Mon 1: On the first day of February 2021 I finally managed to pick up a copy of the December 2020 tube map, first published in January 2021 (from the open air racks at Bromley-by-Bow station). The index no longer fits on two panels, with everything from Wapping onwards now relegated to the back cover. Tue 2: Work has begun on the country's first 'Blossom Together' memorial garden in the Olympic Park, courtesy of the National Trust. The sloping glade by the Timber Lodge cafe has been sealed off, white lines painted across the grass and the first of 33 trees delivered.
Wed 3: I wondered what the huge queue was in Hackney Wick, lined up patiently in the rain alongside a graffitied wall. It turned out to be for a milk float which Dalston bakery The Dusty Knuckle uses as a mobile shop which comes round once a week to sell bread and pastries. Such are the perils of moving to a new neighbourhood before gentrification is complete. Thu 4: My 2021 National Trust handbook has arrived, this year devoid of opening dates and times because they'd only have been wrong so please go online and check. I never got the chance to use last year's membership, so here's hoping for better luck in 2021. Also this is the last time they'll send out a new car sticker (in future available only on request). Fri 5: In case you've not seen one for a while, the Evening Standard is still being published and has 24 pages. Sat 6: I woke more than once during the early hours, annoyed that some neighbour seemed to be having a late night rave-up, only to discover in the morning that I'd forgotten to turn off the radio in my living room. Sun 7: Today I got to wander through the Barbican as swirling snowflakes fell all around me, which is the kind of experience concretoholics can usually only dream about.
Mon 8:Posters outside stations urge passengers wanting to find out more about the March fare increase to "Search TfL new fares", despite the fact that such a search brings up no relevant pages whatsoever. [n.b. a relevant webpage now exists, in time for today's first fare hike in five years] Tue 9: It's my brother's birthday on Sunday, so I'm dropping his card in the postbox today because I no longer have confidence in the Royal Mail to deliver it on time if I leave it much later. Wed 10: A lockdown treat has been to watch old episodes of Treasure Hunt on YouTube, with skyrunner Anneka Rice speeding above various farflung corners of the country. I hadn't realised quite how much my 2018 holiday to Cornwall had been based on the contents of a 1987 episode. Thu 11: The Hertford Union Canal has been drained "to enable detailed inspections and repairs of the waterway wall", and it's fascinating to see what shape the channel is (a bit more sloping than I was expecting) and how many tyres are down there. Reopens mid-March.
Fri 12: It's been a while since I experienced proper wind chill, but crossing the Bow Roundabout I was buffeted by a bone-chilling easterly whipping past the foot of a residential skyscraper and I nearly went back home and put the kettle on. Sat 13: A man stopped me on the wrong side of Bow Road and asked where he needed to wait to catch a bus to Bethnal Green, and it was just his luck that he'd asked London's foremost Bus Stop M expert. Sun 14: I tried to remember how long it is since I last a) sent b) received a Valentine's card, and decided it's more than 20 years for each. Mon 15: Birdwatching update: The Olympic Park kingfisher passed low over the footpath in front of me on a swoop from The Mound With The Rings to The Impenetrable Riverside Reeds. [map of sightings] Tue 16: I'm unsure quite what possessed the training/employment/money transfer centre on Stephens Road in Stratford to call itself 'Lady Click Services'. Wed 17: A thing I noticed while collecting my A-Z of bus stops in the Bow area is that Bus Stops A, B and J have the words bus stop written across the roundel but all the other roundels are blank. I guess that's because they're an older design (all three are on Bow Road rather than one of the lesser side streets).
Thu 18: Today's discovery... an unfeasibly optimistic concrete promenade in North Woolwich, just upstream of the ferry sliproad, complete with south-facing benches, decorative anchor and steps down to the foreshore. Fri 19: Birdwatching update: I was so busy watching the eastern banks of the Lea, where the kingfisher usually appears, that I failed to notice it directly in front of me on the western bank until it launched into the air displaying a dazzling orange undercarriage. Sat 20: Walked wistfully through ChrispStreetMarket looking at all the bits they intend to knock down to redevelop/densify the site (and slightly less wistfully at all the bits they intend to keep). Sun 21: I was walking through the Olympic Park at the precise moment a young girl managed her very first solo bike ride. Her parents were effusively proud, recognising what a big milestone this was, while her big brother looked on nonplussed and wished the repeated adulation would stop. Mon 22: Progress on the Olympic Park blossom garden has been swift. Two rings of trees have been planted on the steeper slope, which is now ablaze with daffodils, while a proper path is being laid out on the gentler bank so that visitor footfall doesn't churn up the grass. I can see this being ready to open later in the spring.
Tue 23: Returning from a spring stroll on Wanstead Flats I passed a roadblock on a quiet residential road in Maryland watched over by a group of local rubberneckers, and although I spotted the policeman clearing up rubble I somehow entirely missed the car that had been driven into theside ofa house. Wed 24: Proper Local News: The Nisa supermarket on Bow Road has knocked through a brand new wider entrance where the tills used to be, relocated the tills along the side wall and extended the ramp out front, and is now in the process of sealing up the old entrance. It looks like a considerable investment (and will be much more conducive to social distancing). Thu 25: The vaccination centre at ExCeL finally had a queue outside today, but only three strong, so I guess most of London's 2 million jabs have been done elsewhere. A special hello to the TfL Signage Muppets who've put up posters explaining how to walk from Canning Town to ExCeL at DLR stations with a direct service to Custom House. Fri 26: Had to remove a layer of clothing in the middle of an industrial estate because I'd dressed for chilly conditions three hours earlier, not the rampant onset of spring. Not complaining.
Sat 27: I reached the River Thames off Canary Wharf as the tide turned and was dazzled by its undisturbed mirror-blue surface. Quite gorgeous. Then a single motor launch rippled upstream from Greenwich, its bow wave swiftly decaying to random interference and the magic mirror never returned. Sun 28: I didn't go on a train for 162 days between mid-March and the end of August, and I thought that was a long time. I now haven't been on a train for 163 days between mid-September and the end of February... and still counting.
During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, butI'vecontinuedtocountthosecategoriesagain, everysingleFebruarysince, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Over the last year it's changed a heck of a lot, indeed this has been the most atypical February ever courtesy of a pesky coronavirus, so it's nice to be able to get a quantitative handle on my life under lockdown. Below are my ten counts for February 2021, each compared to the corresponding count for February 2020 (and the average for Februaries over the previous five years).
Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been a below average month for people turning up to read what I've written, and not quite as good as last February. This might be because I haven't been venturing far from home so the content's been limited, it might be because I haven't had any big hitter posts to attract an additional audience, or it might be that an increasing number of readers are slipping past my stats package without registering a visit. Whatever, 2350 visitors a day is not to be sniffed at, indeed it makes me twice as popular as the Dangleway at present. I'm glad that my ongoing quest for London-centric bloggage continues to engage. Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2020: 66682 Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2021: 65701 (↓2%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 64200
Count 2 (Blog comments): This is the big surprise - comments this month are massively up on normal. Generally I can expect about 25 a day but this February it's been nearer 35 which is phenomenal. I haven't even cheated and included a deliberately interactive post (like asking you where's the highest and lowest you've ever been). The increase could be because you've been missing human communication, so an opportunity to broadcast your thoughts is increasingly welcome. But more likely, I suspect, is that I've been writing more about things you can actually relate to. A lot of my posts are normally about places you've never been, but because I can't travel I've been forced to write about more general topics which means you now have something to say. Pleasingly the increase isn't just the same few commenters droning on and on because well over 300 different people have commented this month. Thanks everyone, because it's you that help to bring this page to life. Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2020: 702 Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2021: 946 (↑35%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 700
Count 3 (Blog content): I thought I'd be writing less because I'm not going anywhere, but instead I'm writing more than last year, the equivalent of an extra paragraph a day. What's really kept the word level high is that I've not been interrupted by having any kind of social life, leaving me nothing else to do of an evening but type. It's been a challenge to keep on finding stuff to write about given the constrained horizons we're living under, but my local area continues to throw up jewels and the wider situation's always blogworthy. It means I'm still averaging over 1000 words a day, the equivalent of writing five novels a year, which remains an excellent way to keep myself occupied. Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2020: 27316 Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2021: 32122 (↑15%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 31700
Count 4 (Sleep): I'm sleeping less than last February but not much less, perhaps by twenty minutes a night. I put this down to being more likely to listen right to the end of the midnight news summary, and also the handful of days when I get up really early to go to the supermarket while it's quiet. Seven hours a night isn't a bad average under the circumstances. Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2020: 199 Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2021: 190 (↓5%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 185
Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, indeed this count has only once surged into double figures, but never before has it been rock bottom zero. Normally I can expect a weekly trip to BestMate's sofa but lockdown has killed off that small pleasure... and indeed all expectation of social interaction whatsoever. Checking back I see my last night out was in the middle of October, almost twenty weeks ago, and it could be some time yet before I get to enjoy another. The number of nights in February 2020 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4 The number of nights in February 2021 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 0 (↓100%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 6
Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count my definition of alcohol has always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. It's become increasingly hard to source in pubs in recent years but I always keep a stash in my fridge and open one occasionally as an accompaniment to dinner. This February I've opened three, and that is the entirety of my alcohol consumption this month. You may be doing a lot better than that, or arguably a lot worse. Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2020: 0 Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2021: 3 (↑3) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 3
Count 7 (Tea intake): My tea consumption has always been impressively consistent, and strangely lockdown hasn't altered that. I might have expected to be drinking more given that my days are now spent adjacent to my kettle, but somehow I've remained within my normal 120-135 window. One cuppa after I wake up, one after I get back from my morning walk, two in the afternoon and maybe another in the early evening helps to bring structure to my day. And so I remain a four-and-a-half cups-a-day man. Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2020: 122 Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2021: 128 (↑5%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 126
Count 8 (Trains used): As anticipated, total collapse. What's normally a monthly total of over 100 individual train journeys has dwindled to zero, for obvious reasons, and will likely remain at zero for some time yet. On the bright side I haven't heard the 'See It Say It Sorted' announcement for the last fifty weeks and that has been a blessed relief. Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2020: 136 Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2021: 0 (↓100%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 122
Count 9 (Steps walked): Last February I was averaging seven miles of walking a day but this month that's risen to 10. That's because I always go out for a walk every day and that walk tends to be quite long (and because I'm not sitting down on public transport when I want to get somewhere). Amazingly I've exceeded 20,000 steps every single day this month, even the icy snowy freezy ones, which I'm sure is a personal record. I don't expect to maintain this level of footslogging in future Februaries because I'll have other things to do, but it has been doing wonders for my waistline. Total number of steps I walked in February 2020: 405000 Total number of steps I walked in February 2021: 671000 (↑66%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 340000
Count 10 (Mystery count): This should surprise absolutely nobody under the circumstances, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. A stay at home order combined with societal lockdown is not conducive to any increase. Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2020: 0 Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2021: 0 Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 0
Count 11 (Hours spent out of the house): This is a new category for 2021 because I thought it might be interesting. It turns out I've spent 96 hours out of the house this month which equates to an average of 3½ hours a day (i.e. 20½ hours indoors). I thought that was grim until I trawled back through my diary and Oyster record for last February and discovered my 2020 average was only five hours a day. If only I'd known it'd be my last chance to get out and about for ages I'd have gone out and about a lot more but no, I only made a few big trips and only left the capital once. Indoors isn't a bad place to be but sheesh, once I get the chance again, carpe diem. Total number of hours spent out of the house in February 2020: 134 Total number of hours spent out of the house in February 2021: 96
Count 12 (Hand washes): This is another new category for 2021, indeed it was your suggestion. Unfortunately it turned out to be a duff suggestion because it equates to "number of times I normally wash my hands per day plus one", which is what happens when you only go out for exercise once daily. Total number of times I washed my hands in February 2021: 125
Thank goodness you also suggested some other ideas, which I also kept myself busy by counting...
» Number of hours I spend watching TV: 90 (that's 3 hours a day, and includes catch-up)
» Number of hours listening to radio shows: 288 (because it turns out I am very much a radio kind of person)
» Number of conversations I'm involved in outdoors: 13 (a lot higher than I was expecting, mostly people seeking directions or begging for money)
» Number of fruit and vegetables I eat: 142 portions (hurrah, that just exceeds my 5-a-day)
» Number of packets of crisps I eat: 56 (one as a snack during my morning walk, and one later indoors)
» Number of chocolate biscuits I eat: 42 (I'm dead impressed it's been that low)
» Number of Creme Eggs I eat: 4 (I am not addicted)
» Number of photos I take while out and about: 1615 (of which you only see a fraction)
» Number of kingfisher sightings: 2 (plus 3 herons and 1 little egret)
» Number of boroughs visited: 9 (last February it was 33)
» Number of times I put on a mask: 7 (I told you it'd be 7, and it was)
» Number of hours I spend producing posts for this blog: I lost count, sorry (but probably around 200-ish...out of a month that's 672 hours long)
I did suggest that you might count something specific during February 2021, so let us know if you did.
