diamond geezer

 Monday, June 30, 2008

Trinity Buoy Wharf

On the peninsula where the Lea meets the Thames, just across the river from the Dome, that's where you'll find Trinity Buoy Wharf. It's not somewhere you'd ever go by accident. There's only one access road - an unpromising derelict backstreet - with the entrance to the historic wharf located at the very far end. This weekend, as part of the London Festival of Architecture, there was full public access across the site. Unmissable. Well, a few of us thought so anyway. Here's what the rest of you might see should you ever get a similar opportunity.

London's only lighthouseTrinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse: The Thames may not be littered with submerged rocks or similar hazards to navigation, but London still has its own lighthouse. Trinity House built an experimental lighthouse on the quayside so that they could test out maritime lighting equipment in the heart of the city without having to travel to the seaside. Michael Faraday set up a laboratory here while he wrestled with problems of ventilation and illumination, and the tower was also used for the training of prospective lighthouse keepers. These days there's a great view from the main lantern room across to the Dome and Canary Wharf, and also a strange ringing sound...
Longplayer: The lighthouse is the site of a unique millennial art installation, running on an Apple Mac, based on a 20 minute sample of Tibetan Singing Bowls. No really. "Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again." That's as long as digital obsolescence and rising sea levels don't terminate the piece before the 31st century dawns. There's fascinating in-depth background here, and you can even listen live over the internet. Longplayer is usually open to the public on the first weekend of the month.

Container CityContainer City: If you're an East London small business in need of office space, maybe you'd be interested in moving into one of these piled-up containers. Ingenious use of space and materials, isn't it? There are two such 'sustainable' blocks on the Trinity Buoy Wharf site, one yellow and grey by the river and one much more brightly coloured inland. Some of the 200-or-so artists based here were operating open house yesterday, so it was possible to enter certain containers to see how marvellously spacious and adaptable they are. I never quite knew what I might be entering next. The studio of a vibrant waterside artist, maybe, or the recycled den of a metal-scavenging fashion designer. And I must say I wouldn't normally find myself in the boudoir of a sensual leather designer, discussing hats and feathered tickling-fans and, erm, ornate buckled corsets. But I'm sure, for some of you, the perfect Christmas present lay therein.

Fatboy's Diner: With so many people working on site, the wharf needs a fine upstanding dining establishment. And what better than a throwback 40s-style American diner in a characterful aluminium trailer? The interior looks impressively authentic, with barstools and dinettes, plus bits of jukebox liberally scattered about as decoration. On the appetising menu are burgers and all American Breakfasts, as well as cherry pie, Coca Cola floats and whopper sundaes. Even I would have broken my low cholesterol diet for a full dairy ice cream White Cow milkshake, had the owner not been overwhelmed by too many simultaneous diners. Instead I made do with some homemade soup (pea and mint, scrummy) from the rather titchier Driftwood Cafe van. But I'm sure I can be tempted back - the public are welcomed to Fatboys weekdays 10-5 and Saturdays 11-3.

London Festival of Architecture 08Bow Creek lightship: Formerly owned by Trinity House, the 'LV93' Lightship has now been converted into a photographic studio.
Leamouth Peninsula exhibition: I think the exhibition was temporary, but the plans on show for a swingbridge across the Lea have been around for years. One day, one day.
Jubilee Pier: Thames Clippers moor their catamarans off this pier when not in use. Yesterday there was a free service across the river to the QE2 pier by the Dome, plus a free "Dark Waters" map for all travellers. The map's also available at other piers during LFA08 (and I have to say that the paper-based version is 100 times more practical that the frankly useless Flash version on the exhibition website).
More stuff: Trinity Buoy Wharf is a fascinating corner of London, should you and your camera ever get the chance to visit.

Capital numbers

30• In 2012, London will host the Games of the 30th Olympiad.
• The Gherkin can be found at 30 St Mary Axe. It has 40 floors, 18 lifts and is 180m tall.
• The Crystal Palace transmitter broadcasts Channel 4 on channel 30.
• The A30 trunk road runs from Hounslow to Land's End.
Bus route 30 runs from Marble Arch to Hackney Wick
(any more?) (last chance!)

Phew, made it to the end of the month! Thanks for all your help. I think we'll stop there, rather than continuing to 100, 1000 and beyond. In case you're interested, or ever want to view the whole lot in one go, I've bunged all 30 numbers (and a bonus zero) on their own page.

 Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bow Bus Garage centenary

There's an old bus depot just round the corner from where I live. It's a big brick shed rammed with double deckers, and it's 100 years old this year. To celebrate, Bow Garage organised a centenary Open Day yesterday so that interested locals and enthusiasts could take a look inside. I'd like to count myself in the former category, if you don't mind.

Bow Garage CentenaryFairfield Road was packed, not just with buses (and traffic trying to get past the buses) but with blokes. People who like buses appear to be 99% men, with just the occasional long-suffering wife thrown in. They were everywhere - on the pavement, standing between parked cars and hovering in the road outside the garage. Almost all of them had a camera, because "People Who Like Buses" have been walking around with cameras long before the rest of the population caught up. Every time another heritage bus chugged in or out of the garage, which was frequently, scores of shutters twitched to capture another commemorative snapshot.

Getting inside the garage was rather harder. There was a mighty queue of enthusiastic gentlemen, far longer than I was expecting, waiting patiently to pay their £2 for entrance. Everyone received an informative programme detailing the garage's history (which I promptly lost, mislaid, dropped, or something, oh the agony). And, once inside, an unexpected choice of activity. First there were the old buses, lots of them, lovingly maintained and copiously photographed. Some were boardable, some were green, one was actually a trolleybus, and one had been raised up on jacks so that you could walk underneath (hard hats provided). And second, there was the shopping area. Blimey, don't "People Who Like Buses" like to shop? Particularly for miniature model buses and other people's photographs, but also for books, maps and more obscure items like destination roller-blinds. Several special anniversary items were also available, including mugs, t-shirts, ties and even fluorescent yellow jackets. I suspect that many of the blokes in attendance have entire spare rooms rammed with bus memorabilia, which may be why so few of them arrived with a female partner in tow.

