diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The government's levelling-up agenda isn't normally associated with London, but five boroughs have managed to wheedle £65m from the first round of funding. Newham put in two bids and won by far the largest share of London's cash, which is nice, especially when one of the issues they're trying to solve is the lack of bridges across the River Lea.
"The Lower Lea is a highly severed place. The river is a political boundary, between the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham, and a physical boundary, creating significant severance between neighbouring communities. There is currently no ability to cross the river between the A13 at Canning Town and Twelvetrees at Bromley-by-Bow, a distance of over a mile."
Lack of bridges doesn't normally earn you money, but in this case there's an economic imperative which is jobs and houses.
"The area is poised for significant growth of over 40,000 homes and 280,000m² of commercial space over the next 20 years."
The plan is for a new footbridge at Lochnagar Street, roughly halfway along the crossing-free stretch of the river. This will help to connect a heck of a lot of homes in Tower Hamlets to several business parks on the Newham side, and also enable an active transport corridor between Langdon Park and Star Lane DLR stations. It's the red bridge on this map.

Ignore the unbuilt bridges with yellow letters, they're not part of the delivery.

Lochnagar Street is a stumpy turning off the A12 dual carriageway, barely 30m in length, used by drivers for U-turns and to access the Aberfeldy estate. It used to be longer and almost reach Bow Creek, back when all this was wharves and terraced streets, but has subsequently declined into a grim landscape of rundown warehouses, refuse services and vehicle repair. A lot of this has recently been cleared in readiness to become a significant residential waterside neighbourhood, so on the left will be Calico Wharf (785 flats, 16 storeys), ahead will be Islay Wharf (133 flats, 22 storeys) and to the right will be East Riverside (547 flats, 20 storeys). This future vision is almost unimaginable at present, as are "countless opportunities for picturesque strolls along meandering riverside walkways", but a new footbridge connection can only help.

Current riverside reality is a deep creek intermittently crossed by power cables, whose water drains away to muddy shallows twice a day. What's planned here is a perforated concrete span 55m in length and resembling an elongated Pringle attacked by a hole punch, paid for by levelling-up. It'll land immediately alongside a massive Sainsbury's distribution centre (opened 2016, closed 2021) which creates an immediate obstacle to onward progress. Thankfully a footpath already exists on this side of the river, namely the Leaway, which I have blogged about on numerous repeated occasions. This path connects directly to the adjacent business park and also downriver through Cody Dock, though not necessarily conveniently, so some of the funding will be spent on making this backwater creekside a tad more appealing.
"To ensure safe and accessible access to the new bridge, a programme of investment along the walkway leading to the bridge will bring activation and safety to encourage its regular use."
If all goes to plan Lochnagar Bridge will be completed by March 2024, indeed this expectation is a condition of funding, which'd be impressively fast given how many times a bridge hereabouts has been promised but not delivered. I greatly look forward to crossing it.

Meanwhile five other bridges between here and the Thames are under joint consideration by the boroughs of Newham and Tower Hamlets - target date 2031 - but will only progress if developers come on board. They're the lettered crossings on my earlier map, starting with one that's had planning permission since 2010.

A) Poplar Reach Bridge (Leven Road Gasworks to Cody Dock)

The Leaway stops dead at Cody Dock because the riverbank ahead is occupied by an obstinately immovable scrapyard. One solution has always been to build a bridge and continue the path on the opposite bank, but this relied on the remediation of a former gasworks and only now are the first flats arising on Poplar Riverside (2800 homes, 14 storeys). Alas the developers have only been asked to leave space for a footbridge rather than funding one themselves, leaving future residents potentially rather cut off.

B) Mayer Parry Bridge (Leven Road Gasworks to Electra Business Park)

This potential bridge launches from a different corner of Poplar Riverside and would land amid the unfinished Leaway section on the Newham side. It's yet not certain which half of Bidder Street it'd connect to, nor how, which doesn't inspire confidence. Like the previous bridge it's protected but unfunded, and would probably be built second so is even less likely to appear.

C) A13 Connector Bridge (Blackwall Trading Estate to Leamouth Depot)

This would be a solely Tower Hamlets bridge, connecting underneath the A13 to complete a Leaside path along the west bank. Essentially it'd be a riverside subway, but having been down to the unwelcoming spot I can't work out how it'd thread through the Victorian ironwork at high tide. It also won't be built until the Blackwall Trading Estate becomes 336 flats, which may be a decade away.

D) Leamouth Crossing (Orchard Place to the Limmo Peninsula)

This is much nearer the end of the Lea, just downstream of the Lower Lea Crossing. One side is the Limmo Peninsula, a former Crossrail building site currently at the "emerging masterplan" stage which could eventually contain 1500 homes. The other side is the tongue of land leading to Trinity Buoy Wharf, rebranded by developers as Goodluck Hope (804 homes, 32 storeys) and nearing completion. A creekside path has finally opened here, I was excited to discover yesterday, although it's anodyne as anything.

E) Trinity Buoy Wharf to Thames Wharf Bridge

One day there should be a new DLR station south of Canning Town at Thames Wharf, the wrong side of the Silvertown Tunnel, which'll unlock 5000 new homes on a site called Thameside West. If this happens they might also build a footbridge across the mouth of Bow Creek landing by the diner at Trinity Buoy Wharf, but there are so many ifs and maybes I wouldn't count on this ever happening. A lot of "nice to have"s are going to be sacrificed over the coming decade as London levels down.

 Monday, December 06, 2021

Happy Christmas, said BestMate, I've got us tickets to the Crystal Maze.

The Crystal Maze Live Experience is an immersive attraction based on, but not directly connected to, the iconic Channel 4 programme. It's not cheap, with tickets starting at £55 per person, but various London-based websites who received free tickets have described it as "worth every penny".

Alas this was my Christmas gift in 2019 and alas the tickets were booked for 21st March 2020 and alas this proved to be the very weekend the whole of UK hospitality locked down. Never mind, they said, we'd be more than happy to keep your money and let you rebook later, assuming we ever reopen. We decided to skip 2020 and most of 2021 and eventually plumped for a date at the start of December, keeping our fingers crossed that social restrictions wouldn't be reimposed by then. And somehow they haven't been so we finally got to attend this weekend, only ninety weeks late.

The Crystal Maze Live Experience opened in Islington in 2016, but following unprecedented demand moved to new premises in the heart of the West End in 2018.

Eight of us attended because you go round the maze in groups of eight, and if you come with less they threaten to make up the difference with assorted strangers. The majority of our group was made up of BestMate'sBrother'sFamily, which meant three teenagers as well as an assortment of adults - a combination which served us well.

The new premises are a former casino on Shaftesbury Avenue, the Golden Nugget, its upper floors remodelled into four thematic zones. That's Medieval, Future, Industrial and Aztec zones, in that order, starting at the top of the building and working your way down.

They told us to come "at least 30 minutes prior to your ticket time" so we arrived with 40 minutes to spare but apparently that was too early so we had to wait in reception. This cramped area doubles up as a souvenir shop and also as somewhere to flog you photos afterwards because you're not allowed to take any yourself. Phones, coats and jewellery go in lockers upstairs, your first challenge being to try to memorise the number you've stashed yours in.

