diamond geezer

 Friday, February 26, 2021

Today's obscure street is Ronnie Lane, E12. It's either in Manor Park or Little Ilford, depending on your preferred geography. It's named after Small Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane who grew up not so far away on Romford Road and played his first gigs locally. He's been dead since 1997 so his name was perfect when a new estate emerged in 2001, and the new street name was unveiled on what would have been his 55th birthday. This is an odd area on the very edge of Newham, almost bumped up against the North Circular, pocked with modern cul-de-sacs and older tower blocks. And Ronnie Lane's a very odd street in that it's three entirely separate stunted dead ends leading off two different main roads. Delivering pizzas must be a pain.

I hoped to find something of interest but Ronnie Lane's not really that kind of place. Undistinguished, quiet, quite nice really, almost Beckton-like but better built. Hardstanding dominates. Alleyways connect through to adjacent streets. Brickwork's bright and clean. One of the houses had a lot of cars parked outside but that was as untidy as it got. I suspect the neighbours would make it very clear they've got no room for ravers. I have nothing else, sorry.

I spotted this advert above the Bow Roundabout yesterday. It annoyed me enormously.

It's part of the government's latest 'Keep going' campaign, appealing to us to remain in lockdown despite all the good news of recent days. We might be tempted to ease up given that transmission rates are declining, vaccine rollout has been successful and all eyes are on future easing of restrictions... whereas in reality at least four more weeks remain before the 'stay at home' order gets lifted. Fair enough.

But the strapline 'Every opened window makes a difference' is a downright lie. Some opened windows make a difference, depending on where they are and who's in the room being ventilated, but the idea that 'Every opened window makes a difference' is bolx. Opening a window has no effect if nobody in a room is infected. Opening a window might not be sufficient to prevent transmission. Opening a window at the end of an indoor meeting is too late. Sure ventilation is important and people need to recognise this, so the underlying message is sound. But that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing. I live alone ffs, so opening as many windows as I can would have absolutely no effect on the health of anyone else whatsoever.

I hung around and got more annoyed. This digital screen beside the flyover shows a sequence of digital adverts and the other four in the series are just as bad.

The strapline 'Every day at home is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some days at home make a difference, if they prevent you transmitting the disease or being infected elsewhere, but the idea that 'Every day at home is making a difference' is bolx. Going out has no effect if you meet nobody while you're there. Going out has no effect if you're not contagious and none of the people you pass are contagious either. Going out is fine if all you're going to do is walk round a field. Going out might actually be preferable if the infectious person is indoors. Sure staying at home is important, especially when your oblivious journey might set in train a chain of infection resulting in long-term ill-health. But that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.

The strapline 'Every washed hand is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some washed hands make a difference, and a very big difference too, but the idea that 'Every washed hand is making a difference' is bolx. Washing your hands has no effect if there's nothing viral on them. Washing your hands doesn't prevent spread if you already washed them two minutes ago. Even if transmission by touch is how you caught the disease, and experts dispute its significance, 99% of your hand washing activity over the last year was irrelevant. Sure washing your hands more regularly is a great public health message, but that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.

The strapline 'Every covered face is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some covered faces make a difference, assuming both mouth and nose are included, but the idea that 'Every covered face is making a difference' is bolx. Covering your face has no effect on others if you're not infectious. Covering your face has no effect on you if the people you interact with aren't infectious either. Some face coverings are so thin as to be useless. Some people who wear face coverings take greater risks by incorrectly assuming they're protected. Sure covering your face is important, given nobody knows their infection status for certain, but that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.

The strapline 'Every video call is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some video calls are made from offices. Some video calls are never meant to be a replacement for a face-to-face meeting. Some video calls last less than five seconds. Some video calls are between people in the same household. There are a million and one reasons why a video call might make no difference whatsoever, so whoever threw this campaign together has essentially constructed a cavalcade of exaggeration, a carousel of lies. The TV ad is worse.
Every sacrifice, every day at home, every covered face, every wipe, every step aside, every 20 seconds, every friend unhugged, everything we're doing is helping to stop the spread of Covid-19. Let's keep going.
All these things help sometimes, not always. All these things are important but none are 100% certainties. All these things make a difference if everyone does them, but that's not the same thing. A simple tweak from "is helping" to "could help" would solve it. The liberal use of 'every' in advertising collateral is a stain on modern society.

I should point out I'm slagging off the wording not the underlying message. I'm not one of those sceptic cockwombles who refuse to believe the science but will take batshit conspiracy theories at face value. These are the deluded muppets who claim none of this is worth it - no face coverings, no steps aside, no days spent at home - and 'none' is far worse than 'every'. So it doesn't help when the government starts pushing a campaign that can be too easily debunked for going too far the other way. Don't overstate it, just tell us straight.

 Thursday, February 25, 2021

Let's do some maths with urinals.

Circumstances notwithstanding, gentlemen prefer not to stand next to other gentlemen at the urinal. If the row is long enough it's all about personal space. The holy grail of urinal usage is to identify an empty stall between two other empty stalls... and unzip, and breathe out.

But how many gentlemen can stand at a urinal before someone has to stand next to someone else?

On the face of it this is a simple question. Take a row of 7, for example.

1  2  3  4

Here every alternate stall is filled, everyone's privacy is assured and the maths is simple. The number of gentlemen accommodated is half the number of stalls, rounded up.

