Many people adore them, pamper them, exercise them, accompany them, tolerate them, even simply ignore them, but I generally try to keep my distance. I'm told I had an uncomfortable encounter with a dog when I was in a pushchair so my unease may have started right there, but it's continued to bedevil me throughout my life. I like a dog to stay on the ground and ideally stay away from me, but very occasionally they don't and this happens just often enough to keep me on edge.
One consequence of this is that I take a particular interest in canine behaviour. If a dog is padding patiently or focused elsewhere then I'm usually happy to walk on by. If instead it's loose and excitable then I'll approach more carefully, ideally at a distance, or even adjust my plans and walk via an entirely different route.
Here are some of the behaviours I've observed and assimilated, ordered from 'greatest feeling of unease' to 'really not bothered'.
Canine Interaction Indices
interested in you
interested in other dogs
interested in its surroundings
not especially interested in anything
too old to do much
Some dogs are pathologically interested in humans and they're the ones I dislike most. Thankfully it's a tiny minority, or at least it is when you're an unwelcoming unfriendly soul like me. A lot of other dogs are really only interested in other dogs - meeting, greeting, sniffing, etc - and that's great because it keeps them away from me. The threat from a lone dog can often be neutralised by the sudden appearance of another dog, and hey presto my presence is completely forgotten.
Other dogs are so focused on exploring their surroundings that they ignore any passing human, which is great because I'm a lot less interesting than a canvas of exciting smells. Then there are the dogs who pad patiently ahead whatever, and the dogs who might once have been excitable but are now too old to do anything, and these are never any trouble at all. It's only dogs in the very first category that bother me, so I spend a lot of time scanning canine behaviour attempting to discount that possibility.
focused solely on you
keen on interaction
maybe a light sniff
cocks an eye
considers you irrelevant
Some dogs are definitely coming over to see you, possibly at speed, unless some external force holds them back. These are the dogs I most fear, unstoppable forces nobody can reason with, and I'll go out of my way to avoid them. Thankfully they're very rare but they still emerge with just enough frequency to remind me they exist, keeping alive the fear that one day one will do me damage. The pitbull I encountered in Buckhurst Hill last month did my long-term subconscious no favours.
Dogs who only want a sniff sometimes make me tense because it takes a finite amount of time to confirm that's all they're after. Thankfully the overwhelming majority of London's dog population are perfectly content to either look at me or ignore me and I'm OK with that - it's only when their behaviour nudges into a higher category that I start to worry. I'm not that bad, I'd never leave the house otherwise.
off leash and out of control
recently let off the leash
on leash but muzzled
Even the rowdiest dog is no problem to me when it's on a lead. When I spot a dog in the distance the first thing I try to do is work out if it's on a lead, and if it is I breathe and carry on as normal. The moment of maximum jeopardy is when the owner unclips the collar to give a dog its freedom because I never know if they've released a firework or a sane rational creature with no interest in me whatsoever. If your dog isn't fully under your control, perhaps you shouldn't have released it.
medium dog and active
medium dog and calm
Don't tell me size is not important. My unease is in proportion to the size of the beast, and thereby my chances of fending off an assault should one take place. Giants like mastiffs and German shepherds make me most nervous, just in case, whereas medium-sized dogs only make me uneasy if they demonstrate overexcitedness. As for small dogs they can essentially do what they like because I know they're no threat, indeed one crept up behind me in Victoria Park yesterday and I didn't even blink.
no attempt at control
owner could probably call the dog off
owner is keeping dog occupied
dog has some self-control
dog is perfectly behaved
Fundamentally my beef isn't with the dog, it's with the owner. If you've trained your dog well it's going to be no trouble, because it's only thoughtless and unsuccessful owners who inflict hellhounds upon the world. I generally feel safe if a dog is being kept busy with sticks or balls or if it exhibits all the signs of being well-disciplined. I shudder instead at owners who yell their dog's name repeatedly to no behavioural effect, and I despair at those whose dogs are allowed to do whatever the hell they like... assuming I haven't already fled.
"I see you've met Satan"
"He's only being friendly"
"Sorry, I'll call him off"
I don't normally need to engage in conversation with a dog owner, so if I do something's probably gone wrong. Never assume I'll have the same upbeat opinion of your creature that you do, or that I want to make friends with your dog as much as they want to make friends with me. A bit of empathy goes a long way.
dog in contact
dog close by
dog sighted in distance
This is obvious but important - distance matters. A dog nearby and heading my way is more of a potential risk than a dog crossing my path further away. Even a frisky dog is easily dealt with if I can stay out of its sphere of interest, which might mean slowing down or taking a subtly different line across the park. Living with canine uncomfortableness means sizing up every dog that comes into sight, identifying any potential belligerence and deviating as necessary.
isolated and narrow
lane or footpath
park or open space
In all the other lists I've assumed I'm outdoors, but indoors is by far my least favourite place to encounter a dog. Being within the same walls greatly increases the chances it'll want to interact with me, indeed it's almost unavoidable, and I'm never able to settle if there's a sniffy inquisitive dog under the same roof. I well remember that time a friend kindly shut their Alsatian in the kitchen for me but then their husband came home and opened the kitchen door and within five seconds that dog was on my lap, and it still makes me shudder.
When outdoors the safest place to encounter dogs is on the street because they're invariably under better control, whereas in a park or open space they have more freedom to roam and play. The most unnerving place to meet them is in more remote locations, because this is precisely where owners take excitable dogs because they assume they won't encounter anyone. Bumping into Mr Frisky while alone on a narrow path with zero escape routes is about as bad as it gets for me. I don't let these fears prevent me from walking in deep countryside, not all the time, but I am always on heightened alert just in case.
Despite these eight indices I've managed to compile, rest assured I do know hardly any dogs are any trouble whatsoever. But if there's any suggestion one might be up the red end rather than down the pink end, I do my best to keep well away.
Wordle is the daily online word game in which you try to guess today's five-letter word in a few guesses as possible. Coloured clues are given for correct letters in the right or wrong positions.
