diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Would you like to see the fireworks in London tonight? Well you can't, so bugger off and watch them at home.

That's the New Year message being heavily pushed by the mayor, the police and TfL today, in an attempt to make sure you don't come into town thinking there'll be something to see. There won't, the authorities have been very careful to ensure this, not unless you've got a ticket. And there are only 100,000 of these, and they've all sold out, so sod off.
"Central London is very crowded on New Year's Eve. We would strongly discourage anyone without a ticket from travelling to the area of central London where the fireworks display is taking place on New Year’s Eve."
The problem is that the New Year fireworks at the London Eye have become a victim of their own success. When first introduced in 2003, only a hundred thousand people turned up and the display was only a few minutes long. The following year spectator numbers increased by 50%, with the pyrotechnic spectacle upped in line with London's bid for hosting the Olympics. Before long the event was so popular that gates were erected to ensure that crowds on the Embankment didn't reach crushable proportions, and people were having to turn up at stupid o'clock simply to bag a space. Last New Year's Eve around half a million people turned up, most of whom ended up in the backstreets, hence the need for this year's reboot and attendance figures reduced to 2003 levels.

Tickets for the 2015 fireworks went on sale in September for £10 each, providing a total income of one million pounds. The money's solely to cover the costs of policing and security, we're told, plus the expense of dispensing and checking tickets at the various entrance points. Revellers will be expected to show ID before gaining entry, which could be seen as a simple way to limit resale by touts or alternatively as a despicable invasion of privacy. Back in the day this million quid would have been found from local taxation, but this year's display has shifted to the philosophy of 'user pays' and the rest of us are no longer wanted.

A huge amount of effort is being made to ensure the smooth running of London's New Year fireworks. They're a crucial part of the capital's global branding - maximum exposure for minimum outlay - and chaos on the Embankment isn't what worldwide audiences want to see. Roads closest to the river are being closed to traffic from 2pm, as in previous years, with an exclusion zone running all the way from Buckingham Palace to Blackfriars. By eight there'll be no traffic allowed anywhere from Vauxhall Bridge to Holborn, in part to give crowds somewhere to disperse, but also so that rowdy drunks can vomit safely once the West End's New Year celebrations are underway. And pedestrians in the riverside zones without tickets will be asked to leave before the proper punters turn up, at their designated times, as what used to be casual fun becomes rather more serious.
"If you arrive after your entry period you will not be able to access the event, even if you have a ticket. Although the arrival times may seem early, they have been set to ensure that the running of the event is smooth and to ensure attendees have the best event experience possible."
Although a riverside bend provides an excellent viewing area for the few, a wall of buildings almost completely obscures the spectacle from further back. That's bad news for anyone who turns up on spec, of whom there'll be rather more this year now that audience numbers in the approved area are restricted. Stand in the Strand and you'll see nothing, stand in Trafalgar Square and you'll see nothing but high level flashes - there are no big screens for the masses this year. And you know that area at the east end of St James's Park from which the London Eye pokes up fairly obviously above Horseguards? Don't get any ideas about standing there, they're closing that off from 4pm too, because the unpaid must not be allowed to congregate and watch the show.

Other public viewpoints are of course available, assuming you don't mind the fireworks looking rather small. But be warned that they may also be a lot busier than in previous years as thousands of people displaced from the Thames venture forth for an alternative view. I'm particularly concerned about Primrose Hill - half-empty in 2009 but last year packed, despite the rain - and I fear this may be the New Year its slopes are finally overrun. There's also Parliament Hill, although only a thin sliver has a decent view, or The Point in Greenwich, if you get there early enough, or... well, nowhere holds a candle to the Embankment, to be frank, and you're not going there.

You could easily have gone. Not all of the tickets were sold in one go, some were held back for dripfed release during the days before Christmas, and it really wouldn't have been difficult to get your hands on one. But that would have involved forward planning, none of this waking up on December 31st and thinking "Hey, where shall we go tonight, tell you what why don't we wander down to the Thames to watch the show?" And if you didn't plan ahead, so have no overpriced pub or club in which to celebrate, nor any friend's party to raise a glass to 2015, then you have only yourself to blame.