But gentlemen are not simple. In particular when they approach a urinal they're not thinking about setting up the optimum spacing, they just want to keep as far away from everyone else as possible. This can result in a wholly inefficient use of facilities, and before you know where you are a queue has started.

What really happens with a row of 7 is this.

Gentleman 1 takes the end stall.


Gentleman 2 goes right down the far end.

1          2

Gentleman 3 stands in the middle, maximising his distance from the other two.

1    3    2

All the available stalls are now immediately alongside an occupied stall, so when gentleman 4 enters he has nowhere to go. Theory suggests seven stalls will fit four gentlemen comfortably, but the reality is only three.

We need some rules to model the situation.
i) The first gentleman takes the end stall.
ii) All subsequent gentlemen stand as far away from the other gentlemen as possible.
iii) As soon as all stalls are either occupied or adjacent to an occupied stall, a queue starts.

Let's look at the four simplest rows of urinals first, that's n=1, n=2, n=3 and n=4.

1  2
1    2

One stall is the most efficient layout, permitting 100% usage. The second stall is wasted because nobody wants to go there. The introduction of a third stall permits a second participant. The fourth stall is again wasted.

Next n=5, n=6 and n=7.

1  3  2
1  3    2
1    3    2

Five stalls means three gentlemen, optimally spaced. Six stalls also only allows three, and so does seven (as we saw earlier).

Next n=8 and n=9.

1    3  4  2
1  5  3  4  2

Eight stalls increases the number of gentlemen to 4 and nine stalls increases it again to 5. Nine's great because it halves well - the third gentleman goes in the middle allowing four and five to slot in either side.

It doesn't get any better.

1  4    3  5  2
1  4    3  5    2

1  5    3    4    2
1    5    3    4    2

Ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen stalls still only permit five gentlemen. More might fit if those gentlemen spaced out optimally but they don't, they act selfishly instead. If you're thinking of installing a urinal don't go for ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen stalls, stick with nine because the extra would be a waste of resources.

Here are all those numbers in a table.

n   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10111213

n is the number of stalls.
U(n) is the number of gentlemen who occupy them.

I've decided to call U(n) the urinal function.

It's a very strange mathematical function because it increases erratically. Three 3s, then a single 4, then five 5s suggests there is an underlying pattern but it's nothing simple.

Here's how the urinal function continues from 14 stalls to 26.

n  14151617181920212223242526

Now we have nine 9s in a row. Something quite peculiar is going on here.

Practically speaking you wouldn't install a row of urinals 25 stalls long, and even if you did gentlemen wouldn't occupy them according to these rules. But if they did then nine gentlemen would slot into those 25 stalls before a queue started.

1    6    4    8    3    7    5    9    2

25 occurs at the end of the sequence of nine 9s, the point at which all the occupied stalls have two empty spaces inbetween. 26 is more efficient because the extra stall creates a gap for a 10th person to fit into. 27 adds another, 28 another... all the way up to 33, beyond which comes a sequence of seventeen 17s.

The underlying pattern is all to do with powers of 2.
If n is a power of 2 then U(n)=½n.

n  45-789-13...1617-25...3233-49...6465-97

Immediately after a power of 2 comes a sequence of identical numbers.
If n is a power of 2 then it's followed by x identical x's, where x=½n+1.

For example a very long urinal with 512 stalls would provide relief for 256 gentlemen, while anything from 513 to 769 stalls would satisfy just 257.

The urinal function has an underlying rationale which is much more complicated than might be imagined from what looks to be a straight-forward problem. Something to mull over the next time you're waiting for a space in the Gents, gents.

(and if your eyes glazed over a long time back never mind, it was only a hypothetical urinal anyway)

 Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Checking through my box of millennium ephemera, alongside the Rough Guide, the lottery ticket and the travel guide, I found this 1999 newspaper article. I'm not sure why I kept it given I had no intention of moving to London at the time, but it makes for intriguing reading two decades later.

Welcome to Tennyson Road E15, epicentre of Britain's property boom
(27th July 1999)

A new report reveals that we are in the midst of the most vertiginous property boom since the 80s. But where are prices rising fastest? Not in Islington or Wandsworth or even stately Edinburgh, but dowdy Newham in the heart of London's east end. Emma Brockes visits the terrace of railwaymen's houses that has become one of Britain's most desirable addresses.
Tennyson Road wasn't the peak hotspot, just an example of a street in the borough with the fastest rising prices. The Olympics weren't even a pipedream at this point and Westfield was still twelve years off. But it was a good example of a lowly street on the up, only a couple of minutes from the town centre and less than half a mile from a freshly revamped station. [map]
So just what is it about Tennyson Road that has turned it into the estate agent's equivalent of a poster girl? Look a little harder and a combination of factors comes into focus: a dash of local authority investment (home owners have been offered bursaries of up to £10,000 to upgrade their houses), improved transport (the Jubilee line extension will stop just round the corner) and the phenomenon euphemistically referred to by estate agents as "transference" - that's to say people buying here because they couldn't afford to buy where they really wanted to live. Tennyson Road, with its bay windows and rock-bottom prices, is the junction at which east enders enjoying comfortable retirement meet young professionals on the way up.
I found myself walking past yesterday, so detoured down the street I recognised from the article to see if anything still felt special. No, it was all fairly ordinary for Newham.