Here's hoping February 2022 will see a return to normal, or nearly normal, rather the oddities of this most anomalous February.
• all adults to be offered vaccine by end of July
• Israel eases lockdown after vaccine rollout
• data suggests vaccine reduces transmission
• ... and greatly reduces hospitalisation
• PM releases four step 'roadmap' to end lockdown
• schools 2 weeks, shops 7 weeks, pubs 12 weeks
• aim: remove all restrictions on 21 June
• US death toll passes ½million
• holiday bookings surge
• govt to review possibility of vaccine passports
• Ghana receives 1st vaccines via Covax initiative
• new govt ad campaign: "Let's keep going"
• Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved in US
• exams to be graded by teacher assessment
• alert level lowered from 5 to 4
• think of others and get vaccinated (Queen)
• vaccine will continue to be offered by age
• cases surging in Israel despite jab success
• a single case in Auckland triggers lockdown
• eye protection helps prevent transmission
Worldwide deaths: 2,460,000 → 2,520,000 Worldwide cases: 111,000,000 → 114,000,000 UK deaths: 120,365 → 122,705 UK cases: 4,105,675 → 4,170,519 Vaccinations: 17,247,442 → 19,682,048 FTSE: down 2% (6624 → 6483)
Marshes: A Walk for One A narrated audio tour through London's Hackney Marshes
Head to the corner of Millfields Rd and Mandeville St in Lower Clapton and you might spot a plaque on the wall featuring a QR code and a blogspot URL. These link to a blog with just one post which is designed to tempt you on a half hour walk into unspecified surroundings. The plaque's on a brick wall opposite a bridge leading onto Hackney Marshes so it's fairly obvious where you'll be heading, but there's no map and no given endpoint, just an audio file to play which'll reveal all. I resisted the temptation to scan ahead for spoilers, turned up and pressed play.
It's soon clear this isn't going to be a walk about history or fact, more a journey into folklore and feelings. Before very long the female voice is urging you to close your eyes and focus on your breathing while she counts backwards from 20, which had me worried, but thankfully what follows avoids slipping into shallow mindfulness. I didn't close my eyes because this is 2021 and blocking the pavement is unwise, as was confirmed when two elderly shoppers and a man with a small dog attempted to walk by. The 242 bus interrupted the peace and quiet twice. After the count reached zero I was invited to consider my place amid my immediate surroundings, then the wider cosmos, and by the time the soundtrack reached five minutes I was itching to get away.
At long last I was told to make my way over to the footbridge and pause in the centre, looking down over the river and its "citizens of liminal space", as the increasingly flowery voiceover described the narrowboats below. If you have a psychogeographic Bingo Card handy you'll also be able to tick off palimpsest, edgelands and topography before the walk is through. But I also appreciated the commentary being carefully timed to roll out in real time, its encouragement to look and listen, and an increasing recognition of my own personal insignificance amid aeons of natural existence. I drew the line at stroking a block of wood.
Yesterday was a cracking day to be walking on the marshes, the sky cobalt blue and the buds of spring itching to emerge. It was busy too as local residents took advantage of their limited freedoms, but I bet none of them were following an audio trail laid down in 2014. I admired a pylon, watched out for rooks and tried to work out why I was being asked to listen to a folktale about a sperm whale on the high seas. A more relevant choice was to focus on the mythology of the fox as I followed a long path trapped between spiked railings. Occasional cobblestones signalled a lost industrial past. A single hawthorn tree blazed with white blossom.
There were problems ahead. The underpass beneath the Lea Bridge Road was flooded though both bores, as it so often is, so a diversion up and over was required. The blog's initial directions had anticipated this possibility, so full marks for forethought, but this distraction did totally break the walk's momentum. The last few minutes were spent admiring Leyton Marsh and the light in the sky, revisiting our friend the fox and contemplating my personal nodality. The commentary ends by offering a choice, either back into reality or onwards into the dreamlike wilderness. I chose to walk on across Walthamstow Marshes, which I absolutely hadn't been planning before this audiowalk nudged me, and I thank the author copiously for that.
Connections between Hackney Marshes and Walthamstow Marshes would be greatly enhanced if proposals for East London Waterworks Park go ahead. This recently-launched project aims to turn 14 acres of concrete into a 'brownfield rainforest', mirroring the success of the adjacent Middlesex Filter Beds and Waterworks Nature Reserve. This riverside compound alongside Lea Bridge Road was also once filter beds but was concreted over to become a Thames Water depot. Planning permission to turn it into two free schools rightly failed, so the intention now is for local people to buy the site and transform it into a biodiverse habitat for communal use. Stage 1 is a crowdfunder to get a feasibility study off the ground, and such is local interest that it's already 73% funded. That should pay for a team of experts to get involved and start to engage with the landowner, but it'll be years before any sale is successful, the concrete gets broken up and any wild swimming begins. You can read more about the project here, contribute here and watch a speeded-up walk around the perimeter here.
East London Waterworks Park is just one of ten proposed parks in the capital championed by CPRE London. These are exciting projects revitalising post-industrial backwaters which could contribute much to suburban recreation. Details of eight have been announced so far, and they're a great-looking bunch.
Today's obscure street is Ronnie Lane, E12. It's either in Manor Park or Little Ilford, depending on your preferred geography. It's named after Small Faces guitarist Ronnie Lane who grew up not so far away on Romford Road and played his first gigs locally. He's been dead since 1997 so his name was perfect when a new estate emerged in 2001, and the new streetname was unveiled on what would have been his 55th birthday. This is an odd area on the very edge of Newham, almost bumped up against the North Circular, pocked with modern cul-de-sacs and older tower blocks. And Ronnie Lane's a very odd street in that it's three entirely separate stunted dead ends leading off two different main roads. Delivering pizzas must be a pain.
I hoped to find something of interest but Ronnie Lane's not really that kind of place. Undistinguished, quiet, quite nice really, almost Beckton-like but better built. Hardstanding dominates. Alleyways connect through to adjacent streets. Brickwork's bright and clean. One of the houses had a lot of cars parked outside but that was as untidy as it got. I suspect the neighbours would make it very clear they've got no room for ravers. I have nothing else, sorry.
