diamond geezer

 Tuesday, December 31, 2013

London 2012  post-Olympic update
  It was only last year

Before the day turns there's just time to say, I remember the Olympics as if they were last year. As 2012 slips further away, soon all that'll left be left are the memories and the legacy that's left behind. You've not been back much, if at all, now that the global spotlight is elsewhere. But I keep going back, to keep an eye on what's changing, and here's my end-of-2013 update.

Olympic Stadium: No events are scheduled here next year, nor for most of the next, and West Ham aren't due to play until beyond that. Instead a transformation is underway, readying the interior for football, and of course athletics because that's really important. Recently removed are all the purple pods around the perimeter, that's where we bought our food and filled our water bottles the summer before last. No need for those in the new design, which will be a little more integrated, as it could already have been had the original design been different. The roof is the other thing that West Ham want changed. They won't sell season tickets if too many seats are exposed to the weather, so what's there has to come out and a wider brim constructed. Which means the view of the stadium on the skyline is changing, indeed has already changed, with the trademark crown shape already disappeared. December has seen all the floodlights removed, and the triangular struts to which they were attached taken down, creating what's suddenly a rather ordinary-looking structure. How quickly architectural retreat takes place, and how long before we discover what sponsor's name is to be slapped on the New Boleyn Ground. [stadium]

Pudding Mill Lane: Boris has one more station to open before the next Mayoral Election, and this is it. The DLR's feeblest halt lies slap bang in the path of Crossrail, so is to be replaced, and that replacement is almost ready. A long elevated concrete box has been constructed, hugely out of scale to the original, now almost completely clad with thin glass panels. Where the existing station has one central flight of stairs this has three to each platform, ideal for crowds departing from stadium fixtures and Park events, assuming they don't overwhelm the little train at the top. A whole new section of viaduct has been built, snaking off from the existing railway around the existing station through what's currently a building site. It won't be long before there's joined-up track, then several weekend closures are planned between now and Easter when the new station (hopefully) goes live. Expect the Mayor to visit just the once. [station] [viaduct]

View from the Greenway: Four years ago the ODA transformed this sewer-top path into a high security corridor, erecting a electric fence plus CCTV to prevent any unauthorised egress. In particular a massive barrier went up along the bridge over Marshgate Lane, lest anyone sidle up to the edge and jump down and cause pre-Olympic havoc. That fence brought my series of "photos of the growth of the Olympic Stadium taken from exactly the same spot" to a premature close, long before the Greenway was sealed off, and has hung around since the Games for over a year. Now, hurrah, finally it's vanished, apart from one remaining turret like a prison watchtower. It's lovely to be back again, not just to reclaim the view, but also because it feels like normality being returned. It's not quite like that, obviously. Down below what used to be Marshgate Lane is now a new road, with new pavements, joining up with a new Loop Road with new pedestrian crossings. A whole new slice of infrastructure is waiting to be dusted off and linked to the existing road network, this section with the unlikely name of Stadium Crescent West. [bridgetop]

Look beyond and the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is being readied for public use. Those gardens we loved during the Games remain seemingly intact, and I must say looked great from afar during the full flush of autumn. The rest of the plaza may not be quite so thrilling, but there'll be a cafe, so that may be all some visitors need to keep you happy. There'll also be the Orbit, which still beams down light across Stratford each evening, and will be ready again next spring for paying customers. I'd pencil in the end of April, sort of Easter-ish, for the grand re-opening of this and the remainder of QEOP. I still have my doubts there'll be a flood of visitors. The world class view seen in Summer 2012 has been replaced by a building site, and I'm not sure an elevated view of the Bow Roundabout will command the £15 we paid then. A lot of what the first visitors will see is blank space - tracts of land used for Olympic backroom services cleared ready for housing, eventually, when the time is right. It'll be sometime in the 2020s before the surrounding panorama is mostly apartment blocks, but the Orbit's raison d'etre looks slightly shaky well before that.

Marsh Lane allotments: There was a furore, and rightly so, when the imposition of the Olympic Park eradicated a century-old patch of allotments. Manor Garden plotholders believed they held the land "in perpetuity", which turned out to be 2007, after which the land was razed and lowered to create the east Olympic Park riverside. Don't worry, said the ODA, we'll rehouse you elsewhere for a few years and reinstate the original site later. Alternative provision was provided for everyone in Leyton, at the foot of Marsh Lane, where a corner of the park was fenced off and divided into strips. Alas the soil was poor and the ground quickly waterlogged, and it took a second attempt before vaguely bearable growing conditions could be established. Head to Leyton Jubilee Park today and the alternative site remains, unheralded and unadorned, up a muddy track at the far end. Compared to the original site, which was a delight, this has virtually zero character (apart from the original clubhouse/shed relocated just behind the gates). [shed]

And will the tenants be going back to Manor Garden? No they won't, plans for QEOP didn't allow it. Instead two separate sites within the Park were safeguarded, one to the north (at Eton Manor) and one to the south (near Pudding Mill Lane). The latter is now taking shape on the site of 2012's Greenway Gate, roughly where the security tents used to be, where a number of identical-looking wooden sheds have recently popped up. You can see them from the DLR, although you can't get close on foot at the moment, this is no Elysian paradise as yet. What's more disturbing is the fate of the proposed northern site. The London Legacy Development Corporation want to proceed, but Waltham Forest Council think otherwise and are blocking plans. "It's an absolute scandal that allotments are set to take pride of place in the country’s flagship sporting facility," said the council's leader in a stunningly intolerant turn of phrase back in October. Instead Waltham Forest have put forward alternative proposals to make the temporary Marsh Lane allotments permanent, leaving the council free to create an "urban meadow" at Eton Manor. If they succeed then we can chalk up another one for post-Olympic broken promises, but I hope the runner beans and marrows win out in the end.

