diamond geezer

 Monday, May 16, 2022

Five years ago TfL launched a major consultation aimed at tweaking the bus network in readiness for Crossrail services. When we launch fast new trains, they reasoned, people will need better ways to get to our stations. A year later they published their conclusions confirming that over 30 different routes would be affected, and then of course the purple service never launched.



I would link to that consultation but unfortunately TfL deleted it last year along with every other consultation they'd published pre-2021. We're updating to a new platform, they said, it'll be much better but we'll have to delete our archive. Any pdf they uploaded in the last two years lingers on the site here, shorn of all supporting documentation, but absolutely everything before that has been lost. For details of any consultation launched before May 2019 their official advice is to send in a Freedom of Information request and bugger the expense, presumably because that was still cheaper than coming up with a means of preservation.

Most of the West London changes (routes 140, X140, 218, 266, 278, 306, 391, 440, 427) occurred in December 2019. Most of the northeast London changes (routes 104, 300, 304, 330, 474) are taking place next weekend, just before Crossrail finally unfurls. And a bumper selection of changes in southeast London (routes 129, 180, 469, 472, B11) took place on Saturday, so I've been out for a ride to see what's happened and how successful the implementation might have been.

I think it's fair to say that TfL haven't been particularly helpful in announcing the changes to the travelling public. Turn up at any bus stop along the affected routes and all you'll see is this.



We've made some changes to these five routes, it says, and hints that some of those changes might be quite significant. But it doesn't tell you what those changes are, nor tell you how they might affect services at this particular stop because this is a generic notice designed to be posted up everywhere.
• Some existing routes will be permanently re-routed, extended or stop short of their current destinations.
• The frequency of some routes will be increased or decreased.
Instead the notice suggests you visit a web address, so hopefully you brought your smartphone with you. Oddly it invites you to head to tfl.gov.uk/buses which isn't where the changes are listed. They are in fact at tfl.gov.uk/modes/buses/bus-changes, which I presume somebody somewhere thought would be too hard for mere mortals to type. Instead they're relying on those who land at tfl.gov.uk/buses spotting the unspecific link to 'Bus changes' further down the page, assuming they even get that far.

The Bus changes webpage does have all the detail but only in text format. For route 180 for example, TfL expects you to unravel this.
Route 180 will be changed to run between North Greenwich Bus Station and Erith Quarry. Buses will be rerouted at Charlton Station to run to North Greenwich via Anchor & Hope Lane, Bugsby's Way, Millennium Leisure Park, Southern Way and West Parkside. Route 180 will also be extended from Mulberry Way in the Belvedere Industrial Area via Church Manorway, Lower Road and West Street to Erith Town Centre and then via Bexley Road and Fraser Road to terminate at the entrance to the Erith Quarry housing development. Route 180 will no longer run between Charlton Station and Lewisham Town Centre. For Greenwich Town Centre change at Stone Lake Retail Park to route 177. For Lewisham Town Centre change at Millennium Leisure Park to route 129. Route 180 will also no longer serve Fishers Way or Crabtree Manorway in Belvedere. Route 180 will run every 10 minutes during the daytime on Monday to Saturdays and every 15 minutes during the evenings and all day on Sundays.
There are no maps because maps are difficult, or expensive, or at least beyond the capabilities of TfL's current operation. Maps were a fundamental part of the 2017 consultation but they deleted that, remember, and nobody thought to save copies for later when they might be useful. Roger saved them so you can see the full set in his latest blogpost, and Darryl kept the incredibly useful overview map of how all this fits together, but the average punter will never see them.



There are new spider maps. TfL continue to churn these out and a fresh set for southeast London promptly appeared on the TfL website over the weekend. They're also up at bus stops, which is excellent, for example they're all over North Greenwich bus station (but not yet outside Abbey Wood). It wouldn't be rocket science for the Bus Changes webpage to link to the spider maps webpage, or even specifically to the maps for North Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Abbey Wood and Erith. You can work out a lot of what's going on from those.

There are also individual route maps on the TfL website, indeed these have existed since 2014 but TfL often fail to mention they exist. For example you can find a very helpful zoomable map of the 180 bus route at tfl.gov.uk/bus/route/180 - simple as that. Replace 180 with the number of your choice to see any other service (e.g. 129, 469, 472, B11). It would be easy to link through to these maps on the Bus Changes webpage... the catch being that they only show the correct route after the change has been made, which I assume is why nobody ever bothers.

Anyway, because these bus changes are specifically about linking to Crossrail, I've made this summary map of all the routes now serving Abbey Wood station. It's highly simplified and makes no distinction between existing routes and this weekend's changes, but it's a lot better than no map at all.



Here's a look at the five affected routes in a bit more detail.

180 North Greenwich Erith Quarry
This is the most significant change with the route tweaked at both ends. Out east that means extending the route from Belvedere Industrial Area to Erith town centre - a fresh connection that already looks popular with workers at the distribution centres on Church Manorway. The 180 then doubles back to a new terminus on Fraser Road, supposedly to serve a half-finished housing estate stacked inside an old quarry, although the final stop is outside on the existing 99 bus route so I'm quite not sure why they bothered.



Meanwhile out west a grand switcheroo means the 180, which used to head to Lewisham, now heads to North Greenwich instead. Timetables along the route were updated well in advance, some might say too well, and nearly all the new tiles were in place too (although you missed one on Lower Road, folks). But if you scan along the bus station at North Greenwich you won't see the 180 mentioned on the signs inside, only outside on the bus stop at the very far end, so that's not ideal. The supervisor's solution of sticking squinty A4 printouts to boards doesn't really get the message across either.