So what else to do? The Mayor recommends "you can always enjoy the best seat in the house for free by watching the event live on BBC1", and he's probably right. That way you get to watch everything in the warm near a plentiful supply of alcohol, plus there are aerial shots and audible bongs, plus there's no need to hang around for hours beforehand nor to walk a mile afterwards to find a relocated bus hub or functioning tube station. You'll be watching a few seconds behind the revellers on the Embankment, thanks to digital delay, but so will the rest of the country, and they'll probably be too tipsy to notice. So here's to 2015, wherever you end up, in a capital city that's increasingly not for you, so get used to it.

 Tuesday, December 30, 2014

dg 2014 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2014
1) London Borough Tops: My summer diversion involved climbing 33 highest points, on a fascinating cross-capital safari. [photos]
2) Around London by bus: A ludicrous quest, obviously, but a fascinating 25-route orbit all the same.
3) Tour De France: It chucked it down, and the peloton splashed through in seconds, but what a sense of occasion! [photos]
4) Olympic Park south: Since it opened in April, my local park has wowed the crowds. [photos]
5) Stockwell Bus Garage: A rare Open Day inside south London's concrete masterpiece. [photos]
6) Open House: Always a top weekend, this year including ascents of Tower 42 and the Balfron Tower. [photos]
7) Mayfield Lavender: The purple fields of deepest Sutton are gorgeous, if you time your visit right. [photos]
8) The Cornershop: Lucy Sparrow's pop-up textile shop really impressed its visitors (I bought a Double Decker). [photos]
9) Aquatics Centre: I was most impressed by the building the weekend it opened to the public (shame it hasn't opened similarly since). [photos]
10) Nairn's London: Following in the 1966 footsteps of the esteemed architecture critic proved most illuminating.

Runners up: Imperial War Museum (before), Imperial War Museum (after), Wood Wharf, East Thames Crossings 1, East Thames Crossings 2, Emergency Evacuation Route, Frost Fair 200, New TfL website, Contactless, Barbican Conservatory, Cazenove, City of London Visitor Trail, St George's Fields, Metropolitan Water Board Railway, Harmondsworth Barn, Broadcasting House tour, Foyles (old), Foyles (new), Boring 2014, C Stock farewell, Midtown, Gunnersbury Park Museum, Gallions Crossing, The Tall Ships Festival, Angel Canal Festival, Carshalton Water Tower, Harrow Heritage Open Days, Wapping Market, Isokon Building, Thames Barrier closure, Severndroog Castle, Local London Guiding Day, Bridge to Somewhere, Walk London, Poppies, Deptford, Wennington, Cranham, Noak Hill, Greater London Villages, Rainham, Icebar, northwest London, Avery Hill Park Winter Garden

E20: Openings, The Line, Glasshouse Gardens, March update, Sport Relief, Loop Road, Ollie's preview, South Park opens, QEOP entrances, flats-to-be, Mirror Labyrinth, Lea Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, Carpenters Road, public consultation, Invictus Games, December update
E3: Stroudley Walk, E3 Coffee Map, Roman Road Festival, Bow Post Office, Winterville
Stations: Stamford Brook, Whitechapel (Crossrail), Emerson Park, Pudding Mill Lane (old), Pudding Mill Lane (new), Morden South, Anorak Corner, Stratford Z2/3, Walthamstow Queens Road, Canary Wharf (Crossrail), Blake Hall, Covent Garden, Round London by train
Buses: North Circular by Bus, New Bus routes, route 308, route 49, RT75, Regent Street Bus Cavalcade, New Buses on route 8, West Ham Bus Garage, Heritage route 9, bus sculpture trail, D8 diversion, An A-Z of London buses
Cablecar: January update, a week of tweets, Winter ridership figures, in the rain, joint Clipper fares, things to do nearby, Standard legitimacy, upselling, November update, The Snowman and the Snowdog
CS2/Bow Roundabout: cycle low level lights, upgrade consultation, delay data, roundabout plans, consultation outcome
Exhibitions: Pop Art Design, The Cheapside Hoard, English Magic, The Brits Who Built The Modern World, Momentum, The Prefab Museum, British Music Experience, From Bow To Biennale, Bridge, Spectra, Ships Clocks & Stars, Turbine Hall, The Information Age
London Loop: section 18, section 11, section 6, section 19