 Monday, December 30, 2013

dg 2013 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2013
New River, Finsbury Park1) New River: I took this artificial channel's 400th anniversary as a great excuse to walk its full length. Don't wait to follow me. [photos]
2) Paddington to Farringdon: For the tube's 150th anniversary I spent a week walking the entire length of the original route. It's changed a bit. [photos]
3) Television Centre: I did 'the tour', while it was still possible, before the BBC moved out. Even better, I went back to sit in the audience for a sitcom.
4) Open House: This year's highlights included two Docklands skyscrapers, Beckton Sewage Works and Stratford Market Depot.
5) QEOP opens: At long last London's Olympic Park was reopened to the public, at least partly. Most of you haven't rediscovered it yet [photos]
6) Clarence House: Open in Summer only, with the opportunity to stand in Prince Charles's drawing room. A fascinating (if brief) tour.
7) Jack The Ripper's murder sites: You can take a tour, or you can walk round the sites yourself. I'd say the latter beats the former.
8) Battersea Power Station: I got back inside, before the developers swallow the place whole.
9) Rain Room: Queuing for the Barbican's interactive shower was almost as memorable as standing underneath it, in the dry.
10) Victoria Embankment: There's a heck of a lot of interest crammed into Bazalgette's sewer cover. [photos]

Runners up: Bow fire station, Steam train 150, HMV, Bakerloo South, Sylvia Pankhurst, National Libraries Day, Labyrinth, Museum Mile, Stairway to Heaven, Walking the Hainault Loop, Harry Beck's plaque, The Widow's Son, Little Holland House, Royal Parks, Furniture, London Marathon, Hammersmith to Royal Oak, last trains, RAF Uxbridge, Roman Road Market, Lea waterbus, Crossrail 2, Nunhead Cemetery, Myddleton House & Forty Hall, Beanotown, Headstone Manor, Open Garden Squares Weekend, Cloth Fair, Ruislip Lido Railway, Brent Civic Centre, London Film Museum, Matchgirls 125, Platform 9¾, Shuffle Festival, Streatham Rookery, Gunnersbury Triangle, King's Cross Square, The Bridge To Nowhere, HMV, Totteridge, Nine Elms, London City Island, Mill Hill East to Edgware, London Designer Outlet, Jubilee Place, Hammerton's Ferry, Tate Britain, Heath Row, Capital Towers, Noel Roads.

Olympics: 6 months on, West Ham are coming, Around the Olympic Park, pre-reopening, QEOP open, East Village, one year on, still ticking over.
Stations: Custom House, Piccadilly Circus, West Ruislip, Aldgate East, Park Royal, St Ann's Road, naming rights, Barbican, Rayners Lane, the Croxley Rail Link, South Acton, Kensington Olympia, Putney Bridge, Charing Cross, Mornington Crescent, Waterloo → Southwark.
Buses: route 48, route 588, D8/97/339, route 388, white blinds, "New Routemasters".
Cablecar: ridership figures, Fly across the Thames, school visits, end-of-year report, Emirates Aviation Experience, promotion, local attractions.
CS2/Bow Roundabout: CS2x consultation, CS2x instructional videos, painted blue stripe, CS2x opens, the Bow Roundabout, upgrading CS2, scraped paint, Marshgate Lane bus stop closed.
London Loop: section 1, section 7, section 14, (section 16), section 22.

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
Eiffel Tower, March 20131) Paris: For a birthday treat I took myself to the French capital for the day, and je ne regrette rien. [photos]
2) York: A beautiful northern city - I tried to visit as much as I possibly could in a day.
3) Big Brother House: You may not have been impressed, but I got to sit in the actual chair, in the actual house, via the actual garden. [photos]
4) Bristol: There's much more to this city than its gorgeous suspension bridge. [photos]
5) Bekonscot: I hadn't been to this Bucks model village since I was six, and I'm glad to report it's just as magical today.
6) Saltaire: A Victorian mill village north of Bradford, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [photos]
7) Library of Birmingham: This brand new civic building lives up to every good thing you've heard about it (and there's a great view from the roofs). [photos]
8) Salisbury & Stonehenge: All the international tourists do it, and you probably ought to too. [photos]
9) St Albans: The closest city to Greater London is packed with stuff to see, Roman or otherwise.
10) Amberley Museum: Stick this industrial heritage attraction on your to-do list for 2014.

Runners up: IWM Duxford, Joydens Wood, Gravesend, The British Postal Museum Store, Deal, Chess Valley Walk, Lullingstone, Brogdale, Bedford, Train Robbers' Bridge, Southend Pier, East Anglia Transport Museum, Mumbles, Henley → Marlow, Norwich, Heartwood Forest, Thanet, National Media Museum, Stewartby.

Ten other favourite posts from 2013:
The Greater London Solar System, View from the Shard, London Live TV, postcodes, NHS plc, Margaret Thatcher DIY obituary, bladdered, Parker's birthday, old for London, Uncle Jim's Fish Bar.

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's nearly 151 years since the first train ran on London's Underground railway. It's unlikely that TfL will trumpet the anniversary, but that's because they made such a splendid fuss of the sesquicentennial in January, and indeed the months since. The Tube's 150th anniversary year has been a humdinger of a celebration, and given grown men the chance to ride steam trains through Victorian tunnels. Any excuse.

The longevity of London's underground railway system is both a boon and a curse. On the positive side its age brings considerable heritage benefits, with umpteen stations and platforms blessed with carefully-considered beauty rather than cost-cutting functionality. In addition most of the tunnels were dug while London was still growing, so far more lines were built than might have been the case, both deep beneath the centre of town and in the suburbs. On the negative side its age makes upgrades awkward, even prohibitively expensive, which is the main reason why not everything works as it should. Ancient signalling still powers the sub-surface lines, which for the next five years or so remains a minor miracle. And the main reason that three quarters of the capital's tube stations aren't yet step-free is that they were built well before anyone realised this was important, and it'd take a shedload of cash we don't have to put that right.

This year has seen the steady rollout of modernisation programmes rather than any expansion of the network. Key amongst this has been the relentless replacement of trains on the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines with new stock. At the start of the year most of the trains on the former and all on the latter were the old C Stock rattlers, loved by few, and stopping short of the end of the platform. Now almost all of the former and most of the latter are fresh spacious S Stock, with halogen headlamps shining before them and swish scrolling displays within. The District line is next for replacement, Wimbledon branch first, although it'll be 2016 before the final set of carriages heads for scrap.