129 North Greenwich Lewisham
The 129 has been a stumpy thing ever since it was introduced in 2006, indeed it used to be one of the ten shortest bus routes in the capital. Now finally it has purpose, extended from Greenwich town centre to Lewisham town centre along the route formerly plied by the 180. But it doesn't cover the entire lost stretch so that makes interchange awkward, plus part of Woolwich Road has just suffered a considerable drop in frequency. Annoyingly the 129's timetables haven't been replaced yet so that'll have confused potential passengers. At least the tiles were mostly all in place (although the tile outside the National Maritime Museum still says 'Alighting point only' even though there's now another two miles to go).



469 Woolwich Common Erith
This single decker route has been given a nudge to help feed more passengers into Crossrail. Previously the 469 took the lower road direct from Erith into Abbey Wood but now it goes up the hill, along and back down because connectivity is more important than journey time. On my trip I watched the increasingly mystified faces of two dozen passengers who'd boarded in Lower Belvedere as we suddenly veered off up Picardy Road and climbed to Upper Belvedere instead. They did all get to where they were hoping to go, if a few minutes later than expected, but these days it seems you learn by experience rather than being informed beforehand.

472 North Greenwich Abbey Wood
Two tweaks. Firstly the 472 now zips direct between Plumstead and Thamesmead along Western Way, becoming the express service SE28 has long deserved. Its former wiggle along Nathan Way is still served by the 301, another bonus Crossrail route introduced prematurely in 2019. Secondly the 472 no longer follows a complete loop round Thamesmead before terminating, it now bears off three-quarters of the way round and terminates at Abbey Wood instead. When I rode back the other way there were a lot of confused souls outside Abbey Wood station demanding of the driver whether or not she was going to Morrisons. She was, but they'd have been better off waiting for the 244 or 301 which go direct, and this is why maps and proper information are important.

B11 Bexleyheath South Thamesmead
This backroad bus has been pruned at its northern end, some would say shafted. It used to go all the way to the Thamesmead Centre but now stops early on Yarnton Way, nowhere especially useful, beside a bank of demolished flats. It's particularly bad news for residents along Alsike Road who now need to take two buses to get to the shops, or walk further and take one. The B11's chop, combined with a frequency cut from every 15 minutes to every 20, has allowed TfL to save money by using two fewer vehicles on the route. They've also cut the frequency of the 129 and the 472, the latter significantly from every six minutes to every eight.



If you're planning to connect to Crossrail then these bus changes are undoubtedly an improvement. But if you were intending to make your usual journey elsewhere they may not be, and good luck trying to work out why.

 Sunday, May 15, 2022

Postcards from the West Midlands

Birmingham


This is what Birmingham's concrete ziggurat library turned into. Admittedly it was an acquired taste, not to mention a general obstruction to onward passage, but what a woefully underwhelming vista. The curvy building on the right is One Chamberlain Square, already home to hundreds of PWC staff and a couple of smart refreshment opportunities, while Two Chamberlain Square on the left is not yet fully occupied. Just behind is One Centenary Way, a much taller office block which I thought was still at the 'skeleton of girders' stage but apparently that's its intended look. At least the memorial fountain's scrubbed up nicely. In city brandspeak this redevelopment area has been called Paradise, so you'll see signs welcoming you to Paradise and enforcement officers with Paradise Security emblazoned on their jackets, but it really does look anything but. I should add that if you look in almost any other direction from this point the view is classical civic Victorian splendour so all is not lost, plus it is now much easier to pass through to the new library in Centenary Square. But the overall feel is of a sparse piazza for sweeping through, not for lingering, and I doubt Phase 2 will change my mind.

Wednesbury
What I'd intended on my way to Wolverhampton was drop into Wednesbury Museum on the tram. In 2016 I visited all the other museums along the line but had to skip Wednesbury because it's closed on Fridays. This time I made sure I planned my trip for a Wednesday... but hadn't counted on the entire tram operation being out of action. Engineers discovered bodywork cracks on the trams in March and suspended services in early April while complete panel replacement takes place. It's all at the manufacturer's expense but a right pain for those who live and work along the line because the nearest railway line isn't entirely convenient. The extra bus journeys needed would have slowed down my journey beyond the point of practicality so Wednesbury got the chop, but at least I can add its Ruskin pottery to my next Midlands itinerary. On the bright side it meant I had an extra half hour to spend in Wolverhampton and stumbled upon this...

Wolverhampton


How do you get the wider population inside an art gallery? In Wolverhampton's case they may have found the answer which is an exhibition devoted to famous local musicians. It's called Black Country Beats, it opened last Saturday and it has indeed attracted men of a certain age who wouldn't normally think twice. It has a room devoted to indie with t-shirts and flyers for the Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and The Mighty Lemon Drops. It celebrates diversity with Goldie, a larger than life Beverley Knight and Mr Robert Plant. It has a room pumping reggae and another celebrating bhangra, and even manages to slip in Babylon Zoo when you least expect it. But best of all it has an entire gallery entirely devoted to Slade, from their early days as skinheads propping up the bill to a wall chock full of actual gold discs. Up on stage are Jim's blue suit, Don's drum kit, and Dave's Super Yob Guitar, and you can't fail to be cheered by the grinning faces of the band wearing motley unwise super-glam costumes. To top it off a free juke box in one corner allows you to select from a full Slade back catalogue so you can cum on feel the noize while you browse. Other municipal galleries take note - popular music is art too.

Oldbury


This is Sandwell Council House, the administrative HQ of the least well-known West Midlands council. All the others are named after big towns or cities but Sandwell is a modern construct, or rather it's the obscure name of a peripheral medieval priory bisected by the M5. It would have made a lot more sense to call the borough West Bromwich but when that combined with Warley in 1974 they picked the name Sandwell instead. The council gave residents the chance to change the name in 2002 but they decided against, and so the rest of the country continues not to know where they live. They live approximately here...

