diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Half of my 15000 Flickr photos were taken in London. So I wondered if there were any parts of London I hadn't photographed, or indeed visited.

I used Flickr to cobble together a giant map of the capital to show where my London photos have been taken, and started looking for the gaps.

The darker yellow circles are gaps with a diameter of three miles. The lighter yellow circles are gaps with a diameter of nearer two. Only gaps that fall within the Greater London boundary are included

Altogether I found fifteen gaps where, inexplicably, I had never uploaded a photo. It turns out I have indeed been to almost all of these places for blogging purposes, and taken photos, just never stuck any of them on Flickr. Sometimes the area was a bit dull. Sometimes the weather was so grey and miserable that no decent photos came out. But today I thought I'd raid those unFlickrd photos to fill in the gaps, and see if I could tempt you to take a look.

Gap 1: NW Hillingdon, between Harefield and Ickenham
New photo: The miserable dump that is New Year's Green, as visited on New Year's Eve 2016 and blogged at New Year 2017. I hope never to return.

Gaps 2 and 3: Mid-Hillingdon, between South Ruislip and Hayes
New photo: Golden Bridge, where Charville Lane crosses the Yeading Brook, is badly named because it's actually a concrete arch. I deliberately walked Charville Lane earlier this summer because I recognised I had a gap in my London knowledge (ditto Yeading back in January).
New photo: Stockley Park footbridge, a longer, larger, spikier beast within a reclaimed business park, and one of the few off-canal highlights of London Loop section 11.

Gap 4: Kenton, between Harrow and Kingsbury
New photo: The Wealdstone Brook, a concrete culvert through Kenton, Preston and Wembley. I can see why I didn't think it worth Flickring at the time.
New photo: A jaunty mural in Woodcock Park, painted by students at St Gregory's Catholic College, which I bet has been graffitied to hell and back since 2015.

Gap 5: Friern Barnet, between Finchley and Arnos Grove
New photo: Friern Barnet Town Hall served just 30000 residents, was built during World War Two and mimics Watford Town Hall. It's now flats.

Gap 6: The Havering void, between Rainham and North Ockendon
New photo: Two local residents in a pony and trap on the Aveley Road, in this godforsaken scrappy rural backwater that might be London's most undervisited corner.
New photo: Damyns Hall Aerodrome, a two-strip airfield and flight school which still doesn't appear on Ordnance Survey maps because it was once 'secret'.
New photo: Belhus Woods Country Park, run by the Essex Wildlife Trust but somehow half in London, including this fowl-topped lake.

Gap 7: Rochester Way, around Kidbrooke and Blackheath
New photo: Kidbrooke Village - yet another badly named development, but marginally softened by a bit of waterside gardening. Seen here at the height of autumn 2016.

Gap 8: Northumberland Heath, between Belvedere and Bexleyheath
New photo: Erith's Hovis factory, one of the few interesting features I found amid central Bexley's interminable expanse of unremitting suburbia.
New photo: Bursted Wood, which looks like it could be any suburban park, but with a dash of wintry sparkle.

Gap 9: SE Bexley, between Bexley village and Joydens Wood
New photo: Modern Screws, a shop with reassuringly retro signage, on the last shopping parade before Kent begins.

Gap 11: Sutton south, between Ewell and Wallington
New photo: Belmont station, another single platform halt of little regional consequence (and London's 10th least used station).

Gap 12: Croydon south, between South Croydon and Coulsdon
New photo: The Purley clock, a Gillett & Johnston 'Balmoral' 2-dial Pillar clock with a standard overall height of 3810 mm.

Gap 14: Orpington, between St Paul Cray and Chelsfield
New photo: Crundale Tower on Tintagel Road, one of three large tower blocks on the Ramsden Estate, because even outer Bromley can do gritty.

Gap 15: SE Bromley, between Downe and Knockholt
New photo: Pratts Bottom, which is a brilliant name for a village in the outer reaches of shouldn't-really-be-in London.
New photo: A Pratts Bottom sign, the ideal spot for a selfie, for the lols.
New photo: The Blacksmith's Arms, a pub in Cudham which was the childhood home of Harry Relph, better known as music hall star Little Tich.
New photo: Downe Road, Cudham, which is, as far as we were able to ascertain, London's steepest hill (with a 1 in 4 gradient).

If you've been paying attention, you'll have spotted that there are two gaps where I don't have any photos. One I'd only been through on the bus, and one I genuinely hadn't been to before. So my next plan is to visit those gaps, take some photos and come back and tell you about these unvisited, unblogged areas. And then that'll be London finished.

My UnFlickrd gallery
There are 20 photos altogether

 Tuesday, September 17, 2019

One thing Flickr allows me to do is look on a map to see where all my photographs are located. It doesn't allow you to do this, that facility was withdrawn years ago, but I'm allowed a map so that I can drop every fresh photo onto its correct geographical location. I added my first photos to Flickr way back in 2005, and have now uploaded over 15000 in total. They're mostly in and around London and the south east, but also widely spread elsewhere.

So I decided to stitch together several snapshots to create a giant map of the UK to show where my photos have been taken. I hoped this might be a good way to view my travels across the country and to see where I've been... and, more particularly, where I haven't.

The blue blobs show where I've taken photos, maybe one, maybe several. The blue blob in the centre of London simply says 'lots'. Meanwhile the yellow-bordered zones show large tracts of Britain where I haven't been... or haven't blogged... or at least haven't uploaded any photos.

The island of Ireland is a blank.
So is Scotland, other than Edinburgh and a cluster on the Outer Hebrides (not shown).
So is Wales, other than Swansea and Cardiff.
Rest assured I have travelled more widely than that, but before 2005 so it doesn't show up.

As for England, I have five significant unphotographed zones:
   1) Lancashire, the Pennines and the Lake District (other than Blackpool and Lake Windermere).
   2) North Yorkshire
   3) Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the Fens (other than Retford and Skegness)
   4) The south Midlands (a swathe from Rugby to Swindon via Cheltenham)
   5) The Southwest (other than Penzance, Exeter and south Dorset)

I have taken note of these results, and am considering future plans.

