diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 03, 2024

Route SL2: Walthamstow Central - North Woolwich Ferry
Length of journey: 12 miles, 60 minutes

Headline: The new express route that completes the loop.
Subtext: This time last year the Superloop hadn't even been announced. It now circles outer London.
Caveat: It's not a loop, the Thames gets in the way.

Day 1 weather: Intermittently very wet with heavy showers.
Consequence: Windows pretty steamed up, not always easy to see much.

Spod count: Lower than last week, also more multi-generational.
Things spods did: Brought snacks, nipped off to get a badge, nipped off to get a leaflet, unfolded a paper bus map, sat with Mum, told multiple bus anecdotes.

Biggest mess-up: Blinds not ready. No destinations on the fronts of buses, just a blank black space.
Reason: Company that makes the blinds has not yet manufactured/despatched/fitted them.
Reaction: General eyerolling, unwillingness of potential passengers to board the mystery bus.

Branding: Most vehicles still unbranded. Only three buses had the Superloop wrap, the others were bogstandard red.
Substitute: One old vehicle had been drafted in. It was unable to display SL2 on the front so the route number was printed on a bit of A4 paper in the window. A pretty poor launch day presentation.
Grammatical error: The map on the wrap suggests that the SL2 stops near Gallion's Reach station, whereas it should say Gallions Reach instead.

Obligatory SL2 cultural reference: Ey ey, ba day, ba wadladie day, ay um ba day, ba day, ba wadladie day.

Let's go for a ride...

Walthamstow Central: No timetables, spider map not updated. Starts in bus station but ends outside, nearer the station, along with similarly outcast route 34.
Walthamstow Market: Bus stop served by both the SL1 and SL2 (but heading in very different directions).
Waltham Forest Town Hall: Best changeover point between SL1 and SL2, avoiding dawdle into Walthamstow. From here we're shadowing route 123 to Ilford.
Wood Street: Formerly Wood Street Library, but that closed/relocated in 2020 and the site is now an 11 storey block of flats. Ooh look, they're so late adding roundels to the top of bus shelters that the guy with the white van and stepladders has only just turned up.

High Road/South Woodford: Ballardian bus stop in a concrete canyon on the North Circular, which here is ten lanes wide. Not exactly convenient for South Woodford but sorry, we're not wasting time twiddling off into the centre.
Woodford/Roding Lane North: It's about time we stopped again so we do, bang outside the Toby Carvery. Not really Woodford, more borderline Clayhall.
Gants Hill station: First time we’ve stopped at a station since leaving Walthamstow half an hour ago.
Ilford station: Drop off our first angry dinger, who wanted to get off about a mile ago but hadn't realised this was a new express bus.

Ilford/Chapel Road: Driver changeover point. The leaflet hander-outer offered the new driver a pin badge. Countdown display is displaying weird information, seemingly convinced that routes 25, 123, 147, 167, 179, 364, 425, 462 and W19 are also going to North Woolwich.
Barking station: The section between Ilford and Barking is the slow bit, constrained to a busy single carriageway street (although we did manage to overtake two other buses). Barking now has an EL2 and an SL2.
Barking Town Centre: From here it's a fast dash down the North Circular, a route not taken by any other buses. Second time we’ve crossed the River Roding.
Armada Way: That's unusual. Brand new bus stops have been added at the end of the access road to the Gallions Reach shopping centre, but both bus stops are closed... we stop anyway.

UEL Docklands Campus: This is the bus stop with the apostrophe error on the map on the side of the bus. The 366 takes over 20 minutes to get here from Barking but we’ve just managed it in half that.
Pier Road: The useful stop for residents of North Woolwich who don't want to schlep down to the ferry to catch a fast bus.
North Woolwich Ferry: Odd place to terminate, not helped today by the fact the Woolwich Ferry is closed. Ideal place for spods to assemble, mingle and take photos.

To continue the loop: In the absence of the ferry descend into the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, then catch a 472 to Thamesmead.
Alternatively: Walk back and catch the DLR to Woolwich Arsenal, then continue to Abbey Wood and catch the SL3 there.
Alternatively: Don't continue the loop, never do this, it's an entirely impractical discontinuation.

Overall verdict: A useful orbital route, feels properly limited-stop. Can't see it being busy south of Barking. I think I got lucky doing it in a hour, could get severely jammed in several locations. And sort your vehicles out.

Will you be riding the entire loop now it's complete? No I will not be wasting my life in this manner. Last summer I rode just three of the current Superloop routes, those then numbered X, in 5 hours 22 minutes. Seven sequential buses would be purgatory.

...however what I have done is time the entire route virtually. Yesterday afternoon I pretended to turn up at Thamesmead at 2pm and checked the timings of the first SL3 to depart for Bromley. Then I tracked the next SL5 to Croydon, then the next SL7 to Heathrow, all the way round to the eventual SL2 to North Woolwich. It's amazing what you can check online from home these days. Here are the timings for this virtual chain of journeys...

SL3: Thamesmead (14:06)(15:12) Bromley North
SL5: Bromley North (15:18)(15:49) East Croydon
SL7: East Croydon (15:56)(17:58) Heathrow Central
SL9: Heathrow Central (18:11)(19:13) Harrow
SL10: Harrow (19:15)(19:56) North Finchley
SL1: North Finchley (20:15)(20:49) Walthamstow Central
SL2: Walthamstow Central (20:58)(21:55) North Woolwich

So that's 7 hours 49 minutes for the entire loop, or would have been. The SL7 took longest, like it always does, and the SL9 seems to have got delayed in traffic north of the airport. The lengthy gap at North Finchley is because the 20:00 SL1 departure was cancelled. The SL5 was speedy because it's short and the SL1 was speedy because the North Circular's fast in the evening. Overall it would have taken almost eight hours to circumnavigate the capital by bus, and probably a lot lot longer had it been a weekday, so never ever do this. The very last thing you should do is treat the Superloop as a loop.

 Saturday, March 02, 2024

For those of us who like walking, yesterday was a red letter day. A new official London walkway was launched, the first in over a decade - the first of six potential new Greenways proposed by the London Ramblers in 2021. It's been a while because waymarking and accessibility take time, indeed even now it's not yet the case that all the signage is in place. But the great and good of the walking/wheeling world duly gathered in Clerkenwell yesterday to welcome the Green Link Walk, and you too can follow suit because we now know precisely where the walk goes.

» One place to see the route is on the Footways website where it appears as a clear pink line on a scrollable map. This is great for zooming in to see the detail, but less great for using while out walking ("oh bugger it's zoomed out again" [pinch, scroll] "oh bugger it's zoomed out again" [pinch, scroll] etc).
» Another place to see the route is on the Go Jauntly app. The onboarding's a bit of a faff but it'll guide you round the whole 18 miles on your smartphone via auto-updating itty-bitty step-by-step directions illustrated with reassuring photos.
» Another place to see the route is on the TfL Walk London webpage. A proper summary on Day One with links, splendid.
» Another place to see the route will be on the Inner London Ramblers website. They’ve already done phenomenal work mapping and logging the Capital Ring and London Loop, but apparently their guidance and maps for the Green Link Walk can't be completed without the signage being in place so there might be a long wait.