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
1) Isle of Man: This magical (and very varied) kingdom in the midst of the Irish Sea made for an excellent long weekend. [photos]
2) The Severn Bore: I've always wanted to see it, so traipsed to Gloucester for a 5*, only for high rainfall to make the whole thing more flood than wave. [photos]
3) Folkestone Triennial: Every three years, this coastal festival is an artistic must-see. [photos]
4) Fawley Hill: A steam fair and a ride on the private railway in Lord McAlpine's back garden. [photos]
5) Leith Hill: I climbed the highest hill in SE England, in downland Surrey, and it was damned nice.
6) Isle of Grain: Home to (cough) Boris Airport, this Kentish peninsula was a remote eye-opener. [photos]
7) Jack in the Green: May Day merriment in Hastings proved an unforgettable spectacle. [photos]
8) Hull: Back to my one-time hometown, now more of a tourist Mecca than you might think. [photos]
9) Samphire Hoe: I timed my visit to the Chunnel spoilheap to observe a rockfall from the crumbling chalk cliffs. [photos]
10) Heath and Hill: A Country Walk, 1970s style, across Epsom racecourse and around the Surrey Hills. [photos]

Runners up: Hope Valley line, Milton Keynes, Great Yarmouth, Croxley Green Boundary Walk, The Centre for Computer History, Leith Hill Place, Black Park, Bluebell Railway, The Oyster Bay Trail, Flatford Mill, Audley End, Didcot A, Ickworth House, Air Defence Radar Museum, Thames Estuary Path, St George's Distillery, Chiltern Open Air Museum, Shepperton Ferry, Croxley Green station
Beyond London: Intro, Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell

Ten other favourite posts from 2014: Spods, Proximatech, L'Ecole de Barrage, End of the season, Cashless, 100 slightly strange London bus stop names, Mile End and Bow Festival, At Blackman's Shoe Shop, Mansion tax map, Earliest sunset

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

 Monday, December 29, 2014

The largest glasshouse in the UK is of course the Temperate House at Kew Gardens. The second largest is far less well known, though also in London and more readily accessible. It's the Avery Hill Park Winter Garden, at the far end of the borough of Greenwich on the outskirts of Eltham. This intriguing temperate hothouse is open daily* for your delectation and delight, and all for absolutely no entrance fee whatsoever.
* Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day (so don't go this Thursday)

The house to which the Winter Garden is attached was built in the 1840s by a Scottish sugar refiner called Boyd - James Boyd. When he died his widow moved away to the seaside, and the mansion was bought by Colonel North, a self-made entrepreneur from Leeds nicknamed The Nitrate King. He made his fortune by importing fertiliser from South America, more specifically shipfuls of bird droppings, and Avery Hill House was his step-up in society. Improvements to the building included a large iron and glass structure with a domed roof, the Winter Garden, within which to house plants from around the world. And some of those are still there, I'd wager, given the age of the central trees scraping up to the ceiling.

Avery Hill Park lies a mile beyond Eltham on the Bexley Road. The park itself is screened behind an old brick wall, and then the Avery Hill campus of the University of Greenwich. Some of this North's old mansion, other parts are tacked-on annexes - look for the arched gateway and keep walking through. The park itself is pleasant enough, if a little muddy at this time of year, with a shuttered cafeteria whose outside tables are divided into dog-friendly and dog-free. If you fancy outdoor table tennis and boules, here's the place. In summer the Colonel's rose garden must be quite a sight - at present rather less so. And the enormous domed outhouse alongside is the Winter Garden, which if you've timed your visit right* should be open to viewing.
* Open 10am to 4pm daily (but closed for lunch between 1pm and 2pm)

Once through the outer door you reach a glass porch with doorhandles that couldn't be more 1960s if they tried. The Winter Garden is under the custodianship of the University of Greenwich, and it shows, in an almost-loved but not-treasured kind of manner. And then the faded glories of the temperate house are spread out before you. The interior is quartered into four distinct raised planting areas, semi-filled with cacti and other green plants of various heights. Some are in flower, as you'd hope in a Winter Garden, though most are merely in leaf, occasionally voluminously so. In the centre, where Colonel North had a fountain, is a lofty araucaria excelsa, or Norfolk Island Pine. And even higher alongside is a Canary Island Palm, its fronds bursting out beneath the glass ceiling like an arboreal firework.

