footpath and a cycle path with chunky sea level markers alongside, a revamp which occurred on neighbouring sections of the Greenway way back in 2010. The surrounding vegetation's recently been cut back, but through the fence buddleia and shrubbery thrive. I remember I brought Matt Baker up to this very stretch in 2009, six weeks before they closed it off, back when there was much more wildlife for Radio 4 listeners to enjoy. At the far end the Greenway opens out somewhat with freshly-raised brickwork, planks for seating and a Newham-branded waste bin. The intention appears to be to create somewhere to pause and reflect above the City Mill River, or maybe stop for a picnic, but you can also stand here and watch DLR and purple Crossrail trains whoosh by.

The Greenway path can't cross the railway tracks, never did, so breaks off here to return to ground level and pass underneath. Formerly this was via steps but the new connection is down a long ramp, which construction workers finished in 2017 and has been barriered off ever since. This connects directly to Pudding Mill Lane station, the echoingly dead DLR hub, whose piazza won't spring to life until the LLDC finally builds a new neighbourhood around it. Until then, West Ham United continue to use the footprint of Pudding Mill to store all their surplus seating during the athletics season.

Pudding Mill will eventually have a satellite neighbourhood called Bridgewater, connected across the newly-opened Greenway, i.e. pretty much back where we started. This will cover the triangular wedge where the Greenway Gate was located, and feature stacked maisonettes, apartment blocks and one particularly tall tower. At present it's a pre-building site, accessed only by the hardhatted, plus a flank of steps that's become increasingly overgrown over the last seven years. The track spectators followed into the park, parallel to the Greenway and alongside the City Mill River, won't open until the neighbourhood is complete... the very last stitch in the hem of the southern Olympic Park.

A separate footpath breaks off and follows the edge of the Waterworks River. This was the first to be sealed off, way back in 2005, and I last managed to trespass along it in 2007. Back then you got a lot closer to the water's edge, and it was ridiculously overgrown, whereas the new path is a bland stripe of tarmac dotted with half a dozen wooden benches. It emerges by the Pudding Mill allotments, now living up to all their verdant promise, and then continues into the Olympic Park between the Orbit and the Aquatics Centre. This key connection has been ready for years and years, but Thames Water's machinations ensured it remained blocked until yesterday morning.

A peculiar touch, left over from 2012, is this cluster of Jubilee Greenway paving blocks. Look carefully and you'll see they've been arranged into the shape of a crown with the monogram EIIR underneath, like a particularly chunky piece of Ceefax art. It looked pristine seven years ago, but subsequent civil engineering works have cracked tiles and damaged the surrounding tarmac so it now looks an illegible mess. Importantly if you are following the Jubilee Greenway long distance path, or more likely Capital Ring section 14 which goes the same way, do not divert over these tiles, stick to the main sewertop track.

There's one last connection, minor and most likely overlooked, alongside the first hundred yards of the Waterworks River. It always used to be there, indeed it's been signposted off Blaker Road since the turn of the century despite being closed off for most of that time. I walked it frequently before 2009, following the edge of the waterway then climbing steep steps to the sewertop, something I was delighted to finally be able to do again. It's the restoration of this irrelevant link which reassures me that the reopening of the Greenway has been done properly, even if it has taken an abso-utterly-ridiculous long time to achieve.

 Monday, July 15, 2019

Tower Hamlets is implementing a Liveable Streets programme in 17 local neighbourhoods "to improve the look and feel of public spaces making it easier, safer and more convenient to get around by foot, bike and public transport." Residents are asked what they'd like to see, then plans are drawn up, trials undertaken and feedback requested before any permanent changes are made. Bow is first on the list with a one week traffic experiment, which launched on Saturday but which has already proved unexpectedly controversial, indeed it's already hit the skids.

To set the scene, Bow is a compact neighbourhood hemmed in by main roads, railways, Victoria Park and the Hertford Canal, with Roman Road at its heart. Driving round the edge is straightforward, except to the north, whereas few convenient accessible roads run through the centre. Several streets have been bollarded, blocked and one-wayed over the years, but those which remain clear are often used as ratruns. The Liveable Streets trial specifically seeks to restrict access to the pink area by cutting the number of access points from six down to four. Coborn Road gets blocked off beneath the railway line to make a north-south cut-through impossible - that's the first of the big red crosses on my unofficial map. The other cross marks a manual bus gate on Tredegar Road, operational between 7am and 8pm, to deflect A12 traffic whilst still letting four bus routes through.