It's that time of year when all my bills come through (because it's 18 years since I moved to London). My TV licence is up for renewal, my electricity bill came in the post, my Travelcard needs renewing and then the water bill arrived. It seemed quite expensive. Normally my half-yearly water bill comes in around £100, and this was close to £200.

So I checked. Yes, my water bill's been quite consistent since 2013, it's assumed I was using 29 cubic metres of water every six months. But suddenly Thames Water were trying to charge me for 60, which seemed odd given that I haven't changed my water consumption habits. One bath a day, because I don't have a shower, plus the usual cooking/washing/sanitation flow, nothing more.

So I checked again. Yes, it was of course an estimated bill, so maybe they'd just estimated badly. Except their last bill was an estimate too, and the bill before that, indeed every single water bill back to 2013. Perhaps their computer had suddenly decided to readjust my estimate, given that nobody had come to take an actual reading for six years.

So I checked again. I had a water meter fitted in 2008, after which my bills had been based on actual readings up until August 2013, then suddenly it was estimates only. My water meter isn't readily accessible, so there was a very good reason why staff might have found it hard to reach, but instead it looked like they'd given up trying.

So I checked again. It looked like every single one of my water bills since 2013 had been based on the fact I must be using 0.153 cubic metres of water a day, because that's what I was using back in 2013. Now suddenly they'd started assuming I was using 0.3 cubic metres instead. According to the figures, 0.300 precisely.

So I checked outside. I went exploring to find my water meter, and discovered that my actual total was 40 cubic metres less than they said it was. What's more, my reading was very close to what the estimate would have been if only they'd carried on calculating my estimate the same way as before. But they hadn't, they'd doubled it.

So I rang them up. It took a while to get through, but at least it was a Freefone number so I wasn't overly concerned. I tried going the automated route, entering my account number and my meter reading, but for some reason the system refused to accept it. So it was time to wait for an actual person.

So I chatted to Anita. I explained what was up and gave my reading, then got put on hold for a while. I guess alarm bells ring when a customer provides a reading that's a lot lower than the estimate. But when the operator came back she was fine about it, and said she'd send out a revised bill, so that was all well and good.

But I continued. I queried why I'd suddenly received a bill based on an estimate which was double what I was normally charged. She couldn't say, but did eventually suggest it might be because "after a long series of estimated bills we might have increased the estimate to encourage the customer to get in touch with us".

So I protested. I told her this was an appalling way to treat customers, or perhaps she'd invented this excuse to get herself out of a hole, and whichever of the two it was I was very much unimpressed. But I didn't push the point further because I like to be polite, and she'd already cut my bill, so I said thanks and hung up.

So it pays to check. A water bill that had been pretty much in step with reality had suddenly leapt in price by a factor of two for no adequately explained reason, but my phone call had stopped the greedy water company in their tracks. This is why I like having paper copies of past bills to refer to.

A much more pressing problem is that an engineer from what would have been the gas board came round yesterday and declared my kitchen appliances unsafe, so turned off my supply, and now I can't boil potatoes, bake a pie or fill a bath with hot water for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, at least it'll reduce my next water bill.

 Monday, September 16, 2019

The problem with film is that it decays. A movie everyone can watch today can swiftly become a can of faded celluloid, an overwritten file or a tape nobody has the equipment to play. The problem of media obsolescence was first taken seriously in 1933 when the National Film Library was established, its role to preserve and share cine films that might otherwise be lost to time. Since renamed the BFI National Archive, its key conservation site is in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, and every year it opens its doors for just one day to allow the public inside. Which was yesterday.

Officially it's the J Paul Getty Jr Conservation Centre, because he donated most of the money that allowed it to be set up. It's in Berkhamsted for several reasons: a) the government moved its film archive out of London to nearby Aston Clinton during WW2, b) the town has excellent rail links, c) local TV reception is excellent. The building opened in 1983, when the preservation of television programmes had become more important, and includes various archive stores for different kinds of media. To avoid unintended combustion, the oldest nitrate filmreels were moved to a refrigerated Master Film Store at Gaydon, Warwickshire in 2011.

The Berkhamsted building is out by the bypass, tucked away behind cottages and a car park. It's staffed by a workforce of 80, many of whom had come in to help out at yesterday's open day and were identifiable in their white coats. They were a also a cheery bunch, even on a day off, because what a fantastic job to have, especially if your background is in physics or organic chemistry. The publicly-accessible portion of the site wasn't large, just the reception, 80s-style atrium and a few adjacent rooms, but there was plenty to learn and see. But I wish I'd read the map they gave me on the way in more carefully, as it mentioned the Projection Room required a timed ticket and by the time I noticed the only slots were two hours distant.

A curator gave a talk explaining how the BFI started and what it does. A screen outside the postroom was showing a few Mitchell & Kenyon classics. A display on the balcony outlined the particular challenges of conserving video, aided and abetted by a Q&A chat. A laptop provided a portal to the free BFIPlayer website, where anyone in the UK can watch thousands of old films for free. For example on its Britain on Film clickable map I found this delightful 1950s short of morris dancing in Berkhamsted High Street - maybe there's something local to you. I spent over an hour looking around, and if only I'd grabbed a ticket to that elusive Projection Room it would have been nearer two.

The most interesting moment was when we were led into one of the archive stores, a giant hangar containing shelves and shelves of videos, reels and DVDs stored inside over half a million cases. Video's actually an easy medium to conserve, the difficulty is all in retaining the technology to decode it. The BFI's mission is therefore now to digitise everything, or at least a sample of as much as they can afford. Old media are transferred to tape drives in small black cases each storing 8.8TB, the equivalent of 44 feature films, then packed in boxes of 9 and stacked inside a robot-accessible cabinet - the ultimate Hollywood jukebox. There are also constant plans to upgrade to the newest technology, which is a lot easier when everything's zeroes and ones, which should finally put an end to a century of media attrition. Thankyou Berkhamsted.

Five amazing facts about Berkhamsted
1) In December 1066, the Anglo-Saxons surrendered to William the Conqueror at Berkhamsted. English history pivots here.
2) Famous people who've lived in Berkhamsted include Thomas a Becket, Henry IV, Piers Gaveston, Geoffrey Chaucer, Clementine Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Graham Greene, while famous people born here include William Cowper, Dame Esther Rantzen, Sir Michael Hordern, Nick Owen and Sarah Brightman.
3) The Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter films was an ancient beech tree on Berkhamsted Common (until it split and fell in 2014)
4) Behind the Victorian facade of the estate agents at 173 High Street is the oldest extant jettied timber-framed building in Great Britain.
5) The Rex Cinema, Dame Judi Dench's favourite classic single screen auditorium, was built on the site of the house once lived in by the brothers who inspired JM Barrie to write Peter Pan.