Everyone in the world gets the same word on the same day. It's a delightfully simple low-fi ad-free game which millions are playing. And the pressure is always there to guess correctly in as few rows as possible... in which case a few Wordle tips might just be useful.
There are 2315 possible Wordle solutions.
The 2315 words were selected by the game's inventor Josh Wardle, then shuffled into a random order. That random order is now fixed and each day's word is the next on the list. It'll take just over six years to work through the entire sequence before it repeats. Wordle 0 was on June 19th 2021. Wordle 2314 will be on October 20th 2027. Today is day 221.
The first ten words, had anyone been playing other than Josh's partner, were CIGAR, REBUT, SISSY, HUMPH, AWAKE, BLUSH. FOCAL, EVADE, NAVAL and SERVE.
Thelist is part of the code which powers the webpage so can be extracted and analysed. Potentially this is a massive spoiler because you can work out what's coming next, but that would be entirely self-defeating. Instead let's concentrate on what the overall bank of 2315 words can tell us because that might help us to make better guesses.
Two-thirds of Wordle words consist of five different letters.
This means repeated letters crop up quite a lot.
30% of words have one repeated letter.
1.6% of words have two repeated letters (that's about 6 words a year)
0.8% of words have a letter repeated three times (that's about 3 words a year)
Only one word consists of just two different letters (and it's not due to appear until 2027, so don't worry about it).
The most common letter, unsurprisingly, is E.
E appears in 46% of Wordle words, i.e. just under half.
A is next (39%), then R (36%), then O and T (29%), then L and I (28%) then S (27%), then N (24%).
This is not the same as letter frequency in wider English, which is ETAONRISH.
For Wordle the letter order is EAROTLISN, because five-letter words have a structure all of their own.
The least common letters are J, Q, X and Z, which you should only see once every two or three months.
Next come V, W, K and F, each of which might appear two or three times a month.
Full frequency order is EAROTLISNUCYHDPGMBVWKFJQXZ.
This suggests a good starting word might be ORATE.
(or LATER, if you want a word that's actually in the list of solutions)
But if you want green tiles, not just coloured tiles, it might be more useful to know whereabouts in the word the letters usually are.
E, for example, is much more likely to be the last letter than the first letter.
A, by contrast, more normally appears in second or third position.
S, meanwhile, is more likely to be the first letter than anything else.
Because I've bashed the statistics I can do you a full (ordered, coloured) spreadsheet.
E is the final letter in 424 of Wordle's answers, that's 18%.
It's the fourth letter in 13%, second in 10%, third in 8% but first in only 3%.
The two most striking outliers are S and Y. 1 in every 6 words starts with S, and 1 in every 6 words ends in Y.
Wordle's list doesn't include plurals, so S is the final letter only about once every two months.
Other letters most likely to come first are C, P, M, G, B, F, W, Q and J.
Other letters most likely to come last are T, N, D and K.
The most predictable position is last place, which is E, R, T or Y 54% of the time.
As for the second letter, that's one of AEHILORU 80% of the time.
Vowels turn out to be quite position-specific. The second letter is a vowel just over half the time. The third letter is a vowel almost exactly half the time.
Meanwhile the first letter is a consonant 86% of the time, i.e. six days a week.
Wordle uses American spellings, which can be awkward for UK players.
A few weeks ago the answer was FAVOR, which caused quite a FUROR.
By my calculations there are about 20 US-specific spellings in the word bank, including ARMOR, SAVOR and TUMOR.
That trio are lined up for 2026, don't worry, but expect about three US blips a year.
I fear the internet may melt down on the day FANNY emerges.
Also the list contains a tiny number of really unfamiliar words.
Overwhelmingly Josh chose well-known ones... (of the 12972 words allowed as guesses, only 2315 are used as solutions)
...but words like DROIT, FICUS and HAUTE are in there too.
Again that trio are a very long way in the future - all in 2027 - but be prepared for the occasional vocabulary bomb to wipe out your winning streak.
Whatever, Wordle's just a bit of fun so let's not ruin it.
Instead consider these a few tips that might help you guess more quickly more often in future.
For a more forensic analysis see Bertrand Fan's blogpost The Best Starting Word in WORDLE, which he published in November way before the rest of the world caught on. He reckons the best starting word is SOARE, an obsolete word that means “a young hawk”, because that has the really popular letters in really popular positions. Kick off with SOARE and you should get at least one green letter 50.4% of the time.
2022 marks ten years since London hosted the Olympics, so it's about time I brought you an Update On Things That Have Recently Changed In The Olympic Park. Here are ten things that aren't what I told you they were last time.
••••• This is how the East Bank is shaping up, the new cultural quarter slotting in between Westfield and the Park. The building on the left is V&A East, a new museum space. Its skeleton is complete and some of the armadillo-like cladding has been added, but it's not due to open until 2025. The second building is the UAL London College of Fashion. It's the tallest of the four, the most substantially complete and due to open in autumn 2023. The third building is the new BBC Music studios, essentially a stack of floors at present. Auntie won't be moving in before 2025. The fourth and final building is Sadler's Wells East, a jaunty theatre/academy combo. It's hard to see from this viewpoint, sorry, and not much more advanced than the BBC, but still pencilled in to premiere at the end of 2023.
••••• I haven't seen a kingfisher in the Olympic Park in the last nine months, although I saw one fifteen times in the six months before that, so either I'm getting unobservant or they've gone.
••••• Last February a planning application was submitted to add 50m of fence to the edge of Stadium Island so that West Ham could shut out members of the public on matchdays. That fence has now appeared, along with one lockable gate on the towpath and another at the foot of the steps. This simple act allows the footpath alongside the Old River Lea to remain open at all times, even when claret and blue hordes are marauding up top. It's also ended the need for monthly closure dates to be pinned to surrounding bridges, reducing clutter and faff, so a bit of a win all round.
