diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 27, 2021

We don't have hills in East London, as I blogged last April in a mournful post called I miss hills. I may be able to wander far and wide to north, south, east and west, but my vertical movement is consideraly more restrained. Nowhere in Tower Hamlets or Newham is more than 16m above sea level, the City tops out at 22m and Hackney only exceeds that around Stoke Newington. If I lived in a taller block of flats I could at least climb the stairs and go higher but I don't. Instead I've spent almost of 2021 so far less than 20 metres above sea level.

But I did finally beat that at the weekend when I walked the length of bus route 812 in Islington. The area around the Angel breaches the 30m contour, which is one reason why the escalator at the station there is so long. The peak, such as it is, comes just to the north of the big Sainsburys opposite the Islington Business Centre. It's no coincidence that the Regents Canal passes (in tunnel) directly underneath. My phone told me I was 42m above sea level, and the OS map concurred, so that's my 2021 elevation record.

I did better last year. I reached 50m in Cornwall at Saltash and Mount Edgcumbe and climbed to 60m by the cathedral in Lincoln. I barely broke a sweat in the centre of Swindon, which just happens to be around 100m, while the stone circle at Avebury delivered 150m. Better still I walked along the main road between Chesham and Amersham stations and the spot height there says 163m. But my 2020 record came when I went to the Sussex town of Crowborough where a bus stop by the A26 in the middle of a residential area peaked at 240m.

But I've managed a lot better than 240m in my time, which got me wondering...

What's the highest I've ever been?

I shall be asking you this question shortly, so pay attention.

For most of us the highest we've ever been was in an aeroplane, but at some unspecified time on some unspecified flight. Unless you've been paying extra-special attention, or were in the cockpit, you probably have no idea precisely how high it was. Long haul aircraft normally fly at a height of around 35000 feet, which is an astonishing 7 miles (or 11 kilometres) off the ground. That's an order of magnitude higher than anywhere you or I have been to on the ground, indeed well above the summit of Mount Everest. So we need to disregard plane flights, otherwise we're all going to have much the same record as each other.

So, importantly, what's the highest I've ever been without leaving the ground?

Tall buildings sound promising. I've been up the Shard, for example, which still is the tallest building in western Europe at 310m high. But visitors only get as high as the observation deck on the 72nd floor and that's 244m high instead. Sounds good, but it's beatable if you climb something that isn't officially a building. I beat that in April 1980 when I took the lift to the third stage of the Eiffel Tower which is 276m off the ground. Take that London. The Berliner Fernsehturm TV mast is higher, at 368m, but the restaurant where I dined in June 2016 is down at only 207m.

It ought to be a slamdunk for the Eiffel Tower but I have in fact been up the third tallest freestanding structure in the world - the CN Tower in Toronto. It was the tallest when I went up in 1976, five weeks after it opened, as part of the trip of a lifetime to see Mum's Canadian penpal. The main observation deck is 346m high, which wins already, but an extra SkyPod near the top of the pinnacle hits an amazing 447m. Unless you've been to China, Taipei (449m), Seoul (486m) or up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (556m) you cannot beat me. The world record for the highest observation deck belongs to the 118th floor of the Shanghai Tower at 562m and this (currently) tops the lot.

But I've been higher, and you probably have too, if you measure elevation in a different way.

Heights can be measured above ground level, which is what we did with tall buildings, or above sea level, which is what we normally do with hills. The two measurements give different answers. The bottom of the Shard is 4m above sea level, for example, which lifts the elevation of the observation deck from 244m to 248m. This turns out to be important because the highest ground in London (at Westerham Heights) is 245m above sea level, and that extra 4m makes the Shard fractionally higher. But if you happen to live in the adjacent livery stables then good news, your upstairs bedrooms are higher than the Shard's observation deck (just with not quite such a good view).

I'd like to argue that the highest I've been depends on height above sea level and not height above the ground. That's AOD (above ordnance datum) rather than AGL (above ground level). Paris is about 35m above sea level which puts the Eiffel Tower's top deck at 35+276=311m AOD. Toronto is about 75m up, which puts the Sky Pod at the top of the CN Tower at 75+346=421m AOD. These are undoubtedly massive... but are easily trounced by big hills.

The highest hill near London is Leith Hill at 294m, which comfortably beats the observation deck at the Shard. So do Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh (251m), the Cotswolds (330m) and the Malverns (425m). Walking boots are not always necessary to hit such heights, for example the centre of Buxton in Derbyshire is 300m above sea level. If you've ridden the Settle to Carlisle railway you'll have reached 356m at Ais Gill, and if you've driven the M62 across the Pennines you peaked at 372m. Both of these are beaten by the railway between Glasgow and Inverness at Druimuachdar (452m) and Snake Pass in the Peak District (512m). If you're measuring up from sea level, Snake Pass is two Shards high.

If you like serious hill-climbing you'll have beaten all these too. The summit of Kinder Scout is 636m, the Cheviot 815m and Scafell Pike - the highest peak in England - reaches 978m. Been there climbed that. But six Welsh mountains beat it, three of which I've conquered, including the highest of all which is of course Snowdon. At 1085m AOD it's the highest place I've ever been in Britain while still connected to the ground. The date was 18th September 1985, the view was entirely obscured and I got absolutely drenched.

If only I'd done some Scottish mountaineering I could have trounced that. No fewer than 56 Scottish mountains are higher than Snowdon, topped off by Ben Nevis at 1345m. But even that's beatable if you've climbed a higher mountain abroad. Your skiing holiday may be an easy winner, and without even leaving the resort. Zermatt's at 1608m, for example, Val d'Isere 1850m and Val Thorens 2300m. If by chance you've been to the top of Mont Blanc that's 4809m.

It seems that 'What's the highest you've ever been?' equates to what's the highest mountain you've ever been up, which in my case is Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. I went up two weeks before I went up the CN Tower, when I was just 11, aided and abetted by there being a Gondola Sky Ride from the car park at the bottom. The cablecar only got as far as a restaurant at 1105m, not the full 1340m, but that's as high as I've ever been. An American viewpoint in 1976 beats Snowdon in 1985 beats Scafell Pike in 1982.

And you may have beaten all those mountains with some quite ordinary global sightseeing. Denver is at 1610m, Johannesburg at 1750m and Nairobi at 1800m. Meanwhile Mexico City is at 2310m, Bogota at 2600m and La Paz at 3850m. If you ride the Teleférico cablecar around the Bolivian capital you should be able to top four thousand. High can mean urban rather than wild.

So I have three questions for you. Think carefully before you answer, and measure from the right base. You can access OS maps here and topographic maps here and here. No planes or helicopters, thanks.

What's the highest you've been this year? comments
(it's probably local) (measure from sea level)

What's the highest you've ever been above ground level? comments
(it's probably a tower or tall building)

What's the highest you've ever been above sea level? comments
(it's probably a hill, mountain or elevated city)

If you're not sure, or if you have any other elevated comments, please use the normal comments box below.

