Thursday, December 01, 2022
30 unblogged things I did in November
Tue 1: It's easy to get up 'early' just after the clocks have gone back, which I how managed to be in Kingston soon after 9am. I then got absolutely drenched on the walk from the bus station to the shops, setting the scene for a torrentially wet month.
Wed 2: Unless you like shopping, Battersea Power Station isn't any more interesting on a third look round.
Thu 3: I used to buy Puzzler magazine every month in the 1970s and devour all the puzzles before the next issue was out. This year they're celebrating their 50th anniversary with a quiz stacked up in the window of DC Thompson on Fleet Street. It features clues to the names of 50 TV shows from the last 50 years, some of which are very clever, and if you can get five right you might win a telly. I think I've also spotted the red herring radio show which is a separate competition. No need to trudge down to Fleet Street, you can also enter online here.
Fri 4: The first speaker at this year's Tower Hamlets Writeidea festival was the excellent Ben Aaronovitch. He doesn't prepare a talk, he just wings an hour of Q&A, and it was all fascinating (talking foxes, magic scarcity, architectural inspiration, etc) but I suspect barely comprehensible to anyone who hadn't read the books.
Sat 5: Hurrah, fireworks night has finally landed on a Saturday again, but alas no London council has the cash to put on a free event any more, so I stayed home and listened to some jerks letting off firecrackers.
Sun 6: I nearly told the bloke who likes all my tweets to maybe stop liking all my tweets, but I decided the better option was to sit tight in my seat and keep quiet.
Mon 7: A few months ago I jokingly asked a friend why he hadn't been on Brain of Britain yet, and he said "well actually...", and hey presto this afternoon I lay back in the bath and listened to him for the second time this series. I'd have got the Rutland and Shakatak questions right, but no way would I have made the final either.
Tue 8: I'm glad Twitter hasn't been extinguished yet because if it had I'd never have received that offer, which'll probably come to nothing but blimey, if it did...
Wed 9: They've finally got round to adding a validator at Farringdon so Thameslink passengers don't need to go up to the ticket hall to tap in or out. I appreciate the irony of the opening instruction being "Don't forget...", when TfL totally forgot to install it in the first place.
Thu 10: When I go round to BestMate's for dinner I've noticed they're an 'oven timer' household whereas I'm a 'noting what time I put it in and working out what time to take it out' guy. There was consternation tonight when they realised they hadn't set the timer when they put the pizzas in, and I laughed, but then I remembered I'm just as bad when I can't remember if I put the chicken in at ten past or twenty past.
Fri 11: I was sorry to see Doris Florist on Crystal Palace Parade has closed and is being turned into... yet another cafe/restaurant with outdoor seating. With the exception of the minicab company all eight businesses here now sell food, because that's the retail direction of travel.
Sat 12: My train to Stevenage was delayed by an hour so I applied for Delay Repay, and when it got to the list of options for repaying the money they hid one of them behind a "click here for other options" button, presumably because they'd really rather not give you the cashback. So I absolutely asked for the cash back. My voucher arrived by post a few days later, and given the price of a second class stamp I can see why they didn't want me to choose that one.
Sun 13: Brentford is one of those places that whenever I visit I always think 'You were never lovely but what they're building here is making things considerably worse'.
Mon 14: I've finally got round to reading the spy thriller Slow Horses, the book I discovered Apple were turning into a TV series when I spotted their fake bus stop by the Barbican... and now I see why the props department had to build it, it's absolutely pivotal to the first and last chapter. I don't expect to get round to watching the TV series though.
Tue 15: At South Quay DLR station there's still a black poster outside mourning the sad loss of the Queen, ten weeks later, and this is the kind of ridiculous anachronism that happens at unstaffed stations.
Wed 16: Sounds like I'm going axe-throwing next month.
Thu 17: Time to make a start on Series 5 of The Crown with the strange episode where you have to get used to all the characters being played by someone else and it doesn't quite gel. The oven timer was correctly set so the pizzas came out fine.
Fri 18: Imagine living in Ongar where there are no buses after 8pm. No wonder the taxis were fully booked.
Sat 19: Somewhere In London I'd Never Been Before - Chelsfield Woods: A small dense woody enclave nibbled away by development on two sides, very conveniently located for the shops and with a bit of a hillock in the middle. The view from nearby Glentrammon Recreation Ground is much better.
Sun 20: I stumbled upon a semi-detached house with a polar bear by the front door, a cow in the front garden and Superman on top of the porch standing beside a gorilla, and I daren't mention where it is for fear another London website will borrow the idea and write one of their "The secret suburban house where a superhero lives hidden in plain sight" clickbait articles.
Mon 21: Oh for goodness sake not again. Although I doubt it can get any worse after that, and I may just have totally got away with it.
Tue 22: I've been trying to untangle my fairy lights for over a week and must have put at least four hours effort into it. Today I finally looked at the big knot in the middle and made three key unthreading manoeuvres and it all just fell apart, hurrah. Unfortunately this is the set that no longer works, as I only remembered when I plugged it in afterwards and nothing lit up.
Wed 23: I don't understand TfL's current obsession with unfolded bicycles on trains. The vast majority of bicycles cannot be folded so should not be described as 'unfolded'. What you mean is "Only folded bicycles can be taken on trains from this station", what you've written is illogically oversimplified.
Thu 24: Walked with BestMate from one Toby Carvery to another Toby Carvery, and had a full on turkey roast at one of them, because that's a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving (assuming you're happy with apple pie afterwards, not pumpkin pie).
Fri 25: One of the chairs on my balcony toppled backwards during the night and I cannot work out why because a) it wasn't windy b) it never has before c) it's well out of a fox's reach.
Sat 26: I bought my usual diary in Ryman and was staggered by how much the price has gone up since last year. [2019 £5.99] [2020 £6.99] [2021 £6.99] [2022 £7.99] [2023 £9.99]
Sun 27: The rail replacement bus driver failed to let me off the at the right stop, despite repeated dinging, so I ended up being carried an extra mile. I grumbled at him before I got off, but the subsequent walk was a lot better than I was originally planning so I should probably have kept quiet.
Mon 28: This may be the holy grail of London shopfronts, halfway down Shepherd's Bush Market - an 01 telephone number and a misplaced apostrophe.
Tue 29: I spotted the Cadbury's Secret Santa advert on a digital billboard in Romford and managed to click through to the special website and fill in the details within the requisite 10 minutes, which is hard when you don't have people's precise addresses and postcodes to hand. One of you reading this can expect a free bar in the post at some point before Christmas.
Wed 30: Dear BBC, it is not fiveminutesworth of news that one of the home nations got eliminated from the World Cup yesterday. It's a tournament with 32 teams and 31 of them are inevitably going to get knocked out, so supporters can feel as proud as they like but Wales were never going to be number 32.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, November 30, 2022The big space at Outernet has opened.