I went out yesterday morning to see what was going on, and immediately noticed a lot more traffic than normal on Bow Road. This was obviously the intention, because the displaced traffic has to go somewhere, but I wasn't overly pleased to have more exhaust fumes outside my own door. Then I went to see what was happening at the Tredegar Road bus gate, and that was messier than I'd expected.

The bus gate comprised 100 metres of road with a moveable barrier at each end. Staff acted fast to allow buses to pass through, which kept them properly busy - by my calculations 44 buses an hour pass this way. But fending off other vehicles proved more difficult, particularly drivers who hadn't read the leaflet dropped through their door or who didn't live locally. Some spotted their normal route was blocked and turned away, whereas others hadn't got the message and blocked the roundabout while they tried to work out what to do next. Some then tried turning back the way they'd come or headed down the nearest cul-de-sac to reverse, while others dutifully slunk off and started out on lengthy detours.

The council's bespoke yellow signs didn't always help. Drivers aren't familiar with what a bus gate actually is, so telling them there's a Bus Gate Ahead only made them dither. Positioning a sign saying Bus Gate Ahead when the bus gate was actually round the corner was a rookie error. Also a contractor's truck which had been parked too close to the junction partially blocked lines of sight, and only one member of staff was focused on telling drivers to go away. I counted ten members of staff in total, which seemed a lot especially when most were only observing the action or interacting with passers-by, but that's Day One for you.

Bow's a wonderfully mixed neighbourhood, both culturally and economically, but the crowd hanging around by the bus gate seemed representative only of a traditional white working class demographic. They stood and glowered, they engaged with council officials and they offered their solidarity to drivers caught up in this shenanigans. One grandfather/grandson combo waved signs they'd drawn on the back of a packet of Coco Pops, directing folk to a petition they'd started on the internet. Nothing about the gathering was unpleasant or discourteous, at least not while I was there, but you could tell they'd assembled to show their disapproval of a proposal foisted on them from on high.

Over at Coborn Road things were calmer. This isn't a bus route, thanks to the low bridge, so this road could be properly sealed off for the benefit of the community. A stripe of astroturf had been provided, scattered with straw bales and empty deckchairs, and a table football game placed under the railway. I understand a bouncy castle turned up later. A sign plonked in front of a row of potted shrubs read Road Closed, with Except Cycles signed separately alongside in case the target audience thought they were banned too. Immediately to the south of the barrier the road was quieter and jaywalkable, but bemused drivers and erratic vehicles made things less attractive to the north.

My experience of Day One, based on very limited observation, was 'good try but could do better'. The experience of others became clear later in the evening when the Mayor of Tower Hamlets unexpectedly tweeted that the trial was to be suspended.

Some residents were jubilant.

finally, someone is seeing some sense. I know no one likes traffic, but moving it away from one street onto others already busy streets is not only unfair, it does not work.
Heads should roll really over how poorly planned these proposals were thought through. You have caused massive disruptions to people lives today, but you will just cover each other back I suppose.
Don’t even think about doing anything to coborn road, you lost today and you will lose again four businesses down that road and you will kill them all,is that what you want ?

Others were aghast.

Shocking that you have caved into the road lobby after less than one day. Opposite of leadership.
Mayor, please reconsider. Any new car reduction scheme takes at least a year to bed in. People don’t like to change behaviour’ in this country you have to force them kicking and screaming. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Closing access to the A12 was punchy but worth trying. I and many of my neighbours fully support the trial and the closures and are very very disappointed it didn't last a single day.
Surrendered at first hurdle to the elitist blackcabs using our residential streets as toxic ratruns. Why do the imprisoned poisoned kids of Tower Hamlets have less voice than rich elite blackcabusers? @StopKillingCycl

The taxi lobby were particularly gleeful to see the trial ended, considering any attempt to seal off roads as a direct threat to their livelihoods. They'd also made their presence felt at the bus gate during the day, and were threatening to continue their protest throughout the week. The cycling lobby were angry and frustrated, considering any attempt to revoke environmental measures as witless capitulation. Some even demanded that additional entry roads be closed, despite the fact this'd make Bow vehicle-unfriendly to the point of impracticality. Other residents merely sighed at the fault line opened up amongst the community, and wondered why so much money had been spent for so little result.