What I chose to use was Go Jauntly's resource for app refuseniks, a 45 page pdf of the entire route featuring umpteen maps and a 318-step set of instructions. It's a bit twee in places ("Step 6: After some time enjoying the peaceful sights and sounds of the woods, continue along the tarmac path") and contains too many fawning plugs for local businesses for my liking ("Prepare for a taste explosion with unique flavours and plates full of personality") but it certainly does the job.

The route is divided up into four stages, each of about four miles. I plan to tackle one a week, rather than overloading you with sequential reportage, starting with the northern section across the borough of Waltham Forest. I walked this yesterday in a mixture of sunshine, rain and hail showers, and what I'll say up front is that the Green Link Walk wasn't very green and I'm still not sure what it links.

Green Link Walk
[section 1]
Epping Forest to Lea Bridge (4½ miles)

The starting point is odd, a bus stop beside Woodford New Road in the middle of comparatively nowhere. It's not near a station, it's not simple to get to and it's not on any existing strategic London walk. What is here is the southern tip of Epping Forest, a stripe of thick woodland that ultimately connects to Chingford (and beyond) via the unsignposted Centenary Walk. But after all the rain we’ve had that's currently a waterlogged quagmire, whereas the GLW has been specifically designed to be step-free and accessible for wheelchairs and prams so it sticks instead to the safely tarmacked St Peter's Path. Blink and you'll miss it, it's only 140m long, and it does seem a tad ridiculous to have been encouraged all the way out here to experience a teensy cross section of an enormous forest.

Prepare for a lot of road walking, indeed it'll be another three miles before the GLW hits its next properly green patch. The first official waymarker appears at the top of Upper Walthamstow Road and points downhill, the first stop of note being Wood Street station and its accompanying 2nd hand bike shop. If you're following the Go Jauntly version of the route you'll already have been advised of the importance of "being careful when crossing the side roads", you're about to be urged to "carefully cross over the zebra crossing" and then comes the plug for the Balkan eaterie. This is The Lacy Nook on Barrett Road, a friendly-looking conservatory-style pop-up, although it's probably too early in the walk to pause for feta parcels, chorizo hash or beef cevaki.
The custodians of the GLW have done a deal with a Local Buyers Club card to get discounts here and at a dozen other establishments along the route, and this will either thrill your wallet or make you roll your eyes at capitalism evilly encroaching on the ancient art of walking.

Further pavementing leads past a vibrant yellow acacia, clusters of mini-daffodils and along a lot of typically-desirable Walthamstow streets. This opening section has been fully signed, at least since the station, which helps a lot with the weaving nature of the route. On reaching Shernall Street the Go Jauntly instructions merely say "continue past the entrance to the industrial park" whereas I knew this was the entrance to Instagram mega-magnet God's Own Junkyard, plus being Friday it was actually open, so I diverted inside to be wowed by the kitsch neon onslaught. Pay attention to the unmentioned is what I'm saying. The next stop is Orford Road, the gentrified part-pedestrianised heart of Walthamstow Village, which "has lots of independent shops to enjoy." If you're used to the Capital Ring and London Loop leading you to parks, woodland and riverbanks, this is the Green Link Walk deliberately deviating to offer retail therapy.
Three shops are singled out by Go Jauntly, one with "a wonderfully curated collection of clothing, jewellery, accessories and homeware", one "stocking small independent brands for mum's-to-be and babies" and one "the place to go for poké bowls, açai and smoothies!" Anyone in walking shoes might well prefer the pub, or simply to keep plodding on.

Second Avenue is currently full-on cherry blossom all the way down, but the GLW instead takes First Avenue which alas is only minorly pink. This leads to Hoe Street, Walthamstow's main artery, which is crossed via an as yet incomplete paved plaza. The hustle and bustle continues as we pass between the station and the bus station and then cross the grass outside the shopping mall, which is the first bit of 'green' since three paragraphs ago. Stalwart walkers may then be surprised to hear that the Green Link Walk follows the High Street for half a mile, pretty much the full length of the market, so there may be a lot of stalls and shoppers to dodge. Even Go Jauntly gives up here with absolutely nothing to say, whereas if you're after tracksuit bottoms, clutch bags, bowls of fruit, samosas, mops, suitcases, foam pillows, belts or olives you'll be in your element.
It may be heretical of me to suggest this, but if you started the Green Link Walk at St James Street station, rather than beyond Wood Street, you wouldn't be missing much.

Coppermill Lane is where E17 makes a break for the marshes, and that is indeed where we're heading. Initially it's more pavement bashing, enlivened by some dazzling murals on the ends of houses, plus the GLW's first park (which quite frankly is more of a local playground). Only when you cross the Dagenham Brook into the Lea Valley, an hour and a half after this walk began, does the scenery finally open out. On one side is a massive reservoir complex, the Walthamstow Wetlands, beyond whose waterfowl the towers of Tottenham Hale and Blackhorse Road are clearly seen. On the other side is a massive water treatment works, Thames Water's Coppermill facility, beyond whose gravity filtration tanks the towers of Docklands and the City are clearly seen. Coppermill Lane threads between the two, suitably quarantined, before finally being released from captivity beyond the line of pylons. Hell yes, this is more like it.

Green Link Walk signage abruptly stops at the end of the lane but no, we're not going under the famously low (1.5m!) low bridge, we're turning left onto the marshes proper. The best mile of the walk starts here. Look, catkins, magpies and actual grass to roam on, plus if you climb the bank to the benches on the first bend there's a rollicking thickety view. Somewhere on the far side of the marshes Capital Ring Section 13 is doing its thing, but this eastern flank is has an entirely different vibe and hurrah for the GLW bringing it to wider attention. A painted subway curves beneath the railway viaduct and on the far side things properly open out, with Lammas Meadow intermittently seen behind a wall of brambles. It looks well squishy down there at present but thankfully our path is raised and solid so still wheelchair- and pram- friendly. Also the blossom is great if you come soon.

Just before the underpass, where the footpath is currently flooded, the route bears off to meet the main Lea Bridge Road. One lone GLW marker confirms location, but wouldn't have been anywhere near sufficient help if you were trying to walk this route without assistance. Section 1 ends beside the revamped bulk of the Lea Valley Ice Centre, officially at Bus Stop W, or you could walk up to Lea Bridge station and escape that way. I'll be back in a week to walk the next section to the Angel Islington, which I suspect is even less green than the first but let's not prejudge. Feel free to give it a try yourself before then, because a good walk is always a good walk, however Green or Linky it may be.