You've likely seen Berkhamsted Castle from the train - it's terribly conveniently located for the station. Construction began in 1066, courtesy of William the Conqueror's half-brother, making this one of the very first Norman motte and baileys. Two deep water-filled ditches surrounded a large central enclosure, later fortified within and palace-d up a bit, with a grassy mound rising high in one corner. Berkhamsted was only besieged once, unsuccessfully, in 1216. In its day the castle was properly important, but Edward IV's mother proved the final resident after which the place inexorably fell into ruins.

Today it's mostly grass, with a few stretches of leftover wall and a bit of a tower. English Heritage are in charge, but this is one of the sites they unlock for free at 10am every morning so it's very easy to get inside. Facilities are thin, with a Victorian cottage encroaching on one side and a history room next door which might or might not be open. Even the interpretation boards are on the minimal side, because what you're really here for is to experience the extent of the bailey and the height of the motte. The 60 steps up to the top are obviously a modern intrusion, and without them it's easy to imagine how effective the steep slopes would have been for defensive purposes.

The ditches were drained in the 1950s and these days only fill with water at times of exceptionally high rainfall, so the lifebelts around the perimeter are mostly superfluous. It is possible to follow the grassy ridge between the two dips, a singular circuit which takes all of ten minutes, although most visitors don't seem to bother. But as one of the closest surviving castles to London, even in its pristine tumbledown state, it is a fantastically accessible place to experience a window on our Norman heritage.

Five not quite so amazing facts about Berkhamsted
1) The Berkhamsted Bowmen are the oldest archery club in England.
2) Beside the canal is one of the UK's half dozen authentic totem poles, erected in the early 1960s.
3) The River Bulbourne has mostly dried up this summer, as have many other Chiltern chalk streams.
4) If Britain's high streets are dying, this'll be one of the last to go.
5) I had never been to Berkhamsted before. I'm not sure how this was ever allowed to happen.

 Sunday, September 15, 2019

For the first of this month's Heritage Open Days I took myself to Maldon, Essex. Ten miles east of Chelmsford, at the mouth of the Blackwater estuary, to save you checking on a map. The town got Beechinged in 1964, so that meant a train and then a bus, but then there were a dozen buildings to explore for free on a glorious late summer's day. As I said to the volunteer who asked why I'd come all the way from London, "if you're going visit a town, best visit when it's open". [12 photos]

The Moot Hall

Maldon was already 500 years old when this building first came into existence, circa 1420, and the medieval brick tower is still the original. Various civic and council functions have been added over the years, including a jail on the ground floor and a magistrates court on the second. From here you can nip out onto the balcony that intrudes into the high street and look down over shoppers nipping into M&S. A narrower staircase takes you to the second floor where the town council used to sit, and which has an authentic civic whiff, then an even tighter spiral leads to the roof. As the highest viewpoint in town it's something special, particularly if the tide's in and the interlocking fingers of the estuary are abuzz with boats. I also spotted Bradwell nuclear power station, a plane taking off from Southend Airport and the obligatory off-shore windfarm.
Normal access: £4 tours, three days a week, April-October

Thomas Plume Library

It looks like a church, and originally it was, until 1699 when the Archdeacon of Rochester turned it into a library. Thomas Plume had been baptised in Maldon and wanted somewhere to bequeath his extensive collection of books after his death. They're still here, covering diverse subjects from theology to travel, and looked after by a devoted group of Friends. These volunteers were delightful, pointing out some of the finer titles, explaining why they don't lend books out any more and pressing home how easy it is to peruse the online catalogue and use the place for research. Photography's not allowed within the library, but imagine an aisle lined by wooden shelves stuffed with leatherbound volumes sorted according to where they fitted best.
Normal access: Tue, Wed & Thu afternoons, Sat mornings, free

Maeldune Heritage Centre

On the ground floor underneath the Thomas Plume Library is this artsy-craftsy historical gift shop kind of a place. Its chief exhibit is the Maldon Embroidery, a 42-foot labour of love completed to celebrate 1000 years since the Battle of Maldon in 991. This fracas kicked off on the causeway to nearby Northey Island, and the Vikings won, after which Ethelred the Unready tried to pay them off in the hope they'd go away. After Maldon's Tourist Information Centre closes (permanently) in a fortnight's time, this is probably the best place to come to find out what's going on in the town.
Normal access: Tue-Sat, 11am-4pm, free

The Museum in the Park

This is a bijou museum with a chain of small rooms, the first of which does the heavy lifting on the history of the town. Elsewhere it's more Victorian room/School room/Wartime room, amongst other themes, with bits of Maldon thrown in as appropriate. Exhibits include a fire engine, a model station layout and an alligator. Maldon sea salt obviously gets a mention, although there's nothing special about the town's seawater, it's just that the factory's been 'harvesting flakes' for longer than most. Oh, and the Park in question is Promenade Park, a super-recreational strip facing the estuary, and frequented by what looked like the entire population of Maldon and its surrounding districts. With water parks, refreshment huts, crabbing facilities, Rossi's ice cream, ornamental lake, adventure golf, a giant sandpit and the Blackwater to walk up and down, the council has pitched this perfectly.
Normal access: Wed, Fri & Sat afternoons, Sun all day, £2

Maldon Little Ship Club

The Hythe is where all the maritime action is, or at least it was yesterday. I don't think there are always quite so many boats, sloops and barges moored up alongside, but their multitude of masts made for a most attractive sight. Yes, some of them do trips down the estuary. Yes, there are a couple of characterful pubs alongside.

