diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 24, 2024

 Freshwater fish quiz
Here are clues to 21 freshwater fish.
The first column are definitions, the rest are cryptic.
How many can you catch?
Just one guess each, thanks.

1) roost
2) plump
3) long spear
4) below tenor
5) director Ken
6) former Sussex MP
7) Surrey MP
    8) vehicle (quiet)
  9) phone company (large)
10) 10 swiss
11) 60 secs at present
12) 500 + 1
13) 1000 in hairdressers
14) elkcits
  15) time thrashing
16) undo egg whisk
17) cockless insect
18) I didn't eat initially
19) rung at closing time?
20) sounds like light beam
21) bowled stack of paper

I don't wear my mourning clothes very often, thank goodness. A freshly laundered white shirt, a black jacket unwrapped from the dry cleaners (not actually a suit but the forecast was for showers), suitably shiny shoes and a tie in my pocket in case sartorial standards require. "Don't worry on my account," he'd have said.

The crematorium is busy, but in a streamlined way which helps prevent you noticing. The day is cold but the trees are bright and the wisteria is fortuitously at its peak. At the appointed time the family arrives, one down, and the chapel fills up from the rear. The deceased beams out from the back of the order of service holding a large carp.

Sarah Brightman is faded out halfway, having already wrung out maximum emotion. The celebrant inserts all the correct names, places and dates into her meticulous eulogy. Eldest grandson's tribute is a tour de force, a very personal homage to the joy, the love and the laughs. The spaghetti bolognaise anecdote raises multiple smiles.

The video screen bursts into life to display a carefully compiled selection of family photos. Cheeky kid, young husband, busy father, proud grandparent, family man. And at the end of the sequence, with visceral impact, a brief video clip of the deceased raising a glass to the congregation as his body lies in a box a few feet to the left.

Leaving a rose on top of the coffin proves awkward for some of the shorter members of the immediate family. No rollers roll, no curtains close, not until we're all safely outside emoting amidst the floral tributes. That is a great photo, but when it was taken nobody would ever have guessed it'd be the one chosen to sum up his life.

The wake is a short drive away, although it takes a while because the black limo has to slow down to negotiate every set of speed bumps. Turn left past the bottles of ketchup to the farthest room where subsections of family and friends will assemble at atomised tables. A sea of black and white, of brooches and ties, of raised glasses.

The food arrives slowly and runs out prematurely. Stories are shared, memories are raked, the brioche burgers disappear with gusto and the mood has subtly lifted. In a way it's like any other family gathering but with one notable exception, the reality being that the composition of a family gathering has irrevocably changed.

Slowly the commemoration ebbs away, each departing party offering thanks and words of comfort before slipping out to the car park. I wasn't intending to linger with the hangers-on but they don't let you take the bus home in these parts, they offer you a lift. The tie stayed in my pocket. I don't wear my mourning clothes very often, thank goodness.

 Tuesday, April 23, 2024

30 unblogged things I did in April 1984

They didn't have blogs or the internet forty years ago, indeed my Sinclair ZX81 wasn't capable of much, but here are 30 things I didn't digitally publish at the time. To help you get your bearings I was 19 and most of this is the Easter break from university. The best bit's in the middle of the month. Sorry there are no photos.

Sun 1: It's both Mothers Day and April Fools Day which is a recipe for potential disaster. Give Mum her card, watch her face, then give her her real card. I have a box of Thornton's truffles ready as a back-up. Lunch is early because Dad is heading off to Broadcasting House to be interviewed about football.
Mon 2: I'm mildly obsessed by the Cadbury's Creme Egg Mystery, a nationwide treasure hunt for 12 buried gold eggs with clues in the book Conundrum (which I still have). Try ringing the helpline (Freephone Gold Eggs) while my parents are out but it's only operational from 6pm to 8am.
Tue 3: Hugely disappointed that Dr Mabuse by Propaganda has failed to make the Top 40, but at least Captain Sensible is the highest climber.
Wed 4: It's Song For Europe night and Belle and the Devotions romp home.
Thu 5: Discover that WH Smith in Rickmansworth has closed its record department. Buy some Berol pens instead. Also BBC1 is off air all day because its technicians are on strike.
Fri 6: Help Mum make some scones for the Mothers Union meeting this afternoon (admittedly only the kneading bit, nothing technical). My brother has a more interesting day - Ken Livingstone comes to school to give a lecture.
Sat 7: On TV today 1) Saturday Superstore (with Nick Kershaw) 2) The Price is Right (with Leslie Crowther) 3) Zoltan Hound of Dracula (with a litter of vampiric puppies).
Sun 8: While I'm sat in my bedroom writing up lecture notes, my brother is up Cader Idris on his geography field trip. Spitting Image debut their puppet of the Queen.
Mon 9: Lunch is a tin of new Heinz Invaders (spaghetti shapes in tomato sauce resembling little spaceships), whereas tea is a traditional steak and kidney pudding.
Tue 10: Off to the Post Office to get a First Day Cover with the new Urban Renewal stamps. The 20½p stamp features Milburngate Shopping Centre in Durham while the 16p depicts the Liverpool Garden Festival (which'll be opening next month).
Wed 11: Excitement as someone we know from church appears on This is Your Life and gives the bookholder a big kiss. Ring up friends in Cheshire to help ensure that the university holidays won't entirely be a mundane waste of time.
Thu 12: Get some photos taken in one of those passport machines (oh dear, not great) and use one to buy a £12 student railcard. Watford Junction station is mostly portakabins because it's in the process of being redeveloped.

Fri 13: University Friend 1 (whose Dad runs a multinational company) drives me to Abingdon to meet UF2 and UF3, then we all drive up to the Wirral to stay over at the house of UF4. Her house is eye-opening because a) it has infra-red beams across the drive b) we have wine with our meal c) they have Ceefax! After dinner head out for beers at the Glegg Arms (which wasn't a Beefeater back then).
Sat 14: Proper brilliant day of sightseeing: i) drive to Chester and walk round the city walls (anticlockwise), ii) pub lunch (my fourth steak and kidney of the week), iii) drive into Wales and climb "a windy hill", iv) walk down World's End ("an isolated craggy limestone valley"), v) look round Valle Crucis Abbey (it's at this point that Watford win their semifinal against Plymouth and make it to the final of the FA Cup), vi) WALK ACROSS THE ACTUAL PONTCYSYLLTE VIADUCT (my diary merely says "nice" but what I was really thinking was "oh god this is narrow and high up and wow look at the view down there and oh god I suppose we're going to have to walk back again").
Sun 15: For our final day hereabouts we go out to vii) Wirral Country Park (for a walk along an ex railway) viii) Thurstaston Common (to climb the red sandstone outcrop) ix) West Kirby (get very wet walking round the Marine Lake) x) some Heswall pub (where I have too much cider and get drunk for the first time).

Mon 16: Time to switch friendship groups and spend a few days youth hostelling in the Peak District. Four trains get me to Edale, where the hostel isn't open yet so the nine of us climb up to see the Druid's Stone (except we're not sure which rock it is). At dinner Jan and Vicki sing Happy Birthday to me, even though it isn't.
Tue 17: Today's hike is a geological treat. First to Castleton via Hollins Cross and Mam Tor, then down the Blue John Cavern which is amazing. Eat lunch on Treak Cliff, decide against visiting Speedwell Cavern and fail to reach the castle because there's a 300 foot chasm in the way. At dinner we all sing Happy Birthday to Jan, even though it isn't.
Wed 18: Today's hike is all dales, starting with Cave Dale and continuing via Hay Dale, Peter Dale and (my favourite) Monk's Dale. Topics of conversation include lambs, the situation in Libya, lateral thinking puzzles and the Wombles. Our target is Ravenstor hostel where at dinner we all sing Happy Birthday to Vicki, even though it isn't. One of the groups at a neighbouring table, who were also in Castleton yesterday, shoots us a dodgy look.
Thu 19: Today's hike mostly follows the Monsal Trail, although we have to divert via the gorge at Chee Dale because the tunnel's closed. The cement works isn't the most scenic welcome to Buxton. And that's quite enough hostelling, so it's back to Chief Friend's house in Cuddington to slum it on her sofa instead.
Fri 20: Get roped into helping the family at the local sailing club beause they're on duty today. After lunch I get taken out on Winsford Flash in a Mirror and get to learn about beating, tacking, jibing and booms. Never done it before, never done it since. Then it's time to go home (one stop from Crewe to Watford Junction) where I very definitely need a bath. Enjoy tonight's programme celebrating BBC2's 20th anniversary.