Tennyson Road consists of long Victorian terraces, generally well kept, with teensy front and back yards, bay windows and intermittent satellite dishes. The street is broad with speed bumps and restricted parking. The residents I spotted seemed more diverse than would have been the case 22 years ago but not overwhelmingly from one ethnic group. All looked pleasant enough, but there are finer streets further out where Newham's middle class are more likely to congregate. How much did they say these were worth?
"Interest in the area sprang up two years ago and has been growing ever since," says Tony Gilbert, a property agent at Halifax's Stratford branch. "The good condition of its Victorian cottages has always made the road popular - but even we were surprised by the boom." According to Gilbert, in 1996 a two-bedroom house in Tennyson Road would have typically gone for £52,000. By 1997 that figure had crept up to £60,000, then to 65, then 70.
Wow, a two bedroom terrace for £70,000 - the late nineties were a different age! But yes, in 1999 house prices were already shooting up and well on their way to hitting six figures.
Since Christmas, it has been unstoppable. "Prices have grown steadily for two years, but in the past six months they've gone through the roof," says a senior negotiator at Bairstow Eves who has worked in the area for seven years. "It has exceeded everyone's expectations. I recently sold a two-bedroom house round the corner from Tennyson Road for £110,000."
The newspaper article also includes interviews with residents who reveal how much they originally paid for their Tennyson Road properties.
• Charles and Kathleen paid £200 in 1950
• Phyllis paid £1500 in 1968
• Theresa paid £7000 in 1979
• Tony and Fiona paid £52,000 in 1993
• Shaun and Oonagh sold for £80,000 in 1999
It should be pointed out that average earnings increased dramatically over the same period, and those early house price rises are very much in line. But things accelerated dramatically in the 1990s with Stratford property prices significantly outpacing wages, becoming very much the perfect investment.

The internet now makes it easy to track individual house prices so I've used a well-known property site to capture sales for all the houses on Tennyson Road since 1995. About 100 of the 150 properties have changed hands, several more than once, which produced a handy set of data. Most are two bedroom terraced houses so I was generally comparing like with like. Admittedly the sample size for each individual year is small so you shouldn't read too much into the annual averages, but they do create this rather convincing graph.

The average house price in Tennyson Road doubled between 1997 and 2000, then doubled again by 2006. Things stuttered somewhat around 2009 with the onset of the financial crisis, but recovered within a few years and returned to the previous upward trajectory. Prices pushed through the £400,000 barrier in 2016 and peaked the following year nudging half a million. They've dropped back a little since, and may continue to do so if London becomes less attractive post-pandemic. But the house with the For Sale board in my earlier photograph is currently on the market for £459,950, so anyone who bought before 2016 is sitting on a tidy potential profit.

For those not on the housing ladder things look considerably bleaker. A house in Tennyson Road would have cost 5 times average salary in 1999, so within the boundaries of possibility for a first time buyer, but that ratio had risen to 8 times by 2010 and is currently more like 14. As the newspaper article mentioned these were originally railwaymen's cottages, somewhere basic for the Victorian working class to live, but they've since become monstrously unmortgageworthy for anyone on a vaguely average wage.

I wonder what the journalist who wrote that story back in 1999 would think now if you'd told them prices in Tennyson Road would eventually top £400,000... five times more than was deemed headline-worthy at the time.

 Tuesday, February 23, 2021

I'm a firm believer that if you go out for a long enough walk you will always see something interesting. Here are five things I saw on long walks recently, and the questions they encouraged me to ask.

Thursday 18th February
Hartmann Road, Silvertown

Q: What aren't you allowed to do at City Airport?
I spotted these byelaws pinned up alongside the approach road to London City Airport. They're not in a particularly conspicuous position and you'd never stop to read them unless you were on foot. They date back to 1988 when the airport opened and according to the LCA website are still in force. Numerous byelaws are listed but here are some favourites.
No person shall without reasonable excuse place an aircraft other than in the place and position designated by LCA.
No person shall wash down or clean out a taxi on an authorised standing.
No person shall graze animals.
Technology has moved on in the last three decades, but I do wonder if the following technically outlaws the humble smartphone.
No person shall be operating or causing or suffering to be operated any wireless set, gramophone, amplifier, tape recorder or similar instrument or any musical instrument make, cause or suffer to be made any noise which is so loud or so continuous or repeated as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to other persons on the airport.
No person shall erect or use any apparatus for transmission, receipt, recording, reproduction or amplification of sound, speech or images.
Finally, just in case you thought the surveillance society was a recent thing, it's not.
A person shall, if so requested by a constable, state his correct name and address and the purpose of his being on the airport.
Friday 19th February
Forest Drive West, Leyton

Q: Which parts of London still have milk floats?
Leyton obviously does because that's where I saw this one. A lot of nimble doorstepping was going on, and the jangling of pints, but the driver still had time for a cheery chat with a customer getting into his car. Parker Dairies are based in South Woodford, are independently owned and have been going since 1989. They have at least 11,000 customers, additionally boosted when lockdown started, and will deliver milk and grocery products to your door if you live in the right area. They don't provide a map but their postcode checker confirms my address in Bow is included so their net spreads wide.

Milk floats were way ahead of their time, ideal for an eco-friendly delivery-obsessed society. I've unearthed a few other local independents delivering in other parts of London - Hampstead Premier Dairies (Hampstead), Jones Bros (East End), Morgan's Dairy (Fulham/Surbiton) - but I'm not aware that any of these still use proper milk floats. I'm happy to be updated.

