diamond geezer

 Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Today is the 513th leap day to be observed since the first in 45BC.
2) Leap years occur every four years. They're required because a solar year is almost exactly 365¼ days long, and over a four year period those four quarter-days add up to make one whole extra day.
3) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year (ditto 2200, 2300, but not 2400).
4) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every four years. Raenell's one, and her website celebrates the joy of being special.
5) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
6) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
7) About 40000 people in the UK, 200000 people in the USA and 5 million people worldwide are leap day babies.
8) The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000, because there was no February 29th 1900. However, Margaret Ware is getting a card from HM on her 25th birthday today.
9) The composer Rossini was born on February 29th 1792. Google are celebrating with a special homepage doodle.
10) Pope Paul III was born on February 29th 1468, actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928 and rapper Ja Rule on February 29th 1976. Traditionally, Superman's birthday is also February 29th. More leap day birthdays can be found here.
11) In a leap year you probably get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
12) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
13) Today is the first February since 1984 to have five Wednesdays (and the next will be 2040).
14) If you have a leap year birthday, you have to decide whether to celebrate it on February 28th or March 1st in non-leap years. In legal situations, for example learning to drive, UK law dictates March 1st.
15) Ladies, today's the day to propose marriage to your man. Hurry up, if you wait another 4 years just think how old he'll be. Why not send a postcard?
16) In any 400 year period, there are 97 leap years, after which the calendar repeats. The most likely days of the week for February 29th to fall are Monday and Wednesday. The least likely are Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
17) When Julius Caesar introduced leap years the extra day wasn't February 29th, it was February 24th. The Romans repeated the sixth day before March 1st, or "dies bissextus", and leap years are still sometimes called bissextile years.
18) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
19) Sir James Wilson, former Premier of Tasmania, was born 200 years ago on February 29th 1812 and (unbelievably) died on February 29th 1880 - his 17th birthday.
20) Leap Day number 1s of the past five decades would make a fascinating compilation CD: Anthony Newley (Why, 1960), Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000), Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004), Duffy (Mercy, 2008) and Gotye (Somebody That I Used To Know, 2012). [If you have Spotify, 50 minute playlist here!]
21) Leap day is also St Oswald's Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died during a feet-washing ceremony on February 29th 992. His feast is celebrated on February 28th during non leap years.
22) The Academy Awards have twice been awarded on February 29th - in 1940 (best picture: Gone With The Wind) and 2004 (best picture: Lord of the Rings III).
23) Are you tempted by a Leap Day birthday poem, some Leap Day clothing or perhaps a Leap Day tattoo?
24) Webpages about the date February 29th here, here and here.
25) In the Chinese calendar, a leap month is inserted if there are 13 moons from the start of the 11th month in one year to the start of the 11th month in the next year.
26) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103.
27) Chiltern Railways are offering free travel today to anyone with photo ID which shows they were born on February 29th.
28) There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden, and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar, but forgot to miss out February 29th in 1704 and 1708 so had to add an extra leap day in 1712 to get back in sync. Pity the Swedish babies born on on February 30th 1712, because they never saw another birthday.
29) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

 Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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, but I've continued to count those categories again, every February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Below are my counts for February 2012 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
note: in leap years, only the first 28 days count

Count 1 (Blog visitors): Ooh, up another 2500 visitors on last year. I've topped 40000 visitors too (for the first time since an atypical February in 2006 skewed by external linkage). And all of this is despite one distinctly below-par week when I blogged relentlessly about Charles Dickens and obscure roads called Diamond, which had people staying away in droves. Accurate visitor numbers remain incredibly difficult to ascertain, of course, given the number of folk reading via RSS feeds, mobiles or whatever. But it's quality of readership rather than quantity which most makes me smile, so thank you!
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2012: 40018
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200)

Count 2 (Blog comments): By blogging about comments mid-month I've probably invalidated the statistics here, sorry. But, even with that artificial blip, comment numbers are still well down on the Golden Age of 2006-2008. This blog now merits only one comment per 100 visitors, rather than the one comment per 13 it used to get. All that earlier noise has seemingly diverted to Twitter, Facebook or whatever community you lot spend all your time chattering in these days. But at least what comment remains is intelligent, relevant, insightful and (mostly) kitten-free. I'm delighted, obviously.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2012: 440
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558)

Count 3 (Blog content): I appear to be suffering from writers unblock. This is my most prolific February yet, up yet again, and now averaging more than 900 words a day. I always mean to keep things succinct, but then there's something extra I want to add and before I know where I am I've written another daily essay. You'd still read this blog if I wrote a bit less, I know, but something keeps driving me to write a bit more, and then a bit more again. I need to learn to ease off a little.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2012: 25698
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120)

Work/life balance, February 2011Count 4 (Work/life balance): Daytum provides a fascinating way to visualise my February as a purplish pie chart (reproduced here), and 2012's graph has turned out to be mostly similar to previous years. I work about a quarter of the time, which may not sound much but it's still more than I'm contracted to do. I sleep an average of six hours a day, which I bet is less than you (and is also about a quarter of the time). Only 7% of my time is spent on the move, mainly because my daily commute's mercifully quick. And that leaves nearly half my life for everything else - eating, blogging, socialising, visiting, tellying, slobbing, that sort of thing. Thankfully I'm extremely good at dragging things out to fill the time available, because there's a lot of it, but oh the joys of being footloose and offspring-free.
Total number of hours spent doing stuff in February 2012: 672 (=24×28, obviously)
2012 - (work: 169) (rest: 167) (play: 287) (travel: 49)
2011 - (work: 158) (rest: 172) (play: 290) (travel: 53)

Count 5 (Nights out): Only six. And two of these only scraped in by being "vaguely sociable", rather than full-blown hedonistic. Still, that's pretty much in line with past years - one or two attempts at getting out and about each week, some of which occasionally involve friends, bars, beer and stumbling home in the early hours. Thanks to the three of you who, this February, helped me to achieve temporary extroversion. But generally, no, I'm stuck at home with a cuppa rather than out there living it up.
The number of nights in February 2012 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 6
(2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): Fourteen's not bad, relatively speaking, judged over the years. It would have been higher, if only a couple of the bars I visited had sold proper Becks rather than that non-alcoholic Blue muck. At least everyone knows what to try to order for me when they go to the bar, which keeps binge nights simple.
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2012: 14
(2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains astonishingly consistent. I am, it seems, a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2012: 133
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008:134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135)