Outernet, you remember, is the big new building outside Tottenham Court Road station. It's cavernous and gold and covered in screens. There are screens inside and outside. There is no escape from the screens. It's a commercial hellscape funded by capitalism. It's a vacuous deception purporting to be art. It's a blazing inner city intrusion. It's a shareable experience reliant on gullible consumers. It's a dystopian window into the future. It's what happens when you allow marketing departments to determine the function of architecture. It's a platform for meaningless PR-driven emptiness. It's private corporations overwhelming the public realm. It's an attention-seeking pustule. It's vacuous buzzphrases writ large. It's ad-based cultural engineering on a grand scale. If you are in any way to blame for the creation of this monstrosity or the curation of its visual feed then take a serious look at yourself and your priorities because you are the hellspawn of modern society. You could have built anything on this prime site but you chose to deliver this giant two-fingered digital beacon, and if it burned down tomorrow I for one would stand alongside and applaud. If I have failed to fully express how much I despise this building, my apologies.
The little immersive chamber at Outernet has been open for some months and now the big chamber is too.
You just walk in off the street, they pull back the barriers at ground level around lunchtime and then anyone can wander in, the escalators up from the tube station literally funnel people towards the entrance. They want you to come inside lured by the pretty lights, come and see what this electronic flytrap is, it's like some evil cottage in a fairytale updated for the modern age. There are even benches to sit on, they want you to stay in here for as long as possible, it's all about maximising the number of eyeball minutes. Vibrant swirling designs are the best, they maximise the chance you'll whip out your phone and share an image, better still a video. Look here I am, look here I am with my grinning friends, look here we all are in front of all these pretty colours. And see how the sponsor's name slips into the background behind you but you won't see it because you're too busy posing, because every last penny of this is about the company paying to be better recognised, and you grinning muppets happily do all the hard work for them.
I was expecting the chamber to be bigger.
They have a programme for what they show. You might arrive during actual art or you might arrive during an advertisement masquerading as art. I arrived during an hour-long advert for paracetamol dressed up as the 'Room To Breathe Experience' in which a pink orb glowed and the brand name hovered in the bottom left hand corner to make sure you got the subliminal message. Allegedly this is a "free mindfulness experience", for which read 'meaningless bolx', and "in partnership with", for which read 'sponsored by'. I discovered later that it "combines music, soothing visuals and rhythmic breathing exercises to evoke a more relaxed state of mind and body offering visitors a mindful moment of release", whereas nobody in the room was doing that and the music was neither loud nor evocative and nobody would want to sit around in this weather letting this wash over them and if it released anyone's stress that was more by luck than design. When you buy the sponsor's pain relief tablets a fraction of your money goes to pay the marketing department and quite frankly they should have sacked the lot of them and sold the tablets cheaper. Apparently these are the world's largest LED screens, well what a waste of the world's largest LED screens is all I can say.
There are huge adverts outside as well as inside.
While you're interacting with this brave new world look around you and see how many security guys are keeping an eye on things. They can't have you misusing this immersive brand theatre they've spent so much on creating, there might be reputational damage, so behave yourself and don't do anything a lawyer wouldn't do. These days a lot of London is pseudo-public space owned and controlled by developers - their rules, their choices - and we wander amongst it solely because they allow us. They've already come for our streetscapes but now they want to 'activate' the upper levels too and shout their promotional messages via pixels in the sky on any surface the planning authorities will let them. It's what's behind the recent proposal to increase the screen size at Piccadilly Circus, it's the reason for the inexorable spread of animated billboards beside busy roads and it's the entire raison d'être for that godforsaken spherical concert hall they want to build beside Stratford station which'll spew forth illuminated adverts across its entire surface day and night. Outernet is just a warning from the future that one day all culture may be as unavoidably empty as this, but only if we let the bastards win.
If Outernet excites you, get a life.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, November 29, 2022On Sunday the Museum of London will be closing its doors for the last time. Its been on its current site beside the Barbican since 1976, and perhaps looks it, and a new larger building is already being prepared in the old Smithfield market. But that won't be open until 2026 so if you want a last dose of London's cultural history to tide you over you need to get down there this week. I went for a final walk round yesterday, when it was still just normally busy and not yet pre-closure hectic.
When a museum's been open for a while there is a tendency to think you've seen it all, but often it pays to stop and read the labels beside the stuff you've walked past several times. Take the prehistoric London before London gallery, for example, which at first glance is mostly bones and rocks. But on closer inspection I learned that lions and tigers once ruled Crayford, mammoths roamed Ilford and hippos wallowed in Peckham, because London was once just an anonymous patch of icy/tropical wilderness. I learned that my house was once in the middle of the River Thames, approximately 400,000 years ago, courtesy of the low-tech maps on the slidy glass. I learned how to tell the difference between an adze and a mattock, because not every sharpened flint had the same function. And it struck me that until about 2000 years ago this could have been anywhere's backstory because London was nothing special yet.
The Roman London gallery, however, is a treasure trove of relics far better than your average local museum's. Here are the statues you won't see at the Temple of Mithras because they're here instead, here's a tiny ring they dug up in Bow in 1995 whose gemstone features two nose-to-nose mice, and here's a 3rd century coin minted during the decade when London attempted to go it alone and failed. I fear the new museum will never be able to match the magic moment when the displays stop and you're invited to look at the real city wall out of the next window. But it's also true that the presentation has become a little dated over the years, perhaps best exemplified by the aerial photo that purports to show "the boundary of Roman London imposed on the modern city" with a lowrise skyline that's comfortably pre-Gherkin.
The Medieval gallery contains the first of three audiovisual presentations devoted to the City's greatest disasters. Step into the low-tech auditorium, crick your neck and you can watch a few illustrated images relating to the Black Death - in which over half of the population of London died. I watched to the end and wasn't especially overwhelmed, but the content did resonate a little more after the pandemic we've all just lived through. The second cataclysm crops up in the next gallery and relives the Great Fire of London. I took my seat at the back of the mini-theatre and was once again disappointed that the model of the City below the screen only ever glowed slightly, never burned. At least I got the full-on nostalgic experience when a class of infants piled in, didn't really understand what was going on and were told repeatedly to sit down by their teacher, because that's how the MoL should be remembered.
Somewhere around the 16th century the museum's lighting gets a bit gloomy. I suspect this is to help preserve the artefacts on display, which are now more likely to be made of paper or material, but it does make reading all the labels a little squintier. Lighting levels feel dimmer still once you've walked downstairs to the Georgian zone, which I always think is the least impactful of the chronological galleries. That said I always get a shiver from touching the door of Newgate Prison, and from wandering into the cell nextdoor with so many prisoners' names carved into the timbers. I wonder how many of these larger exhibits will survive into the new museum - will there be space for the am-dram theatre of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, the much-loved warren of Victorian shops and the London 2012 cauldron, or is this genuinely your last chance to see?