 Friday, March 01, 2024

29 unblogged things I did in February

Thu 1: While I was in Trafalgar Square today I stood in the shadow of Nelson's Column and took a photo of it stretching towards the National Gallery. It's much better than the photo I used last week in my post about the shadow of Nelson's Column so I've replaced it, not that I expect many people will ever notice.
Fri 2: This year's National Trust handbook has arrived, and I see half of the 12 properties in London now expect you to book in advance rather than just turn up. If heading to Bexleyheath, Chelsea, Hampstead, Rainham or Wandsworth Road beware.
Sat 3: On this month's list of BBC Sounds programmes I enjoyed and you might too, the 'Archive on 4' documentaries about i) the evolution of Glasgow - Motorway City ii) the life and times of Barry Humphries.
Sun 4: "Don't worry," Dad said, "you can't prune a rose bush too severely." I fear I’ve just pruned my rosebush too severely, but we'll see.

Mon 5: Local Bow Road news: After a year of frankly makeshift notices stuck beside the door of Bromley Public Hall, Bow Coroner's Court now has a proper sign with a suitably reverential black background.
Tue 6: Something small and flaky just slipped through the 'D' key on my laptop's keyboard, and I'm now having occasional trouble with keys in the bottom left hand corner not working. Letterswise that's Z, X, C and V, so it ould be worse, but ery annoyingly it's also making ut and paste a bit intermittent.
Wed 7: I finally went back to the cinema for the first time since February 2020, which may be my longest ever gap. At least one of the pre-roll adverts was the same.
Thu 8: Subsequent to revisiting my 2004 map of 'counties visited', I've now discovered an online map that lets you tick off all the UK postcode areas you've ever been to. My sole omissions within England and Wales are BB, HD and SR, i.e. Blackburn, Huddersfield and Sunderland, so I now have another list of geographic targets to aspire to.

Fri 9: Supermarket update I see the number of packets of Mini Cheddars in a big bag has just been reduced from 14 to 12. Same price, but that's effectively a 17% price rise overnight. Bloody shrinkflation.
Sat 10: The Z, X, C and V keys on my laptop are still misbehaving, in that they tend not to work initially but then ease back into life like they've warmed up and then there's no problem, mostly. It's not a good sign, but my laptop is almost 9 years old so I'm impressed it's got this far before starting to play up.
Sun 11: I ignored the invitation in my inbox to an 80th birthday bash in June because I didn't recognise the name, nor the address, nor the email. Turns out it's from the couple at whose wedding I was a page boy, but I was only 4 at the time which I think is a reasonable excuse for not remembering them.
Mon 12: Between today's post on spotting numberplate letter pairs and the end of the month I've seen another six, bringing my total to 495 out of 519. I finally saw MG on an MG in Barking on Wednesday so that's all the M's done. FYI the pairs I've yet to see are GT, NR, OF, PV, RC/RG/RL/RM/RP, UE/UH/UT/UV/UX, VB/VH/VJ/VL/VR/VS/VY and XG/XW/XY.

Tue 13: While I was in Rugby I walked part of the Great Central Railway, now the Ashlawn Cutting Nature Reserve. It passes through the town in a deep wooded cutting, ideal for cycling, dogwalking and observing a long notch full of wildlife. On my way down I passed an information board, from which I learned lots, but on my way out three council operatives were midway sawing through the board's legs and carting it away on the back of a truck. They had proper uniforms so I don't think they were metal thieves, but it saddens me I was the last person ever to read it.
Wed 14: The password which unlocks my laptop includes the letter 'v', always has, and today I had the forethought to realise this wasn't a good idea in these current keypressing circumstances. So today I changed it lest I be logged out of my machine forever, because I realised this could easily happen, and as it turns out just in time...
Thu 15: Over breakfast the Z, X, C and V keys stopped working and never came back to life. I am now working on a laptop with only 22 funtioning letters of the alphabet. Fuk. I still managed to write 1900 words about the new Oerground line names for tomorrow's post but it wasn't easy, especially with ut and paste inaessible too.

Fri 16: If you'd sent me a note rather than knocking on my door I'd have replied sooner, sorry.

Sat 17: This morning I found myself walking through dense crowds around Arsenal's stadium, which at first seemed odd because I knew the men's team were playing away at Burnley, but then I realised this was the women's team playing Manchester United at home. All the usual matchday shenanigans were present - burger vans, souvenir scarf-floggers, hordes surging up staircases - but also a lot more female supporters and young fans. Apparently it's the first time the stadium's sold out for a women's fixture... and how far the game has travelled in such a short time.
Sun 18: Somewhere new I walked through but never blogged about: the East Acton Golf Links estate. I bet there's some history there - ah yes it's a former golf course - and look they named one of the roads Long Drive, ha!
Mon 19: Today I spotted comedian and raconteur Clive Anderson on the platform at Drayton Park. Celeb-wise I'm trying to work out if that trumps sharing a lift with Tanya Reynolds, the actor who plays Lily in Sex Education, at Belsize Park station on Saturday.
Tue 20: If you liked the circular tube map which was plastered up around the Circle line recently for sponsorship reasons, the good news is that an FoI request has unearthed a detailed pdf copy... and best of all it's entirely unbranded.

Wed 21: 'Electric Boulevard', the swooshy walkway leading from Battersea Park Road to the lower floor of Battersea Power Station, is now fully open. It doesn't lead to the tube station (yet) so you won't be using it when you arrive, but I bet loads of shoppers funnel themselves down it suboptimally on the way out.
Thu 22: Oooh, the Z, X, C and V keys suddenly came back to life this evening, I was so happy. But only for an hour and then they stopped working again and they haen't worked sine. The last 'c' my laptop ever typed is somewhere in the text of my post about the Brue Groe waiting room.
Fri 23: One of this month's more unsung bus route changes is that the 189 now goes to Brent Cross West station by double-running down a new road where nobody yet lives. So far it mostly annoys passengers who'd rather not waste 4 minutes twiddling. I dinged the bell to alight at the station but the driver sailed straight past, so I dinged again on the second pass. This time she slowed down, looked back down the bus and called out "Are you sure?", somewhat incredulously, before finally opening the doors. I guess there aren't many takers yet.

Sat 24: Other things that Mason and KJ discussed on the top deck of the SL3 included Quality Line nostalgia, where Colin and Jeff had got to, the fact that Abellio are everywhere, bus garages in Enfield and a game of 'look at this photo, name that station' - 'ooh, Sundridge Park'.
Sun 25: The new exhibition at the National Archives in Kew, Great Escapes, is an excellent assemblage of personal histories and documentation charting great bravery and resistance during WW2, and a timely reminder that there were innocent PoWs on both sides of the conflict.
Mon 26: If you haven’t seen them yet, the newly-launched TFL archive pages on Google Arts & Culture are absolutely excellent. The collection includes over 2000 images and documents in umpteen themed portfolios, for example the Hammersmith & City line, women in the workforce, celebratory maps, and the Dangleway. Apparently they took three years to put together and it shows, the quality is flawless. That said the presentation is a little bit coffee-table, more something to swish around on a tablet than for the serious extraction of information, but how lovely to have a heritage resource as good as this.
Tue 27: Blimey, it's like all the magnolia trees across London have decided it's spring and unfurled their pink cups, without realising it's still February and no insects will be flying in any time soon.