The Mayor has since confirmed that the current trial will not continue and that poor planning was to blame, which would certainly match with what I saw on the day. Before naysaying meatheads cheer too loudly, he also added that no change is not an option, so Bow will somehow get its Liveable Streets. Personally I suspect the Coborn Road closure will return, because that's ultimately just a few bollards, but a bus gate is a resource-hungry monster and will prove too impractical to implement. Just don't expect Bow's car owners to go down quietly.

 Sunday, July 14, 2019

Route 301: Bexleyheath to Woolwich
Location: London southeast
Length of journey: 8 miles, 38 minutes

It's been a while since TfL introduced a permanent bus route rather than scrapping one, but yesterday a new route launched in southeast London as part of the advance guard of Crossrail-ready connections. If a week of Scandinavian travelogue was getting too much for you, maybe a bus ride through Thamesmead will provide the antidote.

Here's a pdf map showing the route. Here's a online map (which, impressively, TfL's digital bods switched on for the first time in the early hours of yesterday morning). If you can't be bothered to look at a map, just know that we're going north from Bexleyheath to Abbey Wood and Thamesmead, then west to Plumstead and Woolwich. Expect a dull but worthy ride.

The Clock Tower beside the shopping centre in Bexleyheath is a Total Bus Nexus. Sixteen different routes pulse through to ferry the borough's shoppers home, and this morning one of them is new. It has its own tile, brighter than the rest, and its own timetable, suggesting it'll take 38 minutes to Woolwich. No spider maps have been updated. Instead some enterprising citizen has created a poster, printed it out in colour and stuck it to the bus shelter with sellotape as encouragement to northbound shoppers to give the 301 a punt. You may not know where East Wickham and Long Lane are, but the target audience do. I love that whoever designed the poster thought to include purple roundels for Crossrail connections that won't be operational for well over a year, suggesting a level of optimism verging on the miraculous.

Around ten passengers board, which isn't bad for a first morning. TfL have confidence in this route because they've double-decked it, even if we'd easily have got away with a single today. We join the red queue to exit the inner ring road, then continue straight ahead towards the railway, carelessly crossing halfway between neighbouring stations. Only one other bus goes this way, the 401, but that goes all round the houses before reaching Thamesmead whereas our 301 is the first route to head direct. On entering Long Lane a third tile appears on the bus stops creating a pleasing |301|401|601| triptych. We'll be on Long Lane for a while, because it's well named.

We've entered what I like to think is London's largest block of featureless suburbia, a whorl of interwar avenues interrupted only by the occasional church, school and minor shopping parade. Front gardens feature crazy paving, shrubberies, stone lions and beloved motor vehicles. A pub survives, but only because it serves more meals than beer. The local bakery is pleased to be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Red-chested roofers hike a hod of tiles up onto the roof of a bungalow. A tiny roundabout boasts a flowerbed that seems to be mostly dandelions. It's all very Bexley. When the 401 skedaddles and the B12 takes its place we suddenly switch to Hail and Ride mode, which is almost unheard of for a double decker, but it seems TfL's generosity in adding the new route didn't stretch as far as fresh bus stops.

Hardly anybody flags us down or alights so we're making good time, but thankfully the driver never once pauses "to regulate the gaps in the service". At St Thomas More Church a West Indian christening is underway. A few doors down, a St George's flag sticker peels off a bin. This stretch of road was formerly B11 only, another route which already connects Bexleyheath to Thamesmead, but we've got here quicker because we headed direct and haven't diverted via the main road and the long queue past the station. Even the 422 has crossed our path twice, such are the complex meanderings of this labyrinthine estate, but that'll be in Woolwich before us because we're Abbey Wood-bound first.

I recognise the junction ahead because it marks the outermost point of inner London and I was here a few months ago. One last flank of semi-detacheds faces off against a wedge of scrubby heath... and we're doing Hail & Ride again, not that you'd want to get off in the bushes or along the can-strewn verge. Originally the intention was that the 301 would continue straight ahead down Knee Hill, but a route test proved unsatisfactory ("The bus frequently had to stop to allow other vehicles to pass and as such, speed was very slow") so that was canned. Instead the route diverts fractionally to plunge through Lesnes Abbey Woods down New Road, which is no hardship and provides the best scenery of the ride.

Here's Abbey Wood station, which is the chief reason the new route exists. One day it'll help deliver Bexleyites and Thamesmeaders to Crossrail, potentially quite fast. I'm pleased to see that the two bus stops outside the station are finally (finally) finished, although one's so fresh it has no ads, no maps and no timetables, just a queue. They don't want our bus because it doesn't say Thamesmead on the front. They'll learn. Much of the rest of the Manorway is being significantly re-carriageway-ed, so we switch to the opposite side of the road and that means yet another bus stop we can't call at. It's unsettling to see so many of Thamesmead's iconic flats sealed off and undergoing sequential demolition, with bland but liveable towers rising in their place.