Count 8 (Trains used): This is remarkably consistent too... always just over a hundred a month. That's apart from the year when I had a "one train" commute rather than two, when the total dipped a bit. But, blimey, we Londoners do swan around on trains a lot, don't we?
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2012: 118
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007:100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109)

Count 9 (Exercise taken): Unlike the majority of wimpish travellers, I still attempt to walk up every escalator I ascend. This works best in the rush hour, when lazy commuters are better trained to stand on the right out of the way. And it works worst in shopping malls at weekends, when friends and couples block the entire width while stood around gossiping. A bit of a bumper month for me this month, though, which beats paying a fortune to go to a gym.
Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2012: 43
(2003: 73) (2004: 72) (2005:38) (2006: 35) (2007: 31) (2008: 33) (2009: 28) (2010: 13) (2011: 32)

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. Utterly rock bottomly not-even-close, which ensures that February 2012 has thrown up yet another big fat mystery zero. Ah well, maybe next year...
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2012: 0
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0)

 Monday, February 27, 2012

Being a bit of a purist, I'd rather not blog about the New Bus for London until I've actually ridden on it. That's difficult at present, given that the inaugural journey has been delayed and is supposedly due sometime later this morning. In the meantime, in line with current journalistic best practice, I'll simply cut and paste from TfL's official press release.
Mayor rejoices as New Bus for London launches
27 February 2011

The New Bus for London, the best bus since the Routemaster, started service in the Capital today.

The first prototype vehicle set out from Hackney Bus Garage this morning, just as soon as the Post Office had opened and the tax disc had been paid for.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, joined the first journey to Victoria with a tear in his eye. "The bendy bus is dead, and freedom and common sense have returned to the streets of London," he said. "This is a day that will long be remembered. Exultet laudibus omnibus."

The Mayor, who committed to build a Routemaster replacement in his election manifesto, was one of the first to jump onto the rear platform today. Here he was greeted by Rajinder Hussain, Arriva's first Rear Platform Operative, who reminded him to board safely and move along inside the bus thankyou.

Along the Balls Pond Road a group of Pearly Kings and Queens hopped on and off of the rear platform, in a choreographed move designed to showcase the New Bus's finest feature. They then had to stand for the rest of the journey, because there aren't that many seats downstairs and the stairs are a bit steep when you're eighty-three.

Later tonight, in an exciting new feature never before seen in London, the rear door of the bus will be closed with a perspex cover. This will make the back staircase mostly redundant, but it is still beautifully designed with sweeping curves.

Only one New Bus vehicle has so far been completed, although there should be another one along soon and maybe eight by the summer. London's taxpayers can be reassured that eleven million pounds has been well spent on this project. Two-man operated vehicles are ideal for these austere times, so bus operators in other UK cities will surely place orders for hundreds.

The 38 is one of the Capital's busiest routes, and will act as the ideal showcase for Boris's single prototype. Sixty-eight normal double decker vehicles will continue to be used to service the route, so your chance of turning up and riding on the New Bus is quite frankly tiny. Please do not let this put you off what excellent value for money the New Bus represents.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: 'This revolutionary New Bus combines iconic features from the much-loved Routemaster with the very best of 21st century style. We are all shareholders in this marvellous enterprise, which will help save not only the planet but also my Mayoral career. I know that Londoners will cheer this sleek and sinuous beauty whenever she goes by, unless they live and work in Outer London where she will never run.'

Convicted fare dodger, Michael Ngoro, said: 'I thought free rides had disappeared with the bendy bus, but these New Buses are just as easy. With three doors for boarding, I'm spoilt for choice. Even better, the muppet on the rear platform isn't allowed to check tickets, he just stands there watching for trip hazards. Thanks to Boris I need never pay for a bus ride again.'

Head of Surface Transport, Alice Ridpath, said: 'This is a masterpiece of British engineering and design, apart from the ten downstairs seats that face backwards, and so long as tall people learn to crouch when they go upstairs. I am certain it will become a much-loved and iconic vehicle akin to the legendary Routemaster from which it draws so much inspiration.'

Notes for Editors:
  • Critical design features include three entrances and two staircases to deliver speedy boarding, a new seat and moquette design, a poky little space for wheelchair users, low energy LED lighting, a climate controlled air system, innovative use of new materials, the opportunity to look up women's skirts through the glass as they walk down the stairs, and an open platform at the rear in common with the iconic Routemaster.
  • The New Bus is not a Routemaster, but we do try to slip the word 'Routemaster' into our press releases as frequently as possible to enhance branding and aid public perception.
  • Economy: 11.6mpg; CO2: 640g/km; Kerb weight: 17,900kg; Generator: 4 cyls in line, 4460cc, rear-mounted, turbodiesel; Transmission: RWD Siemens full-series hybrid system with DC inverter, Siemens AC electric moto and 75kWh lithium ion battery pack; Power: 174bhp; Torque: 1844lb ft
  • For passengers too young or too foreign to remember Routemasters, a leaflet has been produced to explain how hopping off between stops actually works.
  • Aww, stop moaning. You'll love the New Bus once you've ridden it, and in 20 years time you'll be pleading with us not to withdraw it from service.
  • Images from the event will be available on request from the TfL Press Office.
  • See you on the New Bus later? (assuming any of us can track it down...)

     Sunday, February 26, 2012

    The London Loop
    [section 9]
    Kingston to Hatton Cross (8½ miles)

    If you're ever going to Heathrow Airport, you could do worse than take this nine mile scenic stroll. I wouldn't recommend it with suitcases, nor if turning up at your destination in muddy shoes would be unwise. But if you have four hours to spare, and a desire to see the greener backwaters of suburban southwest London, section 9 of the London Loop is the way to go.

    Kingston town centre most certainly isn't the highlight of this walk. A weaving march between chain stores and shopping malls, entirely atypical of what's coming up next. But then you reach Kingston Bridge, which is the only place where the London Loop crosses the Thames, and head almost immediately into Bushy Park. This is probably the Royal park with which Londoners are least familiar, which is a shame because it's lovely. And huge - larger in size than the City of London - so it took me well over an hour to walk from one side to the other. The entire park is fenced, to keep the deer in, so watch out for roaming wild animals as you pass. Watch out too for umpteen dogs, and lakefuls of ducks, and skylarks in the acid grassland by the Leg of Mutton pond [photo]. A fine spot to stop and chuck bread, or to divert down the road to see the giant Diana fountain (moved here from Somerset House 300 years ago).