Sat 21: Back to normal, which means Coco Pops for breakfast and a lot of sitting around at home, although Mum does take me clothes shopping in Watford and strongly guides me towards her choice of jumpers.
Sun 22: Easter's late this year. My grandmother comes round to partake of roast turkey, then spends the entire afternoon watching The Sound of Music. At Evensong the vicar cuts the sermon short so that the congregation can rush home to watch the premiere of Chariots Of Fire on BBC1. (We haven't bought a video recorder yet, that's still six months away).
Mon 23: It's been the warmest Easter since 1949, topping 20°C. Leftover turkey for lunch. Nextdoor have erected a Vote Conservative sign in their front garden.
Tue 24: I need a haircut so walk to Headhunters in Watford but it turns out they're closed on Tuesdays so I have to risk the old bloke on New Road. The tortoise is out of hibernation and chomping cucumber with gusto.

Wed 25: Back to university, which seems a bit soon after a bank holiday but Easter was very late this year. Aghast to discover that our rooms got used by a conference over the break and not everything I left behind is still there. There are black lumps in my sugar. I'm particularly annoyed to have lost my zodiac mug, which OK yes was a freebie from a petrol station but I loved it. On the positive side I appear to have gained two new mugs (one of which I later gave to my Dad and he still uses it for his black coffee almost every day).
Thu 26: Some fairly desperate last minute cramming because there are exams tomorrow. Used my postal vote to vote for my former music teacher.
Fri 27: I revised some dead cert questions yesterday but only three of them came up. Could have done better. Afterwards went clothes shopping without parental supervision, and blimey I really want that black and white check shirt from Burton. Skip the offer of spending Friday night at a pub in Marston and instead end up reading a selection of Asterix books. (I really should go back and try being a student again, I'd make such a better job of it).
Sat 28: That's better. Jazz and cocktails in the college garden, a pint at the King's Arms with the SDP contingent, more beers at the Turf and finally all round to Derek's for records and a little wine. Derek has his own Wikipedia page these days.
Sun 29: Watch our team get beaten on University Challenge, then go punting. I'm more than happy to let everyone else do the propelling, and when I do finally have a go we end up going round in circles before my turn is mercifully cut short by two alsatians on the riverbank.
Mon 30: Lectures restart and this term's grant cheque arrives. It's for £349, £238 of which will be going on food and accommodation. Go for a burger at Huckleberry's because the government are slapping 15% VAT on it tomorrow. Tomorrow is also May Morning so this is the night everyone stays up late, and I fill the intervening hours playing Snapper on Andy's BBC Micro, drinking beers down the pub with Gerry, playing Offshore Oilstrike with Felicity and watching Airplane in the common room with Patrick. May'll be better...

 Monday, April 22, 2024

The centre of London is generally taken to be the statue of Charles I on the south side of Trafalgar Square. It sits on the site of the original Charing Cross and is also the point from which mileages are measured, as a plaque at its foot attests.

But the geographical centre of London is harder to define. Based purely on maps and boundaries, not historical precedent, where might the centre of the capital be? In today's post I'm going to visit some of the candidates, laugh at a suggestion made for marketing reasons and throw in a potential candidate myself. Without offering too many spoilers, the answer is probably in south London not far from Waterloo.

1) The centroid

In geometry a centroid is the average position of all the points within a figure, i.e. the centre of gravity. Possibly the best way to picture this is to imagine a flat sheet of metal in the shape of Greater London and then to identify the point where it would balance. The is what Londonist did in 2010, although they stuck a map to a packet of M&S cheese crackers, trimmed it with scissors and attempted to balance it on a knitting needle. This rough and ready method ended up poking a hole in the vicinity of Lambeth North tube station, and this it turns out is a pretty good estimate.

In 2014 a Londonist reader, Tom Hoban, set his AutoCAD software the task of determining a more accurate location. He traced an electronic map of the Greater London boundary, pressed some buttons and determined that the centre of the capital was at 51.500502N 0.109294W. If you want that in degrees minutes and seconds it's 51°30'1.81"N 0°6'33.46"W, if you want it as a grid reference it's TQ313796, if you'd prefer it as a postcode it's SE1 7RD, if you'd like a clickable map try here/here/here, and if you'd just like a photo here's one.

This is the Tanswell Estate in Lambeth, a horseshoe of council housing lurking just off Waterloo Road near Waterloo station. If you know Waterloo Millennium Green it's just behind that. These are typical LCC blocks erected in the 1930s on the site of demolished slums, indeed I can show you a photo from 1936 of the barrel works and former terraces that used to be here. Today the property in the corner is called Greet House, a five storey redbrick block with external walkways of the kind that coppers in The Bill were always running round. The centre of London lies in the parking spaces outside, perhaps within the blue bin shed or the raised shrubbery, in front of an impressive line of potted plants. One of the vehicles parked here is a black taxi and I'd like to suggest that this cabbie selected his home with rare precision. Perhaps more strategically impressive, the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service are located on the other side of Greet House facing Pearman Road. I have never seen so many ambulances parked up in a residential area, at least in the absence of a medical calamity.

Not everyone agrees with Tom Hoban's calculation. An architect called Michael Jack did a similar centroid calculation with his software and ended up with a slightly different location on Baylis Road, specifically 51°30'1.94"N 0°6'39.67"W. He even went to the effort of sticking a red cross to the pavement and taking a photo so he could show the location on his website, which I hoped would make locating the precise spot much easier. Unfortunately the cycle lane in his photo has been upgraded over the last decade so matching the image to reality took me a while. But by focusing on the trees and lampposts I found the correct spot by a BT inspection hatch over the wall from Johanna primary school, immediately opposite Cut Waterloo barbershop and Waterloo Food & Wine.

Reassuringly it's only a two minute walk from here to the previous centroid location at Greet House, a distance of barely 100m, but this just goes to show how a tiny difference in calculation can shift the intended result. Reassuringly Baylis Road and Pearman Road are essentially neighbours, and both are a short walk north of Lambeth North tube station so Londonist's needle-balancing stunt turned out to be pretty accurate. Weighting the calculation to take account of London's population shifts the centroid a bit, to the Shell Centre on the South Bank, because a lot of Bromley is quite empty. I also once calculated the average location of all the bus stops in London, courtesy of an FoI request, and that ended up outside St Thomas's Hospital a few streets away. Within an appropriate margin of error, therefore, it's a good bet that the geographical centre of London is somewhere in the streets round the back of Waterloo station.

2) An alternative centroid

Ten years ago London's media were agog with the news that the centre of London had shifted to a bench on the Thames Embankment near Temple station at 51°30’37.6”N 0°06’56.3”W. A new centre point for London, said the Independent. London's real centre point, said the Evening Standard. The really boring spot in London next to a park bench that is the exact middle of the city, said MyLondon eight years later, as befits a bunch of shameless scavenging peddlers of unchecked clickbait. I don't have a photo of the bench because the day of the London Marathon is not the time to get up close, plus this location turns out to be utter bolx.

