diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Tubeticking (1): Eastcote
I had somehow never been to Eastcote station. I liked it.



Eastcote opened in 1906 as a halt on the line to Uxbridge, triggering quintessential Metroland sprawl. The resulting parade now has well over 100 shops, and nice ones too, including more family businesses than Londoners would normally expect. Outlets range from Aldi to a fireplace showroom and from Imran's Deli to a chocolate and macaroon cafe, via the delights of Wenzels and Wimpy. I liked it.

The station was designed by Charles Holden, and characteristically so, with a brick'n'glass cuboid facing the street flanked by roundels atop two protruding curved kiosks. This pair weren't always occupied by a cab company and a phone repair shop, but the Eastcote Cafe alongside looks like it's been cooking up breakfasts and burgers for decades. I liked it (the architecture, that is, I never tried the caff).



Eastcote's ticket hall has a high flat roof and is lit by clerestory windows giving it churchlike qualities. One side has the ticket machines and the other a coffee kiosk brewing hand roasted beans from El Salvador. This hideyhole also doubles as a tiny newsagent, with a single rack that somehow manages to include all the daily papers and copies of two dozen still-popular magazines. They're still ten years behind zone 2 in Eastcote. I liked it.

A brief tiled corridor leads to two sets of brick-enclosed stairwells, all with Holdenesque attention to detail. Left for London and right for Ruislip. And the platforms are lovely too, blessed with two tropical mini gardens halfway down. The half nearest the stairs has a flat canopy to shield you from the elements and a long thin waiting room with an elegantly curved end. I fear this is permanently padlocked these days. I liked it anyway.



The far end of the platforms has been polluted with cameras and loudspeakers on stalks as part of infraco despoliation in the 2000s. They did at lease use droopy stalks to echo the original concrete lamp supports but the end result is no visual triumph. Look out for the staff letterbox and the fake owl if you're waiting any length of time. I see the eastbound Next Train Indicator doesn't bother with destinations, it just tells you 'Metropolitan line' or 'Piccadilly line' because that's all you need to know out here.

I liked Eastcote. I'll be back.

Tube quiz (3) Hidden words
All of these words are hidden within the name of a tube station.
They're all formed by merging the end of one word with the start of another.
For example TACT is hidden in EasT ACTon.
All the stations have at least two words.
Can you identify the 20 stations?

1) DENT
2) EAR
3) EEL
4) EVENS
5) HAMS
         6) KEG
  7) LANDS
  8) LEAST
  9) LEE
10) LO
       11) ME
12) ONCE
13) ONTO
14) SCOT
15) TEE
       16) TO
17) TONS
18) WAND
19) WE
20) WON

And these words appear backwards...

21) ALE
22) APT
23) BYE
24) ICE
25) LAVA
       26) ORES
27) PEG
28) SLOOP
29) WAD
30) YORK

All now answered, thanks (answers in the comments box).

Tube geek (3) The oldest tube station
What's London's oldest tube station?
I'd like to argue that it's older than you'd expect it to be.
I think it's this one.



The world's first underground railway started between Paddington and Farringdon on 10th January 1863, so you'd expect the oldest station to be one of those. Everything that's opened since must be younger, right? But as the Underground network expanded several stations which used to be railway stations were incorporated into the tube network, and some of these were opened before 1863.

According to Wikipedia's supposedly-definitive list of London Underground stations there are 16. Let's work backwards.

1858: Bromley-by-Bow, Plaistow, East Ham
These three stations joined the District line in 1902, but were previously part of the London, Tilbury and Southend railway. They have some lovely ironwork on the platforms which predates the Underground.

1856: Leyton, Leytonstone, Snaresbrook, South Woodford, Woodford, Buckhurst Hill, Loughton
These seven stations joined the Central line in the late 1940s but were originally on a branch of the Eastern Counties Railway. Loughton station has since relocated so needs to be crossed off my list, but the tube still stops at the other five pre-Underground stations.

1854: Barking
This is pushing the definition somewhat because Barking isn't a proper tube station, it's still managed by Network Rail. Also the original 1850s station has been rebuilt twice (in 1908 and 1959) so I doubt that anything pre-tube-era survives.

1847: Canning Town
I don't think this counts. The station was originally located on the other side of Barking Road, shifting to its current site in 1888. That railway is now used by the DLR and not the tube because when the Jubilee line extension arrived in 1999 they added a whole new stack of platforms alongside. No, and no.

1844: Kensington (Olympia)
Another borderline case. The earliest station (plain Kensington) only stayed open for six months, with the current version reopening in 1862. More crucially it's the Overground that now uses the original platforms, with the District line spur a later parallel extra.

1842: Wembley Central
There's nothing original about the current grim cavern under Wembley Central Square. Also Bakerloo line trains only use the 'New Lines' added alongside the West Coast mainline in 1917. But there's been a station here for 180 years, whereas the tube has yet to turn 160.

1839: Stratford
The Stratford we know today - a massive tangled interchange - has evolved over many years and no longer in any way resembles the original station. The Central line first threaded through over a century later in 1946, but arguably that's good enough to make Stratford the third oldest Underground station.

1838: Ealing Broadway
It's not on Wikipedia's list but the Great Western Railway opened a station here in 1838, right alongside where District and Central line trains terminate today. Ealing Broadway is arguably the second oldest Underground station.

1837: Harrow & Wealdstone
Here's our winner, and it's from the earliest days of the railway age. Harrow was the first stop out of Euston on the London and Birmingham Railway, although in 1837 the line had barely reached Hemel Hempstead. The Bakerloo line again uses the 'New Lines' added in 1917, but immediately adjacent to the spot where passengers first waited two months into Queen Victoria's reign. The oldest station on the Underground network is Harrow and Wealdstone, and it predates the Underground by 26 years.

 Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Tubeticking: Every tube station
When we were talking tickylists the other week, I mentioned I hadn't actually been to every tube station, at least in the proper sense of walking in or out through the entrance. What a shocking confession after several decades of supposedly scouring London. But how do you work out for sure which of the 272 tube stations you've never been to if you haven't been keeping a tally along the way?