The Steam Tug Brent

The Brent is the last steamship operated by the Port of London and was withdrawn from service in 1970. Saved from scrap it sailed in private hands until 2011, then required major repairs so a charitable trust was set up to try to effect restoration. The volunteers are well organised and donation-hungry, and were offering hour-long tours of the not especially large boat, so I'm afraid I gave them a miss.
Normal access: special weekends (including next week's regatta)

Beeleigh Abbey gardens

Walk out of town, upriver, and you may stumble upon this old Tudor house. I'm so glad I did. It started out as a cloistered abbey in the 12th century, suffered the usual fate under Henry VIII and was morphed into a private residence by an ambitious courtier. Too ambitious, because he got his head chopped off for supporting Lady Jane Grey. The most famous 20th century owner was William Foyle, bookseller extraordinaire, and it remains in the family... generally off-limits apart from occasional summer Open Days. Visitors only get to see the gardens but these are enthusiastically maintained, splendidly varied and annually upgraded. I met the head gardener in the new ornamental glasshouse and had a long cheery chat about the electronic blinds and solar-friendly ventilation, whereas I should perhaps have congratulated him on having so many roses in bloom in mid-September.
Normal access: some Fridays, April-September, £6

Beeleigh Water and Steam Mill

Close to the confluence of the Blackwater and the Chelmer, a group of volunteers are struggling manfully to restore part of a flour mill to working order. The main water-powered building burnt to the ground in 1875, causing the smaller boiler-driven outhouse to be abandoned, which is why it now contains the only surviving 'Elephant' boiler in the UK. Sterling work is being done on the repairs, including the re-timbering of an upper storey and the restoration of an almost perfect double-acting Wentworth compound steam beam engine. The team are enormously proud of their achievements, I think because they don't get to show them off to the public very often, although after five minutes of reverently watching the engine in motion most of us were itching to withdraw.
Normal access: National Mills Weekend and Heritage Open Days only

I also ticked off...
All Saints' and St Mary's Churches: Because you have to.
St Giles Leper Hospital: A few cruciform ruins amid a run of modern housing.
Leech Memorial Garden: Ornamental hillside left to the town by two sisters (who lived opposite) after they died in an air crash.
The Salt, Water and Beer Shanty Singers: A dozen vocal folk, the men older than the woman, unashamedly dispensing maritime ballads at several locations around the town.

 Saturday, September 14, 2019

Not everybody flashes through London's ticket barriers using contactless or relies on their Oyster card for Pay As You Go. Some of us buy season tickets - be that weekly, monthly or annual - and they're the people today's post is about.

In a recent FoI request, TfL revealed the number of season tickets they issued from 2016/17 to 2018/19 by ticket type, duration and zonal validity. The spreadsheet includes concessionary and children's tickets, but I've decided to ignore those and focus on adult season tickets issued between April 2018 and March 2019.
(the figures don't include those who buy National Rail season tickets)

Weekly 14,468,903
Monthly 3,382,490

Four times as many people buy weekly season tickets as buy monthly season tickets. A monthly season ticket actually costs the same as 3.84 weekly season tickets, so those who can afford to pay monthly should be saving a bit of money overall.

Eighteen times more people buy monthly season tickets as buy annual season tickets. Annual Travelcards give you 12 months travel for the price of ten and a half, so you might think TfL would sell a lot more, but an annual season ticket costs at least £1052 which isn't an amount most people have lying around spare in a bank account.

These figures are all annual totals, which disguises the fact that weekly and monthly customers are buying a lot more season tickets than annual customers. If you factor that out, then there are approximately 400,000 weekly season ticket buyers, 300,000 monthly season ticket buyers and 200,000 annual season ticket buyers.

Change since
two years ago
Weekly 14,468,903↓ 28%
Monthly 3,382,490↓ 19%
Annual184,427↓ 13%

Londoners are buying fewer season tickets than they used to. The biggest fall is in weekly season tickets, likely because of the appeal of weekly capping for those using contactless cards. If this long-promised perk ever rolls out to Oyster card users, the rate of decrease may speed up further. Overall TfL are selling 25% fewer season tickets than two years ago.

Now for a brief diversion onto the buses...

Bus passCostAnnual
Change since
two years ago
Weekly£21.20 6,180,772↓ 30%
Monthly £81.50483,112↓ 30%
Annual£848.002061↓ 50%

TfL sell fewer bus passes than Travelcards, perhaps because every Travelcard includes free bus travel. They sell a lot fewer annual bus passes. Weekly bus passes still sell well, on average 120,000 a week, but numbers are still dropping away fast year on year.

Back on the trains, TfL sell 15 different zonal season tickets within London.
(TfL don't sell single-zone Travelcards - the minimum is two zones)
Z12   Z123   Z1234   Z12345   Z123456
Z23   Z234   Z2345   Z23456
Z34   Z345   Z3456
Z45   Z456
Two-thirds of weekly season tickets include zone 1 - that's the top row of the table.
But 90% of annual season tickets include zone 1.

40% of weekly season tickets cover two zones - that's the left hand column.
But only 20% of annual season tickets cover two zones.

These are the top five best selling weekly season tickets.

Zones covered Annual
Z12 3,513,398

Between them, the top five account for 75% of all weekly season tickets sold. Over half of weekly season tickets cover only zones 1, 2 and/or 3. Note that a Z123456 season ticket is more popular than a Z1234 or a Z12345.

The remaining weekly season tickets are ordered like this: Z1234, Z2345, Z12345, Z34, Z345, Z23456, Z3456, Z45, Z456, Z56

By the time we get down to a Z56 season ticket it's only selling 75,000 a year (or 1500 a week) (or 0.5% of the overall total).

These are the top five best selling monthly season tickets.

Zones covered Annual
Z12 1,003,605

The all zones Z123456 season ticket has jumped up to third place here, and Z1234 up to fourth.

These are the top five best selling annual season tickets.

Zones covered Annual
Z123456 64,275

The all zones Z123456 season ticket has jumped up to first place here. An annual ticket covering the whole of London is something a lot of people like to have, maybe even some living outside London. I'm one of the 30,250.

The FoI request also includes data for season tickets covering zones 7, 8, 9 and W. These zones tend to be on the outer reaches of the Metropolitan lines, the tips of the Overground or just outside the capital on other services. W stands for Watford Junction.

These are the top five best selling TfL season tickets that go beyond zone 6. I've lumped weekly, monthly and annual together.