Teams normally get to wear coloured satin jackets to add to the nostalgic vibe (except during times of pandemic when shared clothing is risky so you go round as is).

Ah I see how this works, I thought, as we were asked to wait for 20 minutes in a bar on the first floor. But my moneygrabbing assumptions proved incorrect when we were told not to order anything stronger than tapwater because nobody's supposed to enter the maze under the influence of alcohol. Instead we sat in one corner like lemons and wondered how long we still had to wait because all our timepieces were in the lockers. Try not to need the toilets.

Figaro's Bar opened a fortnight ago, is open to the wider public and is supposed to "have the feel of a clifftop looking out onto the Mediterranean Sea". I can confirm that this is total bolx.

At the allotted time you're sent up several more flights of stairs to be admitted to the maze. We were sent up too early and nearly gatecrashed the previous group, which is the kind of rookie error you'd have thought they'd have ironed out by now. The first room is somewhere to have a group photo taken and to sign an electronic waiver, which I totally bodged but they let me in anyway. A second (smaller) room then whisks you back to the 1990s with clips from the original TV programme, edited to make it looks like Richard O'Brien approves, and then your Maze Master nips out.

Channel 4 screened the Crystal Maze between 1990 and 1995, then again between 2017 and 2020. It was never filmed here.

The maze has several hosts, each leading a separate party through the maelstrom. These characters make or break your experience, but ours was absolutely excellent as befits (I suspect) a drama-trained resting actor. A mix of humour, brio and encouragement goes a very long way, which in this case is through four zones and down three floors. It's all been a bit underimpressive up to this point, but then you head through into Medieval and suddenly it's like stepping into the TV show.

The individual games may be physical, mental, skill or mystery. Your team leader gets to decide who plays each one.

Four different rooms lead off the cobbles, each with a door that'll slam shut if you linger inside too long. The two or three minutes allowed for completion are timed by the Maze Master on a cheap plastic timer rather than displayed anywhere you can see it. I suspect this allows for a little leeway, on the generous side, if that'll increase the drama of the situation. Every room also has a couple of windows so that remaining members of the team can look in and help, or maybe hinder, with whatever weird thing the player's been asked to do. Apparently teams don't normally win both of their first two games, or maybe we were only told that to make us more excited.

Each zone is cunningly split in two, allowing one group to be in the first half and another in the second, which optimises collective flow through the maze.

Before the end of the Medieval zone one of us had shot, one had rung, one had climbed and one had shuffled. Picking the right person for the right challenge turned out to be important, and having teenagers in the group made some of the physical challenges a breeze. But there's still an element of total luck involved, in that what's behind the door might be something you're good at, might be something you can conquer or might be a blown chance before you've even started. Try to ignore the black t-shirted game operatives involved in menial behind-the-scenes tasks occasionally walking through. Somewhere in the background a separate clock is ticking, counting down the allocated time before every group in the maze has to move on to the next segment.

Transferring between zones, or half-zones, usually involves a spell of physical activity ranging from very mild to properly active. Some crawling is involved.

The games are genuinely well constructed, both in material terms and with regard to how challenging they are to solve. Lights flash, pulleys turn, guns fire, cables connect and crystals magically roll down chutes if you're successful. Ideally bells don't ring if you want to avoid an automatic lock-in. Thematic dressing is successfully applied throughout, including video screens in the Future zone and an entirely sandy floor in Aztec. The time element is also carefully thought-through, in that you're genuinely up against it, although there were a couple of occasions when we smashed it and the Maze Master had to plug the surplus minutes with banter, which is where being a professional actor comes in.

Four games in each zone means a maximum of 16 crystals by the end, and also that everyone should play two games on the way through. The maze actually contains 32 games so each team only plays half of them.

I got two games to play, both of them mental, and failed on both. One I knew exactly how to solve but then added an extra rule which made it nigh impossible, having made the mistake of taking on board an extra piece of advice that'd been shouted through the window. The other game was based on subjective knowledge rather than deductive skill and therefore all too easy to bodge, which I did, so only escaped the room by taking on board an extra piece of advice that'd been shouted through the window. Somehow every member of BestMate'sFamily won two crystals from their two games, which was fabulous from a team point of view but only increased my sense of personal disaster.

After just over an hour you reach the Crystal Dome, a geodesic structure with fans beneath the floor, within which you have five seconds per crystal to grab (and post) as many gold tokens as you can.

We had 11 crystals by the end, causing our Maze Master to exclaim "double figures!" as if this were a rarity. That meant 55 seconds inside the dome, which again felt absolutely like the telly (except they'd removed all the silver tokens as a Christmas treat). The rest of my teammates reached and leapt and tried to grab the whirling tokens, whereas I'd spotted there were hugely more on the floor so scooped those into the slot instead. We did well, I think scoring 200-and-something, but the need to weigh the boxful at the end means I'm still not entirely sure how many we collected. Indeed our Maze Master's final words were almost drowned out by a minion hoovering all the tokens back beneath the floor of the dome, just before we were cast out and found ourselves back on the landing by the lockers.

A screen by the exit displays the All Time Highest Scores, revealing that 20 teams (including the Queen Bees and the Tena Ladies) have scored more than 850 and five have somehow broken 1000.

I became enormously suspicious of the high score table when it said that one group had scored 18946, significantly more than the number of tokens in the Dome and well over ten times higher than the second placed team. The very end of the experience almost blew the magic, but thankfully the buzz from the previous 70 minutes was still strong. We sat down in the bar and engaged in a lengthy post-mortem, having ordered a much cheaper round than they'd have liked, and generally agreed it had been a mighty successful afternoon. BestMate'sBrother'sFamily are very much escape room aficionados, so the fact they'd been hugely impressed spoke volumes.

The Crystal Maze Live Experience lives off its TripAdvisor score which is currently a maximum 5. It is most suitable for lively groups with cash to splash. It appears to be currently unbookable, either because it's sold out or because the website's rubbish.

On the way out we looked at the photos they'd taken and decided very much against buying any, in part because face coverings don't make for a joyful photograph but mostly because one of us had been wearing green and so had disappeared. I left the building collectively chuffed and personally disappointed. Not only had I blown both chances to win a crystal but I'd also flunked one of the transitions between zones and had to go round the back way, which somehow left me feeling old as well as incompetent. There's nothing quite like being confirmed as a failure in a game you've absolutely adored across three decades. Start the fans please.

 Sunday, December 05, 2021

Things I learned from recent TfL Freedom of Information requests

• From Ticketing & Revenue Update 134

The main fares revision which would normally be scheduled to take place on Sunday 2nd January is very likely to be delayed because the DfT has not yet clarified...
i) the extent of fare rises allowed on National Rail services
ii) the outcomes of discussions regarding future funding of TfL
...and it takes time to implement these changes and update relevant software. 2021's fare rise was delayed until March, and this may happen again in 2022.

• From S stock and Victoria line announcement time changes

On S Stock trains, three tourist announcements are made at all times...