The new data had in fact come from estate agents Knight Frank who had property to sell. "With mapping technology used by the British army we calculated the exact centre of central London," they said, "and this point is the bullseye of the bullseye." It turns out what they'd actually done was find the centroid of the inner London ring road, not the capital itself, because that gave them an answer closer to where they wanted it to be. That's because their research had been commissioned to promote a new report on the Midtown area, central London's most impressively unsuccessful rebranding project, and this blind-copied rubbish is why you should never believe everything you read in the papers.

3) Furthest from the boundary

This one comes courtesy of Ollie O'Brien, a Lead Data Scientist at UCL who's assisted this blog with data queries before. In 2014 he contributed to the ongoing discussion about London's centre by calculating the point furthest from the Greater London boundary as the crow flies (by doing a few negative Buffer operations in QGIS). It turned out the most distant spot was 10.42 miles from Stirling Corner in Borehamwood, 10.42 miles from The Brook pub in Worcester Park and 10.42 miles from the Central line junction near Roding Valley station. And it's to be found at 51°30'47.30"N 0°8'3.37"W, aka TQ295809, aka W1F 0DN, which is just off Wardour Street in Soho.

By chance the equidistant point lies up a narrow alley, namely Tyler's Court, a dingy slot along the side of a fancy dress shop on Berwick Street. This wiggy emporium (called So High Soho) recently moved out for a refurb so the whole place is sheathed in scaffolding and the alleyway is even less welcoming than usual. The walls are scrawled with graffiti, you'd think twice about nipping through to Wardour Street after dark and the inevitable smell of urine hangs in the air (or at least it did after a heavy Saturday night). Facing all this grime is Kemp House, the gentrified replacement for what I remember 20 years ago as a 'proper' row of interesting shops but which now sells prissy facial cleansers, designer beanies and overpriced accessories to brandwhores who wouldn't have been seen dead in Berwick Street Market back in the day... and maybe this dichotomous spot isn't such a bad representation of 'central' London after all.

4) Where the diagonals cross

This is my personal contribution to the ongoing debate. Obviously Greater London doesn't really have diagonals but if I pretend it does and see what happens it turns out to give a very good answer. What I did was draw a line from the northernmost point in London (the M25 near Crews Hill) to the southernmost point (between fields near Chaldon) and join them with a straight line, then do the same with the westernmost point (M25 junction 14) and the easternmost point (a marshy ditch beyond North Ockendon). You can see my working on a Google Map I've knocked up and zoom in to see the precise point where the diagonals cross... which it turns out is here, just beyond the ticket barriers.

Welcome to the new bit of Waterloo station, bolted onto the side, which was of course the original Eurostar terminal before trains were transferred to St Pancras. It's now used for suburban departures, mostly via Wandsworth and Putney, and is a bit of a walk from the remainder of the concourse. If I've counted the ribs in the roof correctly the crossover point is on the grand sweep between platforms 23 and 24, roughly where the front carriage of a train pulls in, beside the little grey cabin where staff hide away. And because we've hit a properly special spot, we can also head down the escalators and experience the crossover point on the floor below.

This is The Sidings, an attempt to create a hospitality destination in the former customs and processing halls of the ex-Eurostar terminal. It was greatly promoted by its developers and scored one big hit when Brewdog moved in at the far end with their enormous craft beer playground. The remainder of the space, however, hasn't attracted many tenants and generally resembles retail tumbleweed. A coffee shop, a salon and a bloke trying to sell designer trainers are still trading but beyond them are hoardings which promise great things but have never been removed, and generally hardly anybody walks past the toilets. Things are even quieter one level further down where most travellers would never think to go. The WH Smith at the crossover point is now closed, its shelves emptied, and the Rosarium restaurant claims to be "taking a short break in the new year". This centre of London is an economic disaster zone, akin to walking around the corridors of a gleaming starship while bored security guards eye you up for target practice.

In all this cartographical juggling we haven't really done any better than in part 1, identifying London's centroid, which appears to be the Tanswell Estate in Lambeth. And don't forget that all these measurements are potentially subject to change, for example if Slough were ever incorporated into the capital or Havering decided to make a run for it. Best I think to stick with the historical definition of London's centre being Charing Cross and leave Waterloo as a middling curiosity.

 Sunday, April 21, 2024

A Nice Walk: Twickenham Riverside (1½ miles)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, pretty views, leafy waterside, historic houses, plenty of seating, optional foot ferry, multiple refreshment opportunities, entirely step-free, won't take long. So here's a classic mile and a half along the Thames in Twickenham, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

This is the third time my Nice Walk recommendation has kicked off at Richmond Bridge, but this time we're walking the west bank of the Thames all the way to Twickenham. It's not far. The good thing about the west bank is that it offers the best view of Richmond Hill, foliage permitting, plus being the inside of a bend you get further upstream for less effort. To reach the waterside take the narrow staircase down to the tidal slipway (warning, parked vehicles may be partially submerged) or else walk to the end of the bridge for a shallower pushchair-friendly descent. Perhaps mind the ducks. Also expect to be sharing the footpath with multiple folk out for a brief constitutional, many in the local uniform of padded gilets and sunglasses, and with many a pampered dog leading the way.

The far side of the river has all the main action with boathouses, landing stages and pricey restaurants. This side has only Cambridge Gardens, a stripe of plush lawn with a playground and a cafe, before heading onwards into quieter territory. Look out for the elegant twisted pillar which acts as a memorial to 6000 Belgian migrants who worked here during WW1 to staff a vast munitions factory. After the war one of its buildings was replaced by the world's largest ice rink, where Torvill and Dean once practised, until that too was demolished in 1992. You can read about both of these unusual buildings on fact-dense information boards to either side of the pergola with the wisteria, and are unlikely to be surprised that the site is now covered by luxury flats.

One characteristic of this stretch of the Thames Path is a preponderance of memorial benches, each with the commemorated name and dedication carved into the slats rather than hidden away on a squinty plaque. Auntie Mollie's bench is one of your first chances for a sit down. How the river appears depends very much on time of day but I passed by close to high tide as the water lapped over drooping willow branches and the wash from the New Southern Belle brushed against occasional sets of stone steps. Best enjoy the shady view of the river and Petersham Meadows because you won't see much on the inland side, only a lengthy wall which shields the massive gardens of surprisingly few very big houses. Occasionally a locked gate intervenes, adjacent to a small dinghy that's used to nip out to a moored cruiser, but mostly it's all trees.

Just beyond the private meadow with the burst of bluebells is Marble Hill Park. This is East Twickenham's finest recreational space and heritage site, and the former domain of Georgian courtier Henrietta Howard. If you're planning a diversion don't dive in at the first gap in the railings, wait for the tarmac path by the black walnut and you'll find a white Palladian house behind the sunken grotto and flower garden. Before English Heritage did the place up you had to pay to go in and got an hour-long tour, but it's now free to enter, open five days a week and considerably better fitted out. The wallpaper is a delight, the furniture sparkles and if you ask the volunteers nicely they'll tell you all about the seven year-old boy in the portrait who jumped out of a pie and ended up imprisoned by Barbary pirates. Be warned that the Breakfast Room's currently off limits with a damp problem and the second floor gallery doesn't open if they're understaffed, but what I'm saying is you really ought to make a diversion and visit one day, even if you have no intention of walking the Nice Walk.

Back beside the river the long jetty crowded with motorboats is home to one of the quirkiest ways to cross the Thames, namely Hammertons Ferry. This family business launched in 1908 and their latest craft is an aluminium hulled boat called Peace of Mind which can transfer a dozen passengers in an enjoyably zippy way. The fare has doubled since I blogged about the crossing ten years ago but it's still only £2 which makes it considerably better value than the cablecar (and also potentially busier). The chief attraction on the far side is Ham House, a National Trust treasure on a magnificent scale, but if you do choose to head over you'll need to get the ferry back because it's the last river crossing for the next two miles.