2016 is also the earliest we might expect any new Underground stations to be opened, namely Cassiobridge and Vicarage Road on the Metropolitan line, linked via the Croxley link to Watford Junction. Expect both to be sparse cheap halts à la DLR, and expect Boris to turn up and make a speech even though the entire extension falls within Hertfordshire. His pet tube project, the Northern line extension to Battersea, will still be crawling its way through the planning process over the next twelve months, although no doubt TfL's commercial team will be out grubbing for sponsorship opportunities wherever they think best fit. I fear 2014 will see the creeping passive acceptance of awarding naming rights, as "bearing down on fares" becomes more important than running a public service. Meanwhile expect hundreds of ticket offices to have been evacuated by this time next year, and a very different customer experience in place involving fewer staff, with tablets.

If 2013 has been The Year of the Tube, then 2014 will be The Year of the Bus. No really, it will. TfL's Twitter feed briefly announced #theyearofthebus a fortnight ago, to virtually no reaction, and then fell silent.

As yet no further details of commemorations have yet been announced, but expect TfL's PR machine to burst into action as the New Year rolls round. If we're fortunate, The Year of the Bus means lots of heritage vehicles on our streets and some splendid events to attend. If we're unfortunate, it merely means lots of press releases about "New Routemasters" and how iconic they are as yet another conductor-less vehicle hits the streets. I will obviously be blogging about buses as the year goes by, perhaps not quite so overwhelmingly as I did for the tube this year, but with a few extended features (as you'd expect). Meanwhile let's make the most of what's left of the Underground's special year, and fresh glories to come.

 Saturday, December 28, 2013

dg's Tube Year 2013 - index
Jan: Paddington to Farringdon (8 posts)
Feb: Bakerloo line (10 posts)
Mar: Central line (10 posts)
Apr: Hammersmith & City line (7 posts)
May: Piccadilly line (10 posts)
Jun: Metropolitan line (12 posts)
Jul: Victoria line (4 posts)
Aug: District line (9 posts)
Sep: Waterloo & City line (4 posts)
Oct: Northern line (10 posts)
Nov: Jubilee line (9 posts)
Dec: Circle line (5 posts)

So, one week on, you'll be wanting the answers to my centenary crossword. Those answers will be here, then.

Six people sent in correct solutions, so well done to Brian, Henry, Darryl, Paul, Nigel and Great Aunt Annie.

And four people sent in solutions correct except for one clue, which was 20 down. 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. 6 of 1...

 Friday, December 27, 2013

And finally on this quest to visit London's streets called Noel, we're off to the longest of the lot, in west London on the western side of Acton. By the time I got here it was almost dark, but that did mean I arrived in time for a rather lovely sunset.

Noel Road (Acton)

This Noel Road is almost a mile long, with a curved kink at one end, and runs from Twyford Avenue to Horn Lane. If that's not helping you locate it, the number 440 bus runs along its length, and if that doesn't help, West Acton station is located sort of up one end. The street is accessibly aspirational, lined with detached and semi-detached homes most Londoners would be pleased to own. Several of the front gardens along Noel Road remain horticultural havens behind high hedges, while many more are paved over for parking, often for more than one car. I'd guess interwar for the age of the houses, and praise the architects who managed to provide variety of design along its length. Of all the Noels I've visited this was definitely the street most likely to have Christmas trees displayed in its front windows, sparkling (and occasionally flashing) as twilight turned to dusk.

The western end of Noel Road is at a railway bridge over the Great Western mainline, at approximately the point where the Central line veers off after Ealing Broadway station. They're doing some Crossrail-related work down below, nothing exciting, merely necessary, with access down the ramp by the allotments. It's not far down the road to West Acton station, around which clusters a minor parade of shops. One grocery store oversells itself with the name West Acton Superstores (more a fruit and binbags kind of outlet), then there's a launderette, a chemists, the usual. But look more closely and there's a definite cultural theme going on... the "London Tokyo" estate agents, a sushi and seafood shop, and some Far Eastern faces in the dry cleaners. This is very much a Japanese part of town - indeed there's a Japanese School two blocks south, and several mums walk their children home with a smile along Noel Road.

Heading eastwards the residential vibe kicks in more strongly, with hints of other activities beyond. A sports ground is tucked in between Noel Road and the Acton mainline, while beyond Saxon Drive lies the southernmost outpost of the Park Royal Industrial Estate, formerly Acton Airfield. The large open space about halfway down is North Acton Playing Fields, a fairly featureless rectangle ideal for tennis, cricket and bowling. And if you turn left here (up Westfields Road) you reach an unexpectedly iconic eaterie where Apprentice losers go to drown their sorrows. This is the Bridge Cafe (the bridge in question being over the Central line), which is used by the BBC production team because Lord Sugar's boardroom is in fact a mock up in a large shed nearby at Park Royal. The greasy spoon is more interesting than Noel Road gets, sorry, the only remaining highlights being St Gabriel's church, an Indian takeaway and a place that does dental implants. They may not be the most exciting places, but London's half dozen "Noel" roads create a perfect snapshot of what the capital's truly like.

» Noel Park Avenue N22
» Noel Road E6
» Noel Road N1
» Noel Square RM8
» Noel Street W1
» Noel Road W3

 Thursday, December 26, 2013

For Boxing Day's "road in London with the word Noel in it" we're off to somewhere you might be going later, which is just off Oxford Street. But only passing through, perhaps - this isn't really a sales and shopping sort of street.

Noel Street (Soho)

Running barely 100 metres from Poland Street to Wardour Street, Noel Street is part of the labyrinthine grid that makes up the streets of Soho. It's very much a street of two halves, one end wide, the other narrow. It's also only one street back from Oxford Street, running pretty much parallel, approximately opposite where the Plaza is and HMV soon won't be. Great Marlborough Street is Noel Street's continuation to the west - a belter containing the London Palladium and Liberty's, but alas we're not going there. And Hollen Street is its continuation to the east - only brief but containing the marvellous Henry Heath's Hat Factory, and running slap bang into Crossrail's TCR Western Ticket Hall building site at the end. We're not going there either. We'll have to make do with inbetween.