    Across Chestnut Avenue, the park's finest feature must be the Woodland Gardens. Sixty acres of landscaped greenery, complete with ornamental rivers and twisty paths ideal for ambling. February's not the finest month to see the rhododendrons and azaleas, but several camellias had been tempted into bloom by our rogue spring, and a single daffodil had emerged in one particularly sun-blessed glade. A leftover sign on the lakeside warned "Keep Off The Ice by Order of The Secretary of State Department Culture, Media and Sport", although he obviously knows nothing, as several passing geese and a wading heron testified. Further north are the Water Gardens, a more formal feature on the Longford River with stepped cascade and baroque basins. Close by I passed a wheelchair fully stuck in the mud, and a family trying desperately to dislodge it. Here too I finally discovered Bushy's herd of deer [photo], most lying pensive in the grass but two unintentionally captivating bystanders with a bout of antler-wrestling.

    Anything beyond Bushy Park is going to be a letdown, and Hampton Hill is especially so. It's a perfectly decent suburb, don't get me wrong, but a forced diversion around three sides of a newly-private golf course makes for a disappointing pavement stroll. Along the way there's a luxury "Racquets and Fitness" spa, where the website won't even reveal how much annual membership costs, plus a bare patch of grass with goalposts where less financially fortunate local youth are permitted to exercise. The occasional white-curved Modernist home makes the half hour backstreet walk worthwhile, but only just. [photo]

    And then, at Hospital Bridge, the Loop hits Crane Park. This linear enclave is home to the River Crane, its island nature reserve and the Shot Tower... all of which, you'll remember, I told you about last week. It's not quite up to Bushy Park standards, but a welcome breath of waterside green before the next roadside slog. This half mile up the Hanworth Road has a point, though, which is to reach the eastern edge of Hounslow Heath ready for a yomp back across. The heath is a rare survivor of the landscape that once covered this part of London, before houses and airports took over. It's acid heathland, which means low gorse and bracken and the occasional fir copse, plus the very real risk of adders sliding through the undergrowth. An illiterate sign on the noticeboard near the entrance warns that "The adder is Britain's' only venomous snake..." and that, if bitten, to ensure that "medical attention is sort." I didn't spot any adders, but I was followed across the heath by a distinctly slimy-looking man in a black coat, which was somehow similar but worse.

    One golf course and one footbridge later and I was back by the Crane, following the river north. I barely met a soul through this woodland strip, bar the few occasions where the path emerged to cross a road, or to walk past an impromptu car wash alongside a BP garage. The full mile and a bit stretches from Brazil Mill Wood via Baber Bridge to Donkey Wood - all names I'd never heard before before I set out. The path gets proper remote before long, passing behind silver warehouses along a raised boardwalk. You'd sink into the mud along the riverbank otherwise - indeed the Causeway Nature Reserve alongside is the only place in London I've ever seen a sign saying "Danger Swamp Keep Out".

    The riverside path edges ever closer to Heathrow, as the steady stream of planes ahead makes clear, eventually reaching the point where they're flying directly overhead. Down they come with undercarriages lowered, screaming in for landing and wobbling a little as they do so. It's strange to be somewhere semi-rural so close to a major airport, although the Loop shatters the illusion by turning left along the busy A30 as the end of the section approaches. Suddenly we're in a world of hangars, parking lots and dual carriageways, and... bloody hell, isn't that Concorde over there?! [photo] It is, it's G-BOAB, perched outside one of British Airways' maintenance hangars where only employees can get a decent look at her. There were plans to exhibit Alpha-Bravo at, or in, Terminal 5, but she weighs too much, so she's been left here at the back of the staff car park, mostly unseen. Hatton Cross isn't Heathrow's finest corner, and unless you enjoy very close-up plane-spotting, you'll be more than happy to slip away.

    » London Loop section 9: official map and directions
    » Who else has walked it? Mark, Urban 75, Paul, Stephen, Tim, Londonist, Tetramesh, Richard
    » Today's photos: pond, deer, house, plane
    » See also section 3, section 4, section 5, section 15, section 24

     Saturday, February 25, 2012

    The rising price of first and second class stamps
    1839  4d
    1840  1d
    1897  1d
    1918  1d
    1920  2d
    1923  1½d
    1940  2½d
    1957  3d
    1965  4d
    1968  5d, 4d 
    1971  3p, 2½p
    1972  3p, 2½p
    1973  3½p, 3p
    1974  4½p, 3½p
    1975  7p, 5½p
    1975  8½p, 6½p 
    1977  9p, 7p
    1978  9p, 7p
    1979  10p, 8p
    1980  12p, 10p
    1981  14p, 11½p
    1982  15½p, 12½p 
    1983  16p, 12½p
    1984  17p, 13p
    1985  17p, 12p
    1986  18p, 13p
    1987  18p, 13p
    1988  19p, 14p
    1989  20p, 15p
    1990  22p, 17p
    1991  24p, 18p   
    1992  24p, 18p
    1993  25p, 19p
    1994  25p, 19p
    1995  25p, 19p
    1996  26p, 20p
    1997  26p, 20p
    1998  26p, 20p
    1999  26p, 19p
    2000  27p, 19p
    2001  27p, 19p   
    2002  27p, 19p
    2003  28p, 20p
    2004  28p, 20p
    2005  30p, 21p
    2006  32p, 23p
    2007  34p, 24p
    2008  36p, 25p
    2009  39p, 30p
    2010  41p, 32p
    2011  46p, 36p
    2012  60p!, 50p!

    London Connections quiz
    (Just for a change, let's have a quiz and let's make it email only)

    Here are ten lists.
    The items on each list connect somewhere in London.
    Can you uncover the connecting location in each case?

        1) by tube: Bakerloo, District, Hammersmith & City
        2) by bus: N5, 32, 79
        3) by water: Regent's Canal, River Tyburn
        4) by rail: Tramlink, Southern, Southeastern
        5) by foot: Jubilee Greenway, Lea Valley Walk, Capital Ring
        6) by postcode: E, N, EN
        7) by borough: Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark
        8) by road: Westway, Fairway, Station Square
        9) by trunk road: A3, A10, A3211
      10) by motorway: Mx, My (where x and y are two numbers to be determined)

    Answers by email only, please.
    Closing date, next Saturday, 12:01am.
    If a tiebreaker is required, accuracy will be taken into account.
    A prize of little value will be awarded to the winner.