Stay on the north bank and another Palladian villa with public access very soon pops up. This is Orleans House, or what's left of it because the majority fell derelict a century ago. The baroque Octagon Room was preserved and properly dazzles, although on yesterday's visit I arrived shortly before the wedding of Thomas Robert to Rebecca Kate so could only squint at the gilt ceiling above the heads of the chamber quartet. Art is regularly rotated in the adjacent gallery space, although the current interactive play exhibition is targeted at toddlers so I made do with the colourful dangling saris in the Stables. The cafe looked busiest of all, indeed you won't be short of refreshment on this walk and the booziest is yet to come.

Thus far the riverside has been an entirely public space but now access retreats behind a brick wall and funnels into a street called Riverside. Its residences are a mix of clustered cottages and early 18th century terraces dripping with wisteria, and are now occupied by bohemians with camper vans, messers-about-with boats and the exceptionally fortunate. The waterside here is called Swan Hard, mecca of the Twickenham Riviera, where the Thames still creeps up the muddy beach and across the street at the highest tides. Even when it's not warm punters at the White Swan pub like to spill out onto the Hard with pints in hand or sit under the gazebo on the jetty and wait for a waitress to deliver their steak and chips. Should you want to poke around inside Twickenham Yacht Club and try paddleboarding or propping up the bar, be aware the annual open day isn't until July.

As the street squeezes back between two brick walls look out for the narrow black gate on the left, an access point which allows you to enjoy the view from the top of the arched bridge ahead, not just walk under it. On one side of the divide is York House, the only London town hall to be based in a 400 year-old building, and on the other a fine set of ornamental gardens leading back to the riverside. The must-see sight here is the rockery cascade draped with the Oceanides, a set of eight naked females carved from white marble which were rescued from a country estate in Surrey and restored in 2007. They looked more impressive when they weren't screened behind protective metal railings but needs must. A few steps to the left and you'll be out onto the promenade near the play beach staring across at Eel Pie Island, and that's where my nice walk ends.

You could nip into Twickenham Museum except that's currently closed for renovation until the end of May. You could grab a pint in the Queen's Head, established 1637, except that renamed itself the Barmy Arms and caters for a full-on rugby crowd on match days so maybe best not. You can't cross the bridge to Eel Pie Island unless it's an open weekend, which isn't for a while, but you can go to the enjoyable museum of the same name on the high street for a musical education. You could just go the shops and find somewhere with a seat that does coffee. But if you've taken all the hints in my previous description you'll already have extended what could just have been a half hour stroll into a substantial sightseeing excursion and so much more than just a nice walk.

 Saturday, April 20, 2024

1964 Play School, Horizon, Match Of The Day, Not Only But Also; 1965 Call My Bluff, Man Alive; 1966 The Money Programme, Chronicle, Cathy Come Home; 1967 The Forsyte Saga, Look and Read, colour televison; 1968 Gardeners' World, The Morecambe & Wise Show; 1969 Q, Pot Black, Civilisation; 1970 The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Goodies; 1971 Open University, Elizabeth R, Face The Music, The Old Grey Whistle Test, Play Away; 1972 War and Peace; 1973 The Ascent Of Man, M*A*S*H; 1974 The Waltons; 1975 Arena, Fawlty Towers, Rutland Weekend Television; 1976 Ripping Yarns, I Claudius, One Man And His Dog; 1977 Abigail's Party, Top Gear; 1978 Ski Sunday, The Great Egg Race, Butterflies; 1979 Life On Earth, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Not The Nine O'Clock News, Monkey; 1980 Great Railway Journeys of the World, Newsnight, Yes Minister, Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way; 1981 The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Timewatch; 1982 Food and Drink, Boys From The Blackstuff, The Young Ones; 1983 Entertainment USA, Micro Live; 1984 Alas Smith and Jones, Threads; 1985 Live Aid, No Limits, Edge of Darkness, Acorn Antiques, Floyd On Fish; 1986 A Very Peculiar Practice, Naked Video, The Life And Loves Of A She Devil; 1987 French And Saunders; 1988 Red Dwarf, Def II; 1989 The Late Show, The O-Zone, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie; 1990 Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Twin Peaks, Have I Got News For You; 1991 probably the best idents in the history of the world ever; 1992 Later... with Jools Holland, Absolutely Fabulous; 1993 Rugrats, Shooting Stars; 1994 Room 101, Ready Steady Cook, The Day Today; 1995 The Mrs Merton Show; 1996 Never Mind The Buzzcocks, This Life, Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Our Friends In The North; 1997 Teletubbies, Ground Force, I'm Alan Partridge, Robot Wars; 1998 Goodness Gracious Me, The Royle Family; 1999 The League Of Gentlemen, The Naked Chef; 2000 The Weakest Link; 2001 The Office; What Not To Wear, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, The Kumars at No 42; 2002 Look Around You, 24, Flog It, Balamory; 2003 Little Britain, Restoration; 2004 The Catherine Tate Show, Who Do You Think You Are? 2005 The Apprentice, Springwatch, Mock The Week, Dragons' Den, Coast; 2006 Something For The Weekend, The Choir; 2007 The Restaurant, In The Night Garden, The Tudors; 2008 Maestro, Mad Men; 2009 Pointless, Miranda; 2010 The Great British Bake Off, Great British Railway Journeys, The Trip; 2011 Stargazing Live, Episodes; 2012 Line of Duty; 2013 The Great British Sewing Bee; 2014 Inside No 9, W1A; 2015 Wolf Hall, Inside The Factory; 2016 The Real Marigold Hotel, Upstart Crow; 2017 The Repair Shop, Richard Osman's House of Games; 2018 Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing; 2019 Race Across the World, Interior Design Masters; 2020 Good Omens; 2021 Universe; 2022 The Witchfinder; 2023 The Gallows Pole; 2024 Mammoth

Yesterday's big reveal from would-be Mayor-to-be Sadiq was a major extension to the Superloop express bus network. Phase 1 has ten routes and the plan is to add another ten and call it Superloop 2. There's a map and everything.

The most important thing on the map is the box in the corner which says 'Draft route, subject to change'. These additional routes would need to be subject to public consultation and anything could get tweaked, so best not take every link and connection on the map as gospel. But like Phase 1 it's very much an Outer London project, like Phase 1 it links multiple town centres and like Phase 1 it shadows a number of existing bus routes.

Note that it's not creating a second circuit, with buses mostly outside the existing loop in north and northeast London and mostly inside elsewhere. Good news Havering, you're finally getting something. Bad news Hillingdon, Haringey, Sutton, Croydon, Bromley and Bexley, you got your full allocation first time round.

Superloop 2 has all the hallmarks of a project TfL were planning on doing anyway, or at least have been guided by Sadiq to plan in detail to implement after re-election. The map's too good to be a political backroom knockup, plus it's in the same official style as the original Superloop diagram.

As well as the map, Sadiq fired a press release to trusted media partners which included the following list:
Harrow to Barnet, via Edgware
Barnet to Stratford, via Enfield and Chingford
Leytonstone to South Havering, via Gants Hill and Romford
North Greenwich to Thamesmead, via Woolwich
‘Bakerloop line’: Elephant and Castle to Lewisham, via Old Kent Road and New Cross
Streatham to Eltham, via Tulse Hill and Lee
Richmond to Wimbledon, via Roehampton
Ealing Broadway to Kingston, via Great West Road and Richmond
Hounslow to Hammersmith, via Great West Road
Hendon to Ealing Broadway, via Brent Cross and Hanger Lane
No route numbers were included but the list runs clockwise from northwest London (which is the same rationale as before) so I strongly suspect the routes are in this order for a very good reason. I therefore intend to use the numbers SL11 to SL20 during the remainder of this post, and feel free to come back in a few months' time and see if I was right.