 Tuesday, January 26, 2021

We've all got somewhat institutionalised over the last few months, those of us without jobs or caring responsibilities especially so. Our activities restricted and horizons limited, one day merges relentlessly into another. A bit of routine helps, although there's always a danger it ends up a repetitive rut. Ideally we discover what works for us to get us through.

Here's how my days generally pan out at the moment, and have done for a while, and will do for a while more.

n.b. These events happen most days, but most days aren't exactly like this.
n.b. Think more weekday than weekend, because there is still a difference.
n.b. Things that don't happen most days, like shopping, aren't included.


My daily routine

6-7: Come to. Check time. Maybe a bit longer.

7-8: Come to again. Reach out and turn on the Today programme. Turn off as soon as it hits either a) the sports news b) Thought For The Day. Get up. Mug of tea. Check early responses to today's post. Smile/sigh as appropriate. Doomscroll back to midnight.

8-9: Switch on Radio 6 Music. Ablutions. Weigh self and record result. Porridge. Check RSS feeds. Insert contact lenses (if can be arsed). Hibernate laptop. Tog up appropriately for current weather. Check pockets include essential stuff.

9-10: Set off on daily exercise. Follow carefully-worked-out routine to leave building without touching anything. Set off in designated direction. Plug into two- or three-hour programme downloaded on BBC Sounds (likely a Sounds Of The..., a weekend breakfast show or the latest Dance Devotion). Keep eyes peeled for next numberplate in sequence.

10-11: Keep walking. This is all very exciting, relatively speaking. Reach farthest point of journey. Hope to see something interesting and blogworthy. Take notes/photos if appropriate. Yes it is a long walk home. Try to follow a route back which meanders down some street or path I somehow haven't followed before.

11-12: Finally open packet of Mini Cheddars. Attempt to make it last by eating half and putting it back in my pocket. All gone within five minutes. Switch to additional BBC Sounds programme if still some distance from home. Wave goodbye to the great outdoors for another day.

12-1: Return home. Check mailbox. Wash hands. Change out of jeans into something more comfortable. Unhibernate laptop. Restart browser. Mug of tea. Upload carefully-selected photo to Instagram. Update compass rose of post-its stuck to hallway wall showing approximate direction and distance of seven most recent walks.



Run bath. Pick 30 minute programme to listen to while soaking, for example More or Less, Counterpoint or The News Quiz. Make sure to have exited bath by 12.50. Start making lunch at 12.53. Finish making lunch at 12.59.

1-2: Watch BBC One O'Clock News (in preference to the Six or Ten later in the day - once is enough). Toast, something spreadable, cucumber, cheese, bag of Frazzles, cup-a-soup, choc ice. Tackle today's sandwich sudoku. Follow up with BBC local news. Wash up. Say hi to BestMate, virtually.

2-3: Consider doing one of the many tasks I've been putting off, like sorting out that box of stuff from the 1980s or cleaning my trainers or rationalising some shelves or filing some bills. Decide against because there isn't time. Instead head to iPlayer and find something worth watching for approximately two hours, like a film or two episodes of a mini series or four half-hour episodes of something (or equivalent).

3-4: Pause streaming. Mug of tea. Hot cross bun. Restart streaming. Stray onto sofa. Pick an unread bit of the weekend newspaper and read/solve it. Attempt to do this before it gets dark (n.b. this has got easier lately).

4-5: Switch to BBC Sounds on smart TV. Fire up this morning's Chris Hawkins early breakfast show (because it's 2½ hours long but only interrupted by a single news broadcast). Start writing tomorrow's post (or earlier if particularly long, or later if inspiration has yet to strike). Try very hard not to eat a Kit-Kat.

5-6: Continue writing. Ignore any government press conference because I've learned my lesson. Turn on oven. After appropriate interval remember to go back and add mainstay of evening meal. Heat pan of water. Add potatoes.

6-7: Add mushrooms, carrots and sprouts. Add peas. Pile onto plate. Add pepper, plus gravy, vinegar or ketchup as appropriate. Find something to watch while eating, maybe on YouTube. Fruit yoghurt. Clean hob. Another mug of tea. Succumb to Wagon Wheel. Continue writing.

7-8: The Archers, if I remember. Continue writing. Switch to linear TV, depending on what's on.

8-9: Continue writing. Continue watching. Probably an apple.

9-10: Continue writing. Continue watching. Maybe a hot chocolate.

10-11: Hopefully reached the tidying-up and adding links stage by this point. Switch to something more music-based (but at low volume).

11-12: Finally press publish. Finish doomscrolling. Clean of teeth. Retire to bed. Write diary. Play Threes once too often. Muse on the extraordinary mundanity of life.

12-1: Listen to Radio 4 Midnight News. Try to stay awake until weather forecast. If unsuccessful, reawaken during Sailing By. Sleep.

REPEAT

 Monday, January 25, 2021

Last week I spotted a vehicle which operates one of London's most unusual bus routes - the 812.



That's odd, I thought. I'm in in Dalston and the 812 doesn't go to to Dalston, it runs round the backstreets of Islington. Even odder, I'm sure route 812 was suspended last March and hasn't operated since. I decided the branded minibus must be off doing something more useful like transporting the elderly elsewhere, but my close encounter also encouraged me to go and explore the route on foot...

Route 812: Hoxton to Old Street
Location: Islington south
Length of journey: 4 miles, 30 minutes


The 812 is the only inner London bus route not operated by TfL. Instead it's funded by Islington council to ferry its older and disabled residents around the southern end of the borough. Local people had their say in where it goes, which is almost entirely down streets where no other buses go, linking homes to key services, shops, surgeries and day centres. Freedom Pass holders get their spin for free, but anyone else can ride for a bargain £1 fare (Oyster not accepted). Buses run every 30 minutes but only on weekdays and only between 9am and 5pm. They're operated as a social initiative by the Hackney-based HCT Group who also run 17 'proper' red bus routes in northeast London. For more information check out their special route 812 website.

If you remember TfL bus maps, the 812 was the sole green-coloured route wiggling around central London.



Buses start their journey in the borough of Hackney, but only just, on the south side of the Regents Canal by the Rosemary Branch bridge. No bus stop is provided, nor obvious layover space, so I guess you just wander over and look willing when the minibus appears. The first stop is across the water on Southgate Road opposite Tesco Express, a rare occasion when the 812 is marked with a tile and a timetable. Almost all of the rest of the route is along otherwise unbussed streets, and Hail & Ride, so physical evidence of the 812's existence is generally minimal.



The first deep dive into the backstreets is up Downham Road, through a narrow bus gate marked buses and cycles only. Local residents with cars must curse the 812 every time they take a lengthy detour. The housing mix hereabouts is postwar flats and elegant Georgian terraces, mostly the latter, plus the occasional converted warehouse. Nobody in this otherwise unserved neighbourhood is more than 400m from a red bus route, the usual TfL threshold of concern, but the immediate elderly must welcome the opportunity to walk less far.