Zones covered Annual
Z4567 11237

Top of the pile is Z4567, which is equivalent to a Rickmansworth-Wembley journey. Almost as popular is Z1234567, that's Rickmansworth to the centre of town. Z123456789, which includes City commuters from Amersham and Chesham, would have been in sixth place. But these Z7+ tickets sell in tiny numbers compared to all the tables above, because TfL don't sell many season tickets outside London.

Finally, the data also shows there are some season tickets TfL never sell. Nobody buys Z4567, Z2345678 or Z23456789 annual season tickets. In fact nobody buys any kind of Z2345678 season ticket. Nobody buys Z67, Z567 or Z6789 season tickets either. All the big money's in zones 1 to 3... or in never buying season tickets at all.

 Friday, September 13, 2019

It's a very good week to visit the Science Museum because all the schools have gone back but it's still too early for school trips.1 It's also a very good week to go because a new permanent gallery has just opened, all about the history of science in the capital,2 as the layout of the museum continues to evolve.

1 Actually there was one school party wandering around yesterday clutching worksheets, a class of extremely polite Year 4 children wearing felt hats and flannel caps, but I guess private schools are good at sorting out travel fares and permission slips in the second week of term.
2 It's not really about this, but that's what the pre-publicity led me to believe.

The new gallery is called Science City 1550–1800, its stated intent to "take visitors on a 250-year journey through London as the city became a globally-important hub of trade, exploration and scientific enquiry".3 It's also known as the Linbury Gallery.4 You'll find it on the second floor at the front of the museum,5 where the Energy gallery6 used to be.

3 I did not feel it achieved this aim, but we'll get to that.
4 The Linbury Trust is a philanthropic body founded in 1973 by Lord Sainsbury, and is one of 17 different independent grant-making trusts established by members of three generations of the family.
5 It's not very well signposted yet. In fact, it's barely signposted at all.
6 Energy: Fuelling the Future opened on 23 July 2004 and closed7 on 2 September 2018. Its award-winning hands-on exhibits were aimed at helping children aged 7–14 to explore how energy powers every aspect of our lives.
7 The digital Energy Ring has also been removed, and more recently the glass bridge suspended across the Energy Hall, in readiness for "an exciting new gallery which will open in 2021".8
8 It has not yet been revealed what this new gallery will be.

Essentially the new gallery forms an L-shape around a balcony above a steam engine. It covers 650 m².9 The overall feel has been designed by artist Gitta Gschwendtner, who has created "an intriguing cityscape that will immerse visitors in historic London".10

9 It's actually mostly empty space. The general direction of travel at the Science Museum seems to be that galleries are increasingly empty space.
10 If you look carefully you'll see that the backs of some of the displays look like unlit terraced houses. Or you might miss that fact completely.

The first11 exhibit is a Dutch globe, as a reminder that London wasn't at the heart of scientific endeavour in the mid-16th century. That soon changed. A touchscreen electronic display then allows you to view a map of London12 at five stages in its expansion, the first from 1561, the last from 1799.

11 It's only the first exhibit if you walk in at the back end. If you enter from the front of the museum you get to discover London's scientific development in reverse chronological order.
12 You can only view the map at a dozen specified locations. Spitalfields in 1561 is quite fun because you get to watch an archer fire an arrow at a cow, repeatedly.13
13 The archer never hits the cow, so don't hang around watching.

The opening display cases feature quadrants, slide rules, clocks14 and other mathematical instruments, plus a variety of other precision tools. Also recreated is a small instrument-making workshop15 from the turn of the 17th century. Brief notes about each instrument are pasted up alongside, but for detail you need to use the touchscreen.16 Remember to scroll to the right several times because it's not all on page 1.

14 A clockmakers gallery already exists nextdoor, an exceptionally good one. It moved here from the Guildhall in 2014.
15 By this point you may have realised that Science City 1550–1800 is really a gallery of scientific instruments, not science per se.
16 I'm not a big fan of object description by touchscreen.17 It means only one person at a time can discover what's in the display case, and you're unlikely to have the patience to scroll down every branch of the information tree, whereas with printed text you can simply scan the bits you're interested in and ignore the rest.
17 Touchscreens are a big hit with kids, however, even if they only press them a lot and never read the text.18
18 Not that they'd have read the printed text either, obviously.

The history of the Royal Society19 is up next, including portraits of Robert Hooke20 and Isaac Newton, plus several vintage books in which their discoveries were first explained. Wheel-cutting is one of six modern trades featured in a video showreel21 acknowledging the precision that instrument-making requires.22 There is also an orrery.23

19 The Royal Society's collection is one of three used to fill the gallery, along with the King George III collection owned by King’s College London and the Science Museum Group Collection.
20 The fact that the Monument was designed as a experimental observatory is of course included, and this provides a good reason to introduce Sir Christopher Wren.
21 Bet you don't hang around to watch all six.
22 Here's where the visually impaired get a sundial, a telescope mirror and a cogwheel to feel.
23 There's always an orrery.

In the 18th century it became increasingly important to explain newly-discovered scientific discoveries to a wider audience, hence the need for demonstration models24 which helped explain newly-discovered scientific discoveries. George III even had a Philosophical Table25 for this very purpose. That's here, and so are bell jars and vacuum flasks, and more globes, and more clocks, and yet another orrery.23

24 I reckon the new gallery is less about scientific discoveries and more about showcasing whatever fascinating equipment the curators thought they could shoehorn in under the overall theme.
25 It reminded me of a young child's multi-activity frame, but large and wooden rather than small and plastic, and with wheels, tubes and springs rather than pushbuttons and squeezy bits.

I enjoyed the display which told the story of General Roy's pioneering triangulation on Hounslow Heath,26 including his actual telescope and a three-foot geodetic theodolite. I was prepared to be excited by the telescope William Herschel27 used to discover Uranus, but on closer inspection it was only a replica. Maritime navigation,28 although critical to Britain's scientific standing, thrilled me less.

26 Others walked straight past, possibly because the backdrop to the display case was so very grey, but more likely because there was nothing to push.
27 It turns out that the Herschel page on the Science Museum website has far more background information than the display itself, so you might as well just sit at home and read that.
28 Again, there's a much better set of marine chronometers in the clockmakers gallery on the other side of the atrium.