Saturday 20th February
East India Dock

Q: Where are the other Millennium Beacons?
On New Millennium's Eve a chain of 1400 beacons was lit across the four nations of the UK, the largest by the Queen on a barge off Tower Pier. My extensive collection of millennium ephemera confirms that the flame was due to tower 12ft above the top of the beacon, but I saw nothing at the time because most of the embankment was cordoned off. One of the smaller beacons was located, or ended up, beside the lock gates at East India Dock. Originally it had a shield underneath confirming its provenance and recognising British Gas as the sponsor, but that's vanished and the brazier's eroded somewhat. Alas 1999 was so close to the dawn of the internet that no maps or lists or the remaining beacons survive, but I occasionally stumble upon one when touring the country. What I have managed to uncover is that the giant beacon the Queen lit was made in Great Yarmouth so went back afterwards and now stands proudly outside a business park in Gorleston.

Sunday 21st February
Pentonville Road, Angel

Q: Where exactly is The NORTH?
I can answer this question courtesy of page 169 of chapter 7 of the DfT Traffic Signs Manual.

First we learn that there are only 11 official regional destinations:
Then comes the official definition of The NORTH:
In general, “The NORTH WEST” refers to that part of England to the west of the Pennines, and “The NORTH” to that part of England to the east of the Pennines.
And finally the reason why you don't see The NORTH EAST very often:
The compass point destination “The NORTH EAST” may be used as a substitute for “The NORTH” when the destination “The NORTH WEST” appears on the same sign and is associated with a different route leading from the junction. “The NORTH EAST” shall appear on subsequent route confirmatory signs until “The NORTH” appears on the advance direction signs in place of “The NORTH EAST”. The destination “The NORTH EAST” shall not be used in any other circumstances.
Monday 22nd February
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Q: How much does an ice cream cost these days?
I know the weather's improved but it was still a surprise to see an ice cream van parked up on the Monday after half term. I managed to walk over to read the price list without encouraging the driver to rouse himself assuming he had a sale. Apparently a vanilla cornet with flake costs £2.80 (increasing to £3.50 for a waffle cone and £4 for a choco waffle cone). No illustration was given of a cornet without a flake, which I assume is a cunning method of upselling.

The van comes from Five Star Catering Ltd in Camberwell and sometimes sets up outside the Tower of London, which perhaps helps explain the high prices. I assume £2.80 is high, rather than the going price around the country, but alas I only have this very small sample from which to judge.

 Monday, February 22, 2021

MAR 8meet 1 outdoorsschools/collegescare home visits
MAR 29rule of 6 outdoors'stay at home' endsoutdoor leisure
APR 12non-essential retailoutdoor hospitalityindoor leisure
MAY 17rule of 6 indoorsindoor hospitalitycinema/theatres
JUN 21unlimited contactlarge eventsnightclubs

I demand to go to the pub. It's been months since I last went, indeed I haven't had a decent pint in ages. It remains the inalienable right of every Briton to go to the pub and it's an absolute travesty that the government has banned it. A cosy table, a few friends, a chance to put the world to rights and a proper draught pint of bitter are all that I require. Say what you like it's not the same at home drinking out of a can, and even a bottle of wine tastes different if you open it yourself. They tell us sitting inside a pub is somehow dangerous, but I'm no scientist and surely that can't be the whole story. I think all bar staff should get the vaccine immediately, jumping the queue if necessary, because I deserve a pint and I absolutely can't survive without one.

I demand a meal in a restaurant. It's been months since I last got the chance, indeed I haven't had a decent three course dinner in ages. I miss perusing the menu and being jealous of what someone else ordered and trying to split the bill afterwards, not to mention not having to do the washing up. I know you can get restaurants to deliver but a carvery out of a box just isn't the same, a decent pizza is impossible and my favourite curry house recently went bust because nobody was allowed to turn up. They tell us an evening in a restaurant is dangerous but surely it's only food and good conversation, and nobody wants to sit on a draughty patio terrace anyway. I think all hospitality staff should get the vaccine now, underlying health conditions notwithstanding, because I deserve a change from endlessly eating at home.

I demand a nice sit down in a cafe. It's been months since I sat opposite a friend and spoke face to face over a coffee and I really miss the experience. I'm tired of standing outside a hatch waiting for something frothy in a cup, I want to be able to perch on a tiny stool and gobble my pastry in peace. It's been miserable having to take my drink away and stand out in the cold because the British winter is brutal, so now that spring's here we should all be allowed inside in the warm. They tell us lingering inside a cafe is dangerous but surely they told us it'd all be over by Christmas and look how wrong they were on that. I think all baristas should get the vaccine now, or maybe cafes should only be allowed to employ the over 70s, because I deserve an overpriced chocolate croissant in situ.

I demand to go non-essential shopping. It's been months since I bought clothes in person, indeed I haven't worn anything smarter than jogging bottoms for months. I'm tired of ordering something and finding it's not the right size and having to send it back, because even though online is convenient the queues to return stuff at the post office are beyond a joke. I just want to buy something unnecessary today rather than waiting indoors for a courier to deliver it next week. They tell us browsing in shops spreads disease but surely they allow us inside supermarkets so it can't be that deadly. I think all shop staff should get the vaccine now, assuming they still have a job, because I deserve to spend my excess salary in person.

I demand to go back to the gym. It's been months since I was able to use proper equipment, indeed I can barely remember the last time I was shouted at by a personal trainer. I'm tired of having to work out at home using household objects as weights, or standing in the park doing stretches with everyone looking on. What's the point in jogging round the streets for free when I could be getting value from a recurring membership fee? They tell us exhaling vigorously in a confined indoor space is dangerous but surely going to the gym is all about getting healthy instead. I think all gym staff should get the vaccine now, or at least be bumped up the queue considerably, because I deserve to be optimally fit again.