At New North Road the 812 briefly crosses the path of the 271, then plunges back into residential solitude. The City of London runs a retirement home down one side of Prebend Street, liberally decorated with 'No Junk Mail' signs on individual front doors. If Sunday mornings are the judge then Pophams Bakery is by far the most popular business along the entire route, the queue outside inexplicably over twenty strong. Either local people really like coffee or they're entirely unable to bake Marmite, Schlossberger, spring onion & sesame seed pastries at home.



The 812's next task is to thread from Essex Road across to Upper Street. On the outward journey it diverts via the boutiques of Cross Street (and a community centre), whereas coming back the other way is quicker thanks to inner Islington's one-way system. Drivers then turn right at Hotblack Desiato, the infamous hard rock estate agents, to enter the elegance of Theberton Street. This is an unusually broad thoroughfare, but also now blocked halfway down by a bus-only slalom, which must annoy cabbies ending up here after following the first ride in 'The Knowledge'.

The 812 cunningly avoids passing any of Islington's tube or railway stations because it's that kind of route, so skips the main drag by the Angel. Instead it nips round the back of the Angel Central shopping mall, then stops at a proper bus shelter outside the giant Sainsburys. But I like to think that most of those aboard the minibus instead alight at the far end of Chapel Market and do their grocery shopping properly there. The fruit and veg stalls were doing a roaring trade on Sunday morning ('Shop quickly, Shop Alone').



Across Pentonville Road the 812 again strikes out alone as it descends past the reservoir (and the triple point where the N, W and E postcodes meet). This odd route's oddest moment comes when it bears off down Cruikshank Street for a down-and-uphill doubleback. It first skirts Bevin Court, the modernist block which contains Lubetkin's most stunning staircase, then loops round the sloping 'roundabout' of Percy Circus. It's hard to imagine any of the local populace needing a bus, merely cursing another recently-installed bus gate, but who's to say who really lives behind these elegant front doors?

After that diversion the 812 continues past New River Head and across Rosebery Avenue into the heart of Finsbury proper. Here passengers can ding the bell, or whatever they do, to alight at the launderette end of trendy Exmouth Market. Next it skirts Spa Fields and passes beneath the first tower block on the journey, because the southeast corner of the borough is densely residential. And then it's time to set off on the mile-long anti-clockwise loop at the end of the route which serves the backstreets to either side of Old Street.



St John Street is historic and has the last of the proper bus stops. Compton Street has a chicane that only a minibus could tackle. Golden Lane scrapes the edge of the City of London, because that's how far south we've ventured. Bunhill Row serves a historic nonconformist burial ground but also a lot more bog-standard flats than you'd expect to exist this close to a global financial centre. Ironmonger Row is where the very splendid Baths are, plus Finsbury Leisure Centre if that's your preferred destination. Lever Street is much broader than modern usage suggests it needs to be... and then the loop is closed and the 812 continues back towards Hoxton.

I started out wondering why on earth the 812 was needed and ended up realising quite how many elderly and disabled people might live close to its meandering path. Islington is the most densely-populated borough in the UK, so if you can't make a bespoke minibus service work here then what hope do you have? And even though the 812's not running at the moment, tracing its route is still a great way to explore some fascinating corners of inner London that aren't quite on the beaten track. Well worth a pound of your money should the opportunity ever return.

 Sunday, January 24, 2021

The first flake comes as an exhilarating surprise. It is not alone, that's definitely snow. A mother and her small daughter share the joy, pausing their walk to beam at the animated sky. The queue outside the bakery looks up and chatters excitably. The streets have a dusting like icing sugar. It's been a year since London saw anything like it.



The flakes fall larger and faster - proper Christmas card stuff. Families come out onto their doorsteps to watch, or gather on their balconies, or start togging up in coats and scarves and hats. The queue outside the coffee shop disperses to upload the scene to Insta. It's been a couple of years since London saw anything like it.



The air is swirling. It's what Londoners like to call a blizzard despite being nothing of the sort. The grass in the park is increasingly covered, not just with snow but also with people come to experience it. Toddlers stare in wonder at something they've never seen before. It could ultimately be the heaviest fall London's seen in years.



The snow has reached that special thickness where it scrunches underfoot. One boy's rolled enough to make the bottom of a snowman - his sister's working on the head. Even the trees are catching it now. What chance 'Stay At Home' when outside is such fun? Flip your camera to capture a winning face'n'flakes selfie. It's been a full hour now and London is agog.



The rate of snowfall looks to be easing. Watch your footing on the slushy pavement, it's starting to get slippery. People are cold and wet now and the novelty's wearing off - should've brought a warmer hat. It'll not be long before the magic fades, the grass is green again and the brief excitement but a memory. Watch the skies.

Only three London boroughs can be spelt out using the first letters of London boroughs.

One is Westminster
(but it's not ideal because
it uses Tower Hamlets twice)

Wandsworth
Ealing
Sutton
Tower Hamlets
Merton
Islington
Newham
Southwark
Tower Hamlets
Enfield
Redbridge
 Another is Greenwich
(but it's not ideal because
it uses Greenwich itself)

Greenwich
Redbridge
Ealing
Enfield
Newham
Wandsworth
Islington
Camden
Hounslow

What's the other one (the only proper one)?

It's not a difficult puzzle, and someone'll probably have written the correct answer in the comments box within a few minutes, but see if you can work it out before you look.

Bus Stop M has never been more important.



20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• ten more regional vaccination hubs to open
• phased exit from lockdown if vaccine targets met
• Australia may not reopen its border this year
• vaccinations extended to the over 70s
• UK now has world's highest infection rate
• 1 in 10 Britons had antibodies in December
• Health Secretary self-isolates
• Scotland's lockdown extended to mid-February
• army helping out at NI hospitals
• "there will be tough weeks to come" (PM)
• Biden replaces Trump and reverses key policies
• 65 new vaccination centres open
• Glastonbury cancelled (2nd year running)
• vaccination rates vary considerably across UK
• Bond film postponed again, again
• R back below 1
• new variant may (or may not) be more deadly
• no plans for universal self-isolation payment
• calls to reduce gap between Pfizer jabs
• Guernsey reimposes lockdown

Worldwide deaths: 2,020,000 → 2,110,000
Worldwide cases: 94,000,000 → 98,000,000
UK deaths: 88,590 → 97,329
UK cases: 3,357,361 → 3,617,459
Vaccinations: 3,559,179 → 5,861,351
FTSE: down ½% (6735 → 6695)

 Saturday, January 23, 2021

Walthamstow Queen's Road station isn't on Queens Road in Walthamstow. I noticed this yesterday when I walked the full length of the street and didn't pass the station at any point. I saw a sign pointing towards it up Edinburgh Road but the station wasn't visible because it was too far away. The railway crosses underneath Queens Road a bit further down but that's not where the station is (which is 270m away to the north).



And I wondered, is this the London station furthest away from the thing it's named after?

This is a good question but also a subjective one. I discovered this when I made a list of all the tube, DLR and Overground stations in London and went through them one by one.