When TfL's initial southeast London consultation was launched two years ago, additional plans were made to cut back the B11 to terminate here and extend the 472 to Abbey Wood. These changes haven't yet happened - presumably they're waiting for Crossrail - but the 301 ploughs on regardless. Beyond Eastern Way it enters Thamesmead's leafier quarter, because there is one, crossing waterways where lager cans float and swans glide through a sheen of algae. Here waiting passengers are more willing to flag the bus down, and often pleasantly surprised when the driver confirms where he's going... or else step back off and wait for something they're more familiar with. Further shoppers board opposite the Morrisons/Iceland/Aldi combo that serves this neighbourhood well.

It's interesting that four bus routes already connect Thamesmead to Plumstead and TfL are now providing a fifth, in complete contrast to their policy of removing excess capacity in inner London. It's also interesting that they've chosen to follow the 472's corridor, which passes the fewest houses but is the quickest route. Sightseeing options include a Victorian sewer, a council tip, scrap metal yards, MOT garages and a high security prison. For some reason all the stops down Nathan Way are bereft of tiles, announcing neither 472 nor 301, so our unexpected presence baffles everybody. And on hitting the Plumstead gyratory, we are Very Nearly There.

Plumstead Road is massively overbussed, which is what happens when there's a bus garage at one end and a major town centre at the other. Our 301 joins the red throng and ticks down the stops into central Woolwich, pausing for nobody. Alas it doesn't stop outside the Market Hall, which would be most convenient, but overshoots to terminate beyond the entrance to the Arsenal. It turns out we've gathered quite a passenger complement, downstairs at least, suggesting the route is already a success. My journey has also taken the promised 38 minutes, precisely.

Our driver then heads off to the stand for his rest, before joining ridiculous pre-ferry queues and spinning back to run the gauntlet of Men Who Like Buses And Own Very Big Cameras. They'll be gone by tomorrow, but the 301 is here to stay.

 Saturday, July 13, 2019

Denmark and Sweden are separated by the Øresund, a narrow strait at the entrance to the Baltic Sea. The narrowest point is between Helsingør in Denmark and Helsingborg in Sweden, barely three miles distant, where a busy car ferry still links the two. But since July 2000 the two countries have been permanently connected further south between Copenhagen to Malmö by an engineering marvel combining a five mile bridge, an artificial island and a 2½ mile tunnel - the Øresund Bridge. It makes living in one country and commuting to the other a practical possibility, and opened up the opportunity of an easy day trip to Sweden. We went for dinner. [10 photos]

The train service across the bridge is the Øresundståg, jointly operated by both countries. It operates three times an hour during the day, turn up and go, and takes about 40 minutes from city centre to city centre. Expect to pay 91DKK each way, which is about £11 (and, we were pleased to discover, two adults can save 20% by travelling on a family ticket). When the train pulled in at København Hovedbanegard it reminded me of a worm, and not in a good way, but the interior was pleasantly sturdy and I made sure to get a window seat.

The train aims first for the airport, where several Swedes loaded with suitcases are likely to board, then almost immediately enters the Drogden Tunnel. This was sunk to the bottom of the Øresund as an immersed tube, rather than being burrowed, with two road tunnels on one side and two rail tunnels on the other. Before long you emerge onto a long thin island, entirely artificial and formed from soil dredged up during construction. I love how they called it Peberholm to complement the genuine island Saltholm a short distance to the north. Other than the road and railway speeding through there's nothing else here because the land's being left untouched as a nature reserve to see how it develops.

Then imperceptibly you rise up, Peberholm comes to an end and you're on the bridge. It's a double decker bridge with dual carriageway on top and railway underneath, which means those in vehicles get much better views than those in carriages. It also means that only car drivers see the precise spot where detectives in knitwear discovered a body in hit Nordic noir The Bridge. The Swedish border comes about a third of the way across, otherwise unmarked, or at least I didn't spot anything down below. Sit on the left if you want to see the coast of Sweden and the oncoming Malmö skyline through the diagonal struts, and sit on the right to see a windfarm in the Baltic. I found it amazing to look down and see miles of sea just beneath me, but regular passengers barely blinked.