Given the age of these displays it's reassuring to see the stories of Seacole, Equiano and Bennelong given due prominence amid the tales of Empire, expansion and derring-do. But I suspect they'll be much more prominent in the updated museum because the modern curatorial tendency is to highlight stories that resonate with today's diverse population rather than reflecting the values of the time. The topics of poverty, sanitation, women's suffrage and workers' solidarity are also given due coverage here, although it does feel like the displays skip through the 19th and early 20th centuries because space is at a premium and there's a War to cover. London's most recent mass destruction event was the Blitz, and I made sure to sit through the full ten minute audio-visual presentation brought to life by evocative personal testimony. Again there's no reason this'll transfer to Smithfield, in which case these moving words that've played repeatedly to millions of visitors may never be heard again.
Postwar the museum offers a cavalcade of items that older visitors can point at and go "ah yes". A Double Diamond drinks mat, a Mary Quant dress, a platform boot, the first ever copy of Time Out, a Rock Against Racism badge, the actual Flowerpot Men. The one exhibit I suspect everyone loves is the "Less Passion from Less Protein" banner regularly paraded by Stanley Green down Oxford Street. But there's almost nothing here from the last 20 years, indeed even the final panel entitled 'London Futures?' already looks ridiculously outdated having completely failed to predict the imminent eruption of umpteen skyscrapers. As crocodiles of schoolchildren file through to their next gathering point and older teenagers dash round looking for non-existent buttons to press, you can see why the relocated museum might want to take a different approach.
They've given a hint of what that approach might be in the 'test space' just before the exit in which they present ideas for the future Roman Shop & House gallery. It looks to have more space but also fewer artefacts and more screens. Here 'animated Roman characters will appear going about their lives', for example Ulpia who is of African descent and owns a few slaves, just to make you stop and think. Around the room, in an attempt to be more honest, 'everything that is not real will be painted blue'. Perhaps most telling is that the artist's impression shows three visitors looking at blue walls and smiling rather than interacting with the room's expensive interactive features. The current Museum of London is essentially a repository of stuff and tells the capital's story through objects. The new museum may be very different.
You have five days left to tour the Museum of London in its current home and to bleed the gift shop dry (although all that's left on special offer is past exhibition programmes for £2). There'll then be three years while they shift everything over to the new site, which isn't ready yet, so I'm not quite sure why the mothballing has had to start this early. Remember you can still get a dose of full-on London history in the Museum of Docklands during the hiatus, even if that's feeling somewhat tired these days too, especially the fact that (yet again) the 21st century is barely represented. And expect this weekend at the MoL to be crushingly manic, even with 24-hour opening, so the sooner the better.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, November 28, 202225 thoughts on the ULEZ which will be extending on 29 August 2023 to cover (almost) the whole of London
• I don't care because I don't have a car.
• If I had a car it would probably be compliant anyway, most are.
• If I had a non-compliant vehicle I'd be absolutely pissed off by the prospect of a £12.50 daily charge or forking out for a new vehicle during a cost of living crisis.
• Most households in the current ULEZ don't have a car but most households in the extension do, so this is going to be a lot less popular.
• It's not exactly surprising that "there are more deaths attributed to toxic air in the city's outer boroughs", because 1½ million more people live there.
• The new ULEZ zone will be the existing LEZ zone... which doesn't quite cover the whole of London, so you'll still be able to belch around Chingford or sputter along Farthing Downs to your heart's content.
• The M11 and M25 aren't included but the M1 and the M4 are, plus you'll be charged if you try to drive into Heathrow.
• I wonder how many one-off visitors to London are going to find themselves stung by an unexpected £180 fine.
• Trying to gather accurate data on the existing ULEZ has been skewed by the pandemic, fuel shortages and the soaring cost of petrol, making conclusions harder to draw.
• The first ULEZ expansion was announced with over a year's notice, this one's only nine months.
• Currently only 6% of vehicles driving in the ULEZ are non-compliant, so only a small number of people are about to be shafted (but it's 17% of vans, so expect White Van Men to be angriest).
• The mayor's office estimates that an additional 135,000 vehicles a day will be affected by the extension of the ULEZ. For comparison, on an average day London residents make 6 million journeys by car.
• If you drive daily then £12.50 a day is £4500 a year. You could buy a replacement vehicle for that (which is probably the point).
• The people still driving 8 year-old diesel cars are probably the people who can least afford to replace them.
• Londoners receiving certain means-tested benefits and disability benefits can apply for grants of up to £2000 to scrap their non-compliant cars or motorcycles, so it's not the cruel draconian scheme it could be.
• It's not hard to get Londoners breathing 'cleaner air', even removing one car does that. What's hard is making a significant difference.
• If London's air is genuinely 'toxic' then I've done my lungs no good by living near the A12 for the last 20 years, but I still doubt that's what's going to kill me.
• It's ghastly that air pollution contributed to the death of that child the Mayor's always going on about, but cars hitting things kill far more people.
• If "air pollution is making us sick from cradle to the grave", then I have 57 years of breathing I ought to be able to sue someone for.
• If I genuinely wanted to reduce my exposure to toxic air the simplest solution would be to move out of London.
• The mitigation regarding "the biggest ever expansion of the bus network in outer London" is mostly spin because hardly anyone's going to live in the right place to make use of them. e.g. the first example on the list is "improved links between Harold Hill and Upminster", a journey currently made by London's least frequent bus, so nobody needs that.
• The Mayor’s new scrappage scheme will include the option to get two annual bus passes, which at £464 a year isn't exactly generous.
• Anyone who sends moaning letters to local newspapers saying "it's just another Khan tax on the motorist, we need to remove all the bus lanes instead" should be forced to pay £12.50 anyway, that's my opinion.
• If air pollution is as ghastly as the Mayor now claims, why has he taken seven years to implement this?
• Brilliant, bring it on, the fewer polluting cars the better.
posted 08:00 :
This is Cocker Road in Enfield.
Don't worry I won't write about it, I couldn't pull it off again.
Barking & Dagenham: Shafter Road RM10
Barnet: Pricklers Hill EN5
Bexley: Cocksure Lane DA14, Woodpecker Road SE28
Bromley: Cockmannings Lane/Cockmannings Road BR5, Cocksett Avenue BR6
City: Cock Lane EC1
Enfield: Cocker Road EN1, Cockfosters Road EN4
Greenwich: Dickson Road SE9
Lambeth: Penistone Road SW16
Haringey: Dongola Road N17
Harrow: Dickson Fold HA5
Hounslow: Dick Turpin Way TW14
Kingston: Cocks Crescent KT3, Dickerage Lane/Dickerage Road KT3
Newham: Dongola Road E13, Knobbs Hill Road E15
Redbridge: Wangey Road RM6
Southwark: Tooley Street SE1
Westminster: Cockspur Street SW1
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, November 27, 2022Fancy some Dickerage?