I demand to experience music live. It's been months since I last went to a concert or shook my booty in a club, and I fear these venues won't still exist the next time I visit. I'm tired of listening to recorded music, the entirety of which is now tediously available at the touch of a virtual button. I just want to be able to bounce up and down surrounded by a dense mass of humanity rather than booking a year in advance for a festival that ultimately ends up being cancelled. They tell us to prioritise our mental health but surely this is institutional cruelty on a grand scale. I think everyone who's been vaccinated should be allowed to go to concerts immediately, because I deserve a night out and I cannot possibly adjust to one more week without live music on top of the fifty I've endured already.

I demand to be able to get on a train and travel to the other side of the country. It's been months since I last ventured anywhere beyond my immediate locality, indeed I've entirely forgotten what the countryside looks like. I miss fields and hills and the seaside because I stupidly chose to make my home nowhere near any of them but that's hardly my fault. I should be able to go anywhere I like simply because I want to, no matter what asymptomatic variants I might be harbouring, and damn the potential consequences in the wider community. They tell us death rates are falling but surely a grand day out with a pub lunch should be our godgiven right. I think everyone who's had a single vaccination should be given carte blanche to travel anywhere because I deserve a change of scene.

I demand a foreign holiday this summer. It's been months since I last went abroad so my tan is in desperate need of topping up. I don't want to restrict my horizons to just Britain because that's so incredibly limiting when I could be flying to the Med and sitting by a pool for a fortnight instead. My annual holiday is always the highlight of my year, indeed the anticipation's usually the only thing that gets me through, so this relentless focus on restricting international travel is really unhelpful. Anything that involves cramming into a metal tube with strangers for several hours, there and back, would be ideal. They tell us not to expect to travel abroad any time soon but surely quarantine is only necessary for inbound foreigners. I think vaccine passports will solve everything because they'll bring back the freedom of movement our European neighbours have cruelly stripped away.

I demand one marshmallow now. They tell me I can have two marshmallows if I'm willing to wait but I need instant gratification now. My willpower has always been weak so I'd much rather a single marshmallow immediately than a greater reward at some later date. You may mock but the economy relies on people like me, always letting short-term desire beat long-term prudence, indeed it's only my willingness to book ahead that's keeping certain sectors afloat. They tell us it's important to be patient but surely I'll suffer no ill consequences if we all just throw caution to the wind. I can't wait several months for life to return to normal, it's just too slow, because the only way we'll escape this living hell is by being too selfish to see the wider picture.

I demand that children go back to school. I demand to watch blockbuster movies in the cinema. I demand the return of spectator sport. I demand a professional haircut. I demand the reopening of galleries and museums. I demand to meet my friends and family again, however old or vulnerable they may be. It's simply inhuman to force us all to bunker down so that people's lives can be saved when I'm missing out on all the nice things I could be doing instead. They tell us it's important to unlock slowly but surely we should ignore the scientists and take the brakes off because anything else would be overthrowing democracy. I deserve priority treatment because I'm bored and frustrated, and I'm sure today's roadmap will confirm I deserve my old life back as soon as possible.

 Sunday, February 21, 2021

Having recommended various borough-hosted walking routes I thought I'd better go out and follow one for myself. I picked the 'Leyton and Leytonstone' walk from Waltham Forest, a 2 mile trail round residential streets "past the former homes of our borough’s celebrities and influential people". When I read that these local celebs included Damon Albarn, Fanny Cradock and David Beckham, I was sold.

START: Leyton Midland Road station

Harry Beck, tube map designer
14 Wesley Road, E10 6JF
A strong start. Who wouldn't want to see the house where the designer of the iconic tube map was born? I certainly did which is why I've already been and blogged about it, back in 2013 when its plaque was unveiled. You should go back and read that if you want more detail. What I will say is that Harry only lived here up to the age of 2 so likely remembered nothing about the place, instead spending the majority of his life in Highgate and Finchley. It's nice to see a blue plaque written in New Johnston typeface though. A strong start.

Wesley Road ↱ Leigh Road ↰ Forest Drive West ↱ Essex Road South ↰ Hainault Road ↱ Woodriffe Road ↱ Wallwood Road

David Bailey, 60s photographer
69 Wallwood Road, E11 1AY
Stop number two brings a slight improvement in authenticity because David Bailey lived at this address until the age of 3. But in 1941 a German bomb flattened the flat nextdoor forcing the Baileys to move out, in this case to East Ham, and David subsequently went to school in Ilford. It was National Service which encouraged him to pick up a camera, and within a couple of years of being demobbed he'd become a fashion photographer for Vogue. His portfolio captured the London of the swinging Sixties, especially the East End, and broadened to cover top models, film stars and the rock glitterati. David's still shooting so can't yet be awarded an official blue plaque, which is why Waltham Forest stuck up one of their blue heritage ellipses instead.

Wallwood Road ↰ Fairlop Road

Fanny Cradock, brusque TV chef
33 Fairlop Road, E11 1BJ
The life of TV's first celebrity chef began here in 1909, just up the road from Leytonstone station. At the time this was a grand house called Apthorp, but that was knocked down in 1930 and replaced by a block of flats called Fairwood Court. A plaque has been attached above the communal doorway upon which the Waltham Forest typographers have managed to spell Fanny's surname incorrectly twice. It's unclear how long Fanny spent at Apthorp but, given the family moved to Herne Bay, Swanage, Bournemouth and Wroxham before she was 18, it's unlikely to have been long. Fanny's groundbreaking BBC cookery show began in 1955 as she and husband Johnny brought a taste of exotic cuisine to a startled nation. She ruled the roast for two decades until her haughty nature brought her down, but once seen never forgotten.