Noel Street's most striking feature is undoubtedly the Soho Mural. This huge painting of a branch snapping off a tree is daubed across the end of an entire building on the corner with Poland Street, and is entitled "Ode to the West Wind". You'd only know this if you've ever stood up close and read the fading 'plaque' painted underneath, where you'll also learn that the artist was Louise Wiles and she painted it in 1989. No clues alas to the identity of the crouching woman reading a book beneath the tempest, nor any sign of anyone returning to clean up black streaks of gutter-runoff discolouring down each edge. Nextdoor to the mural is the YHA's central London backpackers youth hostel. More than a hundred beds are crammed inside for the benefit of international travellers, although I suspect sheet sleeping bags are now a thing of the past. An ostentatious tattoo parlour is conveniently located two doors up, for the aftermath of especially drunken nights, with its own blog that posts inky work in progress. Meanwhile opposite are some dull corporate officey buildings, and some messy bike racks, and various media types scuttling by.

The eastern half of Noel Street feels a lot more Soho-esque, being older and narrower, indeed with room only for one-way traffic. Cars and taxis, mostly taxis, whip in round the corner from Wardour Street and zip on through. There are proper (small) shops here, and several of the eateries for which the area is famous. At one end of the scale is a dirt cheap proper cafe, selling toasted ciabattas and topped jacket potatoes for under a fiver, with a laminated menu posted in the window featuring ancient clipart and handwritten prices. At the other end of the scale is a pretentious sit-down outlet whose brand name is the word burger with all the vowels missing, who do a meat'n'donut afternoon tea for £17 and who were offering a vanilla pattie on the day I passed. I know which of the two I'd prefer to eat in. A similar contrast exists between two adjacent garment shops, one selling high class silk dresses, the other all the bits a seamstress might need to knock up an imitation. It's much the more interesting end of Noel Street, this, and I hope the gourmet intruders don't completely edge out the Soho originals.

 Wednesday, December 25, 2013

For my very first proper December 25th post, I'm continuing my quest to visit streets in London called Noel. Sorry, but I'm unable to bring you a Yuletide treat, instead whisking you off to the heart of London's largest housing estate... in Barking and Dagenham. Merry Christmas?

Noel Square (Becontree)

Now this one's obscure. And it's not obviously square, unless you're in a helicopter. Imagine a five-way road junction, three sides grass, with a string of interwar cottages along each side. I say cottages, whereas in fact the only residents ever to have thought this would have been the first, relocated to the Becontree estate in the 1920s from East End slums. Think solid but modest, in a hotchpotch of styles, in a terracey semi-detatchedy sort of way. And all of them with gardens, small at the front, rather bigger out back, which would have been heaven for many a Cockney refugee. The number 5 bus stops close by on Longbridge Road, which boasts an ideally situated Lidl, several takeaways and a Cyrillic-scripted off licence. All the sideroads look much the same - nowhere Nigella would live but the bedrock of outer London housing stock. Much in evidence are London brick, stonecladding and pebbledash, the latter unexpectedly popular. We're in the heart of Becontree, nearly a mile from the tube station of the same name, amid a labyrinth of residential roads. The street map in this particular corner features swirling crescents and concentric curves cut by straight line - a bit like a Celtic tattoo pattern, should any local resident consider getting cartographically branded.

On the street corner that is, essentially, Noel Square, the only non-residential building is the 'Kidz' nursery. I thought it was derelict to start with, then I looked closer and realised it was merely very well protected. Elsewhere they'd have named this junction Noel Circus - the main intersection has a clearly circular structure - but thus far a mini-roundabout has been kept at bay. The main thoroughfare is Campden Crescent, which sweeps boldly through between Give Way lines. It's on the southern side of this road that all the interest is, assuming you like municipal lawn and squat shrubberies. Foothpaths lead across this mini village green, protected by very low metal railings, which have somehow never been nicked for scrap. Here I met the local postie, delivering Christmas packages to several addresses, much later in the afternoon than usual. Here I met a stooping headscarved lady throwing what looked like a bagful of cake scraps onto the path, which can only have advantaged the local pigeons. And here I met a mother and daughter both pacing up and down, talking loudly into separate mobiles, as if they'd really rather not be doing this in the house.

The name "Noel Square" appears three times. Two signs are considerably older than the third - one of these above a "No Ball Games" sign, the other above a sleeping cat. Only one Noel Square resident has leapt into the full Christmas spirit with a wreath on the door, while elsewhere decorations are conspicuous by their absence. But I bet everyone around this corner of Barking and Dagenham is tucked away celebrating today, and maybe, just maybe, revelling in their choice of address.

 Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Onward to my next London street called Noel, and it's a beauty. Today we're dipping in towards the centre of town, to the Angel Islington, where I can promise you canalside living, an infamous homosexual murder and the Mayor of London. It must be Christmas.

Noel Road (Islington)

You've likely been past this one too, that is if you've ever walked the eastern half of the Regent's Canal towpath. Just before the waterway disappears into the Islington Tunnel it passes beneath a row of fine houses (with crenellated basements) on the upper bank. That's Noel Road, that is. You can see it better after climbing the ramp to street level alongside the tunnel portal... but don't head there yet. Instead pause to look at the first house to your right, on Colebrooke Row, where a certain very important tousled politician lives. From the rear you can see how large number 20 is, complete with what looks like a long-standing extension, whereas the front appears a little less monumental. Four steps lead past a decorative shrub to the front door, while at least three bikes are kept locked alongside in a rack above the canal path. That Christmas wreath hanging from the door knocker is a nice festive touch, and the wine merchant's van parked out the front may be too, or that may be a complete coincidence. Noel Road begins a couple of doors down the street.

This is a lovely place to live, in a not especially ostentatious way. Three-storey Georgian townhouses line the street, except in a couple of places where bomb damaged homes have been replaced in not quite so lovely a manner. The ground floors form a run of white stucco while the upper levels are brick, with basements down below behind smart iron railings. You could almost imagine a BBC costume drama being filmed here, with bonneted ladies gossiping as they step lightly through snow sprinkled to cover the speed humps. Glance up at number 25 to spot the street's only plaque, not blue but green, commemorating a playwright and his lover. Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell rented rooms here in 1959, which was also when they began defacing book covers from the local library and altering their jackets. That mischief earned them six months each in prison, followed by four years of increasing fame as Orton's plays gained critical acclaim. Halliwell hated being overshadowed and in 1967 bludgeoned his partner to death before taking a fatal overdose... just up there, behind the second floor curtains. It looks such a respectable street today, but appearances can be deceptive.