A geographical map would be useful so I've had a go at drawing lines on a Google map. Even as I was doing it I was thinking 'this is probably very wrong', so in many cases my routes may be wildly off the mark. But it's still interesting to look beyond the limitations of a stylised diagram, and it does show that west and northwest London seem to be getting the best deal while south and southeast London's network will be more disjoint.

SL11 Harrow to Barnet, via Edgware [10 miles]
There are many possible routes from Harrow to Edgware so the chosen path is hard to call but I suspect it'll follow the 186, and then the 384 from Edgware to Barnet.
SL12 Barnet to Stratford, via Enfield and Chingford [17 miles]
This'll be a monster of a route, first orbital, then radial. It'll probably shadow the 307 to Enfield, the 313 to Chingford and the 97 down to Stratford. I can see that last section being very popular.
SL13 Leytonstone to South Havering, via Gants Hill and Romford [14 miles]
This'll shadow the 66, a route which follows the often speedy A12 Eastern Avenue. 'South Havering' is a very vague final destination but I suspect it'll thread through Elm Park to Rainham-ish.
SL14 North Greenwich to Thamesmead, via Woolwich [6 miles]
This is a superfast 472, and was flagged in proposals relating to the proposed DLR extension to Thamesmead.
SL15 Elephant and Castle to Lewisham, via Old Kent Road and New Cross [5 miles]
This is the recently announced 'Bakerloop' service shadowing the long-hoped-for Bakerloo line extension. It might get called BL1, but it's fifth place in the list so my bet is SL15.
SL16 Streatham to Eltham, via Tulse Hill and Lee [9 miles]
This has all the hallmarks of a route following the South Circular Road, something not currently possible without a lot of changes. But whereas the North Circular is a speedy arterial, the South Circular is alas anything but.
SL17 Richmond to Wimbledon, via Roehampton [7 miles]
This'll head round the east side of Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, most likely shadowing the 493 and then the 93.
SL18 Ealing Broadway to Kingston, via Great West Road and Richmond [8 miles]
This is plainly an express 65, a busy frequent route on roads often clogged and slow, so it's not clear how the SL18 would be much faster.
SL19 Hounslow to Hammersmith, via Great West Road [8 miles]
The clue here is 'via Great West Road' which strongly suggests an express H91, potentially also using the A4 to skip the traffic in Chiswick.
SL20 Hendon to Ealing Broadway, via Brent Cross and Hanger Lane [7 miles]
This is mostly going to be an express 112 zipping along the North Circular, helping to create an inner Superloop arc across West London.

People who've looked carefully at Sadiq's draft map have noticed a couple of portentous peculiarities. The SL7 (formerly the X26) doesn't terminate at Croydon it terminates early at Sutton, suggesting that the SL5 and SL7 might be being tweaked to become routes of more equitable length. Meanwhile up north the map appears to show two yellow routes terminating at Chingford whereas the press release lists just one route all the way from Barnet to Stratford. Anything here could be an error or a future truth, it's impossible to tell.

Best wait and see how all this pans out, but it looks like Outer London will be getting a much improved speedy bus service and it'll be even more peculiarly numbered and even less like a loop than what we've already got.

 Friday, April 19, 2024

London has eight public footpath level crossings, and today I'm going to walk you across another of them.

Bourneview (CR8 5AD)

We're in Kenley in the London borough of Croydon, a couple of miles southeast of Purley. Two railway lines wend down this dry chalk valley but we want the line to Caterham, the lower of the pair, shortly before trains cross the boundary into Surrey and pull up at Whyteleafe. The footpath crossing to the north of Kenley station has been converted to a diversionary footbridge in the form of two very long ramps. The footpath crossing nearer Whyteleafe has been converted to a loftier footbridge which you might well be familiar with from London Loop section 5, just after revelling in the joys of Riddlesdown. But the Bourneview footpath crossing is much quieter so has never been footbridged and here it is.

The cul-de-sac which dips down from Godstone Road is really called Bourne View, whatever the slapdash formatting in Network Rail's database might say. To one side is a small valley-bottom park and on the other side a few bungalows before the road stops dead at a telegraph pole. Here a sign confirms that Public Footpath 30 continues to Valley Road, and hurrah for that right of way because it's the only reason this crossing remains open. The springy gate no longer springs so it's dead easy to walk through onto railway land, and please take heed of the signs - Stop Look Listen, Keep dogs on a lead, Do not trespass on the railway, Do not touch the live rail, Oncoming trains can be hidden by other trains, Look both ways, Do not cross until all lines are clear.

You're unlikely to meet a train because this line's a terminating spur with a half-hourly service, but visibility is very good in both directions so you'd easily spot something coming. It's not a hi-tech crossing, just a stripe of boards across the tracks with angular timbers to either side to deter anyone straying from a straight line. A tiny grey shed has been provided for maintenance staff, either that or an austere portaloo, close to a decaying phone cabinet on a post. But this is essentially an entirely unstaffed crossing so your gambol across the tracks will be going generally unnoticed. According to the latest count only 27 people per day actually use Bourneview, so when a local jogger came up behind me and padded past I felt like I'd arrived at rush hour.

The gate on the far side closes more successfully, which ought to keep health and safety happier. It sits at the foot of a long sloping footpath, a rising stripe of tarmac carefully shielded from neighbouring back gardens. It's steep enough that a metal handrail has been provided but this runs straight up the middle, splitting the path divisively in two. The rail eventually gives out and after a breathy minute you reach Valley Road and a completely different residential neighbourhood. Brand new bus route 439 occasionally weaves past, at the same frequency as the trains, but if you didn't know the crossing was here you'd never think to alight in the right place. Bourneview all has the flavour of another age when pedestrians were trusted not to get in the way of trains, plus it's a damned useful connection for a few people locally, so long may it survive the risk assessment guillotine.

London's eight public footpath level crossings:
» Bourneview (Croydon) - almost in Surrey, between Kenley and Whyteleafe.
» Trumpers (Ealing) - also across a freight line, see Geoff's video here.
» Golf Links (Enfield) - along a minor footpath up Crews Hill way.
» Lincoln Road (Enfield) - south of Enfield Town, closed to road traffic in 2012.
» Angerstein (Greenwich) - alleyway across freight line near IKEA.
» Osbourne Road (Havering) - between Romford and Emerson Park.
» Brickfields (Havering) - between Upminster and West Horndon.
» Eve's (Havering) - north of Ockendon in a field alongside the M25.

I blogged the five in Havering in 2021 (two of which were closed the following year)
I blogged Lincoln Road in 2023 (in association with Knobtrench data services)
Angerstein was reprieved from closure in 2021 (hurrah)
Golf Links is now the only crossing I haven't walked across.
n.b. Riddlesdown Viaduct public footpath level crossing lies on the Greater London boundary but is officially in Surrey
n.b. Warren Farm, just north of Trumpers, is offically a private level crossing

Sadiq's manifesto has finally been published so let's take a look (mainly so there's a blogpost to check at the end of his term in 2028).