The back of the interior is barriered off to prevent access, a hint that all is not as structurally sound as one might hope. Various prints depict the Winter Garden in its Victorian heyday, considerably fuller and better tended, with creepers tumbling down the supporting columns. There's also a portrait photograph of Colonel North, who closely resembles Tom Hanks but with dapper top hat and muttonchop whiskers, along with a group shot taken with his beloved racing greyhounds. And to one side is a small cabin in which I suspect a head gardener or bored security guard passes their time, complete with small sink, telephone and Percy Thrower gardening book. They were out when I visited, which meant I got the whole building completely to myself, which was both unexpected and rather lovely.

Public access is also available to an ornamental conservatory, this rather more comprehensively cultivated. Its centrepiece is a small pond filled with goldfish, currently with two arum lilies in bloom, topped off by a classical statue of the nymph Galatea. From here a short staircase leads into the university proper, for whom this must be a rather delightful space to relax and socialise, though alas not for very much longer.

Rewind to 2012, and the University put in for Heritage Lottery cash to repair and restore the Winter Garden. They were successful in getting through Stage 1, then had a couple of years to put together a more detailed Stage 2 bid... which they recently decided to withdraw. A laminated message on the conservatory door explains the reasoning for pulling out in broad non-specific terms, somewhat unconvincingly, and apologises for the collective administrative effort that's been wasted. But the reasons for this lottery decision became much clearer a fortnight ago when the university suddenly announced plans to sell up and leave the site in 2015. Staff can be rationalised on other campuses, they say, so Avery Hill is surplus to requirements.

And that leaves the Winter Garden's future somewhat in the balance. Not in immediate danger, because the glasshouse and certain other parts of the mansion building are protected by their listed status. Indeed existing covenants ensure that whoever buys the site will have to maintain the fabric in at least its present state, and will be forced to keep the Winter Garden open to the public. But who's to say who the new tenant will be, or how soon they'll turn up, and what the condition of the ironwork might be by the time they've moved in. Will the Winter Garden end up an adjunct to a luxury housing development, or a forgotten folly overlooking a Greenwich park? If enough of us take an interest, even simply make a visit, hopefully Colonel North's hothouse will survive and flourish into the future.

 Sunday, December 28, 2014

The evolution of Christmas

mid 1990s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything you need for Christmas
mid 2000s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything, except for a few books, CDs and DVDs from Amazon
mid 2010s Xmas: Get most of your Christmas stuff online, assuming it ever arrives

mid 1990s Xmas: Send lots of cards to people you communicate with once a year
mid 2000s Xmas: Send lots of cards containing a printed round robin letter to keep everyone up to date
mid 2010s Xmas: You can no longer afford stamps, but that's OK because everyone's already seen all your photos on Facebook

mid 1990s Xmas: Discover the Christmas Number 1 by listening to the radio
mid 2000s Xmas: Select the Christmas Number 1 because you voted for them on X Factor
mid 2010s Xmas: Who cares what's Number 1, I've made this playlist of Christmas songs on Spotify

mid 1990s Xmas: Ensure your travel bag is packed with presents for all the family
mid 2000s Xmas: Ensure your wheelie suitcase is packed with presents for all the family
mid 2010s Xmas: Ensure you've packed all your cables, otherwise your smartphone will die by mid-afternoon

mid 1990s Xmas: Say goodbye to your friends for a few days and travel off to see the family
mid 2000s Xmas: Keep in touch with your friends via text message throughout the Christmas break
mid 2010s Xmas: Broadcast a blow by blow Christmas commentary via social media

mid 1990s Xmas: Demand to see the Double Issue Radio Times
mid 2000s Xmas: Demand to use your parents' PC to check your email
mid 2010s Xmas: Demand your host's wifi password the minute you enter their home

mid 1990s Xmas: Watch the same Christmas telly as everyone else
mid 2000s Xmas: Watch your festive choice from dozens/hundreds of satellite/digital channels
mid 2010s Xmas: Watch whatever you like from a bottomless pit of on-demand goodies

mid 1990s Xmas: Sit grumpily while Gran insists on watching Emmerdale at Christmas
mid 2000s Xmas: Sit grumpily while Gran insists on watching Emmerdale at Christmas
mid 2010s Xmas: Play Candy Crush whilst simultaneously slagging off Emmerdale on Twitter

mid 1990s Xmas: Vegetate with a box of chocolates and a board game
mid 2000s Xmas: Plug the games console into the TV set and let the family join in
mid 2010s Xmas: Interact with your own personal screen for individual entertainment

mid 1990s Xmas: Head back to civilisation to discover what everyone else did over Christmas
mid 2000s Xmas: Suspect that everyone else had a better time over Christmas than you did
mid 2010s Xmas: Know that everyone else had a better time than you did, because they kept telling you, and you never switched off

 Saturday, December 27, 2014

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

 Friday, December 26, 2014

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

 Thursday, December 25, 2014

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,

And laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

 Wednesday, December 24, 2014

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

 Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 Bus-free quiz
Here are 20 words with the letters BUS removed.
(letters appear consecutively)
Can you identify them all?