Noel Road zigzags in the centre, crossing equally-pleasant Danbury Street before continuing askew on the opposite side. The houses here seem grander than before, their design essentially the same but with mighty chimneypots on top and the road now a gentle curve. It seems quieter on this side too, the bustle of the Angel much further away, except at certain times of day where two particular buildings intrude. One is a listed pub, the Island Queen, with palms on the pavement and a horseshoe bar inside. And the other is Hanover School, a major structure backing down to the City Basin on the Regent's Canal, where a helterskelter spiral counts down the £20,000 funding target needed to upgrade the playground. It sounds a lot, but that sum is about 1% of what each of the houses along this Islington street is worth. Just never mention that the London borough of Hackney begins at the far end of the street, should you turn right back towards the canal towpath to enjoy the view.

 Monday, December 23, 2013

London has only one suburb named Noel, that's Noel Park near Wood Green, which I wrote about in my Christmas Eve post 2011. Running into the estate is Noel Park Road, one of the half dozen streets in London to bear the Noel name. So for 2013 I've been to the other five, to see what's there, and to tell you all about them. I was going to splurge all five before Christmas, but instead I'll spread them more thinly over the festive hiatus. Let's begin out east.

Noel Road (North Beckton)

This runty road runs for barely a hundred yards and boasts only three houses. Nevertheless there's a good chance you've been, especially if you're the outdoors hiker type. Let me set the scene for you.

Noel Road runs right up to the A13, which thunders past via a six-lane dual carriageway. Thankfully a tall wooden fence cuts down the decibels, slightly, but the exhaust fumes hereabouts can't be fun. This arterial chasm is a beast to cross, so a footbridge has been built to allow pedestrians across. It's one of those tediously functional footbridges with separate access for the able-bodied and those with wheels, the latter climbing via a lengthy series of shallow ramps. Stand up here and you can watch Thurrock-bound lorries passing underneath, plus there's a Cycle Superhighway too, one of the better ones, that's CS3. In the near distance are the heights of Beckton Alps, the defunct ski slope which gives its name to the mega-roundabout where the Greenway meets the A13. A thin slice of land lies trapped between the two, and it's in this landlocked sliver that Noel Road resides. For drivers there's only one way in, from the roundabout up Roman Road. This is a very typical suburban residential street, with 200 be-porched terraced houses along its length, of the type where homeowners stick a "My Labrador lives here" sign in the window. But there are two ways out, the second a one-way sliproad to the A13 via Noel Road to Newham Way. What should be a sleepy backwater street therefore ends up with an intermittent stream of escaping local traffic.

This is the only one of London's 'Noel' roads where I can bring you an elevated aerial shot. That's almost the entire length of the street you can see there, omitting only the giant words "Turn Left" painted on the tarmac as the road narrows at the foot of the picture. All the action takes place on the right hand side, where Noel Road's three lone houses sit tight. Once identical, a string of owners have made their mark on the façades, two now with porches in front of the door, the third with a dash of stonecladding. The three front walls won't win any prizes for architecture, but it's reassuring to see that only one front garden has been ploughed up for off-road parking. Also relatively reassuring are the house prices out this way. Number 4, the only property not yet subdivided, sold for just over £200,000 a couple of years ago, while a two bedroom flat at number 6 is currently on the market for £110,000. Not all of London yet has sky-high prices, but then we are here in the rail desert of central southern Newham, which may help explain. Ideally located too for the local secondary school, which lurks just across the road beyond a scrappy patch of litter-strewn grass.

And the reason you might just have been to Noel Road is that two of London's long distance paths pass down it. Section 14 of the Capital Ring is one of them, utilising the footbridge as a means of crossing the A13 between the Greenway and Beckton Park. The Jubilee Greenway is the other, marked by a special flagstone in the pavement below the ramp. You won't have given the street a second thought if you hiked through, it's an eminently forgettable thoroughfare. But it's far more representative of the real London than most of the villas and new developments you read about in the media these days.

festive fivelinks
(come back and indulge if the rest of this week's posts get too much for you)

Back in September I went to the Barbican to watch an excellent film on the City of London's Pedways. These elevated concrete walkways were meant to provide a safe pedestrian zone above street level throughout the City of London, but that vision never quite matched reality. The Barbican's highwalks hint at what might have happened, but the rampant redevelopment envisaged by the City's 1960s architects never quite took hold. Now director Chris Bevan Lee has made his 40 minute documentary The Pedway - Elevating London available online for everyone to watch, which I heartily recommend you do. And then go and tell him what you thought [may only be available for a limited time, which is three weeks so far] [by the same director: Far From The Sodding Crowd]
As this tube anniversary year draws to a close, so 150 great things about the Underground nears its end. As I write we're up to 149 (the platforms at East Finchley), so take your bets on what the final treat will be [or go back and revel through the archive]
For a nostalgic media slant on Yuletide, download this year's Creamup Christmas Number. Brought to you by the folks at TV Cream, this 24 page pdf pitches various festive stalwarts against one another in The Great British Flake Off [or check out their guide to this week's TV and Radio highlights, in case there's some treat in your double issue Radio Times you forgot to circle]
Whenever I want to feel Christmassy I stick on Victor Hely-Hutchinson's Carol Symphony and the wolves come running [all four movements are available on YouTube, in one glorious file, while copyright avoidance lasts]
Dip back three decades into your musical memory by flicking through the Smash Hits Christmas edition 1983 [a new 30-year-old edition goes live every fortnight at Like Punk Never Happened]

 Sunday, December 22, 2013

CIRCLE: Outer Circle
The Circle line dates from 1884, when the final link in the subterranean circuit was added. Initially it was known as the Inner Circle, with services also running on an Outer Circle and a Middle Circle. The Outer Circle had been running since 1872, via a not-quite complete loop from the City through West London and back again. Kicking off from Mansion House, Outer Circle trains followed the usual westbound route to Earl's Court, then veered off onto what's now the Overground via Kensington Olympia. Further now-Overground tracks led Outer Circle trains via Willesden and Dalston Junctions, eventually pulling into Broad Street close to what's now Liverpool Street station. Trains ran every 30 minutes, and the service survived for over 30 years until 1908. If you want further details, and a map, click for details. If you'd like to join me in an attempt to follow the Outer Circle today, read on.

