diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 31, 2016

Blogrolls are so dead these days. But that won't stop me from rolling out my annual feature...

72 current* blogs with diamond geezer on their blogroll**
*(at least one post since July 1st)   **(blogroll must appear on blog's main page)

AngloAddict, Aslef Shrugged, Autolycus, Blue Witch, Brian Micklethwait, Cabin Essence, Cameron Counts, Cardunculus, CDL Creative, The Charlton Champion, Chertsey, Chicago Addick, crinklybee, Crying All The Way to the Chip Shop, Days on the Claise, The Deptford Dame, Depthmarker, dig your fins, D4D, East End Trifles, 853, English Buildings, F-Life! (Beta), Fire, Pillage and Plague, A Fistful of Euros, Flickering Lamps, FolkestoneJack's Tracks, Fresh Eyes on London, fromthemurkydepths, ganching, Gingle lists everything, girl with a one-track mind, Goonerholic, The Great Wen, The Ham and Egger Files, (Human Nature), (Ian Visits), Inner Diablog, In the Aquarium, Jane's London, John Flood's Random Academic Thoughts, The Knowledge, LinkMachineGo, London Reconnections, Londres Calling, McFilter, The Musings of a Red Dalek, Neil Turner's Blog, Order of the Bath, Ornamental Passions, (planarchy), Plenty Of Taste, Pocket Book, rashbre central, theRatandMouse, Razor-blade of Life, rethinking childhood, Round the Island, round the north we go, St Margaret's at Cliffe Photo Diary, Scaryduck, Scoakat's blog, The Silent Hunter, Silent Words Speak Loudest, 6000 miles from civilisation, swisslet, things magazine, Town Mouse, Transblawg, Transportationist, Trial by Jeory, The Willesden Herald
blogs that weren't on last year's list are underlined (blogs returning to the list appear in brackets)

I'm duly honoured by each and every one of these blogroll links, so many thanks to you all. But I also notice that the list is 10% shorter than last year (which in turn was 5% shorter than the year before that) (which in turn was 10% shorter than the year before) (which in turn was 5% shorter than the year before) (which was 15% shorter than the year before) (which was 20% shorter than the year before) (which was 20% shorter than the year before) (which was 20% shorter than the year before). As declines go, this is relentless.

I compile this list every year, so I started by checking all 82 blogs on last year's list to see how many of them still linked here. It's great to see several still going strong, punching out the minutiae of life on a regular basis, but several have fallen by the wayside and don't appear this year. Of the missing 18 blogs, two have vanished off the face of the internet, two no longer have a blogroll, and the rest are now on hiatus, either through month-long neglect or deliberately after a farewell post. And that's a shame, but not entirely unexpected. Over the years an incredibly high proportion of blogs have faded away, mainly because the whole idea of regularly writing something on an independent platform is a bit passé these days.

A few blogs have returned to my list after a year or more off. They slipped out because nothing was posted when I ran this survey last July, but something's appeared again this month so now they're back in. For some, it seems, their blog has become somewhere to publish thoughts occasionally, when inspiration strikes, without feeling pressured to post something more regularly. The aftermath of the Brexit referendum, for example, seems to have inspired a lot of generally subdued bloggers to outpour their thoughts, and then go a bit quieter again.

Meanwhile I used to be able to refresh my annual list by adding several new blogs, but this year (although I've hunted) there don't appear to be many to find. My list is ever-shrinking, and is now barely a third the size of the 200+ it held eight years ago. Talk about a dying art.

Blogging's a lot of effort for scant reward, so if hardly anybody's reading what you write, why bother? Alternative platforms have taken hold, and take far less effort to update, and get instant feedback. Self-broadcasting is no clique any more, it's a universal collective, which leaves those of us who still create long-form prose down something of a cul-de-sac. Indeed images have already overtaken text for most, as people spend their days looking at photos of their mates, watching videos of comical kittens, capturing their food on Instagram, making conversation by appending snapshots from TV shows, and responding via emoji. Why bother writing anything, quite frankly, when nobody has time for anything more than swiftly digestible visual nuggets?

Simultaneously blogrolls have become invisible and irrelevant, especially to anyone subscribed via an RSS feed, so only us old-school bloggers maintain them. Indeed many of the blogs in my list compiled their blogrolls years ago and have barely touched them since, bequeathing a list of dead links to anyone who wastes their time clicking through.

The majority of freshly-templated blogs have no blogroll at all, because the modern focus is more about self-promotion than sharing, and because sidebars don't look good on smartphones. Indeed the relentless emphasis on responsive website design militates against awkward lists of tiny text, because only big chunky buttons and drop down menus are acceptable to clumsy tablet thumbs. The future is as uncluttered as possible, because that's what Google ranks highest in its algorithms, so curated links to other sites you might enjoy reading are culled in favour of focusing on the here and now.

Most importantly, new readers no longer come clicking via a long-standing blogroll in a sidebar. Instead they arrive via a one-off reference on social media, if they turn up at all, because Twitter and Facebook are very much in charge these days. A blog is now only as good as its last post, and long-term reputation counts for almost nothing. I'm very much aware that my daily readership is now almost exclusively people who arrived here once and stayed, and all too rarely fresh blood directed in from elsewhere.

I still have a blogroll, of course, I have done since I started, even if you've never used it. It's over there on the right hand side of the page, assuming you're reading this page as I intended rather than just the stripped-out content elsewhere. I link to 20 blogs I like and admire, partly to showcase them to others, but also so I have a quick means of reading them. Less than half of these blogs have a blogroll, so only a fraction link back, but hey, no problem.

Anyway, I hope that today's list of blogs with diamond geezer on their blogroll is fairly complete, but I bet it isn't. Let me know if I've missed you/anyone off the list, and I'll come back and add you/them later. And maybe you'd like to click on a few of these 72 links to see what you're missing. I can't promise they're all thrilling verbal discourses, but I'm sure you'll discover plenty that are.

