diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 31, 2017

3 Kensington/Chelsea
Only nine of the boroughs proposed in 1960 made it through to the creation of Greater London in 1965. This is one of them, the familiar combination of Kensington and Chelsea. Not only is it London's smallest borough, it's also one of the most densely-populated and one of the richest... but not uniformly well-off. To demonstrate this I took a walk along one of the most famous streets in London, that's Portobello Road, on a day when the market wasn't up and running.

Portobello Road was originally Porto Bello Lane, a meandering track running north from Notting Hill to Kensal Green. Along the way lay hayfields and orchards, and a single farmstead called Porto Bello Farm (which had been named after a naval battle off Panama). In the mid 18th century residential developments encroached, and some of the most expensive real estate in London now spreads to either side. But those pastoral origins help to explain why Portobello Road still wiggles through a grid of elegant avenues and crescents, and how its character survives.

At its southern end, Portobello Road leads off from the more important Pembridge Road, at roughly the same point where the gift shops turn into villas. Crowds of tourists stream up from the tube even on non-market days, because this is the actual Notting Hill street in the actual film Notting Hill, and an endearingly classy destination in its own right. Portobello Road kicks off with a pub, a gallery, a sharp bend, and shops specialising in t-shirts, shawls and hats. But just when you imagine it's going to be boutiques all the way, no, that's when the housing kicks in. On the left hand side are dull brick blocks with garages underneath, but on the right are gorgeous terraces painted in pastel colours with tiny gardens out front. George Orwell used to live in one of them, or rather he lodged here briefly, while one of the current residents is flush enough to own a Polo with the registration AWE50M.

Beyond Chepstow Villas the retail offering kicks in properly, with taller pastel terraces given over at ground level to a succession of antiques shops and other boutiques. Despite the locality they never seem overly prissy, perhaps knowing their audience well, as if you genuinely might find a bargain lurking within. One specialises in cricketing ephemera, another porcelain, another cashmere, another maps, another those metal advertising signs that were commonplace before the war. On non-market days a few have stalls out front displaying boxes of shiny wares, carefully watched over from within, but many shops remain shut until the weekend peak brings the crowds. And yet residential normality intrudes even here - the bog standard council block up Longlands Court could easily lie somewhere off Petticoat Lane.

And so it continues. Antique shops and arcades mix with souvenir bazaars, tables draped with scarves and artisan bakeries. Broadstairs' finest gelato is on sale, even in January, and a well-wrapped lady in a knitted beret will flip you a crêpe with squirty lemon juice, if you ask. One gift shop is named to pretend it's the location of Hugh Grant's book store, while another really is - that's at number 142 if you're keen to take a photo. Sadly it's now occupied by a peddler of the lowest form of tourist tat, from £1 fridge magnets to poo emoji cushions, so you'll get no joy from lingering inside. Close by is a cluster of red phone boxes where a pouting model can be seen posing for professional photos, and unintentionally for smartphone snaps from passers-by who assume she must be famous.

The street is zoned for market purposes, and at Colville Terrace we move from Flea Market And New Goods to Vintage And Fashion. There's also an unexpected intrusion by major high street names, including a Sainsbury's Local, a Tesco Metro and (heaven forfend) a Poundland. A few fruit and veg stalls have set up in front of the gorgeously-plush Electric Cinema, while the tangerine leggings hanging from a pole labelled '£2' are most definitely aimed at local residents. A chain of CCTV cameras on robust poles is a nod to the August Bank Holiday weekend when traders shutter their front windows, and one elegant mews lies safely and smugly behind Carnival-resistant gates.

Past what must be the street's third unofficial Banksy store, an underwhelming piazza breaks out to one side with plenty of space for pigeons, tapas and a laundrette. Portobello Road then ducks beneath the Hammersmith & City line, fortunately stationless, then enters the gloom beneath the concrete span of the Westway. The development underneath and alongside has been branded Portobello Green, when ironically there isn't a scrap of grass in sight, although the tented expanse does provide plenty of room to cram in hundreds of bargain hunters every Sunday. And still the run of sourdough, galleries and falafel continues, as if the quirky terraces may never stop.