Wed 28: I'e now been koping with a 90%-funktional keyboard for a fortnight, during whih time I have somehow turned out 20000 korretly-spelled words for the blog. It's inwolwed a lot of right-klikking and kunning use of spellkhekkers, and wasted a lot of my time, but it kan be done. Yes I know I should piggybakk another keyboard onto my laptop - that'd make things easier - and yes I am now looking seriously into buying a replasement. But oh god there's so muh khoise, things hawe totally mooed on sinse 2015, so I want to get this right before I deside. You may hae thoughts so here's a speqial komments boks ekklusiqely for my laptop/keyboard situation. comments
Thu 29: I'm reading a library book where the premise is that all the action happens on 29th February, the two protagonists' birthdays, every four years from 2004 to 2024. It's sort of clever but ultimately, unsurprisingly, too contrived to take seriously. To maximise appropriateness I saved the last chapters to read today on the day they were supposed to happen. A saccharine letdown, alas.

Finally, let's see how my annual counts are going...
Number of London boroughs visited: all 33 (at least three times each)
Number of London bus routes ridden: all 545 (100%, including the two new ones)
Number of Z1-3 stations used: all 350-odd (100%)
Number of Z4-6 stations used: 0

 Thursday, February 29, 2024

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Leap years occur quadrennially, that's every four years. They're required because a solar year is almost exactly 365¼ days long, and over a four year period those four quarter-days add up to make one whole extra day.
2) Today is the 516th leap day to be observed since the first in 45BC.
3) The first thirteen leap years were 45BC, 42BC, 39BC, 36BC, 33BC, 30BC, 27BC, 24BC, 21BC, 18BC, 15BC, 12BC and 9BC. At this point Roman priests spotted they'd been adding leap years every three years, rather than every four as Caesar decreed, so all leap years were temporarily suspended. They restarted in 8AD, after which they continued every four years as intended.
4) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year (ditto 2200, 2300, but not 2400). This is because a year isn't precisely 365¼ days long, but eleven minutes short.
5) Algorithmically, a year is a leap year if ((year modulo 4 is 0) and (year modulo 100 is not 0)) or (year modulo 400 is 0).
6) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every four years. Raenell is one, and her website celebrates the joy of being special.
7) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
8) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
9) About 46000 people in the UK, 225000 people in the USA and 5½ million people worldwide are leap day babies.
10) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103. The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000 because there was no February 29th 1900.
11) Pope Paul III was born on February 29th 1468, the composer Rossini on February 29th 1792, actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928 and rapper Ja Rule on February 29th 1976. Traditionally, Superman's birthday is also February 29th. More leap day birthdays can be found here.
12) In a leap year salaried workers get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
13) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
14) This is the first February since 1996 to have five Thursdays (the next will be 2052). Leap Day next falls at the weekend in 2032.
15) If you have a leap day birthday you have to decide whether to celebrate it on February 28th or March 1st in non-leap years. In legal situations, for example learning to drive, UK law dictates March 1st. By contrast, New Zealand presumes February 28th. Taiwan goes early, Hong Kong goes late.
16) The origins of the tradition of women being allowed to propose marriage on February 29th are uncertain, and may or may not involve St Bridget and St Patrick. Forfeits for refusal in various parts of Europe include a silk gown, the fabric for a skirt or a pair of gloves.
17) In any 400 year period there are 97 leap years, after which the calendar repeats. The most likely days of the week for February 29th to fall are Monday and Wednesday. The least likely are Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
18) When Julius Caesar introduced leap years the extra day wasn't February 29th, it was February 24th. The Romans repeated the sixth day before March 1st, or "dies bissextus", and leap years are still sometimes called bissextile years.
19) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
20) Sir James Wilson, former Premier of Tasmania, was born on February 29th 1812 and (unbelievably) died on February 29th 1880 - his 17th birthday.
21) Leap Day number 1s of the past six decades would make a fascinating compilation CD: Anthony Newley (Why, 1960), Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000), Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004), Duffy (Mercy, 2008), Gotye (Somebody That I Used To Know, 2012), Lukas Graham (7 Years, 2016), The Weeknd (Blinding Lights, 2020) and Beyonce (Texas Hold 'Em, 2024). [twelve years ago I compiled a 54 minute Spotify playlist, but as a free user I can no longer edit it, sorry]
22) Leap day is also St Oswald's Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died during a feet-washing ceremony on February 29th 992. His feast is celebrated on February 28th during non leap years.
23) The Academy Awards have twice been awarded on February 29th - in 1940 (best picture: Gone With The Wind) and 2004 (best picture: Lord of the Rings III).
24) French satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur (The Soldier's Candle) only publishes on February 29th. Today's 12th edition has a cover price of €4.90 and a cover story about artificial intelligence. Its 200,000 print run is expected to sell out.
25) Leap year rules make the Gregorian calendar accurate to 1 day every 3236 years. But better still is the modern Iranian calendar (eight leap days inserted into a 33-year cycle) which is accurate to 1 day every 110,000 years.
26) In the Chinese calendar, a leap month is inserted if there are 13 moons from the start of the 11th month in one year to the start of the 11th month in the next year.
27) Normally on a special date I visit an obscure street with a relevant name but alas there are no Leap Streets in London. There is a Rabbits Road in Manor Park, and I could simply have subjected you to reportage about Bounds Green, but I thought it'd be better to skip it.
28) There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar, but forgot to miss out February 29th in 1704 and 1708 so had to add an extra leap day in 1712 to get back in sync. Pity the Swedish babies born on February 30th 1712 because they never saw another birthday.
29) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

 Wednesday, February 28, 2024

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again every, single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Twenty-one years later I can confirm it's changed quite a lot and I have the data to prove it. Below are my counts for February 2024 accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.

n.b. The month hasn't finished yet so all this year's totals are best guess estimates, but I'll come back and update/rewrite the post as February draws to a close.
n.b. in leap years, only the first 28 days count.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been the best February yet for people turning up to read what I've written, which is nice. What's more the previous record has been smashed by a margin of over 16000, which is an amazing 20% uplift. I'm now averaging 3300 visitors a day, or about 40 doubledeckerbusfuls, and that's just people who turn up in person rather than reading via the magic of RSS. One reason seems to be that Google have loosened the brakes and are sending a lot more search engine queries this way, i.e. it's a torrent of one-off readers, but hopefully a few of them will decide to stay. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about buses in Bexley, memorial benches in Barking or housing estates in Warwickshire, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average person in the street. But I do try to provide a varied diet where possible, rather than endless recycled press releases, because I believe there's still demand for original subject matter. As one of my regular three thousand, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2024: 93789
(2003: 2141)...(2008: 32006)...(2013: 55369)...(2018: 68993) (2019: 69102) (2020: 66682) (2021: 65701) (2022: 69714) (2023: 77244)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. This month we've been averaging about 30 a day, which is par for the course of late but still well above numbers in my first decade. For a blog in the 2020s I'd say it's also damned impressive. Most blogs either no longer allow feedback or have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking, nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic correction, a nostalgic nod, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, particularly if the topic is transport-related, and some days the gradient between sparkling and tedious can be steep. But one amazing statistic is that 350 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. I also note that only nine people have left more than 10 comments, and that 10% of my commenters are called Andrew, David or Michael. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2024: 861
(2003: 166)...(2008: 504)...(2013: 546)...(2018: 810) (2019: 706) (2020: 702) (2021: 946) (2022: 850) (2023: 830)