Fairlop Road ↱ Bulwer Road ↰ Chelmsford Road ↱ Fillebrook Road

Damon Albarn, lead singer with Blur
21 Fillebrook Road, E11 1AY
What an eclectic journey this is becoming. Blur's frontman was born at Whipps Cross hospital and grew up in a much bigger than average terraced house in Leytonstone. His parents were artists, his upbringing bohemian, indeed there's still something screamingly middle class about this street. But yet again we're celebrating someone who moved out of Waltham Forest before they were ten, in this case in 1977, ensuring that all the formative Blur stuff took place on the outskirts of Colchester instead. Damon came back for the unveiling of his plaque in 2014 and grinned out of a bedroom window, mainly because he had a solo album to promote. Waltham Forest's walking trail effuses about Damon considerably more than any of the other ex-residents.

Fillebrook Road ↰ Drayton Road ↱ Grove Green Road

Stuart Freeborn, movie make-up artist
4 Chertsey Road, E11 4DG
...and not just any movies but the original Star Wars trilogy. That means Yoda, Chewbacca and Jabba The Hutt are all Stuart's creations, which is sufficient in itself to place him in the upper echelons of sci-fi geeklore. It's also why the walking trail takes us to see a mural featuring several Star Wars characters painted on the railway viaduct alongside Grove Green Road rather than leading us two streets back to see the plaque on his house. I'm annoyed because I only found out about the plaque after I got home, and because the mural had a bit of scribble over it.

Grove Green Road ↰ Dyers Hall Road South ↑ footbridge over A12 ↱ Norman Road

David Beckham, footballer and global icon
155 Norman Road, E11 4RJ
David Beckham is another Whipps Cross birth, and the second of our commemorated residents to flee the locality at the age of three. Becks did most of his growing up (and all of his obsessive football training) in Chingford instead, which fortuitously for the council is also in Waltham Forest so they can genuinely claim him as their own. But they haven't graced his first house with a plaque - it's the only unmarked home on this trail - which may be because the current owners are reticent to attract visitors. They snapped up the property in 2009 for a fraction of the £850,000 asking price, because it turns out people aren't willing to pay over the odds for a notionally-famous three bedroom terrace. Next time you're passing the bottom of the garden on the Central line, give them a wave.

FINISH: Leytonstone High Road station

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• government meets 15m vaccination target
• rollout reaches over-65s and clinically vulnerable
• many calls to hasten date of lockdown easing
• hotel quarantine finally begins
• lockdown easing "cautious but irreversible" (PM)
• Pfizer vaccine proving highly effective in Israel
• 1.7m added to shielding list
• pupils to return to Scottish schools next week
• Dutch court orders end to curfew
• human Covid trials start in the UK
• 2-year backlog of court cases
• PM to focus on 'data, not dates'
• infections have fallen by 2/3 since January
• NI extends lockdown to 1st April
• Labour proposes national recovery plan
• several Covid contracts awarded unlawfully
• G7 pledges vaccine funding for poorer nations
• four can now meet for exercise in Wales
• care home residents to be allowed 1 visitor
• slow leaking of lockdown release 'roadmap'

Worldwide deaths: 2,390,000 → 2,460,000
Worldwide cases: 108,000,000 → 111,000,000
UK deaths: 116,908 → 120,365
UK cases: 4,027,106 → 4,105,675
Vaccinations: 14,556,827 → 17,247,442
FTSE: up ½% (6589 → 6624)

 Saturday, February 20, 2021

40 years ago today, which'd be Friday 20th February 1981, Depeche Mode released their debut single. It was called Dreaming of Me and featured all the twiddly synth you might expect. It never troubled the Top 40 but it earned plenty of airtime on early evening Radio 1 which is where I heard it and loved it, and I've been following the band ever since. The song also failed to make an appearance on the band's first album so I eventually forked out and bought the 7 inch, which I still own despite having no means of playing it.

For today's anniversary I've made a pilgrimage to the studio where that debut single and album were recorded, a former church in Southwark, which is fortuitously within walking distance of home. But first I headed to the pub where Depeche Mode were first signed - long demolished, but it turns out I've been walking through it on a regular basis recently and never realised.

This is the slip road beside the A13 flyover at Canning Town, but it used to be the Bridge House pub.

This large Mock Tudor hostelry was the first building passed by drivers after crossing Bow Creek and evolved into a major music venue in the late 1970s. Nobody lived nearby, the area round the station was all wharves and goods depots, so packed-out late-night gigs were no problem. Owner Terry Murphy attracted an impressive roster of artistes to the Bridge House including Jeff Beck, Secret Affair, Squeeze, Eurythmics, Lindisfarne and the Stray Cats. The Blues Band, Chas and Dave and Iron Maiden performed regular residencies. U2 played their first UK gig here in front of an 18-strong crowd. Dire Straits appeared before they were called Dire Straits. The pub even had its own record label with a logo featuring the pylon that stood alongside... and still has its own website.