South Kensington: "for the Museums and Royal Albert Hall"
Wood Lane: "for Westfield London"
Wembley Park: "for Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena"

...and some are only made between 10am and 4pm...

Aldgate East: "for the Whitechapel Gallery"
Barbican: "for the Museum of London"
Blackfriars: "for Riverboat services from Blackfriars Pier"
Baker Street: "for Madame Tussaud’s"
Embankment: "for Riverboat services from Embankment Pier"
Hammersmith/High Street Kensington: "for bus services to Olympia London"
King's Cross St. Pancras: "for the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the British Library"
Olympia: "for Olympia London"
Temple: "for Somerset House"
Tower Hill: "for the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Riverboat services from Tower Pier"
Westminster: "for Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Riverboat services from Westminster Pier"

• From Bus frequency reductions in Central and Inner London

TfL only hold data on bus route frequency reductions "as far as July 2021, we don’t hold anything before then." (!)

• From Data on Tube stations being made step-free

These are the years in which step-free interchanges on the tube network became step-free:

1920) Ealing Broadway: Central ←→ District
1926) Kennington: Northern (Bank branch) ←→ Northern (Charing Cross branch) (same direction only)
1932) Acton Town: District ←→ Piccadilly (same direction only)
1932) Wembley Park: Jubilee (originally Metropolitan and later Bakerloo) ←→ Metropolitan (same direction only)
1933) Hammersmith: District ←→ Piccadilly (same direction only)
1939) Finchley Road: Jubilee (originally Bakerloo) ←→ Metropolitan (same direction only)
1946) Mile End: Central ←→ District (same direction only)
1968) Euston: Northern (Bank branch) ←→ Victoria (same direction only)
1968) Finsbury Park: Piccadilly ←→ Victoria (same direction only)
1969) Oxford Circus: Bakerloo ←→ Victoria (same direction only)
1971) Stockwell: Northern ←→ Victoria (same direction only)
1979) Baker Street: Bakerloo ←→ Jubilee (same direction only)
1999) Waterloo: Jubilee ←→ Bakerloo (southbound only)
2000) Green Park: Jubilee ←→ Piccadilly

• From Data on electrification system of London Underground

Lines are electrified with a four-rail Direct Current (DC) system. The configuration and potential of the conductor rails varies across the network. As of 2020, there are three different conductor rail configurations:

a) The original configuration is nominally 630V (voltage), with a −210V centre conductor rail and a +420V outside conductor rail. This is the default configuration wherever deep-level tube trains operate.

b) Beginning in 2016, sections of the sub-surface network were reconfigured to a 750V configuration (−250V and +500V rails). As of 2019, the entire sub-surface network uses this configuration except for Uxbridge to Finchley Road (via Harrow) as 1973 Stock and 1996 Stock (of the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines respectively), share the railway.

c) In areas where London Underground and third rail rolling stock share tracks, the centre conductor rail is electrically connected to the running rails. This still results in a 750V voltage but in a 0V/+750V configuration. Lines configured in this manner include:
i) between Gunnersbury and Richmond on the District line
ii) between East Putney and Wimbledon on the District line
iii) between Queen's Park and Harrow & Wealdstone on the Bakerloo line

• From Full list of all short platforms

Short platforms on the Northern line
Front doorway: Charing Cross NB, Moorgate SB
Rear doorway: Camden Town (High Barnet branch NB), Charing Cross SB, Clapham Common SB, Euston (Bank branch) SB, Hampstead NB

Short platforms on sub-surface lines (S8 stock)
1 rear door cut-out: Eastcote WB, Great Portland Street, Harrow-on-the-Hill (platform 4), Rayners Lane EB
2 rear doors cut-out: Barbican EB, West Kensington EB
1 front & 1 rear door cut-out: Barbican WB

Short platforms on sub-surface lines (S7 stock)
1 front door cut-out: Ealing Common WB, Goldhawk Road EB, Monument EB, Temple WB
1 rear door cut-out: Acton Town EB, Ealing Broadway (platform 7), Hammersmith (H&C platform 3), Monument WB, Parsons Green SB, Temple EB
2 rear doors cut-out: Ealing Common EB
1 front & 1 rear door cut-out: Gloucester Road
1 front & 2 rear doors cut-out: Notting Hill Gate NB, Paddington (Circle & District)
2 front & 1 rear doors cut-out: Baker Street (platform 6)
1 front & 3 rear doors cut-out: Baker Street (platform 5)
2 front & 2 rear doors cut-out: Bayswater, Notting Hill Gate SB

Short platforms on the DLR: Cutty Sark, Elverson Road, Royal Albert, Gallions Reach
Short platforms on the Overground: Canada Water (one set of doors locked), Rotherhithe (two sets of doors locked), Wapping (one set locked on platform 1 and two sets on platform 2)

Short platforms on Crossrail (9 car trains)
rear set of doors locked out: Hayes & Harlington (platform 5)
rear 3 sets of doors locked out: Burnham, Taplow
rear 4 sets of doors locked out: Iver, Maidenhead (platform 1), Twyford (platform 4)
rear 5 sets of doors locked out: Forest Gate, Langley, Seven Kings
rear 6 sets of doors locked out: Maryland
rear 8 sets of doors locked out: Hanwell

• From Visitors to London Transport Museum Acton Depot

Visitors to Open Days
2018: 12,418
2019: 17,339
2020: 7,270
2021: 13,135

...and for the umpteen people who keep emailing TfL wanting to know which postcodes are inside the expanded ULEZ and where the cameras are, the 78511 postcodes are listed here but they won't tell you the camera locations.

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

masks mandatory in shops/on public transport
• all adults to be offered booster by end of January
• no need to cancel your Xmas plans (PM)
• PM does not deny hosting Xmas party last year
• Heathrow T4 reopens for red list arrivals
• time to consider compulsory vaccination (EU)
• UK buys 114m doses for the next 2 years
• omicron may increase chance of reinfection
• Ireland reintroduces social restrictions
• travellers to UK must test before departure

Worldwide deaths: 5,190,000 → 5,250,000
Worldwide cases: 261,000,000 → 265,000,000
UK deaths: 144,724 → 145,551
UK cases: 10,110,408 → 10,421,104
1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 51.1m/46.5m/19.8m
FTSE: up 1% (7044 → 7122)

 Saturday, December 04, 2021

There's a thin line between sharp marketing and warping the truth.

Take Royal Albert Wharf, for example, the part-completed housing development at Gallions Reach.

truly unique - technically everywhere is unique in some respect
modern - of course it is, you're still building it
waterfront neighbourhood - yes, but most of the flats have no river view

prime position - hardly, this is the arse end of Newham near a sewage works
exciting new architecture - nah, it's all the usual stacky brick vernacular
historic setting - it used to be warehouses and a coal wharf
vibrant - there may be a Co-Op but the coffee shop has folded
destination - nobody's coming here specially, trust me

tree-lined squares - a patch of grass with the odd sapling
intimate green spaces - by which of course they mean 'small'
play areas - a few logs, boulders and ropes
waterside views - mmm, West Thamesmead, if you're lucky
on the edge of the centre of London - it's 9 miles from Charing Cross, ffs
exciting new neighbourhood - a fish and chip van visits on Saturdays
brand new community - ...apart from the flats that opened alongside in 2007
setting the scene for a way of life - every housing development ever

Here's the reality.