     Friday, February 24, 2012

    Is the District line running to Kensington (Olympia) today?

    I ask, not because I need to know, but because the answer's unexpectedly difficult to uncover.

    The tube map's not much help. It now has a dotted line now where there used to be solid green, plus the legend "District open weekends, public holidays and some Olympia events". So if it's a weekend then yes, it's running. If it's a bank holiday then yes, unless it's the sort of bank holiday when no trains run, it's running. But if it's a weekday, how do you know if there's an event on at Olympia special enough to merit an all-day service?

    Go stand on the platform at Earl's Court and there are few clues. There's the next train indicator, of course, and if Olympia flashes up then yes, trains to Olympia are running. If it doesn't though, is that because the next Olympia train is 29 minutes away, or because there aren't any? A timetable has been posted on the westbound platform, but it only shows what happens on non-special-event days. Just two departures are listed, at 1941 and 2021 respectively, so you're very unlikely to be around for one. But as for alternative routes to Olympia during the rest of the day - information which might be incredibly useful for visitors to London - there's no indication whatsoever.

    Further up the line, there are also no clues. All the enamelled maps at District line tube stations still show solid green lines from Earl's Court, not dotted. Even the enamelled map at Blackfriars, which opened only this week, still shows the regular Olympia service that finished two months ago. There's been a forward-planning mix-up somewhere here, I think. At several other stations, including Mile End, staff have stuck some tiny white stickers along Olympia's green line to transform it into a dotted one. Clever, and cheap, but alas very temporary when some passing miscreant stops by and picks them all off.

    Perhaps the website for the Olympia exhibition centre will reveal all. Does Who Do You Think You Are? Live, which starts today, merit the special Olympia service? Or next week's Data Centre World Conference & Expo, or mid-March's British & International Franchise Exhibition 2012? The website reveals nothing. Instead it parrots TfL's party line, which is that visitors should arrive by Overground via either Shepherd's Bush or West Brompton. And yes, that works - with more frequent trains, even if it is a slower, more roundabout route. But there's no hint on here of the District line's "normal" weekend service, let alone a list of the exhibitions which are to get regular weekday trains.

    Which leaves the TfL website. Surely this will reveal whether trains are running to Kensington (Olympia) or not? But where? Not on the Live travel news page. This isn't a line closure, more a line opening, so it doesn't fit here. And it's not on the Kensington (Olympia) station page, nor on the attached timetable (which gives only the handful of weekday trains in the opposite direction). A list of opening dates, on some webpage somewhere, would be both sensible and practical, surely? But no.

    Your only option is to dig around in the Journey Planner. Type in a journey to Olympia, either today or on some date in the future, to see if there's an option in the list where the last symbol's a tube roundel. If so, the special service is definitely running. If not, it probably isn't. To add to the fog, Journey Planner always splashes up a warning that the service might not be running, even slap bang in the middle of a journey where it quite blatantly is...
    15:14 Earl's Court Underground Station
    Take the District Line towards Kensington (Olympia) Underground Station

    DISTRICT LINE TO KENSINGTON (OLYMPIA): The all day District Line service to Kensington (Olympia) has been withdrawn on Monday to Friday except for a very limited number of early morning and evening trains and during some events. Journey Planner will show when this service is operating. Reported: 10/02/12 17:52 Last Updated: 10/02/12 17:56
    15:17 Kensington (Olympia) Underground Station
    Head too far into the future and Journey Planner might be unreliable, so don't take a no-show as a definite negative. And remember, Journey Planner might help you to discover a simpler, quicker route to your destination, perhaps by Overground, by bus or on foot. Let's not get fixated on a runty infrequent District line spur service, as if it's somehow sacrosanct. Perhaps it's a deliberate thing that the Olympia service has been so heavily obscured, because then TfL can claim it's very rarely used and close the whole line down.

    TfL won't spoonfeed you any Olympia information, they want you to dig. Everything's been hidden inside an online scheduler, rather than displayed in a public-facing timetable. Until that changes, potential travellers are lumbered with having to engage the online Journey Planner to answer a very simple Yes/No question?

    Is the District line running to Kensington (Olympia) today?

    And yes, yes, it is! Who knew?