The first station on the Swedish side is at Hyllie, which is where passports are checked. This didn't used to be necessary, thanks to Schengen, but the migrant crisis in 2016 caused Sweden to get protective. Initially this required alighting at Copenhagen Airport, changing trains and waving documentation, but this is no longer the case. Now police board the train at Hyllie and give what looked to me like a cursory check, or maybe they're just very well practised and know an EU passport when they see one. Thankfully the wait was relatively brief, aided by most of the passengers having already alighted to transfer to local and regional trains. Passports are not checked in the opposite direction. And two stops later, at Malmö Central, I stepped out into a new country.

Malmö is Sweden's third largest city, somewhat smaller than Copenhagen but with a similarly historic heart. The oldest buildings sit within a ring of canals, a very short walk from the station, the chief foci being two piazzas with impressively obvious names. There's Stortorget, which means Big Square, connected in one corner to Lilla Torg, which means Little Square. Big Square has the town hall, a statue of a king on horseback and a lot of empty space, whereas Little Square is considerably smaller and almost entirely surrounded by bars and restaurants. Of an evening, you'd want to be in the latter.

I managed to persuade my companions to go for an hour's walk before dinner, because it seemed criminal to visit a new country without exploring slightly. I had a three mile circuit in mind, out past the castle to the harbourfront via Scandinavia's tallest building, but we never quite made it. The castle grounds were closed off for a farewell concert by legendary Swedish pop group Gyllene Tider (precursors of Roxette, no less) meaning we couldn't even see a turret without a ticket. The surrounding parkland then delayed us thanks to some very cute ducks and an impromptu wheelchair dance festival performance. We ended up walking back through a semi-barren dockside regeneration area, the Turning Torso still only a distant spike, but it was worth a try.

By complete coincidence we'd arrived during the Women's World Cup 3rd Place playoff match which was being contested between our own country and the country we were in. We avoided the only bar draped in blue and gold flags, which was marginally raucous, and dined out on the opposite side of Lilla Torg. We smiled when an Abba track played over the loudspeakers shortly after we sat down. We ordered elk sausage, because it wasn't dear. We watched the evening crowds walk by and noted how well dressed everyone was, a whole level of smart above the Danes (and we British). We wondered whether Swedes ever smile (our waiter did, but he turned out to be Dutch). We'd also arrived in the week Sweden banned smoking outdoors in cafes and restaurants, which was very pleasant (unlike the night we spent on a bar crawl in Copenhagen and came home smelling of ash trays).

As we walked back to the station, I realised that my entire mental picture of Sweden would now be coloured by the four hours I'd spent in a tiny corner of it, mostly eating. And on that flimsy basis I decided I probably preferred Denmark. I hope I've got that right.

Mit København galleri

There are 60 photos altogether [slideshow]
Tellingly, 50 of the photos are from the one sunny day and only ten are from the three wet ones.

 Friday, July 12, 2019

København transport (Copenhagen transport)

» In Copenhagen the bicycle is king, with 40% of journeys to work/education undertaken by bike. Most bike lanes are segregated (it helps that main streets are broad) and can get very busy in the rush hour. Copenhageners own five times as many bikes as cars. This may be why they rarely seem to lock them up.
» Electric scooters are now commonplace (but aren't always left in the most sensible locations after people have finished riding them).
» Uber withdrew from Copenhagen in 2017 after a change in Danish law.

» The Copenhagen Metro has two lines, opened between 2002 and 2007 and operational 24 hours a day. Both are driverless. M1 goes to the new town of Ørestad and M2 goes to the airport. You could ride the whole network in an hour.
» Two new lines were due to open this month but, in familiar scenes, have been delayed until later in the year. Building sites around the city attest to this. M3 will be an inner suburban loop, and M4 initially just the busiest inner city section.
» I rode the Metro twice, once from the airport and once to the airport. It's swish and futuristic. Descent into the under-ground stations is via escalators suspended above the centre of the platforms.
» There's also a suburban S-train network and a regional rail network. I did not ride these.
» Copenhagen also has a bus network. I did not catch one.

» A City Pass covers public transport across inner Copenhagen. It costs £10 for 24 hours, £18 for 48 hours and £25 for 72 hours. We walked everywhere, so it wasn't worth buying.
» A Copenhagen Card covers public transport across Greater Copenhagen and entrance to numerous tourist attractions. It costs £48 for 24 hours, £72 for 48 hours and £90 for 72 hours. We're glad we didn't waste money by buying one.