••••• Last September I told you the story of the Pudding Mill Allotments and disappearing daylight. Plotholders were concerned that a new development of 600 new homes immediately to the south would block out sunlight for most of the day and significantly impair conditions for growth. They were particularly annoyed because the developers had been told to slope their buildings away from the allotments but instead submitted a plan with four towers against the northern perimeter. It's fine, said the developers, almost all of your site will still get more than 2 hours direct sunlight on 21st March and that's the legally accepted threshold. It's not fine, said the plotholders, two-thirds of our site will get less than 8 hours direct sunlight on 21st March and that'll wreck our vegetables.
Last week the developers resubmitted their planning application with an additional 45 page document packed with considerably more information on daylight/sunlight/overshadowing. They've recalculated figures based on a more accurate building silhouette and tabulated data for each of the 50 allotment plots in December, March and June. On these maps yellow means 8+ hours of sunlight and the two shades of blue mean less than 2 hours.
In June there's no problem because the sun's high in the sky and everyone still gets lots of light. In the key month of March the north remains sunny but the southern end only gets 2-4 hours. In December hardly anywhere gets 2 hours, whereas currently most of the site gets more than 4. The report also calculates the average reduction in light availability season by season... down 49% in winter, down 31% in spring and down 24% in summer. These are reductions from a very high base, given the adjacent land is currently empty, but it's not good news for owners of certain cursed southern plots.
This is a significant intervention and so, unusually, the entire development is subject to another 30 days of public consultation. I hope everyone complains again, until the architects finally do the honest thing and shift the tall towers back where they always should have been.
••••• Last July I reported that Bridge H14 had finally opened, the new road connection between Fish Island and the southern Park. Six months later it has yet to see a single vehicle. Only the bridge and one connecting road were completed, and as yet no attempt has been made to complete the last few metres on the eastern side. This'll require more tarmac and an extra road junction, of which there is currently no sign. Even when the bridge does finally open the only vehicle allowed across will be the 339 bus, whose diversion has been rubberstamped since 2019, but for now it's pedestrians and bikes only.
••••• If you walked round the park during the Olympics, or have done since, you probably spotted a number of circular metalplaques embedded in the paths. They celebrate wildlife, plant life, sustainability and the like, and were designed to live on into legacy. Alas this month a couple of them have disappeared, one on either side of the river. They were most probably stolen, indeed a series of grooves in the tarmac make it look like both plaques were forcibly prized out. Of course it may be that they've been deliberately removed, perhaps for maintenance, but I fear resale greed has struck instead.
••••• Last July I updated you on the state of the five new Olympic residential neighbourhoods. I can now confirm that the first stage of East Wick, south of Here East, is complete. Remaining stages are totally not started. Meanwhile the entirety of Chobham Manor edges closer and closer to full completion, with the last mostly-incomplete block located where the sales office used to be.
••••• Last August I told you about the ridiculously unnecessary cycle lane junction that's been created on Northwall Road. Not only is this road closed to traffic but immediately beyond the junction one of the cycle paths has been blocked by two large concrete blocks. Now 17 more concrete blocks have joined them, scattered further down Northwall Road, additionally blocking vehicles that shouldn't be able to drive down here anyway.
••••• At Hackney Bridge the poncey perfumier Gallivant ("Fragrance for Urban Explorers") has moved out and their cubbyhole is now occupied by CakeCult, a vegan bakery operated by pink-headscarfed staff flogging small expensive sugary treats, and I'm not sure that's an improvement.
••••• Yes, they're still building the Abba Arena. Dozens are, some on the roof, some finishing off the exterior and the majority I hope inside because it's supposed to be opening in four months time.
After the nondescript B120, the B121 is absolutely rammed with interest. It's medieval in origin and was once the solelink across the fields from Mile End to the docks (by way of the East End's first parish church). Along its oblique path I can promise you a revolting encampment, several sheep, a Crossrail shaft, a famous nursery rhyme, ten almshouses and a children's theatre, which isn't bad for less than a mile. Also it's impossible to drive the full length in a car because this is yet another B road that shouldn't still be a B road, and yet it is, so let's walk it.
The B121 starts on Mile End Road opposite the big Currys. There's been a turn-off here for centuries, originally known as Mile End Green, this being a nicer place to live than on the main drag. Today it's called Stepney Green instead but echoes of an older time abound. The road kicks off with a full-on Georgian terrace - essentially a long brick cuboid with sash windows and arched doorways - faced by half a dozen three-storey villas, one of which has just sold for one point one million. Most striking is the formerbakery with a fadedadvert for DAREN Bread - Best for Health painted across its facade, although the sign can't be original because Hovis would have been the brown loaf of choice when the shop closed in the 1980s.
Just round the bend the road opens out to reveal a row of very old houses beyond a long stripe of grass. This is Stepney Green Gardens, a chain of four longlawns created in 1872 and all that's left of rural Mile End Green. The separate road which runs just behind is narrow, blue-cobbled, well-worn and far more characterful than Stepney deserves to be. The finest house is the Queen Anne beauty at number 37, built in 1694 for a rich merchant who wanted access to the docks without living on top of them. And tucked amid this residential splendour is The Rosalind Green Hall, formerly home to Arbour Youth Amateur Boxing Club but currently boarded up waiting for Barnardo's to turn it into a Live, Learn & Work Centre.
Not everything on Stepney Green is old. Several massive mansion blocks have been added including the decorated redbrick Stepney Green Court (1896) and the open-stairwelled Dunstan Court (1899). More jarring is the low-fi block of postwar flats on the southern side, broken only by The Ship On the Green - one of those architect-led developments which likes to pretend it's still a pub. Essentially if your house number is odd you've done very well and if your house number is even you probably have the council to thank.
A separate grass island offers the unlikely combination of palm trees and a clock tower. The tower dates from 1913, features two stone relief panels depicting Education and Benevolence and commemorates Stepney councillor Stanley Atkinson. It used to be possible to inspect it at close quarters but the council then erected a ring of protective railings - impenetrable unless you're the gardener or have minimal athletic ability. Close by is a red granite water fountain dedicated to temperance campaigner Leonard Montefiore (pillar of the local Jewish community and friend of Oscar Wilde who died at the age of 27).