Bow Garage CentenaryAnd then a treat. A special heritage bus service was in operation, every 10 minutes throughout the day, running non-stop from the garage to Holborn and Aldwych. Pick your departure time carefully and you could have ridden on a Green Line classic, or a boxy Titan, or an open-topper, or any one of a motley bunch of old vehicles. I got lucky and climbed aboard RM1, the very first Routemaster. A motley crowd rammed aboard (alas, no sign of Boris Johnson taking notes) and off we sped round Bow Church and into town. We followed route 25 into the City, a rare double decker in a stream of unloved bendies, leaving bemused would-be passengers stranded on the pavement. No dear, we are not going to stop and let you on, not even if you mouth obscenities at the driver and shrug your shoulders in sarcastic desperation.

There are lots more special old buses running today, this time on routes 9 and 15 between Tower Hill and the Royal Albert Hall. If you're partial to a rear-platform chugger, you'd better make the most of this opportunity because it may be London's last. The rules of the Low Emission Zone are tightened next weekend to cover buses and coaches, meaning that any vehicle with an unconverted engine may be liable to a £1000 fine. London's remaining heritage Routemasters are unaffected, but some post-1973 omnibuses will be restricted to showing off outside the M25. Whatever you think Boris may have promised, these old workhorses aren't returning to London's streets any time soon.

29• There are 29 buildings/structures in London taller than St Paul's Cathedral (and 28 taller than Battersea Power Station).
•The Crystal Palace transmitter broadcasts ITV2+1 and Film4 (amongst others) on channel 29.
• Bendy bus route 29 runs from Trafalgar Square to Wood Green
(any more?) (that's really a bit feeble...)

 Saturday, June 28, 2008

Greenwich Wheel

London already has an observation wheel, and very successful it is too. But you can't see everything, even from 135 metres up. You can't see the World Heritage Site at Greenwich, for example. So now there's a brand new observation wheel further downriver, for the next three months, to rectify that omission.

Greenwich WheelThe Greenwich Wheel is run by incurable optimists. It should have been up and turning last weekend, but delivery from a central European location took considerably longer than expected. The start date was pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back again until the wheel finally (allegedly) opened for business on Thursday evening. So I thought I'd go for a spin yesterday lunchtime, just to give the operators time to bed in. Alas, my arrival in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College may have been somewhat premature.

"We'll be open in about 15 minutes," said the man in the ticket booth. This was a little strange, given that it was now quarter to twelve and the wheel had been due to open at ten. But activity all around the structure hinted that not everything was yet ready. A lone workman was hanging from a precipitous ladder tweaking the pivot in the centre of the wheel, while a mass of lesser staff milled around the boarding steps with tools, plastic ties and planks of wood. Somehow the 15 minute target didn't seem entirely achievable.

An hour later I was back. The wheel was now turning, but all the pods were still empty. "We'll be open in about 15 minutes," said the lady working the back of the queue. Hmm, I'd heard that before. But I waited. And waited. The action behind the scenes didn't seem terribly urgent. Three junior workmen were giving the special VIP capsule an unhurried rubdown with blue kitchen roll and unbranded Windolene. Front of house staff were grinning and gossiping beside the ticket booth, occasionally answering the queries of the increasingly bored queue. Still 15 minutes? Apparently so. Gradually many of those waiting drifted away, increasingly frustrated at a lack of credible information.

By quarter past one the VIP capsule was gleaming, but no tickets had been sold. The queue thinned further. Hmm, that official-looking bloke standing around with a clipboard, was he a health and safety advisor giving the wheel the once over? Seemingly so. "We're just waiting for a signature, we'll be open in about... 15 minutes." This seemed the appropriate moment to admit defeat and wander away. Good timing, because the heavens opened shortly afterwards and utterly drenched all those still waiting. And who wants to ride an observation wheel during a heavy downpour?

Greenwich Wheel viewI had other things to do, so I returned at three in the hope that some risk assessment miracle had occurred. Success. There was now no queue whatsoever, so I paid my £7 and was ushered directly into my own private carriage. Thwack, I bumped my head on the roof (clearly the health and safety bloke hadn't done a very thorough job). A bunch of bankery blokes then filled the capsule beside me, having (unbelievably) paid £60 to go round with a glass of champagne in their hands. And at last, up we went, right to the top, and stopped.

Ooh, not a bad view, not bad at all. The towers of Canary Wharf, the Thames sweeping round past the Dome [photo], and all the Georgian splendour of the Old Royal Naval College [photo]. Greenwich Park rising up to the distant Observatory [photo], the remains of a charred tea clipper and the glass-domed entrance to the Foot Tunnel. The view would have been nicer in sunshine (and without a splattering of blotchy raindrops on the windows) but it was still a fine and pleasant experience. The gondola rocked slightly in the wind, reminding me that I was dangling 60 metres above the ground, all alone, inside a temporary structure that had only just received its Health and Safety certificate. Ulp. I managed to convince myself that now was not the time for such wobbly thoughts.

After a few minutes of hanging, the wheel continued to rotate. It rotated fairly fast, especially compared to the sedate pace of the London Eye, which made taking photographs surprisingly difficult. "Ooh that would be a great shot, hang on while I line the camera up, damn the wheel's moved on." Thankfully we were due more than one revolution. Four circuits in total - no waiting at the top on further passes, but sufficient opportunity to soak up the full high-above-SE10 experience. And then, after not quite 15 minutes, back to ground level where a minimal queue of two toddlers and their Mum were waiting to board. They were the lucky ones, they spent longer in the air than they did waiting. Pick your time carefully and you might too.