MANSION HOUSE: Few trains terminate at Mansion House today, but between 1871 and 1884 they had no choice because this was the end of the line. That's why this station is larger than most, with an additional platform available for terminating trains (where few terminate today). I always find this station a bit quiet, even during the supposed rush hour, and the exit always feels like a mighty long trek too. If you look beyond the end of platform 2 you can see a rare set of hydraulic buffers, a Heath Robinsonesque contraption with a great long metal arm. It's actually best seen from platform 1 on the eastbound, with its cute little reservoir tank on top - thankfully rarely used. You could walk from here to Liverpool Street in less than 15 minutes. Instead, let's take a train that hasn't existed since 1908.

EARL'S COURT: To follow the route of the Outer Circle it's important not to take a Circle line train from Mansion House. The Inner Circle turns off after Gloucester Road, and we're not going anywhere Edgware Road. Instead you need to wait for a District line train, any District line train, and hop off at Earl's Court. It also needs to be the weekend, unless you deliberately turn up in the evening for one of the two trains that run to Olympia on weekdays. It always feels a bit random standing here on the westbound island platform. District line trains run to four entirely different destinations, rarely from a predictable platform. What with District line passengers swapping trains and Piccadilly line escapees looking wholly lost, Earl's Court is one of the Underground's more chaotic interchanges. Hurrah then for the old school arrowed Next Train Indicators, which occasionally signal services to Olympia, no better than every 20 minutes at weekends. When the ghost train does turn up most look on wistfully, wishing it were heading somewhere useful, while others less familiar with the station leap aboard, scan the empty carriage, realise their error and hop off. But if you do want to travel this way, as we Outer Circlers do, oh the luxury.

KENSINGTON (OLYMPIA): This runty outpost, then known as Addison Road, was first served by the Outer and Middle Circles in 1872. These weren't true Underground services, they were run by the London & North Western Railway, here joining trains run by other companies using the West London line. Kensington (Olympia) closed to the public during the war, with District line trains arriving only in 1946. They still feel like somewhat of an afterthought, edging into their bay platform and stopping not quite close enough to the exit. A modern revolution swept in here three months ago with the introduction of (gasp) ticket gates for the first time. Previously you could sneak out of the system for free, or cross the footbridge unhindered, now only the latter is still possible. TfL adjusted their plans at the last minute and split the footbridge in two, so now one half is for Oyster-enabled passengers and the other for residents taking a short cut. It's not elegant, but it works. To follow the Outer Circle, cross the platform and await the next train to Stratford. Whilst Overground users enjoy a decent Next Train Indicator, that provided for District passengers remains stubbornly blank. They instead have to rely on something quaint and old-fashioned called a "timetable", a paper-based information medium largely phased out across the remainder of London's Underground network.

SHEPHERD'S BUSH: Prior to 1940 the station at Shepherd's Bush was called Uxbridge Road. It was the last station before the Middle Circle curved off to join what's now the Hammersmith and City line at Latimer Road - those tracks long since lost beneath a motorway and housing. The Outer Circle continued, as the Overground does today, but stopping at the wonderfully named St Quintin Park and Wormwood Scrubs station. This wooden halt above North Pole Road was lost in an air raid and never rebuilt, which is a shame, because the north end of Kensington could really do with a replacement. In the meantime Overground trains still always stop around SQPAWS, for a few seconds at least, to allow the driver to switch current from DC (south) to AC (north).

HIGHBURY AND ISLINGTON: Sorry, we've jumped a bit there. A long run via Willesden Junction (High Level) all the way around the top of London via Hampstead Heath. You know it as the Overground, a Victorian would have known it as the Outer Circle. Plus ça change. But here at Highbury and Islington we have to change trains because the modern Overground has introduced a disconnect. All eastbound trains run on to Stratford, while the line down through Whitechapel and beyond has become a separately timetabled entity. If only those buffers weren't there, if only the tracks hadn't been lifted, we might be enjoying a 21st century Outer Circle even today.

SHOREDITCH HIGH STREET: This elevated station is very new, and the Outer Circle never passed this way. Instead it ran all the way down the Kingsland Viaduct through Haggerston and Hoxton, as did all trains bound for Broad Street. That viaduct was severed five years ago (close by at New Inn Yard) to allow construction of a new bridge over Shoreditch High Street. The break point is now marked by a car park, if you're willing to call a scrappy fenced-off patch of tarmac by that name. A brief chunk of the original viaduct still stands beyond Holywell Lane, this topped off by Village Underground, the famous artists' studios fashioned out of two graffitied tube carriages. The bridge beyond has been lost, then the viaduct reappears across Great Eastern Street for its final elevated burst. Trees and undergrowth have had years to colonise the disused tracks, creating an impromptu nature reserve surrounded by workshops, brick terraces and lockups. One last bridge crosses the end of Plough Yard, dark and forbidding underneath, and then the wrecking balls have been busy. The viaduct lies broken, a red and white stripe its last hurrah, before a building site opens up beyond. This enormous space will one day be the Principal Place development, a 15-storey mixed-use scheme consisting of offices, flats and retail outlets. It's being branded as Shoreditch meets the City - imagine bankers in sneakers, that sort of thing. And, if I read the artist's impression properly, the old viaduct is going to be opened up and turned into some sort of sky garden. It's already got some fully grown trees, which is excellent, if unintentional, forward planning.

BROAD STREET: At the start of the 20th century Broad Street was the third busiest railway terminus in London. By the 1980s it was the quietest, its nine platforms reduced to one, and demolition was assured. The Broadgate development arose in its place, a vast complex of offices built to extend the City during the Big Bang years. Its architecture is highly regarded by some, but I find Broadgate a horribly soulless place, ruled over by security presence in uniform and unseen. The original station lay roughly where the winter-only ice rink is today, although no trace remains of the platforms into which the Outer Circle arrived. Instead cross the road to Liverpool Street and hop on today's Circle, and you can be back at Mansion House in no time.