Much the usual 2020s-style estate, relatively densely packed, with snippets of green.

Play areas prioritising safe and cheap over recreational amenity.

Only a few blocks face the Thames, looking out across the grey estuary towards Woolwich and Thamesmead.

The 2010s section facing the dock basin has a bit more character, as well as 40 artists' studios, but that phase sold out a while back.

You could be anywhere, except you're not, you're in the remotest corner of Newham. But this hasn't stopped the marketing team from further brand massaging, locationwise.
At Royal Albert Wharf, everything you need is close by
Canary Wharf and Westfield Stratford City are just 20 and 23 minutes away respectively by DLR from Gallions Reach, so you’ve got shopping, leisure and business covered when you live at Royal Albert Wharf. It’s a good feeling having everything so close.
Translated into miles, Canary Wharf and Westfield Stratford City are four miles away. This is not close. A resident of the Barbican lives closer to Canary Wharf and Westfield Stratford City than the far flung residents of Royal Albert Wharf. If you want to live close to things you do not live here.

Then there's this.
Open air living
Royal Albert Wharf’s docklands location, away from the congested noisy city, gives you open skies, cool air, a sense of peace and freedom. Stroll the waterside walkway or reconnect with nature in local green spaces. This location is relaxed, uninterrupted, tranquil and vibrant all at the same time.
What nobody's mentioned is the close proximity of London City Airport, nor that the development lies only 100m from the flight path. With the end of the runway less than half a mile away this means planes approaching from the east screech past the development at minimal elevation. I wasn't quite standing in the right place to get the money shot, but even I was startled by how near the plane got. No other residential site is closer to the City Airport flight path than Royal Albert Wharf.

It's not all negative. The artists' studios round the central basin add character, the Capital Ring path passes through and any waterfront setting can be attractive. Then there's the the Gallions Hotel - a genuine Victorian hostelry - plus a DLR station within five minutes' walk. What's more if you have a car you'd be living in that rare slice of Newham just beyond the North Circular where the ULEZ does not apply, which could save you a fortune.

But there are better-connected, less generic and much quieter places to live, especially if you're planning on spending half a million on a two-bedroomed hutch.

The louder the marketing shouts "unique vibrant destination", the more likely they're not telling you everything you need to know.

 Friday, December 03, 2021

Walking Britain's B Roads: the B108
Cannon Street Road/New Road/Vallance Road/Squirries Street/Warner Place/Queensbridge Road
[Tower Hamlets/Hackney]
[2.7 miles]

After a dalliance with Haringey we're back in the East End, tracking a northerly cross section across Tower Hamlets and Hackney. The B108 starts in Shadwell, ends in Dalston and is almost straight apart from a slight stagger along the borough boundary.

At 2.7 miles it's also my longest B Road yet (and longer than the next 20 B Roads to come), which means you're about to get a whistlestop description rather than an in-depth travelogue. I can also promise you encounters with three other B Roads and no fewer than seven A roads.

We start on the A1203, better known as The Highway, close to the Old Rose pub and the BP garage. That's a busy link road whereas the B108 is a fairly narrow fairly minor connection with a weight limit to deter big lorries. The local landmark with the white towers is St George-in-the-East, one of Hawksmoor's six London churches and thereby almost 300 years old. Much of the east side of Cannon Street Road is equally Georgian whereas the wall of flats opposite is resolutely postwar, and this contrast will re-emerge repeatedly as we head north.

We cross the B126, better known as Cable Street, dodging the bikes and ducking under the DLR. Its first arch houses a dark kitchen for people who like their fish and chips to cost £13 and arrive by bike. The road gets a lot flattier after that, in a drably monolithic way, and then very generic backstreet E1 retail. That means small independent shops very much targeting the local Asian community, including halal takeaways, grocery nooks and travel agents that'll speed you to Mecca. For those who like to know which bus route we're following, it's very much the D3 for the next few paragraphs.

We cross the A13, better known as Commercial Road, in the gap between a tattooist and a free school. Ahead is New Road, which looks anything but, and includes a few Georgian terraces that'd be utterly desirable were they anywhere else but here. One of the modern buildings on the right is Flu Camp, part of the Queen Mary Innovation Centre, where volunteers get paid to be infected and lie around in bed for a fortnight. The boarded-up hospital buildings beyond are due to be reborn not as flats, shock horror, but as life science laboratory space. The former Royal London Outpatients annexe will not be missed.

We cross the A11, better known as Whitechapel Road, which is the second major trunk road in quick succession. By following Vallance Road we skip the market and dive back into a world of minor mini-markets, one of which the owner has had the nerve to call Low Cost Shop. Before long there isn't a pre-war building in sight... other than the former Earl Grey pub whose blue plaque tells us that Mary Hughes Friend Of All In Need once lived here. In 1926 she turned the building into a homeless refuge and renamed it the Dewdrop Inn, living here in voluntary poverty until she was knocked over by a tram, and hers is quite the biography.

We cross the B135, better known as Dunbridge Street, just beyond the mainline railway bridge. Its arches have long been home to car repair shops and taxi tweakers, and have more recently been joined by a series of dark stores for instant grocery services. The redbrick terrace on the corner may look innocuous but has been built on the site of the Kray Brothers' family home. It even has a plaque outside, depicting a well known figure in cartoon form, but that's for the entirely coincidental reason that Prince Charles turned up to inaugurate the replacement building in 1988. Most of the streets beyond were demolished to create Weavers Fields in the 1960s.

We cross the A1209, better known as Bethnal Green Road, at the Marquis of Cornwallis (which used to be one of the Krays' locals). It all gets very postwar up ahead, including a grassy square where two slum streets have been replaced by trees and an outdoor gym. For those who like to know which bus route we're following, for the next few paragraphs there isn't one.

We cross the B118, better known as Gosset Street, via a recently-traffic-calmed wiggle. All the lovely old terraces around Columbia Road lurk just off to the left, whereas the B108 sticks to flats and more flats the other side of Warner Green. The only old building is St Peter's Mission Hall which the local parish church hires out for £100 an hour, and blimey the classified roads come thick and fast round here...

We reach the A1208, better known as Hackney Road, and just for a change we follow it for 200 metres before heading back north. It's quite a contrast, not least the sudden appearance of artisan pastries, vinyl records and whittled spoons. It's also the boundary between Tower Hamlets and Hackney. Best we hurry on into the latter.

The last mile of the B108 is better known as Queensbridge Road and starts beneath a massive plane tree. The road ahead is almost perfectly straight and a lot wider than all that's gone before, indeed a very broad B Road. Fine three-storey terraces soon make way for yet more substantial flats and a school broadcasting its Ofsted report along its frontage ("Low level disruption is rare"). The large open space shielded behind a brick wall is Haggerston Park, which is an excellent example of just how attractive a former gas works can be.