     Thursday, February 23, 2012

    London 2012  London Prepares   Fina Diving World Cup   The Aquatics Centre From a spectator's point of view, one of the best things about London 2012's Test Events is that they allow you to experience the Games even if you didn't get an Olympic ticket. The sport's usually equally as good, just without a trio of Olympic medals for the winners. Even better, you get to gain access to the major venues months before the rest of the world catches up, allowing you to feel proper smug. So this week's Diving World Cup, which permitted a first look inside the iconic Aquatics Centre, was a proper treat. www.flickr.com: my Diving World Cup gallery
    There are 24 photographs altogether (16 inside, and 8 from outside) The crowd lining up at security on Tuesday afternoon reminded me of a matinee audience for the theatre - mostly retired - but with a good sprinkling of younger folk throughout. It took at least half an hour for the queue to start moving, so the contents of several lunchboxes were consumed before any official with a list of prohibited items could object. Our airport-style scan should easily have sniffed out any offensive weaponry, although I later saw a man with a plastic vuvuzela swanning into the venue in blatant contravention of explicit regulations. Whether security for the real Games will be as simple as a row of scanners in a makeshift tent, that's yet to be seen. But evidence thus far suggests that the queue is likely to be more hassle than the friskdown. It's said that 70% of those visiting the Olympic Park this summer will enter via the Westfield Shopping Centre, in which case they'll be heading this way past the tip of the Aquatic Centre. Its nose pokes out over the path, allowing scrutiny of the parabolic wooden surface (and also providing useful shelter should it rain). Most will then continue over a new wide footbridge into the park proper, but those attending events in the Aquatics Centre or Water Polo arena will turn left or right respectively, immediately before the river. Last time I was here, the opposite banks were shoulder-high in vegetation along a forgotten footpath. Five years later the land has been scrubbed and terraced to form part of the Olympic parkland - a little sterile at the moment, but let's see what summer brings forth. There's a good view of the Olympic Stadium from here, and the towering Orbit (with just the observation deck to finish), and the City and Docklands beyond. Plus, yes, those are giant coloured crayons in the water - part of a recently completed artwork that's either naff or brilliantly simple, my jury's still out. Unlike their Olympic counterparts, each diving Test Event has general admittance rather than designated seating. This meant a civilised charge for the best seats, or at least wherever the best seats might be, because that wasn't immediately obvious. Security staff stood sentry-like at the various entrances rather than marshalling or guiding, and were equally ineffective once through the swing doors and into the venue proper. "You can't go down there it's full, but you'll get just as good a view from up there" they pleaded, but we all filled up down there anyway. Part of me wishes I'd climbed up into the wings so that I could have reported back on what the view's like from the gods, but instead I ended up in a poolside seat I bet sold for £450 for the Tom Daley final, so I was well chuffed.
    Woo! Did I mention the open-mouthed gasps on entering the Aquatics Centre proper for the first time? A long bright space beneath an undulating roof, with one glistening azure rectangle for swimming and one square diving pool for leaping. The public enters onto a thin concourse at roughly 10m platform height, where there's plenty of space for accessible wheelchair viewing. This separates the 2500 seats below from the 15000 seats in the winged grandstands above... but don't stop to gawp, else one of the security blokes will move you on. The entire building's enclosed at the moment, indeed darkness fell without anybody inside noticing. But in legacy phase, when this beauty becomes Newham's newest municipal pool, the two ugly wings will be replaced by sweeping glass walls, and Zaha Hadid's true architectural dream will be realised. I mentioned yesterday that the test event lasted four hours. None of the sessions at the Games proper will be this long, indeed most will be done and dusted in under two, but you'll be pleased to hear that the lower-tier seats are unexpectedly comfortable, even long-term. There's plenty of room beneath each seat to stash bags and coats, not that you'll probably be wearing a coat in August, and just as well. Most spectators this week had forgotten that the building needed to be warm enough for competitors to walk around in swimming costumes, and those who'd overdressed were clearly sweating.
    Coke/Fanta/Oasis £2.30
    Abbey Well water £1.60
    Tea/coffee £2/£2.40
    Fosters 275ml £3.60
    Shiraz/Chardonnay £5.20
    Chicken Caesar salad £6
    Couscous & feta salad £6
    Sandwiches £3.40-£4.30
    Thank goodness it was possible to pop outside occasionally, or more than occasionally for a few people who'd clearly come for the event rather than the sport. The crowd thinned noticeably as the afternoon wore on, some cutting and running hours early, others nipping out for a drink or some food or an Olympic souvenir. The food didn't look bad actually, for all our fears that a sponsored Olympics might serve up McDonalds or nothing. Sure the confectionery seemed limited to Cadbury/Bassetts and the drinks were mostly Coke, but there were lagers and wines on offer too, and Fairtrade tea and coffee, and unbranded Cornish pasties, and sandwiches, and wholesome couscous with feta salad, even fruit. And don't worry if you drink too much because there are plenty of toilets (although with urinal space for 30, plus eight sinks, expect queues for the four hand driers). If you've got a ticket to an Aquatics Centre event this summer, well done, and I hope that's given you some idea of what to expect. But I bet you'll see less, from further away, in a shorter time, than we fortunate Test Eventers.

     Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    London 2012  London Prepares
      Fina Diving World Cup
      Men's 3m Springboard Preliminary

    The Olympic Test Events roll on - last week the velodrome, this week the pool. A full seven days of leaping into the water from a variety of heights, from boards or platforms, in pairs or one at a time. The event is the 18th Fina [name of credit card company] Diving World Cup, and it's taking place at the Aquatics Centre all this week. Monday dealt with all things synchronised, while Tuesday saw separate competitions for high-diving women and low-springing men. I went along to the latter with a camera or two, and here's my visual record of proceedings in the pool.

    Diving's not just about falling from a high place. Indeed, the 3m springboard isn't even especially high. A bouncy blue plank stretches out across the water, dwarfed by the 10m platform looming alongside. You walk out, you push down, and then you leap up into the air and twist like crazy on the way down in the hope that the judges will give you marks. That's essentially how the event works. And that's what I watched for four solid hours yesterday afternoon.

    Everything took place up one end of the Aquatics Centre, so anyone sat overlooking the Olympic sized swimming pool had a somewhat diminutive view of proceedings. The afternoon kicked off with a warm-up session, which essentially gave carte blanche to all the athletes to climb up the steps of their choice and hurl themselves from the top. The high and medium platforms were popular, all good practice for whatever events the competitors might be taking part in later in the week. They queued to ascend, and waited patiently at the top, then raised their arms before leaping into the blue. Meanwhile the springboard posse gathered en masse on three lower boards, in parallel, to prepare for today's matter in hand.

    One especially important element of the whole up/down cycle was the humble towel. Divers made sure they were damp before ascending, then rubbed themselves down at the summit before hurling their towel down to ground level. Mostly they hit the tiles on the edge, but sometimes the towel landed in the water and floated there until its master descended to collect it. And then round again - lob, collect, lob, collect - until the warm-up finally closed and a volunteer went round to grab all the spare towels left draped over the rails. Seriously, a big thing in diving, towels. Never be without one.

    At 2pm athlete number 1 climbed the steps, solo, for the first competitive dive. The crowd hushed - utterly and completely across the entire Aquatics Centre, so quiet that you could have heard a man drop. He stood on the tip of the board, then bounced and flipped in accordance with the precise form of dive posted up on the display board. The idea is to excel and then hit the water cleanly, which he didn't quite, so the judges marked him down on his performance. There are seven judges marking out of ten, then the top two and lowest two scores are deleted, and the remaining three scores totalled and multiplied by the numeric difficulty score for each type of dive. Being the first diver this performance placed him automatically in first position, and we all applauded, but his top spot wasn't to last. There were 58 other divers to follow, each with six different dives to make. That's 354 consecutive kersploshes. It was going to be a very long afternoon.
    Here's how the springboard dive cycle works:
    » previous diver leaps into water (to varied levels of applause)
    » next diver ascends steps (while very brief snippet of Adele, or other mainstream artist, plays over the PA)
    » scores from previous diver flash up briefly on big screen, and the crowd strains to look
    » the lady announcer reads out the name of the next diver, and the four-digit code for their chosen dive
    » if British, there are manic cheers of "come on Jack!" or "come on Chris!" (especially from Chris's Mum in the front row with the big Union Jack)
    » umpire blows whistle, then silence (but less silence as the afternoon goes on)
    » diver positions himself (backwards) at tip of plank, or takes a bounding run-up
    » diver leaps into water (and repeat)
    At first the crowd would applaud anything, then as the afternoon wore on fewer people applauded for less time, not unless the last dive had been especially good or especially British (or both). As novice spectators, alas, it was very hard for us to judge each dive on its true merits. Often we'd applaud wildly a dive which the judges then decreed was merely mediocre, or fail to cheer for a dive worth high sevens or even eight. According to one of Monday's competitors, China's Ruolin Chen, ‘The crowd here are all very excited, they will give you good support if you dive good or bad.’ And so we will, lady, because we don't actually understand what we're clapping.