Count 3 (Blog content): The number of words in my posts is still rising and now averages 1350 a day, the highest it's ever been. That's not to be sniffed at, indeed it's the equivalent of writing seven novels a year and I wonder how many of you write that much on a regular basis? I often start out thinking "I doubt this'll be a long one" but by the end have written loads because I've uncovered more along the way. Equally I fear I often write too concisely, packing loads of facts and observations into a single sentence when I could have written an entire paragraph. It's always a balance between adding detail and avoiding burnout, between making sure you have enough to read and making sure I get enough sleep. At least London remains a broad enough canvas that there's always plenty more to write about, which remains an excellent way to keep myself occupied.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2024: 38040
(2003: 14392)...(2008: 17606)...(2013: 29410)...(2018: 30680) (2019: 33361) (2020: 29099) (2021: 32122) (2022: 33056) (2023: 34291)

Count 4 (Hours out): If lockdown taught me anything it's to leave the house every day becuase you never know when that might no longer be possible. I have indeed done that this month, and for what turns to be just over five hours a day. That's about a quarter of my time, which isn't bad when I don't have an office to go to, although it's not as long as I spend each day in bed asleep. I normally only make one big trip a day but it all adds up, not least because places like Purley and Pinner take a while to get to and get back from. My total's a bit lower than last year, however, because I've only been on one super-lengthy excursion.
Total number of hours spent out of the house in February 2024: 150
(2021: 96) (2022: 113) (2023: 164)

Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, as you can tell by the fact that this count only once surged into double figures. This February's trips have been no further than BestMate's sofa (where we watched Thursday night telly and put the world to rights), with no additional jaunts to pubs, restaurants, cinemas or the like. Admittedly I have been to watch a film and meet up with people during the daytime, but because this is a 'Nights out' count these bursts of sociability don't count. Don't worry it's all fine, and you'd never get a blog to read if I went out as often as I did in that heady February twenty years ago.
The number of nights in February 2024 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 3
(2003: 21)...(2008: 7)...(2013: 4)...(2018: 3) (2019: 4) (2020: 4) (2021: 0) (2022: 4) (2023: 4)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count my definition of alcohol had always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. I clung to Becks for familiarity and ease of ordering, plus the fact it doesn't give me hiccups, but it's become increasingly hard to source in recent years so now any bottle of lager will do. BestMate surprised me with a genuine Becks in a giant bottle the other week, much to my delight, but unfortunately that was at the end of January so didn't count for the Count, which is a sad fat zero.
Total number of bottles of lager I drank in February 2024: 0
(2003: 58)...(2008: 28)...(2013: 2)...(2018: 5) (2019: 0) (2020: 0) (2021: 3) (2022: 1) (2023: 3)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my monthly tea consumption has remained impressively consistent and almost always falls within a narrow range of 120-135. My mug total dropped a little after I left work because I was no longer desk-bound and kettle-proximate, and rose again during the pandemic for approximately the reverse reason. Things have now settled down, brown-liquid-wise, so I'm back to being a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2024: 123
(2003: 135)...(2008:134)...(2013: 127)...(2018: 123) (2019: 121) (2020: 122) (2021: 128) (2022: 132) (2023: 116)

Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally been pretty consistent too... always just over a hundred a month (unless the government decreed otherwise). But this month's total is ridiculously high, indeed almost double any previous year, because I've been working on another mini transport challenge behind the scenes. Since the start of the year I've swiped my Travelcard at every single zone 1-3 station (tube, DLR, and National Rail), finishing on Sunday, and it's involved taking a heck of a lot of trains. It's nowhere near as many as the number of buses as I rode last month when I was doing 'all the routes', but even that total's back down to 81 this month so expect normality to be restored soon.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2024: 265
(2003: 103)...(2008: 117)...(2013: 139)...(2018: 110) (2019: 135) (2020: 136) (2021: 0) (2022: 17) (2023: 141)

Count 9 (Steps walked): For me a normal amount of walking is just under half a million steps a month, i.e. about seven miles daily. That's lower than the ten miles I managed during turbocharged lockdown roaming, but also higher than the four miles I was averaging when I had an office job. I still reckon fourteen thousand steps a day is a half-decent total, and thus far it does seem to have kept my waistline below 2019 levels, but on the downside another pair of trainers is now ready for the bin.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2024: 452000
(2013: 273300)...(2018: 342000) (2019: 464000) (2020: 405000) (2021: 671000) (2022: 627000) (2023: 434000)

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I know, I'm as unimpressed about the outcome as you are. I can also confirm that the mystery event has never happened on February 29th, when I wouldn't have to count it, neither do I have anything non-zero scheduled for tomorrow. Apologies.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2024: 0
(2003-2023: 0)

I also asked you for an 11th count, so here are the totals I've accumulated for some of your suggestions.
Number of flights of stairs climbed: 1015
Number of escalators walked up: 46
Number of books you read completely: 4
Number of letters versus advertising flyers you receive: 10 versus 6
Number of times you enter a shop and buy something: 10
Number of times that 'TfL' appears in your web posts: 42
Number of hours watching TV: 75
Number of hours listening to radio: 241
Number of hours spent outside Greater London: 7
Number of times you cross the Thames: 32
Number of hours spent on the laptop writing the blog: 170
Number of times you've jumped: 0

I did suggest that you might count something specific during February 2024, so do let us know if you did. Life's more interesting when you count it.

 Tuesday, February 27, 2024

This post is about announcements I’ve heard on TfL services recently.

When I hear one that makes me think "hang on..." I jot it down.
All these are from the last three months.

The announcements split into two groups.
a) Why did they say that?
b) Why did they say that now?

Why did they say that?

Let's get this classic out of the way first.

"Customers using the escalators are advised to carry pets at all times"
[Whitechapel station, on the escalators]

They actually announced that! It's so obviously badly worded it's amazing it ever got approval. You can see there might be a genuine safety issue here - pets on escalators - but this is ridiculously phrased.

The problem is that the announcement addresses the wrong people, i.e. "customers using the escalators", whereas it should address "customers with pets". It would be better to say "Customers with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators." If you want to be really pedantic it should say "Customers travelling with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators", but sometimes being pedantic just makes the announcement longer.

Next, to two stops up the line.

"Please stand behind the yellow line at all times."
[Mile End, on the platforms]

This one's really commonplace, it's not just heard at Mile End, nor just on the tube. The issue here is the "at all times" bit, because if you stood behind the yellow line at all times you'd never be able to get on the train. I always thought that was obvious.

It would be much better, and indeed shorter, to just say "Please stand behind the yellow line". Indeed it's notable that when the member of staff on the platform addresses waiting passengers in the morning peak they do indeed say "Please stand behind the yellow line" and not the silly bit. It's not just being pedantic, it's common sense.