Depeche Mode played the Bridge House seven times in 1980, invariably hired as support for another band. It would have been an easy drive from Basildon and a good chance to be seen by A&R. On November 12th they played an eight-song set supporting Fad Gadget, whose manager Daniel Miller was impressed enough to go backstage afterwards and suggest putting out a single on his Mute label. Promoter Stevo had already offered a record deal, dangling the carrot of a tour with Ultravox, but Vince and the boys shook hands with Daniel instead after he returned the following week to watch the band again. Without the Bridge House, the path to world-conquering stadium rock would have stalled early.

The pub closed in 1982, putting an end to Canning Town's days at the heart of East London's live music scene. The building lingered on, eking out its last years as a hostel for homeless families, until it was finally demolished 20 years ago as part of the widening of the A13. What had been a two-lane flyover needed to become three with a slip road leading down to the roundabout, and it's that slip road which now slices through half the pub's original footprint. The other half lies within a locked service yard, now stacked with containers and overridden with buddleia, which likely contains the spot where that crucial Mode handshake took place. If you're seeking the location yourself then look for the pylon on the corner with Stephenson Street, where twin arrows painted on the roadway mark what used to be the back of the bar.
An alternative venue called Bridgehouse2, with a much lowlier roster of bands and throwback discos, exists a short distance away up Bidder Street. It's housed in a grim industrial unit, and surrounded by far worse, so unlikely to be the musical crucible its predecessor was.

At the end of 1980 Depeche Mode arrived at Blackwing Studios in SE1 to record their first single. The studios were located in a deconsecrated church on Copperfield Street off Southwark Bridge Road, not far from the railway viaduct. All Hallows had been heavily damaged in the Blitz, its south aisle subsequently demolished to become an open space and its north aisle retained for private use. Daniel Miller picked Blackwing because it had a large control room with sufficient space for setting up synthesisers, plus a sound engineer called Eric Radcliffe who was keen to give tinkering with electronica a try. The studios were on the first floor, a set-up later referenced by Vince Clarke in the title of the first Yazoo album... Upstairs At Eric's.

Depeche Mode came back to Blackwing in spring 1981 to record the rest of their debut album. Two of the band still had day jobs at this point, while Dave was at technical college in Southend and Vince was on the dole. Vince did most of the work, juggling songwriting, arranging and equipment-fiddling, while the others dipped in as necessary. The backstreets of SE1 wouldn't have had a cutting edge vibe in the early 80s so the number of local distractions was low. The first track to emerge from the recording session was the follow-up single New Life which earned a Top of the Pops performance, sold half a million copies and immediately propelled the Basildon lads into the big time.

The former studios are now occupied by a housing collective, as evidenced by the food waste recycling bin on the doorstep and the handwritten note for the attention of a Hermes courier stuck to the old church door. Meanwhile the space alongside has been transformed into All Hallows Community Garden, a tranquil spot with benches, raised beds and a well-tended lawn. It's been here 50 years so would have been available to bands for lounging around, indeed there are photos showing Depeche Mode looking moody while standing in the stone arch by the main entrance. The former church noticeboard has been repurposed as a heritage display... and Ian Visits fortuitously visited last week so you can read a much fuller account here.

Obviously what I did was pause awhile in the garden and fire up Dreaming of Me on my phone, musing on the fact it was recorded on the other side of the wall. The world of music has moved on massively since 1981 but the electronic melodies still sounded fresh and clear as they tinkled through my headphones. Next I played my favourite record of all time, which was also recorded here four decades ago, and finished off my Blackwing medley with a burst of Only You by Yazoo, ditto. Every band has to start somewhere, be that in a bombed out church or in a pub beneath a fizzing pylon.

Depeche Mode Discography (81-90)
1981Dreaming of Me (57)New Life (11)Just Can't Get Enough (8)
Speak And Spell (10)
1982See You (6)The Meaning of Love (12) Leave In Silence (18)
A Broken Frame (8)
1983Get The Balance Right (13)Everything Counts (6)Love In Itself (21)
Construction Time Again (6)
1984People Are People (4)Master And Servant (9)Blasphemous Rumours (16)
Some Great Reward (5)
1985 Shake The Disease (18)It's Called A Heart (18)
The Singles 81-85 (6)
1986Stripped (15)
Black Celebration (4)
A Question Of Lust (28)A Question Of Time (17)
1987 Strangelove (16)Never Let Me Down Again (22)
Music For The Masses (10)
1988Behind The Wheel (21)Little 15 [import] (60)
1989Everything Counts (Live) (22)
101 (5)
 Personal Jesus (13)
1990Enjoy The Silence (6)
Violator (2)
Policy of Truth (16)World In My Eyes (17)

 Friday, February 19, 2021

  London borough walks

  (on London borough websites)

Walking is one of the easiest ways to make a journey - it costs nothing, it's good for your health and it's not banned under lockdown. So you might hope that London's borough websites would feature collateral encouraging their residents to head outside and enjoy all their area has offer on foot. Some nice walks for people to follow, perhaps, past sites of interest or across scenic landscapes. If the boroughs don't do it, who else will?

So I've been scouring the websites of all 33 London boroughs to see what walks they have to recommend. I've hunted for trails to follow, leaflets to download, pdfs to print, all specific to the borough, all for free. Some borough websites have the lot, whereas others make little or no effort to encourage walkers to explore their leafy acres. I've awarded stars according to online route provision and knocked up a league table of walk-friendly boroughs.