Then get yourself down to New Malden and grab it by the short and curlies.
Dickerage Lane pokes up from Kingston Road and thrusts north. Its length is impressive and you'll want to stick with it right to the tip. Before beginning your Dickerage journey be sure to make the most of the privacy of the recreation ground opposite, and maybe head into Rajah's News for a top shelf magazine or a meaty snack. Also note that the new flats on the corner are still very much up for grabs, and come with wipe-clean bathroom tiling and a SMEG hood in the kitchen.
If you've not enjoyed Dickerage before then you're in for a treat. Step past the pillarbox with its gaping red slot and admire the wall which a gang of men has comprehensively pebbledashed. The first few houses are the oldest in the street and have names like The Cott, Holly Cott and Rose Cottages, and all because cottaging was commonplace hereabouts in Victorian times. Best not linger, there's a fair whack to come yet. Fifteen minutes of mild exertion should cover it.
Adams House is the finest erection in Dickerage Lane and looks rock solid too. At present it's all boarded up but the redevelopment plan is for it to shoot up to eight storeys with commercial services available at ground level. As for the King's Oak, however mighty its original girth it now lives on only in the name of a pair of adjacent schools. Raffle ticket prizes in their Christmas draw this year include a Magic Hands gift voucher, a pack of toilet rolls and a tailormade dog collar. Yes that is a humped zebra outside the main gate.
It's here that Dickerage perks up and starts rising from the horizontal. The road has to elevate to allow trains from Waterloo to pass underneath, and also narrows to a tight squeeze controlled by traffic signals making this the lane's only red light district. Pick your moment carefully and you can stand astride the peak to experience the Norbiton Flyer at full throttle as it plunges into a dark cavity and vibrates beneath you. The view from the highpoint is somewhat anticlimactic but yes, that white pole you can see in the middle distance is for atmospheric ejaculation from Kingston Hospital.
If you're looking for something large to play with then beyond the railway lies Dickerage Lane Recreation Ground, a triangular hotbed of energetic delights. Perhaps thwack your balls on the tennis courts, pull off a few tricks in the skatepark or climb the phallic tower and hurl yourself down the slide. On the far side is a thick strip of secluded woodland where you easily could get physical without being seen. And although the community centre may look like a cheap prefab it also offers your best chance to beat off the local members, not necessarily at table tennis.
Once upon a time this whole area was part of Dickerage Farm, indeed the community centre marks the precise location of the farmhouse making it the true focus of all the Dickerage hereabouts. It's also where Dickerage Lane morphs into Dickerage Road, because until those suburban housebuilders came along there was no need for the lane to extend any further. As you pass its front gardens keep your eyes peeled and you might spot current Dickerage residents manhandling tools, fiddling with their dipstick or trimming their bush.
The parade of shops by the mini-roundabout is called The Triangle and offers a wealth of worldly delights. The Kingfish chippie can conjure up a salty saveloy for £2.30 or a battered sausage for just 10p more. Allan Barbers will slip you something for the weekend, best eased on its way with lubrication from Coombe Hill Pharmacy. The menu at the Lebanese restaurant offers spicy meatballs, hot sauce and grilled 🍆 salad. Even the Post Office is set up for deposits and withdrawals if you ask nicely at the counter.
The remainder of Dickerage Road is a classic suburban avenue where heaven knows what goes on behind the net curtains. Vehicular progress is regularly interrupted by humping. A drain in the middle of the road gurgles in spits and spurts from the base of the shaft. A wide variety of knobs and knockers are on display, some with peepholes. Only those with a firm grasp of Dickerage get to penetrate inside. The Dickerage Road Allotments are hidden down a backpassage. Don't say you're not pumped to be here.
Near the end of the road I spotted a utility worker with a large helmet suspended in midair manhandling the tip of a stiff pole. I wondered if he might be wielding a chopper or poking a rod but instead he was engaged in some kind of hand job tugging on a resident's cable. It all looked quite cumbersome. After I'd passed his temporary erection the road finally bulged towards its climax at the junction with Coombe Lane West and suddenly my interaction with Dickerage was over.
You may not give a toss until you visit Dickerage for yourself, but come on, it's not hard.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, November 26, 2022This advert for 'Warm Havens' has appeared along Stratford High Street. It's Newham's scheme to give residents somewhere to go if they're struggling to heat their homes.
And I thought
a) I wonder where they are?
b) I bet I know where they are.
c) How has society come to this?
It's shocking that we now live in a country where millions of people can't afford their heating bills. Many have always struggled, but the energy crisis has boosted gas and electricity prices to such a ridiculous extent that costs now constitute a cripplingly high proportion the household budget. The energy cap for this January would have been three times higher than last January had the government not stepped in, and even twice as much is proving untenable on top of the skyrocketing cost of living. We've slipped incredibly fast into an era where the thermostat is to be feared and pulling on an extra jumper is the default rather than a thrifty saving.
Hence the advent of warm havens, somewhere non-judgemental to sit in relative comfort while the council pays for the heating. But Newham's advert doesn't tell you where they are, only to go to a website or ring a phone number.
And the Newham website doesn't tell you where they are either. Instead it provides a link to a map, and not a static map either but an interactive Microsoft-generated map of the borough with blobs on, and if you click on it a scrollable list of nearby havens appears with opening times in a thin table. It's a clever solution I'm sure some tech team is very pleased with but not exactly straightforward, and I suspect beyond the IT capabilities of some of the target audience. Give us the clever map, sure, but also FFS just give us a list.
If you click around the map you soon discover what I suspected would be the case which is that most of Newham's warm havens are in fact libraries. They're already open, they have public seating and plenty of reading material and they've long been the ideal place to hide away from grim conditions at home. But at no point before clicking on the map does Newham's campaign actually suggest you might want to go to a library, that's key information hidden beneath multiple layers of tech.
Even a link to the webpage for Newham's library opening hours would have been an improvement. I can sum up that table as simply as this.
• All Newham's libraries are open until 8pm Mondays to Saturdays.There are six other warm havens, mostly in community centres, and only open for a few hours a week. Again you could click around the map to discover what they are or someone could produce a simple list, like this. I've ordered it by day of the week because sometimes what you want to know is "what's open today?", not "where's my nearest?"
- Canning Town, East Ham, Forest Gate and Stratford libraries open at 9am.