I didn't jot down the whole of the next announcement, just this snippet.

"...and use the handrail if needed."
[Bow Road, stationwide]

We're always being implored to use the handrail. Fair enough, some very nasty trips and falls occur on stairs and holding the handrail could help prevent them. But why add "if needed" on the end? Obviously you would use the handrail "if needed", it's entirely superfluous.

It can be hard to get the balance right between advice and lecturing. "Always use the handrail" is too strong. "We recommend you use the handrail" is too weak. "It might be a good idea to use the handrail" is too wordy. "Thankyou for using the handrail," sounds silly. "If you don't use the handrail don't blame us if you end up breaking something" is more to the point but plainly unacceptable. It's all very well disliking certain wording but you have to have something better to put in its place.

This one took me by surprise.

"Customers wearing hats and scarves are advised to remove them before going onto the platform. This is because train movements can cause them to blow onto the tracks. Please remove them, don't lose them."
[Embankment, on the platforms]

Hang on what?

It's winter, loads of people are wearing hats and scarfs. Are TfL really expecting everyone to take them all off, every last designer wrap and baseball cap, on the off chance they might blow away? I’ve never seen it happen so I guess the probability is very low, individually speaking, plus there's no certainty that a displaced item would end up on the tracks anyway.

And why here? What is it about Embankment that singles it out for flying garments? I’ve stood on escalators with far whooshier downdrafts than this. I'll tell you what this sounds like, it sounds like staff at Embankment are tired of passengers asking them to retrieve lost hats and scarves from the trackbed so have recorded this message to try to make it happen less often. But the end result is a lengthy nannying spiel, broadcast too late and too infrequently to be of any practical use, urging passengers to pointlessly undress.

This is also oddly specific.

"Please do not run or jump on the escalators."
[West Ham, central concourse]

Running on escalators is bad, sure, but is jumping on them really a thing? People don't jump up and down while riding on an escalator, even in a leap year.

I guess it's possible that feral youth passing through West Ham station treat the bank of escalators like a parkour obstacle, but if that's the case the last thing that's going to stop them is an occasional announcement.

Which brings us to...

Why did they say that now?

Sometimes it's right announcement, wrong time.

"Please give your seat to others who might need it more."
[District line train, off-peak, at every stop]

This one was introduced a few years ago as part of a Travel Kind campaign encouraging greater awareness of others. I much prefer this wording to the original "please look up to see if anyone needs your seat more than you do", because that seemed to be encouraging endless eye-raising vigilance.

What niggled this time was the timing, the message being repeatedly played on a quiet train with loads of empty seats. Nobody with special needs would have had any trouble sitting down so why lecture the rest of us, especially at every single stop? Some announcements are only appropriate at certain times, so please find a way of turning them off when they're not.

Here's another on-board announcement.

"Please be aware Oyster is not valid beyond West Drayton."
[Aboard a Crossrail train bound for Heathrow T4]

This is very useful advice to certain passengers heading west on Crossrail. Don't try tapping out using Oyster beyond West Drayton, it won't work and it could be an expensive mistake. But it's not useful if you're on a train heading for Heathrow because that won't be passing West Drayton later in its journey. Nobody on board needs to hear it so why play it?

It may be the case that the software doesn't know if it's a Reading train or a Heathrow train so plays the announcement anyway. It's just the sort of thing the programmers, who got so much else wrong, wouldn't have thought of in advance. But how annoying that the message chips in anyway, potentially worrying anyone using Oyster, even when the train isn't going anywhere near the problem.

Back to the dangers of escalators.

"Please look after your children on the escalators and keep their feet away from the edges."
[At Camden Town, on the spiral staircase]

Fair enough, not everyone realises that the edges of escalators can be dangerous, especially children. But on this occasion the announcement was being pumped into our ears as we headed miserably down a spiral staircase because the downward escalator was out of service. The last thing we need while plodding down 96 steps was advice on something we'd much rather be using but couldn’t.

Again I suspect it's not always possible to target station announcements to specific locations, hence the spiral staircase gets the same message as everywhere else. But if that's the case, rather than playing something which doesn't apply to incoming passengers, why not temporarily turn the safety advice off? Or perhaps it can’t be turned off, it's automated so beyond local control, I don't claim to be an expert.

But what I do know is that multiple badly-phrased and ill-chosen announcements are played every day across the TfL network, often in locations where they are entirely inappropriate. When there are important things to tell us, tell us properly or not at all.

 Monday, February 26, 2024

A Nice Walk: Tottenham Court Road (½ mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, centrally located, historic buildings, well connected, retail proximity, easy to follow, multiple refreshment opportunities, won't take long. So here's a pleasant half mile treading pavements on the edge of Fitzrovia, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same. Throw in a few stops to enjoy all that today's sponsor has to offer and a couple of hours should cover it.

Our walk today takes us from the foot of the Euston Tower to a point halfway down Tottenham Court Road. Effectively we're walking one stop on the Northern line - that's Warren Street to Goodge Street - but you could also arrive via Euston Square station if you like. It's not a long walk but it's far enough for February.

Our starting point is Triton Square, a fine example of private public realm on the edge of a fully-managed mixed-use campus. To translate, that means it's a mostly-empty space surrounded by multiple modern office blocks overseen by security, CCTV and a long list of behavioural expectations. One of the largest buildings is occupied by Spanish bank Santander as its UK HQ, and edged by more cashpoints than the local working population could possibly need. Another was leased by Facebook, sorry Meta, but it seems they never moved in. Trees and raised beds of shrubbery supposedly provide eco-credentials for the development, each surrounded by slatted wooden benches as somewhere you might sit in nicer weather. The gardeners have done well because one bed is abloom with mini daffodils and hang on, seriously, primroses in mid-February.

The other end of Triton Street is more interesting, it has a moving artwork by Julian Opie called Ruth Walking In Jeans and an indoor bouldering wall, but best focus on Triton Square because there's no point in extending the walk unnecessarily. The most well-known building here, and by far the oldest, is the Euston Tower. Its 30 storeys opened in 1970 and in their time have been occupied by Capital Radio and various civil servants, but currently it's all stripped-out awaiting rebirth as a sustainable workspace paradigm. Thankfully the downstairs units remain open, one a gallery of sorts, another a bar of a kind, plus a ubiquitous Pret A Manger. None of these quite hit the spot for pre-ambulatory refreshment, however, so before we set off best drop into Starbucks for a warming beverage.