Title: A fairer, safer, greener London for everyone
Pages: 67

Top 10 pledges

1) Free school meals
...a current policy planned for extension but not actually a given, merely to "work to make universal free school meals permanent", and only for primary schools
2) Freeze TfL fares
...but only "until 2025" which isn't a pledge it's a fact because fares only rise once a year. There is however a promise to "continue to freeze fares for as long as economic conditions allow"
3) 40,000 new council homes
...but that's "by the end of the decade", so equates to just 7000 a year (or 20 a day)
4) More police officers
...specifically 1,300 neighbourhood police offcers, PCSOs and Special Constables, but requires Sadiq to "work with a Labour government" so again not a given
5) Investing in youth clubs
...the plan being to create "250,000 positive opportunities for young Londoners", which actually means "quality mentoring" and "investment in more youth workers"
6) Reduce violence against women and girls
...but specifically to "redouble efforts" to reduce that violence because engineering social change is never a given
7) End rough sleeping
...and end it for good, but this again requires Sadiq to work "in partnership with a Labour government"
8) 6000 'rent control' homes
....i.e. homes with rents capped and linked to the incomes of key workers, so a worthy start but a total drop in the ocean
9) World-leading climate action
...although the fine detail is a lot more about air quality than climate change, certainly in terms of worldleadingness
10) 150,000 new jobs
...but really just developing a new London Growth Plan setting out how jobs could be boosted and hoping it happens

All this is clearly explained in the manifesto, nobody's trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but it does show the danger of relying on a top level summary to judge a set of policies.

10 specific transport pledges

Build on the success of the Superloop bus network by introducing a second superloop (a draft map emerged at 7.35 this morning)
Explore the potential to run Superloop-style express bus services along the route of some as yet unbuilt rail projects (deffo the Bakerloo Line Extension, maybe the West London Orbital)
Launch a new plan to cut bus waiting times (perhaps a posh way of saying "increase bus frequencies")
Explore the potential benefts and means of bringing bus operations into public ownership (another aspiration "in conjunction with a Labour government")
Invest at least £3m a year from City Hall to provide more toilets on the TfL estate (hurrah, although I'm not sure how far £3m goes)
Allow concession holders to use their phones as their travel pass instead of having to carry an Oyster card (I'll pass, thanks)
More than 40,000 new bike parking spaces on high streets and in schools, stations and residential areas by 2030 (another pledge due to be delivered after the end of Sadiq's third term)
Expand the step-free access programme to cover half of the Underground network by 2030 (we're currently at one third, and I doubt an extra 44 step-free stations is doable in six years)
"I want Londoners to have certainty about the future, so I commit to keeping the London-wide ULEZ standards the same over the next four years. I also rule out a move to any form of pay-per-mile smart road user charging system." (there you are Susan, in black and white)
• more of the same (this is the majority of the manifesto, to be honest)

 Thursday, April 18, 2024

In precisely two weeks' time Londoners get their chance to vote for a new Mayor. They won't, they'll vote for the old Mayor because Sadiq Khan is so far ahead in the polls he's effectively unstoppable. But we do know the 12 people who won't replace him, most of whom are destined to lose their £10,000 deposit, and we also know many of their policies. Here's my clickable summary.

The mainstream three

Susan Hall (Conservative Party): Susan entered London politics in 2006 as a councillor for Hatch End and rose to become Leader of Harrow council, at least for a few months. Since 2019 she's been the leader of the Conservatives on the London Assembly so she's well used to holding Sadiq to account across the chamber and is very much not a fan. She's on the right of her party so not a natural fit for the capital, more a champion for the outer suburbs. Top of her five point plan is to 'get a grip on crime', indeed her strapline is Safer with Susan. That means hiring more police officers, opening more safe spaces for women and bringing back borough-based policing. Her other key policy is to scrap the ULEZ extension (which a minority of drivers in Outer London are incandescent about) but not to scrap the entire zone (so Inner London diesel owners would remain shafted). When she says she wants to "cut the cost of travelling around London" she only means motorists, not those on public transport, and she's insistent Sadiq intends to bring in road pricing even though he's insistent he won't. She wants much cleaner air via alternative means and also more family homes rather than highrise flats. According to her website "my full manifesto will launch in early 2024" but here we are with a fortnight to go and a five point plan is all we have.

Rob Blackie (Liberal Democrats): Rob's a digital marketeer from Herne Hill who recently turned 50 and is a long-term Liberal Democrat. His absolute number 1 priority is to tackle crime, specifically to 'Fix the Met' by improving conviction rates and bringing policing closer to the community. Rob was violently mugged in Vauxhall and says this is at the heart of his drive to focus on crime, although the attack actually took place in 2003 during Ken Livingstone's first term. On transport he wants a better plan for Outer London, greener river crossings out east, a tax on private planes, more Superloop routes and a reversal of the recent fares freeze. A lot of his pledges are more about lobbying and cajoling rather than action, perhaps recognising the limitations of the Mayoralty, but he does plan to increase the availability of allotments and introduce a London Wellbeing Strategy.

Zoë Garbett (Green Party): Zoë works (non-clinically) in the NHS and has been a Green councillor in Dalston since 2022. She's now stepping up for the mayoralty and if past performance is anything to go by has a good chance of coming 3rd. Her manifesto stretches to an astonishing 134 pages - ten times longer than Rob's - and I've already brought you an analysis of her 100-odd transport policies. Elsewhere climate change would be at the heart of her plans, including setting up a Citizens’ Climate Assembly and creating ten major new parks. On housing she'd like to buy up private homes to boost council house supply, and on policing she'd withdraw support for use of live facial recognition and focus on reducing hit and run crime. A Green Mayor would also replace the GLA’s annual firework displays with drones and lasers, so watch BBC1 on New Year's Day 2028 to see if that's been achieved.

The one-track idealist

Femy Amin (Animal Welfare Party): Femy wants "a fairer and compassionate world" not only for people but for animals and the environment too, including making a stand against the climate, biodiversity and health emergencies. Her policies include the creation of an Animal Welfare Committee within the London Assembly, the promotion of plant-based diets and of course "fostering a culture where speciesism is rejected". Vanessa Hudson said much the same thing three years ago and earned ½% of the vote.

The classic eccentric

Count Binface: Hurrah for intergalactic space warrior Count Binface.

The egotistical entrepreneurs

Natalie Campbell (Independent): Natalie threw her hat into the ring to be Conservative candidate for Mayor last year but wasn't successful so she's throwing her hat in as in independent instead. She's a former royal aide, the current Co-CEO of bottled water floggers Belu and wants to take "a zero B.S. approach to rebuilding London". She calls herself a social entrepreneur and wants an ambitious freelance buzz back on the streets of the capital, for example by repurposing 320 empty shops as community support centres.

Tarun Ghulati (Independent): Tarun's a 63 year-old investment banker and currently the president and CEO of financial services platform Squared Watermelon. He launched his campaign while on a visit to India and says London shouldn't be governed on party lines, it needs a better investment ecosystem. He doesn't have a manifesto he has a vision statement, he claims "Londoners do not feel safe anywhere, anytime, anymore" and like every single candidate on the remainder of my list he wants to scrap ULEZ.

Andreas Michli (Independent): Andreas is a health and fitness entrepreneur who runs a bodybuilding gym and is still peeved at being fined for holding a lockdown gathering at his home. Unsurprisingly his campaign slogan is Make London Strong and his top priorities are tackling knife crime and making police officers fitter. In other policies he wants platform doors at every tube station, a ban on the advertising of hyper-processed “plant-based” meat alternatives and, most bigheadedly, to "establish a Mayor of London radio channel through which I will speak directly to the people of London on a regular basis". I spotted his yellow van circling Piccadilly Circus the other day and thought blimey, there's an ego on the move.

The anti-woke warriors

Howard Cox (Reform UK): Howard's an ex-Conservative voter who's long campaigned on behalf of motorists, bikers, van drivers, cabbies and truckers. He wants to Get London Moving and can distil his campaign into a six word soundbite - Scrap ULEZ, Cut crime, Ditch Khan. He wants police to be a lot more visible and an end to cash-grabbing anti-driver policies, indeed he says he'll refund every fine imposed since ULEZ was extended. His long term priority is move to "a popular common-sense prosperity that benefits all not just a vocal selfish minority", whatever that means, although the finer detail in his policies is very thin.