I spotted this advert above the Bow Roundabout yesterday. It annoyed me enormously.
It's part of the government's latest 'Keep going' campaign, appealing to us to remain in lockdown despite all the good news of recent days. We might be tempted to ease up given that transmission rates are declining, vaccine rollout has been successful and all eyes are on future easing of restrictions... whereas in reality at least four more weeks remain before the 'stay at home' order gets lifted. Fair enough.
But the strapline 'Every opened window makes a difference' is a downright lie. Some opened windows make a difference, depending on where they are and who's in the room being ventilated, but the idea that 'Every opened window makes a difference' is bolx. Opening a window has no effect if nobody in a room is infected. Opening a window might not be sufficient to prevent transmission. Opening a window at the end of an indoor meeting is too late. Sure ventilation is important and people need to recognise this, so the underlying message is sound. But that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing. I live alone ffs, so opening as many windows as I can would have absolutely no effect on the health of anyone else whatsoever.
I hung around and got more annoyed. This digital screen beside the flyover shows a sequence of digital adverts and the other four in the series are just as bad.
The strapline 'Every day at home is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some days at home make a difference, if they prevent you transmitting the disease or being infected elsewhere, but the idea that 'Every day at home is making a difference' is bolx. Going out has no effect if you meet nobody while you're there. Going out has no effect if you're not contagious and none of the people you pass are contagious either. Going out is fine if all you're going to do is walk round a field. Going out might actually be preferable if the infectious person is indoors. Sure staying at home is important, especially when your oblivious journey might set in train a chain of infection resulting in long-term ill-health. But that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.
The strapline 'Every washed hand is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some washed hands make a difference, and a very big difference too, but the idea that 'Every washed hand is making a difference' is bolx. Washing your hands has no effect if there's nothing viral on them. Washing your hands doesn't prevent spread if you already washed them two minutes ago. Even if transmission by touch is how you caught the disease, and experts dispute its significance, 99% of your hand washing activity over the last year was irrelevant. Sure washing your hands more regularly is a great public health message, but that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.
The strapline 'Every covered face is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some covered faces make a difference, assuming both mouth and nose are included, but the idea that 'Every covered face is making a difference' is bolx. Covering your face has no effect on others if you're not infectious. Covering your face has no effect on you if the people you interact with aren't infectious either. Some face coverings are so thin as to be useless. Some people who wear face coverings take greater risks by incorrectly assuming they're protected. Sure covering your face is important, given nobody knows their infection status for certain, but that use of 'every' converts this message to an untruth, which isn't something a government trying to maintain public confidence should be doing.
The strapline 'Every video call is making a difference' is a downright lie. Some video calls are made from offices. Some video calls are never meant to be a replacement for a face-to-face meeting. Some video calls last less than five seconds. Some video calls are between people in the same household. There are a million and one reasons why a video call might make no difference whatsoever, so whoever threw this campaign together has essentially constructed a cavalcade of exaggeration, a carousel of lies. The TV ad is worse.
All these things help sometimes, not always. All these things are important but none are 100% certainties. All these things make a difference if everyone does them, but that's not the same thing. A simple tweak from "is helping" to "could help" would solve it. The liberal use of 'every' in advertising collateral is a stain on modern society.
I should point out I'm slagging off the wording not the underlying message. I'm not one of those sceptic cockwombles who refuse to believe the science but will take batshit conspiracy theories at face value. These are the deluded muppets who claim none of this is worth it - no face coverings, no steps aside, no days spent at home - and 'none' is far worse than 'every'. So it doesn't help when the government starts pushing a campaign that can be too easily debunked for going too far the other way. Don't overstate it, just tell us straight.
Circumstances notwithstanding, gentlemen prefer not to stand next to other gentlemen at the urinal. If the row is long enough it's all about personal space. The holy grail of urinal usage is to identify an empty stall between two other empty stalls... and unzip, and breathe out.
But how many gentlemen can stand at a urinal before someone has to stand next to someone else?
On the face of it this is a simple question. Take a row of 7, for example.
Here every alternate stall is filled, everyone's privacy is assured and the maths is simple. The number of gentlemen accommodated is half the number of stalls, rounded up.
But gentlemen are not simple. In particular when they approach a urinal they're not thinking about setting up the optimum spacing, they just want to keep as far away from everyone else as possible. This can result in a wholly inefficient use of facilities, and before you know where you are a queue has started.
What really happens with a row of 7 is this.
Gentleman 1 takes the end stall.
Gentleman 2 goes right down the far end.
Gentleman 3 stands in the middle, maximising his distance from the other two.
All the available stalls are now immediately alongside an occupied stall, so when gentleman 4 enters he has nowhere to go. Theory suggests seven stalls will fit four gentlemen comfortably, but the reality is only three.
We need some rules to model the situation.
i) The first gentleman takes the end stall.
ii) All subsequent gentlemen stand as far away from the other gentlemen as possible.
iii) As soon as all stalls are either occupied or adjacent to an occupied stall, a queue starts.
Let's look at the four simplest rows of urinals first, that's n=1, n=2, n=3 and n=4.
One stall is the most efficient layout, permitting 100% usage. The second stall is wasted because nobody wants to go there. The introduction of a third stall permits a second participant. The fourth stall is again wasted.
Next n=5, n=6 and n=7.
Five stalls means three gentlemen, optimally spaced. Six stalls also only allows three, and so does seven (as we saw earlier).
Next n=8 and n=9.
Eight stalls increases the number of gentlemen to 4 and nine stalls increases it again to 5. Nine's great because it halves well - the third gentleman goes in the middle allowing four and five to slot in either side.
It doesn't get any better.
Ten, eleven, twelve and thirteen stalls still only permit five gentlemen. More might fit if those gentlemen spaced out optimally but they don't, they act selfishly instead. If you're thinking of installing a urinal don't go for ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen stalls, stick with nine because the extra would be a waste of resources.
Here are all those numbers in a table.
n is the number of stalls. U(n) is the number of gentlemen who occupy them.
I've decided to call U(n) the urinal function.
It's a very strange mathematical function because it increases erratically. Three 3s, then a single 4, then five 5s suggests there is an underlying pattern but it's nothing simple.
Here's how the urinal function continues from 14 stalls to 26.
Now we have nine 9s in a row. Something quite peculiar is going on here.