  1) h  6) ker11) incu16) iness
  2) ae  7) nim12) rhom17) roseh
  3) re  8) rot13) tard18) sylla
  4) amh  9) aive14) bahka19) blockter
  5) hel10) comt15) disae20) rumtious

Answers in the comments box (but try to guess the lot before you peek)

I shall shut up about buses now. Not permanently, but certainly for a while, because I have been overdoing them of late. Indeed I've been overdoing them this year, in the same way I overdid the tube last year, as a kind of recurring feature.

But then it's been The Year Of The Bus, TfL's intermittent festival of all things bus-related, and I've merely been jumping on the bandwagon. As the year progressed they opened up bus garages, they slapped stickers on bus stops, and they pretended the New Bus For London had been called the New Routemaster all along. Probably best of all they closed off Regent Street for a whole afternoon and filled it with a century's worth of buses, which is the sort of thing that ought to happen more often, but not too often else it wouldn't be so special. The whole YOTB thing peaked somewhat in midsummer, being much more low key before and since, but in reality every day's an important bus day in London.

» YOTB programme
» 75th anniversary of the RT, on route 22 [photos]
» Stockwell Bus Garage Open Day [photos]
» Regent Street Bus Cavalcade [photos]
» West Ham Bus Garage Open Day [photos]
» New Routemasters on Route 8
» Last Routemasters on Route 9
» Bus Sculpture Trails (still open)

I've taken you on three major bus odysseys this year, not as some form of low torture but because there's no better way to see the capital. And that's the whole of Greater London, including the bits where most people live rather than the flashy tourist stuff in the centre which most of the media generally focuses on. First I took you all the way around the edge, which took 25 buses in total, then I whizzed you round the North Circular, which took only five. Most recently I've treated you to 16 different lettered buses, selecting my routes to give as wide a geographical spread as possible, and enjoying the enormous variety they offered. I was amazed how many of these buses took me to parts of London I'd never visited before, but when the capital covers 1572 km² maybe that's not so surprising. Long may TfL's comprehensive, frequent, simple and reliable bus network continue, and let's hope that no butcher ever decides to thin out the service or lop off some outer branches 'to save money'.

My outer London orbital bus journey on three pages:
492 >> R11 >> R8 >> 464 >> 64 >> 412 >> 166 >> 467 >> 71 >>
>> 216 >> 441 >> U3 >> 331 >> 8 >> 142 >>107 >> 84 >> 313 >>
>> 179 >> 275 >> 247 >> 499 >> 347 >> 370 >> X80

My North Circular bus journey on one page:
>> 112 >> 232 >> 34 >> 123 >> 101

My A-Z of lettered bus journeys on two pages:
A10 >> B11 >> C2 >> D3 >> E3 >> G1 >> H3 >> K5
N15 >> P4 >> R10 >> S1 >> T31 >> U9 >> W3 >> X68

There's no need to read all that lot again, obviously, but I like to make sure that all these series are safely stashed away in the correct order somewhere.

For the same reason, here's a complete list of ten years of route-by-route London bus reportage pulled together in one place, to act as a useful index. I've ridden and written about nearly 100 bus routes now... and, sorry, there are still so many more to go.

» 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 8 9 10 13 16 17 19
» 24 25 25 25 27 34 36 38 38 38
» 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 49
» 53 60 64 64 66 71 81 96 100
» 101 107 112 123 125 135 142 148 159 166 179
» 207 216 216 232 246 247 275
» 308 313 331 N343 347 368 370 388
» 412 464 467 488 492 499
» 507 588 607 702 724
» B12 R8 R11 U3 X26
» A10 B11 C2 D3 E3 G1 H3 K5 N15 P4 R10 S1 T31 U9 W3 X68

Now all I need is an all-enveloping pointless London-based quest to keep me busy next year. I'm sure I'll think of something.