W'HAMPTON WALSALL   BIRM  
ING
HAM
 
DUDLEY SANDWELLSOLIHULLCOVENTRY

Sandwell Council House would be the largest building in Oldbury town centre were it not for the big Sainsbury's nextdoor. If it looks very late 1980s that's because it is. Across the road is a Wetherspoons that used to be Oldbury Library before which it was Oldbury Police Station before which it was Oldbury Magistrates Court before which it was The Court of Requests, so that's what the pub's called. The first ever branch of Lloyds Bank was just around the corner. And you might have heard of Oldbury if only its station, a short walk away, was still named after the town. Instead it was renamed Sandwell and Dudley in 1983, despite Sandwell not really existing and Dudley being three miles away, indeed it's a misleading moniker on every level. I feel better informed having accidentally visited.

Coventry


I thought I'd missed Coventry's turn as UK City of Culture but hurrah, not quite. Thanks to the pandemic its 'year' was pushed back to start in May 2021 and only finally closes this weekend. Even better when I turned up in Broadgate precinct in the early evening they were busy practising the penultimate event, so I can claim to have actually seen some of it. A trio of dancers cavorted in mid-air while hanging from a metal disc, a bunch of acrobats bounced underneath, someone bashed a lot of percussion and a technician struggled to sync the booming backing music on his laptop. I wouldn't have described the tissue paper drop as "a spectacular explosion of colour", but maybe it looked better last night with all the ribbons attached. If you're not doing anything at half past nine tonight you can watch the final event online, that's Our Wilder Family, allegedly the UK's longest ever drone display. Coventry's 2025 successor is due to be announced later this month.

Coventry


Have you seen what they've just done to Coventry station? It used to be slabbed concrete and now it's some kind of perforated monster in red and black. That'll be because the building's mostly multi-storey car park, easily accessed from the famous ring road, but with a bit of transport infrastructure tucked underneath. The main concourse is a bland brick cavern designed to funnel you towards the new gateline and thence to a fully accessible footbridge (which the old one defiantly wasn't). It's more functional than memorable, I'd say. But the best thing is that they kept the original entrance when they opened the new one so no architectural crime has been wrought. And whereas the new red station might tempt you on the way in, the old grey one is much more likely to lure you on the way out because it's in prime position in the middle of the platform, whereas the new one's tucked right up at the far end. I shall stick with the old, thanks.

 Saturday, May 14, 2022

NATIONAL TRUST: Wightwick Manor and Gardens
Location: Wolverhampton, WV6 8EE [map]
Pronounced: 'Wittick'
Open: 11-5pm daily
Admission: £13.00
Website: nationaltrust.org.uk/wightwick-manor-and-gardens
Socials: [Facebook] [Twitter] [Instagram]
Five word summary: from the William Morris catalogue
Time to allow: a couple of hours

Here's a quirky one. It's tucked away on the western outskirts of Wolverhampton. It looks like a Tudor manor house but was actually built in 1887. It's only ever been home to two generations of the same family. And it's packed with Arts and Crafts and Pre-Raphaelite treasures because those two generations had slightly different tastes.



The Mander family were Victorian industrialists whose Midlands business grew to become the Empire's largest supplier of paints and varnishes. With the profits they built themselves an imitation halftimbered manor house in what was then a small Staffordshire village, complete with twisted brick chimneys and oak-framed white-washed walls. After Oscar Wilde delivered a lecture locally they were inspired to fill their house with William Morris furnishings, following the mantra 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful'. Not only did they cover most of their walls with William's finest wallpaper but nobody's papered over it, which means visitors get the rare chance to admire an original Arts & Crafts interior in situ.

Chatting with the volunteers 1: Blimey, I said, you've even disguised that electronic sensor by covering it with William Morris wallpaper. Yes, he said, we happened to have some left over, and then launched into a discussion about the house's electrical system. This cable over here is part of the original wiring, he added, which we've kept because Wightwick Manor was only the third house in England to be lit by electricity. I knew number one was Cragside but couldn't guess the second, which turned out to be Buckingham Palace.



When the Manders' eldest son and his wife took over they set about stocking up on Pre-Raphaelite art. Their tenacity means you can now enjoy a Ford Madox Brown in the hallway, a Rossetti portrait in the drawing room and a huge Burne-Jones oil painting across one wall in the Great Parlour. This is a most impressive double-height space with timbered roof, minstrels gallery and fireplace tiles by William de Morgan, which on entry looks to be screechingly 16th century. You can disprove this by checking the glittering Charles Kempe frieze around the upper walls which depicts a cavalcade of animals, one of which is an entirely anachronistic kangaroo.

Chatting with the volunteers 2: Do you know why it's called a sub-rosa fireplace, he asked, and all I could think of was a Star Trek episode which wasn't particularly helpful. It's because it's indented into the main wall, he explained, so two people could sit beside it and gossip without their words leaking acoustically into the rest of the room. I lapped all this up. Later as my circuit took me upstairs and out onto the minstrels gallery I heard exactly the same spiel again delivered with equal gusto, so all praise to the National Trust volunteers who keep this up day in day out.



The free flow tour takes you along the full length of the ground floor before heading up to the bedrooms. Best not rush. The Indian Bird room, I deduced, was named after its particularly fine avian wallpaper. In most rooms they keep the curtains half closed so that a) direct sunlight doesn't fade the colours b) you can still marvel at the stained glass. Several rooms have fey quotes emblazoned on the wall, which felt a very Morris-ian aesthetic. Normally they let you down the nursery corridor but for unspoken reasons that was roped off.

Chatting with the volunteers 3: The lady in the billiard room was less keen on talking to me than she was on chinwagging with the previous volunteer. She attacked some new rules the Trust have brought in regarding minimum staffing and how that means there aren't always enough guides present, and explained how the other day they had to close the whole of the upstairs because the lunchtime relief didn't arrive and what a shame that was and how the number of local volunteers seemed to be in decline anyway, and I earwigged with great interest and wondered whether perhaps she should have had her conversation in the sub-rosa fireplace.