 Saturday, July 30, 2016

Three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming.
Thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming.

It's fifty years now, fifty years today since the England football team last lifted an international trophy.

And they nearly didn't lift the trophy because, as is well documented, it was famously stolen while on display to the public in central London. Perhaps even more famously it was recovered a week later by a dog called Pickles who found it in a south London hedge. So what I really wanted to know about this fantastic story, obviously, is the whereabouts of that hedge.

Nobody these days would consider displaying the World Cup trophy at a stamp exhibition. But on 19th March 1966 the Jules Rimet went on show at Westminster Central Hall inside a padlocked case under the heading 'The World Cup Proudly Presented By Stanley Gibbons'. Although under guard at all times while the exhibition was open, on Sunday the hall was used for a church service, allowing thieves to slip in and nab it while security staff were on their dinner break. The chairman of the FA received a ransom demand the following day, and went to the police, who organised payment using a suitcase stuffed with fake cash. This was delivered to the rendezvous point in Battersea Park, where the middleman inadvertently got into an unmarked police car, failed to get away, and was arrested. That's the short version anyway. But still no sign of the trophy.

This turned up a week after its disappearance, on Sunday 27th March, outside some flats in Upper Norwood. Inside one of these lived a Thames lighterman called David Corbett, who popped out that afternoon to make a telephone call in the kiosk over the road. He took his four year-old collie, Pickles, who started sniffing around a neighbour's car where a package lay under a bush close to the front wheel. Tearing off some of the newspaper wrapping, Corbett spotted a golden statuette and the names of the cup's first three winners etched on discs underneath. Realising immediately what he'd found, Corbett rang the police, who promptly made him their prime suspect and questioned him into the early hours of the morning. But before long he was cleared, and he and Pickles became celebrities. Pickles was named Dog of the Year, received a year's supply of free petfood, appeared on Blue Peter and starred in a feature film with June Whitfield. And four months later England won that trophy.

David Corbett used his reward money to buy a new house in Lingfield, Surrey, where he still lives and where Pickles is buried. But in early 1966 he lived on Beulah Hill, a lengthy residential road which started out as an ancient ridgetop path. At one end is Crown Point, and at the other is the enormous South London TV mast that isn't the one at Crystal Palace. What's most impressive about Beulah Hill is how the land slopes down on both sides, quite steeply in places, affording excellent views but only in certain gaps between buildings. To the north is central London, with its more famous skyscrapers nicely lined up, and to the south the less elevated skyline of Croydon with the edge of the Downs beyond. You get the best view if you live on one of the upper floors, be that in a modern flat or some older Addamsfamilyesque villa. And Dave resided in one of the latter, but on the ground floor, so no wonder he was good at looking down.

The villa in question is called St Valery, an asymmetric concoction in yellow brick, erected in 1880 on the site of a former inn by local builder Sextus Dyball. The house is up-to-four storeys high, with a fifth floor attic inside a prominent tower, and steeply pitched roofs which make it appear even taller. Typical of Dyball's gothic statement architecture, St Valery has all sorts of external flourishes, and is unsurprisingly Grade II listed. It was built for a successful bookmaker by the name of Robert `Bob' Lee, and would have made a fine home for a large middle class Victorian family. These days of course it's flats, indeed it already was 50 years ago, and the separate chauffeur's quarters in the grounds has been split into another two. But the name is still carved into the turrety gateposts, and the hedge out front is smartly maintained.

Except this isn't the hedge the World Cup was found in, not quite. Dave's testimony makes clear it was found beside a neighbour's car, which could mean another resident of the block, or could mean a house nextdoor. Thankfully the world's press turned up to recreate the discovery and take pictures, so a photograph exists of Pickles posing by a tree trunk at the end of a driveway, with a detached house clearly visible in the background across the road. If you go to Beulah Hill and hunt around it's possible to identify that detached house on a bend very close to St Valery, specifically on the corner with Spurgeon Road. But look back across and the driveway is long gone, replaced by a thick screen of younger trees and undergrowth, which is (for such a historic location) disappointingly featureless.

The precise spot must have been in the front garden of number 50 Beulah Hill, two doors down from St Valery at 54 [old map]. But there is no number 50 any more, indeed all eight villas between St Valery and the top of Harold Road have been demolished and their footprint used to create a new residential road. Around forty townhouses have been squeezed into the resulting void, fairly spaciously because those old villas had big gardens. This cul-de-sac has for some reason been named Ellery Road, which is a shame, because Pickles Close would have been a lot more fun. A row of garages appears to fill what used to be the driveway outside number 50, but a linear strip alongside the main road has been left undeveloped to provide a shield of vegetation, and it's somewhere in this overgrown nomansland that the World Cup was found.

So don't expect to find a plaque on Beulah Hill, indeed don't expect to find anything, other than a thicket of leafy twigs and some littered cans. But rejoice that Pickles sniffed around and found something, the trophy that still defines our national football team fifty years later.

 Friday, July 29, 2016

There's easily enough unfinished stuff around the Olympic Park to fill a second post. To the south of the park, a lot of that is the fault of Crossrail, who are still building a railway link from a tunnel under the Lea to the platforms at Stratford station. What with Olympic construction followed by Crossrail construction, a large area around Pudding Mill Lane will have been sealed for over ten years by the time it's eventually released back to the public. So today let's see how easy it is to get into the Olympic Park from Stratford High Street, or not.