Amy Gallagher (Social Democratic Party): Don't think Shirley Williams, think a psychiatric nurse concerned about identity politics and virtue signalling whose manifesto headline is Stand Up To Woke. Allow me to cut and paste a bit. "All Woke and DEI programmes will be stopped." "No more LGBTQ+ rainbow flags, BLM groups, ‘Maaate’ propaganda films." "End the war on cars resulting from authoritarian anti-travel ESG policies and Net Zero measures." "An outright ban on loudspeakers with full enforcement on public transport and in stations." "The SDP will de-politicise and enforce neutrality throughout TfL." "The Tube must run through the night, every night, to ensure women are able to work, commute and enjoy the city on a 24-hour basis without fearing for their safety." "The SDP know what a woman is." If the fourth plinth statues also make you angry, Amy wants your vote.

Brian Rose (London Real Party): Besuited businessman Brian got 1% of the vote last time but since then has seen "the city I love, the place I call home descend into an Orwellian nightmare". I probably can't dig a bigger hole for him than to reproduce his opening paragraph. "The Brian For Mayor 2024 campaign aims to create a mass scale transformation in humanity into a fully empowered, conscious and cooperative species by promoting great ideas, strong policies and long term outcomes, while defending our rights to free speech and making London the financial capital of the world once more by making our capital the centre of the crypto, web3 and blockchain industries."

Nick Scanlon (Britain First): Immigrants and Islamists are the important issue in Nick's patriotic bubble, on behalf of a party that considers Reform a bunch of wishy-washy liberals. I don't recognise the London he claims to be "a Third World cesspit where crime is rampant and radical Islamist extremists dominate the streets!" but thousands will cast their vote here anyway.

Don't take my word for all this, do your own research, perhaps by clicking through or by reading the booklet being sent to every voter. You can download a full copy of that booklet here in case yours hasn't arrived yet. Dave Hill is also doing sterling work analysing the candidates and their policies over at On London.

And one final observation. Thus far the candidate with the sketchiest policies isn't any of the above, it's the incumbent Sadiq Khan, whose campaign materials all focus on what he's done (free school meals, frozen fares, building council houses etc) rather than plans for the future. That's because he's delayed publication of his manifesto until this morning, a fortnight before the polls open, and given he's going to win that's the body of pledges we should really all be focusing on.

 Wednesday, April 17, 2024

I said I wasn't going to make a habit of this, and I'm not, but I've ticked off two more.

This is the northeast corner of London, from Hainault Country Park round to North Ockendon, annotated with all the places you can cross the boundary by car, train or public footpath. Discounting the M25, which forms a lot of the boundary hereabouts, only nine of the crossings are roads. That's how successful the Green Belt has been.

The black ticks are all the crossings I've crossed and the latest two are the pair just northeast of Noak Hill. I walked out of one and back in via the other. In the middle were unexpected llamas and a rollercoaster.

All the exits from London +1: Chequers Road, Noak Hill

Noak Hill is London's northeasternmost village and not really on the way to anywhere, not unless you're going to Navestock, South Weald or Coxtie Green. I'd nearly walked out of it before but never quite got past the Orange Tree kennels and pigeon lofts on Church Road. This time I headed out northeast along Chequers Road, past where the Post Office used to be, aiming for the big bridge over the M25. The pavement gives out after Woodside Cottages, after which a stodgy verge suffices, but at least it's enough to keep you out of the road because this corner of London still has a 40mph speed limit. The road surface isn't good and is lightly potholed in places, which is either because Havering council have no interest in traffic heading into Essex or because we've had a budget-strangling government for the last 14 years. If you see a sick or injured deer, a poster advises, be sure to call Harold Wood Deer Aid on this mobile number.

Just before the motorway bridge are two farm gates. One is fronted by a black cruciform memorial commemorating Valeriu Catană (1975-2019), his tiny shrine bedecked with bright artificial flowers. The other is named 'Oakwood' and leads down to a long track which winds off into some woods. After I got home my research suggested Valeriu was a Romanian carpenter and confirmed that Oakwood is a naturist Sun Club offering a heated pool, boules, a croquet lawn and "dense foliage". Even a remote nondescript country lane has its secrets. The M25 is eight lanes wide at this point and on a bit of a climb, just north of the gantry which advises Chelmsford-bound traffic to join the inside lane. The entire motorway is inside the Greater London boundary, for sensible administrative reasons, but once the bridge touches down on the far side you've exited to Essex. Only Havering have put up a welcome sign.

I can't overemphasise how away-from-it-all this is, a world of horsey farms and scattered hamlets, and it was even quieter before the M25 turned up and carved straight across the fields. And yet there is a major tourist attraction here, one that charges £17.50 for admission, and that's Old Macdonald's Farm. As Brentwood's parents will know it's a petting zoo that's diversified into funfair rides and it fills a lengthy strip above the motorway. The easiest things to see from the car park are the Giant Snake Slide and the Doggy Dog Roller Coaster, although somewhere beyond are a Spider Tower, a JCB zone and The Thrilling Crazy Barn Ride. Top of the animal hierarchy are probably the horses, reindeer and llamas, but you also get pigs, goats, owls and walk-through wallabies for your money. Not being a toddler, or having one with me, I gave it a miss.

All the exits from London +2: Wrightsbridge Road

On the other side of Old Macdonald's Farm, which for me was a 5 minute walk, the road crosses Wright's Bridge. This is a crossing of the Weald Brook, a minor stream which flows south and eventually becomes the Ingrebourne, and which was once the boundary between Havering and Brentwood. But when the M25 came along it made sense to make that the boundary instead so you can no longer exit London simply by crossing the bridge. Instead you have to turn off down what looks like OMF's access road, and is barriered as such, but also has a sign saying Bridleway so I gave it a go. The only house, a short way down, is a heavily fortified detached monster called Angel Cottage which I assumed was another modern Essex hideaway. But no, it turns out to be an early 15th century timber framed hall with proper brick chimneystacks, admittedly much extended since, and was formerly an inn called the Old Angel. Another remote nondescript country lane, more secrets.

To cross back into London you first get a few glimpses of the Angel's back garden and then dip down between three bollards into a concrete subway beneath the motorway. Graffiti artists have ventured even this far, it appears, but their spraywork isn't up to much. Climbing back up the far side means following a footpath but very swiftly a stripe of tarmac swings in from the left and this definitely has a kerb. That's good, I thought, my journey back's not going to be the mudbath I'd originally feared. Instead it felt very much like walking down a slightly overgrown country lane with hedges to either side, and it turned out that's exactly what this used to be. Prior to the M25 two parallel roads bore off from Noak Hill but they only had money for one bridge so Chequers Lane (exit 1) got that and Wrightsbridge Road (exit 2) was sacrificed to become a public footpath instead. Old Macdonalds Farm has been slotted in beside the link road added on the Essex side.

The best part of this path was how quiet it was, occasional birdsong excepted. Normally I'm on my guard in this part of Havering for locals out walking lively dogs but I had confidence here I'd not be bumping into anyone, a feeling confirmed by the sight of several fallow deer in the adjacent fields. My passage repeatedly interrupted their grazing, first causing them to look up and then to scarper quietly towards the safety of some overhanging canopy. Deer often find their way onto outlying housing estates in these parts but rarely have I seen groups of ten, thirty and in one case over fifty quietly biding their time in plain sight.

The track eventually reaches a former crossroads where a moss-topped fingerpost points off down multiple paths. You could head back to Noak Hill but I plumped for footpath 278 to Dagnam Park, which is very much the backway into one of Havering's finest recreational spaces. This was once the estate of Dagnams, the manor house whose land was compulsory purchased in the 1940s to create the massive Harold Hill council estate, but this outlying chunk was preserved as parkland and it's delightful. Here I discovered the remains of the old stable block, an avenue of yew trees leading to two white gateposts, the footprint of the former mansion picked out on a lawn, a large pond once brimming with perch, multiple information boards, a Humphrey Repton landscape, a swathe of ancient woodland and of course several more deer.