The Manders offered the house to the National Trust in 1937 on the understanding they'd ultimately preserve the contents but the family could continue to live here in the meantime. The Trust took some persuading because no living tenant had ever suggested such a thing, but thankfully concurred. Sir Geoffrey survived another 25 years, opening up the house on Thursday afternoons to interested parties, and Lady Mander lingered for 25 more. She continued to collect Pre-Raphaelite art throughout, always with an eye to the collection she'd be posthumously bequeathing to the nation, and particularly enjoyed inviting appreciative guests to stay.

Chatting with the volunteers 4: I adore this carpet, she said, it's so bright and well over 100 years old which is amazing because it's all coloured with vegetable dyes. It survived so well because this was only ever the guest room, indeed this is where Sir John Betjeman slept and he did his writing in the wood panelled study over there. Of course Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber would love to get his hands on this carpet, he adores anything Pre-Raphaelite, he's already snapped up every single William Morris carpet in Australia, but in this case when he asked the Trust obviously they said no.



Once you've exited via the scullery you can visit all the usual - the tearoom, the gift hoard and the second hand bookshop - or you can step up into the Malthouse Gallery. This small-ish space exists to display the works of the De Morgan Collection, a lot of which is coloured tiles, but at present is displaying a dazzling set of lustreware and several paintings by Evelyn de Morgan, wife of the usual suspect.

Chatting with the volunteers 5: Do you like lustreware, she asked, and plainly I said yes. She also explained how the collection shuttles around between Cannon Hall in Barnsley, the Watts Gallery in Surrey and here at Wightwick. She was at pains to point out that the gallery was separate to the National Trust, indeed I got the feeling that volunteers either worked here or in the main house and a sense of veiled tension exists between the two groups, and I might be wrong but it'd make a great sitcom.



Then there are the gardens which are extensive, pristine and splendid. On the front lawn an avenue of yew thimbles runs up to the main terrace, currently overlooked by wisteria in its purple prime. Round the back are tulip beds and the obligatory pair of topiary peacocks. Further down by the lake is an exemplary row of glacial erratics, each labelled in case you've ever wanted to know what microgranite or epidotised coarse welded tuff look like. And yes it's also rhododendron season at present so that's a bonus, as was the rain finally stopping and the sun coming out, and then I had to dash for the bus because it's only hourly. I'm pleased I made the effort.

 Friday, May 13, 2022

Climbing County Tops: WEST MIDLANDS
Turner's Hill
(271m)

In my ongoing quest to visit the highest points in every English county I've hiked to the very top of the West Midlands.
That's the ceremonial county, not the English region, because the highest point in that West Midlands is Black Mountain in Herefordshire which is 400m higher.

The geology: A lot of the West Midlands is fairly flat but a significant ridge runs through the Black Country along an arc from almost-Wolverhampton to almost-Birmingham. A raindrop falling on the southwestern slope ends up in the Severn and the Atlantic while to the northeast it'd be the Trent and the North Sea. The highest cluster is the Rowley Hills, an outcrop of igneous rock that welled up 300 million years ago and hasn't eroded as fast as the surrounding clay. Its dolerite (known locally as Rowley Rag) proved useful for roadbuilding, kerbstones and paving slabs so has been extensively quarried. A full geological history can be found in this excellent leaflet produced by the Black Country Geological Society.



My target was Turner's Hill, which at 271m is marginally the highest of the Rowley Hills' four summits. It's easily seen from miles around thanks to the pair of TV & radio masts at its summit - twin prongs rising from a woody hump. Much of the hill's northern flank is housing estate so the easiest way to reach the top is via the number 12 bus from Dudley, hopping off by the defunct Wheatsheaf pub and walking up the lane. But that was far too straightforward and unblogworthy so instead I started a mile away at half the elevation beside the canal in Bumble Hole.



Bumble Hole Nature Reserve is a delightful spot, a tumbledown grassy flank with multiple pools and wildflower meadows, and even an occasionally-open visitor centre (which wasn't). It's centred on a canal basin with rather a lot of iron footbridges, a hint that once upon a time this was a waterway nexus seething with industrial activity. All around were coal shafts and collieries, brickworks and tileworks, plus a large clay pit called Bumble Hole which now makes an attractive pond. A rare timber gallows crane is still on show if industrial heritage is your thing. Alternatively come back in September for the Black Country Boating Festival, assuming it hasn't folded through lack of financial support.



A short way along the towpath is a much sturdier bridge which once carried a railway, long gone, as has the nearby halt at Windmill End. The Bumble Hole Line linked Dudley to Old Hill and was massively underused so was an obvious target for Dr Beeching. These days that's a damned shame because the rail service across the wider West Midlands is somewhat sparse and most orbital journeys have to be tackled via a chain of slow, infrequent buses... but I digress. The real transport sensation is another 100 metres along the towpath where the canal suddenly disappears into the upcoming hill. How innocuous the entrance looks.



This is the Netherton Tunnel, an engineering marvel which opened in 1858 as the height of canal mania was ebbing away. It was needed because the parallel Dudley Tunnel, a key artery, was much too narrow so could only cope with alternating one-way non-horsedrawn traffic. This new bore was much wider and had two towpaths, one of which has since been sealed by a locked gate for safety reasons. I walked in via the other towpath, grew accustomed to the darkness and squinted towards a tiny shaft of light at the very far end.



It beckoned siren-like, but progressing further without a torch would have been a rookie error because the Netherton Tunnel is 1¾ miles long! The full trek to Tividale is definitely doable, indeed this is municipally-sanctioned urbex for pedestrians and cyclists alike. But when I thought I saw the silhouette of something moving mid-tunnel, or perhaps someone, I decided very much against proceeding further... plus you don't get to the summit of a hill by walking underneath it.



Instead I bore off up the slope past Cobb's Engine House, the shell of a pumping station which once extracted groundwater from a local colliery, and a single very tall very square chimney. I passed buttercups in the meadow (for which read former spoil heap) and toddlers throwing bread at ducks in the Secret Pool (which plainly isn't), but failed to spot the first pepperpot airshaft servicing the tunnel beneath. The view behind me was already good - low suburban sprawl spreading towards a distant row of hills - and only grew better as I climbed into the precipitous housing estate of Springfield. Residents of its stacked terraces are scenically blessed, and enjoy another nod to mountaineering at the Edmund & Tenzing Bar & Grill (formerly the Royal Oak).