The gallery certainly features some exquisite artefacts, and is adeptly curated, but doesn't really showcase science as much as it showcases scientific instruments, and London's contribution feels very much an also-ran.29 It continues the Science Museum's shift towards presentation over content, with objects included as representatives of the collection rather than displaying the collection itself.30 Science City 1550–1800 is open 1000-1800 daily, should you fancy a visit.31

29 It's badly titled, I think that's what I'm saying.
30 The new Mathematics gallery exemplifies this approach - gorgeous but sparse. I much preferred the less professional clutter of the previous incarnation.
31 Don't rush.32 I recommend coming back when the much larger Medicine Galleries open on 16th November.
32 You've probably got until 2035 before they wipe it away and replace it with something else.

 Thursday, September 12, 2019

When you go out for a walk with someone else, you likely spend a lot of the time talking about the places and things around you. When you go out for a walk by yourself, you have to have an inner monologue with yourself. Allow me to share it with you.

Monier Road, Fish Island

That's new, I've not seen that before. It's certainly striking, I mean it's not artistically brilliant but you can't miss it. Obviously it's a complete over-reaction, the world isn't going to end next year, probably, but there is still very much something of the zeitgeist about it. Things are hurtling out of control at a depressing rate, not entirely unprecedented but I can't remember a time like it. Armageddon remains an unlikely consequence, indeed we've survived the majority of Trump's presidency without any buttons coming close to being pressed. But the UK could easily be in deep chaos by the end of the year, unlike anything we've seen before, especially if the government insists on smashing constitutional norms willy-nilly. Just imagine where we could end up if both Boris and Donald win their next elections with terms secure until 2024, it doesn't bear thinking about. The colours are quite pretty. I wonder how many Instagram likes it would get.

Bushberry Road, Hackney Wick

Ooh look, it's one of those rare NE postcode signs. It's very very faded, but maybe that's why it's survived. There's another one at the other end of the street, and that's in a very similar condition except somebody's coloured in the initial 'B'. The NE postcode was abolished in London in 1866 and absorbed into E instead, which is why it's now E9 round here rather than NE something, but the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney continued to use NE on street signs until 1917. Still, they must be at least 100 years old. I think these two haven't been taken down because Bushberry Road is a proper backwater these days, ever since the A12 dual carriageway wiped out neighbouring Bartripp Street and Cowdray Street, which means the council have put up modern signs at the Kenworthy Road end, not here. I bet the zoom on my phone won't capture this properly. There are far better examples elsewhere. The Ghostsigns website is tracking them all down.

Chatsworth Road, Homerton

My god, what's happened along here. I remember this as a proper down-at-heel backwater, even before I moved to London, all betting shops, minimarkets and laundrettes, as befitted the backside of Hackney. I guess the Victorian terraces proved too appealing to incomers, then that weekend market properly turbocharged gentrification. Now it's all louche pavement cafes, wellness hubs, creperies and boutiques selling pre-loved ornaments, even a special shop for spoiling the dog or cat in your life. Have you seen the prices in that estate agents' window? The previous demographic must still be here somewhere because a decent scattering of cheap shops remain, and Percy Ingle isn't going anywhere. I love the decaying frontage of this old tobacconists with its hand-rolled Golden Virginia advert and worn checkerboard doorstep tiling, but the next entrepreneur is sure to rip it out.

Millfields Park, Clapton

Well I've never seen one of these before. Unlit Public Footpath. Who on earth decided this was in any way necessary? Admittedly the footpath to the right is the towpath of the Lea Navigation, and nobody wants to end up walking a mile down the edge of Hackney Marshes after dark by mistake. But if it was after sunset the lack of streetlights down the river ought to be pretty damned obvious, you might think, enough to deter anybody from accidentally using it. Also, technically the footpath isn't unlit during the day because a large star called the Sun shines down on it. I mean, there are literally thousands of footpaths elsewhere in London and the rest of the country which ought to have 'Unlit Public Footpath' signs erected if this is genuinely deemed necessary. I'd rather be told where a footpath went than told it was unlit. Where will it all end?

Millfields Park, Clapton

Gosh look at that, in the verge, it's one of those London County Council boundary marks. In fact there are two, one low and stumpy and the other rather taller. You might well assume it marked a county boundary, and the former edge of Essex is indeed close by, but officially that runs down the centre of the other river channel. In fact these boundary markers were merely used to show where the edge of the LCC's property lay - the park had been theirs since 1889, and for five years before that the Metropolitan Board of Works', and before that Lammas land owned by the Lord of the Manor because Hackney was a very different place in those days. You can also find these markers around the edge of Wandsworth Common, Clapham Common, Hampstead Heath and Hainault Forest. Yeah, I read about it on the internet.

Cycleway 23, Lea Bridge Road

Does anybody understand how London's cycle paths have been numbered? I have CS2 outside my front door, but Cycle Superhighways are no longer deemed super so this one's merely Cycleway 23. It's almost part of Quietway 2, but that headed up the valley a few hundred metres earlier, so goodness knows why the cycle-counter beside the track has a purple-branded header. Dammit, however hard I try to get the number to click up by one, simply by walking past, the 393 refuses to change. Then there's NCN1 painted on the tarmac, which I assume relates to National Cycle Network route 1 running up the side of the Lea, and the whole thing is an astonishing cacophony of disparate acronyms. Further up the road are signs for C26 and C27, which I believe don't yet exist, and if you go to the official cycle route map on the TfL website it doesn't even have C23 on it yet. What an unhelpful mess.

You should come for a walk with me more often.

 Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hampton Ferry crosses the Thames between Hampton and Molesey, a mile upstream from Hampton Court.
One side's in London, the other in Surrey.
And it's been running, incredibly, for 500 years.

Bridges were in very short supply on the Tudor Thames - one in London, one at Kingston, one at Staines - so a prolific squad of watermen plied their trade ferrying goods and passengers across the river. Hampton's ferry has records going back to 1519, making it one of the UK's twenty oldest companies, and the waterside was also a place for fishing and boatbuilding. Between 1890 and 1962 the ferry thrived on passenger traffic bound for Hurst Park racecourse on the southern bank, after which there was a bit of a hiatus before fresh leaseholders took over in 1996. Half a millennium, though, is still damned good going.