 Monday, December 22, 2014

And finally, just in time for Xmas, the X68. This express service makes a fitting finale to my alphabetical series, being London's only peak hour one-way limited stop bus. Commuters living between West Croydon and West Norwood can hop aboard the X68 before nine in the morning and speed to Waterloo or Holborn, then head back home again sometime between between four and seven. The big advantage is that it's much cheaper than the train, the penalty that it takes much longer. But how much longer? I got up ridiculously early and headed down to Croydon to find out.

 Route X68: West Croydon - Russell Square (limited stop)
 Length of journey
: 13 miles, 70 minutes

It's not yet dawn when I arrive at West Croydon station, questioning why I ever signed up to this series of blogposts in the first place. The bus station outside is undergoing a lengthy transformation and is closed until 2016, so it takes me a few minutes to track down the temporary location of my chosen route's first stop. During these few minutes an X68 appears, rounds the block and departs, which leaves me no choice but to stand beside Wellesley Road in the dark and drizzle for fifteen minutes. I get a chance to admire the anodyne towers of central Croydon, and to meet the town's early morning commuters beneath hats, hoods and umbrellas. Some want the 468, the southern end of what used to be the 68 until it was lopped off twenty years ago. But a nucleus of longer distance travellers slowly musters, and eventually our chariot arrives.

Damn. It's midwinter, so the bus's misty windows shouldn't be a surprise, but if they're semi-opaque already I'm in danger of seeing very little. In mitigation I grab the front seat, to optimise my chances, and a little smear opens up the outside world to view. The first stripe of sunrise is visible across the rooftops, or penthousetops in some cases, illuminating the twin TV masts on the northern horizon. Meanwhile the last-day-of-term school run is underway, and mums and children are wrapped up in black against the weather heading to one of the brightly lit assembly halls we pass along the way. Our passage along Whitehorse Road is somewhat unpleasant, jolting over regularly spaced notches in the damaged tarmac. And all the way we barely stop, because very few round here are going the full distance, and the X68 doesn't allow anyone to alight before Waterloo.

Rather than take the direct route we divert east to pass Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace Football Club and their associated Sainsburys. A steady climb ensues, past attractive Victorian villas, one of which has both a palm tree and a fridge in its front garden. The first of the journey's excellent views transpires, from South Norwood down to Bromley and beyond, but requires a reticent wipe to see completely. Two consecutive bus stops are labelled 'Not in use', which two potential passengers have ignored, and thankfully our driver does too. And eventually we reach the foot of one of those TV masts, the less well known Croydon transmitter on Beulah Hill, no longer broadcasting but primed to kick in with BBC Breakfast should Crystal Palace fail.

The X68 is the kind of bus people run for. A stereotypically moustached businessman makes a dash for it, his suit in a bag over his arm, then pants upstairs to claim his prize. There must be ten of us up here by now, rather fewer than I was expecting on a premium service, but at least there'll still be seats when we finally reach West Norwood. I was also expecting us to be slower, but whether it's pre-Christmas torpor or luck, we've barely had to queue in traffic at all. Further along Beulah Hill one large house has a front garden full of Buddhas, laid out as you'd expect in the ornaments department at a garden centre. There's also a tantalising glimpse of the City in the gaps between the houses, the largest skyscrapers lined up perfectly without overlapping in front of a glowing morning sky.

Before the pond we hit our first and only jam, this of cars queueing to get through the lights at Crown Point on the watershed of the Effra valley. A couple of minutes sees us through to the stop outside Jerk Donalds, where a young couple board and mutter disdainfully about the lack of a spare double seat on the half-full top deck. A third wipe of the window prepares me for the spectacular view down Knight's Hill, the Shard-Gherkin line-up perfectly framed at its foot. But not for long, they soon disappear behind West Norwood, into which we now descend. The normal 68 route starts from here, from the bus garage by the station, hence there's little more here for us to do. But there's still time to pack them in at our final few stops, and we do.

A coffee-clutching lady in a pink jacket squeezes into the seat beside me, and we're off on the non-stop section of journey. She turns out to be another window-wiper, which is just as well given that several dozen lungs are now steaming up the windows, and there's nothing worse than a totally obscured express journey. At the very next bus stop an optimist puts her arm out, anticipating a ride, and then again at the next stop after that, but no. The electronic display above us has changed to show the next stop as Waterloo, more than three miles distant, and all of us are trapped on board for the long haul. Somebody on the top deck has annoyingly leaky headphones, but rather than it being the usual tinny rap, I'm amazed to identify the tune as Glenn Miller's In The Mood! Another noise polluter is sending and receiving copious texts with his Samsung whistle at full volume, and merits several hard stares as we progress.