Practically speaking you wouldn't install a row of urinals 25 stalls long, and even if you did gentlemen wouldn't occupy them according to these rules. But if they did then nine gentlemen would slot into those 25 stalls before a queue started.
25 occurs at the end of the sequence of nine 9s, the point at which all the occupied stalls have two empty spaces inbetween. 26 is more efficient because the extra stall creates a gap for a 10th person to fit into. 27 adds another, 28 another... all the way up to 33, beyond which comes a sequence of seventeen 17s.
The underlying pattern is all to do with powers of 2.
If n is a power of 2 then U(n)=½n.
Immediately after a power of 2 comes a sequence of identical numbers.
If n is a power of 2 then it's followed by x identical x's, where x=½n+1.
For example a very long urinal with 512 stalls would provide relief for 256 gentlemen, while anything from 513 to 769 stalls would satisfy just 257.
The urinal function has an underlying rationale which is much more complicated than might be imagined from what looks to be a straight-forward problem. Something to mull over the next time you're waiting for a space in the Gents, gents.
(and if your eyes glazed over a long time back never mind, it was only a hypothetical urinal anyway)
Checking through my box of millennium ephemera, alongside the Rough Guide, the lottery ticket and the travel guide, I found this 1999 newspaper article. I'm not sure why I kept it given I had no intention of moving to London at the time, but it makes for intriguing reading two decades later.
Tennyson Road wasn't the peak hotspot, just an example of a street in the borough with the fastest rising prices. The Olympics weren't even a pipedream at this point and Westfield was still twelve years off. But it was a good example of a lowly street on the up, only a couple of minutes from the town centre and less than half a mile from a freshly revamped station. [map]
I found myself walking past yesterday, so detoured down the street I recognised from the article to see if anything still felt special. No, it was all fairly ordinary for Newham.
Tennyson Road consists of long Victorian terraces, generally well kept, with teensy front and back yards, bay windows and intermittent satellite dishes. The street is broad with speed bumps and restricted parking. The residents I spotted seemed more diverse than would have been the case 22 years ago but not overwhelmingly from one ethnic group. All looked pleasant enough, but there are finer streets further out where Newham's middle class are more likely to congregate. How much did they say these were worth?
The newspaper article also includes interviews with residents who reveal how much they originally paid for their Tennyson Road properties.
• Charles and Kathleen paid £200 in 1950
• Phyllis paid £1500 in 1968
• Theresa paid £7000 in 1979
• Tony and Fiona paid £52,000 in 1993
• Shaun and Oonagh sold for £80,000 in 1999
It should be pointed out that average earnings increased dramatically over the same period, and those early house price rises are very much in line. But things accelerated dramatically in the 1990s with Stratford property prices significantly outpacing wages, becoming very much the perfect investment.
The internet now makes it easy to track individual house prices so I've used a well-known property site to capture sales for all the houses on Tennyson Road since 1995. About 100 of the 150 properties have changed hands, several more than once, which produced a handy set of data. Most are two bedroom terraced houses so I was generally comparing like with like. Admittedly the sample size for each individual year is small so you shouldn't read too much into the annual averages, but they do create this rather convincing graph.
The average house price in Tennyson Road doubled between 1997 and 2000, then doubled again by 2006. Things stuttered somewhat around 2009 with the onset of the financial crisis, but recovered within a few years and returned to the previous upward trajectory. Prices pushed through the £400,000 barrier in 2016 and peaked the following year nudging half a million. They've dropped back a little since, and may continue to do so if London becomes less attractive post-pandemic. But the house with the For Sale board in my earlier photograph is currently on the market for £459,950, so anyone who bought before 2016 is sitting on a tidy potential profit.
For those not on the housing ladder things look considerably bleaker. A house in Tennyson Road would have cost 5 times average salary in 1999, so within the boundaries of possibility for a first time buyer, but that ratio had risen to 8 times by 2010 and is currently more like 14. As the newspaper article mentioned these were originally railwaymen's cottages, somewhere basic for the Victorian working class to live, but they've since become monstrously unmortgageworthy for anyone on a vaguely average wage.
I wonder what the journalist who wrote that story back in 1999 would think now if you'd told them prices in Tennyson Road would eventually top £400,000... five times more than was deemed headline-worthy at the time.
I'm a firm believer that if you go out for a long enough walk you will always see something interesting. Here are five things I saw on long walks recently, and the questions they encouraged me to ask.
Thursday 18th February Hartmann Road, Silvertown
Q: What aren't you allowed to do at City Airport?
I spotted these byelaws pinned up alongside the approach road to London City Airport. They're not in a particularly conspicuous position and you'd never stop to read them unless you were on foot. They date back to 1988 when the airport opened and according to the LCA website are still in force. Numerous byelaws are listed but here are some favourites.
• No person shall without reasonable excuse place an aircraft other than in the place and position designated by LCA.
• No person shall wash down or clean out a taxi on an authorised standing.
• No person shall graze animals.
Technology has moved on in the last three decades, but I do wonder if the following technically outlaws the humble smartphone.
• No person shall be operating or causing or suffering to be operated any wireless set, gramophone, amplifier, tape recorder or similar instrument or any musical instrument make, cause or suffer to be made any noise which is so loud or so continuous or repeated as to give reasonable cause for annoyance to other persons on the airport.
• No person shall erect or use any apparatus for transmission, receipt, recording, reproduction or amplification of sound, speech or images.
Finally, just in case you thought the surveillance society was a recent thing, it's not.
• A person shall, if so requested by a constable, state his correct name and address and the purpose of his being on the airport.
Friday 19th February Forest Drive West, Leyton
Q: Which parts of London still have milk floats?
Leyton obviously does because that's where I saw this one. A lot of nimble doorstepping was going on, and the jangling of pints, but the driver still had time for a cheery chat with a customer getting into his car. Parker Dairies are based in South Woodford, are independently owned and have been going since 1989. They have at least 11,000 customers, additionally boosted when lockdown started, and will deliver milk and grocery products to your door if you live in the right area. They don't provide a map but their postcode checker confirms my address in Bow is included so their net spreads wide.
Milk floats were way ahead of their time, ideal for an eco-friendly delivery-obsessed society. I've unearthed a few other local independents delivering in other parts of London - Hampstead Premier Dairies(Hampstead), Jones Bros (East End), Morgan's Dairy(Fulham/Surbiton) - but I'm not aware that any of these still use proper milk floats. I'm happy to be updated.
Saturday 20th February East India Dock
Q: Where are the other Millennium Beacons?