From the Bow Roundabout, along the River Lea [YES]
This works, indeed other than during the Games themselves the towpath alongside the Lea has been open pretty much all the time. But at present that's only because the National Grid are playing nice. They're building an electricity substation beside the river, immediately above the portal from which Crossrail trains bound for Shenfield will emerge. It's not glamorous work but it is essential, and requires renewing the cables which run below the towpath. A floating towpath has been built, and will continue to bypass the edge of the river until September when normal passage will be resumed. The next stretch of towpath looks much like it did ten years ago, with blackberries already ripening along the spiky fence, and the backs of old brick sheds in Fish Island facing across the Lea. But look, there's an old Water Chariots boat moored up, and still in its original livery, and further along a 2012-inspired Water Bus stop where it seems no park service will ever stop. All this plus no less than three ways into the Olympic Park proper, one via the Greenway, one along the Old River Lea, and one round the back of the former Big Breakfast house.

Cooks Road [NO]
Reopening Spring 2015, says the sign at the end of the road placed there (somewhat optimistically) in 2009. Not a chance. Crossrail sequentially demolished all the industrial buildings that used to line Cooks and Barbers Roads, from wholesalers to proper waste-belchers, and now a tunnel emerges where a run of warehouses used to stand. With no road remaining, there's not a hope of getting through until they've finished, whenever.

Marshgate Lane [YES]
This route's also stayed open almost all of the time, not least because there's a DLR station up ahead. In good news, the diversion passengers have had to walk for the last couple of years has now been cleared, so it's again possible to walk straight on rather than diverting past a building site and walls of hoardings. Recently a very large area alongside has been used for the storage of thousands of seats from the Olympic stadium. I had been wondering if they were on their way out, but yesterday I watched a convoy of lorries setting off each with three rows of chairs on the back, so I assume they're heading back inside to provide retractable seating for West Ham supporters sitting above the athletics track for next Thursday's opening match.

The railway bridge over Marshgate Lane now has (count them) seven spans - one for the DLR, three for Crossrail, the original Victorian arched bridge and two mainline extensions on either side. On the far side, the area that used to be the warm-up track during the Games now lies empty, apart from some diggers and several mountains of earth. This area may never be housing, it's still zoned industrial, and there are already plans to site a quartet of concrete and asphalt factories on the far side - locals are not pleased. Meanwhile the View Tube remains open, the allure of the container cafe proving strong even though it's no longer the only place to view the scene. Indeed all the upstairs doors are now locked, cutting off access to the internal and external balconies, with ground floor caffeination and cycle hire now the main thrust of operations.

Blaker Road [NO]
One of the more unusual entrances to the former Marshgate Lane Industrial Estate, this, but now the dead end it always looked like it was from a distance. Pass the old lockkeepers cottage, recently boarded off to await not-quite sympathetic redevelopment, and continue past the pre-Olympic flats up Otter Close. At the far end before the railway is proper old set of steps, up and then down, to the waterside where dragonflies and damselflies skim over the weedy water. It's one of my favourite hidden spots where I could sit for hours, if only it wasn't also a favourite spot for people who drink and then leave smashed glass everywhere. Instead I have to retrace my steps, because the foot tunnel underneath the Greenway has been sealed for nine years now, and the dark gloom within shows no sign of ever opening up.

The Greenway [NO]
This is the biggest disappointment, still being closed when during the Games it was a main point of entry. Technically it belongs to Thames Water, what with most of North London's effluent passing in giant tubes underneath, but this should be QEOP's main southern entrance leading up from Stratford High Street where a pedestrian crossing has been installed specially. But no, more of those linked-together metal barriers still block the entrance, and then there's another set of more permanent fencing a hundred yards further on, just to be sure. If you head round to the other end of the pathway, where it enters the park proper beyond the railway, again there are two sets of metal barriers to keep you out, plus invariably the sound of water pouring slowly into the river from a pipe. It looks a bit of a mess beneath the railway, always has since 2012, and if you look very carefully you'll see a highly intriguing sign which says "Warning Laser Beam". This might be why we're kept away, or it might be more to do with connecting Crossrail to the mainline railway, but for goodness sake can't somebody fix whatever needs fixing and allow us back through?

Bridgewater Road [NO]
An insignificant-looking turning off Warton Road, between new flats and a long derelict pile, this brief sidestreet leads up to an old iron bridge over the Waterworks River. You wouldn't walk this way, but if you did you'd find a barrier leading to another Crossrail-related building site, plus a long-promised pre-Games survivor. Back in 2007, somewhat infamously, the Manor Gardens allotment society were evicted from their long-held plots about a mile north of here along the Lea. One replacement site was swiftly created in Waltham Forest, but part two has taken considerably longer, with the Pudding Mill site only handed over earlier this year. There are 50 plots, still somewhat sparse, but several of the original members now have sheds again and somewhere to grow whatever. Look out if you're ever passing on the DLR, and watch the place thrive.

Between the allotments and the river is a footpath, and a public one too. A magenta fingerpost makes clear there should be an access route from Stratford High Street and the Greenway in one direction to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the other. But it's not yet open, closed in one direction by a sign and in the other by some familiar-looking metal barriers. Again the problem section appears to be the passage beneath the railway because yes, there are barriers on the other side in the very bottom corner of the park. My map of "Art in the Park" (from a booklet published in 2014) informs me that an artwork called Streamline is supposed to appear in the underpass, comprising "a series of motion-activated LED illuminations." The lights are supposed to mimic the shadows of overhead swimmers, which sounds rather good, but of this promised artwork there is no sign. Has the technology proved to hard to install, or has the money run out, and is the absence of the art the sole reason why this access route remains closed?

Warton Road [YES]
At last, a proper way in. But I still curse the legacy planner whose design for the Warton Road roundabout made pedestrian access to the Olympic Park a miserably low priority. With only one pavement under the railway, and no zebra crossing where the other fades out, the way in from the west has been made unnecessarily tortuous. It's yet another indication of how the Olympic Park's southern interface continues to feel something of an afterthought, far less well knitted than Hackney Wick to the west, Leyton to the north and Stratford City to the east. Or maybe we southerners simply have to be more patient than our counterparts, and wait for Crossrail to skedaddle, and then we'll finally be a proper part of the grand scheme too.