I broke it down. I know I've been to every tube station in zones 1 to 3 because I've had a Z1-3 Travelcard for 20 years so visiting these is technically free. That just left the 94 stations in zones 4-9, a far more manageable list to consider, and most of those were definites too. I grew up in Croxley, I've flown from Heathrow, I've been to the end of the line at Stanmore and I used Hornchurch only a few weeks ago. Then there's all the stations I've been to for blogging purposes, which is plenty, and this left just two dozen I wasn't 100% convinced about. It's important to be 100% correct because I don't want my completion to be invalidated by an inaccurate memory. So I fell back on the map I keep coloured in at the back of my diary...



I've blogged before about how I keep this up to date with every station and bit of track I use during the course of a year, and then on January 1st I start another map from scratch. The example above is from 2016. I have 16 of these coloured-in maps stretching all the way back to 2007, and consulting these removed several more stations. Ah, I went to Oakwood in 2019. Ooh, I did North Wembley in 2013. Aha, Finchley Central in 2011. Hurrah, Alperton in 2008. And after all this checking I reckon there are only three tube stations I've never been to, or have probably never been to, and they're all that's standing in the way of tickylist perfection. How could I have overlooked them for so long?

I mention all this partly to reinforce how difficult completing a tickylist is if you don't start counting from the very beginning. Without some pretty anal record keeping, never intended for this particular purpose, my list of fuzzy stations would be over 20 strong. Instead I know I only need to visit three, so I'll tell you about this trio over the next three days... and by the end of the week, hurrah, I will have ticked off every single tube station!

Tube quiz (2) Name that station
Here are 25 tiny photos taken inside 25 tube stations.
How many can you name?
The top row is 1-5, the second row is 6-10, etc, down to 25 in the bottom right hand corner.



All answers now in the comments box, but guess before you peek.

Tubewatch (2) The Great Tube Race
Let's have a race. All the top vloggers are doing it, setting out from a common point using different means of transport to see who reaches a set destination first. It allows for all sorts of split screen shenanigans, not to mention jeopardy as the teams jostle for position throughout the quest for ultimate victory. I see no reason why bloggers shouldn't also jump on this competitive bandwagon, so I took two doppelgangers with me to Mile End and raced them to Ealing Broadway.



These are the westbound platforms at Mile End, with the Central line on the left and the District line on the right. Excitingly both trains terminate at Ealing Broadway, via entirely different routes, so I can send one of my doppelgangers on each to see who gets there first. I'm going to take Crossrail instead, which requires starting on the District line and changing at Whitechapel. Follow our westward progress below, and place your bets please!

    CENTRAL   DISTRICT   CROSSRAIL
0 mins   We're all at Mile End. Good luck everyone!   We're all at Mile End. Good luck everyone!   We're all at Mile End. Good luck everyone!
4 mins   My train just left Bethnal Green. It's a swift start on the Central line.   We've just reached Whitechapel. I'm staying on to the bitter end.   We've just reached Whitechapel. I'm getting off here to change to Crossrail.
10 mins   I'm already at St Paul's. I'm so winning.   I'm already at Monument. I reckon I'm in second place.   I've wasted ages hiking up and down steps to cross the station, then another minute on the escalator down to the purple platforms... but I only had two minutes to wait for a train. Here it is!
13 mins   I'm already at Holborn. I'm acing this.   I've nudged ahead to Mansion House. I'm making slow progress.   I've caught up to Liverpool Street. This train is fast!
19 mins   I'm at Marble Arch. I'm further west than Bond Street and that isn't even open yet.   I'm at Embankment. I fear I'm about to be left behind.   I'm at Tottenham Court Road. I can't believe it would've been quicker to get here on the Central line.
23 mins   I'm at Queensway. I'm almost out of Zone 1.   I'm approaching Victoria. This is not going well.   I'm at Paddington. One day I'll be able to stay aboard but dammit, for now I have to head up to the main station and change trains.
29 mins   I'm at Shepherd's Bush. This is dead easy.   I'm at South Kensington. I could give up now.   I've reached my second purple train but it's not due to leave for a few minutes.
33 mins   I'm just leaving White City. I'm speeding ahead,   I'm at Earl's Court. I'm going nowhere fast.   Finally the doors close and we're easing out of Paddington.
39 mins   I'm at West Acton. I'm so close to taking the prize.   I'm still only at Hammersmith. I should never have come this way. I feel like I've been set up by the other two to fail spectacularly.   I'm at Acton Main Line. I'm totally catching up here.
42 mins   I'm just arriving at Ealing Broadway! Bugger, a purple train is just arriving on the Crossrail platforms so it looks like it's a tie! Who would ever have guessed?   I'm way back at Stamford Brook. The District line was such a mistake.   I'm just arriving at Ealing Broadway! Bugger, a train is just arriving on the Central line platforms so it looks like it's a tie! When through trains start next month it'll be so much quicker by Crossrail, indeed I could have been ten minutes ahead. Instead, amazingly, I wasted all that effort on interchanging twice and still got here at the same time as the Central line train.
56 mins       Where did everybody go?    

Tube geek (2) Destination percentages
I've been digging through the tube's Working Timetables to try to answer the question "are there more trains to some destinations than others?" I've looked at frequencies in the middle of a typical weekday, and can confirm that this is how off-peak destinations normally divvy up.