On New Millennium's Eve a chain of 1400 beacons was lit across the four nations of the UK, the largest by the Queen on a barge off Tower Pier. My extensive collection of millennium ephemera confirms that the flame was due to tower 12ft above the top of the beacon, but I saw nothing at the time because most of the embankment was cordoned off. One of the smaller beacons was located, or ended up, beside the lock gates at East India Dock. Originally it had a shield underneath confirming its provenance and recognising British Gas as the sponsor, but that's vanished and the brazier's eroded somewhat. Alas 1999 was so close to the dawn of the internet that no maps or lists or the remaining beacons survive, but I occasionally stumbleuponone when touring the country. What I have managed to uncover is that the giant beacon the Queen lit was made in Great Yarmouth so went back afterwards and now stands proudly outside a business park in Gorleston.
Q: Where exactly is The NORTH?
I can answer this question courtesy of page 169 of chapter 7 of the DfT Traffic Signs Manual.
First we learn that there are only 11 official regional destinations:
• The NORTH, The NORTH WEST, The NORTH EAST
• The SOUTH, The WEST, The SOUTH WEST
• The LAKES, The MIDLANDS
• NORTH WALES, SOUTH WALES
Then comes the official definition of The NORTH:
In general, “The NORTH WEST” refers to that part of England to the west of the Pennines, and “The NORTH” to that part of England to the east of the Pennines.
And finally the reason why you don't see The NORTH EAST very often:
The compass point destination “The NORTH EAST” may be used as a substitute for “The NORTH” when the destination “The NORTH WEST” appears on the same sign and is associated with a different route leading from the junction. “The NORTH EAST” shall appear on subsequent route confirmatory signs until “The NORTH” appears on the advance direction signs in place of “The NORTH EAST”. The destination “The NORTH EAST” shall not be used in any other circumstances.
Monday 22nd February Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Q: How much does an ice cream cost these days?
I know the weather's improved but it was still a surprise to see an ice cream van parked up on the Monday after half term. I managed to walk over to read the price list without encouraging the driver to rouse himself assuming he had a sale. Apparently a vanilla cornet with flake costs £2.80 (increasing to £3.50 for a waffle cone and £4 for a choco waffle cone). No illustration was given of a cornet without a flake, which I assume is a cunning method of upselling.
The van comes from Five Star Catering Ltd in Camberwell and sometimes sets up outside the Tower of London, which perhaps helps explain the high prices. I assume £2.80 is high, rather than the going price around the country, but alas I only have this very small sample from which to judge.
I demand to go to the pub. It's been months since I last went, indeed I haven't had a decent pint in ages. It remains the inalienable right of every Briton to go to the pub and it's an absolute travesty that the government has banned it. A cosy table, a few friends, a chance to put the world to rights and a proper draught pint of bitter are all that I require. Say what you like it's not the same at home drinking out of a can, and even a bottle of wine tastes different if you open it yourself. They tell us sitting inside a pub is somehow dangerous, but I'm no scientist and surely that can't be the whole story. I think all bar staff should get the vaccine immediately, jumping the queue if necessary, because I deserve a pint and I absolutely can't survive without one.
I demand a meal in a restaurant. It's been months since I last got the chance, indeed I haven't had a decent three course dinner in ages. I miss perusing the menu and being jealous of what someone else ordered and trying to split the bill afterwards, not to mention not having to do the washing up. I know you can get restaurants to deliver but a carvery out of a box just isn't the same, a decent pizza is impossible and my favourite curry house recently went bust because nobody was allowed to turn up. They tell us an evening in a restaurant is dangerous but surely it's only food and good conversation, and nobody wants to sit on a draughty patio terrace anyway. I think all hospitality staff should get the vaccine now, underlying health conditions notwithstanding, because I deserve a change from endlessly eating at home.
I demand a nice sit down in a cafe. It's been months since I sat opposite a friend and spoke face to face over a coffee and I really miss the experience. I'm tired of standing outside a hatch waiting for something frothy in a cup, I want to be able to perch on a tiny stool and gobble my pastry in peace. It's been miserable having to take my drink away and stand out in the cold because the British winter is brutal, so now that spring's here we should all be allowed inside in the warm. They tell us lingering inside a cafe is dangerous but surely they told us it'd all be over by Christmas and look how wrong they were on that. I think all baristas should get the vaccine now, or maybe cafes should only be allowed to employ the over 70s, because I deserve an overpriced chocolate croissant in situ.
I demand to go non-essential shopping. It's been months since I bought clothes in person, indeed I haven't worn anything smarter than jogging bottoms for months. I'm tired of ordering something and finding it's not the right size and having to send it back, because even though online is convenient the queues to return stuff at the post office are beyond a joke. I just want to buy something unnecessary today rather than waiting indoors for a courier to deliver it next week. They tell us browsing in shops spreads disease but surely they allow us inside supermarkets so it can't be that deadly. I think all shop staff should get the vaccine now, assuming they still have a job, because I deserve to spend my excess salary in person.
I demand to go back to the gym. It's been months since I was able to use proper equipment, indeed I can barely remember the last time I was shouted at by a personal trainer. I'm tired of having to work out at home using household objects as weights, or standing in the park doing stretches with everyone looking on. What's the point in jogging round the streets for free when I could be getting value from a recurring membership fee? They tell us exhaling vigorously in a confined indoor space is dangerous but surely going to the gym is all about getting healthy instead. I think all gym staff should get the vaccine now, or at least be bumped up the queue considerably, because I deserve to be optimally fit again.
I demand to experience music live. It's been months since I last went to a concert or shook my booty in a club, and I fear these venues won't still exist the next time I visit. I'm tired of listening to recorded music, the entirety of which is now tediously available at the touch of a virtual button. I just want to be able to bounce up and down surrounded by a dense mass of humanity rather than booking a year in advance for a festival that ultimately ends up being cancelled. They tell us to prioritise our mental health but surely this is institutional cruelty on a grand scale. I think everyone who's been vaccinated should be allowed to go to concerts immediately, because I deserve a night out and I cannot possibly adjust to one more week without live music on top of the fifty I've endured already.