Carpenters Road [YES]
It does work, it does happen - the long-blocked tunnel from the Carpenters Estate was cleared in late 2014, providing proper access for local residents. It's just that those residents are now relatively few in number as Newham seeks to flush them out, their aim to replace what they describe as substandard housing by something more modern, and more dense. Over the last decade one of London's poorest council estates has found itself at the eye of a development hurricane, and it can't be long before the remainder of the community is dispersed to make way for new. We'd do well to remember that access to the Olympic Park isn't always a blessing... unless that is you're hoping to move in rather than be moved out.

My Olympic Park 2016 gallery
There are 50 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's nine years since fences went up around the Olympic Park to allow the transformation of the Lower Lea Valley to begin, and four years today since it first opened up to spectators. It's not quite four years since the Games ended and the whole lot was sealed off again, but since then the vast majority has been opened up again, knitting an upgraded landscape into the surrounding communities. But even in 2016 not everything's yet been returned to the public - this was always going to be a long term project - and in some places work has yet to begin. So here are ten bits of QEOP that still aren't ready, as part of the Olympic Games' unfinished legacy.

(and another 50 photos, sorry, you must be sick of flicking through photos by now)

Carpenters Lock
Built in 1931, and the linchpin of the Bow Back Rivers canal network, Carpenters Road Lock boasted the only ‘double radial lock gates’ in the country. It had also gone to rack and ruin before the Games came along, its twin concrete supports sealed off as befits a dangerous structure. Suddenly it found itself at the very centre of the Olympic site, so plans were cleverly designed to route the main pedestrian walkways over the top, and to leave restoration for another day. This restoration seemed in doubt post-Games, leaving a rather forlorn pair of low level gates and a break in the riverside footpath where it would have been convenient to cross. Now at last £1.75m in funding has been found, with a significant chunk from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and work is underway to add new radial lock gates and restore the structure of the lock. It means you can't walk under the mirrored bridge for a couple of months, but that'll be sorted by the end of the summer, and next year boats will be able to navigate through bringing the entire QEOP waterway system to life. You'll see the difference!

Stadium Island
After four years they still haven't allowed untrammelled public access to the area immediately around the stadium, although West Ham's first home match is only one week away so the permanent removal of the temporary barriers must surely be close. We'll be able to see the Olympic bell in its new home, and the World Cup 66 statue that used to grace the foot of Green Street, and a variety of other Hammers-related plaques and features to try to make this place feel special. Empty waterside paths await first footfall, with freshly-planted banks to explore, as the last frozen space in the heart of the park finally opens up.

Stratford Waterfront
A long wedge of waterside between Westfield and the River Lea, immediately to the north of the Aquatic Centre, remains sealed off and waiting redevelopment. Over the last couple of years it's played host to Secret Cinema and hosted various fairgrounds, including an urban 'beach' that's just opened for the summer. But long term the area is pencilled in as the park's Cultural and Education District - Boris's Olympicopolis - where a series of exciting institutions will make their home. The V&A are coming to Stratford with a 18,000m² building, including space for the Smithsonian Museum in their first overseas foray out of Washington. Sadler's Wells will be opening a 550-seat theatre, bringing opera (and whatever else) to central E20. Over six thousand students at UAL's London College of Fashion will be getting a brand new campus, too conveniently close to a shopping mall that'll eke their loans away. To fund the development there'll also be two huge residential towers, each with 47 storeys if the artist's impression in yesterday's press release is to be believed, and each containing no affordable housing whatsoever. A public consultation on the proposals begins this Saturday, with a staffed exhibition taking place in the upper entrance to the Aquatics Centre at intermittent times over the subsequent fortnight. If you'd like to tell them how nice the cultural stuff will be, or what you think of a pair of monolithic apartment blocks disfiguring the heart of the Olympic Park, go tell them before there's no turning back.

East Village shops
The Athletes Village was one of the first bits of Olympic legacy to be opened up, having been made habitable in time for the Games and thus relatively easy to sell off. Its flats are occupied and buzzy, bringing a quick return for investors. But at ground floor level round Victory Square and down Glade Walk, where commercial spaces have been built instead of housing, it's still rather dead. Propping up flats on top of retail is very much the done thing these days, but the signs reading "35 new shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars" that cover several vacant windows still sound wildly optimistic, especially within a brief walk of Westfield.

Waterglades (southern exit)
If you visited the Olympic Park during the Games, and wandered away from the main drag, you'll remember the semi-telephone boxes, sliced in half and plonked in the ground for 'art'. Two of those halves are still there, at the less accessible end of the Waterglades by the East Village. But the other artwork lies out of reach beyond a metal barrier, which in 2012 anyone could pass but in 2016 nobody. The path crosses a footbridge and the emerging Channel Tunnel Rail Link, before zigzagging up a steep slope to the central link road, where there's no pavement and a line of barriers continues to block access. But in good news it appears a fresh underpass has been drilled underneath, to a newly restored wetland bowl also previously inaccessible, and a broad fenced path now rises up to Westfield Avenue. It's not yet open, but will (soon?) provide capacious passage into a once-quiet corner of the park.

Northwall Road
Another entirely lost piece of infrastructure is this mighty highway running alongside the A12 to the north of the Velodrome. It's had its moments as part of the service Loop Road during the Olympics, and helped to feed traffic through to Westfield before that. But it's currently barriered off at both ends and inaccessible to vehicles, possibly to stop it becoming a rat run, although it does look wide enough to cope. In the meantime it is an excellent place to practise riding a bike, and rather cheaper for cycling up and down than the official VeloPark road race circuit alongside.