 Saturday, December 21, 2013

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first published crossword.
(which appeared on 21st December 1913 in the New York World)
(and which was compiled by Arthur Wynne, who was born in Liverpool in 1871)

So today, let's have a crossword!
(sorry, to solve it you'll probably have to print the grid out, so here's a pdf)

Please DON'T post any answers (or blatant hints) in the comments box - they will be deleted.
(although all other comments are welcome)

And if you do manage to solve it, please send me an email with the solution.
(entries remain open for the next week, all over Christmas)

  1 Cattle slobber over underwear, with nothing underneath! (9)
  6 Sob-storey? (4)
10 Spill oil, go home (5)
11 West London under snow (5, 4)
12 Former Euro MP Edward need no longer go (8)
13 Human resources in cash box buzz (6)
15 Starts turning yellow, perhaps hopeful of inhibiting deadly disease (7)
17 Dairy spread heard in aluminium boundary (7)
18 No flop Central line station has atmosphere (3)
19 Fairly untidy light railway (7)
21 Police operation we’re yet to create (3, 4)
23 Searches for topless bus stops (6)
24 Vegetable can find a faster way (8)
27 Zoo beaver? I’m positive (5, 4)
28 Nothing makes mother laugh in Nebraska (5)
29, 26 Carnivore does it around East Ham (4, 4)
30 Walk on hill (East) is a form of punishment (9)

  1 Premiere nightspot explains why, say, 3×3 is easier than 12×12 (9,6)
  2 Five English head off for the Oval first, forcing one-way travel (5)
  3 Sign of stinginess? (7)
  4 Eased wonky disruption when peak time trains run (2, 8)
  5 King can turn up to make a pullover (4)
  7 A beginner bubbles air into it (9)
  8 Hallo brat, really shocked near Kensington Gardens (5, 6, 4)
  9 Plane takes 45 minutes to make Channel Island (6)
14 Girl with singer of note at station (10)
16 Bacon uncertainty? Ate too much (6, 3)
20 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other (6)
22 Raffle held frequently up the junction (7)
25 Cook a pie with animal ingredient (5)
26 See 29 across

 Friday, December 20, 2013

My television set died this week. I've had it since the 20th century, so perhaps that shouldn't be a surprise. It's one of those cathode ray tube things, you remember, they used to be quite popular. I bought it in the January Sales 1999, by which time it must already have been out of date, and I've been living firmly in the past ever since. Freeview prolonged its life somewhat, but it couldn't do anything more than live TV and radio throughout its life. Which ended on Wednesday.

There had been this strange smell in the room earlier in the evening. I wondered what it was, whether perhaps an electronic gizmo had malfunctioned or a neighbour was cooking something strange. Only later did I realise this was the telltale smell of dead television, the waftings of an defunct tube, because I haven't smelt anything like that in years. Indeed I may never smell anything like that again, given that CRTs are now essentially extinct technology.

But the terminal blow was cast not by the tube but by the switch. I went to turn off the TV so I could go to bed, and the switch failed to work properly. It's always been the Achilles heel of my TV set's design, a not entirely convincing plastic push button that I always felt could break at any time. On Wednesday it did exactly that, sticking firmly in the 'off' position. Permanently busted and unable to move, I realised I could never turn my television on again.

Then on Wednesday evening I had to cope without a functioning television. This was much easier than it would have been, say, five years ago, before the arrival of on demand catch-up TV. Then I'd have been forced to miss everything, forever, whereas at least now I could watch later, or even live, via my laptop. On Wednesday even recording programmes to watch later wouldn't have worked, because I couldn't read the text on my screen that would have allowed me to set the recording. Hurrah for iPlayer and 4oD, hurrah.

So I finally had to face up to the future and find a new television to buy. A considerable amount of range and choice has erupted since I last went to the TV showroom, so did I want LCD, Smart, 3D, Wi-Fi, whatever, or all the above? Brands have also got rather more important since the era when all a set did was show programmes. Which brand you choose defines integral features and menu options, so choose wrong and you could be cursing lack of functionality for years to come.

I did my research, which involved scouring the internet for models and prices. I did my research, which involved asking other people what they had and what they recommended, not always the same thing. And I did crucial further research which involved going to a shop and actually looking at some televisions to try to determine whether 32 inches was too small or 42 was too big. The former, I decided, which was the opposite of what I'd been expecting when I went in.

I soon realised that the week before Christmas is not the best time to need a new television. If my set had died ten days later I could have hit the sales, but I needed a set now rather than missing Week One of the double issue Radio Times. Plus it's a dreadful time to get a set delivered. Imminent slots are booked, medium-term slots fall when you're far from home over Christmas, and any time after that you might as well have waited for the sales anyway. I wondered if I was televisually stuffed.

But I hatched a plan, a plan which wouldn't have worked in 1999. Back then I lived in the countryside, far from a functioning public transport network, reliant on cars or taxis to get about. But today I live in transport-friendly London, more specifically network-dense East London, with a variety of accessible options in all directions. So I sourced an appropriate shop on a bus route that passes my house, and took a punt that the package I'd have to manhandle home wouldn't be too large. Correct, as it turned out.

Buying a TV on the Thursday morning before Christmas proved a doddle. Most of you lot were still at work, so I had the attention of half a dozen assistants in a mostly empty electrical appliance store. A pleasant and helpful bloke accepted that I knew what I wanted, didn't try to oversell me anything, and allowed me to try to pick up the box before I paid. And then I waddled to the bus stop, boarded a lovely mostly-empty midweek bus and hopped off a brief distance from my front door. Result.

Removing my old TV proved more difficult than installing the new one. It's obscenely heavy, for reasons of technology rather than avarice, so I had real trouble lifting it off the table in the corner of my lounge. In the end I only managed to shift it about a metre across the carpet, so it's currently still lying there, upturned and defunct, awaiting the day when I can work out how to get it as far as the street for a council bulk refuse removal.

And blimey, isn't the new one light, and simple? I had a spaghetti twist of cables emerging from the back of my old one, but there's no need for a separate Freeview box with the new - indeed that's another gadget that's become entirely obsolete since Wednesday. This set just sort of plugs in, and sits there on a tiny stand without somehow toppling over. The screen does look rather dominant sat in the corner of the room, but that may just be Day One speaking, and I'm sure I'll get used to the size.