I demand to be able to get on a train and travel to the other side of the country. It's been months since I last ventured anywhere beyond my immediate locality, indeed I've entirely forgotten what the countryside looks like. I miss fields and hills and the seaside because I stupidly chose to make my home nowhere near any of them but that's hardly my fault. I should be able to go anywhere I like simply because I want to, no matter what asymptomatic variants I might be harbouring, and damn the potential consequences in the wider community. They tell us death rates are falling but surely a grand day out with a pub lunch should be our godgiven right. I think everyone who's had a single vaccination should be given carte blanche to travel anywhere because I deserve a change of scene.
I demand a foreign holiday this summer. It's been months since I last went abroad so my tan is in desperate need of topping up. I don't want to restrict my horizons to just Britain because that's so incredibly limiting when I could be flying to the Med and sitting by a pool for a fortnight instead. My annual holiday is always the highlight of my year, indeed the anticipation's usually the only thing that gets me through, so this relentless focus on restricting international travel is really unhelpful. Anything that involves cramming into a metal tube with strangers for several hours, there and back, would be ideal. They tell us not to expect to travel abroad any time soon but surely quarantine is only necessary for inbound foreigners. I think vaccine passports will solve everything because they'll bring back the freedom of movement our European neighbours have cruelly stripped away.
I demand one marshmallow now. They tell me I can have two marshmallows if I'm willing to wait but I need instant gratification now. My willpower has always been weak so I'd much rather a single marshmallow immediately than a greater reward at some later date. You may mock but the economy relies on people like me, always letting short-term desire beat long-term prudence, indeed it's only my willingness to book ahead that's keeping certain sectors afloat. They tell us it's important to be patient but surely I'll suffer no ill consequences if we all just throw caution to the wind. I can't wait several months for life to return to normal, it's just too slow, because the only way we'll escape this living hell is by being too selfish to see the wider picture.
I demand that children go back to school. I demand to watch blockbuster movies in the cinema. I demand the return of spectator sport. I demand a professional haircut. I demand the reopening of galleries and museums. I demand to meet my friends and family again, however old or vulnerable they may be. It's simply inhuman to force us all to bunker down so that people's lives can be saved when I'm missing out on all the nice things I could be doing instead. They tell us it's important to unlock slowly but surely we should ignore the scientists and take the brakes off because anything else would be overthrowing democracy. I deserve priority treatment because I'm bored and frustrated, and I'm sure today's roadmap will confirm I deserve my old life back as soon as possible.
Having recommended various borough-hosted walking routes I thought I'd better go out and follow one for myself. I picked the 'Leyton and Leytonstone' walk from Waltham Forest, a 2 mile trail round residential streets "past the former homes of our borough’s celebrities and inﬂuential people". When I read that these local celebs included Damon Albarn, Fanny Cradock and David Beckham, I was sold.
START: Leyton Midland Road station
Harry Beck, tube map designer 14 Wesley Road, E10 6JF
A strong start. Who wouldn't want to see the house where the designer of the iconic tube map was born? I certainly did which is why I've already been and blogged about it, back in 2013 when its plaque was unveiled. You should go back and read that if you want more detail. What I will say is that Harry only lived here up to the age of 2 so likely remembered nothing about the place, instead spending the majority of his life in Highgate and Finchley. It's nice to see a blue plaque written in New Johnston typeface though. A strong start.
David Bailey, 60s photographer 69 Wallwood Road, E11 1AY
Stop number two brings a slight improvement in authenticity because David Bailey lived at this address until the age of 3. But in 1941 a German bomb flattened the flat nextdoor forcing the Baileys to move out, in this case to East Ham, and David subsequently went to school in Ilford. It was National Service which encouraged him to pick up a camera, and within a couple of years of being demobbed he'd become a fashion photographer for Vogue. His portfolio captured the London of the swinging Sixties, especially the East End, and broadened to cover top models, film stars and the rock glitterati. David's still shooting so can't yet be awarded an official blue plaque, which is why Waltham Forest stuck up one of their blue heritage ellipses instead.
Wallwood Road ↰ Fairlop Road
Fanny Cradock, brusque TV chef 33 Fairlop Road, E11 1BJ
The life of TV's first celebrity chef began here in 1909, just up the road from Leytonstone station. At the time this was a grand house called Apthorp, but that was knocked down in 1930 and replaced by a block of flats called Fairwood Court. A plaque has been attached above the communal doorway upon which the Waltham Forest typographers have managed to spell Fanny's surname incorrectly twice. It's unclear how long Fanny spent at Apthorp but, given the family moved to Herne Bay, Swanage, Bournemouth and Wroxham before she was 18, it's unlikely to have been long. Fanny's groundbreaking BBC cookery show began in 1955 as she and husband Johnny brought a taste of exotic cuisine to a startled nation. She ruled the roast for two decades until her haughty nature brought her down, but once seen never forgotten.
Damon Albarn, lead singer with Blur 21 Fillebrook Road, E11 1AY
What an eclectic journey this is becoming. Blur's frontman was born at Whipps Cross hospital and grew up in a much bigger than average terraced house in Leytonstone. His parents were artists, his upbringing bohemian, indeed there's still something screamingly middle class about this street. But yet again we're celebrating someone who moved out of Waltham Forest before they were ten, in this case in 1977, ensuring that all the formative Blur stuff took place on the outskirts of Colchester instead. Damon came back for the unveiling of his plaque in 2014 and grinned out of a bedroom window, mainly because he had a solo album to promote. Waltham Forest's walking trail effuses about Damon considerably more than any of the other ex-residents.
Fillebrook Road ↰ Drayton Road ↱ Grove Green Road
Stuart Freeborn, movie make-up artist 4 Chertsey Road, E11 4DG
...and not just any movies but the original Star Wars trilogy. That means Yoda, Chewbacca and Jabba The Hutt are all Stuart's creations, which is sufficient in itself to place him in the upper echelons of sci-fi geeklore. It's also why the walking trail takes us to see a mural featuring several Star Wars characters painted on the railway viaduct alongside Grove Green Road rather than leading us two streets back to see the plaque on his house. I'm annoyed because I only found out about the plaque after I got home, and because the mural had a bit of scribble over it.
Grove Green Road ↰ Dyers Hall Road South ↑ footbridge over A12 ↱ Norman Road
David Beckham, footballer and global icon 155 Norman Road, E11 4RJ
David Beckham is another Whipps Cross birth, and the second of our commemorated residents to flee the locality at the age of three. Becks did most of his growing up (and all of his obsessive football training) in Chingford instead, which fortuitously for the council is also in Waltham Forest so they can genuinely claim him as their own. But they haven't graced his first house with a plaque - it's the only unmarked home on this trail - which may be because the current owners are reticent to attract visitors. They snapped up the property in 2009 for a fraction of the £850,000 asking price, because it turns out people aren't willing to pay over the odds for a notionally-famous three bedroom terrace. Next time you're passing the bottom of the garden on the Central line, give them a wave.