Quite frankly I should have written about Dagnam Park instead because that's the most interesting thing out here, but alas I've already written multiple less relevant paragraphs and there isn't time. This is why I will never engage in a series called Exiting Greater London In Every Possible Location because it would be a truly irrelevant disappointment, but that's two more ticked off and if you're very unlucky I'll come back one day and do Noak Hill's other five.

 Tuesday, April 16, 2024



London's Monopoly Streets


Colour group: pink
Purchase price: £140
Rent: £10
Length: 500m
Borough: Westminster
Postcode: SW1

Whitehall is one of the most famous and historic streets in London but has been tucked away on the cheap-to-middling side of the Monopoly board, perhaps because it's not a real estate hotspot. Instead it's an administrative hub for the highest echelons of government, the focus of our Remembrance commemorations and a conduit for protest, as well as the site of what was once the world's largest royal palace. As a street it's longer than it used to be but shorter than you probably think it is, terminating short of Parliament Square at the southern end. Let's start off instead at Trafalgar Square, the pink set's focal point, and explore the less bureaucratic end first.

Whitehall kicks off with a Pret A Manger and swiftly settles into catering mostly for tourists. The first gift shop is called Memento London, a souvenir-packed honeytrap where punters are lured inside by the sight of Paddington Bear sitting on the roof of a Mini. Nextdoor is a 'magical' emporium which sells Hufflepuff scarves and Triwizard cups, plus knock-off goods from other fantasy franchises, and if you pause to window-shop a bloke in a red beanie will walk over and ask if you fancy a ride on an open-top tour bus. For higher level contemporary culture try opposite at the Trafalgar Theatre (originally the Whitehall) which has reverted to offering a diet of celeb-fronted plays now that Jersey Boys has finally vacated.

Here too are several pubs that sightseeing families might plausibly drift into, some of which are converted banks so not as traditional as they appear. I checked their menus for fish and chips and can confirm it costs £16.50 at Walkers, £17.45 at the Silver Cross, £18.50 at The Horse & Guardsman and £19.50 at The Old Shades and The Clarence, so best shop around. In particular try not to be tempted inside Café De Royale because it's not a nice place for a cuppa and a sitdown, more a candy bazaar flogging Pop Tarts and Cheetos whose sole nod to hot drinks is a machine on the counter dispensing £3.99 lattes. I'm pleased to say its interior was doggedly empty.

The first sidestreet is called Great Scotland Yard, this the location of the Metropolitan Police's first HQ. The name has followed to each subsequent site, the first being New Scotland Yard on the Victoria Embankment (1890), then New Scotland Yard in Victoria (1967), then back to the Victoria Embankment again (2016). Whitehall remains a sensitive zone, so much so that on my visit multiple police vans were parked up in the middle of the road, sharpshooters were positioned in many a doorway and several groups of gloved officers were carefully checking every single lamppost and junction box against a prescribed list in a red folder. Given that I was wandering around taking multiple photos and scribbling down notes, I'm relieved to have got away unchallenged.

And then the government buildings start. First up is the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, last year's spin-off from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, most of which remains in the building behind as the Department for Business and Trade. If nothing else it's keeping the signwriters busy. Across the road are the Admiralty Buildings, another labyrinthine civil service warren, with 26 Whitehall being where Nelson's body rested on the night before his funeral. A lot of the buildings here present an ornate and overprotective frontage to the street, with very little clue as to which policies are being enacted behind the spikes and bomb-proof drapes.

Horseguards is the chief magnet for tourists hereabouts, specifically the two large sentry boxes to either side of the entrance to the parade ground. Onlookers take it in turns to pause with cameras in front of the mounted soldier with the funny hat, then ideally stand alongside, undeterred by signs warning that Horses May Kick Or Bite. The punters' big grins are in sharp contrast to the poor sod on his saddle, who can't have imagined on signing up that deadpan performance for a TikTok audience would be the central premise of his job. Were his helmet less obstructive he'd spend his entire duty staring at the two buildings opposite, either side of Horseguards Avenue, which appropriately for Monopoly purposes turn out to be a hotel and a house.

Hotel: The Old War Office
They didn't call the hotel the Old War Office because that would be commercial suicide, instead rechristening it The OWO. Once the domain of Kitchener and Churchill. it re-opened last autumn after an eight year refit with one half now containing 85 luxury residences for multimillionaires in need of a showy London pad. The remainder comprises 120 ultra-spacious hotel suites starting at £879 a night, plus a restaurant with a Michelin starred chef and a spa with a "gamechanging holistic wellness offering". This sumptuous internal rearrangement has been paid for by a group of Singaporean investors under the 'Raffles' brand, and I mention all this in case next time you're protesting down Whitehall you want to vent your righteous fury at the obscenely rich as well just as the government.

House: The Banqueting House
The Banqueting House is the sole surviving (visible) remnant of the Palace of Whitehall, designed in full-on classical style by Inigo Jones in 1622. It has a Rubens ceiling, a Flemish balustrade and an upper window through which Charles I walked just before being beheaded. It's also very closed at the moment pending renovation so hopefully you've already been inside. The original palace was Henry VIII's creation, a sprawling collection of royal buildings between here and the Thames, and you can probably guess what colour it started out given its name. Most of the palace burnt to the ground over two days in 1698 after a washerwoman left some wet linen too close to a charcoal burner, the Banqueting House being saved after adjacent buildings were frantically knocked down as a fire break. Whitehall once terminated here at an ornate archway called the Holbein Gate, beyond which it became a much narrower thoroughfare called The Street, before that too was demolished in 1759 to improve the flow of traffic.

Continuing south, back in the present day, the government buildings now come thick and fast. First the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office (the former significantly larger), then the Orwellian bulwark of the Ministry of Defence with its protective stripe of fenced-off lawn to either side. Three heroes of WW2 are commemorated with statues out front - that's Monty, Alan and Slim - and are highly unlikely to be joined by any heroes of WW3 because this spot is ground zero for instant vaporisation. The Cabinet Office has less oppressive premises across the road, although still with armed police on guard at unmarked doors and paparazzi waiting out front hoping to capture the guilty face of an emerging minister. I merely caught a glimpse of the scrawled notes under the arm of a senior civil servant.

The memorial in the middle of the street commemorates The Women of WW2 and takes the form of a bronze monolith bearing a coat-rack hung with evocative uniforms. It's been here since 2005, is hollow to save money and was part funded by Baroness Boothroyd's winnings on the gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The next sideroad is Downing Street, now incredibly well fortified, with a gazebo for the checking of passes on the far side of a screen of black railings. Look closely and you'll see a few remnants of the red paint someone hurled at a recent demonstration, making absolutely no impact whatsoever on government policy. We have just two buildings and a pylon of Portland Stone to go.

The Cenotaph was originally made from wood and plaster because it was intended to be temporary, but was so widely admired that Lutyens designed a permanent structure to replace it. Medals, uniforms and duffel coats have been worn here annually since 1920. The peculiarly palatial edifice opposite, set back from the road, is Richmond House which was built in 1987 to house the Department of Health. More recently it's been pencilled in as the site for a temporary Commons chamber while the Palace of Westminster undergoes urgent repairs, but a heads-in-the-sand approach has so far reprieved the building. And this is where Whitehall unexpectedly terminates, the last 100m down to Parliament Square being called Parliament Street instead. For confirmation see the street sign outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, partway down the balustrade...

...which thankfully saves me from writing two more paragraphs.

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