To continue I could have zigzagged up sequential cul-de-sacs in search of a gate to squeeze through, but better to continue along the main road and find the alleyway behind Springfield Social Club. This opens out onto a scrubby ascent, initially broad, which climbs rapidly towards a somewhat makeshift stile. Here we enter the domain of Dudley Golf Club who first commandeered the summit of neighbouring Rough Hill in 1927 and whose backdrop therefore verges on spectacular. The fifth hole in particular drops away so suddenly towards the green that from the tee you just have to aim for the rooftops of Rowley Regis and hope.



A public footpath is tolerated along the edge of the fairway, hugging a scrappy treeline that conceals an enormous 100 acre landfill site immediately beyond. This used to be Edwin Richards Quarry but has been disused since 2008 and is now surrounded by a slew of warning notices warning of sheer drops, water hazards and contaminated soil. The final climb requires not being hit by golf balls landing on the fourth green and exits onto the lane you could have reached an hour earlier if you'd taken the advice in my third paragraph. Alas the radio masts at the very top of the hill are sealed off behind a paddock where three horses will view you suspiciously.



The closest I could get was a set of locked gates bedecked with forget-me-nots at the tip of a dead end access road. According to the elevation app on my phone I was still six metres short of the summit, but that's still higher than everywhere in London, Kent, Oxfordshire, East Sussex and the whole of East Anglia so not to be sniffed at. The panorama from the adjacent playing field included the jagged skyline of central Birmingham, but not as unobstructedly as I'd have preferred and may be better in the winter months. If you're a golf club member you can celebrate your county top conquest with a pint in the clubhouse... but I just fired up my phone and attempted to work out how on earth to get back to somewhere near a station.

Other English County Tops I've ticked off
Cumbria: Scafell Pike (978m)
Somerset: Dunkery Beacon (519m)
Worcestershire: Worcestershire Beacon (425m)
Surrey: Leith Hill (295m)
East Sussex: Ditchling Beacon (248m)
London: Westerham Heights (246m)
Bedfordshire: Dunstable Downs (243m)
Norfolk: Beacon Hill (103m)

 Thursday, May 12, 2022

I haven't had to whinge about unsolicited PR emails for a while because people stopped sending them. But then suddenly they started again. It all kicked off the day after Londonist mentioned me in a post about advertising, which may or may not be a complete coincidence.

So here then is a roundup of some of the bumf that now arrives in my inbox, with all the brand names they were desperate for me to mention cruelly blanked out.

The team at <Japanese restaurant> sent me one email.
Hi there, hope you're well.
I wanted to get in touch and introduce <Japanese restaurant>. We are a Japanese restaurant that pairs great food with signature drinks in a relaxed Izakaya style setting.
We've stumbled across Diamond Geezer and really enjoyed your content. We wanted to see if you would like to check out what we've been up to.
No thanks. If you're been enjoying my content recently you'll know that I prefer Garfunkels to Japanese cuisine, and their safe British cuisine went out of business years ago so you have no chance with me, sorry.

Nancy at <boutique public relations agency> sent me two emails.
Hi there
We are delighted to announce that <like Drag Race but with bingo>, London’s best-loved alternative Bingo Hall, is on the hunt for its ‘Next Top Bingo Caller’. After a perilous journey, sixteen fearless contestants have been hand-selected to take part in the bingo-based-battle.
I emailed straight back and asked her to unsubscribe me from this tosh, so four days later she sent me the same email again.
Hi there
We are delighted to announce that <like Drag Race but with bingo>, London’s best-loved alternative Bingo Hall, is on the hunt for its ‘Next Top Bingo Caller’. After a perilous journey, sixteen fearless contestants have been hand-selected to take part in the bingo-based-battle.
Her email was no less tedious the second time.

Victoria from <posh blog for luxury cash-spaffers> was more persistent and sent me three emails.
Hello, I hope you are well.
<Posh blog for luxury cash-spaffers> is proud to announce that nominations are now being accepted for the 7th annual <Hotels & Spas & Stuff> Awards, established to commend those within the industry who continue to strive for excellence in their day-to-day operations and provide many with the perfect getaway.
It is with great pleasure that I am reaching out to inform you that Diamond Geezer has been identified by <posh blog for luxury cash-spaffers> as a potential nominee this year. I really hope that this news is well received by everyone at Diamond Geezer, as we want to help celebrate you!
Articles on Victoria's blog include reviews of 1st class flights between Sydney and New York, where to enjoy Saturday brunch in Dubai and what staying a Monte Carlo hotel suite is like. I don't think my travelogues from Corby and Kettering really compete.

She left it a week and nudged me again.
Hello. Did you see my email?
I emailed you last week regarding Diamond Geezer’s nomination for the <Hotels & Spas & Stuff> Awards 2022 proudly hosted by <posh blog for luxury cash-spaffers>.
Of course I saw your email. That's why I ignored it.

Protocol dictates she try one more time.
Hello
I emailed you last week regarding Diamond Geezer’s nomination for the <Hotels & Spas & Stuff> Awards 2022 proudly hosted by <posh blog for luxury cash-spaffers>, and I just wanted to follow up and ensure you received the good news! We want to celebrate Diamond Geezer’s services that are helping their residents relax!
Hang on, my residents? Oh, you think I'm a hotel or something. Into the bin with you.

But Victoria had nothing on David, who tried four times.
Hi,
I've just come across your website diamondgeezer.blogspot.com and I really like your content.
I have been working as an Editor for a while on <bitcoin-blockchain-scammers.com> and I would like a do-follow link from your website. If you are interested, I can create a piece of content which is unique and relevant to your website.
I'm sure you can make your piece of content unique, David, but I doubt you can make it relevant.