- North Woolwich and Plaistow libraries open at 9.30am.
- Beckton, Custom House, Green Street and Manor Park libraries open at 10am.
• All Newham's libraries are open between noon and 4pm on Sundays.
Monday: Trinity Community Centre (5-8pm)Simple.
Tuesday: Forest Gate Lodge & Katherine Road Community Centre (5-8pm)
Wednesday: Woodman Community Centre (9am-noon)
Thursday: Trinity Community Centre (5-8pm)
Friday: Jack Cornwell Community Centre (5-8pm)
Saturday: Trinity Community Centre (2-5pm)
Sunday: Katherine Road Community Centre (3-6pm) & Jeyes Community Centre (6-9pm)
Tower Hamlets have done a better job of listing their Warm Banks, again by day of the week.
I think the underlying message is don't get cold on Fridays or Saturdays. But they don't mention libraries, sorry Idea Stores, which ought to be an obvious alternative. And I only spotted this graphic on Twitter which isn't somewhere the old and poor necessarily hang out, and absolutely none of this appears on the council website.
Elsewhere in London I see Greenwich have bought more furniture to improve the capacity of their libraries and Lewisham have a scheme called Warm Welcomes, although I'm not quite sure how a brewery and a swimming pool fit in. Other boroughs will do/should do/probably have done something similar.
We're not yet into the coldest part of the winter when warm havens might be a lifesaver and publicity might be better organised, so well done to Newham for being upfront with its campaign. But please don't hide the key information where the affected might never find it, make sure your publicity includes a good old-fashioned list.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, November 25, 2022Anorak Corner [National Rail edition]
It's time once again for the annual splurge of passenger data from across Britain's railway network, this batch covering the period April 2021 to March 2022. That's a less freakish twelve months than last year's statistics but still significantly impacted by the pandemic, with subdued commuting, reduced timetables and advice to minimise travel. It means these still aren't properly representative figures so should be taken with a pinch of statistical salt.
n.b. To try to maintain some semblance of reality the changes I've included below are from two years ago when travel was more normal.
London's ten busiest National Rail stations (2021/22) (with changes since 2019/20)
1) -- Waterloo (41m)
2) -- Victoria (37m)
3) ↑1 London Bridge (33m)
4) ↓1 Liverpool Street (32m)
5) ↑2 Stratford (28m)
6) ↓1 Paddington (24m)
7) ↓1 Euston (23m)
8) ↑1 King's Cross (20m)
9) ↓1 St Pancras (19m)
10) -- Highbury & Islington (18m)
After a blippy year when Stratford took the crown, Waterloo is back where it's long been at the top of the London (and national) rankings. Two years ago it had 87 million entries/exits so passenger numbers have roughly halved, but that's true across the entire top 10 - a direct effect of the pandemic. Elsewhere the list sees only minor shuffling as the big hitters continue to hit big. The rail terminus just outside the Top 10 is Charing Cross (16m), whereas Fenchurch Street, Marylebone and Cannon Street are a lot further down with 7m-8m apiece. It's amazing that Highbury & Islington makes the top 10, and is the UK's 13th busiest station, all thanks to passengers interchanging with the Victoria line. Next year's figures will be the first to include Crossrail so it'll be interesting to see how big a boost that gives Liverpool Street, Stratford and Paddington.
The UK Top 10 looks exactly the same as this but with Birmingham New Street in eighth place and Manchester Piccadilly in 10th.
London's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't central London termini (2021/22)
1) -- Stratford (28m)
2) -- Highbury & Islington (18m)
3) -- Clapham Junction (17m)
4) -- East Croydon (15m)
5) -- Canada Water (14m)
6) -- Vauxhall (12m)
7) ↑1 Barking (11m)
8) ↓1 Wimbledon (10m)
9) -- Whitechapel (9m)
10) ↑1 West Ham (7m)
Once you strip out the central London termini a rather different picture appears and it's substantially orange. One reason for this is that the data at Overground stations includes everyone changing to or from the tube, because technically this counts as an entrance or exit even if passengers don't leave the station. You can imagine how much this boosts stations like Highbury & Islington [Victoria], Canada Water [Jubilee] and Whitechapel [District/H&C]. Clapham Junction's total would almost double if the data included interchanges.
London's ten busiest stations beyond zone 3 (2021/22)
1) -- East Croydon (15m)
2) -- Barking (11m)
3) -- Richmond (6.4m)
4) -- Romford (6.3m)
5) -- Surbiton (5.0m)
6) ↑1 Ilford (4.8m)
7) ↓1 Bromley South (4.6m)
8) ↑1 Upminster (3.7m)
9) ↓1 Sutton (3.7m)
10) -- Orpington (3.2m)
As usual the Outer London crown is a comfortable win for East Croydon. Richmond's total of 6½m entries and exits may look small but that's enough to make it the 40th best used station in the entire UK. Ilford overtakes Bromley South thanks to its improved pre-Crossrail services. Northwest London does not appear in this list because it's better served by tube.
London's ten least busy Overground/Crossrail stations (2021/22)
1) -- Emerson Park (196,000)
2) -- Acton Main Line (321,000)
3) -- South Hampstead (339,000)
4) -- Headstone Lane (346,000)
5) ↑1 South Kenton (419,000)
6) ↓1 Stamford Hill (431,100)
7) ↑1 Penge West (483,000)
8) ↑2 Hatch End (486,000)
9) ↑1 Wandsworth Road (510,000)
10) ↑6 South Acton (518,000)
n.b. Technically Heathrow Terminal 4 is top of this list because it was closed from May 2020 to June 2022 so served zero passengers.
Emerson Park on the runty Romford-Upminster line remains at the bottom of the heap, while Acton Main line is still London's least attractive Crossrail station. The second least-used purple station is Hanwell which is in 11th place. The top 10 covers a variety of Overground lines, whereas the next list is a little more focused...
London's ten least busy National Rail stations (2021/22)
1) ↑2 Drayton Green (11000)
2) -- South Greenford (13000)
3) ↑1 Sudbury & Harrow Road (15000)
4) ↑1 Sudbury Hill Harrow (35000)
5) ↑1 Castle Bar Park (41000)
6) ↑1 Morden South (54700)
7) ↑3 Birkbeck (55100)
8) ↑10 Reedham (69000)
9) ↑7 Coulsdon Town (86000)
10) ↑13 Woodmansterne (89000)
n.b. Technically Heathrow Terminal 4 is top of this list because it was closed from May 2020 to June 2022 so served zero passengers.