28• London's highest-numbered postcode is that for Thamesmead, SE28.
• There are (for the next few months) 28 stations on the Hammersmith and City Line.
• Prior to 1965, London comprised 28 metropolitan boroughs.
• A London football team has won the FA Cup 28 times (Arsenal 10, Spurs 8, Chelsea 4, West Ham 3, Wimbledon 1, Charlton 1, Clapham Rovers 1).
• Only 28 of London's 268 Underground stations are located south of the Thames.
• The steepest gradient on the Underground network is 1 in 28, between Bow Road and Bromley-by-Bow.
Bus route 28 runs from Wandsworth to Kensal Rise

 Friday, June 27, 2008

You weren't planning on using the Docklands Light Railway in or out of Central London were you? If so, do it today. Don't do it tomorrow. Everything goes completely pear-shaped tomorrow.

From tomorrow, Tower Gateway station closes. Completely, until next Easter. They're reshaping the station to take three-carriage trains. The new Tower Gateway station will have energy-efficient escalators and a new horseshoe shaped platform to speed boarding. (Hmm, just a single track rather than the current double, I can't quite see how this is going to futureproof capacity, but hey). Until April, though, Tower Gateway is utterly shut.

Never mind, because the DLR has another City terminus, and all their trains will be going there instead. It's Bank. Ah, damn...
BANK AND MONUMENT STATIONS: Until summer 2009, there is very limited interchange at Bank and Monument stations. This is due to major escalator replacement works. You are strongly advised to use alternative interchange stations.
Now we all know that this is a gross overstatement. Bank and Monument stations aren't anywhere near as disjoint as TfL would like to suggest, and most definitely haven't been blocked off for the last three months. TfL are just crying wolf to try to keep people away. But of all the lines at Bank, it's the DLR that's suffering most from passageway and escalator block-off. So, starting or ending your DLR journey at Bank may not be wise. Oh great, that's the entire complement of DLR Zone 1 stations buggered, until next year.

Never mind, because there's another DLR station less than a mile from Tower Gateway, and that's Shadwell. And there are alternative travel arrangements at Shadwell. Ah damn...
EAST LONDON LINE: The line is closed to enable works to upgrade it to be part of the new London Overground network. Replacement bus services operate.
Well that's worse than useless. No direct link to the City there. Thankfully TfL have provided DLR passengers with a useful interactive map showing alternative options for attempting to travel between the City and Canary Wharf. But it's not a great list of suggestions...

Options 1 & 2 on the map involve using the DLR at Bank. Hang on, I thought Bank was definitely not recommended (there's some seriously inconsistent travel advice rattling around here). Or how about option 7 - take the Jubilee line? Except that's quite a walk (and it's not much use on the two weekends next month when this stretch of the Jubilee line is also shut). Other suggested options include the bus (aha, so that's why they introduced the 135), or the river (it could be a very long wait) or detouring via Bow or Stratford (great if you don't mind wasting your life to get there). The one option they've forgotten to mention is walking from Tower Gateway to Shadwell - it's less than a mile and almost certainly one of the quickest alternatives, but not a peep. What a motley mess.

And that's not all. From Monday yet another section of the DLR is being semi-closed for long-term work.
LEWISHAM-CROSSHARBOUR REDUCED SERVICE: From 30 June until 25 August 2008 the frequency of services between Lewisham and Crossharbour will be reduced significantly. This is due to trains between Greenwich and Island Gardens operating on a single track during construction to extend platforms to accommodate three-carriage trains.
Well doesn't that sound like fun? What used to be a service with about three trains every 10 minutes will be cut to one, sometimes in one direction only. For two whole months. Don't worry, they're laying on rush hour replacement buses. Because commuters love rail replacement buses.

So, let's raise a glass to TfL's transport planners for the simultaneous buggering of at least four separate E/SE London travel options.
» Bank/Monument: buggered until probably 2011.
» Tower Gateway: buggered until April 2009.
» East London line (and Thames Tunnel): buggered until June 2010.
» Crossharbour to Lewisham (and another Thames Tunnel): buggered for the next two months.
(oh, and there's a fifth closure nearby due soon, lasting two years, sigh)

Isn't joined-up thinking great? I know that all this major inconvenience is to provide for much needed improvements but, really, couldn't something wait? In the meantime, just stay out of the way until the lunatics have finished playing.

27• There are 27 stations on the Circle line, and 27 stations on the Jubilee line.
• TfL operates tube services in 27 London boroughs.
Bus route 27 runs from Camden Town to Turnham Green
(any more?) (there must be more!)

 Thursday, June 26, 2008

If you want to feel young, visit the seaside in February.
If you want to feel old, go back to your university in June.

dreaming spiresYesterday, I did the latter. Following a morning of what some would describe as 'work', I found myself in my old university town with an afternoon to spare. Brilliant. I'd not been back for years, and the weather was good, so it seemed the perfect opportunity for a look around a far distant chapter of my life. But, as things turned out, I might not have picked the best day for it.

Yesterday was the university's Open Day, where the potential Class of 2009 were invited to come along and see what makes the place tick. The town was therefore full of wide-eyed 17 year olds, some in large groups and others with chaperoning parents, rambling the streets in search of enlightenment. They wandered into departmental buildings, they mustered outside residential halls and they wondered what it might be like to spend three years of their life here. I was dying to tell them.

I headed back to my old college to find an 'Open Day' sign on the door, and the hint that ordinary visitors weren't quite welcome. "But I used to come here," I told the member of staff by the gate, and he believed me and ushered me inside. Nothing whatsoever appeared to have changed, apart from the age of the undergraduates. When I was here they all used to be roughly my age, and now they looked at least 25 years younger.