I immediately disregarded all the stations that were located somewhere within the place they're named after even if they weren't in the centre. Plaistow station is definitely in Plaistow, for example, even if it's not terribly central. I also disregarded all the stations named after a thing that later gave its name to the locality, for example Dollis Hill or Bush Hill Park. I entirely disregarded historical derivations, for example the pub and the battle which gave Maida Vale its name. You wouldn't have made exactly the same decisions as me, but then you probably wouldn't have worked your way through a 400-row spreadsheet either.

A lot of the places I was left with were the names of roads, green spaces, specific buildings or physical features, for example Goodge Street, Ravenscourt Park, St Paul's or Pontoon Dock. Next I got my digital ruler out and started measuring. I measured from the edge of the station to the edge of the thing, which at Surrey Quays meant the edge of the car park, not the shopping mall. I measured to where things used to be if they weren't there any more, for example Euston Square or Arsenal. And then I shuffled the resulting list in order of distance with the furthest first.


And I confirmed that Walthamstow Queen's Road isn't the station furthest from the thing it's named after, although it does sit squarely in the Top 10.

The ten London stations furthest away from the thing they're named after

1) Wanstead Park (1600m)
Wanstead Park is a splendid public park covering the grounds of a substantial Georgian mansion. Wanstead Park station is a mile to the south, not far from Wanstead Flats, which is what it should have been called instead. This perverse nomenclature, unaltered since the station opened in 1894, earns Wanstead Park the title of the London station furthest away from the thing it's named after.

2) Turnham Green (600m)
Turnham Green is a historic scrap of common in Chiswick alongside Chiswick High Road. The nearest tube station to Turnham Green is Chiswick Park, 200m distant. But Turnham Green station is 600m away on the edge of two different open spaces - Chiswick Common and Acton Green. This makes it the London tube station furthest away from the thing it's named after.

3) Harrow-on-the-Hill (550m)
This station may be terribly convenient for the centre of Harrow but it's very much at the bottom of the hill not the top. St Mary's Church and Harrow School are half a kilometre away to the south (and 25 metres higher up).

4) Brent Cross (500m)
This opened as Brent station, named after the adjacent river, but was renamed after the local shopping centre in 1976. Alas it's not as local as it could be, severed from the station by a roaring arterial road which makes for a less than inspiring walk.

5) Latimer Road (400m)
Latimer Road, the road, was once much longer and passed within 40m of the end of the station platforms. But Latimer Road was brutally severed fifty years ago by the construction of the A40 Westway, so the section south of the mega-roundabout is now called Freston Road instead.

6) Kew Gardens (390m)
If they'd called this station Kew I wouldn't have included it. But they called it Kew Gardens after the botanical paradise at the far end of Lichfield Road, so here it is in the Top Ten.

7) Royal Oak (330m)
The Royal Oak, you'll not be surprised to hear, was a pub. But the pub wasn't near the station, it was at the other end of Porchester Road at the junction with Bishops Bridge Road. And it isn't called the Royal Oak today, it's called The Porchester, which is a pity.

8) Bow Church (300m)
My local DLR station couldn't be called Bow Road because there was already one of those, so instead they named it after St Mary's the medieval church in the middle of the road. It's 230m from the station to the churchyard entrance but a full 300m to the front door, so I'm counting that.

9) Walthamstow Queen's Road (270m)
As previously mentioned, this Overground station on the Gospel Oak to Barking line is nowhere near the road of the same name.

10=) Upminster Bridge (255m)
The penultimate station at the eastern end of the District line is named after a bridge over the River Ingrebourne, just down the road past The Windmill pub.

10=) Mansion House (255m)
The Lord Mayor of London's official residence is adjacent to Bank station, not Mansion House station. The second closest station is Cannon Street and then it's a toss-up between Monument and Mansion House. It's Central London's most inappropriately named station, geographically speaking.

also more than 100m away from the thing they're named after: Putney Bridge, Stamford Brook, Stepney Green, Bond Street, Woolwich Arsenal, Holland Park, Chancery Lane, St James's Park, Wimbledon Park, Royal Victoria, Pontoon Dock, Cutty Sark, Maida Vale, Canons Park, Parsons Green, Temple, Arsenal, London Bridge, Island Gardens

n.b. I only considered tube stations in Greater London, otherwise Chalfont & Latimer would probably have won because the parish of Latimer is over 1000m from the station.
n.b. I only looked at tube stations, Overground stations, DLR stations, TfL Rail stations and tram stops.
n.b. I gave National Rail stations a miss because life's too short, sorry.
n.b. Alexandra Palace station beats everything here, for example.
n.b. You'd have done it differently, I know.

 Friday, January 22, 2021

One of the most important journeys you might make in the near future is to a vaccination centre. It might be to somewhere you know well or it might be to somewhere unfamiliar, in which case guidance on how to get there might prove helpful. TfL have therefore stepped in with a page on their website, the snappily titled tfl.gov.uk/jabs, to provide directions.

The page kicks off with a warning not to turn up unless you have an appointment and to wear a face covering while you travel. The page is frequently updated, launching two weeks ago with just one centre, and has subsequently been extended and refined. Currently three of London's largest vaccination centres are included:
• NHS COVID-19 vaccination centre, Newham at The ExCeL London
• NHS vaccination centre, Wembley
• NHS vaccination centre - Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Health Centre
The webpage is a useful resource but by no means perfect, indeed some of the transport-related information is unhelpful, unnecessary or misleading. Let's take a look at what it says about getting to ExCel.



Getting to the ExCeL vaccination centre by public transport ought to be simple. You head for Custom House station, and as soon as you're on the footbridge a series of electronic signs directs you to the main entrance. It's a very short walk and should take less than two minutes. That's all the guidance you really need.

The most important thing is that you head to the correct end of the building - the western end - because ExCeL is 600 metres long and negotiating your way around the perimeter is quite awkward.

The TfL webpage takes a unnecessarily complicated approach. Use our Journey Planner, it says.



But the destination it wants you to use isn't Custom House, it's ExCeL London, Western Gateway, London. And if you enter that, the Journey Planner tacks an unnecessary extra onto the end of your journey. After you reach Custom House station it invites you to continue for 6 minutes to an address it describes as 1 Sandstone Lane, because that's where you'd go if you were driving. But Sandstone Lane is a service road running underneath the main walkway, and there isn't a staircase where the Journey Planner claims so you can't get down there anyway. Not only is the end of the route unwalkable, it's an entirely pointless distraction.

And if you enter the postcode E16 1XL instead then the Journey Planner takes you somewhere entirely different. This time the extra walk takes 13 minutes and leads you round to a staff-only entrance on the other side of the building alongside the Royal Victoria Dock. Admittedly you would have walked past the correct entrance on the way so wouldn't have gone all the way, but this is ridiculous overcomplication.

In summary, using ExCeL London, Western Gateway, London takes you to the north side of the building and using E16 1XL takes you to the south side, whereas the correct entrance is to the west. It'd be a lot better to just use Custom House for ExCeL and keep it simple.

Next we get a map.



The map shows two walking routes to ExCeL but one is tiny and one is big. The walk from Custom House is tiny, and sensible, but gets very little prominence. Instead your eye is drawn to the walk from Canning Town which is much longer, and entirely unnecessary.