The large park on the right wasn't there 60 years ago, it was created by clearing several terraced streets. Likewise those streets weren't there 640 years ago when the Essex arm of the Peasants' Revolt turned up and encamped here, shortly before Richard II turned up on horseback to address them. The most recent marauding force is Crossrail who filled one end of the park with a major worksite and have left behind a long sinuous silver ventilation shaft, this being the very spot where the tunnels from Stratford and Canary Wharf merge. Alongside is Stepney City Farm, an agricultural oasis packed with pigs, goats, donkeys, chickens and a cafe. The easiest animals to see from the B121 are the Hebridean sheep, and also the beehives which are stashed inside the demolished entrance to a 200 year-old Baptist College. I could have written a week's posts on everything I've mercilessly abridged in that single paragraph, sorry, such are the narrative riches of this historic B road.
The upcoming mini-roundabout is where the B140 starts so we'll be back here later, but the B121 instead turns right down what's left of Stepney High Street. I've blogged previously about how it's become a runty shadow of its former self so won't repeat myself, apart from reusing a leafy photo because my midwinter attempt was bedevilled by low solar dazzle. Here we see the pride of Stepney, StDunstan'schurch, which incredibly was founded here in AD 952. The current building is fundamentally 15th century but includes a 10th century rood cross, a 13th century chancel and much 20th century stained glass. It also currently has a fully illuminated Christmas tree and a large nativity scene in front of the altar because some vicars don't believe in taking down the decorations before Candlemas.
Belgrave Street cuts diagonally along the edge of St Dunstan's churchyard segregated by a long line of black spiky railings. With its double avenue of plane trees the road looks almost rural, although the open space opposite again used to be terraced streets and the churchyard is rammed with plague victims. What the B121 should now do is continue straight ahead because Belgrave Street is broad and two-way, but instead it follows historical precedent and turns left in front of Mercers Cottages. This is White Horse Road, the original route to Commercial Road and the docks, except a modal filter was added a few years back banning all vehicles so now it's bikes and pedestrians only. The splendid almshouses facing the church are for the exclusive benefit of widows and result from a will made by Lady Jane Mico in 1670. They were rebuilt in the current style in 1856 but retain the original cartouche on one end.
Just around the corner is a small open space where a tarmac path weaves between a few well-worn gravestones. This used to be the burial ground for a group of Puritan non-conformists who went by the name of Stepney Meeting and was last used in 1853. A map on the information board allows you to track down the graves of their two longest-serving pastors, assuming that's of interest and you're not simply here so your dog can relieve itself.
White Horse Street is a mix of highly desirable terraces and utilitarian council flat replacements. Look out for the Tower Project which supports the borough's disabled, the somewhat dilapidated remains of the White Horse pub and a sparkling white building with the letters of its name arrayed across the roof. This is the Half Moon Theatre, a youth-focused venue which runs a successful programme of performances for children, and is still embedded in the community 50 years after its adult heyday. It's the last significant building before the Nisa supermarket on the corner of Commercial Road, which means I've just completed my short walk from the A11 to the A13.
...and the nursery rhyme link was to St Dunstan's which features as the penultimate church in Oranges and Lemons. By a ridiculous coincidence another church from the same rhyme adjoins the B122 so you'll be hearing about that next time. When will that be, say the bells of Stepney?
Here are half a dozen ideas that weren't really worth a post of their own so didn't get one.
1)Crossrail Central Operating Section Rule Book
What should you do if you're a Crossrail driver and you see flooding, heavy snow or a cow on the line between Paddington and Abbey Wood? The answers are included in a 987 page rule book hosted on the TfL website, which if nothing else proves that learning to be a driver, shunter or signaller is a tough call.
i) Flooding: You may allow trains to continue normally if the water is up to the bottom of the rail head, run at a maximum speed of 5 mph if the water is no deeper than the top of the rail head and should suspend the normal running of trains if the water is deeper than the top of the rail head. ii) Snow: Normal running can take place unless you are told that snow is deeper than 200 mm (8 inches) above the top of the rail head in which case you must suspend the normal running of trains. iii) Cows: If you see a cow, a bull or other large animal within the boundary fence, even if it is not an immediate danger to trains, you must use the emergency call facility on the train radio equipment, warn the driver of any approaching train by sounding the horn and showing a red light, and tell the signaller in the quickest way possible.
2)Where is London's nearest waterfall?
There are lots of artificial waterfalls in Greater London, including in Holland Park, Beddington Park, Grove Park (Carshalton), Kelsey Park (Beckenham), Foots Cray Meadows and Kew Gardens, but they don't really count.
Wikipedia has a list of 150 English waterfalls but they're almost all in the Lake District or the Pennines. The nearest to London is Kinder Downfall in the Peak District which is 150 miles away.
So I reckon the nearest to London is Tillingbourne waterfall. It's Surrey's tallest and tumbles from the north slopes of Leith Hill. It's on private land near the village of Friday Street but visible from a nearby public footpath [map]. It falls in five cascades and was quite pretty the last time I walked by.
3)How short-lived a Prime Minister could Boris Johnson be?
Having been in power for precisely 2½ years (technically 2 years, 183 days) Boris is the 38th longest-serving of our 55 Prime Ministers. He's already outpaced such heavyweights as Sir Anthony Eden (1 year, 279 days), Sir Alec Douglas-Home (363 days) and Andrew Bonar Law (211 days). He has to survive another 20 weeks to overtake Gordon Brown, 24 weeks to overtake Neville Chamberlain, 28 weeks to overtake Theresa May and until February 2031 to overtake Margaret Thatcher.
4)What's the most unusual set of maps on the TfL website?
There are many contenders but I'd say it's the collection of Audio maps. If you stop and think about the concept of an 'Audio map' for a second, you might understand how unusual it is. The set of Audio maps consists of 38 sound files which between them list the stations along each of TfL's lines along with their interchange connections and access requirements. For example one file lists all the stations along the Victoria line in order, and another file lists all the TfL stations starting with A, B and C. They're designed to be listened to by people with sight impairment who can't extract information from a map presented visually.