A gaggle of girls in the garden were asking their guide how difficult university work could be, and almost certainly not getting the answer I'd have given. Two visitors emerged from spending a few minutes in the library, and thereby probably already knew the place better than I ever did. A rear courtyard offered a rare moment of nostalgic privacy, until two smartly-dressed lads wandered through discussing, of all things, linguistic philosophy. I was very tempted to see whether the payphone on staircase 6 had been removed through lack of use, and whether the single microcomputer in the basement had been replaced by a roomful of PCs, but I resisted. I felt very much at home, but simultaneously I knew I was completely out of place.

Back at the entrance I had the nerve to stop, briefly, to chat to the undergraduates who were part of the welcome party. They were all wearing polo shirts with their name and subject on the back, so I was able to direct my comments to a girl now doing the same subject that I'd taken. "Hello," I said, "I was you 25 years ago." She looked at me blankly, and continued to do so even when I explained further, as if I were some irrelevant vision from an unknown past. Which of course I was. The real future was picking up prospectuses from the table beside me and dreaming of graduation in 2012. And I was old enough to be their Dad.

I headed back out into the town, older and wiser.
I think I need to plan another visit to the seaside.

26• The Crystal Palace transmitter broadcasts BBC1 on channel 26.
26 Whitehall (the Ripley Building) was the first purpose-built office building in Great Britain.
• The boardgame Monopoly features 26 London properties, from the Old Kent Road to Mayfair. [although it's not the original city, obviously]
Bus route 26 runs from Waterloo to Hackney Wick.

 Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Please stop reading while you walk. You're looking down rather than looking forward. You can't see where you're going. You're not paying any attention to the environment around you. You're going to have an accident, you know you are. And probably soon.

Please stop reading while you walk. I know you only picked up that free newspaper a few minutes ago, but it's not that exciting. There's nothing important in it, just a few news snippets in short sentences and lots of photos of celebrities. You're reading rubbish while you should be watching the pavement. Amy's latest drug binge debacle can wait. Save it for later.

Please stop reading while you walk. Tabloid freesheets weren't designed for people on the run. Even just looking at the pictures takes too much concentration, which you ought to be applying to the world around you instead. But no, you appear to be intent on studying the pages whilst shuffling slowly forward and getting in everyone else's way. Put it down.

Please stop reading while you walk. It's slowing you down. The rest of us are trying to walk at normal pace, and you're getting in our way. You just can't multi-task, can you? The more you read the slower you walk, and the more of a mobile obstruction you become. You're so engrossed in your words that you can't react to your surroundings. Mind that lamppost. And mind me.

Please stop reading while you walk. You're where I want to be, and you haven't noticed. You're stumbling blindly three feet in front of me. You're blocking the pavement. You're clogging the entrance to the escalator. You're obstructing the platform. I'm forced to make a detour because you haven't noticed we're about to collide. You're like a literary zombie.

Please stop reading while you walk. You ought to be watching out for obstacles, not newsprint. You ought to have some idea where you're heading, not hiding your head in text. You ought to be reading the situation, not what's in your hands. And you're being bloody selfish, and I'd like to give you a great big slap.

Please stop reading while you walk. The world's a dangerous place when you're not looking at it. One more step and you might be walking into the road, or in front of a bike, or under a bus. And you'll never know what hit you. Put that newspaper down, or else you might just feature in a small paragraph on tomorrow's page 11, which you'll never read.

25• The M25 motorway nearly encircles London, running 118 miles from Dartford to Thurrock (but not the two miles over the Dartford Crossing). The London Orbital cost £909 million to build and was completed in 1986.
• There are 25 wards in the City of London, each with its own alderman.
• The London Assembly at City Hall has 25 elected Members.
• There are 25 stations on the Bakerloo line.
• The London station with the longest (unbracketed) name is Caledonian Road and Barnsbury, which has 25 characters.
• Bendy bus route 25 runs from Oxford Circus past my house to Ilford.

 Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Two artworks have been selected from a shortlist of six to appear on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square (at some undetermined time in the near but not immediate future). What does London think?

One and Other (Antony Gormley)
One and Other (model)What is it? It's an empty plinth with a safety net around it.
But that's a bit dull, isn't it? Well it would be, except that members of the public will be invited to stand on it for an hour each, 24 hours a day, for 100 consecutive days.
But how many people is that althogether? Only 2400. The other seven and a half million of us can just go along and watch.
But what will these people do? Ah, now that's the big question. I suspect lots of people will have grand arty performance ideas, but then get all embarrassed and freeze once they're up on the plinth.
But has the artist said anything which resembles pretentious drivel? Yes. "Through elevation onto the plinth and removal from common ground the subjective living body becomes both representation and representative, encouraging consideration of diversity, vulnerability and the individual in contemporary society". Sheesh.
But what are the big unanswered questions? How do you apply? Won't it just attract nutters and self-publicists? Who's going to vet the ideas? Will access be via a big step ladder, or will regulations demand a big intrusive wheelchair-friendly ramp? Won't it be a huge disappointment if you end up with the 3am shift on a wet Tuesday morning and have to perform to a couple of drunken layabouts, a street cleaner and some sleepy pigeons? If every single one of the 2400 hours needs to be supervised, how much is all this going to cost? What if some ugly racist wants to stand on the plinth and spout evil, who will stop them? Who'll be the first blogger to get a place on the plinth, and how smug will they be? Next time there's a big concert in Trafalgar Square, can I stand on the plinth for an hour to get a great view? (I promise to keep quiet)
But do you like it? Yes, it's a genius simple idea which'll create a three-month talking point for London.
But why is your photo so poor? Because I took it while I was on a City Hall walkabout last month, but I only snapped Gormley's design accidentally in the background of another shot. It's OK, I've cropped out the meerkats.