    But occasionally it was obvious. The South American diver who slapped his head against the board on the way down, then left clutching a bag of ice - he obviously scored badly. The diver whose downward trajectory made every coach sitting by the poolside rise to their feet in fear of an imminent mega-splash - he obviously scored badly. The pre-adolescent Hong Kong boy who looked like he was at least six years younger than everybody else in the competition - he scored more for sympathy than for technical excellence. And China's Ka Qin - every one of his dives was so good that before long he was beating everyone else by 19 clear points.

    On and on and on it went, for six 40 minute rounds, with barely a pause between each. By the end of the four hours many of the competitors coming round felt like old friends - the Venezuelan with two strips of black tape covering his tattoos, the American with a screeching girl fan in the audience, the blond Russian who wouldn't look out of place in the next Bond movie, all of them. And of course it was Ka Qin who won, but Britain's Jack Laugher managed a very creditable fifth place to the delight of the crowd. The entire Mears family were visibly overjoyed too, especially Mum, because son Chris beat the cut for today's semi-finals by coming 14th, and earned himself an Olympic team place as a bonus. Welcome to Stratford's palace of watery dreams, with only five months to go until all this is for real.

     Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    London's least used tube stations
    No 1:

    According to the latest figures, which are for 2010, Blackfriars is by far the least used tube station in London, with absolutely no passengers at all. It closed in March 2009 for a serious bout of refurbishment while the mainline station above was being redveloped, supposedly until "late 2011". The opening date was then delayed to Sunday 26th February 2012, a date loudly announced on posters in every underground ticket hall. But then the station suddenly reopened yesterday, simultaneously six days early and a couple of months late. Rejoice, because in 2012 Blackfriars won't be the least used tube station in London at all, not by a long chalk. Have you been yet?

    Look, here it is on the tube map. Blackfriars is now a step-free station, with lifts and escalators and everything, rather than the poky little rat warren it used to be. Change at Blackfriars for National Rail and for riverboat services, that's what the little symbols here say. And then there's a dagger, which means check the key, which says "For reopening date see Planned Closures posters at stations". Even the tube map on the platform at Blackfriars tube station has a dagger on it, even though the station is already open, obviously, because you're standing on the platform reading it. One day they'll open a new tube station containing a tube map which correctly references the fact that the tube station is already open, but now is not that time.

    The platforms at Blackfriars are very different. They used to be a bit gloomy, with stained black ceiling and daylight streaming in above the tracks. Not that this was in any way awful, you understand, but a row of urinals along the tiled walls wouldn't have looked entirely out of place. Now it's a fresh but somewhat bland place, all bright lights and scrubbed off-magnolia surfaces. One outstanding feature is the row of blue-edged vertical dividers at the narrow western end of the platform - as if a series of payphones had once been located here - but these aren't new, merely re-tiled. Elsewhere there are generic benches, and generic signs, and white-ridged covers shielding generic cabling overhead. These platforms are no arty masterpiece - the days of modern architectural excellence on the tube are long gone. But there's plenty of space, and it's airy and smart, and it'll get the passengers moving, no problem.

    The previous platform entrances have been hidden behind new doors, and have probably been repurposed as storerooms or liftshafts or both. Instead there are new sweeping staircases down, plus two escalators on either side, which greatly improves access for passengers. The linking walkway at the top, by the new control room, would be large enough to hold an entire concert orchestra were that ever necessary, it's that wide. Then there's a line of closable crowd-control doors leading out to the wall of ticket gates, all twelve of them. There shouldn't be any footfall congestion streaming through here, not even once Thameslink upgrades - this is future-proofing on a grand scale.

    The main entrance hall is very big. I would call this a ticket hall, but selling tickets is merely a minor sideshow for TfL these days, as we see every time they add a fresh station to the network. Forget concert orchestras, this stone expanse is big enough for roller hockey, if only the several staff and cameras keeping an eagle eye would let you. There appears to be a thick blue cylindrical artwork in one corner, rising from floor to extended ceiling, but you'll look in vain for what it symbolises. In fact it's a newly-built ventilation shaft for the platforms below, from the centre of the tracks upwards - a purely practical feature stashed back out of the way behind the glass wall façade.

    And when's the next train due? There are two indicator boards pinned up above the ticket gates, one for Thameslink, one for the Underground. The Thameslink board is reasonably sized, though nothing massive, with an electronic update of next services to Bedford, Brighton, Mitcham Junction or wherever. But the screen for the tube is one of those generic square boards you find at far-flung stations like Bow Road or Neasden, and completely dwarfed in the temple-sized cavern of the entrance hall. An optician could use it to check your eyesight as you strolled in from the street, and I'd bet many commuters wouldn't be able to tell their Wimbledons from their Richmonds before getting up close. If you remember those giant clattering display boards from the past which used to show destinations and passing stations, white on black, they're long gone, and the space where history might have placed them will no doubt be taken by a giant illuminated advert.

    Off to the right, through an as-yet unassuming passageway, is the gateway to the National Rail side of the station. One gateline is for all points north, another for all points south, via the two platforms that are all that's ready for now until the station's properly finished later this summer. This is London's unique new Thames-spanning station, with entrances on either bank. That may sound good, but the reality is a vast platform dwarfing anything but the longest trains, and a bloody long walk (three minutes!) from one end to the other. City Thameslink up the line is similar, and expect Crossrail to continue the pattern of mega-long platforms requiring lengthy passenger treks. And don't come up here hoping to enjoy what should be the finest feature of the station - the view from a bridge across the Thames. At the moment that's boarded off on both sides, and the station might as well be fifty feet underground for all the ambience it lacks.