You may find them slow and cumbersome, for example when listening to the Northern line described branch by branch in both directions, but the target audience needs them to be comprehensive and precise. They are quite old though, being of 2016 vintage, and sound like they were designed to comprise a set of three CDs. But it's lovely to know they're there, and if you're ever having trouble dropping off to sleep then the alphabetical station list might be just the ticket.
5)When are London's National Trust houses reopening for 2022?
Traffic cones were patented in 1943 by Los Angeles roadworker Charles D. Scanlon who believed that rubber cones would be more visible and durable than wooden tripods. Cones were first used in the UK on the M6 Preston bypass in 1958. Plastic cones were introduced in 1961. Traditional orange cones have recently been joined by yellow (for "no stopping"), green ("access to a lane") and blue ("overhead structure"). Cones should generally be placed 9m apart. They should be 450mm tall on roads with a speed limit of 30-40mph, 750mm tall where speed limits are 50-60mph and 1000mm tall on motorways.
• PM was warned about lockdown drinks (Cummings)
• "nobody warned me it was against the rules" (PM)
• Scotland to lift most remaining restrictions
• 1 in 20 in England are infected
• PM announces end to Plan B Covid measures
• workers urged to return to offices
• masks no longer advised in classrooms
• Hong Kong culls pet hamsters to quell outbreak
• NHS in push to vaccinate the final 4m
• easing of regulations in Wales/NI/Ireland
• island of Kiribati enters first lockdown
Worldwide deaths: 5,530,000 → 5,590,000 Worldwide cases: 324,000,000 → 347,000,000 UK deaths: 151,899 → 153,787 UK cases: 15,147,120 → 15,784,488 1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 52.2m/48.1m/36.8m FTSE: down 1% (7542 → 7494)
The A-Z of how London places got their names Part 71:Lewisham → Limehouse
Lewisham: From the Saxon, either Levesham (the house among the meadows) or Liofshema (the homestead of a Jute called Leof).
Leyton: Again Saxon, literally Lea-ton, village on the River Lea.
Leytonstone: Originally part of Leyton, the part near a stone.
This is the High Stone after which Leytonstone is named. It's a stone obelisk on an older base, reputedly a Roman milestone, and can be found on Hollybush Hill just north of the Green Man roundabout. Also it's not officially in Leytonstone.
The High Stone started life as a mile post on a road out of London. It probably wasn't a Roman road given that the main road to Colchester went through Ilford, not Leyton, but the legend persists. At a later date a road ran from London towards what's now Woodford and another towards what's now Chigwell and it could have been either of those, or both given that this is where the two diverge. We know the stone definitely existed in 1728 because it appears on a map prepared for the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust, but there must have been a stone here before that otherwise Leytonstone wouldn't have gained its name.
In the Domesday Book it's only Leyton that gets a mention, and although some of the 51 homesteads might have been this far north the main focus of population was much nearer the Lea where the fertile land was. It takes until 1370 until we see the first recorded mention of the hamlet of Leyton-atte-Stone, i.e. the part of Leyton near the milestone, although it was still part of the parish of Leyton St Mary at the time. In Tudor times we know of an inn here called the Rose, a convenient halt for weary travellers, and by the end of the 16th century the road through Leytonstone had become busier than the lanes through Leyton. In the early 19th century Leyton was known as Low Layton and Leytonstone was Layton Stone, then came the railways and suburban expansion and the two inexorably merged into one another.
The High Stone became an obelisk during the 18th century, known locally as the Obelisk, which is further evidence that Leytonstone must have earned its name early else it would have become Leytonobelisk. In 1933 the original obelisk was hit by a vehicle - history does not record what - and was so badly damaged it had to be replaced. They kept the base but the upper shaft was new, as is explained in a now-unreadable inscription on the north face. Inscriptions on the other faces were retained but are now equally unreadable (south), substantially unreadable (east) and partly unreadable (west). This is the west side...
...and these are all the sides including the unreadable ones.
To Stones End Whitechapel 6M 0F 24P
Standard Cornhill 6M 5F 21P
Hyde Park Corner 10M 0F 31P
To Epping XI Miles
Through Woodford Loughton
To Ongar XVI Miles
Through Woodford Bridge Chigwell Abridge
The Base Of This Stone Formed A Part Of The Original Highstone And The Top Portion Was Renewed In 1933
Today the road to Epping is called Hollybush Hill and the road to Ongar is called New Wanstead, these being the A1199 and A113 respectively. It seems odd that this fork should be a significant location given that the massive A12 Green Man roundabout is only 200m away but that's the idiosyncrasies of evolving transport networks for you. The High Stone used to have a more prominent location by the roadside but in 2013 the council shifted it back slightly, with the agreement of English Heritage, and surrounded it with a small ring of uplighter spotlights. The need to upgrade the pedestrian crossing with a splash of tactile paving may have kicked all this off.
This photo reveals two important things. Firstly the High Stone is in the London borough of Redbridge, not the London borough of Waltham Forest where Leytonstone is today. It's only marginal - the dividing line between the two boroughs runs along the edge of Leyton Flats just ten metres across the road. Centuries ago it made sense that the High Stone marked the boundary, it being the only significant object in the vicinity, but administrative tweaks have expelled it to the borough nextdoor. Secondly you can see an information board in the background which is so impressively detailed that I've been able to regurgitate its contents to make myself sound learned and well read.
There was a mail coach robbery here in 1757 by a highwayman called Matthew Snatt. Snatt was later convicted of the crime and after his execution his body was hung in chains near the Stone as a warning to others.
But nothing is stranger than the stone Leytonstone is named after not being in Leytonstone itself. Even 200 years ago the village lay quarter of a mile to the south, centred on the church and pub rather than the obelisk, and so it continues to this day. That's Leytonstone, originally the part of Leyton near a stone, and today somehow neither of these.