Waterden Road
The main road north from Westfield passes the Copper Box and then bends right, running along the edge of a long expanse of grass. It's not been specially landscaped other than a few avenues of trees, unlike the parkland closer to the river which is immaculately contoured and lovingly tended. And that's because the lawns alongside Waterden Road are pencilled in for housing, the entire roadside strip, introducing fortress blocks containing over 800 homes. It was always the plan to build housing round the park in phases, and anywhere you see a flat level area with nothing much going on, that's probably its destiny soon. East Wick, Clarnico Quay and Sweetwater will all be residential districts arising down the western edge of the park, it's just that as yet there's almost nothing to see.

Here East
In the northwest corner of the park, 2012's International Media Centre has been transformed into a 'Technology Innovation centre' called Here East. Its best known tenant is probably BT Sport, for as long as a telephone company has cash to throw at football, but other enterprises can be found within and they're keen to attract more. Walking round this giant hangar sometimes has a tumbleweed feel, though less so when students from Loughborough University are around, and presumably less again when University College London moves in a couple of faculties in the autumn. Meanwhile twelve retail units have been made available facing the canal, only a minority of which yet have tenants, mostly serving food and drink. One of these is The Breakfast Club, whose Soho venue has queues stretching out of the door, whereas here you'll get a seat... and don't worry, enough of a buzz.

Canal Park
The Canal Park was supposed to be open a couple of years ago, a thin strip of green running down the banks of the canalised River Lea. It sort-of was, though with large areas fenced off to give the grass a chance to bed down and the vegetation the opportunity to settle. It's getting there, with some of the banks opposite Hackney Wick now rather attractive, although less great as yet further north, and the patch in front of Here East still a little bland. The Canal Park's purpose in later life is to act as a green buffer between development and river, an attractive resource for residents, and in turn to boost the value of their properties. It'll also border two primary schools, one of which is almost ready - a three-form entry academy from the Mossbourne stable, which opens in September.

(hang on, that's only nine unfinished things, and I think there are rather more than that, so best continue tomorrow...)

 Wednesday, July 27, 2016

London's Olympic Games began four years ago today. It's still officially our turn, the 30th Olympiad doesn't end until Friday next week when Rio takes the baton. And it all kicked off with that Opening Ceremony, that feelgood factor, and that cauldron. The ceremony's always there to be watched on that DVD you probably bought, even if the feelgood factor's taken something of a bashing of late. And the cauldron's still around too, if you know where to look, and ever need a concentrated emotional boost.

The Museum of London has been playing host to a special 'cauldron' gallery for the last two years - precisely two years, it turns out. The museum used to have a courtyard at its heart, underused other than as a lightwell, but it's been requisitioned for this special exhibition through construction of a lofty black chamber. It needs to be tall to fit the stems in - not all 204 of them, but a fair number, one cluster of 55 rising high in one corner and another cluster of 42 splayed out in the corner opposite. Saves throwing them away, or hiding them in a storeroom somewhere.

The gallery's quite dark, all the better to evoke the cauldron's pre-midnight slot, and to aid the illusion that the reflected quarter-circle goes all the way round. But not too dark. There's plenty of background information to read, and photos to look at, plus a couple of quite distracting videos that play out on large screens overhead.

Although these are the actual metal stems, they're not the actual copper petals perched atop. Those have all been returned to the individual countries they represent, and who'd brought them into the stadium at the start of the athletes' parade. A rather delightful display shows representatives from several countries posing beside their allotted piece, in Thailand's case quite stuffily, but in the UAE with grins and a thumbs up. But the designers made three sets, one for the Olympics, one (slightly less numerous) for the Paralympics, and another purely for testing purposes. It's these test petals that appear in the exhibition, along with several shelves of the individually carved wooden blocks which guided their construction.

We learn that each Olympic petal had a special alphanumeric code, from A01 in the centre to J31 round the edge, with countries allocated in parade order. We learn that construction took 25,000 man hours, and that the top secret project was codenamed 'Betty' (after the executive producer's dog). We don't learn that a New York design studio claimed to have come up with the idea first, a claim eventually settled out of court, because this is more of a celebration of Thomas Heatherwick's design.

The gallery's called Designing A Moment, reflecting the organising team's desire that the moment of the cauldron's formation should be utterly memorable, rather than the subsequent burn. The designer's brief also said "no moving parts", a restriction later entirely disregarded. It's intriguing to look at the mechanics at the base of each stem and imagine the myriad of ways in which they could have gone wrong, causing global embarrassment, indeed the final technical rehearsal apparently misfired. A huge creative gamble, which thankfully paid off in spades.

One of the two looping videos features athletes and the design team talking about the cauldron, but it's the other which arrests everyone in the room when it begins. This film kicks off with the arrival of the torch at the stadium four years ago, and shows the lighting of the flame and subsequent lift, rising to a crescendo as the petals merge. There follow cauldron sequences from the other Opening and Closing Ceremonies too, but it's that first one which still packs a punch, thanks in no small part to the evocative backing of Caliban's Dream.

A word of warning if you've not been to the Museum of London lately - they now have a security check at the entrance requiring every bag to be searched, all metal objects to be withdrawn and every visitor to be patted down with an electronic wand. A sign outside confirms that each guard is wearing a body camera and that every word of conversation is being recorded, which I guess is a reflection of the potential strategic significance of a museum with the word 'London' in its title. I found the whole thing inordinately depressing rather than reassuring, a sad indication that the spirit of 2016 is very different to that of 2012. But if your optimism needs a boost, and you can bear the initial intrusion, why not pop down and relive a bit of cauldron magic?