Suddenly, at Oxford Gardens, they stop. For the next 100 yards Portobello Road is reduced to being the backside of a row of modern flats, with one long brick wall along both sides. This must be the point where most tourists who've schlepped this far turn round and go back, except on Saturdays when this backwater stretch is filled with lowbrow stalls and noodle vans, egging everyone further still. The resilient are rewarded by the delights of Golborne Road, either the yet-more shops along its length or the silhouette of the Trellick Tower rising majestically at the far end. This is as far as the market extends, but my walk has a few minutes further to go before this street winds down.

The last shop on Portobello Road is AK Foods, a newsagent slash grocery, with a handful of vegetables and a bubble gum machine out front. Opposite is an unanticipated visual jolt, the intrusion of Portobello Square, the redevelopment of a 1970s council estate into a thousand more desirable homes. They're not cheap, they're not especially characterful, and they're not yet finished, but they're selling nicely. Phase 3 will see the council blocks at the tip of Portobello Road wiped away, but for now this world famous street fades out amid lowrise council stock with glass-brick staircases, and residents wandering home with a few packets of food rather than a treasure trove of bric-a-brac.

 Monday, January 30, 2017

Britain's Binary Roads

A1: London - Edinburgh (the Great North Road) [396 miles]

A10: London - King's Lynn (the Great Cambridge Road) [100 miles]
A11: Aldgate - Bow (I live on it!) and M11 Junction 9A - Norwich [formerly 111 miles]

A100: Tower Hill - Bricklayers Arms (across Tower Bridge!) [1.2 miles]
A101: Limehouse - Rotherhithe (the Rotherhithe Tunnel!) [1.3 miles]
A110: Woodford Wells - Barnet (via Chingford and Enfield) [11 miles]
A111: Palmers Green - Potters Bar (via Southgate and Cockfosters) [7 miles]

A1000: East Finchley - Welwyn Garden City (former route of the A1) [21 miles]
A1001: Hatfield Bypass [4 miles]
A1010: Tottenham - Waltham Cross (formerly the A10) [7 miles]
A1011: West Ham - Royal Docks (shadowing the DLR to the Dangleway) [2 miles]
A1100: (no longer exists) (west of Ipswich) (I used to live on it!) [6 miles]
A1101: Long Sutton - Bury St Edmunds (across the Fens, mostly below sea level) [53 miles]
A1110: Bowes Road, Arnos Grove [0.6 miles]
A1111: Alford - Sutton-on-Sea (coastal Lincolnshire) [2 miles]

B100: Barbican - Broadgate (via the Beech Street Tunnel and Finsbury Square) [0.6 miles]
B101: Old Street - Hoxton (one-way, northbound only) [0.4 miles]
B110: (no longer exists) (Holloway)
B111: Northwold Road, Stoke Newington [0.6 miles]

B1000: Welwyn Garden City - Hertford (Herts) [4 miles]
B1001: Watton Road, Ware (Herts) [0.7 miles]
B1010: Woodham Mortimer - Burnham-on-Crouch (Essex) [13 miles]
B1011: (no longer exists) (Basildon)
B1100: Welney - Christchurch (Cambs/Norfolk Fens) [2 miles]
B1101: March - Wisbech (Cambs) [11 miles]
B1110: East Dereham - Holt (Norfolk) [16 miles]
B1111: Stanton - Great Hockham (via Garboldisham) (Suffolk/Norfolk) [16 miles]

M1: Staples Corner (London) - Hook Moor (Leeds) [200 miles]
M10: (no longer exists) (Park Street - Hemel Hempstead) [2.7 miles]
M11: Woodford (Essex) - Girton (Cambs) [51 miles]

 Sunday, January 29, 2017

Have you been to Hackney Walk? Hackney Walk is London's first luxury designer fashion outlet, a prestigious "off price opportunity" recently installed in Hackney's Morning Lane. Don't look so surprised. The Burberry Factory Shop has been located round the corner in Chatham Place for well over a decade, should cut price plaid jackets and clutch bags be your thing, so opening Hackney Walk here last September seemed an obvious extension.