Anyone coming to ExCel by tube will first reach Canning Town, at which point the obvious thing to do is head up to the DLR and travel two stops east. It makes no sense to leave the station, which is a palaver in itself, and then walk the last mile on unfamiliar roads. Neither does it make sense to catch a bus for the last bit, as the map also suggests, nor to hail a taxi. The DLR is fully accessible and delivers you to a station alongside your destination with level access and no roads to cross. It's hard to imagine a situation whereby changing to any other mode at Canning Town would be better.

I went down to Canning Town station to see what efforts have been made to direct passengers to the vaccination centre. In the public part of the ticket hall, nothing. On the passageway out of the ticket hall, nothing. At the top of the main escalator, nothing. In the bus station, nothing. You could ask a member of staff, there's always one about, but the sum total of printed collateral is nil.

Only if you think to walk all the way through the bus station and out the other side does the first sign appear. This time last week it was a Nightingale Hospital sign but someone's been round and replaced those with a correctly branded Vaccination Centre version.



Unfortunately the second sign in the chain is pointing the wrong way... into a building site rather than along Silvertown Way. The third sign is 200m away, out of sight, and the fourth and fifth are pointing in the wrong direction back the way you came.



Should you make it round the corner into Tidal Basin Road the arrows remain very hit and miss, and by the time you reach the foot of Gateway Tower the sign has half-fallen off its mounting and is pointing at the sky.



I bet these were correct when they were installed, less than a week ago, but recent storms have done their worst with flimsy signage poorly attached. The end result is an ineffective intermittent chain of help to nobody, indeed somewhat of an embarrassment throughout.

The best thing I can say about the walking route is that the map says it takes 21 minutes and when I walked it that's precisely how long it took. However I'm a fit and healthy adult, a good 25 years younger than those currently making their way to ExCel for a jab, and I bet most octogenarians would take a lot longer.

This poster about buses is good.



Unfortunately I didn't see it where it would have been useful, i.e. at Canning Town bus station. Instead it's been posted up in the bus shelter outside the main entrance to ExCeL - the temporary shelter introduced in April for staff shuttles that are no longer running. In this location the poster's of no use whatsoever, because it describes how to get to the place you're already standing.

The website also has something to say about buses. "Download a bus spider map for the ExCeL London", it says, because ExCel is one of the places that still has one. Unfortunately a spider map is most useful for finding out how to leave somewhere, not how to get there, so the listed bus stops aren't much help. Also several of the buses on the map only stop at the wrong end of ExCeL so you really don't want those. The website helpfully lists the useful three, which are the 147, 241 and 325. Perversely it also lists the N551 which only serves ExCeL in the early hours, but perhaps that's a nod ahead to 24 hour vaccination.

The website goes on to give directions for anyone intending to drive to ExCeL, which is basically to go away and look at the ExCeL website instead. Parking is free for those attending for vaccination, which is good because the normal charge is £20. Taxis and private hire also get a mention on the webpage, but there's nothing whatsoever here for cyclists. This may be because ExCeL only has 60 cycle racks and 54 of them are at the wrong end of the building. The only convenient cycle racks are tucked away under the DLR walkway in a gloomy spot, almost as an afterthought. I doubt these six'll be overused during the octogenarian phase of vaccination, but capacity may prove awkward later in the process.

If you get an invite for vaccination in Wembley instead, the website's a lot more useful. For Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Health Centre it's rather less so, mainly because the nearest station's a mile's walk away and only one bus goes past the front door. Eventually there may be a lot more centres on this list, to the point where the webpage scrolls down and down and down for what seems like forever. It already manages to include an excess of information, not all of which is necessary and some of which is downright unhelpful. So if you do get an invite to ExCeL at some point then just get yourself a train to Custom House and best give the website a miss.

Afternoon update: won't you look at that...



 Thursday, January 21, 2021

come with me to little ilford.
we will see a medieval church, a hindu temple, the inspiration for a 60s hit record and britain's most profitable penalty charge notice hotspot.


little ilford, as the name suggests, is near ilford.
the pair are separated by the river roding and used to be called little ilford and great ilford.
today little ilford is in newham and ilford is in redbridge.



little ilford is recorded in the domesday book with a population of ten.
the centre of the medieval village lay half a mile south of the london-essex road.
soon it had a church, a manor house and a handful of cottages.
the railways came in the 19th century and then streets of terraced houses.
today you would not guess it was ever old, except...



this is the church of st mary the virgin.
parts of it date back to 1150, but the nave could be even older.
it's built of rubblestone with later brick additions, and topped with a louvred weatherboarded bellturret.
there you are walking down this very ordinary suburban street and suddenly across a stone wall is a grassy churchyard with scattered tombs and higgledy gravestones dated seventeen-something.



it's delightful.
it is not what you expect to find in the middle of a housing estate.



as if to prove the point, this is st stephen's across the road.
it's the local roman catholic church.
the current building is of 1950s vintage, but you probably guessed that from the copper spire.



and this is sri murugan temple just round the corner.
it opened in the backyard of a former pub in 1984 with the aim of serving london's tamil community.
the tower is 52 feet high and intricately carved with gods and pillars in traditional style.
inside is a black granite shrine devoted to lord muruga, one of the sons of parvathi and shiva.



further down church road by the shops is where the local manor house used to be.
in the 16th century it became a farmhouse, a large one, with fields spreading down to the river.
its last owner died in 1895 after which its land became the manor house estate.
today the area is generally known as manor park rather than little ilford.
if only the station had been called something else you might have heard of the place.



the houses eventually stop at little ilford park which rubs up against the north circular.
it has a lacklustre shrubbery, a couple of pylons and an awful lot of grass.
it's said to be the inspiration for itchycoo park, the famous small faces song written by steve marriott who grew up nearby, but the same claim is made for several other local open spaces.



little ilford has been in the news this week courtesy of a press release from comparethemarket.
they analysed penalty charge notices issued to drivers nationwide between august 2019 and july 2020 and decided that newham had issued the most.
in total the borough issued as many as 239,000 pcns raising £10,625,600 for council coffers.
and the site in newham which caught out the most drivers was browning road in little ilford.



this is the offending bridge crossing the london overground between woodgrange park and barking.
it has a sign saying no vehicles except buses, taxis and permit holders, plus two different signs warning about cameras.
you'd think it was clearly enough marked.
but no, thousands of people have driven through and been caught out and forced to pay up.
i particularly enjoyed this outburst on a legal forum.
After watching movie at Ilford I drove to EastHam following the route map which has been suggested by Google maps in my mobile. Surprisingly after 8 days I have received a PCN. However there was no prior displays stating the said condition. I drove as per the directions given by Google Maps. Could any one kindly suggest how do I avoid paying the PCN. Any reply will be highly appreciated.
they got short shrift i'm pleased to say.
what's odd about the closure is that browning road is a two-way street but local residents with permits are only allowed to drive through in a southerly direction.
that's because the adjacent roads form a veritable maze of one-way streets and travelling north is vaguely possible elsewhere.



if you walk to the other side of the bridge the sign is different and depicts a no through road.
there's also a separate blue sign just before the bridge saying bikes, buses and taxis only.
it is perhaps not as clear and consistent as it could be.



that's little ilford.
railways cut through it without stopping.
but vehicles can't use it as a cut-through because it's blocked off.
this may explain why little ilford is so little known.