Re-watch the Opening Ceremony
Isles of Wonder (3:22)
The forging of the rings (5:33)
The Queen dropping in (6:26)
The start of the NHS section (2:34)
Lighting the London 2012 cauldron (9:29)
The entire four hours (3:59:49)

 Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The least used station in... Essex
(Annual passenger usage: 13386)

Having already visited the least used stations in Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Greater London, I'm continuing to downscale by visiting Essex. This eastern county has a myriad of branch lines, and it's hard to second guess on which of these the lowest passenger total might be found. The runt of the litter turns out to be on the Braintree line, a six mile single track spur diverging from the mainline at Witham. The station in question boasts an hourly train to Central London six days a week, and a connecting service on the other, yet still only attracts an average of 40 passengers a day. Having been, I can see the issues, but I was still pleasantly surprised to find a couple of places well worth visiting nearby.

It had to happen eventually, and it happened at White Notley - I was the only passenger to alight, and nobody else got on. That's a pretty good definition of a quiet station, and this one's definitely quieter than most. There's just one platform and it's really long, sufficient to fit a 12-car commuter service destination Liverpool Street. Walking from one end to the other takes three minutes, round a gentle bend to the edge of a waving wheatfield. Immediately beyond are a haybarn and a level crossing solely for farm use, a yellow telephone and several exhortations to remember to close the gates. All four benches (and the only CCTV cameras) are up the other end, closest to the level crossing and station exit, where one suspects passengers in the know always alight.

Loudspeakers kick in twice an hour to warn of the next train at platform 1, and occasionally warn that unattended baggage may be destroyed, although it's not clear by who. No ticket machine has been deemed economically viable, so occasional ramblers should collect a Permit to Travel instead. If it's raining the small shelter by the bike rack could probably squeeze in the day's entire passenger complement, although they might not all stay dry. And outside the two times an hour a train turns up it's really very quiet, bar the rumble of traffic down Station Road, which is little more than your average country lane. Importantly there's nowhere to park, indeed you'd likely block the road if you tried, which must be one reason why passenger numbers are so low. [6 station photos]

About a quarter of a mile down the lane, which I wouldn't enjoy walking along after dark, lies the village of White Notley. This is a proper Essex village, by which I mean the centre's old and pretty, while a couple of more modern roads contain most of the housing stock. I looked in vain for a shop, the only commercial premises seemingly a funeral director's, while the sole pub was under scaffolding and sheeting awaiting gastro-rebirth. The River Brain flows past the backs of some of the prettier cottages, crossed by a ford and a more recent-looking single track bridge. Meanwhile the village sign celebrates White Notley's Saxon origins, with St Etheldreda's on Church Hill dating back just over a thousand years, and originally built on the site of a Roman temple. But if I've made all this sound attractive, and even if the five hundred who live here might agree, you'd be better off not bothering to take a special look.

Instead you should have turned left on leaving the station and headed up Station Road, again taking care to dodge the traffic haring inbetween the hedges. And then right along the verge of the main Witham to Braintree road, which I suspect is easier after it's been cut, so many thanks to the local council. And after just over a mile of slightly awkward walking you reach the proper local tourist site, which is Cressing Temple Barns.

What we have here are two of the finest 13th century barns in the country, built originally for the Knights Templar, hence the name. They're both huge, as you'd expect from a storage facility aimed at funding a crusade, and remarkably intact triumphs of timberwork as proven when you step inside. Outside there's a Tudor Walled Garden, looking lovely at the moment, as well as a wellhouse and a slew of farm buildings. Several of these contain examples of metal- and wood-working tools, while the Elizabethan granary - the oldest in the county - has an evocatively undulating wooden floor. And kept at a respectable distance is the Visitor Centre and Tiptree Tea Room, which is of course where the majority of the visitors were holed up. In good news entrance to the entire complex is free, unless there's an event on (like this weekend's Healthy Living Show), but the website's good at listing those so you can plan your visit to either hit or miss.

"Would you like to hear The Tale?" asked the old lady sat reading outside the Granary. A passing family turned her down, but I took Helen up on her offer and was treated to a 45 minute tour of the site with comprehensive background detail. Helen's husband was one of the guiding lights who helped oversee the restoration the Barns when Essex County Council took them over, three weeks before the Great Storm whipped all the tiles off the roof. His great interest was historical carpentry, of which this is a tiptop example, and Helen used her spotlight to point out several of the more interesting joints. Her animated conversation brought the exhibits in the Wheat Barn to life, and there was obvious pride as the widow described the discoveries her husband had made. "Do tell everybody else how interesting this place is," was her parting shot, and it is, so I am. [5 barn photos]

Continue for another half mile along Temple Lane to reach a fascinating 20th century site, Essex's very own Garden Village. Silver End was just a hamlet in 1925 when windowframe magnate Francis Henry Crittall decided to site his next factory here and house the workers alongside. He hoped they'd be able to live and socialise without ever having to leave the village, so built the largest village hall in the country (including a 400 seater cinema), and added a three-storey department store alongside (alas since burnt down and replaced by a very mediocre parade). Crittall and family built and moved into The Manors (now an old people's home), and ensured the provision of churches and a school. There's also a pleasant central park with ornate gates and a memorial garden, and a number of heritage boards depicting scenes from the history of the village.

But what sets Silver End aside is its collection of Modernist houses, many of them flat-topped beauties, with different designs repeated in sequence along the development's core road network. Broadway and Francis Way have some of the better cuboidal stock, generally painted in the same light cream colour as the houses in White Notley. Front gardens are of a good size allowing space for well-tended vegetation and/or parking, plus some smartly-clipped hedges out front. Silver Street's houses are more distinctive, down one end at least, with cute triangular protrusions above each porch. On Runnacles Street the porches have an almost Japanese flair, centrally placed on some relatively large detached frontages. Other designs are more ordinary, yet still airy and spacious, and the whole place feels at least a decade ahead of its time.