I first did this back in 2008, then again in 2012, then again at the end of 2016. Four years on, the majority of these borough websites have upgraded. A few have merely reorganised, breaking previous links. Others have substantially restructured, adding or pruning former pages and making themselves a lot more mobile-friendly. And a depressing number have dumbed down, deleting all the interesting stuff and concentrating solely on council services.

So I thought I'd update my previous list, for those of you who fancy spending some time exploring your part of the city on foot. To name and shame (or praise and cheer), I've included any changes since 2016 in brackets.

Here's my borough by borough London guide to free downloadable walks. Who'll spur you outdoors for a bit of healthy leisure and heritage, and whose website teams still need a bit of a kick?

Umpteen professionally-produced downloadable walks (five star boroughs)
» Bromley: Bromley Common, Cray Riverway, Leaves Green, St Mary Cray, Farnborough, Nash, Petts Wood, Cudham, St Paul's Cray, Biggin Hill, Chelsfield, Berry's Green, Green Street Green, Three Commons; Crofton Park, Darrick and Newstead Woods, High Elms, Jubilee Country Park, Scadbury, Ravensbourne Trail, Darwin's Footsteps; Bromley North, Beckenham, Chislehurst
» City (↑1): 10 Centuries, Architecture, City on Screen, Dickens, Film locations, Finance, Great Fire, Historic Pubs, Mayflower, Plague and Pestilence, Roman London, Shakespeare, Spooky Walk, Talking Statues, Tree Trail, City Visitor Trail
» Southwark (↑1): Bermondsey, Brandon, Borough, Canada Water, Camberwell, Dulwich, Grove Vale, Kingswood, Nunhead, Peckham, Old Kent Road, Walworth
[click the borough, or click the walk]

Several interesting downloadable walks (four star boroughs)
» Barnet (↑1): Dollis Valley Greenwalk, Church End, New Southgate, Hadley, Hendon, Mill Hill, Totteridge
» Bexley (↑1): 10 atomised smartphone-friendly walks (and an app!)
» Hackney: Lea, South, Canals, North, East, Hackney Marshes
» Hillingdon: Hillingdon Trail, Celandine route, Willow Tree Wander, Ruislip Woods, Uxbridge
» Lewisham (↑2): Waterlink Way, Brockley, Catford, Hither Green, Grove Park, Deptford
» Merton: Beverley Brook Walk, Wandle Trail, Nelson Trail
» Waltham Forest (↑2): Arts and Crafts, A Wander Down The Hill, Murder and the Orient, Leyton and Leytonstone, Planes Bike and Automobiles, Swimmers Bakers and Olympic Games Makers

One or more interesting walks, at least partly downloadable (three star boroughs)
» Ealing: Ealing, Northolt, Southall, Greenford
» Enfield: New Southgate, four WW1/WW2 walking trails
» Hammersmith & Fulham: ten short Walkwell walks
» Haringey: Hampstead Heath
» Islington: Mildmay, Barnsbury, EC1, Clerkenwell
» Kensington & Chelsea: Chelsea walk

Incompletely described walks, or links to walks off-site (two star boroughs)
» Brent (↓2): 5 walks now missing their maps
» Greenwich: links off-site (and missing content)
» Redbridge: 10 walking routes
» Richmond: links off-site
» Tower Hamlets (↓2): highlights only, no map or directions
» Wandsworth: Two audio walks around Putney

A page telling you that walking is good for you and (maybe) where you might do it (one star boroughs)
Barking & Dagenham (↑1), Camden (↓3), Croydon, Harrow, Havering, Hounslow (↓2), Sutton, Westminster (↑1)

Nothing about walks or walking, because these websites are repositories of information about council services (no star boroughs)
Kingston (↓4), Lambeth (↓1), Newham (↓1)

It's the first time I've awarded five stars to three boroughs, so congratulations to Bromley, Southwark and the City. Bromley has some of London's best countryside on its doorstep and has created some top-notch rambling resources to help explore it. These come highly recommended. Southwark scores highly for devising a themed walk beginning at each of its libraries, and the City keeps on adding to its brantub of heritage walkabouts.

The new entries to the four star category are Barnet, Bexley, Lewisham and Waltham Forest. Bexley have actually gone to the effort of creating a bespoke app, which deserves brownie points, even if their walks aren't especially long. Barnet's six Healthy Heritage Walks come with a choice of accompanying podcast or transcript. Lewisham's unusual approach is to encourage everyone to walk to Blackheath from wherever they live. Waltham Forest's half dozen are a properly-researched thematic bunch.

Once you drop below four stars the offerings get less exciting. All of the three star boroughs are non-movers, as are most of the twos. The biggest disappointments here are Brent and Tower Hamlets who have contrived to jettison a lot of their former content. Brent have removed the maps from their five previous leaflets and bundled the whole lot into a single document, which isn't terribly practical. And the Tower Hamlets web team have somehow retained the summary highlights of their walks while deleting the associated pdfs, making a long-standing collection of excellent leisure downloads utterly useless overnight.

Similar torching of resources has occurred in Camden, Hounslow and especially Kingston which has somehow managed to plummet from four stars to none at all. A third of London boroughs fall into my one- and zero-star categories because their websites are too keen on being functional instead of inspiring. The dilution and impoverishment of council websites has been a regular theme on this blog, and is one of the reasons why I revisit these lists every few years.

If you're fortunate to live in (or next to) one of the four- or five-star boroughs, maybe bookmark a few of these local walks and walking pages to help augment your daily exercise. Or try some this weekend, the weather's looking almost springlike, and getting out and about might just help your lockdown blues.

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