København: Christiania

In September 1971 a group of Danes broke into a disused military barracks on the island of Christianshavn and started a squat. It's still there, still running things its own way, and has unintentionally become one of the most visited 'attractions' in Copenhagen.

Christiania covers 20 acres on and around the eastern ramparts (which once formed part of the city's 17th century defences). Surrounding neighbourhoods are respectably desirable, then suddenly you cross a street and enter a state-sanctioned independent commune. Only a limited number of access points exist, the main one being on Prinsessegade, beyond which very different rules apply. One of these is zero violence, another is no hard drugs, and a third is not to run lest it attract unwarranted attention. A further rule is no photography, particularly within the central 'business' district, but far better not to photograph anything or anyone at all. I chose to follow the rules. Here instead is an exterior photograph which conveys nothing of the ambience within.

Many of the old military buildings survive, repurposed as workshops, galleries and market spaces. Other buildings have popped up over the years, occasionally on the ramshackle side and providing somewhere for Christiania's 1000-strong population to live. Wandering around can be very pleasant, a row of eco-sculptures here, a graffitied artwork there, plus various vegan cafes and a skatepark where the 1970s linger on. Cars are not allowed, which helps maintain the vibe of a brightly-painted shantytown where creativity rules. But head towards the centre of the enclave beneath the Chinese lanterns and... blimey, they're selling hash everywhere.

Pusher Street, as it's known, is where the drug dealers congregate. They stand behind tiny stalls laid out with ready-rolled reefers and chunks of cannabis, and are equipped with electronic scales in case you want to break the larger lumps down in size. I counted well over two dozen stalls altogether along the main path and surrounding courtyards, each essentially identical, so more like separate checkouts than individual brands. But all's not quite as cosy as it seems. A criminal cartel controls every level of operations, with cash payments instantly whisked off to a shadowy central figure, and spotters within the crowd who appear perfectly capable of imposing their own justice. The following photo also conveys nothing of what I've just described.

Taking cannabis out of Christiania isn't recommended, the police only tolerate it within, so best find a seat outside one of the bars and light up... or wander off along the bastions for a solo puff. The crowds that stop to smoke are surprisingly mixed: young couples, obvious tourists, tattooed throwbacks, grateful office workers, middle-aged stoners and clusters of slouched youth in anonymous hoodies. I was surprised how many Danish fathers were present with their teenage sons, enjoying a generational bonding experience, and less surprised when a toothless long-term user in a grubby rainbow cardigan slumped down and lit up.

Christiania's future isn't clear, but generally Copenhageners have been supportive, in 2012 even contributing to help residents 'officially' purchase the land. Random acts of violence have also seen the cannabis trade shut down for months or even years, and redevelopment pressures can only increase. But as its 50th anniversary approaches Christiania retains an attractive unmanufactured authenticity - a seemingly successful social experiment that hasn't yet run out of puff.

Danske fodgængerovergange (Danish pedestrian crossings)

One thing I'm glad I read up on before I went to Copenhagen is the proper way to use a Danish pedestrian crossing. If there is one you must use it, and if it's controlled by lights you must obey them. Failure to do so could lead to a fine of 700DKK, that's a hefty £85, so jaywalking is something Danes never ever do.

Pedestrian crossings in Denmark are marked with broad white stripes and generally restricted to road junctions only. They're also wired into the traffic lights so you rarely have to press a button, they just switch when the main lights change. Most crossroads have a two-phase set-up (with pedestrians given priority over turning traffic), so there's not normally long to wait. But wait they do.

It's uncanny to see how perfectly everyone behaves. The second the green man vanishes and the red man appears nobody else steps onto the crossing, and if anyone dared try they'd get such looks. One good reason for strict adherence is the preponderance of cyclists, separately signalled in segregated lanes, which can make it hard to keep track of what might be heading towards you.

We got used to it. We learned to thread across town via successive road junctions rather than crossing midstreet. We learned to pull up short if the red man suddenly appeared, and developed an instinctive feel for whether or not we were going to reach the next green light before it changed. But we did finally snap on our way home at four in the morning, reaching a broad street without a single vehicle in sight and defiantly deciding what the hell. It felt good, but I doubt we'd have risked it had any Danes been watching.