We cross the Regent's Canal, which explains the hump, and enter Haggerston proper. It takes a while but eventually the streets to either side get really desirable - a state which only intermittently applies to Queensbridge Road. Amongst its other delights are a man cleaning all the cycle hire stands, a shop selling highly optimistic bags of charcoal and a pub that specialises in Sunday roasts and chip butties. Some flats look like they should be at the seaside, others like a defensive barrier. For those of you who like to know which bus route we're following, it's very much the 236 throughout.

We reach the A104, better known as Dalston Lane, and also the A1207, better known as Graham Road, and stop. That's been Shadwell to Dalston in one hour flat. I hope you've enjoyed the sneak peaks at B Roads yet to come.

 Thursday, December 02, 2021

At the end of next week TfL runs out of money. That's unless the government stumps up extra funding, which it will, but probably not as much money as TfL would like and invariably with extra strings attached and only at the last minute.

As part of the initial war of words the Mayor has claimed that "this could mean more than 100 bus routes being withdrawn and less frequent tube timetables on a number of lines and branches", even "potentially closing a whole Tube line." In return the government has accused the Mayor of "empty threats of managed decline" and "needless sabre-rattling" because they know it won't be that bad, although it still won't be good.

Closing an entire tube line wouldn't be too terrible if that line were the Waterloo & City line, given it was recently closed for 15 months and the rest of the network coped. But this does suggest that large parts of the TfL network are technically superfluous and Londoners would cope if they were suspended, which wouldn't be ideal but could save a heck of a lot of money.

If governmental billions really aren't forthcoming, the only option might be a slimmed down but functional network with all key connections retained. So I've had a go at helping TfL's most pessimistic accountants by attempting to suggest how services could be safely stripped down. It almost looks like the normal tube map, so hopefully the wider public wouldn't be too upset. I hope you'll be impressed by quite how much dead wood I've managed to wipe away.

The map gets bigger if you click on it, but not hugely bigger because some of my deletions are really messy.

First I've fully withdrawn not one but three tube lines. Well done me.
The Waterloo & City line has gone, obviously, because it's strictly unnecessary.

I've also got rid of the Circle line because it shadows the Hammersmith & City and District lines all the way round. There are a couple of corners that only the Circle line links, but a slightly longer journey via Earl's Court or Aldgate East solves that. We're not trying to make travelling easier here, just not impossible.

My third casualty is the Bakerloo line, not least because everything north of Queen's Park is doubled with the Overground and there's no need for both. Also between Paddington and Elephant & Castle other lines always run very close, indeed pretty much in parallel with easy connections at Baker Street and Waterloo. It'd mean shutting a few stations, but there are two Edgware Roads so nobody'll miss one, Marylebone's within easy walking distance of Baker Street and Regent's Park is ridiculously close to Great Portland Street. The only messy gap is around Maida Vale but a replacement bus service between Queen's Park and Paddington would solve that and be hugely cheaper. Best of all, given Bakerloo trains are nearing obsolescence, mothballing the entire line for a couple of years would extend the life of any future service.
Two other lines become significant casualties of my streamlined regime.
The Metropolitan line is cut back to start at Wembley Park rather than connecting wastefully to the West End and the City. Wembley Park is easily reachable on the Jubilee line, even if that's a bit slower, or commuters could simply catch a Chiltern service from Marylebone instead. The availability of Chiltern services is also why I've cut the line between Moor Park and Amersham, retaining only a separate shuttle from Chesham, because let's not waste TfL's money when National Rail can take the strain.
Wembley Park → Uxbridge/Watford

The Hammersmith & City line is significantly shortened and no longer shadows the District line to Barking. Instead it takes advantage of the Metropolitan line's withdrawal from Aldgate and terminates there instead, with onward passengers invited to make a simple pavement level connection to Aldgate East. Best of all train journeys should be a lot quicker because my changes have removed all the annoying junctions where signalling issues used to slow the service.
Hammersmith → Aldgate
Four lines get milder amputations.
The Piccadilly line loses its Heathrow Terminal 4 loop and also terminates at Rayners Lane rather than Uxbridge (because the Metropolitan covers that). These cuts shouldn't be a problem because they're exactly the changes TfL introduced when the pandemic kicked off.
Cockfosters → Heathrow T5/Rayners Lane

The District Line loses its Olympia spur, obviously, but also the Ealing Broadway branch (enabled by making sure the Piccadilly always stops at Turnham Green).
Richmond → Upminster/Edgware Road → Wimbledon

The Central line loses the Woodford-Hainault shuttle because it serves three really lightly-used stations (and they're not in London anyway).
West Ruislip → Epping/Ealing Broadway → Hainault

• The Northern line loses its two unnecessary appendages, namely the Mill Hill East branch and the Battersea extension (because if people coped without it three months ago they'll cope again).
Edgware/High Barnet → Morden
I'm leaving the Jubilee and Victoria lines alone because I am not unreasonable.

The Overground loses a) Emerson Park b) New Cross c) Crystal Palace d) the Richmond branch e) the Goblin.
Rationale: a) Nobody'll miss it. b)c) National Rail serve these. d) The District line goes there (and Acton has far too many stations as it is). e) It was closed for so many years its users already know how to cope without it.

The DLR doesn't need Stratford International because Stratford's only a shopping mall away, nor the line down to Canning Town because the Jubilee line shadows it. Also, let's lose Tower Gateway.

The Trams can lose Elmers End, if only so that they can be seen to contribute something to the overall cuts.

TfL Rail should start at Ealing Broadway rather than Paddington and at Stratford rather than Liverpool Street. Anyone who needs to travel inbetween can use the Central line or National Rail.

The Dangleway is cancelled. This will not surprise you.
Finally, and most importantly, Crossrail must never open because this will save shedloads of money. Nobody needs it because it's never been there for them to need, so it'd be best if we stopped all enabling works immediately. It'd mean the last 12 years have been a complete waste of engineering effort, but cancellation is the only option now that cost-cutting is the top priority.

I'm sure you'll agree that the remaining services on my depleted tube map would be perfectly sufficient for everyday use, especially now that passenger numbers are 40% down on normal pre-pandemic usage. It might mean slightly longer journeys for a few unfortunate travellers, but it's better than "managed decline" or shutting down the network altogether.

These cuts would reduce TfL's outlay by millions of pounds, completely solving their budget issue overnight... apart from one teensy underlying problem which is people. You can't shut lines without making hundreds of drivers and other staff redundant, and that'd be hugely awkward not to mention hugely expensive, if indeed it's legally possible.

Perhaps it's best I don't give TfL ideas, or indeed the government, before they screw the capital on the basis that London no longer needs a “London-style” transport service.

 Wednesday, December 01, 2021

30 unblogged things I did in November
(includes half a dozen additional clickable photos)

Mon 1: The japonica on my balcony is in full flower. I thought it was unusual there were bees on it, even though it's mild for November, but it turned out they were wasps.
Tue 2: The riverside path beside the Tower of London has finally reopened. I walked through at 10am just as the Beefeaters marched up to the front gate to let the day's visitors in, and the queue must already have been 100 strong because it seems the tourists are back.