Bakerloo
northbound: Queen's Park 50%, Stonebridge Park 25%, Harrow & Wealdstone 25%
southbound: Elephant & Castle 100%

Northern
northbound: Edgware 50%, High Barnet 40%, Mill Hill East 10%
southbound: Morden 50%, Kennington 25%, Battersea Power Station 25%

Metropolitan
westbound: Uxbridge 50%, Watford 25%, Amersham/Chesham 25%
eastbound: Aldgate 75%, Baker Street 25%

Farringdon (Circle/H&C/Met)
westbound: Hammersmith 50%, Uxbridge 33%, Amersham/Chesham 17%
eastbound: Aldgate 50%, Barking 25%, Circle line 25%

St James's Park (Circle/District)
westbound: Wimbledon 25%, Richmond 25%, Ealing Broadway 25%, Circle line 25%
eastbound: Upminster 50%, Barking 12½%, Circle line 25%, Tower Hill 12½%

Jubilee
westbound: Stanmore 50%, the rest equally split between West Hampstead, Willesden Green and Wembley Park
eastbound: Stratford 100%

Central
westbound: West Ruislip 3/8, Northolt 1/8, Ealing Broadway 3/8, White City 1/8
eastbound: Epping 3/8, Loughton 1/8, Hainault 3/8, Newbury Park 1/8

Piccadilly
westbound: Heathrow T4 2/7, Heathrow T5 2/7, Northfields 1/7, Rayners Lane 1/7, Uxbridge 1/7
eastbound: Cockfosters 6/7, Arnos Grove 1/7

Victoria
northbound: Walthamstow Central 100%
southbound: Brixton 100%

Waterloo & City
northbound: Bank 100%
southbound: Waterloo 100%

 Monday, October 03, 2022

Tube geek (1) Shortest and longest gaps
What are the shortest and longest gaps between tube stations?
Not in terms of distance, but with regard to opening dates.

The shortest gap between station openings is one day!
It's happened twice.

Finchley Road and West Hampstead opened on 30th June 1879.
Chiswick Park, Acton Town, Ealing Common and Ealing Broadway opened on 1st July 1879.
AND
Queensbury opened on 16th December 1934.
Upminster Bridge opened on 17th December 1934.

Completely different lines, one day apart.

n.b. If you want to be super-pedantic, umpteen stations opened minutes apart because it took the inaugural train a finite time to travel from one to the other, but let's not go there.

And the longest gap is 19 years!

This austerity-crippled hiatus occured between September 1949 and September 1968.
Debden, Theydon Bois and Epping opened on 25th September 1949.
Highbury & Islington to Walthamstow Central opened on 1st September 1968.
Altogether that's a massive 6916 days.

Here's the full Top 5 Longest Gaps, all of which have occurred since 1948.

1) 6916 days Epping etc (25 Sep 1949)Walthamstow Central etc (1 Sep 1968)
2) 4780 days Heathrow T4 (12 Apr 1986)Canning Town/North Greenwich (14 May 1999)
3) 4726 days Wood Lane (12 Oct 2008) → Battersea Power Station/Nine Elms (20 Sep 2021)
4) 3107 days Southwark (24 Sep 1999)Heathrow T5 (27 Mar 2008)
5) 3039 days Heathrow T123 (16 Dec 1977)Heathrow T4 (12 Apr 1986)

With nothing waiting in TfL's station-building pipeline, it's lucky they reset the clock last year.
All they have to do to avoid creating the longest gap ever is open something new before 2040.
Fingers crossed.

Tubewatch (1) IKEA on the map
Back in May IKEA paid £800,000 to plaster their name across the tube map. Specifically they got to add an advert on the online tube map, at the bottom of 2750 tube map posters and on the back page of 4 million paper tube maps. The deal runs for twelve months so covers two print runs, the first in May and the second in November. It also permits them to pollute the famous map itself with "nearest stations to IKEA Locations in London to be marked on map using a symbol (up to a maximum of 5 stations) with IKEA Logo included on the key."



But there's a big difference between 'nearest station to IKEA' and 'station near IKEA', as many people pointed out when the symbols first appeared. So I've bitten the bullet and tried walking from all the stations depicted to the IKEA stores in question to check just how practical this sponsored map might be.

IKEA Wembley (Neasden) [15 min walk]
God this is a miserable trek. It's not helped by the exit from Neasden station being at the 'wrong' end of the platforms, so by the time you've walked through the alleyway and onto the bridge where you can look down on where you just were, five minutes have elapsed. You're now walking alongside the exhaust-choked North Circular, and additionally forced to cross two arms of a sliproad unaided which can be dangerous. Then it's up and over a grotty footbridge, past reservoirs of can-based litter, and down into the less friendly environs of Wembley's Tesco Extra. The walk finishes by passing under a multi-storey car park, and that's 15 minutes you wouldn't want to tackle with a Billy bookcase. Five bus routes stop here, but none link to Neasden station, nor either of the other two nearest stations, because fundamentally (as we've long known) IKEA Wembley assumes you're coming by car.

IKEA Greenwich (North Greenwich) [20 min walk]
This isn't a fun trek either. You set off from the pizazz of Peninsula Square and, if you're going the quickest way, head off into the unbuilt heart of North Greenwich past car parks and future building sites. It's a bit nicer if you follow the linear park to Oval Square but that way's also longer so don't. Eventually you reach the Millennium Leisure Park where IKEA is but you have to pass the Odeon, B&Q and most of the car park before you get there. Obviously what you're supposed to do is catch the bus from North Greenwich station instead, and there are several, but that's an extra £3.30 added to your IKEA trip. The bus takes six minutes each way - I timed that too.



IKEA Croydon (Ampere Way) [4 min walk]
This isn't on the tube, it's near a tram stop, but it is an easy walk. A desire line path across the roundabout confirms that the impatient would rather not go out of their way to use the pedestrian crossing, then it's a quick zip round the car park and you're there.

IKEA Hammersmith (Hammersmith) [4 min walk]
Unfamiliar with this one? Well it only opened in February, and IKEA's sponsorship of the tube map is partly to ensure it's better known. It's the UK's first 'Mini Store' focusing on home accessories and soft furnishings, not self-assembly furniture, which is great because it means you don't have to negotiate an endless labyrinth before you get to the everyday stuff. Goods are appealingly priced as well as impeccably designed, so you could easily walk out with a basket of household goodies you never intended to buy when you went in. You'll find this quarter-sized store in a revamped corner of the Kings Mall Shopping Centre which is terribly convenient for the tube, indeed if you don't have a car it's probably the best IKEA to make a beeline for.

IKEA Tottenham (Tottenham Hale) [35 min walk]
Yes that's a 35 minute walk, which is almost two miles, along a miserable arterial road which I do not recommend. The 192 bus does it in 8 minutes which is clearly a much better option. But Tottenham Hale is by no means the closest station to the big blue shed, that's the almost-adjacent Meridian Water which is two stops further north. Tottenham Hale's not even the closest station on the tube map, that's Silver Street, but buses from there don't stop outside the entrance. Anyway all of this is irrelevant because Tottenham's IKEA closed five weeks ago, indeed TfL have already removed the IKEA symbol from their online map, and all you'll find there today is an unbranded hangar behind locked gates.

IKEA Oxford Street (Oxford Circus) [1 min walk]
Those Swedes are currently busy transforming the old Top Shop at Oxford Circus into another Mini Store, bringing sidetables, tealights and meatballs to the heart of the West End. But it's not due to open until this time next year, by which time IKEA's sponsorship of the tube map will have expired. Maybe they'll extend it, because TfL need money more than a design icon needs purity, and if they do then Oxford Street's IKEA will be the closest of the lot.

Tube quiz (1) The longest loop
What's the longest unbroken tube journey you can make without repeating yourself? That's a journey which doesn't pass through any station more than once, never passes through a gateline and joins up with itself at the end.

Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you this question because I've answered it myself, and ridden it just to check.



This, I reckon, is the longest unbarriered loop of unique stations. It meanders all over zone 1 because that's where the most interchanges are, and incorporates circuits out to West Ham, Stockwell and Rayners Lane. Altogether it passes through 97 different tube stations, which is 36% of the overall total, and it took me 26 separate trains to complete. Also it looks like a giant flapping bird. You can click on the map for a closer look.

I'm a bit annoyed it's 97 because it'd be better to have reached a round 100, but I couldn't find any way of upping the total. I did manage to tick off every station inside the Circle line except Regent's Park and Russell Square, plus all but five around the edge. I couldn't loop out to Finsbury Park because that would have meant doing King's Cross twice, and I couldn't do Royal Oak to Goldhawk Road because there are gatelines either side of the road at Hammersmith. It's a good puzzle but sorry, I've solved it for you (unless you're the smart one who chips in after ten minutes and tells me I could have done better).

Instead my question is this. How long do you think it took me?
Answers to the nearest 5 minutes, thanks. comments

I started at Bow Road, obviously, and went round clockwise. I did it at the weekend when the trains were behaving themselves and the only engineering works were on a branch I didn't need. To help you with your estimate I spent 50 minutes interchanging between platforms and 1 hour 20 minutes waiting for trains. Half my waiting time was doing the twiddles at High Street Kensington and Liverpool Street, not helped by a Circle line train being cancelled. The longest interchanges were at Green Park and Paddington. The longest journey was from Acton Town to Rayners Lane. And I took a good book with me so the time wasn't all wasted.

Importantly, because this is a journey without any gatelines, it should only be tackled by someone with a Travelcard. If I'd tried to do it on Pay As You Go I'd have exceeded the Maximum Journey Time and been charged a maximum fare of £8.90, not just at the start of my journey but also at the end, and that'd be £17.80 down the drain. TfL fares aren't designed for dicking about on the tube, and dicking about is exactly what the longest unbroken loop requires.

n.b. If you take away the requirement for an unbroken loop then a longer journey is possible. Break the circuit between Mile End and West Ham, then start at Epping and end at Upminster and you can get the total up to 126 different stations. But I didn't try that, and I recommend you don't either.

So what's your best guess for the total duration of my 97 station journey? Add it to the special comments box further up the post (and any more general thoughts on the broader challenge in the normal box below). And at 7pm I'll come back and tell you who got closest.

Time once again for diamond geezer to go totally tubular with a week devoted to the London Underground. Prepare for five days of quizzes, quirks, commentary and obscure statistics. It's been a while.

Last time I tried this, in 2012, we discovered that Chesham has the least frequent service, that interchanging at Hammersmith takes 1½ minutes, that a Sainsbury's car park in Nine Elms was destined to become a tube station, that nine station names contain four vowels, that the Piccadilly line has 20 more 'listed' stations than any other line, that Ravenscourt Park used to be called Shaftesbury Road, that the Circle line runs through Bow Road really early in the morning, that nowhere is more than 19 stations away from Westminster, that some Next Train Indicators hide next trains when they're two minutes away, that Mornington Crescent is busier on Sundays than Saturdays and that the Kilburn viaduct has an excellent view. We even wondered whether Tramlink, Thameslink and riverboat services should be added to the tube map, because that's how forward-looking we were.

Tube Week normally consists of three posts a day but this year I'm going to try to do four. Normally we have a daily puzzle, a daily stats-bash and a daily drilldown - that's Tube quiz, Tube geek and Tubewatch respectively. This year I'm bunging in an extra category called Tubeticking, of which more details tomorrow. I'm a bit nervous because I worry I've blogged all the good stuff already (identifying station names from just their vowels - done it) (counting the stairs at deep stations - done it) (visiting the least used tube station - done it). But the London Underground is the gift that keeps on giving, even after twenty years of blogging, so I hope we're in for a smooth journey. Mind the doors.

 Sunday, October 02, 2022

This was going to be my post on 9th September, the day after this blog's 20th anniversary, but the Queen put paid to that. Better late than never.

20 years of blogging takes a lot of filling. Since 2002 I've published 9496 different posts, which is at least one a day for over 1000 weeks (bar a few Christmas breaks in the early days). That's acres of screenspace to pack with maybe six million words, several thousand photos and a ridiculously high number of weblinks. It's fortunate I live in London which is possibly the world's most interesting city, but filling the blog has required an eclectic spread of content, indeed a non-stop torrent of inspiration because an empty template doesn't fill itself.

Here then are 20 of my biggest content-fillers over the last 20 years, i.e. themed series that went on for ages or came back time after time, presented as a clickable index. Maybe bookmark it for a future rainy day.

1) Open House (2002-2022)
London's finest architectural showcase has appeared on this blog every September since 2002 because it's the ideal opportunity to look at, and more importantly inside, hundreds of fascinating buildings. I usually get several posts out of it - the total must be approaching 100 by now - although I've been less enamoured with it of late. The absence of a detailed printed guide and a revamped website with a search facility resembling a brantub has made it much harder to spot this year's bighitters and one-offs, not to mention trickier to knock up an itinerary, plus I've been to a lot of the good ones already and blimey they were great.
» 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

2) Single Life (2002-2019)
This was my first 'hit', a paean to the pros and cons of being coupled up. I wrote it three years after jettisoning from a long-term relationship, and came back and posted a slightly longer version (with added misbehaviour) every year thereafter. I paused after 10 years, having healed a bit, and I post it a lot less often these days. But unless one of you finally gets it on with me in the near future expect to read it again in 2024 for my (sob) 25th anniversary.

3) Quizzes and puzzles (2003-2022)
A recurring theme on this blog is that I like to throw in a quiz or a puzzle every now and then, usually when you're least expecting it. I enjoy how my readership come together to generate a full solution, one guess at a time, sometimes in minutes and occasionally over several hours. There are far too many of these one-off posts to catalogue here, but you can always track them down by going to my annual index post (see sidebar →) where I list all those from each year.

4) The Count (2003-2022)
This was just me counting things, nothing interesting, although by describing the final tally as 'The Mystery Count' I unintentionally unleashed a beast which continues to bemuse and baffle. It also elevated the humble bottle of Becks to cultural significance, and basically everyone should try counting things for a month every year otherwise how on earth do you discover how your life is evolving?

5) Local History Month (2003-2019)
This is possibly the longstanding series I'm most proud of. A new theme every summer in multiple parts involving a relentless focus on somewhere local, and all without trying to scare the audience away. I particularly enjoyed the long walks following boundaries or lines of latitude and the really long walks following certain rivers. One series which might have helped cement this blog's reputation was my travelogue along the River Fleet, especially because this was back in 2005 when historic internet content was hard to source so it was tricky to be definitive, but I still got a monthsworth out of it. Go local, go deep.
» August 2003: Where I live (famous places within 15 minutes of my house)
» August 2004: Piccadilly (a walk down Mayfair's most famous street)
» August 2005: the River Fleet (tracking the subterranean river) [photos]
» August 2006: Betjeman's Metro-land (Baker Street to Verney Junction) [photos]
» August 2007: Walk London (following bits of London's six strategic walks) [photos]
» August 2008: High Street 2012 (the Olympic highway from Aldgate to Stratford) [photos]
» August 2009: Walking the Lea Valley (50 miles from Luton to Leamouth) [photos]
» August 2010: Not-London 2012 (Exploring Olympic venues outside the capital) [photos]
» July/August 2012: The Olympic Games (at the end of my street) [photos]
» September 2013: Walking the New River (a 400th birthday stroll) [photos]
» August 2014: London Borough Tops (the highest point in 33 boroughs) [photos]
» August 2015: Round Tower (a walk round the edge of Tower Hamlets) [photos]
» August 2018: 51½°N (crossing London on a line of latitude) [photos]
» August 2019: Ten false starts (a clutch of single-post series)

6) Tube Week (2003-2012)
Here's where I started letting my nerdy side run riot. A whole week of tube-related content including reportage, facts and a daily quiz, and then somehow the same again for nine more years. I threw in an Overground Week in 2017 but haven't been back to this feature since, and maybe I should given that some of you would simply salivate at the thought. There must be more alphabetical challenges, quirky gatelines and Next Train Indicators installed by cretins out there by now.
» 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

7) Riding a bus route (2003-2022)
I spotted early that a great way to blog about London was to describe what you could see from a bus (and the characters aboard it too). I started with a week of Cube Routes (1, 8, 27, 64, 125, 216, N343), followed that up with Square Routes and Prime Movers, then tackled chains of buses across and around the capital. I've also featured an alphabet of buses, London's ten shortest routes, even a trek along the North Circular, but the really fun one is my 'birthday bus ride' which I started at 42 and most recently reached the 57 to Kingston. London's bus routes offer an endless stream of potential content that's nowhere near exhausted.

8) Random Borough (2004-2012)
This classic series was inspired by Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man, and saw me folding up the names of every borough in London and picking one from a jamjar. The ridiculous part was that I only picked the name on the morning of travel, and then had to rush-research six places to visit and get round them all in a few hours and then head home and write the first two up. Those were 33 fairly manic Saturdays. But I still credit this feature with opening up my understanding of the suburbs, and maybe yours too, even if it did sometimes feel like the jamjar got more love than the content. It's still one of my finest London achievements.
» 2004: Merton, Islington, Enfield
» 2005: Sutton, Lewisham, Southwark, Kensington & Chelsea
» 2006: Hackney, Hillingdon, the City, Bromley
» 2007: Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Hounslow
» 2008: Brent, Redbridge, Ealing, Harrow
» 2009: Croydon, Waltham Forest, Wandsworth, Greenwich
» 2010: Richmond, Kingston, Westminster, Newham
» 2011: Camden, Bexley, Havering, Hammersmith & Fulham
» 2012: Barnet, Barking and Dagenham

9) Bow Road Update (2004-2005)
When Metronet arrived to upgrade my local tube station I got somewhat obsessive in recording what they were doing. This soon turned into recording what they weren't doing, because Bow Road was a guinea pig station and Metronet proved to be an entirely incompetent infraco. So slow and substandard was their transformation that I blogged about if relentlessly and eventually Evening Standard journalist Andrew Gilligan rang me up to get the full story. His subsequent expose was dismissed by the Chairman of Metronet thus: "Articles which refer to an unnamed passenger's account having travelled through a station quite frankly are not worthy of any detailed examination", so that told me. But Metronet went bust shortly afterwards so I'm claiming the last laugh there.

10) My new Z470xi mobile (2007)
Oh this was fun. I suddenly accelerated my blogposts by a week, claiming I had a mysterious new phone, and then unfolded an increasingly-desperate tale of impending apocalypse on and under the streets of London. I never told you what I was doing, just left you to work out I'd gone full-on fictional, and at the very end of the month went totally silent as if the worst had come to pass. I'm not sure I could get away with anything like this again, but it was very enjoyable to write.

11) London Loop (2007-2017)/Capital Ring (2011)
I walked both of these walks in short bursts, not necessarily in order, and spread my rambles over a number of years. My reports on each section are therefore all over the place, and the older ones are also much less detailed than the newer ones because I've ramped up the amount I write over the years. What's been useful is that a lot of you have walked these paths too so mentioning 'London Loop section X' provides a useful hook on which to hang many blogposts from the suburbs. Hurry up Ramblers, I'm ready to walk your new routes.

12) Anorak Corner (2007-2022)
I first started taking an interest in Underground and National Rail passenger numbers in 2007, knocking up lists of most- and (more excitingly) least-used stations on each network. Back then these statistics often went unnoticed for days, even weeks, whereas now the release of the annual National Rail passenger count is a full-on bandwagon-rolling press jamboree. I'd like to think that interest in "the least used station in administrative area X" might have started here, but I may just be deluding myself. Latest versions are here (each with links back to all the older versions): [rail] [tube] [bus]

13) PR emails I have received (2009-2022)
Even though I don't reprocess press releases or pump out sponsored posts, marketing minions still send me emails hoping that I might. I then delight in summarising their weasel phrases, with all brand names withdrawn, and totally ripping the piss. I don't receive as many as I did, thank god, but even last week I received a missive from Gene which ended "Reply something if you're interested. We're humans and love to help each other, don't we?". No Gene, not when they're as lickspittly mercenary as you.

14) Lost Rivers (2010)/Unlost Rivers (2015-2019)
After I totally failed to write a book on lost rivers for Penguin Random House I went ahead and wrote it anyway, but published it in monthly chunks on this blog instead. "Look," I said to myself, "I could have researched and catalogued the Tyburn, Neckinger and Bollo Brook with full pictorial evidence after all." Since then I've also gone on to walk many an unlost unculverted river, from the Dollis Brook to the River Shuttle, and in good news I still have several more to go. London blogging doesn't get much more quintessentially psychogeographical than this.

15) Beyond London (2014-2017)
After I'd emptied my jamjar I went on to explore the 17 local authority areas immediately outside Greater London. I started in Dartford and ended in Thurrock, heading out on a Saturday to visit four sites of interest and then forcing myself to write about them. Travelling was sometimes hard because transport's less good beyond London, but my explorations really helped in knitting together a mental picture of what the inner Home Counties look like. Also I don't think I'd ever have thought to go to Lowewood Museum, Stoke Poges and Titsey Hall otherwise.
2014: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell
2015: Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks
2016: Three Rivers, Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield, Broxbourne, Epping Forest
2017: Brentwood, Thurrock

16) Bus Stop M (2015-2017)
My local bus stop should never have reached legendary status, but a chain of muck-ups during the installation of a segregated cycle superhighway lane brought it to unexpected prominence. If only they hadn't closed a bus stop by moving its pole 200m up the road and then forgetting to update all the electronic data that went along with it, maybe 20% of the debacle could have been avoided. I'm pleased to say Bus Stop M's a lot more stable now - it even has its own Countdown display - although nobody's ever replaced the spider map someone removed in 2020, and I'd be much obliged if someone at TfL could print one out and slap it back up.

17) Gadabout (2018-2022)
Over the years I've been to many a town and city outside London and tried to condense its cultural essence into one or two travelogue posts. And not just the big hitters like Leeds and Manchester but also lesser regional treasures like Hereford and Stamford. In 2018 I compiled a single post with links to all my wider British reportage - a clickable portal to some of my favourite far-flung posts. One day I should get round to updating it with all my more recent gadabouts, i.e. these...
» Bracknell, Chertsey, Chester, Cleethorpes, Corby, Cowes, Crich, Cromford, Crowborough, Dunstable, Eye, Gerrards Cross, Grantham, Great Malvern, Grimsby, Haslemere, Hereford, Ipswich, Ironbridge, Kettering, Lincoln, Maidstone, Maldon, Newark, Peterborough, Plymouth, Scarborough, Sheffield, Sheringham, Southampton, Stamford, Swindon, Telford, Walsall, Worcester

18) Other lengthy themed series
2003/2008: Capital Numbers (London from 1 to 30)
2004/2009/2020: Marking the Meridian (my favourite imaginary line)
2005-7: Silver discs (my favourite 25-year-old singles, month by month)
2009: An A-Z of London museums (from Arsenal to Zoology)
2013: 150 years of the Underground (blogging one line per month for the duration of the anniversary year)
2017: Herbert Dip (one eclectic post from every borough proposed by the Herbert Commission in 1960)
2020-2022: #coronavirus
2020-2021: Random City Ward (the ideal lockdown challenge)
2021-2022: Walking Every B Road (or at least the first 26)

19) Unblogged (2018-2022)
I've now brought you four years of these snippety summary posts, one per month, listing one thing per day I never told you about at the time. Sometimes it's quite trivial, sometimes it's something that would never have deserved a post of its own and sometimes it's deliberately obtuse because I have no intention of telling you what it really is. A special hello to the misguided optimists who, having read the phrase "questions will not be answered", go ahead and ask one anyway. One day I will learn to write these unblogged posts as the month progresses, but I always seem to end up rushing it all at the end.

20) The Olympics (2002-2022)
I can't finish without mentioning the Olympics, an ultra-local project which tentatively emerged at the start of my blog, peaked in the middle with the Games themselves and is still reverberating through the Lower Lea Valley today. The 2012 Olympics has undoubtedly generated more column inches on this blog than any other single topic, thanks to the simple accident of me unintentionally living nextdoor, so brace yourself for a lot more. The five-ring circus never goes away.