David's follow-up was identical but with two extra sentences at the beginning.
Hello
I know you're busy so I just wanted to follow up on the email I sent you a few days ago. I'd love to contribute a guest post article for your website which includes a link back to our website.
I didn't ignore you because I'm busy, David, I was giving you the disrespect you deserved.
Hey
I've sent you a couple of emails about a guest posting opportunity on your site, but I haven't heard back from you. Is there any chance I could hear your feedback? I've included my previous email below for your reference:
Given you really like my content, David, I hope you're finally reading my feedback here. It's a no from me. I do not link to commercial sites on request, especially dubious cryptocurrency domains.

And then David ruined all his previous groundwork by starting again from scratch.
Hi,
I've just come across your website diamondgeezer.blogspot.com and I really like your content...
You haven't just come across it, you came across it at least three weeks ago. I'm not sure how you think any of this is helping.

Thankfully I haven't (yet) heard back from David a fifth time.

Whether you email me once, twice, thrice or even four times my response is going to be the same. No I will not promote the thing you'd like me to, my blog doesn't work like that, so maybe lay off with all the repeated comebacks.

And if anyone else with a promotional background is thinking of emailing me to beg a mention, I won't so please don't. Fun though it is to mock and laugh at, I much preferred those months when you weren't sending it.

 Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Driving around London can be expensive, what with the Congestion Charge and newly-extended ULEZ, but there's only one place where you have to pay a specific toll.

It's not a bridge (the QE2 Bridge is outside the capital), it's not a ferry (the Woolwich Ferry has always been free) and it isn't (yet) a tunnel. It's a road in Dulwich.



This is College Road, the spine road of the Dulwich Estate, south London's original Low Traffic Neighbourhood.

The Dulwich Estate was founded by Edward Alleyn, a particularly successful Elizabethan actor. He used his career earnings to buy the manor of Dulwich - a substantial plot then well outside London - and also set about establishing a school which he called the College of God's Gift. With no heirs to pass the land on to, in 1619 he set up a charitable bequest which in modified form holds sway over the estate today. I won't go into the finer historic detail because the Dulwich Estate did that on their website as part of their 400th anniversary celebrations and it's all there in impressive depth.

The Dulwich Estate still owns the freehold to 2½ square miles of southeast London strung out between Denmark Hill and Crystal Palace. It's mostly green, embracing significant parkland, woods, an 18-hole golf course and a large number of sports grounds. Pass through at this time of year and you'll likely spot lads with bulging bags of cricket kit on their backs with bat and pads protruding. Edward Alleyn's school is now much better known as Dulwich College and independently thriving. The art gallery punches well above its weight. And 5000 homes have been built on the estate over the years, some lowly and some prime piles, far smarter even than the Barratt home Margaret Thatcher retired to. So it would never do to allow too much through traffic.

The toll road dates back to 1789 and was built by John Morgan who went by the unlikely title of Lord of the Manor of Penge. He lived at the top of Sydenham Hill and wanted an access road north across college fields, so they let him, but when the lease expired responsibility passed back to the Dulwich Estate. They added a tollkeeper's cottage alongside the gate (still there, now listed) and continued to levy charges even after London's last turnpikes ceased operation. A century ago passing through cost 3d per car, 3d for a horse drawing a cart (2d without) and 2½d for driving a score of hogs. These days (for eligible vehicles) it's £1.20.



A quaint octagonal tollbooth sits on its own little island in the centre of the road. Originally the tollkeeper would have taken the money at the window and then raised the barrier himself, but the current set-up is automatic which greatly helps when two cars turn up at once. Your coins go into a yellow slot on the front of a patched-up machine, which also has at least three other slots for cards of various types and a sellotaped pad if you need to enter your PIN. Rest assured they also take contactless and more recently Apple Pay. Those paying cash should be aware that the machine doesn't take 1p, 2p and 5p coins or £20 and £50 notes.



A dazzling range of discounts apply depending on your position in the Dulwich Estate hierarchy. If you live beyond the boundary but are willing to stump up for 100 journeys in advance you get them for £1 each. If you're a freeholder or tenant on the estate you pay 85p, if you live on a road very close to the tollgate you pay 60p and if you live on Woodhall Avenue or Woodhall Drive you're allowed a £190 annual flat fee pass. The most generous offer is to homeowners on private roads who get to pass through for nothing, but only because they're already stumping up excessive road charges to help keep potholes at bay.

The toll gate looks to be fairly well used and only occasionally does a car pull up short, reverse and turn back. It's also quite easy to veer off up Hunts Slip Road and pay nothing, it's not much of a diversion, although you will probably end up in a big queue waiting to pull out onto Crystal Palace Parade. To understand why this toll road might still be needed head a short way north to the crossroads by the Mill Pond, because this is where the South Circular Road crosses the Dulwich Estate. You might not guess by simply looking because the orbital here is a leafy narrow avenue rather than a thundering concrete dual carriageway, but the South Circular has always been an entirely different beast to the North.



Here too is Dulwich College, the only place of learning in London where a toll road helps reduce the school rush to manageable proportions. On one side of College Road are dazzling gothic-towered classroom spaces and numerous modern annexes, sufficient to support the academic education of almost 2000 students. On the other side are extensive manicured pitches for rugger and other sports, lovingly tended by grounds staff thanks to income from annual fees. Polite signs advise anyone who isn't a student to keep out, indeed the entire estate seems very keen on polite signage - here's how they warn owners not to let their dogs defecate on the grass.



To the south of the toll booth are several modernist 1960s townhouses, indeed a complete Drive-, Court- and Avenue-sworth, a highly covetous cluster for those who like this kind of thing. Beyond that is the parish church and a twisty ramp down into the deep cutting where Sydenham Hill station hides away, a most convenient commuting proposition. And beyond that on the other side of the chasm, somewhat unexpectedly, a full-on council estate with standard postwar flats and an almost entirely shuttered shopping parade. You pay your rent, you make your choice.