The ferry operates until 6pm throughout the summer on a turn-up-and-ding basis. In April and October it only runs as a commuter service in the early morning and late afternoon, and over the winter months the boat goes into hibernation. The current ferryboat is a retired army assault craft with space for 12 passengers, powered by an outboard motor. The fare is £2 single or £3 return, with bikes an extra 50p and dogs carried for free. Five years ago the single fare was only £1.50, so there's been quite an inflationary hike, but it's hard to begrudge the fee when it saves a two mile walk.

The boathouse is on the north bank, in Hampton, close to St Mary's Church and The Bell Inn. Head down Bell Hill, which sounds far more dramatic than it really is, eschewing the canoe club for the hut and jetty. You might find the boatman at the picnic tables or he might be sat on his verandah or he might be out on the water. If not visible, ring the bell. His job appears to involve a heck of a lot of sitting around, or at least it does in September, but the business stays afloat by majoring on boat hire (and also a freezerful of Wall's ice cream).

Down the jetty we go. It's not far, and the boat proved very easy to step into. A selection of coins is laid out on top of the steering column, and further down is displayed the 2019 licence from the Environment Agency. Take a seat on one of the three benches - hardly luxurious but far better than the original complement of soldiers would have enjoyed. And be prepared, because the journey is going to absolutely whizz by. The Thames is only 100m wide at this point, so there's barely time to catch sight of the moored cruisers, the midriver aits and the low scudding water before you're stepping off at the other side. Thanks, cheers.

The boatman can be back on the Hampton jetty in under a minute, and checking his phone again in two, other passengers notwithstanding. I lingered on the Surrey side for some considerable time, watching the occasional motorboat chug through, but nobody else turned up for a ride. On a sunny summer Saturday it must be different, but practically speaking this is no vital cross-river connection. The former racecourse is now a 1960s housing estate segregated from the river by a linear park, highly pleasant but no economic draw. At least the ferry service should continue while the boatyard survives, subsidised by boathire and mooring charges, hopefully for many decades to come.

What to do on the north bank (Hampton)
• Hampton riverside, where accessible, is very pleasant.
• The esteemed 18th century actor David Garrick lived in Garrick's Villa overlooking the Thames.
• In his gardens by the river is Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, which is open on Sunday afternoons.
The Bell Inn is an attractive independent gastropub.
• The entrance to Bushy Park, with its roaming deer, is very close by.

What to do on the south bank (Molesey)
• Immediately adjacent to the landing stage is the Thameside Heritage Marker, a combined memorial/sundial/ seating area/historical resource. Before being a racecourse these meadows hosted duels, bare knuckle boxing, hot air ballooning, Jacobean golf and one of the first recorded cricket matches, which is an astonishing sporting combination.
• Today Hurst Park is essentially dogwalkers only, dozens of them.
• East Molesey's a lot nicer than West Molesey.

 Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A brand new rail service whimpered into action yesterday, linking one of London's busiest stations to one of its least used. It's been on the drawing board since 2011 under the project name ‘STAR’, the acronym referring to the route Stratford-Tottenham-Angel Road. Angel Road was permanently closed earlier this year and replaced by Meridian Water, a very short distance to the south, and it's to this new terminus that the new service operates. One day tens of thousands of people will live and work here, but for now it's a building site with a superfluous half-hourly train service. Let's take a ride. [background info] [video]

What's happening at Stratford?
Stratford is the southern terminus of the new five-stop service. The line from here towards Tottenham Hale was reopened in 2005, initially with one train an hour, then two. Trains for Bishop's Stortford still depart platform 11 on the hour and half hour, but as of this week the new trains to Meridian Water slot into the gaps, providing a very welcome turn-up-and-go service. Not everybody's noticed yet, though. A couple of people in my carriage thought they'd boarded the usual long distance service, and had to hop out later at Tottenham Hale to change trains.

What's happening at Lea Bridge?
Lea Bridge station opened in 2016, and since then has received a half-hourly service. Local residents are the biggest beneficiaries of this week's new service because they now have four trains an hour to Stratford and four trains an hour to Tottenham Hale. For those erecting the new flats alongside, it's an estate agent's dream.

Just north of Lea Bridge station is where the engineering magic begins. A third track has been added alongside the existing two, 5½km in length, all the way from here to Meridian Water station. The two-trackness of the Lea Valley lines has long been a major bottleneck, with the need to run the Stansted Express inhibiting local services, so the new addition is a proper gamechanger. This third track never once overlaps with existing lines, ensuring that the new STAR service can always run unhindered. But because there isn't a fourth track only one train at a time can use it, and that train has to be back at Lea Bridge before the next northbound service comes through, so we are already running at maximum capacity.

What's happening at Tottenham Hale?
Absolutely tons is happening at Tottenham Hale, and has been for over a year. The station is being remodelled to improve tube/rail interchange and to add step-free facilities. The latter has now been completed, courtesy of a fresh footbridge located roughly halfway along the platforms, which makes getting about much easier for all. The remainder of the station remains a chaotic mess with temporary barriers, annoying diversions, inadequate ticket-issuing facilities and a giant box that isn't yet the new concourse. It had better be worth the wait.

The arrival of a third track has meant the need for a third platform, which has been added alongside the existing southbound platform to create a wide island. Trains for Stratford can arrive on either side, with those from Meridian Water on the left and those from Bishop's Stortford on the right. Confusingly the three platforms have been numbered 2, 3 and 4, with '1' reserved for a fourth platform should there ever be the money for a fourth track. There is room, at a squeeze, but don't get your hopes up.

What's happening at Northumberland Park?
Total transformation has occurred, the most obvious manifestation of which is that the level crossing has has been entirely removed. The previous footbridge has been sealed off too, and replaced, which on the plus side is step-free but on the minus side is a heck of a lot further to walk. One staircase is reserved solely for use by football fans, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium being within walking distance, and these new Stratford services will greatly assist with carrying them away.

The revamped station has all the architectural ambience of an electricity substation. A ridiculously long ramp covers the space where platform 1 might one day go. Maps and posters on the way into the station have been tied to a fence in the absence of proper frames. Tiny signs urging passengers to hold the handrail hang at the top and bottom of the stairs. But whereas two of the three platforms only see only one train an hour off-peak, the extra platform gets two in each direction, and that's going to be a genuinely useful resource around here.