 Wednesday, January 20, 2021



Dear Citizen [Insert NHS ID number]

This letter is to let you know that yes, we know you exist.

Sorry, when you saw the envelope you probably though it was your invitation to get the vaccine. It's not that. You're a lot further down the list, apologies.

Wait to be contacted

We'll let you know when it's your turn, don't worry. Another letter will arrive looking very much like this one. What we don't want you to do is get in touch and ask when it's going to be your turn. That would just clog up our system with unnecessary paperwork and delay things. So instead we've got in touch by letter to tell you not to get in touch with us, and hopefully that'll speed things up instead.

Please note that if we don't have your address then we won't have sent you a letter. Also if the address we have is incorrect then this letter will not have arrived. NHS databases are ropey at best so it's perfectly possible we have you down as living at an old address, or that someone mistranscribed your contact details from an index card handwritten in 1993. It is therefore crucial that you get in touch with us immediately if this letter has not arrived.

Please note that you cannot pick which of the two vaccines you receive. We won't be telling you which one it is before you turn up to ensure you don't turn down your opportunity beforehand. Do not wait for the Pfizer vaccine because the Oxford vaccine is less efficacious. Do not wait for the Oxford vaccine because the Pfizer vaccine is foreign. It's complicated enough trying to sort the supply chain as it is, what with the need for refrigeration and glass vials and everything, so you'll get the one you're given.

Attend both appointments

It is very important that you turn up for your second dose as well as your first. The vaccine is only fully effective after you've been jabbed twice. One dose definitely doesn't cut it.

Please note that we won't be telling you when your second appointment is. It might be in three weeks as the WHO recommends or it might be in three months because that's The British Way. By extending the gap between doses beyond the recommended duration we can inoculate twice as many people, thereby making the UK's statistics look much better than countries where they're doing this properly. No medical evidence exists to show that this approach works, but equally no medical evidence exists to show it doesn't. What's important is making as many people as possible as optimistic as possible as quickly possible, even if it turns out this fails to slow transmission.

Please note that we will not be providing you with a card or token confirming that your course of vaccine is complete. There are no plans to issue a special badge or wristband absolving the wearer from social distancing legislation. If a police officer spots you coughing with friends on a bus while not wearing a face covering the excuse "but I've been vaccinated" won't cut it. The NHS has enough problems with databases as it is, so don't expect us to be able to keep track of who has or hasn't been done.

Go where you're sent

Please note that you cannot request where your vaccination centre should be. We might send you to a draughty sports hall 20 miles from home, a community centre in a neighbouring town or your local pharmacy. It would be too burdensome to send everyone a letter with a list of options in advance so we haven't. Instead we've assumed everyone has a car, like we did with drive-in test centres, and can drop everything to attend any appointment anywhere. We're just throwing names into available slots, to be honest, because there simply isn't time for fine tuning.

Please note that if you fail to attend your given appointment we may not offer you a new one for several weeks. You have the right to wait until your local doctor's surgery eventually gets in touch and calls you in, because that'd be convenient, familiar and cosy. However we have no idea when your surgery will be receiving supplies because that's an entirely different department, which is why we prefer job lot bookings on a regional basis. Skip your designated two-hour round trip at your peril. You can always get a taxi.

Be patient

Please wait your turn. We cannot tell you in advance when we'll finally get round to inviting you for vaccination. You may think you're in a high priority group but we might disagree, either because our records are incorrect or because you have an inflated view of your own self-worth. A lot of septuagenarians with underlying health conditions need to be jabbed before we'll be dropping your name into our digital brantub.

If you don't want to wait your turn, please note that it doesn't work like that. The vaccine is only available through the NHS at no cost, much to the annoyance of BUPA and other private health insurance companies. If however you'd like a black market jab tomorrow please get in touch with a suitable backhander and we'll refer you to a list of approved suppliers operated by friends of government ministers.

Remain vigilant

Please note that one dose of the vaccine is insufficient for your life to return to normal. It takes a few weeks to develop an immune resistance so you should not hug the nurse after she has administered your injection, nor high five your driver on your way home. Do not feel tempted to nip round and meet with family indoors until an extra fortnight is up, and in fact not even then.

Please note that two doses of the vaccine are insufficient for your life to return to normal. It takes a few more weeks to develop maximum immune resistance so you should not whip off your face covering in the frozen foods aisle or organise a picnic with similarly-vaccinated friends. Do not feel tempted to plan a major gathering or book a holiday until an extra fortnight is up, and in fact not even then.

Be realistic

Please note that vaccination is not a magic bullet. You may feel on top of the world after you've had it but that won't be enough to keep the virus at bay. Indeed we currently have no definitive idea what the way out of this health crisis will be. Mass immunisation will help enormously but we don't know if it'll be sufficient, nor whether our gamble in spreading the two doses three months apart will pay off.

It may be that vaccination prevents deaths but not transmission. It may be that infection rates fall but refuse to fade away. It may be that so many people refuse to be vaccinated that herd immunity is never reached. It may be that new variants evolve faster than we can reformulate the vaccine. It may be that the vaccination programme merely enables a new normal rather than the old one. This is a virological experiment on a national scale, the outcome of which remains entirely uncertain.

This isn't about protecting you, it's about protecting wider society. You might be one of the small percentage who still get nasty symptoms, in which case we're very sorry, but if we can reduce all infections by a similar measure then the NHS might pull through. In the meantime we're sending you this letter as a reminder that we haven't forgotten you and to bring a little hope.

Stay at home. We'll be in touch.

 Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Random City of London ward (8): Walbrook



My eighth random ward, Walbrook, is named after a stream that once ran through the heart of the City. Walbrook lies right at the centre of things, at Bank Junction where as many as nine roads meet. What gives the ward its peculiar shape is that only five of the intervening wedges lie within Walbrook - Mansion House and the Bank of England included - and the other four will have to be documented elsewhere. [9 photos] [pdf map]



This is the ward where the Lord Mayor lives, or at least has his official residence. Mansion House was built in the mid 18th century in Palladian style, and still impresses. Its main entrance is on the first floor balcony, past some whopping lanterns, while a minor tradesmen's entrance provides access at ground level. A more practical front door exists just around the corner, outside which I spotted a pair of bootscrapers and the Lord Mayor's Lexus. Fans of blue police callboxes should be advised that the original here is no longer operational (Please Use Nearby Payphone). Also if you walk along the alleyway round the back of the building beware if you hear a klaxon sound because that means the metal fire escape is about to lower itself on top of you.