And blimey, doesn't the new set do a lot? You lot have probably been enjoying interconnected functionally for years, but think back to your first smart-tv hi-def flat-screen day and that's where I am now. I have a long way to go before I understand how the remote control works and can find my way successfully around various menus. But I have now entered the 21st century, broadcast-wise, and it hasn't been as scary as I thought. Now all I need to do is work out how to record something. There must be a button for it somewhere.

 Thursday, December 19, 2013

London has a few, but not very many, skyscraper clusters. The City of London and Canary Wharf are the two largest, the two you can see even from the outskirts of town. Vauxhall/Nine Elms is another, now the site of a forest of red-light-topped cranes along the Thames. And then there's Stratford. which you might not have realised yet but is about to become Newham's Manhattan. Indeed a 42 storey tower called the Manhattan Loft Gardens is scheduled to arise alongside Stratford International station over the next couple of years. A 28 storey student bunkhouse is nearing completion beside John Lewis. The swathe of empty tarmac between Westfield and the Olympic Stadium is destined to become The International Quarter, which'll block out familiar 2012 vistas soon enough. And then there's Stratford High Street. Halfway down is the Stratford Halo, already topped out at 43 storeys, with its technicolour headband shining down somewhat incongruously over the neighbourhood after dark. A 26 storey tower of student accommodation is about to appear on the site of the former Esso petrol station. And then there's Capital Towers. Blimey, seriously?

Of all the places for a luxury highrise apartment, how do you fancy a scrap of wasteland alongside the Bow Roundabout? You probably don't. The Bow Roundabout's had a terrible press over the last couple of years, a place renowned for traffic congestion, exhaust fumes and dead cyclists. As a reader of this blog you'll likely have even more negative connotations because I've not exactly been selling the place, more extolling it as a vortex of inaccessibility and incompetence. But twist the geographic description around a bit, say Docklands North, or Olympic Park South, and suddenly this is a most desirable location. I dare you to watch this 90 second promotional video and not feel queasy.

Capital Towers will be a pair of buildings, one 14 storeys high, the other 34. They'll be linked at fourth floor level with a "skybridge", and residents in the taller tower will have access to a top floor "garden terrace". And it's the 34-storey blade that'll house the richer tenants, its thin streamlined shape permitting prestige double-fronted apartments. I'll have to live with this architectural stinker on my doorstep, unavoidably, because 34 storeys is massively out of proportion for this part of town. There is a 20 storey apartment block to one side - that's the block beside the vanished Marshgate Lane bus stop we discussed yesterday. And on the Bow side of the Lea is an only-slightly smaller block, looming over the flyover and the drive-through McDonalds. But 34 storeys is proper massive, and inescapable, and considerably taller than expected. Newham Council's Stratford Metropolitan Masterplan: Building Heights Paper (February 2011) anticipated that "the southern end of the High Street at the intersection with the A12 could potentially be marked by a district landmark (up to 24 full storey) to emphasize this strategic junction and mark the gateway into Stratford". It hasn't take long to blow that limit out of the water, but that's Olympic potential for you.
"Bringing luxury London living to the Capital’s most profiled area in recent years, Capital Towers presents a new and exhilarating residential development overlooking the UK’s largest regeneration programme, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Capital Towers comprises the 14-level City West Tower and 34-level Sky View Tower, together making up a landmark collection of 191 all private luxury residences each featuring winter gardens. With 1, 2, 3 and 3 bed duplex apartments available, the majority of the properties will enjoy superb dual aspect views across Canary Wharf and the City. Each apartment at Capital Towers has been designed and specified to provide stylish living space with every emphasis on natural light and beautifully proportioned rooms that exude the highest levels of quality and style. Exclusive residents' facilities include a private lounge, concierge service, secure parking levels and fully equipped gymnasium. With the focus in the Capital continuing to move east, the apartments are central to a magnet for property investment, as Stratford is transformed into London’s newest metropolitan area."
I moved here back in 2001 because it was cheap. Now in 2013 the Bow Roundabout is being marketed overseas as a desirable international destination. Indeed it was a report last night on BBC London news that alerted me to the whole Capital Towers shenanigans. Property companies prefer to flog London's prime residential developments abroad because they can make more profit that way. To a wealthy Hong Kong resident prices in London look cheap, considerably cheaper than at home, so they're only too willing to snap up a Stratford investment. Apparently Capital Towers is one of their fastest selling developments ever - more than 80 of its apartments were sold in Singapore and Hong Kong in the last week. You expect this sort of thing in Westminster or Docklands, but it's a bit of a shocker to discover it by the Bow Roundabout. If only I'd been capable of buying my flat when I moved here rather than renting it... but then I guess a lot of us think that.

By Autumn 2016, if all goes to plan, the first residents should be moving in. But the developers haven't even finished demolishing the site yet. The broader half, where the Sky View Tower will rise, was until recently the shell of J Bulman & Sons Carpet Contract Ltd. I think it's been empty for a decade, bar a massive pile of discarded tyres, but a few weeks ago the bulldozers suddenly moved in and demolished the lot. One's still there, sat atop a pile of rubble set amongst several other piles of rubble. Meanwhile the other half of the plot has long been cleared and vacant, and was used for a number of years (until very recently) by an opportunist car wash firm. The entire plot is "secured", if that's the right word, by an especially shaky fence, and every now and then a huge Crossrail lorry rumbles past delivering tunnel sections to the portal up the road.

If investors in the Far East could have seen the site last night - a field of debris beside a traffic-choked mega-roundabout - I doubt they'd be so keen to invest. But then most of them never intend to live here, they might simply rent their duplex out, or perhaps use it as a pied a terre for a fortnight if ever they're in town. Appallingly, for one of the poorest boroughs in London, Capital Towers will include zero affordable housing. Newham Council capitulated to the developers' demands in return for cash, because obviously a "no riffraff" policy sells faster. Meanwhile, according to last night's BBC report, approximately half of all new build homes in inner London are now sold to foreign investors. Even here beside the Bow Roundabout, it seems, the capital's housing policy has gone very badly wrong indeed.

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clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards