diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 14, 2020

20 years ago today, on a derelict site beside the Bow Back Rivers, the first contestants entered the first Big Brother House. On the evening of Friday 14th July 2000 ten unknown faces were driven in limos to Three Mills Studios, then ushered out of a back gate and herded across a narrow bridge hauling their suitcases behind them.

On the far side was a compound containing a space-age bungalow, rapidly constructed over the last two months and fitted out with 31 cameras and 26 microphones. The contestants' entry was so low key that Channel 4 didn't screen it live, believe it or not, saving the footage for the official launch show four days later. But within weeks the house's inhabitants were famous, even infamous, and 10 million tuned in to watch Craig's final victory on Day 64.

Peter Bazalgette's production company had scouted several locations for the first Big Brother House, including Radlett, Elstree and Shepperton, but eventually plumped for a scrap of wasteland in Bow. This lay within cabling distance of the back of a major studio complex, and best of all nobody lived anywhere nearby. The precise location was at the fork of two tidal waterways - the Prescot Channel and Abbey Creek - just to the south of the Abbey Mills pumping station and facing the Twelvetrees gasholder cluster. The production team even did the housemates' weekly shopping in my local Tesco, alas just before I moved to E3.

The series returned to Bow in 2001, transmitted slightly earlier in the year so it was all done and dusted by the end of July. Newham council then asked for their land back, with the intention of returning it to natural habitat, so the producers upped sticks and relocated to Borehamwood. The original site has had a chequered history since then, with wildlife certainly not the top priority, and Big Brother superfan sightseers are no longer welcomed. I've been down to the Prescot Channel for an anniversary visit.

I first stepped onto the original site in 2003, wandering through an unlocked gate into an empty field. It was already hard to spot that Channel 4 had ever been here, with even the footprint of the original building entirely indistinct. Grass now grew up across coarse pebbly soil, and a single group of birch saplings thrust through what might have been the bedroom or the chicken run. I had a rush just being here, amid the unobserved seclusion of what two years earlier had been Britain's most scrutinised field. This could have developed into a wildlife refuge or a nice place for a kickabout and a picnic, but alas it never got the chance. [three 2003 photos]

In 2007 British Waterways announced they needed to close the adjacent footpath in readiness for a grand Olympic project. Three Mills Lock would provide a gateway for the eco-friendly delivery of materials needed to construct the Olympic Park, as well as sealing off prime riverside upstream from the vagaries of tidal water. I headed back before they sealed off the area, stood on Davina's Bridge one last time and then peered through what was now a firmly locked gate. The House had been reclaimed by scrubland, in part, while a broad swathe of mud dominated elsewhere.

Three Mills Lock transformed the Prescot Channel, even if hardly any boats have ever used it for its intended purpose. In 2012 a temporary footbridge was added where the original had been, much higher than before to cater for all those non-existent boats. This should have offered an excellent view of the Big Brother compound, except that this had recently been entirely bulldozed to make way for the Lee Tunnel, a massive sewage-based construction project. Material excavated from its massive shaft was now being stored and stacked where C4's daily drama had taken place, and Newham's dream of creating a nature reserve was officially dead.

The Lee Tunnel, itself the opening salvo of the ongoing Thames Tideway project, was eventually completed in 2016. This meant the footpath round the back of the old site could now be reopened, after the best part of a decade, with access now via a footbridge over Three Mills Lock. It was good to finally be back, if only walking past. But although all of Thames Water's building works had now been cleared away, a huge heap of excavated spoil now covered the area where the House had been, firmly sealed off behind a much sturdier metal fence.

Which is pretty much how things are today. A grassy hump in a quarantined field.

The Long Wall Path which loops round the old House is busier now, being a useful connection between Three Mills Green and the Greenway for walkers and cyclists alike. One side faces a river you can hardly glimpse, screened by trees and the most extensive invasion of Himalayan balsam I have ever seen. On the landward side is the original wooden fence, with a few of its slats missing allowing anyone to slip through, but only as far as the new metal fence which isolates the Big Brother site.

Not only has the first Big Brother House disappeared, but the land on which it sat has been entirely covered over and sealed off. Grass and saplings now colonise the spoil heap, in much the same way that they colonised the underlying soil after the House was first taken down. The footbridge that starred in every eviction episode has been removed to make way for a white elephant Olympic infrastructure project whose lock gates rarely open. And a futuristic dome now caps the shaft of the Lee Tunnel alongside, which has helped to relieve the Northern Outfall Sewer's Victorian engineering. One Bazalgette project lives on, while his great-grandson's groundbreaking media project has been entirely wiped away.

 Monday, July 13, 2020

I hope you enjoyed the second weekend of eased lockdown.

The opportunity to get out, do things and meet people again.

It certainly makes a change from how things used to be a while back.

I mean, do you remember when the guidance looked like this?

Actually that is the current government guidance from the top of the gov.uk/coronavirus webpage. We are still being asked to stay at home and work from home where possible, to limit contact with other people and to stay 2m apart if we can.

You might have thought the top level guidance was a bit more relaxed than that by now. I suspect a lot of people do, so are happily following imaginary rules about one metre spacing and "using their common sense". The police won't be prosecuting anyone for not following the guidance, obviously, but I suspect we are now at the stage where most people aren't entirely sure what the official guidance is.

To test this out, let's see how good you are on the current guidance about gatherings.

Here are four houses on an imaginary English street, and their inhabitants.


• Barry and Carrie live in the first house with their children Garry, Harry and Larry.
• Sisters Dolly and Polly live in the second house. They're both over 70.
• Andy, Mandy and Sandy share the house nextdoor.
• Randi lives alone, and has chosen to form a support bubble with Andy, Mandy and Sandy.

Six questions follow.
In each case, look at the group of people meeting up and decide whether the gathering is allowed or not.
Yes or No?

The first three gatherings are indoors.
Allowed or not allowed?





Try judging for yourself, Yes or No, before reading on.


1) Gathering number one shows seven people from two households meeting up indoors. Two of the people are over 70 but that's fine, there are currently no rules stopping older people from visiting neighbours. It's also fine that seven people are indoors together. Since 4th July it's been OK for members of two households to meet together indoors, ideally practising social distancing while they do so, which means this is a Yes.

2) Gathering number two shows three people from three households meeting up indoors. And this is not OK. At no point has the government allowed more than two households to come together indoors, because gatherings of multiple households would speed up the spread of the virus should one person be infected. Even if Carrie, Polly and Mandy met in a restaurant or down the pub, even with plastic screens everywhere, this is still a No.

3) Gathering number three shows nine people from three households meeting up indoors. Last time three households was a no-no, but this time it's fine because Randi is in a support bubble. Since Friday 13th June "anyone in your support bubble counts as one household", so Randi can hook up with Andy, Mandy and Sandy indoors as often as she likes. It may be the largest gathering on the list, but this is still a Yes.

The next three gatherings are outdoors.
Allowed or not allowed?








Try judging for yourself, Yes or No, before reading on.


4) Gathering number four shows eight people from two households meeting up outdoors. Again, because it's two households meeting up, this is all fine. Gatherings of more than 30 people are banned by law, indoors and out, but it's highly unlikely that two households combined would ever top that total. In this case, definitely a Yes.

5) Gathering number five shows six people from three households meeting up outdoors. It wasn't OK to have three households meeting up indoors but it is OK outside, so long as no more than six people in total are present. Technically you could have six people each from a different household, for example meeting up for a nice socially distanced picnic in the park. This time, multiple households is a Yes.

6) Gathering number six shows seven people from four households meeting up outdoors. Randi's support bubble means technically this is three households meeting up rather than four. But unfortunately Randi turning up has also tipped the number of people over six, so this particular gathering is not allowed. Outdoors it's people rather than households that makes the difference, with six the maximum permissible, which is why this is a No.

Part of me wonders how many you scored out of six, but part of me is much more interested in how many times you've met up with people in contravention of the official guidance on gatherings, inadvertently or otherwise.

In summary, the underlying rules are actually quite simple:
• You can meet in groups of up to two households in any location - public or private, indoors or outdoors.
• You can meet outdoors in groups of up to six people from different households.
• Anyone in your support bubble counts as one household.
Or, simpler still:
• You should only be socialising in groups of up to two households indoors and outdoors or up to six people from different households outdoors.
But if we as a country haven't internalised rules as plainly stated as this, or have chosen to disregard them, what hope do we have with the more complicated stuff?

 Sunday, July 12, 2020

I have become mildly obsessed by the retail collages outside convenience shops. Reminders that you might want to pop inside and grab some lunch, replenish your larder or stuff your face. Where do these vinyls come from, is there a stock provider and how do they decide what products to include?

This first graphic is from Sanny's Mini Market Premier Express in New Barn Street, Plaistow E13.

Sandwiches... chocolate... bread... vegetables... eggs... milk.

The packs of sandwiches are intriguing because two are Tesco Light Choices Ham & Cheese and the other is a Co-Op Classic Chicken. It might be possible to buy one of these inside the Mini Market but certainly not both. A little online digging confirms that the Ham and Cheese Sandwich is an Alamy stock image (ID: C4WKCF), which is starting to suggest that some kind of cottage industry exists for the purpose of knocking out semi-amateur grocery graphics.

Much of the chocolate selection consists of a job lot of multiple Dairy Milk varieties, but the remainder is unexpectedly varied. Bounty and Maltesers come from Mars, KitKat is from Nestlé, and Flake, Double Decker and the box of Roses are from Cadbury. The one true chocolate oddity is a Cadbury's Valentines gift box containing a Curly Wurly, a finger of Fudge and a Freddo, which whilst not unwelcome as presents go would seem highly unlikely to impress anyone's sweetheart long-term.

Beneath the giant Hovis loaf is a brown paper bag overflowing with implausibly stacked items. Slices of unwrapped bacon. The top of a foil-wrapped bottle. Maybe digestives. Possibly a cucumber. A glimpse of a peach. A big pack of aspirational chocolate biscuits from a brand that only lowly independent shops dare to stock. A red pepper that's definitely clipart rather than a genuine photograph. It's just as well nobody ever looks at this stuff too closely.

Finally come the fresh groceries, which inexplicably include sticks of celery propped up against an expensive bottle of olive oil. Four tins are shown, but with their labels missing so shoppers would have to guess what might be inside. Two dozen eggs have been piled up in a bowl and overtopped by a pair of levitating red peppers. To complete the tableau is a huge bottle of Cravendale milk. Absolutely no expert Photoshopping abilities have been used to create this image, should any of you be in need of a new career.

My apologies, I appear to be over-analysing the groceries pictured in a corner shop window on a Plaistow sidestreet.

Here's another E13 example, this time from Farm Groceries on the corner of Balaam Street and Whitwell Road.

This is even less an attempt at recreating reality and far more an identity parade of brightly-coloured packaging. Blue backgrounds appear to be the default option, by the way.
Tubs: Dromona Pure Butter, Fage Greek Yoghurt, Whole Earth Peanut Butter
Packets: Cricketer Farm Vintage Cheddar, Brown Bag smoked bacon crisps, Altintop salty crisp sunflower seeds, Walkers ready salted, Ruffles cheddar and sour cream, Cheetos crunchy, Pringles BBQ, Jimmy Dean premium regular sausage
Bottles: Heinz Mayonnaise, Countrylife milk, Nutri-Boost, Horlicks
Tins: Whole Butter Cookies, Heinz Beans, Princes tuna steak, Princes stewing steak, Marmarabirlik Turkish olives, Visciano Polpa a cubetti chopped tomatoes
Boxes: Tetley Cherry Bakewell green tea, Brooke Bond Taj Mahal, Brooke Bond Red Label, Typhoo (obscured), Tata Tea Chakra Gold, Nescafe Classic, Nescafe Sunrise, Lavazza Espresso, 8 Mini Nogger Sandwich ice creams, one Cornetto Classico Vanilla, four Almond Magnums
Toiletries: Pears soap, Lifebuoy soap, Lux soap, Dove soap, Cinthol soap, Breeze tissues, Pepsodent toothpaste, Colgate Maxfresh, Navratina hair oil, Comfort fabric conditioner, Surf Excel
Sorry, I didn't go out last night, as you can probably tell.

Let's head north to the Caner Supermarket in Odessa Road, Forest Gate. That is a very unusual name for a corner shop, by the way, but I suspect the local catchment area approves.

The big panels to the left feature beer, wine, fruit and vegetables, but it's the giant bottle of Jack Daniels that really stands out. Heading home? Why not nip inside for a bottle of something expensively alcoholic, you know you want to. The Corn Flakes have been presented in a bowl on a serving plate, which seems somewhat excessive for a breakfast staple. Some kind of fizzy tsunami is sweeping across the bottom half of the panel, carrying cans of both Pepsi and Coca-Cola with it, but it doesn't seem to have dampened the selection of periodicals... which are fantastically out of date.

This particular edition of the Evening Standard has a headline about Tony Blair and costs 20p, which means it must be from sometime before 2009 when the paper embarked on free distribution. Gordon Brown grins from the front of the Daily Telegraph, which suggests a similar vintage. But it's the copy of What's on TV magazine that finally gives the game away, with Charlie Stubbs' Corrie baby shocker and Pauline Fowler's criminal love interest dating this window display firmly from mid-2006. They don't print 'em like this any more.

Finally this is from the side of the kiosk at the junction of Church Street and New Plaistow Road in West Ham. The shutters came down on this retail outlet a while back.

Large panels for the National Lottery and Oyster wouldn't be the top promotional priority of any shopkeeper today, but the early 21st century was a different world. Those also look like obsolete logos on the cans of Fanta Orange and Sprite. That bag of Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles is somehow reassuringly retro. McVities no longer manufacture Mini Milk Choc Hobnobs in a 125g 'Tear & Share' packet, and Tangy Cheese Doritos are not sold in 180g bags.

But again it's the newspapers that offer the biggest clue to when this particular signage was manufactured. The Guardian hasn't yet shrunk in size, Michael Jackson is still alive and the Daily Express is still obsessed with migrant controls (not that the last of these helps much, sorry). As for the Birmingham Post, that's a really strange choice of local newspaper for a kiosk in the heart of the East End, but this is what you get when you purchase generic signage. And its headline about a plane crash in Coventry places this particular signage definitively in the summer of 2008, like a throwback from a oddly distant era.

Anyway, this is the current extent of my grocery vinyl obsession. I suspect there's a full-on photography exhibition in it somewhere, one day.

 Saturday, July 11, 2020

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• job centre staff will be doubled
• clap to celebrate the NHS's 72nd birthday
• £1.5bn emergency funding for the arts
• Wales ends 5 mile travel limit
• Northern Ireland reopens beauty salons
• Scotland opens beer gardens and pavement cafes
• 80% of those testing positive have no symptoms (ONS)
• Brazil's President Bolsonaro tests positive
• £30bn budget stimulus for jobs and the economy
• 'Eat Out To Help Out' (50% off in August)
• stamp duty cut with immediate effect
• Chancellor's plans 'not value for money'
• virus may spread by airborne transmission (WHO)
• reopening date set for pools, gyms and nail bars
• UK relaxes quarantine from 75 countries
• ONS estimate - one in 3,900 have the virus
• PM considering mandatory face masks in shops
• Belgium places Leicester on its red zone list
• cases accelerating in several US states

Worldwide deaths: 530,000 → 560,000
Worldwide cases: 11,100,000 → 12,600,000
UK deaths: 44,198 → 44,798
UK cases: 284,900 → 288,953
FTSE: down 1% (6157 → 6095)

Earlier this the week Uber announced it would be sponsoring Thames Clippers. It's not buying them, it's not calling them U-Boats, it's not making them turn up on demand and it's not stopping anyone else from turning up and using them. It is getting naming rights and adding riverboats to the Uber app. The service's new name will be "Uber Boat by Thames Clippers", a mouthful only upright brandingfolk will employ.

That's basically all you need to know. However, a lengthy press release was despatched to coincide with the announcement and various media platforms dutifully regurgitated the contents. I haven't seen that press release, but I thought I'd have a go at piecing it together from four published articles... by the Evening Standard, City AM, Time Out and Secret London. If two of them used a particular word or phrase I've used bold text, if three used it I've underlined and if all four slotted it in somewhere I've added red.

Here's what I get if I compare the four titles.
Uber teams up with Thames Clippers to launch Uber Boat in London
You'd expect Uber Boat to appear in all four headings, and it does. Clippers appears only three times but Thames scores the full four. So does launch/launches/launching, because that's the obvious term to use in a story about a new boat service, and because the press release spoonfed it perfectly.

I'll now try to reconstruct the main body of that press release. What might the first sentence have been?
Uber is to launch its first commuter boat service in London in partnership with Thames Clippers.
Uber and launch appear again, obviously. Three of the articles make the point that this is Uber's first such service, a statement akin to pointing out that the Dangleway was London's first cablecar. City AM initially blunders by suggesting that this is the world's first Uber Boat, whereas in fact one already exists plying the Croatian coast. The other word that crops up a lot in this opening salvo is partnership, because that's what this is (and because that's what the press release said).
The riverboats will be branded as Uber Boats by Thames Clippers and the service will launch later this summer.
Only one of the four news reports, from Time Out, correctly names the new brand as Uber Boat by Thames Clippers. The Evening Standard adds an 's' on the end of Boat, which just goes to show that cutting and pasting is harder than it looks. City AM and Secret London entirely ignore the second half of the name, which'll have the new brand's asset manager tearing their hair out. Meanwhile three of the four are careful to point out that nothing's happened yet, the official launch date is later this summer, a fact City AM carelessly overlooks.
The fleet of 20 boats will run to a timetable from 23 piers along the Thames from Putney to Woolwich.
Three of the four specifically mention a fleet of 20 boats, three emphasise the fact there's still a timetable and two run with the factual nugget of 23 piers. The two extremes of the current network (at Putney and Woolwich) have also been included to add a little weight to the final article. It's this easy to get newspapers and websites to publish your facts, not their opinions.
Passengers can buy tickets via the Uber app and board using a QR code on their phone, but will still have the option to buy tickets via existing channels or use a contactless or Oyster card.
In this sentence Uber users are made to feel special because they can faff around with a QR code to board the boat, while non-subscribers are simultaneously reassured they'll still be able to wave a card at the reader instead. It pays to cut and paste these kinds of phrases, or at least only lightly tweak them, rather than risk making a factual error.
Uber has trialled boat services before, notably an island-hopping service in Croatia in 2017 and punting trips in Cambridge last summer, but this is the first time it's offered a commuter-style service.
Time Out and the Evening Standard were both interested in lifting this part of the press release, whereas City AM and Secret London ignored it. I think the press release also contained information about Thames Clippers reducing its passenger density from 1.4 passengers per square metre to 0.85, because no hard-pressed journalist comes up with this kind of gobbet by themselves, but only one of the four articles mentioned it so I can't be sure.
Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe, said: ‘Many Londoners are looking for new ways to travel around the city, particularly when they start commuting back to work.’
Finally here's the bit where PR teams ensure that newspapers print exactly what they want without editing the words, and that's by shoehorning all the important information into a made-up quote. Three of the articles took the bait.
Thames Clippers co-founder and CEO Sean Collins added: “In our 22nd year of operation it is key that we continue to support London and its commuters with the ease of lockdown and return to work.”
They weren't quite so successful with Sean's quote, which City AM and Secret London ignored and Time Out seriously curtailed, but at least the first half made the cut.

In conclusion, a heck of a lot of what look like news stories are actually words spoonfed by the writer of a press release. All four of the news platforms I studied did a good job of reworking the information for their respective audiences, but still managed to write pretty much exactly what Uber and Thames Clippers wanted them to say. A lot of so-called news isn't news at all.

 Friday, July 10, 2020

One of the quirks of living on Bow Road is that Bow Road is also the A11.

I wondered whether any of you live on an A road...
...and in particular whether any of you live on an A road with a lower number than me.

This comments box is just for people who live on A roads. A road comments
Not near an A road, or round the corner from an A road, but properly on one.
All other comments at the foot of today's post, thanks.

Road classification was introduced in the UK in the early 1920s. A roads were the major through-routes at the heart of the road network, B roads weren't quite so important and the vast majority of roads were unclassified. If you'd like to read about how it happened, try here. For a road numbering FAQ, try here. For official government guidance, try here. If you'd like to see a map of the road network in 1956 try here.

There are nine one-digit A roads, the most important of all. Six of them head out radially from London and the other three from Edinburgh. If you live on one of these then you have beaten me in today's challenge.
A1 London to Edinburgh (409 miles, originally the Great North Road)
A2 London to Dover (77 miles, originally Watling Street)
A3 London to Portsmouth (74 miles)
A4 London to Bristol (130 miles, originally the Great West Road)
A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)
A6 London to Carlisle (282 miles, actually started in Barnet)
A7 Edinburgh to Carlisle (101 miles)
A8 Edinburgh to Gourock (67 miles, via Glasgow)
A9 Edinburgh to Wick (273 miles, via Inverness)
Most of the A1 is dual carriageway, but a few stretches at either end are ordinary single carriageway roads. From St Paul's Cathedral to Hendon and across the eastern suburbs of Edinburgh, for example, several sections of the A1 are faced by housing. If your flat merely overlooks the A1, or your postal address isn't the A1 but a separate access road, I'm going to claim that I still beat you anyway.

The A2 includes the Old Kent Road and New Cross Road as well as a thin slice of the Medway region. The A3 kicks off from London Bridge, so you might well live on it in Kennington, Clapham or Wandsworth before it goes all arterial. The A4 is possibly your best chance to beat me because much of it follows its original route, the M4 having taken most of the traffic. If you live on the Great West Road through west London, or on main streets in Slough, Reading, Bath or Bristol, then I have lost.

I'm less worried about you living on the the A5, which heads to Holyhead without troubling too many houses, but the A6 hits some meaty chunks of the Midlands and North West on its way to Carlisle. I used to live two streets away from the A6 when i lived in Bedford, but as we've already ascertained two streets away doesn't count. As for the As 7, 8 and 9, they may run for miles across Scotland but again it's Edinburgh where the highest chance of residential readers exists.

I live on a double-digit A road. Double-digit A roads fill in the gaps between the spokes of the single-digiters. Officially they're less important, although the A34 is considerably busier than the A7 so that doesn't always work.

More to the point, I live on a very low numbered double-digit A road. This is because I am fortuitous enough to live in Sector 1, between the A1 and the A2.
The Numbering of Roads (Michelin Guide, 1921)
For the purpose of numbering the roads, Great Britain has been divided into nine sectors, six of which radiate in clockwise order from London, and the remaining three similarly from Edinburgh. Sector I includes all the roads situated between roads A1 and A2, and so on clockwise for the remaining sectors. Note: an exception occurs between road A2 and the estuary of the Thames which is part of sector II and not sector I. All roads take their initial number from the sector in which they start, eg A12 and A17 start in Sector I, A36 and A310 start in sector III. A road does not necessarily terminate in the same sector in which it begins. The commencement of a road is determined by the end of it which would be reached first by the hands of a clock radiating from London.
Sector 1 covers England east of the A1 and includes most of East Anglia, Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire. Within this zone the lowest one-something A roads stretch out radially from London and are numbered in a clockwise direction.
A10 London to King's Lynn (90 miles)
A11 London to Norwich (112 miles)
A12 London to Lowestoft (129 miles)
A13 London to Southend (42 miles)
I nearly live on the A12, because the A11 meets the A12 at the Bow Roundabout. It didn't always, they used to split in Leytonstone, but the road was renumbered following completion of the A12 extension in 1999. The A11 now has a whopping 40 mile hiatus between Bow and Great Chesterford in Cambridgeshire, with the M11 nominally plugging the gap.

The remainder of the teens are further from London and were originally numbered according to how far away they were.
A14 Felixstowe to Rugby (127 miles, previously Royston to Alconbury)
A15 Peterborough to the Humber Bridge (96 miles)
A16 Peterborough to Grimsby (78 miles)
A17 Newark to King's Lynn (62 miles)
A18 Doncaster to Louth (58 miles)
A19 Doncaster to Newcastle (124 miles)
After the A19 come eighty other double digit A roads. They range (clockwise) from the A20 in Kent to the A69 out of Carlisle, then from the A70 to Ayr to the A99 to John O'Groats. If you live on any of those, I win.

The A road system continues to three- and four-digit numbers. If you live on one of those then you beat most people, but I still thrash you by living on the A11.

The A11 is beatable. My mum's aunt had a house on the Great Cambridge Road opposite the Spurs training ground, for example, so she lived on the A10 which trumps me. But whichever A road you live on, if you do, let me know in the comments box at the start of the post. The rest of you on your B roads or (more likely) unclassifieds, if you have any comments then they need to go in the usual box below.

 Thursday, July 09, 2020

A new tube map has just appeared at stations. What's unusual is that it's the May 2020 tube map, and we're now in July.

There wasn't much point releasing the new map in May when hardly anyone was travelling, so here it is two months later. But the network still isn't back to operational normality so this is more an aspirational tube map than a practical one. It still shows trains serving Heathrow Terminal 4, for example, whereas that loop of the Piccadilly line has been closed since May 9th.

The only significant difference since the last edition in December is blob related. Cockfosters and Mill Hill East are now shown as step-free, as are Taplow, Iver and Hanwell on TfL Rail to the west of London and Harold Wood to the east. This still leaves eight future Crossrail stations which are yet to gain step-free status (Ilford is the sole east London straggler).

The blobbification of Hanwell has created a particularly ugly conjunction with neighbouring station Southall. Both are in zone 4 so both have to fit within a thin stripe of barely-perceptible grey, hence they've been shunted less than one millimetre apart rather than equally spaced. It's one of the tube map's unspoken rules that station names must remain within their zone, and slavish adherence has created this otherwise entirely unnecessary squish.

TfL no longer produce a separate Night Tube map, but the normal map does include a small blue panel to explain where it runs. Unfortunately the Night Tube isn't running at the moment, having been closed to save money until at least March 2021 which is beyond the lifespan of this map. That closure began two months before the date on the front of the map, which just goes to show how prematurely large printing jobs have to go to press. Dated May, released July, but already out of date in March.

Cover artwork: Fantasias by Elisabeth Wild (died Feb 2020, aged 98)
Thinness of paper: total bleed-through
Number of blue daggers: 2
Discussion thread: here

As London's transport network nudges back to life, the TfL website has a page listing Busiest stations and times to travel.

22 stations have been picked out as especially busy as well as seven sections of line.

The TfL website lists them rather than providing a map, because lists are easier, but I thought I'd knock up a map because maps are more interesting. It's a rubbish map, sorry, but it is much better at showing what's going on.

The thick yellow lines are the busy sections of line. The Victoria line, the Jubilee line extension and the eastern end of the District line all feature. The short section of the Central line which runs underneath Oxford Street is particularly busy. Other than the Overground to Willesden Junction, west London is not affected.

The red blobs are stations where you might have to queue to gain entry or when interchanging between lines. North Acton, Clapham Junction, Canada Water and West Ham are busy for interchange only. Many of the busy stations are at the ends of lines, such as Brixton, Walthamstow and Lewisham. The borough of Newham has as many as five red blobs, with another two fractionally outside. Northeast London is disproportionately affected, while west London again gets off very lightly.

A special link has been provided to help passengers identify quieter times at every TfL station. This isn't hosted on the TfL website, it's a Microsoft Power BI data visualisation tool, so the graphs it displays can't be viewed in one go without scrolling and can only be accessed via a frustratingly cumbersome dropdown menu. But the data does at least seems to be up-to-date (stations which are currently closed, for example, do not appear).

The webpage rounds off with a list of 25 locations where queues for buses may be longest. Again there isn't a map, so again I've made a bad one.

London's 25 bus queue hotspots are almost all in zones 2, 3 and 4, with central and outermost London less affected. The only bus queue hotspot in zone 1 is at Elephant & Castle, while Bromley and Croydon are the sole representatives of zone 5. Haringey and Greenwich each have four red blobs, whereas no other boroughs have more than two. Again the western half of London is considerably less affected than the east.

In conclusion it seems Central London isn't busy, neither are the outer suburbs, and east London has more crowded public transport than west.

 Wednesday, July 08, 2020

One of the many art projects in the Olympic Park was called Fantastic Factology.
"A number of benches distributed throughout the Park will display plaques describing a fact. Nuggets of knowledge, from astrology to zoology, will be drawn from the broad experience of the local community and global specialists from a variety of fields. These will be statements to excite, bewilder, inform and inspire."
The facts were gathered from the public during a series of workshops in spring 2011, and also from experts including Sir Patrick Moore and Johnny Ball. Over 2000 facts were submitted and about 50 made the cut. Here's my favourite fact, stuck to a bench on the City Mill River facing the Olympic Stadium.

I remember learning this distance as a small child, but is it correct?

The Earth's orbit is famously elliptical, being closest to the Sun in the first week of January (at perihelion) and furthest in the first week of July (at aphelion). Aphelion this year was on 4th July, i.e. last Saturday, at which point Earth was 94,507,600 miles from the Sun. You could call that 95 million miles, or better still 94½. Perihelion was on 5th January when the distance was 91,398,200 miles, which you could call 91 million miles, or better still 91½. These distances vary slightly each year, but the average of the two is always around 92,955,000 miles, or as near to 93 million as makes no odds.

At time of blogging, it being the start of July, this Olympic Park bench is actually 95 million miles from the sun. On average however, and working to the nearest whole number, 93 million is perfectly OK.

A surprisingly high number of these plaques are astronomy-related. Perhaps Sir Patrick Moore submitted a job lot, or maybe really big numbers make for particularly fascinating facts.

Again let's check the data. Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, is indeed Earth's most distant manufactured object. It beats its sibling Voyager 2 by four billion kilometres, and is currently about 22½ billion km from home. It was somewhat closer in 2011 when the plaque was made, but careful wording on the part of the fact writer means that "more than 17 billion kilometres away" remains perfectly true. A further example of how things have changed since 2011 is that no right-minded Olympic project these days would ever use the word "man-made", but society wasn't programmed to complain at the time so there is is.

This is more like it, and makes a pleasant change from the usual fact about Eskimos having fifty words for snow. Horses are at the very heart of Mongolian life, which may explain why the Wikipedia page 'Horse culture in Mongolia' is over 9000 words long. Mongolians never give their horses individual names, apparently, but describe them instead by their characteristics. At least 100 words are used to describe the different colours horses can be, including 63 for 'brown horse' and about a dozen for red. Then there are 48 words to describe how horses move, such as galloping, trotting, sprinting, loping, etc, and all I can say is thank goodness we Britons don't name our cats and dogs in the same way.

No, I'm not having this. It reads less like a fact and more like a ghastly motivational platitude, or maybe the phrase inside a particularly lacklustre Valentine's card. What's more, it's not true.

Here's my proof. Suppose everyone is someone's favourite. Then there exists a one-to-one mapping from the entire human population onto itself such that each person both has a favourite and is somebody else's favourite. But somewhere on earth is a popular human being, let's call them X, who is the favourite person of more than one individual. This means there aren't enough one-to-one pairings left to match up everybody else, so at least one person will be left over, i.e. there must be at least one human being who is not someone's favourite, QED.

I'm not etnirley cvnoinecd by tihs etiehr. It's fnie so lnog as you olny jggule the itneranl lretets aruond a bit, but ocne you iatporrncoe woslleahe rnamernearegt of cnibrdealosy ltheegnir wdros tehn clebrinshoeptiimy bmocees clagglennilhy ptbmaliorec.

This is less a fascinating fact, more a recipe for ragù alla Bolognese. Whilst I have enormous respect for the ability to squeeze an entire set of ingredients and instructions into so few characters it is really quite hard to decipher, and who the hell needs a recipe for pasta while sitting on a bench anyway? I feel I've done some kind of public service by taking a photo and uploading it to the internet where it might be more useful.

Back to the proper facts. I wasn't previously aware of the shape of goats' pupils (the rectangular slit apparently creates a sharp panoramic view ideal for spotting carnivores across a broader field of vision). The banana fact is based on sequencing genomes, and could have featured a higher percentage (chicken 60%, mouse 85%, chimpanzee 96%) but bananas will never not be funny. As for Dolbear's Law this dates back to 1897 and was originally derived in Fahrenheit, but this is the correct metric version. That's not how you spell Celsius, though, and you won't be hearing any crickets in the Olympic Park no matter how long you listen.

The benches in the Olympic Park feature several more of these Fantastic Factology plaques, but alas no longer the full 56. The metalwork's only thin, and not especially rigorously attached, so dozens of the plaques have disappeared over the last eight years. I've only managed to find 13, which is barely a quarter of the original total. Furthermore the Fantastic Factology website which used to catalogue the project has also been extinguished so it's no longer possible to skim through the whole set. But if you want to know where you might smell cis-3-hexenal or how fast a woodpecker pecks, the answer is still out there on a bench.

 Tuesday, July 07, 2020

We hear a lot about the decline of the high street, but some High Streets really are a shadow of their former selves. Here are three near me where the rot set in decades ago.

Bromley High Street, E3

The village of Bow grew up in medieval times astride the main road to Essex. As the village grew a separate lane looped off to the south, rejoining the main road by Bow Bridge, and this eventually became Bromley High Street. The village green was built over with a string of shops. Several pubs opened to support a rising population. A large brewery grew up closer to the Lea. The thrum of commercial activity was high. And yet Bromley High Street today has become an insignificant backwater, and all it took was 20th century redevelopment.

A photo taken on this spot 100 years ago would have included a bakery, laundry, dining rooms, undertakers and cats' meat dealer. Today there's only a long wooden fence shielding a row of flats, while over on the right-hand side are more flats where an umbrella maker, tobacconist and greengrocer once traded. The Rose and Crown now serves peri-peri chicken, the former Bromley Dairy fixes smartphones and if a single market stall turns up on the piazza to sell fruit and veg it counts as a busy day. At least there's still some retail activity hereabouts on Stroudley Walk, but the thinning out of Bromley-by-Bow's local shops has been brutal.

After Bromley High Street bends left to run parallel to the main road no further businesses survive. This is mostly thanks to the LCC who turned much of the heart of Bow into mansion blocks in the 1930s, and Poplar HARCA who filled in the gaps half a century later. A parade of empty retail units below the tower block is now permanently shuttered. The Blue Anchor pub was demolished last year and is currently arising as flats. The Moulders Arms across the road was considerably unluckier and has been reborn as a small car park.

Hardly any traffic passes this way these days, although the D8 bus still deviates through (in one direction only) to pick up hardly anyone. The chief culprit is the A12 which swallowed up the eastern end of Bromley High Street in the 1970s, not to mention the parish church, so the road ends abruptly amid an excessive number of parking spaces. I often have to remind myself that I live in a medieval village because East London's relentless need for housing and roadspace has ripped that history away. On Bromley High Street it's almost impossible to imagine at all.

Poplar High Street, E14

In Roman times Poplar High Street was part of a causeway linking Londinium to the river at Blackwall, and by 1600 was lined by a few red-roofed cottages (if a pictorial map of the time is to be believed). The coming of the West India Docks brought it to greater prominence, this neighbouring street being ideal for living, drinking, spending... and likely whoring too. A fine Greek-style church was built to the north, followed by more pubs, a public library, a post office and all the usual palaver. But the new East India Dock Road proved a better draw for through traffic, and Poplar High Street now has a somewhat bypassed feel.

The road starts a little further east than you might think, as part of the cul-de-sac leading to Blackwall DLR station. This end of the street is very much in residential flux, with highrise showhomes to boot, but for the time being half of Robin Hood Gardens still overshadows the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. Beyond Poplar High Street's first junction comes a minor shopping parade, which peaks with a Tesco Express but could also sell you a car battery, all day breakfast or mobility scooter. Most traffic turns off at this point, but those who cycle ahead will see the road change completely.

From this point onwards Poplar High Street feels more 1980 than 2020, courtesy of Tower Hamlets' postwar flat rebuilding programme. Occasionally you'll see the shield of the LCC on a building signifying something older, and the old brick GLC Coroner's Court really stands out, and you can't miss the octagonal dome of the heritage Lansbury Hotel, and the Georgian almshouses nextdoor are a deservedly listed building, but the overall vibe is of quiet lowrise council estate suburbia.

It only takes a quick glimpse between the buildings to pierce the illusion and spot the intruder on the skyline. Canary Wharf's lofty towers are unnervingly close, but also cleanly segregated behind a railway and a dual carriageway with minimal access between the two. Somehow Poplar High Street has become the dividing line between ordinary Tower Hamlets and financial hothouse Tower Hamlets, an unspoken boundary that bankers very much prefer to live south of. There's nothing high about this street any more.

Stepney High Street, E1

Stepney is the original Tower Hamlet, once the sole village amid the fields immediately to the east of London. Its church was founded in the year 972 and for centuries had a parish which covered most of what's now the East End. The area surrounding St Dunstan's remained mostly open fields until the early 19th century, with a ring of cottages along the lanes encircling the churchyard. What's now Stepney High Street ran down the western edge, from the tip of Stepney Green to Lady Mico's Almshouses, becoming more important as the village was eventually swallowed on all sides by housing.

Other than the road's name, you'd never guess its former importance today. What's left of Stepney High Street is a stunted 100 metre link road squished between two sets of railings, and with barely a building to its name. One side is still St Dunstan's churchyard, with the backside of a youth centre squeezed in for good measure. The other side, once brimming with terraced houses, shops and at least three pubs, failed to survive the onslaught of the Luftwaffe and postwar planners and has been left as empty space.

Stand here and your nose will soon confirm that this is Stepney City Farm, founded in 1979 on the site of a bombed out church. Its pungent acres are home to sheep, goats, rabbits and donkeys, but no longer cows because the engineers at Crossrail needed their field for a major engineering project. A ventilation shaft marks the precise point where the purple line's two eastern branches diverge, which explains why construction workers have been busy here for the best part of a decade. Their archaeologists also found the remains of a Tudor manor house on site, mostly unshafted, whose history should one day be showcased at the City Farm's swish new Visitor Centre.

The land to either side of Stepney High Street is therefore brimming with historical interest, from a church with a starring role in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons to a subterranean railway junction bursting to the surface through a marquis's moat. But Stepney's high street itself is a miserable non-entity, several rungs below Poplar's and lower even than Bromley's. To ensure the decline of your local high street, start early.

 Monday, July 06, 2020

Hello from the 39th best blog in London. I might have hoped for better, but in a city of 9 million people 39 is actually damned good.

This is an independent ranking from Feedspot, a site that exists to aggregate other people's content and make a little money on the side. They've been around for several years, since the era when RSS readers looked like they might democratise the web, and are based in California. I don't recommend you sign up for Feedspot because nobody needs to view the blogosphere through a commercial filter, but their London rankings are interesting and might just have a dash of objectivity. Let's see.

Feedspot's list of Top 100 London Blogs & Websites by London Bloggers is regularly updated, maybe every couple of weeks. I was number 27 earlier in the year, have since slipped as low as 43 and last Wednesday scraped back to 39. Various criteria are used to shuffle the order, including relevance, frequency of posting, social media engagement, domain authority and Alexa Web Traffic Rank. Essentially it's a magic box which generates a list, nothing more, nothing less. But perhaps that list will contain some other blogs you'd be interested in reading in addition to reading this one.

Here's the current top 3.
1) Londonist
2) London On The Inside
3) Secret London
If Londonist weren't top of the list you'd assume something was wrong. Feedspot tells us they have 1.4m Twitter followers, 900K Facebook fans and 271K Instagram followers, a combined total no other London blog comes near. Feedspot also notes that Londonist are currently averaging "one post a day", rather than the usual eight, because it's hard to maintain a commercial focus during a pandemic. London On The Inside (2) and Secret London (3) are more unashamedly experience-related, focusing on events, venues and (especially) refreshment opportunities the capital's younger residents might enjoy. If A Huge Beer Garden Is Coming To Walthamstow, then you'll read the reworked press release here.

Secret London writes with more hyperbole, LOTI feels more promotional and Londonist is more likely to slip a report on heritage bollards inbetween. But it's an inescapable fact that London's three big-hitters each exist primarily to suggest where you might go to spend some money.

The rest of the top 10 is a little more eclectic.
4) Absolutely London
5) London Remembers
6) The Londoner
7) London Historians' Blog
8) London Eater
9) Mapping London
10) London Cycling Campaign
London Remembers (5) is a remarkable catalogue of the capital's plaques and memorials, though hardly designed to be enjoyed sequentially, blog-style. The London Historians' Blog (7), Mapping London (9) and London Cycling Campaign's news page (10) are blogs even you might be interested in reading, and also proof you don't need to be commercial (or abundant on social media) to be in this Top Ten. Meanwhile London Eater (8) specialises in restaurant reviews, but has only posted twice this year so I'm not entirely sure how it merits eighth place. It is however by far the highest placed foodie blog - surprisingly there are only two others in the Top 50.

What there are a heck of a lot of in the Top 50 are luxury lifestyle blogs. Absolutely London (4) is one such, officially "for the benefit of the city’s stylish cosmopolitan residents", i.e. much like an upmarket online version of Time Out. It's run by a sizeable team who specialise in fashion, beauty, food, travel and interiors, whereas The Londoner (6) is the domain of a single Instagram influencer living her very best life in front of the camera. Tens of thousands lap up this stuff because it's perfectly pitched. If you're a 67 year-old man who likes recounting vintage bus anecdotes, however, I doubt you'll find anything of interest here.

By my reckoning almost half of Feedspot's list is focused on appealing to a moneyed, mostly-female audience. Why target Walthamstow's skint millennials when you could earn more by showcasing super little bakeries, branded facecream and holidays in the Algarve? The roll call includes My Timeless Footsteps (11), A Lady in London (15), Hannah Gale (21), Scarlett London (22), Poppy Loves (25), The LDN Diaries (26), SilverSpoon London (31), Love and London (32), Liberty London Girl (35), Diary of a Londoness (37), London New Girl (42), The Stylist And The Wardrobe (43), Mummy in the City (47)... and we're not even halfway down the Top 100. As for Inthefrow (14) and Lily Pebbles (24), two classics of the glamorous lifestyle genre, both have Instagram followings that put Londonist totally in the shade.

Scattered throughout the Top 100 are some really weird entries. At 12 is Ably Realtime, the blog of a digital API platform service with no London relevance whatsoever. At 13 is City Falcon, the blog of a fintech dashboard based at Canary Wharf. At 20 is London Beep, which isn't a blog of any kind, more a succession of crass gift ideas. As for Crises Control at 33, this one's for you should you want to "keep up-to-date with the latest news updates and tips on incident management, mass notifications and business continuity plans". I know my blog is somewhat niche, but what it's doing below all of that lot I do not know.

You may by now be wondering where the good stuff is, by which you mean the blogs most likely to pander to your own personal interests. Well, Ian Visits is at 16, Spitalfields Life at 29, A London Inheritance at 44 and London Reconnections at 48, and I'm guessing they'll be more up your street. See also Brixton Blog at 40 and Kentishtowner at 54, although other local news blogs appear to have been overlooked in favour of cosy chats about cabaret and cupcakes. Cabbie Blog (65) and Deserter (71) provide useful correctives further down the list, but promotion-free blogs are very much in the minority.

And there I am at number 39, this week at least. "An east-end based London blogger who covers everything from new and quirky places to explore in London to city travel updates, in a distinctive and addictive style!" That's very kind of them. I'm a Feedspot rarity in having no Facebook presence whatsoever, which won't have helped my ranking, although I do apparently have a perfectly-middling Domain Authority of 50 out of 100. I rest one place below Mini Adventures, A Travel, Food and London Lifestyle Blog (38), but two places above FortySeven, "helping our clients to scale up their business by using .Net, Java, PHP and C++ technologies" (41).

So yes, I know all of this ranking business is meaningless marketing bluster, but if nothing else it demonstrates quite how much blogging has changed. Ten or fifteen years ago a similar list would have brimmed with personal musings, local newsfeeds and semi-professional collectives. Today the most highly-rated blogs exist to showcase personal brands and flog refreshment experiences. Times change. But dig down and the blogs you'll want to read are still there.

 Sunday, July 05, 2020

NHS quiz
To celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the National Health Service,
here are 20 words containing the letters N, H and S (in that order).
I've surgically removed all the other letters.
How many 'NHS' words can you resuscitate?

For example, *N*H*S would be INCHES.
(but I've tried to avoid plurals)

  1) **NH**S*
  2) N*H***S*
  3) *N***H*S*
  4) ***N*H*S*
  5) N***H**S*
  6) **N*H**S*
  7) ***N*H***S
  8) *N*H*S****
  9) ****NH**S*
10) **N***H*S*           
11) N**H*S****
12) *****N*H*S
13) *N*H*****S*
14) N***H****S*
15) N**H*****S*
16) ****N*H*S**
17) *NH*S*******
18) N*****H***S*
19) *******N*H*S**
20) N***H********S*

(All answers now in the comments box)

Sometimes weekend engineering works get their teeth into one part of town and refuse to let go. These are the planned closures on the District, Hammersmith & City and East London lines until the end of August.

weekendDistrict lineHammersmith & CityEast London Line
4, 5 JulyTower Hill to West Hamentire lineentire line
11, 12 JulyTower Hill to West Hamentire lineentire line
18, 19 JulyTower Hill to West Hamentire lineentire line
25, 26 JulyTower Hill to Dagenham Eastentire lineentire line
1, 2 AugEarl's Court to West Hamentire lineentire line
8, 9 Aug South Kensington to East Ham  Baker Street to Barking entire line
15, 16 AugTower Hill to Dagenham Eastentire lineentire line
22, 23 AugTower Hill to West Hamentire lineentire line
29, 30, 31 AugTower Hill to West Hamentire lineentire line

To confirm, that's no tube service between Tower Hill/Liverpool Street and West Ham for nine consecutive weekends, and also no Overground service on any part on the East London Line.

Thankfully the rail replacement buses get a rest during September, but then in October they start up again.

weekendDistrict lineHammersmith & CityEast London Line
10, 11 OctEarl's Court to Upminsterentire lineentire line
17, 18 Oct South Kensington to East Ham  Baker Street to Barking open Shadwell-Surrey Quays
24, 25 OctTower Hill to West Hamentire lineopen Shadwell-Surrey Quays

A fortnight's breathing space follows, followed by three more closures to round off the year.

weekendDistrict line   Hammersmith & City   East London Line
14, 15 Nov      Tower Hill to West Ham      entire lineopen Shadwell-Surrey Quays
21, 22 NovTower Hill to Upminsterentire lineopen Shadwell-Surrey Quays
28, 29 NovTower Hill to West Hamentire lineopen Shadwell-Surrey Quays

That's fifteen weekends between now and the end of November with no service at either of my two nearest tube stations, and ten weekends with no Overground service whatsoever between Highbury & Islington and Clapham/Croydon/Crystal Palace. That's an astonishing run of serious closures. It's clearly ideal to be doing this at a time when fewer people are travelling, but less good to be turfing people off socially distanced trains onto double decker buses.

The majority of these weekend closures are needed because Crossrail isn't finished yet. Specifically Whitechapel station still isn't ready, so closing the railway lines over the top allows them to get on with finishing works underneath. It remains a scandalous embarrassment that two years ago we were still being told Crossrail would open in December 2018, and yet here they are still doing necessary engineering works until November 2020.

Other closures are likely related to the Four Lines Modernisation programme, a long term project to significantly upgrade signalling on the sub-surface lines that's also running disastrously behind schedule. Section SM3 (Euston Square to Stepney Green) was originally due to be commissioned in February 2020, then got kicked into July, but further software issues (and coronavirus) have stalled it again so the proposed launch date is now Easter 2021. A deadline for section SMA6, beyond Stepney Green, isn't even on the horizon.

These seemingly endless closures for Crossrail works and signalling upgrades will all be worth it on some far-flung distant day when a step change to London's transport network has been delivered. But brace yourself, East London, because there are so many more weekend engineering works still to come.

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• global cases pass 10m, global deaths pass ½m
• non-essential shops open in Scotland
• "the worst is yet to come" (WHO)
• virus spike sees Leicester locked down
• Broadway to stay dark until January 2021
• infrastructure programme to boost the economy
• planning laws loosened
• UK death rate returns to normal
• 'expect more Leicesters'
• thousands of job losses announced
• EU borders reopened to 15 'safe' countries
• two Southampton theatres to close permanently
• face coverings must be worn in Scottish shops
• number of UK cases falls 10% after reclassification*
• England lifts quarantine from 'low risk' countries
• "grab a drink and raise a glass" (HM Treasury)
• "let's not blow it" (PM)
hairdressers and pubs reopen
• nine Melbourne tower blocks totally locked down

Worldwide deaths: 495,000 → 530,000
Worldwide cases: 9,900,000 → 11,100,000
UK deaths: 43,514 → 44,198
UK cases: 310,250 → 284,900*
FTSE: down 0.03% (6159 → 6157)

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