What's happening at Meridian Water?
London's newest station is no buzzing hotspot, but at least it's livelier than its predecessor. It has daytime and weekend services for the first time. It has lifts. It has ticket barriers, even if they've been left open. It has next train indicators, even if the ones outside sometimes claim nothing's coming. It has a plaque, unveiled by Chris Grayling back when he was still important. And it has a whopping staircase down to a hoarding in front of a building site which will one day be the centre of a thriving neighbourhood, but is currently a levelled void.

Down on the platforms all the action is on platform 2, which was previously unused. It's eight carriages long and being filled by eight-carriage trains twice an hour, each carrying a load that could probably be transported in a taxi. The journey from 33000 passengers a year to 4 million will be a long one, but that is the entire point of the new station, the new track and the new service, else Meridian Water's ten thousand new homes cannot be built. For the time being only the southern end of the new route is going to be of widespread use, but if nothing else you might now be able to get to IKEA more quickly.

 Monday, September 09, 2019

Have you ever been for a random walk?

I decided to go for a random walk stating at Oxford Circus.
I used a coin, specifically a Mrs Tiggywinkle 50p, to decide which way to go.
At every junction it was Tiggywinkle for left, Queen's head for right.

n.b. This works fine at T-junctions and crossroads, but needs adapting for sideroads.
Sideroad on the left: Tiggywinkle for left, Queen's head for straight on.
Sideroad on the right: Tiggywinkle for straight on, Queen's head for right.
But my precise rules aren't important.
What is important is that, at every junction, which road to take was entirely out of my control.

I decided that my random walk would last exactly one hour.
Normally in one hour I can walk three miles.
I wondered whether my random walk would reach half a mile from Oxford Circus.

The mathematics of random walks is widely researched, and fascinating.
In two dimensions the general rule is that after N steps, you will be roughly √N steps from your starting point.
Central London's street pattern isn't regular enough for such a rule to apply exactly.
Also, pure random walking allows for going back the way you came, and I wasn't doing that.
But, anticipating one coin flip every minute, I reckoned half a mile ought to be unlikely.

If you imagine the local area divided up into quadrants, I could end up in any of them.
A lot hinged on the first few tosses.

I started by facing north up Regent Street.
This meant Tiggywinkle would take me left towards Marble Arch.
Instead I got the Queen, so headed right towards Tottenham Court Road.
On my second toss I got Tiggywinkle so avoided heading down Argyll Street into Soho.
On my third toss I got Tiggywinkle again and ended up in Fitzrovia.
And there I stayed.

My coin sent me twiddling round Market Place and Great Tichfield Street for a bit. It directed me east along Margaret Street, then pushed me further out towards Wells Street. It honed in on The Cartoon Museum. It shunted me off into a delivery zone round the back of the Sanderson Hotel. After ten minutes I was already quarter of a mile from my starting point, and making unexpectedly good progress. But could it last?

An important truth about random walks is that the path already travelled does not affect the path to come.
Just because I was heading firmly northeast didn't mean this would continue.
It was still impossible to predict where I'd be ten minutes later.
Essentially every toss of the coin starts a brand new random walk.

At twenty minutes I'd reached Riding House Street, with the Post Office Tower looming large. After thirty minutes I was walking down Tottenham Street for the third time, my coin having given me a looping sense of deja vu. After forty minutes I was back on Riding House Street again, but at the other end. I'd spent the last half hour walking repeatedly around a fairly compact slot of Fitzrovia - thankfully an interesting one, but it seemed all my lefts and rights kept cancelling out.

Eventually my coin led me back to Oxford Street and, against the odds, across it. At fifty minutes I was inside the Soho quadrant, somewhere round the back of the new Crossrail entrance, but the incursion didn't last. A couple of flips led me back into Fitzrovia, zigzagging towards and beyond Tottenham Court Road. I nearly made it to Bedford Square but as sixty minutes ticked round I had to make do with being in Morwell Street, a dreary backstreet. Unexpectedly I'd ended up precisely half a mile from Oxford Circus, but how much of a coincidence was this?

Obviously I tried again.
I got the bus back to Oxford Circus and prepared for another hour-long random walk.

Might this be the time to venture into Mayfair or Marylebone?
No, I started with two Queen's heads in a row and ended up in Soho.

After ten minutes I was in D'Arblay Street near the junction with Berwick Street. After twenty minutes I was back at the Crossrail entrance in Dean Street again. After thirty minutes I was back at the Crossrail entrance in Dean Street again. Random events do churn up some entirely improbable occurrences, not that any of these can be predicted in advance.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that I found myself walking clockwise around the whole of Soho Square, having thrown four Queens in a row... and then quarter of an hour later came back and did exactly the same thing again. Another peculiar thing is that after fifty minutes I was back in D'Arblay Street again, where I'd been forty minutes previously. A final unexpected thing is that my coin suddenly retraced my steps towards Oxford Circus so that I ended my walk at the top of Carnaby Street (where I'd been fifty-five minutes earlier). Even though I'd been half a mile away from Oxford Circus after 40 minutes, at the end of my hour I was almost back at the start.

According to the mathematics, you'll always get back to your starting point eventually, although it might take an infinite amount of time to get there.

If I put my two walks together on the same map, you can see how little of the surrounding neighbourhood I managed to cover in two hours.

I never once walked west of my starting point. Marylebone and Mayfair were never touched, nor the southern half of Soho. Several streets I visited three times, but most streets never once. The second walk often felt like it had got into a rut and was going round the same small area over and over, whereas the first walk was more varied and interesting. The first walk also led me along streets I'd never walked down before, past buildings and shops and plaques that helped make my random safari less of a pointless task. And although on each occasion I walked for three miles, I never got further than half a mile from where I started.

I couldn't have predicted any of this when I started, indeed there was absolutely nothing inevitable about where I ended up. A single coin toss flipping the other way would have changed the experience entirely. But a random walk is always an intriguing insight into how random processes operate, should you ever fancy giving it a try. I suspect it works best in city centres where the grid of streets is densest, but you could flip coins across a suburb, round a park or through a forest. Just don't get your hopes up for an exciting journey because willing the coin to send you in a particular direction never works. The Queen goes where she wants to go and Mrs Tiggywinkle has a mind of her own.

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