Starbucks Euston Tower (Unit 1A Podium Regents Place NW1 3DP)
The famous wavy-haired logo welcomes customers to the only coffee outlet on the east side of Triton Square. Drop in for the usual array of drinks and fine food, served from the counter by cheery baristas who'll be looking forward to interacting with all your hospitality needs. Perhaps enjoy a Grande Americano for just £3.55, paired with a tasty Spinach & Pea Falafel Wrap to fill a hole before the proper exercise begins. A small poster tucked into a basket urges punters to Keep Hydrated Throughout The Day, so why not pick up a bottle of still water to sustain your thirst going forward. If it's too inclement for a patio chair, best sit in the window and place yourself on full public view.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the first leg of this arduous journey. Head round the foot of the tower to the edge of the underpass and prepare to cross the busy Euston Road. This esteemed thoroughfare will be appearing next month in my sequential reportage of the Monopoly board so best not say too much now, save to urge you to look very carefully if you choose to take advantage of any supposed gap in the traffic. On the far side of the crossing is the entrance to Warren Street tube station, a portal to elsewhere, but instead continue past the small hut that sells all the tourist essentials - vapes, mobile covers and cheap brollies. Most importantly don't be in too much of a hurry to speed ahead along Tottenham Court Road, instead look to your right down the actual Warren Street where a few doors down you can drop into Starbucks for an essential refreshment stop.

(→ 200 metres →)

Starbucks Warren Street (5 Warren Street W1T 5LA)
The famous wavy-haired logo once again beckons to travellers in need of flavoursome sustenance. This is a relatively small outlet but nonetheless attractive with a message of welcome on the chalkboard ably illustrated with sprigs of cherry blossom. Admittedly there's little room for seating, indeed a family of 4 would find it impossible to cluster, but such are the priorities of a branch that mostly serves office workers on the go. Perhaps enjoy an Almond Biscotti Oat Latte, or any other combination of nutritional buzzwords the marketing department have chosen to combine for your sensory pleasure. Rest assured that when it's quiet, which would be most of the weekend, staff are encouraged to keep themselves busy by repeatedly cleaning all visible surfaces.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the second leg of this arduous journey. Head back round the corner into Tottenham Court Road which we'll now be following all the way to our destination. You might be interested to know that the Lidl on the far side of the road used to be a Sainsbury's, whereas the Tesco Express on this side celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. One of the most intriguing shops is a newly-opened M&S/WHS hybrid - food one side and a few books and periodicals on the other - the two halves combining to create as insipid a retail experience as the 21st century can muster. Ignore Santander and Pret because it's ridiculous they both have outlets so soon after the last. Also ignore Spearmint Rhino because it's closed, perhaps for refurbishment, perhaps forever, nobody’s certain. What's more its drinks menu was always vastly inflated, so how fortunate that you can instead drop into another Starbucks on the corner of Capper Street.

(→ 300 metres →)

Starbucks Capper Street (175 Tottenham Court Road, W1T 7NU)
The famous wavy-haired logo once again signals the welcome availability of hospitality in a cup. This is a more substantial outlet with space for proper seating, although you could still sit in the window and people-watch if you choose. Mugs and reusable cups have been made available for the Starbucks connoisseur to add to their collection. Perhaps enjoy a new Golden Caramel Hot White Chocolate, hopefully for a limited season only, and best throw in a Ham and Cheese Panini because you're bound to be ravenous after all that walking. February is not really the time to take your delicious purchases outside to sit on one of Camden council’s woody stumps, but do admire the crocuses now bursting through.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the third and final leg of this arduous journey. Tottenham Court Road continues unabated, although now without the slew of electrical goods outlets and hi-fi dealers once synonymous with this world-renowned thoroughfare. Instead lower your sights to greetings cards and furniture - so many sofas - or up your game and admire the middle class beacon that is Heal's department store. It's great to know that some classic TCR traditions survive. But prepare to be jolted swiftly back to reality by the tented village outside the Lutheran church - so permanent a fixture that its homeless residents have installed their own shelving units and a dartboard. And if you're flagging fret not, we're virtually done, so you'll be pleased to see another Starbucks in a corner unit offering a perfectly timed final pitstop.

(→ 200 metres →)

Starbucks Tottenham Street (77 Tottenham Court Road W1T 2HQ)
The famous wavy-haired logo shines out like an old friend above the door to this esteemed customer-facing establishment. The exterior has been painted a vibrant matt black, whereas step inside and the digital menus and cheery baristas are as bright and familiar as ever. Perhaps enjoy a Tall Iced Chai Latte for just £4.25, which is certainly a bargain as far as a cup of tea goes, coupled with the indescribable offering that is a Cheese and Marmite Mini Ciabatta. If you'd used the store's mobile pick-up service you could’ve ordered them two paragraphs ago so they'd be ready and waiting to press into your greedy hand straight away, and what a suitable finale to a highly memorable walk that would be!

If it's all been too much, even with four refreshment stops, the good news is that the walk ends two doors down at the entrance to Goodge Street tube station. Before descending into the depths it might be a good idea to pick up a bunch of tulips from the In The Meadow florist as a souvenir of a classic urban ramble. Be aware that there are no public toilets in the vicinity after all that drinking, but cheers Starbucks, your bonhomie is never more than a short walk away.

Longstanding readers may remember I wrote a similar 'You won't believe how close together some Starbucks are' post in the autumn of 2005. In that case I walked from St Paul's Cathedral to Dr Johnson's House - an even shorter journey than above - and managed to clock up a faintly ridiculous six branches of Starbucks along the way.
1 Paternoster Sq → 75m → 30-32 Ludgate Hill → 50m → 57 Ludgate Hill → 150m → 32 Fleet Street → 75m → 90-91 Fleet Street → 125m → 151-152 Fleet Street
Who'd have guessed that Starbucks density in central London is much lower now than it used to be 19 years ago? I really had to scour the Store Finder map hard to find even four stores in such close proximity, suggesting either a thinning out or considerably more competition from other brands. I was also surprised to see that only one of the half dozen Starbucks in my 2005 chain is still trading, the first of the six, and all the others have faded away.

Longstanding readers will also be aware that I stopped for a coffee in absolutely none of the above.

 Sunday, February 25, 2024

Route SL3: Thamesmead - Bromley North
Length of journey: 14 miles, 75 minutes

Location: Thamesmead Town Centre
Date: Saturday 24th February 2024
Time: 10:30am
Purpose: To ride the SL3!!!!!
In attendance: BusTokker09, Ian, Jings, Markie, Rizzo, Tim
Apologies: Colin
It's not every day another Superloop bus launches so the whole gang rendezvoused in Thamesmead to ride the full length to Bromley. Spods assemble! Most of the crew arrived by Lizzie line to Abbey Wood - top training! - so got a sneak preview of the SL3 there. Markie said he'd be coming direct by DLR but that's not been built yet so in the end his Dad had to drive him. It was cool to meet up again because it's been all of three weeks since we rode the Enviro200s on the SL5 to Croydon. Jings was wearing his three Superloop badges he got last time. Tim had his staff pass ready. Tokker's phone was fully charged.

Thamesmead's an odd place because you can't see the Thames, not from a bus anyway. Instead the route starts near a clocktower, a library and some shops. I noted that something electrical by the shelter had been burnt to a charred stump. A lot of sad families kept turning up with bags from Morrisons, although it turned out they only wanted the slow buses so we never saw them again. I was excited to see a 16-reg Enviro400H on route 177 parked opposite because you don't get much Stagecoach in my neck of the woods. According to the SL3 timetable the full journey to Bromley takes only 46 minutes, but that sounded well fictional.