 Saturday, October 01, 2022

A Nice Walk: Richmond Hill (1 mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, great views, plenty of history, a good all-weather surface, close to public transport, won't take long. So here's a gentle mile ascending a hill in Richmond, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

Let's start at Richmond Bridge, or as local residents may know it 'outside the Odeon'. We'll be sticking to the eastern side of the Thames and climbing approximately 50m to get a better view of it. Aim for Nando's and you'll find yourself in a road initially called Hill Rise, a tautology which nevertheless correctly hints at the upcoming contours. It's also the last hurrah of Richmond's retail offer and unapologetically aimed at harvesting surplus wealth, should you be in need of bridal gowns, antiques or the perfect shade of Farrow and Ball paint. The most middle class thing I saw was a small boy with a toy sword being dragged into the cheese shop because "granny wants to browse", although this is unlikely to be your precise experience.



You've now committed to a climb, although rest assured it's never anything too serious. The houses near the foot of Richmond Hill are tall and thin in an attempt to take advantage of increased elevation, and blue-plaque-watchers should note that actress Dame Celia Johnson was born at number 46. I marvelled at the street's unseasonably colourful hanging baskets and was disappointed to discover that the block which looks like a castle was merely a well-defended prep school. Eventually the pavement becomes a terrace, the view alas still blocked by trees, but eventually those trees break to reveal ooh look, Twickenham rugby stadium. Keep going, it gets a lot better.



Down below are Terrace Gardens, an immaculately-tended space created in 1887 by combining the gardens of two former hillside mansions. You could pop down for a look but bear in mind it's all height you'll have to regain later. And there's plenty to see up top, including a Nightwatchman's Hut in Anglo-Japanese style and an outbreak of benches. Richmond Hill is totally overrun with benches, so many benches, indeed 33 benches along the top of Terrace Gardens alone, all lined-up and facing Thamesward. All are in memory of somebody but not all of them have a view so pick carefully. Also don't feel you need to sit down yet because once you get up the steps there are still 70 more benches to go. So. Many. Benches.



The flank above Terrace Field has attracted daytrippers, artists and pleasureseekers for centuries. It looks out over a perfect panorama of trees and meadows and, most importantly, a proper scenic bend in the Thames. The eyot in the midst of that silver thread is Glover's Island, and the airport in the distance is plainly Heathrow. See how flat the Thames Valley is, and also how incredibly few tall buildings planners in Surrey permit. The stretch of promenade by The Roebuck is the sweet spot, and here human clustering and bench use are at their greatest. I was nudged out of prime position by a classful of children sketching the view and also by a coachful of wedding guests posing for a group photo while raising a glass of bubbly. Never attempt this walk in high heels unless you have a convenient vehicle to totter back to.



At the top of Richmond Hill is the Royal Star and Garter Home, a magnificent edifice built after WW1 to house 180 seriously injured servicemen, and which has recently completed its transition to 86 luxury apartments because of course it has. Out front is an astonishingly ornate cattle trough built by the local branch of the RSPCA in 1891 to reward animals reaching the summit, but which is now overflowing with bright flowers. And immediately ahead are the gates to Richmond Park, finest of all the Royal Parks, which explains the number of cars, bikes and dogwalkers feeding through. Pedestrians are relegated to a side gate and then have to cross a stream of traffic unaided, sorry.



The start of October is peak rutting season according to the monthly warnings inside the gate, but this is not the deeriest corner of the park so you shouldn't be troubled by antler action. You can go all sorts of ways from here but I've chosen to follow Terrace Walk south in search of a view. The trees to the right are impenetrable but a gap eventually opens up to the left which perfectly frames Docklands, then the Shard, then the City. Eventually you get to escape the park fringes into Pembroke Lodge Gardens (no bikes, no picnics, no garden games), a cultivated strip behind a deerproof fence. At this time of year the Poet's Corner pollination garden isn't buzzing and the John Beer Laburnum Walk is somewhat shrivelled, but that's the best carpet of autumn crocus I've seen this season.



Hurrah it's King Henry's Mound, a prehistoric burial hump set on the highest point of Richmond Hill. It's perhaps best known for its protected view of St Paul's Cathedral through a 'keyhole' gap in the trees, the dome unobstructed and perfectly framed despite being ten miles away. A telescope has been provided for those whose eyesight isn't owl-like, and I got lucky (for the first time ever) by having it to myself for a full five minutes. Alas the view of St Paul's has been permanently wrecked by Manhattan Loft Gardens, a 42 storey tower in Stratford whose boxy bulk now rises behind the entire right-hand curve of the dome. Protected view regulations didn't apply to the full corridor behind the dome so this misplaced abomination slipped through the planning process and, well, what a bloody shame.

That's where my nice walk ends, atop a peak that somehow is only a mile from the hubbub of Richmond Bridge. From here you could drop down the hill to Petersham, you could carry on across the heart of the park or you could just retreat to Pembroke Lodge for tea and a scone. Whichever way you go from here it's all downhill, so that's nice.

 Friday, September 30, 2022

30 unblogged things I did in September

Thu 1: Life is pootling along quite normally. Boris Johnson is Prime Minister, the Queen's at Balmoral, the sun sets just before eight, the pound's at $1.15, Labour's at 42% in the polls, interest rates are under 2%, Russia's on the back foot in Ukraine and it's still short sleeve weather. How much could change in a month?
Fri 2: A horde of teenage boys commandeered the front of the top deck of the 132 bus, surreptitiously vaping and discussing dubious sexual practices. Nearby passengers looked a little nervous, and were even more worried when the ringleader opened up a playlist on his phone and blared out... oh, Baggy Trousers by Madness. "I love this band," he said, and all his mates sang along, which I guess counts for wild behaviour in Eltham.
Sat 3: I took the tube replacement coach to Heathrow Airport - a luxury ride along the M4 - and there were only four of us on board. We got stuck in some bad roadworks on the A4 but it wasn't too slow and it was still £10 cheaper than taking Crossrail.
Sun 4: I finally visited [Redacted] because I was in the area and suddenly remembered it's open on Sundays. It's utterly atypically downmarket for zone 1, but it's not going to remain unblogged forever so I'd better not mention it now.