Limehouse: Named after the lime kilns found here in the 14th century.
Sometimes when I'm lying in bed trying to get to sleep I mull over some of the great disconcerting mysteries of life, like how my consciousness is actually a collection of cells that somehow interacts to keep me alive, how my existence and personality are the result of one vastly-outnumbered sperm meeting one egg and how I'm a tiny insignificant organism on the surface of an isolated rock adrift in the infinite universe. The thing I try not to dwell on is the fact I'm about to involuntarily lose consciousness for several hours as my body embraces sleep.
Sleep is a remarkable biological phenomenon, a daily necessity which requires us to lose contact with our environment while our bodies refresh. We've all been doing it since we were born and have to continue doing so or face debilitating consequences. Some people have trouble slipping into it but nobody can hold it off forever. Whoever we are and however badly we do it, we have to accept that at the end of the day we will find an appropriate space, embrace an unconscious state and temporarily flicker out of existence.
Our homes are designed around the fact that for maybe a third of the day we will occupy a separate space with minimal external stimulation. We own special items of furniture which allow us to lie horizontally in comfort, helping to maximise the efficiency of our daily downtime. We generally own one of these items each, or maybe one per couple to allow them to double up for other biological activities. If we're ever away from home we pay considerable amounts of money to ensure we have a bedroom for the night because a non-stop seven day holiday isn't physically possible. Sleep is an intrinsic part of our environment and our day.
If hostile aliens ever visited our planet, our need for sleep is one biological weakness they could turn against us. Keep the population awake with a non-stop cacophony of noise and all planetary resistance would fade away before the end of day one, definitely day two. It'd be an easier offensive trick to pull than removing all our oxygen or extinguishing our supply of food. For defensive reasons it's fortuitous that humanity doesn't all sleep at the same time thanks to the rotation of the earth, not to mention the existence of night shift workers, and this is just the kind of random thought that swirls around my brain as I wait for unconsciousness.
The period immediately before sleep is a strange one. You lie there with your eyes closed, thinking... perhaps for seconds, more likely minutes and if you're unfortunate hours. You may never get to the end of what you're thinking about if sleep kicks in midway, or you may continue to have conversations with yourself in a depressingly unhelpful spiral. It doesn't pay to focus too much on the fact you won't remember anything of what happens next, nor that you have no control over what follows, indeed there's always a tiny possibility you won't wake up at the end of it. They say dying in your sleep is the best way to go, and it probably is, but that's never the best thing to be pondering as eyelids fall.
We instinctively trust that sleep is needed every night and have done so since the day we were born. We might do less of it than we once did, and may now have more trouble reaching a switched-off state, but we still submit on a daily basis. Unless we're well read we don't know why we do it, indeed scientists still aren't 100% sure what the precise purposes are, but animal instinct is enough to trust that it needs to be done. It helps that we've all seen others peacefully asleep so we assume the experience can't be too traumatic, but unless someone's gone out of their way to film us sleeping it's the one part of our lives we never see.
Sleep isn't a switch you can flick, at least not without external help like inebriation or a tablet. If we're unlucky we wake several times during the night, and if we're unluckier just the once and never get back to sleep again. The night is a long and lonely time for those who are wide awake when society dictates they shouldn't be. Jolting out of sleep at the end of the night is easier, courtesy of alarm clocks of all kinds, but doesn't always leave us in the freshest frame of mind to face the day. Far better to wake naturally after your body's recharged properly, assuming of course your lifestyle, pets and family permit.
The freakiest part of our nightly slumber has to be our dreams. We dream multiple times each night, in shorter bursts earlier in the night and in longer bursts later on. We only remember our dreams if we wake up during them, and even then their narrative swiftly fades. Many reckon that dreams are our brain's way of filing away memories, but much of what they contain never happened nor ever could. Our conscious mind would swiftly ridicule the storyline for its implausibility - those people never met, she died years ago, that's not a real place, the laws of physics refute this. But while they're underway our senses are entirely absorbed by the ongoing story, however ridiculous, and react to every imaginary stimulus.
Our dreams have plots you couldn't have written and special effects you wouldn't believe. It's like a phantom projectionist sets up in our minds and shows us immersive 3D movies nightly. They might show us a meeting and we feel like part of the conversation. They might show us a car chase and it feels like we're at the wheel. They might introduce some kind of sexual interest and our lower body instinctively responds. They might collapse the floor beneath our feet, shoot us with a weapon or fire us into space and our pulse quickens as we assume it's really happening. I sometimes wonder about the physical and emotional trauma I'm subjecting myself to each night... but only if it happens to wake me up, not the countless adrenaline rushes and raised heartbeats I must have slept straight through.
Sleep is both one of the safest parts of our day and when we're at our most vulnerable. It requires our attention, refreshes the soul and hides the early hours from sight. It's a period when we willingly submit to whatever our subconscious decides to throw at us, and somehow we remember almost none of it. It's a nightly mystery we can't live without but don't fully understand. It likely occupies 20 years of our time on this planet - that's the sacrifice of two whole decades spent lying down with eyes firmly closed. And it's best not mulled over just before you drop off, in case you never do.
London's new City Hall at The Crystal has quietly opened, to staff if not to the public.
The grass out front has been mown, the approach has been cleared of construction detritus, a name has appeared above the front door, the windows have been given a good clean, official flags are flying and security guards at the entrance are welcoming folk inside. A heck of a lot of work is still going on up the side and round the back to create a secure access road with all appropriate facilities, but enough has been completed inside to open up the place for some initial business. London Assembly members are holding their first Mayor's Question Time in the chamber at 10am this morning, i.e. now, so expect to hear more about the move soon.
Crossrail's opening date is nudging closer. We might be two months away.
We're definitely less than six months away. TfL's latest press release confirms that "passenger services will commence in the first half of 2022", which is exactly what they've been saying since August 2020, the only difference now being they're sure they're right. Issues with software updates and station construction could have scuppered things, as could Omicron, but they're now certain the end of June is doable. Think of it as a worst case backstop date.