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle (Yinka Shonibare)
What is it?
It's a ship in a bottle, dumbhead.
But it can't be? Well it's a model of a ship, obviously. But it'll be a damned big model inside a proper huge glass bottle. Woo, big ship, small neck!
But these days everyone knows how they get models of ships into bottles, so why is this a clever idea? Because the ship in question is Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, to be watched over by the great Admiral himself up on his column.
But Nelson won't actually be watching, will he? No, because he has a blind eye. And because he's facing completely the wrong way. And because he's an inanimate statue.
But how does this artwork breathe precious wind into the sails of London's ethnic wealth? The sails' fabric is made of a special Indonesian batik design, mass produced by the Dutch and sold to the colonies in West Africa, and is therefore symbolic of African identity and independence. As every visitor to Trafalgar Square will undoubtedly notice.
But what are the big unanswered questions? Is the glass vandalproof? And, more importantly, is it pigeonproof?
But do you like it? Yes, it beats a stuffy statue of another wartime leader.
But where's your photo? Ah, sorry, I didn't think to take a photo of the ship-in-a-bottle model while I was on my City Hall walkabout. I did take a photo of Tracey Emin's meerkats, thinking their hideous twee cheerfulness was bound to win, but thankfully it didn't.

2424 trams (numbered 2530 to 2553) are used to run the Croydon Tramlink service.
• London contains 24 Grade I listed churches.
• The A24 trunk road runs from Clapham Common to Worthing.
Bus route 24 runs from Hampstead Heath to Pimlico (and, unusually, has done so uninterrupted for more than half a century).

 Monday, June 23, 2008

A quite nice day out: River Roamer
You might think that taking a cruise down the Thames is something that only tourists do, but that's not the case. Many Londoners now use a variety of riverboat services for commuting, or for a leisurely night out, or just for the sheer delight of skimming along brown water past hundreds of old buildings. Yesterday I joined them. I bought one of Thames Clippers' River Roamer tickets (normally £8, but only £5.20 with a travelcard) and spent the day zipping up and down the river. And, what do you know, it was almost pleasant.

Queen Elizabeth II PierQueen Elizabeth II Pier: That's the pier in North Greenwich, the one by the Dome with Antony Gormley's Quantum Cloud sculpture plonked beside it. The pier was mothballed between 2001 and 2007, finally reopening this time last year, and it was good to finally get to walk down it. Or rather hurry down it, because the next catamaran was just arriving. I needn't have rushed, though, because the boats aren't exactly speedy at tying up.
On board: Ooh, comfy seats, just not very many with a good view. Almost all of the seating on these low-roofed catamarans is indoors, and the windows weren't exactly clean, so my views of the speeding Thames were a little restricted. The on-board catering looked tasteful (because anything run by the S&M Cafe has to be good), but I fear they only serve bacon butties at breakfast time.
Greenwich Pier: More boarders, and off we went again. The Thames Clippers staff didn't seem to have the most efficient methods for issuing and checking tickets - it all looked a bit hit and miss - but I guessed they couldn't check everyone on boarding because it would slow the service down too much.
Masthouse Terrace Pier: Woefully underused embarkation point at the tip of the Isle of Dogs.
Greenland Pier: Not the real Greenland, obviously, just the dock in Rotherhithe where we used to (ssssh!) dismember whales.
Canary Wharf Pier: I hopped off here for a break. It had taken nearly 20 minutes to travel just over a mile - considerably slower than by Jubilee Line - but the tube runs direct while the Thames meanders three times as far round a giant bend.

Canary Wharf PierCanary Wharf Pier: Maybe getting off had been a mistake. There appeared to be a lengthy gap in traffic, rather longer than the scheduled 20 minutes, with three eastbound boats passing through before the first westbound arrived. And the catamaran which turned up wasn't quite as lovely as my previous carrier - no bar, no bacon butties... and no spare seats. Never mind, it was far more exhilarating to stand at the back and watch Wapping and Rotherhithe rush by.
Tower Pier: After zipping beneath that bridge, we got stuck in a queue for a berth. I blame the Windrush anniversary ship preparing to cast off for Tilbury.
London Bridge Pier: Good grief, just how many times was this boat going to stop so that not many people could get on or off?
Bankside Pier: I was one of not many people getting off. Aha, they check your ticket when you disembark, do they? It's still not a terribly speedy system.

Bankside Pier: After a quick look round the Tate Modern (you can still see where the crack used to be, you know), I thought I'd take the special Tate To Tate service all the way down to Millbank. Oh dear, this must have been one of the even older boats. Not unpleasant but not huge, and nobody was allowed to stand outside for a decent view.
Millbank Pier: Probably the nicest most bijou modern-est pier of all, but only really useful if you're planning to visit Tate Britain. Which I was. It's all too easy to forget that this collection of artistic gems exists, so I'm glad I went.

Waterloo Pier: After a wander around the Westminster area I was ready to return to the East. But oh dear, the sunny weather meant that there were very scary queues. A forty minute wait?! Stuff that, I'd be quicker taking the tube, or even the bus...
Embankment Pier: ... so I crossed the river and boarded at the previous pier in an attempt to get a seat. And it worked. I was less than impressed by the electronic "next boat" information, though. Thames Clippers entire embarkation operation seemed to rely on shouting rather than clearly displayed information on and about each service.
Waterloo Pier: Ha, I beat you on board. Even better, this was now the O2 Express non-stop to North Greenwich. Seven miles without another pier-side pause, including some super-speedy sections from Wapping onwards. Some of the passengers sitting to port got very wet round the bigger bends, ker-splash. Again, just a shame that the view wasn't up to much, but at least it was quick.
Queen Elizabeth II Pier: Hmmm, weren't there a lot of 50-somethings on this boat, plus a lot of long haired blokes in black t-shirts? Aha, I'd been travelling with a full complement of extremely well-behaved Santana fans, off to see their guitar-plucking idol playing at East London's biggest arena. I left them to it.
Royal Arsenal Woolwich Pier: Nah, maybe next time.