The building that dominates the ward, however, is the fortress-like home of the Bank of England. This occupies an entire City block between Lothbury and Threadneedle Street as well as a substantial amount of storage underground. The Bank took root here in 1734 and was famously rebuilt by Sir John Soane at the turn of the 19th century. Alas it was infamously rebuilt by Sir Herbert Baker between 1921 and 1942, replacing Soane's masterpiece with "a hotch-potch, a pasticcio, a patch-work of symbolical odds-and-ends". One of the most striking features is a total absence of windows around the curtain wall, as befits a national gold reserve the Governor would rather nobody broke into. Doors are in very short supply too, especially on the west and south flanks, and where they do exist tend to be mighty bronze portals with ornate symbolic decoration. In one recess a speaking tube is labelled 'For Night Service Only', 'To Deliver Letters Etc. Ring Bell And Await Instructions'. The only concession to the public is a cut-through passageway at Tivoli Corner, freely-accessible, but if you look up through the circular skylight expect to see two CCTV cameras looking down at you.



Unsurprisingly this is a favoured spot for other banks to have clustered. The Midland Bank had its headquarters across the road at 1 Princes Street, which became surplus to requirements when HSBC took over and relocated to Docklands so the building now contains a super-luxurious hotel called The Ned. Nat West are nextdoor in another splendid Lutyens creation, incorporating a proper high street branch in case you still want to withdraw some coinage. At the other end of the street is One Lothbury, now home to the City flagship of the Bank of China because times change. Meanwhile the 26-storey tower two blocks east of the Bank of England used to be home to the Stock Exchange between 1972 and 2004, and has since been reclad in shiny glass.



Financial agglomeration dominates Walbrook to such an extent that the ward lacks a network of characterful back alleys. Promising starts turn into unwelcoming service roads, or lead you round the back of office buildings much younger than their preserved frontage. Pope's Head Alley has morphed into a steel and glass corridor overlooked by emblematic beehives (and yes, a Pope's head), while historic Change Alley has become something much drabber. The only cut-through of merit is St Olave's Court off Old Jewry where a half-demolished Wren church conceals the offices of a maritime law firm, but I wouldn't go out of your way just for that.



Another easily missed minor street is St Swithin's Lane, a turning off King William Street, where the Rothschild financial dynasty is based. Banker Nathan moved into New Court in 1809, so was expertly poised with a supply of gold when the Bank of England suffered a liquidity crisis a few years later. New Court has been rebuilt four times since, the latest (2011) iteration presenting a steel colonnade to the street behind which lies a strictly anonymous glass facade. Old masters hang in the windows behind gold tickertape drapes, reflecting the fact that the price of gold was set here for the best part of a century. Step up to the podium and you can look down into the garden of St Stephen Walbrook, presently trapped behind a low glass wall.



The church is one of Wren's finest with an altarpiece by Henry Moore. When originally founded in 1428 it lay on the banks of the Walbrook stream, but that's been lost longer than most lost rivers and the church now fronts a street of the same name. Most of the eastern side is now occupied by an ribbed office block (resembling a either a wobbly black jelly or a metal armadillo) called the Walbrook Building. The architects squeezed in a Little Waitrose, a gym and a restaurant in an attempt to activate the perimeter, but all of these are currently closed. They also planned to display the London Stone here...



...but heritage inertia kept it further up the road opposite the entrance to Cannon Street station. The previous incarnation of this building was a grotty W H Smith with the Stone trapped behind an intrusive grille, but the latest financial office has sleek white frontage and a protective chamber it's much easier to photograph. All you need to know about this chunk of oolitic limestone is on the website www.londonstone.org.uk, as the information panels to either side confirm in text and in Braille.

Let's finish with a look at some of the City of London heritage plaques I found dotted around the ward while I was exploring, of which Walbrook seems to have more than its fair share.



» Elizabeth Fry had already moved out to East Ham before starting her compassionate work at Newgate Prison.
» The first postmark was called a 'Bishop mark' because it was introduced by Postmaster General Henry Bishop.
» Poet Thomas Hood had a head start in the literary world because his father was a bookseller on Poultry.
» St. Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange was demolished when the City Corporation widened Threadneedle Street.
» Mansion House now covers the site of Stocks Market, for centuries the City's largest food & produce market.
» Mary was only allowed to become an accountant after the passing of the Sex Disqualification Act in 1919.
» Cardinal Newman became the fifth City-born saint when he was canonised by the Pope in October 2019.
» Anti-Semitism in the late 13th century drove Jews from their City ghetto and forced their relocation overseas.
» Jonathan's Coffee House in (Ex)Change Alley became the location of the City's first ever Stock Exchange.

 Monday, January 18, 2021

For today's post you'll need a personalised buzzword bingo card. Download yours here.

destinationDNAuniquetheatreartisan
flagshipstyle-ledvibrantunrivalledhub
fabricexperientialgritdramaticcrucible
wovenspiritcanvasfocussedcharacter
indeliblebespokeinnovationblendcollide

Keep your eyes peeled as today's post progresses, and if you manage to tick off the entire list get in touch and claim your prize.

Welcome to Borough Yards, 116,000 sq.ft of style-led shopping and experiential innovation.



You'll find it alongside Borough Market, under the railway arches leading towards Cannon Street station, in the space previously occupied by the wine-based Vinopolis attraction. That closed in 2015 because it failed to make money, so a new consortium are having a go with a fresh retail-focussed approach.
Borough Yards is the capital’s most exciting cultural and retail-focussed regeneration. This unique social, cultural and shopping hub is woven from historic urban fabric. A lost medieval street system has been revived. Once-forgotten warehouses and railway arches house dramatic, double-height retail spaces, all embodying the district’s unrivalled feel of intimacy and welcome, regardless of size.
It's not the capital’s most exciting cultural and retail-focussed regeneration, that's just one of the exaggerations on the development's website. Who knows what the most exciting is, just be reassured it isn't this. Other lies include the suggestion that the district's welcome is unrivalled, the allegation that a lost medieval street system is being revived and the claim that Borough is connected to everything.



The developers have carved out a pedestrianised thoroughfare inbetween Park Street and Stoney Street, partly alongside the railway viaduct and partly underneath it. They've decided to call the new 'street' Dirty Lane because this provides memorable context, although the original Dirty Lane was never on this site and is now lost beneath Borough Market.



They've also invented a small piazza called Soap Yard, because sometimes what sounds good in a brainstorming session is better than what was originally here.
We’re creating a vibrant new London destination to shop, eat, work and play, right next door to the famous culinary crucible, Borough Market. The stunning Victorian arches of Borough Yards are the impressive and unrivalled shell to take your retail or restaurant ambitions to new heights. Full of history and character, they provide the spacious, blank canvas to create a memorable flagship store.
It'll be good to have the railway arches opened up and well used, expanding the number of things to see and do in the immediate vicinity of Borough Market. And while it's true that you may not be especially excited by a cluster of fashion brands and refreshment opportunities, this is what passes for entertainment amongst a significant portion of the population. Flat Iron Square and Vinegar Yard already cater for a similar clientele locally, so who's to say there isn't space for one more hospitality sink?



But that's no excuse for wilful exaggeration.
With dramatic architecture that remains true to Borough’s DNA, railway arches become cathedral-like retail spaces where independent talent can flourish and established names can innovate. Borough Yards delivers a dramatic backdrop and unbeatable location for established brands and newcomers to stand out and find memorable context, surrounded by London landmarks.
Sometimes you just want to find the marketing team responsible and lock them away until they calm down a bit.