A bus lane speeds our progress towards Tulse Hill - it's all going swimmingly thus far. And as we skirt the foot of Brockwell Park I hold my breath as the X68's bifurcation point draws near. Sometimes the bus follows the 68's normal route through Camberwell, but at other times it diverts via Brixton to avoid getting held up in traffic. We're taking... aha, the eastern Camberwell fork, which requires a climb up Herne Hill to Denmark Hill. And rightly so, the traffic turns out to be embarrassingly thin, more like it's Sunday than the rush hour, so we're through to the crossroads in a matter of minutes.

Up Camberwell Road the driver plays a trump card by ignoring the bus lane and following the main carriageway, leapfrogging at least a dozen slow-stopping buses in the process. The narrower Walworth Road, where the shopkeepers are only just laying out their fruit and vegetables for the day's trading, proves more impermeable. But we're soon up to the top, where I'm saddened to see the entire Heygate Estate has now been replaced by a field of rubble behind a security fence. The Elephant and Castle statuette outside the shopping centre raises more of a smile, its crenellations wrapped in festive fairy lights. And then we take the bus lane up to St George's Circus, which ought to be fast but no, we have to crawl along at the speed of the cyclist in front, who looks as intimidated by us as we are exasperated by him.

And finally, after twenty silent minutes, the onboard voice announces Waterloo as our next stop, and here we are. About half of those on board alight, this being the first time the driver's been allowed to open the middle doors since we started... and we gain one new passenger too, because now we're just a normal bus. We get three more on Waterloo Bridge, where further window-wiping exposes that the tide is high, and the skyscrapers I saw earlier reveal themselves not to be arranged in a tightly-packed cluster after all. My travelling companion then puts down her coffee and starts to do her make up, at length, as the rest of our passenger complement gradually filter off. A few in Aldwych, several more at Holborn, and another batch at the last proper stop on Southampton Row.

To finish, our driver negotiates his way to a backstreet stand just off Russell Square and turfs the rest of us off. Our loud texter is still going strong, and as three more whistles sound I swap a pair of raised eyebrows with my neighbour, hers now noticeably more immaculate than mine. And as the last dozen of us scatter to our various workplaces, it still not yet being nine o'clock, the driver whips round the blind to 'Not in service' and steps out onto the pavement for a rest. There are no X68s going the other way until late afternoon, so this vehicle can head back to the depot, or transform into something else, I don't hang around to find out. Achievement unlocked.

» route X68 - route map
» route X68 - timetable
» route X68 - live bus map
» route X68 - The Ladies Who Bus (their final route)

 Sunday, December 21, 2014

I had fifteen W-prefixed bus routes to choose from, and you recommended eleven of them. Most run to the north of London, based round Wood Green, while the rest run to the northeast around Walthamstow and Woodford. Overall you preferred the former, as did I, so I ended up plumping for the longest of the Wood Greeners. The W3 was one of the capital's first lettered buses, introduced as a Flat Fare service in 1968. A renumbering of the 233, it still follows the same dog-leg of a route today, running up from Finsbury Park to the heights of Alexandra Palace, then turning east to run the full length of Haringey.

 Route W3: Finsbury Park - Northumberland Park
 Length of journey: 9 miles, 45 minutes

Oh there's another Finsbury Park bus station, is there? Round the back of the station, on the non-Park side, discovered by following the signs to Wells Terrace. All three buses that head northwest from Finsbury Park start here, on the right side of a low railway bridge (3.8m, 12'9") that appears to preclude through traffic. It's a bustling location, where residents of Crouch End and Muswell Hill gather to ride home, and various small shops and fruit-traders attempt to flog them stuff while they wait. The W3 takes the central bay, stopping a few metres short of the bus stop while the driver has a rest, then nudging forward to admit the merry throng. A party of five looks on anxiously as the seats start to fill - Graham went off for some coffees a while back and hasn't returned yet. We leave without them.