Angel Road and its replacement Meridian Water will not be appearing in this Top 10 again, hence a lot of other stations shuffle up. Drayton Green is London's newest least used station, a position it's never held before. Along with South Greenford and Castle Bar Park it's suffered from the arrival of Crossrail which has severed direct trains to Paddington from the Greenford branch. The two Sudbury stations, regularly skipped by Chiltern trains, are also Top 10 stalwarts. Reedham, Coulsdon Town and Woodmasterne are new entries, perhaps thanks to the withdrawal of direct trains to central London for much of the survey period.
But enough of London.
The UK's ten busiest National Rail stations that aren't in London (2021/22)
1) -- Birmingham New Street (23m)
2) ↑1 Manchester Piccadilly (20m)
3) ↑1 Leeds (19m)
4) ↓2 Glasgow Central (15m)
5) -- Edinburgh (14m)
6) ↑1 Brighton (11.2m)
7) ↑3 Liverpool Central (10.7m)
8) ↑3 Liverpool Lime Street (10.4m)
9) ↓1 Reading (8.8m)
10) ↓1 Glasgow Queen Street (8.5m)
Passenger totals have increased more dramatically outside London, often three- or fourfold compared to last year. Birmingham New Street retains top position, with Manchester Piccadilly back into second (and into the national Top 10). Glasgow and Liverpool manage two stations apiece. The big pandemic loser was Gatwick Airport which has slumped from 6th to 17th place due to lack of flyers. Over 200 provincial stations served over a million passengers during 2021/22, a big improvement on the previous year when only 50 stations managed that.
In surprising London/not-London comparisons, West Ham was busier than Sheffield, Lewisham was busier than Nottingham, Ilford was busier than Coventry, Harold Wood was busier than Hull and Finchley Road and Frognal was busier than Portsmouth and Southsea.
The National Rail station with NO passengers in 2021/22
0) Heathrow Terminal 4 [last year 162, previous year 1.75m]
In 2020/21, extraordinarily, six stations saw no passengers. This year it's just the one, the airport station beside a mothballed terminal which closed from May 2020 to June 2022. I think it's best not included on the following list (which is everyone's annual favourite).
The UK's ten least busy National Rail stations (2021/22)
1) ↑1 Elton and Orston (40)
2) ↑27 Teesside Airport (42)
3) -- Stanlow and Thornton (44)
4) ↑1 Denton (50)
5) ↑17 Kirton Lindsey (68)
6) ↑2 Sugar Loaf (76)
7) ↑3 Shippea Hill (102)
8) ↑1 Reddish South (108)
9) ↑3 Coombe Junction Halt (112)
10) ↑9 Scotscalder (116)
These are the stations that can't even muster three passengers a week, such is the inaccessibility of their location or the paucity of their service, and most have appeared in this Top 10 on many previous occasions. It's Elton & Orston's turn to become the UK's Least Used Station, a title it would have held in 2019/20 if only Berney Arms hadn't been closed for 49 weeks. E&O only gets one train a day in each direction, one to Nottingham and one to Skegness, and its paltry total is the equivalent of just 20 round trips.
Teesside Airport, Denton and Reddish South only get one train a week, which explains their regular appearance. Stanlow and Thornton is surrounded by an oil refinery and has been closed since February because its footbridge is unsafe. Kirton Lindsey is a casualty of the protracted 'temporary' closure of the Brigg line which usually runs Saturdays only. Sugar Loaf is the least used station in Wales and similarly-remote Scotscalder is the least used in Scotland. And just to show how quickly things can change at this end of the table, recent champion Berney Arms is no longer even in the Top 50.
In summary, the twelve months covered by these figures were still skewed by pandemic fallout so next year's figures should be a better reflection of passenger demand. But next year's figures will also be the first since the arrival of Crossrail and that's likely to bring a few significant changes to the top of the charts... because on the railways there's no such thing as a normal year.
» Rail passenger data here (total annual entry and exit frequencies)
» Previous updates: 20/21, 19/20, 18/19, 17/18 16/17, 15/16 14/15, 13/14, 12/13, 11/12, 10/11, 09/10, 08/09, 07/08, 06/07, 05/06
» Anorak Corner [tube edition]
» Anorak Corner [bus edition]
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, November 24, 2022Back in June TfL launched a major consultation into plans to withdraw sixteen bus routes and amend forty-three others. This was in response to government demands to reduce spending in return for continued central funding. The consultation received over 21000 responses, almost all of them negative.
Yesterday the results of the consultation were published with the level of changes considerably whittled down. Only three routes will be withdrawn and only eleven routes will be amended, many in a relatively inconsequential way. It's still a significant set of changes but the vast majority of the nasty things respondents pleaded shouldn't happen won't be happening.
Will be withdrawn: 521
Will be sneakily merged and renumbered: 16/332, 11/507
Won't be withdrawn: 4, 12, 14, 24, 31, 45, 72, 74, 78, 242, 349, C3, D7, N31, N72, N74, N242
Will be changed: 3, 6, 11, 23, 26, 59, 77, 133, 211, C10, N26
Won't be changed: 15, 19, 27, 43, 47, 49, 53, 56, 88, 98, 100, 113, 135, 148, 171, 189, 205, 214, 236, 254, 259, 277, 279, 283, 328, 343, 388, 414, 430, 476, D3, N15, N19, N27, N98, N133, N205
The official line is that the Mayor listened to the people and found £25m in additional funding, but the level of misleading spin around the announcement is breathtaking. The title of the press release is "New funding from the Mayor saves vast majority of London's buses", whereas in fact it saved 3% of the capital's 620 routes. The Mayor claimed that the routes were "under threat due to the conditions of the Govt's funding deal for TfL", whereas the decision to make these changes was his alone, he could have cut anything else instead. Indeed the Mayor is going all out to claim he's the saviour in this situation, whereas the proposals now look very much like sabre-rattling. With the deal done and Grant Shapps out of the way, the imaginary nuclear scenario is no longer required.
So rather than faffing around with all the might-have-beens, here are three genuine headline changes which are due to happen over the next twelve months.
114-year-old bus service to be withdrawn
Route 16 has been running between Cricklewood and Victoria, and often a bit further, since November 1908. Now route 16 is to be withdrawn and, here's the sneaky bit, route 332 will be renumbered 16 instead. The 332 is only 15 years old, having been introduced to replace another route spun out from route 16, and provided extra capacity along the Edgware Road. That extra capacity is no longer required so route 16 is being sacrificed, and TfL are hoping most people won't notice if they simultaneously reuse the number on a similar overlapping route. They have past form on this. In 2017 TfL were desperate to kill route 13 but everyone complained, so they renumbered route 82 as route 13 and the withdrawal sailed through with far less fuss.
The new 16 will run from Paddington to Neasden IKEA, exactly like the 332 currently does. That breaks a connection between Edgware Road and Victoria which will be closed by diverting the 6 to Victoria instead of Aldwych. That'll break a connection between Marble Arch and Aldwych which will be closed by diverting the 23 to Aldwych instead of Hammersmith. And that'll break a connection between Marble Arch and Kensington which TfL aren't proposing to fill (which is the final nail in the coffin for what used to be route 10). One trigger, several fallen dominoes.