Mon 5: This photo shows the northernmost point in Greater London which is on the clockwise carriageway of the M25 about halfway between J24 and J25, just north of Crews Hill station. I would tell you more but we were driving home from Blenheim Palace at the time so quite tired, and nobody was keen to stop on the hard shoulder for a closer look.
Tue 6: Nice to see the Queen smiling as she despatches Boris Johnson. I do like that photo of her by the Balmoral fireplace while she waits for new PM Liz Truss to turn up. A rock of stability in these turbulent times.
Wed 7: I dropped into the Science Museum today which used to be easy, you just walked in. Instead when I said I hadn't pre-booked a ticket they sent me over to a single desk where a weary operative laboriously produced one, and after that I had the choice of eight self-service terminals to scan myself in. I hate to think how this ridiculous system copes at busy times. I gave them a fake name, it was the most contemptuous action I could think of.

Thu 8: Because it was chucking down with rain I came home before lunchtime, which is how I ended up watching all six hours of royal health updates from [12.30 The Queen's not well] to [6.30 The Queen has died]. It turns out she died halfway through, probably while Nicholas Witchell was wittering.
Fri 9: It also turns out that if you head to the front gates of Buckingham Palace before 7am to see the floral tributes, Ian Visits has got there first.
Sat 10: Something I didn't tell you about Open House: If you head really deep into the outer boroughs, sometimes there's only time to visit one venue.
Sun 11: Something I didn't tell you about Open House: I was much happier looking in the cabinets on the first floor than those on the narrow second floor balcony.
Mon 12: I bought some non-budget pate from the supermarket this week and ooh that's much nicer, but is it twice-the-price nicer?
Tue 13: I wasn't sure where would be best to watch the Queen's cortege pass by, so I started at Hanger Lane and walked for an hour along the A40, past premature crowds who hadn't realised she hadn't landed at Northolt yet. I found a rare quiet slot between a group in grey trackies and a pair in pink jackets with giant flags to wave, and waited for an hour in increasing amounts of rain to watch a flag-draped-box pass by for a few brief seconds. Then I went home, rewound iPlayer and spotted myself in the helicopter shot.



Wed 14: It's 20 years since I bought a copy of first album by The Streets, so today I played all five albums back to back and wow, what a debut, but followed by a sequence of ever-diminishing returns.
Thu 15: I never thought I'd get away with it for a year.
Fri 16: In this month's BBC Sounds recommendations, obviously there's the new season of Mark Steel's in Town (Tring! The Scillies! Nottingham! Paris!), and I'll also chuck in Gideon Coe's eclectic three hour themed evenings on Thursdays on 6Music. Meanwhile over on the iPlayer I thought teen thriller Red Rose started brilliantly and properly embraced its Bolton location but it had unhooked me somewhat by the end.
Sat 17: Something I didn't tell you about Open House: I didn't book but nobody checked and nobody cared.
Sun 18: Something I didn't tell you about Open House: I doubt you want to hear any more about Open House to be honest.
Mon 19: I headed into town very early to see arrangements for the state funeral, and every road around Westminster was already sealed off by big green panels so if you'd come up from the provinces you'd have seen precisely nothing and probably ended up watching a big screen in Hyde Park... which you could have done more comfortably back home, which is what I did.



Tue 20: In very local news, they've started knocking down the block of flats overlooking Stroudley Walk. The outer rooms are proving easier to smash than the inner stairwell.
Wed 21: Today I received a text message and an email telling me I'm eligible for a further Covid vaccine this autumn and inviting me to book online. So I went online and entered my NHS number and answered their questions, but was told "You do not need to book any coronavirus vaccination appointments using this service" so I didn't, and I'm a bit confused now.
Thu 22: I can confirm that a tube journey from Hatton Cross to any of the Heathrow terminals is now free, which it wasn't last month (but the free blue tickets don't work, you have to touch something in and out).
Fri 23: You can tell it's autumn because Cup-a-Soups are finally back on special offer in the supermarket (but the price increase since this time last year is a whopping 25%).



Sat 24: I dropped into Shoreditch Fire Station's Open Day, an opportunity to see new and vintage fire engines, meet firefighters and stroke old helmets. They were also showcasing the London Fire Brigade's new typeface which looks splendid, and is available on a number of products in the LFB online shop, because even the emergency services are resorting to fundraising these days.
Sun 25: I'm down to one functioning cassette recorder, and it's suddenly started playing tapes at muted volume making everything unlistenable, as if the 20th century is finally trying to eject me.
Mon 26: A new footbridge is being added underneath Barnes Bridge on the north side of the Thames, which'll speed up walks along the riverbank by chopping off a five minute diversion under the railway. Looks good, but I got there prematurely.
Tue 27: I was approached on the tram by a man from survey company Kantar asking where I'd been and where I was going so he could enter it into his tablet. But he didn't make it clear whether I was supposed to tell him where I was getting off (Reeves Corner), where I was leaving the tram network (Beckenham Road) or where I was ultimately heading (Bow Road), so my apologies if that messes up this year's figures.
Wed 28: I stumbled upon a miniature railway in Ruislip (not the one round the Lido, the one beside Yeading Brook) where a volunteer was busy mowing the grass between the tracks. It turns out you can ride their trains round a big loop on Sunday afternoons for £1, and I suspect the Roxbourne Railway should be a lot better known.



Thu 29: I have new neighbours in the flat below mine, and whenever they come out onto their balcony to smoke I can swiftly tell whether it's tobacco or weed even while sitting on my sofa. I need better insulation.
Fri 30: Life is pootling along quite abnormally. Liz Truss is Prime Minister, Charles III is King, the sun sets just after half past six, the pound bottomed out at $1.03, Labour's at 54% in the polls, interest rates are over 2%, Russia's annexed 15% of Ukraine and it's definitely jacket weather. How much can change in a month!


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