Most of the retail outlets on Stroud Green Road specialise in world foods, it seems, although as many as half a dozen sell wigs for those in need of a hairpiece. I'm no longer surprised when someone requests to alight at the very first stop, merely disappointed, although perhaps their interest was pique by the twin displays of suitcases and Christmas trees outside the adjacent shops. We stalk a W7 to the end of the street, where a boy in a Santa hat pedals furiously past, and then we turn sharply right past a 60s era Welcome to Haringey sign. The arch ahead is dripping with foliage and looks suspiciously overgrown, which'd be because it carries a disused railway (now the Parkland Walk) over our heads. And slowly our bus picks up and sets down, ever so nicely, because it's that sort of part of town.

Ferme Park Road is a perfectly straight residential street lined by late Victorian villas, its peculiarity being that it rises right up and then right back down again in a typically San Franciscan manner. At the summit I can see the Olympic Park clear as day, some five miles distant, but only briefly before we're heading down the far side of the ridge for Hornsey Vale. We've missed the heart of Crouch End by running this way, but land on one of its main roads beside the bijou Arthouse cinema and the less bourgeois YMCA. Behind me, a father and his son are discussing their dog's toilet habits in slightly too much detail, an anecdote which they continue throughout our entire wait at some temporary traffic lights. There follows a leafy avenue, and a thin common, and a fire station, and it's OK, they've finally stopped.

The most scenic section of the route begins at the foot of Muswell Hill, although we're not heading that way. Instead we turn right at the menorah and start to climb the meandering heights of Alexandra Palace Way. A farmers market is underway in the car park to one side - there is a lot of parking - beneath some of the particularly well-kept allotments. We pass two particularly close bus stops, one specifically for the garden centre, the other beneath the entrance to the Palm Court restaurant. And yes, we're running right across the front of lovely Ally Pally, but who has time to look at that. Instead what may be the finest bus-ride panorama in the capital is playing out on the other side, a proper-wow spread across the whole of central London.

We have almost a minute to soak in the delights - there's the Orbit, and the BT Tower, and clear as day there's Ferme Park Road again with another W3 descending. Alas a large family boards at the Ice Rink end and mum insists on hovering in the aisle on the top deck and obscuring the vista with her inane blathering. It's at this point that dinging begins. Someone somewhere has found a red button and is pressing it, in triplicate, repeatedly, for no readily obvious reason. Our driver stops each time and opens the doors, for nobody, and still the dinging continues like some kind of Morse code... until we descend as far as central Wood Green, and suddenly pretty much everyone gets off.

It's OK, a fresh complement of passengers take their place, but they're a very different crowd. Gone are the middle classes of Muswell Hill, off to take the Piccadilly line into town, and instead a less advantaged demographic are taking their purchases home from the shops. We pass a bingo hall and a rather splendid Victorian Crown Court with a modern fortress-like annexe plonked on top. Somewhere to the right is the garden suburb of Noel Park, alas invisible behind lesser housing stock. A one-legged man walks past, determinedly. The allotments hereabouts are most definitely less well tended. Someone's headphones are leaking loud bland guitar music - two ladies turn round and stare.

We pass from Lordship Lane to White Hart Lane, both lengthy meandering reminders of the Middlesex landscape before the houses came. The first football club on White Hart Lane isn't Spurs, it's Haringey Borough FC, whose ground (with its tiny grandstand) has been taken over by a fast-emptying car boot sale. The housing stock's more mixed now, more councilly and flattier, as we pull up towards the lights on the Great Cambridge Road. Beyond that lies Tottenham Cemetery, which I note is rammed with gravestones but entirely empty of people, and looking round the bus I wonder if that's because the children and grandchildren of those buried here have long since moved far away.

If anything can drag this area back up it's the regeneration of White Hart Lane at the end of White Hart Lane. Part boarded-up terraces await their fate, presumably as towers of flats, while the existing stadium plays out its last seasons beside a demolished zone where its replacement will eventually arise. First blood in the 'Northumberland Development Project' has gone to Sainsburys, whose bland two-storey megastore is a jolt of modernity hereabouts, and whose main entrance the bus passes on its final riverward leg. We're heading down to Northumberland Park, with its shabbier flats and the occasional discarded mattress, our gradual descent from the moneyed heights of Haringey complete. Turfed out at a busy bus stand beside a tyre centre, I suspect riding the W3 in the opposite direction would have been more uplifting.

» route W3 - route map
» route W3 - timetable
» route W3 - live bus map
» route W3 - route history
» route W3 - route history
» route W3 - The Ladies Who Bus

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