Wed 3: In Stepney I spotted a Lost Budgie notice sellotaped securely to a lamppost (Please Help Find Bluebell ... She is a budgie with a blue belly and underside... she gets scared easily... she responds to "Hi, come here Bluebell" ...we miss her so much) but given she flew out of the window in June I fear we have to assume the worst.
Thu 4: For my Programmes I enjoyed on BBC Sounds slot this month I offer you What's Funny About, in which two BBC comedy producers discuss the histories of 12 utterly iconic sitcoms (e,g. Blackadder, W1A and The Office). Hurrah for in-depth intelligent radio.
Fri 5: I walked over to BestMate's at 7pm, and seriously East London, I was expecting a better firework display than that. Even the youths in the local park setting off illicit bangers couldn't stretch beyond a minute.
Sat 6: Aagh, my phone failed to recharge overnight so it was only on 1% when I woke up... and that delayed me long enough to miss discovering the dead body by Bow Locks.
Sun 7: Today I walked the B300 through Southwark, which I was excited to see had a B300 sign embedded in the wall of a chapel, although at current rate of blogging it'll be 2023 before I get to tell you about it.
Mon 8: The subway under the station at Hackney Wick has just opened, 3½ years after the station itself, which'll save a few locals a few minutes (and looks quite pretty from the right angle).

Tue 9: I accidentally left the building at the same time as my most annoying neighbour, and she asked if the noise I could hear in my flat was quieter now, and I said "yes thanks, apart from..." and it was all very civil, and I was quite pleased I'd managed to deliver a coherent rational response I'd been entirely unprepared for, and it has actually been quieter since.
Wed 10: This week's unexpected out-of-stock item at Tesco - toothbrushes (there are normally four shelfsworth).
Thu 11: Today's extra Two Minute Silence, the one some people prefer to the actual Two Minute Silence because it takes place on a working day and forces everyone to stop and remember, was being summarily ignored by everyone in Stoke Newington High Street this morning.
Fri 12: We're into that pretty fortnight when leaves look amazing but haven't fallen off yet. Hope you made the most of it.
Sat 13: Dammit I appear to have a cold. It's been a while. I can't work out if I caught it off the friend with a cold I met yesterday, or the short train journey I took the day before, or the long train journey I took the day before that.
Sun 14: A Benjys has opened on Cornhill in the City. It's seemingly linked to the fabled low-cost sandwich chain that went bust in 2007 because the sign out front says "The Original Benjys Company", although the breakfast special is now a wrap because takeaway snacks have shifted since, although it is an egg, bacon, Cumberland sausage and cheese wrap and it does also say Builders Welcome in the window and toast is on the menu for £1.25 so it could genuinely be the real thing.
Mon 15: The footbridge across the Lea between Here East and Gainsborough Primary has opened to the public. I'm sure it was previously only for schoolkids. It's not especially useful, or direct, but every connection helps.

Tue 16: OK that cold didn't last long, indeed it was barely a sniffle.
Wed 17: I got a message from a friend saying "Is that how you spell disect?", so I responded by taking a photo out of the train window and adding "...ect" on the end.
Thu 18: I like how I can extend the loan on my library books simply by pressing a button in an app, even though I suspect I have no intention of reading them during the next three weeks, after which I might do the same thing again.
Fri 19: I've only seen a kingfisher twice in the last six months, neither time inside the Olympic Park. Today's flew out of a tree just to the north, on a quiet Leaside footpath, flashing its blue undercarriage at close quarters as it sped off upriver. [map of sightings]
Sat 20: On my walk round the Isle of Dogs I was overtaken by a golden retriever being taken for a ride by its owner on the front of a cargo bike. You'd have gone aaah. 15 minutes later I overtook them because cargo bikes are too wide to get through a bikes-only gate, and 15 minutes later I caught up with the owner bagging the dog's poo. All thoughts of 'aaah' dissipated at that point.
Sun 21: The Elephant & Castle shopping centre has now completely disappeared, which is sad, and the elephant relocated to the top of a temporary stack of shops with minimal footfall within an adjacent mega-development, which looks sadder.

Mon 22: Only in Canning Town would you find a notice stuck to a lamppost saying "Lost a bag with girls pajamas and cloths inside. If found, please call <number> and leave a massage. Thank you"
Tue 23: This week I've been trying to track down a 2022 diary, but the Ryman in Canary Wharf didn't have the right size and the Ryman at London Bridge didn't have the right colour so hurrah for the Ryman in Muswell Hill.
Wed 24: If you know where to look, the very first daffodils are already poking above the ground in the Olympic Park.
Thu 25: I have never had to change the batteries in a thermostat before.
Fri 26: Thanks for all your lovely reminiscences about special places you only got to visit because of someone you knew or who you worked for. Some of us have been damned fortunate. But when I published today's post at 7am I wasn't expecting to be able to add an extra experience to my list before the end of the day.
Sat 27: The Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition is back at London Bridge station (formerly at Waterloo, formerly at the National Theatre). The winning shots are as jawdroppingly spectacular as ever and make me feel ever so undertalented. Nobody else was looking at the boards, however, just rushing through or shielding inside to make phone calls.
Sun 28: One of my neighbours has left a trail of pine needles all the way up the communal stairs from the front door, and I know technically it's Advent Sunday but I don't rate that tree's chances of surviving until the middle of December, let along Christmas Day.
Mon 29: Today's Tesco price shock - a ½kg bag of own-brand pasta which used to be 55p a couple of months ago is now 70p, and that's a 27% price hike (which admittedly is better than the 50% they were predicting).

Tue 30: The service road leading to the relocated City Hall in the Royal Docks has been now been renamed Kamal Chunchie Way. For reasons previously discussed it's an excellent choice, although I can't help thinking of a chocolate bar every time I see it. Sadiq & Co are due to arrive in January.

 Tuesday, November 30, 2021

I have just been boostered.
That was good timing.

I was 1st-jabbed in March (along with most of the nation's 50-somethings) and 2nd-jabbed at the end of May. My opportunity for a 3rd jab came six months later, or rather 182 days later because these turn out to not be the same thing. By the calendar my six months was up on Sunday but by the day count it was Friday, there having been four 31-day months since... but none of this matters because I went and booked for Monday instead.

I would have gone back to the ExCel exhibition centre because I had a good experience there, but they stopped vaccinating in June and have since returned to hosting niche business conferences. Instead I searched through the other opportunities available locally, of which it turned out there were several because I live in London. Most were pharmacies, including one almost on my doorstep, but I didn't fancy whipping off my top layers in a shop so looked elsewhere.

I plumped for the vaccination centre at the Westfield shopping centre because it was big and because I knew where it was, having walked past umpteen times since it opened in January. This was just as well because the map link provided on the booking website took me to a building a quarter of a mile away beside the bus station, because this is the danger of automatically prioritising postcodes over actual location.

It's fine, directional signs to the vaccination centre have been placed throughout the outer parts of the mall, although they do take you past a 2nd vaccination centre which looks open but closed in September. The remaining jabbery is inside the former IKEA store, not far from John Lewis, which is where my booster adventure began.