TfL's best bus for tourists to be withdrawn
Route 11 has been running between Liverpool Street and Fulham Broadway for over a century. It passes world famous sites like St Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and the King's Road, so could have been marketed by TfL as a cheaper alternative to expensive sightseeing buses. But it's also slow and unreliable and no longer provides useful capacity so route 11 is to be withdrawn. Again a conjuring trick is being used to keep the number because route 507 is being renumbered 11, and additionally extended from Victoria to Fulham Broadway. It's not anticipated that the 507's high capacity vehicles will be retained.
Again there are several repercussions. The 26 will be diverted from Waterloo to Victoria maintaining all the 11's tourist-friendly links. The 11 won't follow the 507's existing route via Horseferry Road so that'll be taken over by the 3 which'll be diverted from Whitehall to Victoria. The C10 needs to be slightly diverted to take care of the 507's existing connections between Waterloo to Lambeth Bridge. And the 211 will be diverted from Victoria to Battersea Power Station because it's no longer needed at Victoria now the 11 (aka the extended 507) is going there instead. Is there a map to show this? Of course there isn't a map to show this, TfL only do maps for consultations, not for the final network which emerges as a result of decisions made.
The last Red Arrow buses to be withdrawn
In the late 1960s London Transport introduced several single-decker routes branded Red Arrows which sped round central London to deliver rail commuters to their desks, often following routes the tube didn't link direct. The last two standing are the 507 (which as we've seen is about to be extinguished) and the 521 (a later amalgam of the 501 and 513). The 521 links Waterloo and London Bridge to Holborn and the City, and as recently as 2018 was London's most frequent bus. But post-pandemic the passenger numbers just aren't there, such is the seismic shift in working practices, so route 521 is to be withdrawn. That is a remarkably rapid collapse.
What will commuters from south of the river do now that their speedy red chariots are to be deleted? Well, for those who still need to head north from Waterloo the 59 is being diverted from Euston to Smithfield, because plenty of other buses go to Euston anyway. And for those who still need to head north from London Bridge the 133 is being diverted from Liverpool Street to Holborn, because plenty of other buses go to Liverpool Street. Expect a squish at busy times because the 59 and 133 aren't as frequent as the bus they're replacing. And because they're not single deckers, don't expect to ride a bus through the Strand Underpass ever again. The date of the Red Arrows' funeral will be announced at a later date.
As I've said before, this is the kind of detail you miss out on if your favoured news portal simply cuts and pastes a TfL press release. Anyone can pretend they won a battle if all they did was invent that battle in the first place. If you celebrated the survival of your local bus route yesterday then you fell for the politics, and even the 'survival' of iconic routes 11 and 16 is nothing more than sleight of hand.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, November 23, 2022On Monday I tried to uncover London's longest unbroken road. That's the longest road with a junction at one end, a junction at the other end and no junctions inbetween.
I concluded that London's longest unbroken road for vehicles was Hillcrest Road in Orpington (800m) and London's longest unbroken road for pedestrians was Elgin Road in Seven Kings (710m).
But I also recognised that I might have been wasting my time visiting them because you might point out a longer road in the comments, and indeed you did.
Take a bow, Wickham Chase.
It's in West Wickham in the borough of Bromley about 10 miles southeast of central London. Local development kickstarted in 1925 when the railway line to Hayes was electrified, and pretty much the entire suburb was in place by the time WW2 broke out. The longest residential roads spread across fields to the east of the station connecting to Pickhurst Lane, two of which manage to have no other junctions along their length. Longest is Wickham Chase, marked here in red, which at 1100m I believe to be the longest unbroken road in London. And running parallel is Langley Way, which at 940m I believe to be the second longest unbroken road in London. Both take at least ten minutes to walk from one end to the other.
Wickham Chase is a spacious suburban avenue lined by comfortably large, but not massive, houses. Some are detached and some look like they're chunky semi-detacheds but are actually joined together into longer chains. The architects plainly had a thing for halftimbered gables but generally did a good job of sprinkling the Chase with variety because at these prices nobody wants to look exactly like everyone else. These houses are all blessed with big front gardens, generally enough for three or four cars but two is more normal because most owners have kept some greenery out front. Long unbroken roads tend to be good places for parking cars, we have discovered.
It's the kind of street where builders stay for weeks, where scaffolders fix poles to help create loft extensions, and where vans bring carpet cleaners, dog groomers and lawn care specialists to do their work. I even turned up as the windowcleaner squeezed his sponge dry outside number 270, the last house in the street, because that's how long Wickham Chase is. Just when you think you've been walking long enough and the end must be near it veers left and lo, dozens and dozens more white-fronted houses line the gentle ascent ahead. This climb is also where Wickham Chase crosses the Greenwich Meridian, because it's obligatory to mention this on my blog whenever it happens.
You can't drive out of Wickham Chase except at each end, but there are footpaths in the middle cutting through to two parallel avenues and the local bus stop. Cycling is forbidden along these alleyways, although the maximum penalty is only £5 according to the ancient concrete sign so I dare say everyone risks it. What's intriguing looking back at maps from fifty years ago is that these show a road connection too, about 100m further along, up what now looks like an overgrown driveway alongside number 144. This section of the road has a lot of rear driveways, each overzealously added to Google Maps and OpenStreetMap as if somehow important, but one was once deemed worthy of inclusion on an Ordnance Survey map which must mean Wickham Chase wasn't always a junctionless road.
So I'd like to propose that Wickham Chase is London's longest unbroken residential road, at least as far as vehicles are concerned. But Elgin Road still retains the crown for the longest street not even pedestrians can escape from except at each end.
Longest unbroken roads (for vehicles)Various other roads may be debatably longer, depending on your willingness to accept sliproads, carparks, non-residential streets and country lanes, for details of which see Monday's comments.
1100m Wickham Chase (West Wickham)
940m Langley Way (West Wickham)
800m Hillcrest Road (Orpington)
770m Downlands Road (Purley)
760m Harrow Drive (Hornchurch)
Longest unbroken road (for pedestrians)
710m Elgin Road (Seven Kings)
After which the obvious question should be What's London's shortest street? I'm not going to stipulate 'shortest unbroken street' because the shortest obviously won't have any junctions. But I would like to stipulate that this road needs to have at least one front door, i.e. it's someone's address, otherwise any old mini-connector might count.