 Thursday, July 11, 2019

Dansk sprog (Danish language)

Danish is spoken by only six million people, and intelligibly similar to Norwegian and Swedish, so there's no great call for foreigners to learn it. But why fret? Pretty much every Dane speaks English, which for the tourist is either exceptionally useful or exceptionally lazy. In France or Germany I'd always have been hesitant about launching into a conversation in English, whereas in Copenhagen it was thoughtlessly second nature.
Dansk er talt af kun seks millioner mennesker, og forståeligt ligner norske og svenske, så der er ikke noget stort behov for udlændinge til at lære det. Men hvorfor bekymre dig? Næsten meget hver dansker taler engelsk, som for turisten er enten usædvanligt nyttig eller undtagelsesvis doven. I Frankrig eller Tyskland havde jeg altid været tøvende med at lancere til en samtale på engelsk, mens det i København var tankeløst anden natur.
The Danish alphabet has 29 letters, the extra ones being Æ, Ø and Å (which get tagged on at the end (in that order)). All three are vowels. The letter Å replaced the digraph Aa in 1917. Ø is also a one-letter word, meaning "island". The letters C, Q, W, X and Z are not naturally Danish and only appear in imported words. In Danish Scrabble C, X and Z score a maximum eight points, and Q and W are not used.

København: Tivoli

Copenhagen's amusement gardens, the second oldest in the world, have been serving up joy since 1843. A local entrepreneur called Georg Carstensen was granted permission to open up a pleasure garden just outside the city's Western Gate (as a distraction from the everyday political situation), and thousands have been flocking daily ever since. Tivoli remains a genteel treat rather than a white knuckle thriller, although big rides exist for those who crave heights and speed. It's this mix that's helped keep Tivoli amongst Europe's top five busiest theme parks, this and its ridiculously convenient location in the heart of a capital city between its main square and its main railway station. [8 photos]

Opening hours: 11am - 11pm (until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays)
Summer opening: April-September (also 3 weeks for Hallowe'en and 7 weeks for Christmas)
Entrance: £16 weekdays, £17 weekends, £24 Friday evenings
Entrance with unlimited rides: £46 (or individual rides £4-£11)

Our busy schedule meant we had to visit on a Friday evening, so we got to pay full whack, plus we hadn't read the smallprint which said that rides start closing at 9.45pm, which didn't leave long. The higher admission price is because Tivoli hosts a big open air concert at 10pm every Friday evening in the summer, so the place was packed out with Danes come to enjoy the music. It was so packed that we never made it to the centre of the gardens and could only walk around the rest, but at least that's where all the rides were. Basically we could have picked a much better time to visit. We did our best.

The ride I really wanted to go on was the Rutschebanen, which is Danish for rollercoaster. This is one of the world's oldest operational wooden rollercoasters and still requires a brakesperson to ride aboard the carriages to dampen the speed on the descents. Now there's a job! The coaster has a mountaineering theme, which means careering round (and inside) two unconvincing peaks and circling an Alpine cow at the top of the first climb. The drops are good but relatively short, and the mechanical rattle adds a frisson you just don't get on more modern rides. When we entered darkness towards the end I worried we might be heading for an unseen drop, then I remembered they didn't do that kind of thing 100 years ago and was proved correct. And then I went round again.

Other rides include a dinky ferris wheel, a cyberpunk 3D waltzer and several tall swirly things. The Star Tower is the tallest swirly thing on site, its golden globe easily visible across the city, intermittently seen with tiny people spinning underneath on individually threaded chairs. The Demon is a 'proper' floorless rollercoaster with three inversions (and a VR headset) to satisfy the most demanding fairgoer. But there are also a whole load of milder rides aimed at children, or rather families with children, making this a theme park local residents love to return to. It's not daytrippers frequenting the many sit-down dining locations across the gardens, it's those with a full season pass.

At dusk the whole place lights up (which at this time of year is very late in the day). Thousands of bulbs brighten the buildings, rides and walkways, with the area around the boating lake singled out for exceptional illumination. Danish artist Olafur Eliasson has been drafted in to add 33 flying triangular things in the trees, but it was already fairyland enough without them. What really struck me about Tivoli is how classily everything's done - the very antithesis of Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland - and you can fully understand how Walt Disney might have been inspired by a visit to go away and build something similar.

Most of the music acts which perform on Friday evenings are local and/or minor stars. But last Friday evening an absolute superstar turned up, namely Sir Tom Jones, and proceeded to deliver a storming 1¾ hour set to an audience of thrilled Copenhageners. They poured in early to fill the seats on the lawn in front of the stage, and all the paths and piazzas roundabout, indeed every single cranny with a view, and numbered several thousand well before curtain up. We couldn't see a thing, but still hung around for a listen.