23• The Crystal Palace transmitter broadcasts ITV on channel 23.
• In 2012, 23 Olympic sports will be held in Greater London (the three that won't are Canoe/Kayak, Rowing and Sailing).
• The tube station with the most escalators is Waterloo, which has 23 (plus two moving walkways).
• Between 1528 and the present day, St Paul's Cathedral has had only 23 organists.
• The A23 trunk road runs from Westminster Bridge Road through Brixton and Streatham, past the site of the old Croydon Airport, and on down to Brighton.
Bus route 23 runs from Liverpool Street to Westbourne Park.

 Sunday, June 22, 2008

London Festival of Architecture (Hub 1 - Kensington)

the Brompton StoopsA whole month of architectural events. Fab. It could only be a London thing (and not, for example, an Ipswich thing or a Hull thing). This weekend the main focus of events has been Kensington and Chelsea, and in particular Exhibition Road (the street where all the museums are). Yesterday the entire thoroughfare was closed to traffic and a motley hotchpotch of arty, buildingy and musicy events took over. The effort expended to bring this cultural extravaganza to the public should not be underestimated. You'd have enjoyed it, honest.

The event both celebrated architecture and added to it. From the Gothic splendour of the Natural History Museum to the modern shiny glass of Imperial College, there's plenty to see here even on an ordinary day. But for the LFA we got much more. A pink hand-printed pinnacle raised into position by Foster + Partners. Squat mirrored pedestals reflecting shoes and tarmac. An impromptu seating area made from stepped cardboard boxes where you could stop and listen to ranting poets. Four Routemaster buses packed with playspace and paper models. And a portable pavilion carted across the Atlantic inside 18 suitcases and reassembled by the public by clipping together bits of star-shaped plastic [photo] [photo]. To name but a few.

LFA Flower PavilionThe event also coincided with an international Music Day, so there were performers and artistes dotted everywhere. A samba troupe here, a plaintive acapella vocalist there, and a splendid brass band up on that balcony. Kids were having a great time - a lot of the activities were specifically aimed at them (although the free lollipops were going down just as well with the adults). One day the local council hopes to pedestrianise Exhibition Road, so there was an exhibit with a model of what that might look like. I even spotted the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea wandering around with her civic entourage (at least I'm assuming she was the Mayor, no middle-aged woman normally wears that much heavy bling around her neck unless she's been elected). And off to one side in Princes Gardens, out of sight and out of mind for most of the festivalgoers, the yellow petalled dome of Tonkin Liu's Fresh Flower Pavilion.

But my favourite event was taking place just to the north, on the edge of Hyde Park. It may look like an ordinary football kickabout space today, but in 1851 this grassy expanse close to the Prince's Gate was the original site of the legendary Crystal Palace. This was the defining structure of the Great Exhibition, constructed in modular form from wrought iron and glass, and tall enough to surround several elm trees which happened to fall within its perimeter. Inside were exhibits to showcase the very best of Victorian accomplishment, along with galleries devoted to international culture and trade with the far-flung Empire. And then after the exhibition the entire building was shipped off to Sydenham, leaving nothing behind but memories.

the Crystal Palace reemergesThis weekend a group of architects and artists are attempting to recreate the original Crystal Palace in mnemonic form. They spent Friday pacing out the Hyde Park site and placing small plastic markers where each of the hundreds of pillars had been... and then replacing them after Royal Parks groundsmen took their litter-collecting duties rather too zealously. They've not been terribly accommodating, the Royal Parks authorities. The organiser's original plan was to fly helium balloons at some of the pillar locations, just to give a sense of height and scale, but these might have interfered with bats (apparently), so no balloons were allowed. Instead visitors have to make do with a 2D representation of the great building, with small coloured cones stretching far off into the distance, and imagine the rest from that.

I was shown around the site by its chief protagonist, who was extremely keen to explain how the whole project worked. We strolled up what had been the main transept, between the Indian and Tunisian galleries, to the site of the central crystal fountain. Look, that's the centre of the palace in the photo, marked out by a few strip of cardboard. A historian was at hand with a genuine glass chunk from Osler's original fountain, which I duly handled, and how wonderfully evocative was that? Then we walked approximately seven pillars to the left (check map, yes, this used to be Ceylon) and my guide pointed out some of the artefacts he'd positioned around the site as reflections of each area's previous use. An industrial iron machine-type thing, for example, which we repositioned in what was once "Lathes, tools and milling".

OK, so it's just a few plastic cones in a park, and they're only there until the end of today, but they certainly succeeded in opening my eyes to the unique history of this patch of grassland. Next time I'm back in this corner of Hyde Park I'll have memories of the echoes of a fantastic Victorian achievement, whereas all you'd see would be picnicking families, scampering dogs and jumpers for goalposts. I believe there are plans to repeat and extend the project in the future, leading up to a more impressive temporary installation in 2012. I certainly hope so, and I trust the palace will be allowed balloons next time.

22• Only 22 runners have completed in every London Marathon from 1981 to 2008.
• There are 22 N postcodes, from N1 to N22 (Wood Green).
• At the 1908 London Olympics, 22 countries competed in a total of 22 sports.
• The A22 trunk road runs for only a couple of miles through London on its way from Purley to Eastbourne.
Bus route 22 runs from Piccadilly Circus to Putney Common.

 Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer solstice (21st Jun 2008, 00:59 BST)

[Please don't stick either answer in the comments box,
and no blatant hints please, but do tell us how you get on]

Sum-mer puzzle (1): This puzzle is all about sums of consecutive numbers. Select a sum on each row to make five different totals, from 21 to 25.

Sum-mer puzzle (2): Complete the grid so that each row and each column has a sum of 21. No number is repeated in any row or column.