The identity of London's shortest street isn't something you can determine by scouring maps. It'd be much too short to show up unless you really zoomed in, and even then you wouldn't be able to tell if it was a proper street or not without taking a proper look. I am not willing to follow Streetview round the entirety of London just in case, so I suspect this is going to be a much more contentious title. So what I've done is take the easy way out by Googling "London's shortest street" to see what other people think it is.
Rob from the RealCycling blog reckoned it was Clennam Street (20m).
This ridiculously brief thoroughfare is in Bankside between Mint Street Park and Borough tube station. It's also a proper street because it has buildings in it, including apartments and an actual pub. That pub is The Lord Clyde at number 27, a Southwark treasure rebuilt in 1913 and CAMRA-favoured. The ridiculously high house number is because this used to be Peter Street but that was split in 1927 into Clennam Street and Doyce Street, named after two characters in Little Dorrit. Alas Clennam Street was pedestrianised in 2010, mainly to give The Lord Clyde somewhere to stick its outdoor tables, and a fully pedestrianised street arguably doesn't count.
David from Cabbieblog reckoned it was Kirk Street (13m).
This stupendously brief street lies on the edge of Bloomsbury behind Holborn Library. It's a broad cul-de-sac off Northington Street that's almost square in shape, a stub so short that it ends at a brick wall after a dozen paces. It was obviously once much longer, in fact 30-buildings-worth, and stretched north as far as Doughty Mews. But relatively recently the vast majority of the street was replaced by a Catholic primary school (because Camden has to squeeze them somewhere), so now all that's left is a pub called The Dickens. And even that's long closed and has been transformed into flats, but one of those has a front door in the right place to be 1 Kirk Street so hurrah, this brief street counts. Or maybe it did when you could still park outside, but number 1's 'front garden' has grown over the last few months to include more obstructive planters so maybe it doesn't count after all.
Rob from RealCycling thinks cul-de-sacs don't count, you need a junction at each end, and reckons the next shortest street is Candover Street (42m) not far from the BT Tower. I reckon there must be a shorter street than that somewhere in Greater London but I can't be bothered to dig further, this whole 'shortest street' question is a complete can of worms and therefore not worth sweating over. What I can say is that you can get 55 Clennam Streets into one Wickham Chase, and that's the long and the short of it.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, November 22, 2022One of the joys of living in London is that you can walk out of your house and shortly afterwards be standing in front of this.
This is Constable's actual Hay Wain and it's in London, in the National Gallery.
It's one of the country's best-loved works of art, harking back to a simpler time with top class brushwork. It was painted 201 years ago and depicts a pastoral scene in the heart of East Anglia - that's Suffolk on the left bank and Essex on the right. It's only proper it's in London, we are the capital city after all, plus John Constable lived here for many years, indeed I walked past his Hampstead home at the weekend. Given the reception the painting received in its day it might well have ended up in Paris, but instead if I fancy a shufti at this masterpiece all I have to do is head down to Trafalgar Square and I can see it any time I like.
This is Turner's actual Fighting Temeraire and it's in London, in the National Gallery.
It is the country's best-loved work of art, assuming you believe that national poll they did in 2005 which'll be why the Bank of England stuck in on the back of the £20 note. And sure you can always see it on there, assuming you still stuff cash in your pocket, but there's nothing quite like seeing it blazing and bobbing in a frame right in front of you. The Fighting Temeraire could easily have found its way to the artist's bespoke gallery, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, but ironically you have a better chance of seeing one of his works if you stay in London rather than trooping all the way down to the Kent coast.
This is Seurat's actual Bathers at Asnières and it's in London, in the National Gallery.
It's a renowned classic, a true post-Impressionist icon and an unparalleled example of pointillist chromoluminarism. I love how bright and modern it still looks, plus redheads don't always get the recognition they deserve in world class art. It depicts a hot day by the River Seine not far from the Pont de Clichy so you might expect it to hang in the Louvre, but instead we've got it in our national gallery and Seurat's other masterpiece hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Admittedly placing so many masterworks in so few places makes it much easier for climate protestors to hurl liquids at them, but the guards in Room 43 are well used to those tricks by now so best not even think of trying.
This is Frans Hals' actual The Laughing Cavalier and it's in London, at the Wallace Collection. Not every old master is at the National Gallery.
It's a much-loved portrait, one of the premier league, and nothing else in Hals' oeuvre comes close. He didn't name it, the title's a Victorian affection, and wildly inappropriate because the gentleman isn't a cavalier and isn't laughing. But what a smile, and what a moustache, and how did Frans get his eyes to follow you round the room? What really strikes you once you've seen it up close is the incredibly lifelike face, which is all the more impressive because it's nearly 400 years old. I suspect a minority of Londoners have seen it because it's in a gallery most haven't heard of, plus you have to walk to the rear upstairs gallery by the door to spot it. But if you're a Londoner who never has, at least you have a chance.
This is Marcel Duchamp's actual Fountain and it's in London, at Tate Modern.
This revolutionary piece marked a turning point in modern art as a Frenchman worked out you could make an earthenware copy of a porcelain urinal and call it art just by adding a signature. So much abstract weirdness stemmed from this century-old revelation. But for a change London doesn't have the genuine work of art, that's long been lost and this is simply one of 16 replicas authorised by Duchamp in 1964. I did walk round Tate Modern in search of something better known and more world-renowned than Fountain but the displayed selection is fairly lacklustre these days and a fake urinal was the best I could do. In this case the advantage of being a Londoner is that you don't have to waste an airfare to get here.
This is Van Gogh's actual Sunflowers and it's in London, in the National Gallery.
Now we're talking. This is a world class painting, probably Top Five in terms of global renown and familiarity, as you can tell if you head down to the National Gallery and observe the visitors massing in front of it. There's even one visitor in my photo wearing a jacket with Van Gogh's Sunflowers embroidered on the back, which is a level of devotion you'd never expect to see for an average canvas. Only perhaps the Mona Lisa gets mobbed more than this, again by people more intent on capture than observation. You could argue it's pointless to travel miles to photograph a painted rectangle when you could just look at a professionally captured image, but at least those of us who live in London have the best chance of seeing it unobstructed.
This is Van Gogh's actual A Wheatfield With Cypresses and it's in London, two canvases to the left of Sunflowers.
It's not quite in Sunflowers' league but it is embedded in my psyche because it's the painting that used to hang above my bed while I was growing up. I didn't have the real painting only a cheap print, which I think we got as a freebie from a garage, but my Dad stuck it in a frame and hung it on my bedroom wall and this makes it the work of art I've studied more than any other. I loved the bold bright colours, I admired how a farmscape could be conjured up with a few vibrant stripes and I enjoyed having my own private window into a distant land. And yesterday, because I now live in London, I went down and admired the real thing in reverent silence for a few glorious minutes. Experiencing world class art is incredibly easy here, we Londoners don't know how lucky we are.
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