It was great to be able to wander Tivoli's illuminated outskirts with Delilah ringing out across the lake. Sex Bomb had one lady in the heart of the crowd waving a pair of red knickers overhead. What's New Pussycat encouraged the loudest singalong from the audience, even the under 50s. The lights on stage turned purple for a lively rendition of Kiss. The Green Green Grass Of Home proved an exhilarating pre-encore. But the song I was waiting for was It's Not Unusual, which Sir Tom eventually delivered with gusto, which means I can now claim to have heard the song which was number 1 on the day I was born sung live by the man who originally sang it. It's proper memorable is Tivoli.

Dansk vejr (Danish weather)

It would be wrong to base one's opinion of a country's weather on a single visit at the height of summer, especially when it rained most of the time. What I did note was that the Danes dressed for showers even on the one day which was forecast to be wall to wall sunshine, and indeed turned out that way. Typical clothing included a smart layer of outerwear, maybe a light waterproof from the North Face or a breathable Helly Hansen, or simply a hoodie to keep any damp at bay. Best be prepared. I was also meteorologically intrigued by the giant illuminated thermometer up the side of the Richs building in Rådhuspladsen underneath the Vejrpigen, or Weather Girl. Its scale started at -20°C, which is lower than the UK would normally need, and stopped one notch before hitting 30, ditto.

So I checked. In particular I compared the climate in Copenhagen against the climate in Newcastle, both east-facing maritime cities at approximately the same latitude. It turns out Copenhagen is generally two degrees warmer than Newcastle in the summer but three degrees colder in winter, with the changeovers occurring around April and October. Copenhagen's highest ever temperature is 34°C, which is fractionally ahead of Newcastle's, but its record lows are considerable chillier, and that -20 on the thermometer is sometimes needed. Copenhagen also has wetter summers than Newcastle, so my holiday was perhaps typical, but also a lot more sunshine between April and August, so I guess I just got unlucky. The waterproofs stay on.

 Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dansk mad (Danish food)

Danish cuisine generally means meat, fish and potatoes. This is not a bad thing. Danish meat generally means pork. This is not a bad thing either. But dining out in Copenhagen can be expensive. I somehow spent more on food and drink in 72 hours than I'd spent in the previous 7 weeks.

At lunchtimes the traditional meal is smørrebrød, an open sandwich consisting of rye bread (rugbrød) smothered with layered toppings (pålæg). We found ours at the Torvehallerne, a trendy food hall near Nørreport, where the queue for Hallernes Smørrebrød was the longest of all. I decided against the most popular herb-sprinkled fish option, and several variations on shrimps with mayonnaise, and fixated on the leverpostej - liver pâté, pickled beetroot, bacon, lingonberries and thyme. In this artfully decorated slab I may have discovered my new comfort food.

For dinner on the first evening we wandered down to the Meatpacking District in Vesterbro, a hip cluster of former butcheries repurposed as restaurants, clubs and galleries. We targeted somewhere quieter than the brewpub, aimed higher than the burger bar and shied off the Michelin-friendly fish diner. Instead we plumped for a restaurant called Gorilla, whose main menu read promisingly behind a sheen of raindrops, and were shown to a table inside the white-tiled slaughterhouse. Let me explain, said the ponytailed waiter, it's a sharing menu so we generally recommend four or five plates per person. We chose not to rise to expectations lest the bill rise into four figures, but my smoked haddock was delicious, BestMate swore by his ceviche of herring, and they were not joking when they said the small hot dog was small.

Hotdogs are Copenhagen's cheap takeaway of choice, often sold from small independent kiosks in the street. Particularly popular is the fransk hotdog, which oozes out from a sheath of bread rather than a split roll. Kebab shops are also widespread, and overwhelmingly branded as shawarma. Fried chicken shops are very much not a thing.

Tea is also very much not a thing because Danes are beholden to a proper coffee. BestMate reckoned the bespoke coffee blend at Kaffesalon (at the pedalo end of Queen Louise's Bridge) was one of the finest he'd ever tasted and went back three times to prove his point. As for alcohol Carlsberg lager is unsurprisingly prominent, and a much tastier brew than the liquid foisted on us in Britain. But given that I typically paid eight pounds for half a litre (which is not quite a pint), and on one occasion over nine, perhaps it's no wonder Danes prefer to stay home for a dash of hygge.

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