21• There are 21 underground stations inside the Circle Line.
• Tower Hamlets is named after the 21 Hamlets Of The Tower: Bednal Green, Blackwall, Bow, Bromley, East Smithfield, Hackney, Limehouse, Mile End, Norton Folgate, Oldford, Poplar, Ratcliff, St Katharines, Shadwell, Shoreditch, Spittlefields, Tower Extra, Tower Intra, Trinity Minores, Wapping and White Chappel.
• The London 21 Sustainability Network runs the annual Love London Festival (which ends today).
Gun salutes mark special royal occasions on certain days of the year in London. The basic Royal Salute is 21 rounds. At the Tower of London 62 rounds are fired on Royal anniversaries (the basic 21, plus a further 20 because the Tower is a Royal Palace and Fortress, plus another 21 'for the City of London') and 41 on other occasions.
• The A21 trunk road runs from Lewisham to Hastings.
Bus route 21 runs from Lewisham to Newington Green.

 Friday, June 20, 2008

Ten free things to do in London during the rest of June

» The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (Thu 19 - Sun 22): This rocks. Every year this outdoor multi-evening extravaganza brings dynamic performance art to the East End masses, both north and south of the river. In previous years I've seen giant giraffes and swirly firewheels, and this year they've promised even bigger. Last night a camp pink caterpillar crawled through Woolwich, and tonight it's athletic choreography in Greenwich. The best event of the festival is often in Mile End/Bow, and this Saturday's E3 highlight is theatrical pyrotechnics on Wennington Green. And finally, on Sunday afternoon, a lot of exuberant Latin dancing around Canary Wharf. Something for everyone.
» London Festival of Architecture (Fri 20 June - Sun 20 July): This also rocks. A huge number of building-based events, many of them free, spaced out across five select London hubs over five weekends. It's Kensington and Chelsea this weekend (Exhibition Road gets pedestrianised on Saturday), and Stratford and Docklands next (with a free boat service to Trinity Buoy Wharf). Seriously, if you can't find something of interest on the month-long event's website, you're probably a very dull person.
» Wellcome Collection is One (Sat 21): The medical gallery on the Euston Road is celebrating its first anniversary with tours, workshops, juggling and freebies. Even if you don't go this weekend, I'd heartily recommend a visit sometime.
» Free train travel (Sat 21): Yes, free train travel. There's a catch, of course. You have to start from Mitcham Eastfields, the brand new station just south of Streatham. But turn up at the ticket office on Saturday and they'll give you a free ticket to the destination of your choice (so long as it's on their shortlist).
» Empire Windrush 60th Anniversary celebrations (Sat 21): Head east to Tilbury Docks for a rare tour of the London Cruise Terminal, at which London's multicultural future docked on 22nd June 1948. The historic landing will be re-enacted, a plaque will be unveiled and ice creams will be sold. Or visit the year-long exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
» Lee Valley Festival (Sun 22): Lots of riverside greenery, up Tottenham way. Bring the family, bring a picnic, and enjoy the performance.
» Free Films at The Scoop - Withnail & I (Wed 25) The Sound Of Music (Fri 27): That swirly amphitheatre outside City Hall screens classic movies on the big screen.
» Bank of England Open Day (Sat 28): Fancy a free half hour tour round the innards of the Old Lady? It's only open to the public twice a year, and this is the much-quieter without-the-queues date. I've been before, twice, and I can heartily recommend a look around. Part of the City of London Festival (runs until mid-August).
» High Street 2012 Picnic (Sat 28): There are big plans afoot to upgrade the 2012 marathon route from Aldgate to Stratford, generating "long-term public realm improvement". If you see the special consultation ice cream van, do stop off to give them your views and you should get a yummy 99 (with strawberry sauce) for your efforts.
» Bow Garage Centenary Open Day (Sat 28): Most Londoners won't care that it's my local bus garage's 100th birthday this year, but if you're reading this blog then I might just see you there. You can even ride to E3 by vintage bus from Aldwych. But be warned, the rules of the Low Emission Zone are tightened on July 1st, and many of these old buses won't be allowed to drive through London again.
[for more, see London is Free]

20• There are 20 road bridges across the River Thames in London: Hampton Court, Kingston, Richmond, Twickenham, Kew, Chiswick, Hammersmith, Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea, Albert, Chelsea, Vauxhall, Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, London and Tower.
• Medieval London Bridge was supported by 20 stone arches.
• The Tower of London contains 20 towers, the central one of which is White.
• EastEnders is set in the fictional London borough of Walford, E20.
• Since April 2000, all London telephone numbers have begun 020.
• London has 20 regional radio stations.
• The A20 trunk road runs from New Cross down through Kent to the docks at Dover.
• There are 20 different postcodes in London: N, NW, W, SW, SE, E, WC and EC; then BR, CR, DA, EN, HA, IG, KT, RM, SM, TN, TW, UB.
Bus route 20 runs from Walthamstow to Debden.

 Thursday, June 19, 2008

It deceives me every time. Daylight.

Here we are in the middle of summer, and daylight is everywhere. Nearly 17 hours of the stuff, daily, flooding the sky with brightness. Light enough for outdoor activities, light enough for evening walks, light enough for carrying out a million and one indoor tasks without the need for artificial illumination. Great isn't it? Well, maybe.

First thing in the morning, whenever I wake up, it's already definitely daylight. One look out of the window (ooh, brightness) and my subconscious judges that I must have overslept. Come on, I should be up and out and doing things, not wasting the day away in bed. There's no rest in midsummer, the day has already begun well before I'm ready.

And in the evening, so long as the sky's light, my brain is active. It thinks it should be doing something, anything, because it's definitely not bedtime yet. Six o'clock, merely late mid-afternoon. Seven o'clock, still plenty of daylight left to enjoy. Eight o'clock, not even slightly dark. Nine o'clock, maybe thinking possibly about the day finally drawing to a close. Or maybe not for another hour. Delayed bedtime can mean leading a more active lifestyle, but surviving on far less sleep to sustain it.