    But yay, a South Bank exit, how cool is that? Alas not that cool, just yet, while exiting the station still feels like walking down prefabricated stairs into the back of a multi-storey car park. But exit here for Tate Modern, and the Founders Arms pub, and the walkway beneath Blackfriars Bridge that'll one day no longer be semi-boarded-off, and the coolness quotient rapidly rises. What we actually have here, for the first time as of yesterday, is a brand new tube station in South London! It may be a good five minutes from here to a train (rest assured the three sets of barriers will let you through without overcharging), but the Circle line now has its first outlet on the opposite side of the Thames.

    » Ian's been; Londonist's been
    » Ian's taken photos; Kate's taken photos

    London's least used tube stations (2010)
    No 1:
    Blackfriars (0)
    No 2: Roding Valley (210,000)
    No 3: Chigwell (440,000)
    No 4: Chesham (460,000)
    No 5: Grange Hill (490,000)

     Monday, February 20, 2012

    The River Crane flows from Hayes to Isleworth. It really does, it's not lost or anything. Eight miles of water - trickles, then shallows, until eventually (briefly) tidal. And part-way down is Crane Valley Park, a linear greenspace halfway between Feltham and Twickenham. It's rather pretty today, bolstered by £400,000 from the Mayor's “Help a London Park” scheme. A brand new cycle-friendly track follows one bank, while an undulating muddy footpath follows the other. The former's in Hounslow, the latter's in Richmond, with the river the natural boundary. Last autumn Thames Water deliberately flooded the River Crane with sewage, killing 3000 fish and destroying most of the river's biodiversity. They were caught in a difficult position - it was flood the Crane or fill Heathrow Airport with slurry - but their action means it may be years before full underwater life returns.

    About 250 years ago, on this very site, the Hounslow Gunpowder Mills were founded. The black powder had been made here for centuries before that - Henry VIII was probably involved, and rumour has it that Guy Fawkes' barrels came from here. But it was a more industrial 18th century process, mixing local charcoal with imported saltpetre and sulphur, which helped the Crane's gunpowder business to properly take off. In those days there was no housing hereabouts, which was just as well because the work was dangerous and large explosions intermittently commonplace. One of these blew out Walpole's windows at Strawberry Hill, another was heard in the East End of London, another as far away as Reading.

    The Hounslow Gunpowder Mills survived until 1926, after which almost all was erased. The Woodlawn housing estate was built on the site of the old factory buildings and surrounding blast mounds, between Powder Mill Lane and the river, and only a few traces remain down by the water. They're mighty fine traces, however, and well worth a look if you're in the area...

    The Shot Tower: This is the only proper building to survive from the days of the Powder Mill, and was built in 1826 by a gentleman from Hanworth. It's an 83ft brick tower, all the way up to the lantern on top, and was used for the manufacture of lead shot via a fairly archaic method. Lead was melted at ground level, inside the tower, then carried up to the top floor and dropped through a copper sieve back to the ground. As the metal fell it formed into small balls, cooled by the water tank into which it fell, and was then graded and packaged before sale and despatch. Some shot towers elsewhere in the country were 50% taller - these made larger ammunition, because pellet size was related to length of plummet.

    Today the Shot Tower is a Nature and Visitor Centre - opened to the public in 2004 by Sir David Attenborough, who lives relatively nearby. But it opens only between 1:30 and 4:00 on Sunday afternoons, so time any special visit carefully. The inside's now completely different - no more heavy metal being dropped from a height, instead a series of cylindrical rooms surrounded by spiral stairs, a bit like a lighthouse. On the ground floor is a museum of sorts, or rather a minor display showcasing the Crane and its wildlife, plus two toilets. On the first floor is an office for volunteers from FORCE (Friends of the River Crane Environment) who keep the place ticking over. On the second and third are two classrooms for outdoor education, and on the the fourth a "gallery" for the display of children's art. But the best bit is 88 steps up, just beneath the ladder to the lantern, on the observation level. Look out of the two windows and you can see Heathrow, and Kew Gardens, and more... or that's the idea. In reality, alas, the surrounding trees rise to approximately the same height as the tower so in winter branches block the view and in summer leaves completely obscure it. It'll not detain you for long, the Shot Tower, but it probably puts the facilities in your local park in the shade. [proper photo]

    Crane Park Island Nature Reserve: Cross the millstream, and shut the gate behind you, to reach this five acre island in the middle of the Crane. A path leads round the perimeter, plus a twelve-stage nature trail, encouraging you to pause and stare at the millrace, or pollarded willows, or hawthorn hedge, or whatever. If you're lucky you might spot frogspawn in the pond, or water voles emerging from the banks, or even kingfishers in the trees... but probably not in February, sorry. Part of the island used to be a millpond, since drained, because most of the nature here is re-purposed post-industrial. But it's lovely - a mixture of very green and very reedy - and also very quiet - probably because there's only one bridge in. Sir David's very keen. He calls Crane Park Island Nature Reserve "one of Richmond Borough's best-kept secrets and one that is full of enchantment for all those who know it." I'd say he's not wrong.

     Sunday, February 19, 2012

    London's least used stations
    No 4:

    Test your knowledge of London geography by seeing if you know roughly where Birkbeck is.
    » 5 points if you already know
    » 4 points if I have to tell you it's between Anerley and Elmers End
    » 3 points if I have to tell you it's between Crystal Palace and Beckenham
    » 2 points if I have to tell you it's between Croydon and Bromley
    » 1 point if I have to tell you it's in southeast London, zone 4
    » 0 points if you actually live there, because that's too easy

    It's not immediately obvious why Birkbeck station should have such a small number of passengers each year. Plenty of people live nearby. There are direct services to London Bridge. Two trains an hour stop here, in each direction. And yet a mere 35,368 people used the station in the last year for which data is available. That's 113 people a day, or about two people per train. Those figures don't sound too rockbottom to me, but they're low enough to dump Birkbeck right at the bottom of the usage heap.

    It's a strange station, possibly unique in London, originally two platforms but now divided into separate halves by a fence between the tracks [photo]. The platform to the north serves Southern trains, in both directions, one way towards Beckenham Junction, the other Crystal Palace. Every half an hour a train heads one way, and every half hour the other, carefully timed so as not to crash headlong into one another. And they're eight carriages long, which might seem like overkill at such a lowly spot, but through traffic requires.