I doubt that the 4000 current residents of Silver End see their village as a tourist attraction, although many are clearly very proud, as the parish council website attests. I hoped I'd get away with walking the various streets and being intermittently impressed enough to whip out a camera, and through judicious timing survived without being eyed too strangely. I enjoyed looking out for original Crittall windows, unreplaced by modern frames, and was slightly sad to spot the only undemolished industrial building in a fenced-off central zone. And yes, I know it's only a couple of days since I invited you to look at twenty photos of Croydon, but I thought you might appreciate another twenty of Silver End, if only because it's architecturally as striking in a rather different way. And potentially reachable by train. [slideshow]

 Monday, July 25, 2016

I have a regular commenter, sometimes called Bert, who really hates it when I write about local bus stops. So 'Bert', today's post is especially for you.
Bert said: Buses. East London. Forever. Buses. East London. Forever. Buses. East London. Forever.
This time last year there were two Bus Stop Ms in Bow, one on Tredegar Road and one by the Bow Flyover. This caused no problems. Then, as you'll remember, Old Bus Stop E and Old Bus Stop M closed, and Old Bus Stop G was renamed Bus Stop M. This caused all sorts of problems, including one I haven't mentioned before, which is that there were now two Bus Stop Ms on the Bow Church bus spider map.

TfL try to avoid having bus stops with the same letter on the same spider map as this confuses the punters, but it seems nobody had thought about this when renaming Bus Stop G as Bus Stop M. So they had to add a special extra note in the key on the map to explain which Bus Stop M was which. The end result was neither elegant nor ideal.

A solution has now been found, which is to rename the Bus Stop M in Tredegar Road as Bus Stop E. The 'E' designation has been spare since Old Bus Stop E closed last October, which means there's no longer a lettered clash on the spider map and the extra explanation in the key is no longer required. Bus 339 no longer stops at Bus Stop M on Tredegar Road, it stops at Bus Stop E, and E is the letter you'll see used online and in digital data, for example in Citymapper. The only problem is that nobody's bothered to change the letter perched on the bus stop itself.

In Tredegar Road, New Bus Stop E still has an M on it. It seems the digital team have made the decision to change M to E, and the spider map designers have followed suit, but nobody's yet been round and effected the change in real life. Sounds depressingly familiar. And all because this time last year somebody somewhere decided to rename Old Bus Stop G as New Bus Stop M, without especially thinking through the consequences, an ill-judged choice whose shortcomings continue to ripple on.
There is another Bus Stop M nearby, at Warton Road on Stratford High Street. This appears on a separate spider map, so the reuse of a letter isn't technically a problem. But it does have the unintended consequence that eastbound buses on route 25 stop at Bus Stop M at Bow Church, and next stop at Bus Stop M at Warton Road.

This 'M and M' situation arises only because TfL have been diverting route 25 over the Bow Flyover since March last year. Cycle Superhighway roadworks were significantly slowing the service elsewhere, so passengers living by the flyover were sacrificed as the 25 missed out their stop and sped by. TfL had hoped to make this diversion permanent, but relented in a public consultation last year and promised to return the route to normal once roadworks were complete.

Roadworks are now complete. The last mopping up at the Bow Roundabout finished last week, with the new pedestrian signals now fully operational. But the 25 still crosses the flyover, as before, leaving those who live nearby to rely on less useful less frequent buses. In good news there are suddenly signs of a change, with the removal of the red sticky-tape cross on the Marshgate Lane and Bow Flyover bus stops, and the reappearance of the 25's timetable on the bus stop pole. But anyone tricked by these signs into waiting for the 25 will find it still doesn't stop, it sails high over the roundabout, until such time as the bus drivers are told to return to ground level. Soon would be nice.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Bow Church to Bus Stop M, a new saga is starting to play out. There have long been three adjacent bus stops on the westbound, namely J, K and L, each used by a different set of routes. Bus Stop J is for routes turning off Bow Road immediately ahead, that's the 108, 276 and 488. Bus Stop K is for routes continuing west, that's the more popular 25, 205, 425 and D8. And Bus Stop L is for terminating buses on Route 8, one stop before they head into Bow Bus Garage, hence for alighting only. Passengers wait at one stop or the other depending on which service they require, helping to separate the boarding rush.

All three bus stops were upgraded early this year as part of the CS2 Cycle Superhighway works, with the addition of a bus stop bypass and two new bus shelters. But it seems Bus Stop K is now to be closed, and all through services are to use Bus Stop J instead. With seven different routes passing through there's often been an awkward shuffle as drivers find there isn't room to stop in the designated place, occasionally blocking traffic as they try to angle in. Removing Bus Stop K will help relieve the pressure, because there'll now be space for four buses to park up, rather than two sets of two. Or at least that's the theory.

Officially Bus Stop K was killed off on Saturday. That's the date announced on the TfL Digital blog, and also the date that the digital feed was switched. If you check on your app, all westbound services now stop at Bus Stop J while Bus Stop K shows tumbleweed. The change has also been made on the Bow Church spider map, where Bus Stops J and L remain but Bus Stop K has vanished. But unfortunately nobody's yet made the change in real life, or at least they hadn't last night, with the tiles at Bus Stop J still showing only three routes, and the tiles at Bus Stop K showing the others. It seems nobody's told the drivers either, as buses on routes 25, 205, 425 and D8 continue to pull in at Bus Stop K, or at least as close as they can get. That's good, because that's still where the passengers are waiting, indeed nobody standing at the bus stop will yet have noticed any difference.

Presumably at some point Bus Stop K will be culled and everyone will get used to waiting at Bus Stop J for whatever turns up, just as they do with Bus Stop M on the other side of the road. It's not yet clear whether the six-month-old bus shelter at Bus Stop K will be removed, or shifted a few metres up the road, or simply left in not quite the right place. But for now there's yet another disconnect between the underlying digital system and the operation on the ground, a theme that's becoming all too common around here.
Sharon said: Buses. East London. Bow. Lefty nonsense. Forever.
And finally, a couple of weeks ago I showed you Bus Stop A at Bow Church Station and pointed out that its tiles were in the wrong order. Good news! Having been wrong for months, somebody's been along and given them a shuffle, and now the D8 appears in the correct place in the sequence rather than at the end. There's customer service for you.