I knew what to expect because this vaccination hub has its own website, westfield-covid-vaccination-centre.nhs.uk, which includes a section titled What will happen when I attend? I won't cut and paste all of the bullet points, only those which turned out to be incorrect, unhelpful or untrue.
If you can, please bring your NHS number.
I duly brought my NHS number, having been caught out at previous appointments by not knowing what it was. But this time nobody asked for it so making a special effort beforehand proved entirely unnecessary.
When you arrive, you will be met by our front of house staff. They will ensure that you are wearing a face covering and will provide you with a mask if you are not.
I put my mask on before before joining the very short queue. The man on the front door asked me to take it off and handed me another mask to put on instead. I wasn't overly impressed by this, given that the website (and my NHS confirmation email) had specifically asked me to bring a face covering. He explained it was to ensure a level playing field because some of the masks people bring are woefully unfunctional. I said that was fair enough but I now had to stand in front of him unmasked for a few seconds while I changed over, and perhaps they could just have got their words right in the first place. I didn't say the last part out loud.
We will ask you to sanitise your hands in the foot-controlled dispenser by the entrance.
It wasn't foot-controlled. Perhaps someone's worked out it's perfectly safe to touch a dispenser if you're about to sanitise your hands immediately afterwards.
We will also take your temperature.
According to the thermal gizmo my body temperature was only 35°C, I suspect because it had been near-freezing outside on my walk to the centre. Nobody assumed I had hypothermia, they just waved me in, but I bet anyone with a fever would have registered comfortably below the threshold and been admitted anyway.
We will then take you to one of our vaccination pods.
There were a couple more stages before I got that far, including the checking of my booking reference and the answering of important questions (no, no, no, no, no, no). The man in front of me didn't speak great English so it took the administrator some time to work out he was in for his first jab, but she was very reassuring all the same. It's never too late, especially when governments are now dangling extra carrots and extra sticks.

My booster jab went very smoothly, thanks, not least because I'd remembered to wear a short-sleeved shirt under my winter woollies. What intrigued me is that there were three other people in my pod, whereas for my first jab there'd been two and for my second just one. I now suspect that Abigail was sitting there purely to observe and that the nurse who needled me was new to this, but he did very well and missed all the bits that might have hurt.
You will be given a leaflet about the vaccination you have just had.
No, they gave me the leaflet before I had the vaccination, two rooms earlier. I'd been a bit confused at the time because the text kept calling the vaccine Comirnaty, a name I'd never heard before, with the Pfizer brand name appearing only at the foot of the last page. That makes me one of the millions whose vaccination sequence has been AZ-AZ-Pf, rather than Pf-Pf-Mo, Ja-Ja-Mo or whatever. Let's hope that's one of the good ones.
You are then free to go.
No such luck. They'd let me go straight away after my previous two jabs because I was walking home, not driving, but this time I had to wait. It's a Pfizer thing. You'd think the website would know this, given that AstraZeneca is only available at Westfield on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but instead the final instruction was annoyingly incorrect.

I'd been given a time I could leave, fifteen minutes after stabbing, and got to wait in the holding area on a freshly sanitised chair. Among the notices on the wall was one warning 'Please use headphones while using your phone' and another inviting me to follow the Stratford Vaccination Centre on Instagram. I did neither. Two digital clocks had been set up at the front of the room, one to either side, to save people relying on their own timepieces. Alas nobody had thought to synchronise them so one always reached departure time 25 seconds before the other.

And then I was back out into Christmas Shopping World, fully boostered, and ready to continue with my day. Thus far I've suffered no adverse reaction, be that a stiff arm or full-on fever, which is exactly the same as didn't happen on the previous two occasions. I feel very fortunate.

Having waited patiently for six months to get my booster it seems everyone else is suddenly going to be offered it after three, so it looks like I got in just before the rush. The omicron variant is triggering a whole raft of reassessments and reimpositions, of which today's reintroduction of laws on face coverings is likely only the first.

At least I now feel best prepared for whatever lies ahead, whatever that may be and however this winter turns out. I wonder when they're going to urge us to have a fourth.

 Monday, November 29, 2021

It's possible to visit four London boroughs on foot in 1 minute 10 seconds.
Bromley → Croydon → Lambeth → Southwark (report from Crystal Palace here)

It's possible to visit five London boroughs on foot in less than 10 minutes.
Bromley → Croydon → Lambeth → Southwark → Lewisham (same report here)

For my latest challenge I've tried walking the maximum possible in an hour, which turns out to be eight.
Tower Hamlets → Hackney → City of London → Islington → Camden → Westminster → Southwark → Lambeth

This can only be done in the centre of town where administrative boundaries lie very close together, so what follows is essentially a walk around the City of London and the seven immediately adjacent boroughs.

I started at Norton Folgate, just north of Spitalfields Market and Liverpool Street station. This is one of the former liberties of the City, most recently desecrated by British Land as the site of a dense office pile, and also the point where Tower Hamlets, Hackney and the City of London meet. That was three boroughs ticked off instantaneously, or would have been had I been able to stand safely in the very centre of the road at the junction with Worship Street.

By my calculations there are 50 points in Greater London where three boroughs meet, not that you can physically stand at all of them without trespassing or drowning, but ticking off three boroughs very very quickly is not a tough challenge.

Follow Worship Street west and four minutes later you magically enter Islington... or at least on any normal day you do. Alas when I turned up yesterday the last section of the road was blocked for filming, with a heck of a lot of vans and lights and cameras stashed in readiness and a security guard intent on keeping pedestrians out of shot. I have no idea what they were filming, only that it required a lot more vehicles than you normally see, and it wasn't a problem because I simply walked one block south and entered Islington via Christopher Street instead.
4 boroughs - four minutes

That was the low-hanging fruit taken. The next nearest unvisited borough was Camden on the other side of the City so what came next was a walk of just over a mile to get there. In good news that walk was mostly along the B100, a road I blogged in its entirety earlier this month so don't need to describe again. Think Chiswell Street, the Beech Street tunnel and Smithfield market, eventually ending up on Farringdon Street.

I could have reached Camden quicker but instead I targeted the triple point where Camden, Westminster and the City meet. This is roughly in the middle of Chancery Lane (between King's College and the Law Society) and deftly raised my borough total to six. What's more I'd walked it in half an hour flat, which I think is the quickest it's possible to hit half a dozen.
6 boroughs - thirty minutes

Two other London boroughs were now less than half a mile away but on the other side of the Thames. Had the Garden Bridge ever been built it would have been easier to get there via a more direct route, but thankfully it wasn't. Instead my choice was whether to head upstream to Waterloo Bridge or downstream to Blackfriars Bridge, and crossing the latter turned out to be quicker.

Blackfriars Bridge is one of two that lie entirely within the City of London so I didn't enter Southwark halfway across, I had to wait until I got to the other side.
7 boroughs - forty-four minutes

Finally it was a short walk west along the South Bank below Sea Containers House. This was by far the most congested part of the route, especially the narrow stretch beside the Oxo Tower where some careful sidestepping was required. But immediately beyond this I crossed into Bernie Spain Gardens and entered my eighth borough, which was Lambeth, so I could stop the clock.
8 boroughs - forty-eight minutes

A slightly more streamlined route at a slightly faster pace might have allowed me to hit 45 minutes, but eight different boroughs in under an hour cannot be beaten.