    Meanwhile the opposite platform has been taken over by a completely different mode of transport - Croydon's Tramlink. Again there's two-way traffic, inbound and outbound in both directions, and again there's single track running. But this side of the station feels more in touch with the outside world, with its green-liveried shelter, and advertising, and rather more in the way of passenger traffic. Escape here for the Whitgift Centre and proper shopping aboard one of the regular gliding trams. A more attractive and more frequent service than waiting for infrequent Southern railstock opposite.

    To cross between the platforms requires heading down a long flight of steps to the main road, passing under the bridge and up the other side. Down at pavement level there's a bike rack, if two places to leave a bike counts as a rack [photo]. There's also a schematic map of the station, not to scale, which shows the location of a since-removed ticket machine and whose author can't spell "cemetary". "Please ask a member of staff if you require any additional information", the map adds, but members of staff are entirely non-existent.

    The National Rail half of the station may have very little in the way of facilities, but still boasts an unlikely circular plaque at the foot of the stairs which reads "Presented to Birkbeck for Five Star Achievement in the Experience Quality Improvement Process 2010". For those not in the know, this is a customer-focused Southern Railway initiative run by Service Quality Managers such as Emma and Debbie. Their role involves checking every station on the network four times a year to ensure it's up to scratch, not that any check here would take very long. Presumably Birkbeck's sparse platform passed with flying colours in 2010, but what went wrong in 2011, I wonder?

    Alongside one side of the station is Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery, a large expanse of higgledy headstones which stretches as far as the next tramstop down the line, while on the opposite side stood Grace's, now a closed-down pub. The catchment area includes the Birkbeck Estate, named after Dr George Birkbeck, the Yorkshire philanthropist, although you'll not find the university he founded anywhere close. Instead local businesses include the Beckenham Car & Van Centre and the Elmers End Supermarket, plus a bloke who sells funereal flowers from a trestle table. Birkbeck's most definitely not in the middle of nowhere, but the tram gets the passengers, and the National Rail station gets relative tumbleweed.

    London's least used stations (2009/10)
    No 1:
    Sudbury & Harrow Road (12,932)
    No 2: South Greenford (16,480)
    No 3: Angel Road (26,960)
    No 4: Birkbeck (35,368)
    No 5: Sudbury Hill Harrow (35,398)

     Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Seven London-ish blogs, not all of which you're reading

  • Rambles from the London Tube: "Some amazing things can be found within walking distance of a Tube station – I’ve come across a couple of windmills, old tile kilns, a circular piano factory and half-timbered cottages. There are plenty more historical and quirky things to be seen, plus beautiful countryside if you want a peaceful ramble. I’ve written up over a hundred trails with detailed routes, including maps and photos, so everyone can enjoy my discoveries."
    » Diana has conjured up a most attractive site using Blogger, with impressively detailed reports on dozens of tube network outposts including Ickenham, Plaistow and South Wimbledon.
    Latest location: Stratford ("The Old Dispensary (No. 30) is an unexpected treat. This three-hundred-year-old weatherboarded building was used as a dispensary in Victorian times, chiefly supplying medicines to the poor. It has a little garden at the back.")

  • Out of the Loop: "A slowly growing collection of walking routes easily accessible by train from London, mostly within an hour or thereabouts of the central termini. The walks link fantastic countryside, historic monuments and country villages; the geography of south-east England means that none are hugely strenuous."
    » All walks are printable, and all are wonderfully comprehensively described, so you need never get lost.
    Latest walk: Stour Estuary & Constable Country ("In the east, the broad, reed and beach-lined estuary, teeming with bird life. To the west, the stunning lowland river valley of Dedham Vale.")

  • Edith's Streets: "This blog records notes about London (and Greater London) streets - what the buildings are, what the background is. These pages have been compiled over many years and from many sources - its not intended to copy from other people's work. Each post represents a square on the Ordnance Survey grid - hopefully I have included the references and got them right."
    » I love this, even though it probably won't be to your tastes. Edith is recording a geographical history of outer London via its network of rivers, tributary by tributary, grid square by grid square. Every place of note gets a mention, however minor. And there's pages and pages of this stuff - a stunningly comprehensive repository of knowledge.
    Latest location: Turkey Brook - Maiden's Bridge ("Docwra Aqueduct. This takes the New River over Maidens/Turkey Brook. Built in 1859, it can be seen from Bull’s Cross footpath along Maiden Brook and stretches for about a mile. It was built it to get rid of the diversion to Whitewebbs Park.")

  • One foot in front of the other: "I've started this blog in order to record all my walks in one place and hopefully motivate myself to do more long-distance walking. Hopefully I'll become a bit healthier too."
    » Karen's walked in Norway, and the Highlands, and is doing the Capital Ring.
    Latest walk: The Nickey Line (I'd never heard of it, but it follows a disused railway from Harpenden to Hemel Hempstead)

  • London Historians' blog: "London Historians was founded in August 2010 primarily to act as a facilitator which enables all those interested in London’s history to find what they’re looking for quickly and in one place."
    » If you like London's past, possibly with a scholarly bent, then this organisation exists to give you somewhere to meet, discuss, read and explore. Always accessible, diverse and intriguing.
    Latest post: Review: Dickens’s London ("This is a lovely little book, literally. Although hardback and lacking a dustjacket, it is covered in crimson cloth with smart, white embossed lettering, used sparingly.")

  • I Like Boring Things: "Some words I have written about different things."
    » James Ward's blog is quite similar to the Boring Conference he organised last year - a series of obscurities inspected in fascinatingly unnecessary detail.
    Latest post: Olympics ("Being an adult, I have no interest in the Olympic games, instead, the only Olympics I’m interested in are the glass-reinforced plastic modular structures used in car parks and train stations")

  • That East London Blog: "a view of London written by Londoners for Londoners"
    » A new, rather large, housing estate to the east of the capital has launched its own blog, and is firing out posts in a relentless attempt to generate buzz. On the surface it's attempting to make East London sound cool, fresh and trendy, and a lifestyle destination of choice, whereas in reality it's professional marketing hoping to sell you a new flat.
    Latest post: That staple of blogs trying to get noticed - "asking a guest blogger to reveal their favourite things" in the hope that they'll link back and start a flow of traffic and conversation. Hasn't worked yet.

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