The press release has been written to dripfeed a minimum amount of fresh information in an upbeat style. The key nugget is that we're "coming to the end of the first phase of its Trial Operations" and about to start the second. Note that phase two hasn't yet started, nor is any start date given, so this is meagre news.
The Trial Operations stage involves more than 150 operational exercises to ensure the safety and reliability of the railway. They've almost completed the easier half, which was phase one, and next come exercises involving the emergency services and actual passengers. The big phase 2 test events are scheduled for successive weekends between mid-February and mid-March, but don't expect to be invited unless you're an employee or the friend of an employee.
2nd weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (open track & train-to-train) 3rd weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (tunnel to station) 4th weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (via emergency shaft) 1st weekend in Mar: Train Evacuation (tunnel to station) 2nd weekend in Mar: Mass Volume Timetable Test
Given that the last big test event is scheduled for 13th March, this suggests the earliest possible Crossrail opening date is now the following weekend.
However when the central section does finally open, one station will not be opening with it. This nugget is from papers for a TfL committee meeting next week.
"Bond Street station has been decoupled from the opening of the railway and the team is working on a plan to get the earliest opening date for the station. It recently achieved Staged Completion 2 meaning that it can be used, when required, for large scale trials and staff familiarisation as part of Trial Operations."
Bond Street's been way behind schedule, by years, for years. Here we see the first admission that it won't be ready for Day One of passenger service, which'll be an embarrassing blot on what should have been a flawless launch. It means trains will have to run non-stop for two miles between Paddington and Tottenham Court Road, it means one of the key central London interchanges can't be used, it means a loss of advertising revenue and it means a glaring imperfection on the tube map. Someone's probably had to write a special timetable to cover the fact trains won't be stopping.
For now the key achievement is that Bond Street has achieved "Staged Completion 2", i.e. is sufficiently complete to be used for evacuation. The entire line would have been scuppered for safety reasons had SC2 status not been secured, so it's worth pointing out that Bond Street's woes mean Crossrail couldn't possibly have opened to passengers before now, i.e. it was always doomed to be at least three years late.
And it's not the only station causing problems.
"The success of the commissioning of the software over Christmas 2021 and the transfer of Canary Wharf station are critical to commencing the second phase of Trial Operations. Final modifications to the safety systems are being carried out at Canary Wharf station and it is now forecast to be transferred in the coming weeks."
It seems astonishing that what was once the most advanced station on the line should still not be ready. Canary Wharf was where Crossrail's first soil was dug in 2009, and by 2017 was sufficiently complete to allow open access to the platforms during Open House weekend. But accelerated construction led to major issues with fire safety which haven't proved easy to fix, and station handover recently slipped from "the end of 2021" to "hopefully tomorrow". If Canary Wharf is ready for full operation in time for passenger service, it'll be by the skin of its teeth.
Meanwhile further evidence is appearing in the real world that Crossrail might be imminent.
This is a new bus stop alongside Custom House station for a bus route that doesn't yet exist, but is intended to be introduced so that people in East Ham can catch purple trains more easily. So far it only has a 304 tile, not timetables or buses, but things are inching forward.
It's still too early to be sure of a Crossrail launch date, even if you're the manager in charge of the project, given uncertainties with software, signalling and infrastructure.
"During December 2021, the decision was made to delay introduction of the second phase of Trial Operations for at least two weeks to allow for further testing and critical evidence of improved reliability."
But two months from now is the earliest it could be, and maybe will be unless the usual thing happens and everything gets delayed again.
tl;dr - Bond Street will not be part of Crossrail on launch day, which might be in late March.
Detergent word search
This word search contains the names of 15 laundry detergent brands, old and new.
How many can you find? Look horizontally, vertically and diagonally. (Answers in the comments box and, please, no more than one detergent each)
X L I S R E P
R U E D I T O
T Y L I A E X
F E R B R Z E
E N O I D A R
R L G S A E U
D O U I N F P
A R M K S I W
F E C O V E R
This is Wilcox Road SW8. It's where you end up if you climb the escalators at Nine Elms station, exit the ticket hall and keep going. It's a corner of Lambeth often known as Little Portugal, in that if the Portuguese national team ever triumphs in a major sporting competition local residents are kept awake by celebrations into the early hours, assuming they're not taking part themselves. It's a street of small independent businesses, pavement cafes and loud conversations. It's also the site of a famous 1985 film about a laundrette.
My Beautiful Laundrette was written by Hanif Kureishi, starred Daniel Day Lewis and Gordon Warnecke and bubbled up in the early days of Channel 4. It told the story of a young Asian entrepreneur taking on a small business with the aid of a punk former classmate, back when Pakistani home life and mixed race gay couples weren't normally the stuff of mainstream television. The laundrette Omar and Johnny transformed into a neon-lit palace was called Powders and I'd often wondered where it was, and the answer is here.
Don't be fooled, it wasn't in the laundrette called Laundrette because that would be too simple. Instead it was in the separate row of shops to the left, one unit beyond William Hill, in what's now the Taste of The Mediterranean cafe. A few years ago this was Taste of Portugal, as befits the local culinary remit, but it seems the menu diversified somewhat. I suspect it's closed because when I walked past on Monday lunchtime the shutters were down, indeed I suspect the laundrette's also ceased trading, but in current economic conditions it's hard to judge these things on sight.
You can tell 11 Wilcox Road is the correct address because it appears in a blogpost on the BFI website showing what the MBL locations look like today. But I only noticed the connection because a rainbow plaque has appeared in the pavement immediately outside, installed last September by the Wandsworth LGBTQ+ Forum. They managed to raise £2500 through crowdfunding, including a charity screening of the obvious film, and Hanif and Gordon duly turned up for the unveiling. It's only the third rainbow plaque in Britain (following one in York and one at Clapham Junction) and the first to adopt the multiplicity of colours in the Progress Pride flag. My damp, smudgy photo is because it's been embedded underfoot beneath a double layer of toughened glass rather than in the wall... and this is because the entire row of shops is destined to be knocked down.
This is what the northern side of Wilcox Road should look like after it's been replaced by 22 affordable flats. The parade of shops with the bookies and My Beautiful Laundrette becomes one seven storey block and the parade of shops with the off licence and the genuine laundrette becomes another seven storey block. It's generic brick-fronted stuff, but the existing single-storey units are utterly generic too which no doubt is why they were chosen for filming. Hopefully the new ground level retail spaces won't transform the charm of Wilcox Road too thoroughly, but all I can picture is Omar's uncle Nasser rubbing his hands at the size of the potential windfall. To see his fictional laundrette, come soon.
A big chunk of the Bank branch closed on Saturday, so yesterday a new bus route launched to plug the gap. It's route 733, it's temporary until mid-May and it only runs on weekdays.
Let's answer two questions - Would you notice it was operating? and What's a journey like?
In good news, yes you probably would notice it was operating because TfL have left clues everywhere. We saw last week how they've produced a leaflet with a very bad map to show where the 733 goes, but thankfully the rest of what they've done is a lot better.
• Bus stops have fresh tiles. I think there are tiles at all relevant bus stops which is good because these often lag behind. The tiles all say Mon-Fri to ram home the point that you shouldn't wait at weekends.
• Bus stop panels also have yellow inserts including simple route maps showing the tube stations the route shadows. It's a heck of a lot clearer than that other map. OK it always has Oval at the top and Moorgate at the bottom no matter which side of the road you're on, and it runs contrary to geography, but let's not quibble about that.
• Yellow posters are also on display if you walk into tube stations, for example straight in front of you on a board as you enter Oval.
• Bus stops all seem to have timetables. That is they have what passes for a timetable these days which is estimated journey times, early departures and a bunch of fuzzy frequencies that say "don't worry, you shouldn't have to wait more than ten minutes." I'm less impressed by the four lines of faff underneath which make a right pig's ear out of saying "No service on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays." Admittedly this is the usual template and identical to what you'd see on other weekday-only routes, but it is an excessive amount of text to have to plough through. In particular route 733 will have been withdrawn long before Christmas Day so perhaps shut up about it.
• Bus spider maps have been updated. For example the shelters outside Oval station are already bedecked with new spider maps featuring route 733, and you can find similarly useful maps for Elephant & Castle, London Bridge and Bank online. This is already hugely better than normally happens and smacks of a properly-thought-through rollout.
• Even the online 733 map at tfl.gov.uk/bus/route/733 magically switched on yesterday morning in case you want to see where the bus goes.
• All the buses have great big route maps on the side. But they're only on the side facing the kerb, leaving the other side free to raise revenue with adverts for loan companies and Christmas deliveries, so that's a cunning balancing act.
• If instead you're underground on the Northern line, yellow posters have appeared on platforms to nudge you towards the new bus route... if necessary. At Kennington they say the fastest way to the City is to go up to the surface and catch a bus, but south of Kennington the advice is to change at Oval instead because that has escalators rather than lifts so is better suited to collective interchange.
• On the trains themselves, however, route 733 is not mentioned. It's not on the updated line diagram and it doesn't appear in announcements, where instead you're urged to "Stay on this train and change where necessary". There's no point catching a bus if you don't have to.
• But zero points for whoever at Oval is still playing the "If you don't see a Charing Cross branch train change at Kennington" announcement, because everything's going that way now.
Overall, it seems, this is not a bus route you are going to overlook. But is anybody going to catch it?
Route 733: Oval to Moorgate Location: London south, inner Length of journey: 3 miles, 30 minutes
I caught it. I was the only person who climbed aboard at Oval station, but admittedly this bit of the line isn't closed, it wasn't rush hour and another bus had departed a few minutes earlier. Spacing out the buses is made harder by the fact they're laying over at Vauxhall bus station, and the traffic between there and here was awful, but hey I got a front seat. Two other passengers joined me at Kennington... so no, this is not going to be a ghost service.
The 733 isn't an express bus, it stops everywhere, so is essentially providing additional capacity on the Oval-Moorgate corridor. This was proved at Penton Place where we were flagged down by a family who'd been expecting a 133 but noticed the similarity in number. "Do you go past Guy's Hospital?" they asked, but the driver didn't know because that's a tough question on Day One. They weren't impressed ("You don't know?!"), but when they rephrased the question as "Are you going to London Bridge?" everyone seemed happy and on they hopped.
Nobody at Elephant & Castle was interested, and likewise nobody got off. The bus has a regular announcement "There is currently no service on the Northern line from this station, please remain on this bus" and everyone complied. Alas at the next stop we got "The driver has been told to wait to even out the service" because even short frequent rail replacement buses suffer from that, even if tube lines don't. Most of the 733s going the other way looked almost empty, suggesting TfL may have over-resourced the service.
Borough station was securely locked and one more passenger grabbed the option of a 733 escape. Further up the high street an elderly gentleman in a tweed cap eyed us up and down as if thinking "what is this freakish bus with a number in the 700s?" and walked off plainly unsettled. A lot of traffic lights intruded between Union Street and the next stop at London Bridge, and I think we stopped at all of them.
Then things really sped up. London Bridge to Monument only took a minute, with a glorious sunlit vista up and down the Thames to enjoy inbetween, and we reached Bank station just one more minute after that. For short journeys a bus can be a lot better than the tube. The second Bank bus stop said it was closed but it wasn't. And then ridiculously, with just one more stop to go before Moorgate, a bald bloke flagged us down and hitched a ride he could easily have walked.
I stayed on to the final stop at Finsbury Square, which nobody else did because it doesn't have a station. A final announcement reminded leftover passengers that from here they could catch the 214 to Old Street, Angel and King's Cross, because that might be quicker (and cheaper) than switching to the functioning bit of the Bank branch. By my calculations nine other passengers had joined me on my journey, so I don't think the 733 is about to be overwhelmed for the next four months but likewise neither is it a complete waste of cash. Enjoy the ride.