• government meets 15m vaccination target
• rollout reaches over-65s and clinically vulnerable
• many calls to hasten date of lockdown easing
• hotel quarantine finally begins
• lockdown easing "cautious but irreversible" (PM)
• Pfizer vaccine proving highly effective in Israel
• 1.7m added to shielding list
• pupils to return to Scottish schools next week
• Dutch court orders end to curfew
• human Covid trials start in the UK
• 2-year backlog of court cases
• PM to focus on 'data, not dates'
• infections have fallen by 2/3 since January
• NI extends lockdown to 1st April
• Labour proposes national recovery plan
• several Covid contracts awarded unlawfully
• G7 pledges vaccine funding for poorer nations
• four can now meet for exercise in Wales
• care home residents to be allowed 1 visitor
• slow leaking of lockdown release 'roadmap'
Worldwide deaths: 2,390,000 → 2,460,000 Worldwide cases: 108,000,000 → 111,000,000 UK deaths: 116,908 → 120,365 UK cases: 4,027,106 → 4,105,675 Vaccinations: 14,556,827 → 17,247,442 FTSE: up ½% (6589 → 6624)
40 years ago today, which'd be Friday 20th February 1981, Depeche Mode released their debut single. It was called Dreaming of Me and featured all the twiddly synth you might expect. It never troubled the Top 40 but it earned plenty of airtime on early evening Radio 1 which is where I heard it and loved it, and I've been following the band ever since. The song also failed to make an appearance on the band's first album so I eventually forked out and bought the 7 inch, which I still own despite having no means of playing it.
For today's anniversary I've made a pilgrimage to the studio where that debut single and album were recorded, a former church in Southwark, which is fortuitously within walking distance of home. But first I headed to the pub where Depeche Mode were first signed - long demolished, but it turns out I've been walking through it on a regular basis recently and never realised.
This large Mock Tudor hostelry was the first building passed by drivers after crossing Bow Creek and evolved into a major music venue in the late 1970s. Nobody lived nearby, the area round the station was all wharves and goods depots, so packed-out late-night gigs were no problem. Owner Terry Murphy attracted an impressiveroster of artistes to the Bridge House including Jeff Beck, Secret Affair, Squeeze, Eurythmics, Lindisfarne and the Stray Cats. The Blues Band, Chas and Dave and Iron Maiden performed regular residencies. U2 played their first UK gig here in front of an 18-strong crowd. Dire Straits appeared before they were called Dire Straits. The pub even had its own record label with a logo featuring the pylon that stood alongside... and still has its own website.
Depeche Mode played the Bridge House seventimes in 1980, invariably hired as support for another band. It would have been an easy drive from Basildon and a good chance to be seen by A&R. On November 12th they played an eight-song set supporting Fad Gadget, whose manager Daniel Miller was impressed enough to go backstage afterwards and suggest putting out a single on his Mute label. Promoter Stevo had already offered a record deal, dangling the carrot of a tour with Ultravox, but Vince and the boys shook hands with Daniel instead after he returned the following week to watch the band again. Without the Bridge House, the path to world-conquering stadium rock would have stalled early.
The pub closed in 1982, putting an end to Canning Town's days at the heart of East London's live music scene. The building lingered on, eking out its last years as a hostel for homeless families, until it was finally demolished 20 years ago as part of the widening of the A13. What had been a two-lane flyover needed to become three with a slip road leading down to the roundabout, and it's that slip road which now slices through half the pub's original footprint. The other half lies within a locked service yard, now stacked with containers and overridden with buddleia, which likely contains the spot where that crucial Mode handshake took place. If you're seeking the location yourself then look for the pylon on the corner with Stephenson Street, where twin arrows painted on the roadway mark what used to be the back of the bar.
An alternative venue called Bridgehouse2, with a much lowlier roster of bands and throwback discos, exists a short distance away up Bidder Street. It's housed in a grim industrial unit, and surrounded by far worse, so unlikely to be the musical crucible its predecessor was.
At the end of 1980 Depeche Mode arrived at Blackwing Studios in SE1 to record their first single. The studios were located in a deconsecrated church on Copperfield Street off Southwark Bridge Road, not far from the railway viaduct. All Hallows had been heavily damaged in the Blitz, its south aisle subsequently demolished to become an open space and its north aisle retained for private use. Daniel Miller picked Blackwing because it had a large control room with sufficient space for setting up synthesisers, plus a sound engineer called Eric Radcliffe who was keen to give tinkering with electronica a try. The studios were on the first floor, a set-up later referenced by Vince Clarke in the title of the first Yazoo album... Upstairs At Eric's.
Depeche Mode came back to Blackwing in spring 1981 to record the rest of their debut album. Two of the band still had day jobs at this point, while Dave was at technical college in Southend and Vince was on the dole. Vince did most of the work, juggling songwriting, arranging and equipment-fiddling, while the others dipped in as necessary. The backstreets of SE1 wouldn't have had a cutting edge vibe in the early 80s so the number of local distractions was low. The first track to emerge from the recording session was the follow-up single New Life which earned a Top of the Pops performance, sold half a million copies and immediately propelled the Basildon lads into the big time.
The former studios are now occupied by a housing collective, as evidenced by the food waste recycling bin on the doorstep and the handwritten note for the attention of a Hermes courier stuck to the old church door. Meanwhile the space alongside has been transformed into All Hallows Community Garden, a tranquil spot with benches, raised beds and a well-tended lawn. It's been here 50 years so would have been available to bands for lounging around, indeed there are photos showing Depeche Mode looking moody while standing in the stone arch by the main entrance. The former church noticeboard has been repurposed as a heritage display... and Ian Visits fortuitously visited last week so you can read a much fuller account here.
Obviously what I did was pause awhile in the garden and fire up Dreaming of Me on my phone, musing on the fact it was recorded on the other side of the wall. The world of music has moved on massively since 1981 but the electronic melodies still sounded fresh and clear as they tinkled through my headphones. Next I played my favouriterecord of all time, which was also recorded here four decades ago, and finished off my Blackwing medley with a burst of Only You by Yazoo, ditto. Every band has to start somewhere, be that in a bombed out church or in a pub beneath a fizzing pylon.