Because I'd been walking around the innermost part of the city it would then have been a bit of a hike to reach a ninth. The nearest was Wandsworth at Nine Elms and that's a couple of miles distant (so, notionally, walking nine boroughs would take an hour and a half).

As for Kensington & Chelsea that would have required getting to the north side of Chelsea Bridge (meaning ten boroughs is just doable in two hours). Hammersmith & Fulham would have added another half hour, and had I felt the need to add Richmond, Hounslow and Ealing at least one hour more. That would have been 14 boroughs in 3½ hours, but I had no interest in schlepping that far so stopped at eight.

Minimum time to walk to a number of London boroughs






It's important not to get too carried away with this. The question of how long it would take to walk to all 33 London boroughs sounds tempting to tackle, but because it would involve dropping in on Hillingdon, Havering and Crystal Palace is an entirely impractical activity. My walking challenge was essentially linear, but once you end up in two dimensions everything quickly gets much too complicated.

I have previously visited all 33 boroughs by train in 7 hours 13 minutes, because I do love ticking things off, and earlier this year made a special effort to walk through four English counties in one hour flat. I need to remember that you will never do this because you have either common sense or a life. But eight boroughs in quick succession is almost fun, should you ever have an hour to spare.

 Sunday, November 28, 2021

Walking Britain's B Roads: the B106
Alexandra Park Road/Albert Road/Durnsford Road/Brownlow Road
[1.6 miles]

This is my most far-flung B Road yet, indeed all of the next fifteen are a lot closer to home. That said we're still only in Haringey, specifically cutting across the northwest of the borough from Muswell Hill to the North Circular.

n.b. This isn't the original B106, a designation initially applied to the short road past Stamford Hill station. But when that was reclassified as an extension to the A107, sometime in the 1920s, the B Road number became free and so was reused for a new suburban connection which hadn't existed at the start of the decade.

It's a pleasant road in a desirable area and with a lot more ups and downs than any of my preceding B Road reports. Stay tuned for Purity by Beatrice, an African freedom fighter, a listed station and another pre-Worboys road sign.

I'm starting my walk in Muswell Hill, not quite at the bijou summit but a bit further north on Colney Hatch Lane (a road classified as the B550 because it begins on the other side of the A1). The B106 kicks off at the traffic lights by the Shell garage, which naturally boasts a Little Waitrose because it's fairly well-to-do round here. The flats on the first street corner aren't typical of what's to come, but that's because they were built on the site of a large Victorian Methodist church whose congregation fled in the 1980s when its upkeep became too expensive. The nice houses start just round the first bend, both along the B106 and up a series of elegant avenues to either side.

The second bend is where Hornsey borough once crossed into Wood Green, but that's been administratively irrelevant ever since both were merged into Haringey. Here we find St Andrew's, a larger-than-necessary parish church who'd love to see you for their saint's day Mass on Tuesday evening (followed by "cakes and fizz"). It's also where the road starts to properly descend with an impressive view framed between the gabled villas to either side. The extensive flat valley beyond is that of the River Lea, those tiny tower blocks to one side might be the quartet at Ponders End and the green hills in the background are (checks map) ooh that's Epping Forest. Lovely.

This is Alexandra Park Road and we're entering the suburb of Alexandra Park, an Edwardian development laid out to the north of Alexandra Palace. It's so called because the much-loved hilltop park used to be much larger, including an additional northwestern flank with landscaped attractions including a chain of lakes, a tree-lined avenue and a circus ring, but all of that was swiftly swept away for housing. You can tell it's desirable housing by the content of the parade of shops at the foot of the hill in which consecutive units are taken by an organic grocers, an independent bakery, a gift boutique, a proper wool shop and a ceramics workshop (Don't Miss Our Christmas Firing Deadline!). Elsewhere calling your beauty salon Purity by Beatrice might raise eyebrows, but here it merely lifts them.

Alexandra Park Road bears off after the library, having been trumped B-road-wise by the newer Albert Road which forks left. Time was when the only building round here was Tottenham Wood Farm, the centre of a 450 acre agribusiness, but all that remains of the farmhouse is an isolated portico in the playground of Rhodes Avenue Primary School. A more obvious legacy is the park alongside where residents gather to play tennis, kick a ball or hide away in the pavilion cafe. It had always been the Albert Road Recreation Ground but in February was renamed O R Tambo Recreation Ground after anti-apartheid campaigner Oliver Tambo who lived in exile just up the road for over 20 years. A statue of the great man wielding a metal charter, gifted by the South African High Commission, now greets those entering by the south gate.

Albert Road bears off after the football pitches, having been trumped B-road-wise by the newer Durnsford Road which forks left. The most significant building here is the Sunshine Garden Centre, whose large car park confirms a significant number of large gardens in the vicinity. It's just slipped into Christmas-tree selling mode (which is how the business started in 1989), but in the summer months the giant red barbecue out front summons would-be grillers from far and wide. The road is now climbing again with woody banks on one side and a gap in the relentless houses on the other. This is because the B106 is now passing over the East Coast Main Line, immediately above the portal where the tracks enter the Wood Green Tunnel (between Alexandra Palace and New Southgate). Those not in cars can enjoy the landscaped half-mile of Tunnel Gardens, an undeveloped strip which passes along the top.

When the houses restart they're almost cottagey, as befits later interwar development, and crouched behind a row of well-trimmed boxy hedges. The road is now descending again having crossed a watershed into the valley of the Pymmes Brook. I ought to mention the buses that ply this way (102, 184, 299) because this helps some of you visualise where we are, and because someone's again numbered them in a way that runs counter to the classification of the road. You may remember that the bus which ran the full length of the B105 was the 106, alas, and now here we are on the B106 and it's the 102. The road regains its transport mojo at the next crossroads which is dominated by the octagonal frontage of Bounds Green station (the last architectural triumph on the Cockfosters extension to be grade-something-listed).

The final stretch of the B106, Brownlow Road, is also the oldest. It starts with a shopping parade with split personality - one side bookmakers, fried chicken and minicabs, the other a cafe called Hot Milk and a bakery called White Fig. Come on the right day of the week and you'll easily identify the seemingly random point where the road passes from Haringey into Enfield because it's where the blue binbags start. The houses beyond are a bit more characterful, some with verandas and wooden balustrades. Expect a long queue of traffic before the final lights - I counted 50 - because all the adjacent backstreets have been dead-ended to prevent ratrunning. Outside the Palmers Green and Southgate District Synagogue is the pre-1963 road sign I promised you, although worse for wear ever since the bottom panel pointing to Edmonton and Woodford disappeared.

And hey presto we've reached the A406, better known as the North Circular, where the B106 dissipates into congested vehicular flow.

That's six B Roads down and a total of six miles walked. In good news there isn't a B107 because that number was extinguished ages ago, but all you're missing out on is a five minute walk past Waitrose in Wapping so you're not missing much. Do come back for the much longer B108.

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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five equations of blog
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chemical attraction
quality & risk
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single life
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ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
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