That is right up there with the worst sloganeering I've ever seen. Creating a buzz around something that doesn't yet exist always runs the risk of sounding like hype, and Borough Yards hits it out of the park.
An Artisan Experience
Bearing the texture of history and indelible character, many of the units take a mezzanine level, adding layers of interest into a flagship store, restaurant or cultural venue. The careful blend of over 50 shopping and experiential spaces, spanning 116,000 square feet of atmospheric London, creates an infectious spirit.
Planning permission for Borough Yards was granted in 2016. The site was originally due to open last year, although peering through the railings it's still very much a building site in there. The project's currently at the 'finding tenants' stage, which'll be why one of the arches has been transformed into a sales office with comfy sofas, potted trees, colour brochures and a scale model of the development.



In case you're struggling to read the hoarding at the back, it does indeed say Retail, Dining, Community, Wit & Grit. If that's triggered a full set of buzzwords on your bingo card, be sure to claim your prize. If it's merely induced a headache, you are not alone.
Borough Yards is a metaphorical doorway to new retail opportunities and a brighter tomorrow.
Sometimes even brand conceptualisers go that one step too far. This lot are based in New York, which maybe explains a lot. And in case you're having a rotten 2021 imagine how the investors at Borough Yards must be feeling, praying that vistors to the South Bank will still have wallets in need of milking by the time their souped-up shopping mall is eventually ready. Just off Clink Street, in cathedral-like spaces where retail, community and culture collide.

 Sunday, January 17, 2021

TfL's annual fare rise was announced on Friday. It's very late, but everything's running late at the moment which is why the increase that normally happens at the start of January has been delayed until the start of March.

This is the first rise in London tube and bus fares since January 2016. That was Boris's final increase, after which Sadiq promised to freeze TfL fares for four years, and so he has. In fact he'll have managed 62 months, which is either excellent or wilfully negligent depending on your point of view. His intention was to go into the 2020 Mayoral election with TfL fares the same as when he was elected, but subsequent events have delayed that election by a year. Conveniently he'll now be able to blame the government for the 2021 fare rise, even though this is the year they were always due to start going up again.
"The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today confirmed TfL fares under his control will rise by an overall 2.6 per cent (RPI+1), as a condition of the emergency TfL funding deal made with the Government in October."
To put that 2.6% in context, fares rose 7% in 2011, 7% in 2012, 3% in 2014, 2.5% in 2015 and 1% in 2016, then 0% since, because some Mayors are happy to put fares up and some aren't.

Here are some of the new fares in historical perspective, with Conservative years in blue and Labour years in red.

Cost of a single central London tube journey
 20112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Oyster£1.90£2.00£2.10£2.20£2.30£2.40£2.40£2.40£2.40£2.40£2.40
Cash£4.00£4.30£4.50£4.70£4.80£4.90£4.90£4.90£4.90£4.90£5.50

Unexpectedly the Zone 1 Oyster tube fare remains at £2.40. According to the press release this is to "support the wider economic recovery of London, including tourism, as those visiting the capital and travelling exclusively within Zone 1 will not see any fare rises". Lucky tourists, eh? But this has long been one of Europe's worst value metro fares, mile for mile, so leaving it unchanged should amend the imbalance slightly.
Fare rise 2011→2021: 26%
Fare rise 2016→2021: 0%

Meanwhile anyone still paying by cash continues to pay significantly more, as TfL try ever harder to persuade people to switch to contactless. "Fewer than 1% of Tube journeys are now made with Tube cash fares", we are told.
Fare rise 2011→2021: 38%
Fare rise 2016→2021: 12%

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
 20112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Oyster (peak)£4.50£4.80£5.00£5.00£5.10£5.10£5.10£5.10£5.10£5.10£5.30
Oyster (offpk)£2.70£2.90£3.00£3.00£3.10£3.10£3.10£3.10£3.10£3.10£3.30
Cash£5.00£5.30£5.50£5.70£6.00£6.00£6.00£6.00£6.00£6.00£6.00

The Z1-6 fare has only risen 10p since 2013, so March's 20p jump is significant. But for this journey to Heathrow a fare of £5.30 (peak) or £3.30 (offpeak) is an absolute bargain, given that TfL Rail fares will be £11.10 and £10.40 respectively. The Piccadilly line remains less than half the price of other airport options.
Fare rise 2011→2021: 18%
Fare rise 2016→2021: 4%

One important change from March is that "Non-Zone 1 off-peak fares move from a flat £1.50 to three price points". Previously if you avoided zone 1 you knew you were going to be charged £1.50, whereas now it could be £1.50, £1.60 or £1.70 depending on how many zones you pass through. Anyone passing through three or more zones pays the maximum.

Tube (off-peak), journey does not include Z1
1 zone  was £1.50, will be £1.50
2 zones  was £1.50, will be £1.60
3, 4 or 5 zones  was £1.50, will be £1.70

The extra 20p for longer journeys equates to a fare rise of 13%, which is one of the largest increases in the fares package. That's bad news for Londoners making regular off-peak journeys across the suburbs, and not something the Mayor will be broadcasting loudly.

Cost of a single central London bus journey
 20112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
Oyster£1.20£1.30£1.35£1.40£1.45£1.50£1.50£1.50£1.50£1.50£1.55

Mayors are often kinder to bus passengers because they include the poorest amongst the electorate, hence the 5p fare increase is the smallest increment possible. But this uptick introduces an intriguing anomaly - a one zone tube ride (e.g Whitechapel to Stratford) will now be 5p cheaper than taking the bus. I think that's the first time in recent memory that the cheapest way to travel a short distance may not be the bus.
Fare rise 2011→2021: 19%
Fare rise 2016→2021: 3%

The Hopper fare remains, so chains of longer bus journeys will still cost the same as a single ride, i.e. £1.55. The daily cap for those who only ride buses rises from £4.50 to £4.65, i.e still three times the single fare.

Cost of an annual Z1-3 Travelcard
20112012201320142015201620172018201920202021
£1288£1368£1424£1472£1508£1520£1548£1600£1648£1696£1740

Here's where the long-term price rises are. No matter what the Mayor decides, Travelcards rise in price along with National Rail fares which are set by the government. This year's increase for a Z1-3 Travelcard is 2.6%, one percent ahead of inflation, and it's been increasing by a similar measure for years. Travelcard users are paying a third more than they were a decade ago, whereas pay as you go tube and bus users have had a much better deal.
Fare rise 2011→2021: 35%
Fare rise 2016→2021: 14%

But the biggest news is that fare rises are back, which'll be a jolt to anyone who's been used to their journey costing the same since 2016. The Mayor blames the government, the government blames the Mayor, and the real perpetrator is a microsopic virus which has caused the capital's economy to implode. In a way it's amazing that fares are rising so little, given the collapse in revenue from non-existent passengers, but a world-class transport network still has to be paid for somehow.


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