It's an area well worthy of exploration, not just the Dulwich Estate but the real London nudged up against its perimeter. Just don't drive because you'll struggle to find somewhere to park and it'll cost you £1.20. Pedestrians and cyclists, you'll be pleased to hear, pass through London's only toll gate for free.

 Tuesday, May 10, 2022

With Crossrail's opening date just two weeks away, let's ask...

How long will interchanging to Crossrail take?

It's not a question we can fully answer given the new platforms and interconnecting passageways aren't open yet, but I've had a go at some approximate timings.

n.b. This is about interchanging from existing lines, not entering the station from the street.
n.b. Times are from the platform to 'as far as you can currently go'.
n.b. That's from the optimum spot on the platform, not the far end.
n.b. I haven't included the walk beyond the final barrier, which could be a few seconds or several minutes.

Think of this as the shortest time needed to enter the Crossrail zone, not the time to reach a train.

n.b. Times are approximate (at my walking pace).
n.b. I stood on escalators (I didn't walk up or down).
n.b. I didn't consider step-free routes.




Paddington: BakerlooCrossrail  0 min
This'll be simple because a brand new connecting passageway will open between the Bakerloo platforms and Crossrail. You can already see in from the southbound platform and peer round the corner to the top of the escalators. But it's quite a long passageway so purple trains will still be a few minutes' walk away.

Paddington: District/CircleCrossrail  3 min
This is from the station on the original Circle line. From the northbound platform it's out through the ticket barriers, up to the main concourse of Paddington mainline station, through the milling crowds and out to the new Crossrail entrance below Eastbourne Terrace. But it'll still be a long way down from here.
n.b. I also checked walking from the northbound platform to the new Bakerloo entrance instead, and that's also three minutes away.

Paddington: H&C/CircleCrossrail  5 min
This is from the far-flung station on the Hammersmith & City line. There are several possible routes across the mainline station and as yet no signage directing you one way or the other. To reach Crossrail via platform 8 (down the long ramp) takes five minutes. Absolutely nothing about interchanging at Paddington will be quick.

Bond Street Central/JubileeCrossrail
Not yet.



Tottenham Court Road: NorthernCrossrail  30 sec
This'll be easy. If you're at the correct end of the platform the entrance is right there... up a short flight of steps, along a curving passageway and straight into the purple zone. The trains really are only just beyond, indeed this is possibly the best connection of the lot. Shame they hid the exit sign behind a next Train Indicator though.

Tottenham Court Road: CentralCrossrail  2 min
Alas there's no direct connection here, you have to go out the normal way. That's up the escalators to the main ticket hall, exit through the gateline then re-enter through the gateline opposite. A long escalator down will follow, but that's where my stopwatch currently clicks off.
n.b. If you're going the other way (from Crossrail to the Central line) it's 4 minutes, not 2, due to the Evil Overshoot Passage TfL now urge you to follow. If crowds allow, best ignore the 'No entry' sign and nip down the quick way.
n.b. If you ignore the purple signs you could choose to head via the Northern line instead. That's one minute, then you have to walk the entire length of the platform and then it's 30 seconds as before. This might turn out to be the quicker route.




Farringdon: Metropolitan/H&C/CircleCrossrail  2 min
This one's already fully signed so you can see clearly what they're planning... and it might be unexpected. When you get off the tube you'll be directed up the stairs to the old exit, then out through the barriers, across the street and back in through the new exit on the other side. A short escalator then takes you down to the back of the Thameslink platforms where the long Crossrail escalator begins. In brief, to make this connection they're sending you outside.

Farringdon: ThameslinkCrossrail  1 min/15 sec
Interchange from Thameslink, however, and they keep you inside the station. Southbound you still have to go up and over but staying inside the gateline (1 min), but northbound is much easier because it's a short direct passage (15 sec).
n.b. If you arrive by tube it might be tempting to cross over to the Thameslink side of the station to make your interchange, but it'll still take two minutes.



Barbican: Metropolitan/H&C/CircleCrossrail
Still just that lonely lift at the far end of the westbound tube platform. Best not.



Moorgate: Metropolitan/H&C/CircleCrossrail  1 min/2 min
Arrive on the westbound platform and it's a simple minute up to the new ticket hall and the top of the big Crossrail escalators. Arrive on the eastbound platform and there's an annoying meandering subway to follow first.

Moorgate: NorthernCrossrail  0 min
As things stand it's two minutes up to the 'annoying meandering subway', then another two to the new ticket hall - a total of four minutes. But you won't be going that way when Crossrail opens. Instead a link passage is being opened direct to the new ticket hall, but starting from the far end of the platform so expect it to be a bit of a trek. Tottenham Court Road's Northern line connection will be much better than this.



Liverpool Street: Metropolitan/H&C/Circle/CentralCrossrail  1 min
The sole connection to Crossrail will be at the top of the Central line escalators, which is easily reached from all lines. As long as you alight at the right point on the platform it shouldn't take much more than a minute to get there.



Whitechapel: District/H&CCrossrail  2 min
To make this connection they're sending you up the stairs to the new central concourse, then down a lot of steps to follow the long passage above the Overground. They're not sending you via the Overground (and that's on the wrong level anyway).

Whitechapel: OvergroundCrossrail  30 sec
Easy so long as you're at the far end of the platform, but will require walking upstairs so that you can join the long escalators down.



Canary Wharf: JubileeCrossrail  5 min
This is quite the hike. Don't be tempted by signs in the ticket hall nudging you back through the shopping mall because that's a contorted non-obvious route. Instead stride confidently towards the main escalators and up into daylight, then turn right past the clocks on sticks and enter the only passage that passes straight through the shopping mall.