Unfortunately the same error persists at Bus Stop B across the road, which still has the D8 tile in the wrong place. Sorry, I forgot to mention this last time, and it seems nobody thought to check.

Still, that's only Bus Stop E, Bus Stop W, Bus Stop P, Bus Stop J, Bus Stop K and Bus Stop B which are currently mismatched and/or incorrect. And maybe soon they'll all be fixed, and poor old Bert won't have to endure these endless bus posts any more.
Bert said: I think every post on this blog should be about BUSES and EAST LONDON and BUSES and EAST LONDON and MORE BUSES and more EAST LONDON, and then some BUSES and then maybe an update on EAST LONDON and maybe something about BOW and maybe BUSES IN BOW and BUSES IN BOW THAT GO TO EAST LONDON. ...and this should continue FOREVER and FOREVER and FOREVER, FOREVER and FOREVER and FOREVER, FOREVER and FOREVER and FOREVER. BUSES. EAST LONDON. BOW. FOREVER.
Bus Stop W update: The red cross has been reapplied and the 25's timetable covered back over, so presumably the bus isn't coming down from the flyover any time soon.
Bus Stop E update: Within a week, the letter on top of Old Bus Stop M in Tredegar Road has been replaced by an E, like it now should be.

 Sunday, July 24, 2016

Croydon's an atypical town, with ambitions to be a city, and a slew of buildings to prove it.

Opening paragraph about how the council championed major redevelopment in the 1960s, including several lofty concrete office blocks.

How the National Trust surprised us all by organising architectural tours of Croydon over the last week, under the title Edge City.

Description of the start of the tour, and the view from the 11th floor of AMP House overlooking East Croydon station.

Observations from the walking part of the tour, a 40 minute whistlestop through part of mini-Manhattan.

Praise for the behind-the-scenes tour of the Fairfield Halls, which has just closed for a two-year re-fit.

Nostalgic look-back to that time Open House did visits to Croydon Council's 19th floor planning eyrie, now demolished.

Regret that the new buildings going up don't look as impressive, but that's what people have always said about Croydon.

Suggestion that you read more background detail here, here, here and here, or watch this.

Conclusion that Croydon's actually incredibly interesting, architecturally, but only if you like this kind of thing.

Confession that uploading 40 photographs of Croydon is a lot easier than writing about them.

My Croydon gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Saturday, July 23, 2016

Night Tube timetables (EXCLUSIVE)

Only four weekends remain before the Night Tube begins, on two lines at least.

If you're intending to stay out late and ride the Victoria or Central lines, here's my exclusive look at the overnight service to be provided.

I say exclusive, but all I've done is dig around inside the Journey Planner which contains data up to one month hence, and anyone could have done that. I've had to search dozens of journeys at dozens of times to try to work out what's going on underneath, but I think I've worked out the timetables the trains will operate.

Basically, whatever the last train is at the moment, that stays, and then the Night Tube kicks in immediately afterwards. Trains will run every ten minutes through the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning, and then the normal daytime service picks up immediately after that. Approximately speaking.

Here's how the Night Tube will be filling the gap on a Saturday morning, beginning on Saturday 20th August.

Night Tube timetable - Victoria line (southbound)

Walthamstow C  002000300040005001000110and
Seven Sisters0026003600460056010601160506
King's Cross0035004500550105011501250515
Oxford Circus0039004900590109011901290519

Don't worry, the trains will be stopping at every station, I've simply shown a selection of stations to keep this manageable. But expect trains every ten minutes along the entire line... simple!

Night Tube timetable - Victoria line (northbound)

Oxford Circus0045005101000109011901290529
King's Cross0050005601050114012401340534
Seven Sisters0059010601140123013301430543
Walthamstow C  0104011201190128013801480548

Northbound trains take a while to slip into a pattern, running slightly more frequently as the Night Tube service kicks in. But then it's every ten minutes all the way through to half past five, just like on the southbound.

Night Tube timetable - Central line (eastbound)

Ealing Broadway  0015 0035 0055 and
White City00250035004500550105011505150525
Oxford Circus00390049005901090119012905290539
Mile End00550105011501250135014505450555
Loughton   0125 0145 02050605 

The Central line is a bit more complicated. Trains will run alternately from Ealing Broadway to Hainault, and from White City to Loughton, every twenty minutes. Over the central section from White City to Leytonstone there'll be a train every ten minutes, the same frequency as on the Victoria line. There'll be no extra Night Tube services on the West Ruislip branch, nor beyond Loughton, nor between Woodford and Hainault.

Night Tube timetable - Central line (westbound)

Loughton0003 0023 0043 and
Mile End00250035004500550105011505150525
Oxford Circus00400050010001100120013005300540
White City00540104011401240134014405440554
Ealing Broadway  0105 0125 0145 05550605

Again there are two overlapping twenty minute services, with a ten minute frequency between White City and Leytonstone. But notice this time that the endpoints are different - it's Loughton that links with Ealing Broadway, and Hainault that links with White City. Perhaps this is to give the drivers a bit of variety, or to shuffle the trains around over the course of the night.

Don't expect to see these timetables in a leaflet or on a wall in your local station. TfL prefer to hide their timetables these days, preferring that passengers use the Journey Planner to search current operating conditions, or simply turn up and wait. But Night Tube timetables do still exist, and understanding their structure might help you to better interpret the new 'ten minute' service when it begins.

In the meantime there's already a launch-friendly Night Tube map, showing just the relevant sections of the Victoria and Central lines, with three other lines due to join them later in the year. So bring on the night!

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