We were surprised to see so many old men gathered to ride the new route. Bus crewing is normally a young person's thing but they were standing round like they'd all done this 'first day' thing before. Some had big cameras, timetable printouts and actual notebooks to write in - proper old school. One grey-haired bloke spent all his time moaning about the Countdown display in the shelter refreshing too slowly, even though it was operating perfectly normally. If you'd used your phone like a normal person, grandad, you wouldn't have had that problem. According to the official in the tabard, one bus had already broken down this morning and some buses were being turned early due to roadworks. Jings tried to get another badge off him but apparently he didn't have any.

When LT 132 arrived from Bromley - nice wrap! - an opposing crew leapt off and started filming. "I hope you're not camera shy!" said the ringleader as he stepped out in front of the bus. Then he put his phone down on a little tripod in the road and continued the recording. The driver gave a big thumbs up before manoeuvring off, but he had to do this very carefully to avoid running anyone over. Thankfully the other crew held off boarding because they must have realised they weren't going to get the top seat. Instead Tokker ran upstairs and grabbed it, sticking his phone to the front window with blutak. Then Ian attached his GoPro alongside... I can't wait to watch both videos in full later.

Hurrah, we were now off on the big ride! One day this'll be the start of the whole loop via Heathrow and Harrow but until next week you can only get as far as Walthamstow. The crew are deffo going to do the full circuit but not until the school holidays, obvs. It was annoying when an incoming SL3 passed us on a roundabout because we couldn't get a decent photo. I don't know who Harold Wilson was but one of the council blocks in Thamesmead is named after him. It was amazing to see white blossom spreading all along the Southern Outfall Sewer and it's only February. I also loved watching two geese swooping low over Southmere, but I didn't tell Markie because he only sees beauty in buses.

Stop number three, which came pretty damned quick, was on the flyover opposite Abbey Wood station. We'd been here earlier and what's appalling is that neither of the stops up here have SL3 timetables, indeed the southbound stop doesn't have any timetables at all! Also the only spider maps on display are very faded printouts dated 2020, i.e. totally out of date, unless you happen to spot the brand new map up the road facing the station, behind the Jehovah's Witnesses. Three lads rode by on a horse and cart which Rizzo tells me is pretty normal for Thamesmead. There was still frost on the grass below Lesnes Abbey Woods. Colin Whatsapped to apologise for not being here, he got his dates mixed up and went to North Woolwich instead.

The obvious way ahead would be up Knee Hill but TfL have never managed to get a route up there so the SL3 climbs New Road instead. It looked well muddy in those woods. The next stop was over two miles away because this bus does some mighty leaps, but several men with giant lenses were still poised to take photos of us as we passed. This next bit was like a proper residential labyrinth, it went on and on. Tim used the time to record a quick short of the iBus display as it switched to an asterisk and back again. Amazingly nobody wanted to get on or off the bus at Bexleyheath station so we sped straight past. But then we got caught in a long queue trying to turn left out of Avenue Road into the Broadway - five minutes! - which annoyed Tokker because even at double speed that's well tedious.

Not until the third stop in Bexleyheath, outside the library, did we pick up any more passengers. Some of them were clutching paper handouts - a throwback for the non-digital generation. Jings doesn't like the route diagram, he says it fails to show how clustered many of the stops are in real life, but Rizzo says anyone who can't be bothered to download an app deserves to be confused. But the clustering's also clever because it means the driver doesn't have to take any particular route between Bexleyheath and Sidcup, they can go whichever way has the least traffic. Today that freedom proved particularly pertinent...

It's the SL3's bad luck to launch midway through six weeks of roadworks by the Blendon roundabout. Tim said northbound buses were speeding down the A2 to avoid it, but annoyingly we weren't doing that because I'd love to see a NB4L get up to 50. Instead we diverted east to Bexley - actual Bexley village! - just like the slowcoaches on the bogstandard 269s. Tokker was well annoyed because it meant what he was recording wasn't even the normal route, plus our hairpin wiggle took a full 15 minutes. Tim said an excitable roadside granny should put her cameraphone down because the novelty white bus wouldn't be stopping anywhere near where she lived. By the time we reached Sidcup station we'd had our full 46 minute allocation and were only just over halfway. The shelter's Superloop roundel topper was fully illuminated and it wasn't even dark.

A small child bounded up to the top deck telling her Dad "the nice man gave me a badge", so Jings shot her a sideways look. The smell of Lynx Africa heralded the arrival of fellow obsessives Mason and KJ to the top deck. They sat further back and did impressions of door opening sounds on various operators' vehicles. "Do you remember Blue Triangle?" asked KJ. "I love the noise that handbrake release makes," said Mason. "They keep putting Enviros on the 144 but Geminis suit it better," said KJ and Mason agreed. Mason got halfway through explaining why Red Rose drivers were awful - something to do with always having headphones in - before KJ interrupted by exclaiming "That Arriva bus has got the old logo!" We left Mason and KJ well alone.

From Sidcup onwards the SL3 felt more like a proper limited-stop bus and less like being on a suburban safari. Some bits were fast, past old half-timbered pubs Ian's parents would probably like. Other bits were less fast, like queueing to get past Chislehurst war memorial because it's Saturday. One of the elderly passengers - she must have been at least 40 - was incredibly excited to see Superloop badges being given out by Chislehurst station, then felt sad because she wouldn't be getting one. KJ and Mason took the opportunity to alight here and catch a train to Grove Park... and would be hiding in the toilet if the ticket inspector turned up, if their final conversation was anything to go by.

Oh joy, more temporary traffic lights. A water main burst near the station midweek so a tiny patch of roadworks was generating extensive queues. Markie had become much less excited at the prospect of riding the Superloop all the way round than he had been when we started. Thankfully we slipped through the lights much faster than those heading east, and then we were into some suburb called Bickley. Lucky locals now have an express bus to the shops, although given the gap between services there's no guarantee it'll be worth waiting for. Jings bolted early because it looked the pink-haired tabard lady had a stack of badges as yet undistributed.

A very helpful bus lane helped speed us into Bromley. The next two stops were very close together, one either side of the ring road, but most passengers waited for the second outside the shops. One particularly well-fed family waddled swiftly downstairs, straight across the road and in through the doors of Nando's. Only the spods were left for the last run up to Bromley North station because not everyone thinks it's important to be completist. Tokker waited until everyone else had alighted before finally pressing stop on his video, the timestamp now showing a full hour and a quarter. Rizzo followed, returning his GoPro to his Regatta rucksack, and then we all walked down to the bus stand to take another albumful of photos.

"Look," said Ian, "the first stop for the SL3 is right next to the first stop for the SL5... shall we?" We didn't, partly because we were zonked after our long slog on the SL3 and partly because there were some much more interesting Streetlites and single door Enviro200s to investigate instead. But Spod Club will most definitely reassemble in North Woolwich next Saturday when the SL2 launches and the Superloop is complete. We Whatsapped Colin to remind him to be there.

Route SL3: route map
Route SL3: live route map
Route SL3: route consultation
Route SL3: timetable

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