Canary Wharf: DLRCrossrail  3 min
Alight the DLR at Canary Wharf and it's three minutes to Crossrail. Better to head straight outside rather than going via the shopping mall because this involves fewer doors. Also don't be tempted to walk down the amazing hexagonal sci-fi tunnel because that takes you to the wrong level, instead head down the steps before you get there.
n.b. It's only 2 minutes from West India Quay, so maybe get off there instead.

Custom House: DLRCrossrail  30 sec
Up, over and down. Easy.

Woolwich: DLRCrossrail  3 min
That's three minutes if you get lucky with the pedestrian crossing, otherwise longer.

Abbey Wood: SoutheasternCrossrail  1 min
Up, over and down. Easy.

In conclusion...
Short connections: TCR (Northern), Liverpool Street, Custom House, Abbey Wood
Medium connections: TCR (Central), Farringdon, Moorgate (Circle), Whitechapel
Long connections: Paddington, Moorgate (Northern), Canary Wharf, Woolwich

...plus generally a big long escalator to add onto the end of that.

The trains are going to be very fast.
But interchanging will be anything but.

 Monday, May 09, 2022

Gadabout: KETTERING

I didn't spend all day in Corby, I also took the bus and spent the afternoon in Kettering. For those of you who aren't familiar with the geography of North Northamptonshire, Kettering is five miles further south, a bit larger and fundamentally older. You'll find it where the A14 meets the A43, or more likely see the outskirts as you're speeding past. Touristwise it has one key attraction (which I enjoyed returning to after a 25 year break), but otherwise feel free to give it as much of a miss as Corby. [Visit Kettering] [8 photos]




This is Market Square in Kettering. It isn't square and it doesn't have a market - they moved that elsewhere and footfall plummeted - but it is still a popular spot for alfresco congregation. It got seriously spruced up in 2009 with stepped seating, a slim crescent canopy and allegedly an arc of fountains (except these weren't switched on midweek so I can't confirm). The church in the background with the crocketed spire is St Peter and St Paul's which is mostly medieval and boasts a couple of angelic wall paintings (except it was locked so again I can't confirm). I had similar luck when visiting the town's Cultural Quarter, which lies immediately beyond.



I had been looking forward to visiting the Manor House Museum, Kettering's low key repository of local history, because it's the town centre's chief tourist offering. Unfortunately it was closed awaiting cultural upgrade, as was the Alfred East Art Gallery nextdoor, the town centre's only other tourist offering. All that was left was the public library, an unexpectedly depressing space with sealed-off shelves, whose leaflet racks were also unlikely to inspire. All three are due to be connected later in the year by Cornerstone, the glassy hub they're currently building out back which'll offer coffee, start-up space and workshoppery. I hope Kettering approves... but for those of us who only intend to visit the once and it was all closed, I think I blew it.



Kettering grew big on boots and shoes, churning out sturdy footwear in direct competition with Northampton down the road. That's all pretty much gone now, although Loake still make brogues and Oxfords in their Wood Street factory and Clarks sell imports from Somerset in Newlands mall. The High Street's been pedestrianised and goes from old inns at one end to modern malls at the other. My photo above shows the modern bit with the Rotary clock to give you a misleading idea about the town centre. The Horsemarket, for example, makes a much nicer bus station than the average bayed shed, and the Cornmarket can be hired out for parties. I think what struck me most about Kettering is how perfectly ordinary it was, nothing too amazing, nothing too grim, just a Midlands market town doing its thing.



What I failed to do was follow the Kettering Civic Society's Blue Plaque Heritage Trail. I saw one for the town's first mayor and another for the town's first nonconformist chapel and assumed they were all that dull, but missed the plaques for comic strip illustrator Frank Bellamy, artist Thomas Gotch and artist Sir Alfred East. Only when I got back to the station at the end of my trip did I find the best one, a tribute to author H E Bates pinned up on platform three. He attended the local grammar school and used to meet his first girlfriend here before they travelled home their separate ways. In his autobiography he wrote "if there were any justice whatever in the history of railways and twentieth-century novelists there should be a plaque on the door of the first-class waiting-room on Platform 3 at Kettering station saying H E Bates loved here', and hurrah there now is.



But the big attraction in Kettering has to be Wicksteed Park, the 101 year-old unthemed theme park. This covers 147 acres on the edge of town and was designed by industrialist Charles Wicksteed who owned a local engineering works. Originally he wanted the land to be housing for his workers, but when the authorities started building homes following WW1 he switched to creating a leisure facility on the site instead. His park had a boating lake and a huge playground - still does - then a pavilion, rose garden, theatre, aviary and miniature railway - ditto. Crowds flocked in and have continued to do so since, if not in quite such massive numbers. The pandemic alas sent the business into administration, crippled in four months flat by visitorlessness, but last year a charitable trust took over and everything's up and running again.



The joy of Wicksteed Park is that entry is free, only the rides cost. That's particularly useful for the local population off-season, and indeed midweek in early May when the main attractions aren't up and running. I got to wander all over from the carousel to the campsite and the minigolf to the Splash Zone. The locomotives were locked away in the station sheds awaiting weekend circuits. The picnic zone by the waterside was amok with geese protecting their new offspring (and their droppings meant you had to be very careful where you trod). The water chute is thought to be the first ever built and looks it, although the narrow steps you clamber up beforehand look much more recent. Thank goodness the park was open because I'm not sure what I'd have done with my three hours in Kettering otherwise.



I particularly enjoyed the nostalgia of returning after 25 years away. Last time I remember I had to pay for everyone's tickets by cheque in the pavilion, so that's moved on. I remember being particularly rubbish on the go karts. I remember gossiping in the rose garden while others took another turn on the dodgems. I remember whizzing round the rollercoaster twice, relieved it was quite basic and not of Thorpe Park proportions. And I still have a hopelessly blurry photo of me on the Ladybird, the really tame mini coaster, which somebody present inexplicably framed and presented to me a few months later. The whole place had the feel of a charming prewar throwback even then, and still does, and is all the better for it.


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