This time last year I was in Northumberland and the change of routine was more intense. Useful daylight until well after ten, delaying my biological winding down period before sleep. Not bedtime yet. And two years ago, way up in the Outer Hebrides, even more extreme. It was still possible to read outdoors at midnight, and the sun barely dipped below the horizon during the small hours. I felt as if my body never properly rested.

There's a price to pay for all this luxurious midsummer daylight, of course. In midwinter the curtain of dusk slams down mid-afternoon, advancing my evening mindset several hours prematurely. Ooh look, sunset already and I've still not left work. Five pm in December and my body's already winding down, but five pm in June and I'm still winding up. I ought to cram far more into my evenings during the summer months than I do.

Daylight's a grand astronomical squeezebox, stretching and compressing my body clock as the Earth spins in its orbit. And at this time of year in particular I'm left restless and on edge, subconsciously wondering why I'm not out getting more done. I suspect I'm suffering from Inverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Extended evenings = emptier evenings. More daylight = more pressure. Delayed sunset = increased guilt. Endless late nights aren't always all they're cracked up to be.

Never mind, because next week the evenings start drawing in again. Daylight, I've got you on the run.

19• There are 19 tournament tennis courts at the All England Club in Wimbledon, SW19.
Victoria and Waterloo stations both have 19 mainline platforms, more than any other stations in London.
• Residents of Ilford campaigned unsuccessfully to change their postcode from IG1 to the more London-y E19.
• The University of London is a federation of 19 self-governing Colleges.
• There are still 19 grammar schools in London (8 for girls, 8 for boys, and only 3 mixed).
Bus route 19 runs from Finsbury Park to Battersea.

 Wednesday, June 18, 2008

London 2012  Olympic update
  1500 days to go

And the countdown continues. There are now only 1500 days until the London Olympics (down from 2578 when the decision was announced). It's strange, I'm sure the London 2012 website said there were 1500 days to go yesterday, but no, they're definitely correct today. So there's just four more years to get everything up and running.

Olympic foundationsThe running can come later, but there's definitely been a start on the up. Two giant cranes have been plonked down in the middle of what will one day be the Olympic Stadium, ready to lug blocks and lumps and tubes and stuff into position. There must be a great view from up top, looking down at an oval of flattened earth now surrounded by blue portakabins surrounded by security fencing surrounded a few newly-buried concrete tubes surrounded by a pair of rivers. It'll look better in 214 weeks. In the meantime here's how it looks now, in the latest of my monthly photos taken from the Greenway bridge. I think I may need to increase the amount of sky in each photo as the construction continues, otherwise you're going to miss out on the cranetops and ultimately the stadium itself.

Point of ViewThe undergrowth alongside the Greenway is suddenly a riot of summer colour. The warm wet summer has brought forth a delightful mass of yellow and pink and blue and purple and white flowers. It's bumblebee heaven and, if you step off the sewer-top path into the long grass, awash with hovering dragonflies too. 12 months ago much of the rest of the Olympic Park looked like this, but no longer. This single strip of unplanned plantlife has had the good fortune not to be bulldozed to oblivion, while the rest of the site is now mostly plain earth. Nestling on the verge is a new art installation - a narrow blue plywood staircase entitled "Point of View". The idea is that you climb to the top and peer over the fence into the building site beyond. I got two steps up before the entire staircase starting rocking and wobbling uncontrollably, so I chickened out and retreated to ground level. Given the usual strict adherence to rampant safety protocols in all things 2012, I was surprised that someone had seen fit to leave this death trap unattended. The five year old and 65 year old who bounded right up to the top behind me probably disagreed.
createMeanwhile, further up the Lea at Hackney Wick, a new series of brightly-coloured hoardings have been installed. Let's not call them a fence to keep out unwanted visitors, let's call them a vibrant creative canvas enabling the display of youthful community artwork. It's actually rather a good idea, giving local children from both mainstream and special schools the opportunity to stamp their mark on one corner of the Olympic site. Some have painted pictures, some have made shapes with their bodies (see photo), and others have ridden their wheelchairs across a splaterred canvas. It's just a shame, tucked far off the public highway, that only a few people will ever see them up close.leabanksquare.blogspot.com Mostly the residents of Leabank Square, across the river, who recently launched an incredibly cheery community blog detailing life on the Olympic perimeter. They're busy caring for their own environment, trying to make it a safe and welcoming place for local youngsters to grow up. And they're none too pleased at having to stare at McDonalds and Coca Cola logos every day for the next four years, where previously there was a nice green riverbank. Shame the children couldn't paint over those too.

Ooh, have you seen the latest version of the 2012 Olympic logo? Same slightly dodgy shape, but now with a Union flag swishing away in the background rather than those garish shades of fluorescent pink, lime and orange. It's almost tasteful, isn't it? If only officials had launched this version of the logo last year, I wonder how much smaller the ensuing national outcry might have been.

I hope you've all applied for free tickets to the amazing Olympic Handover concert in the Mall this August. You don't actually need to know the names of the artists who'll be playing, do you? Surely the fact that it's being simulcast on BBC1 and Radio 2 tells you everything you need to know. Katie Melua I bet, and that Leona woman, and lots of other cutting edge indie artists. Who wouldn't want to be squashed into the crowd for an unforgettable day at the Visa London 2012 Party. I wonder, however, whether it's appropriate that the whole event is being sponsored by a credit card. I mean, surely nobody would want to associate the 2012 Games with the brand values of debt and spending money you don't have? Oops.

18• Greater London is the 18th most populous city on the planet.
• Dr Barnardo opened his first home for homeless boys at 18 Stepney Causeway (in December 1870).
• There are 18 E postcodes (including E4, which is the only London postcode to stretch beyond the Greater London boundary).
• Bendy bus route 18 runs from Euston to Sudbury.
• Non-bendy nightbus route N18 runs from Trafalgar Square to Harrow Weald.

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