Just 8 minutes on foot from the Overground, or an Uber safari from elsewhere, Hackney Walk is essentially a run of rabbit holes underneath a railway viaduct, dressed up and made shiny with a plate glass facade. Previously these arches would have housed mechanics fixing exhausts and repairing engines, but now they contain luxury branded leftovers, and vehicles are tinkered with elsewhere.

Brands firmly ensconced in the E9 line up include Columbo, Folli Follie and Matchesfashion.com, plus everyone's favourite clompy boot producer Ugg. Racks of dresses and faceless mannequins stare out towards the salted steps, the bright lights within revealing assistants poised to offer excellent customer service should any customers walk in.

I did spot clientele picking over various boxes of shoes, in one store at least, which confirmed that much exciting trading is going on. At another unit's door a groomed gentleman in a smart suit eyed me carefully as I passed, perhaps poised to welcome me should I step inside, or perhaps relieved that someone with insufficient fashion sense stayed well outside. Chinese visitors are more welcome and more extravagant, hence most shops employ someone who speaks Mandarin for when the crowds turn up.

Two new buildings have been erected to complement the viaduct arcade, jammed in like glitzy bookends beside the pavement. The larger of the two has been allocated to Nike, whose giant red swoosh is visible from the council houses down the street, and whose goods are popular with trainer wearers across the borough. The other unit is still empty and To Let, as are the three arches at the end of the row, and might be of interest to any world class brand seeking representation in the East London Fashion Cluster.

And that's not all. Across the road a number of existing buildings have been appropriated for on-trend usage, a practice which involves painting the exterior a classy shade of black. One of these is Aquascutum, for heaven's sake, and another is Pringle of Scotland, which aren't names I ever expected to see a few yards down the road from Hackney's big Tesco.

The prime corner slot has gone to Anya Hindmarch, and I think I can confidently say that if you don't know who or what she is, then Hackney Walk probably isn't for you. The envelope of the overall site also includes a small teashop called Brew For Two, because shopping for designer handbags is thirsty work, and because the new outlet needs to claim it includes a refreshment opportunity.

Publicity for the site confirms it has ambitions to extend to approximately the same size as Bicester Village, and to lure shoppers who might otherwise have travelled there to Hackney instead. It's no competition at present, the Oxfordshire outlet easily trouncing this fledgling inner city upstart. But if conceptual lifestyle aspiration is your thing, and a rummage through Burberry's castoffs appeals, add Hackney Walk to your retail destination portfolio.

Disclaimer: This post has been written after a two minute visit to Hackney Walk, during which time I didn't actually enter any of the shops. Still, that's probably two minutes more on-the-spot research than most other websites would have given it.

 Saturday, January 28, 2017

A photo I took on my trip to Battersea has become my most-favourited Flickr photo ever. It's also become my 6th most-viewed photo, in two days flat, which is quite some going. And because I never even included the photo in my post on the blog, I thought I'd rectify that now.

This is the new American Embassy in Nine Elms. The location was announced in 2008 under President Bush, the design was fixed in 2010 under President Obama, and completion is due later this year under President Trump.

In case you were wondering...
The chancery is a transparent, crystalline cubic form atop a colonnade. The crystalline form is simultaneously efficient and evocative. It represents the optimum ratio of maximum volume within minimum perimeter with resulting cost and energy management benefits. Its precise dimensions have been selected to afford the optimum distance for visitors and occupants to daylight and view. As a pure geometry, the cubic form is an ancient signifier of solidity, strength and permanence, all qualities of our democracy.
As for the pretty lattice covering the walls, that's called scrim.
Its surface is given form through the interface between a faceted external solar shading and collection system and the blast resistant glazing. This crystal-like ethylene-tetrafluroethylene scrim has been optimized to shade interiors from east, west and south sun while admitting daylight and framing large open view portals to the outside. Its pattern visually fragments the façade while it intercepts unwanted solar gain. The design of this scrim works vertically, horizontally and diagonally to eliminate directionality from the building’s massing. The scrim also renders the largely transparent façades visable to migratory birds to discourage bird-strikes.
I'm assuming 'visable' is an American word for 'can be seen', or else related to the issue of travel documents, previously unnecessary for avian migrants.

I took my photograph from the service road round the back of Waitrose off Nine Elms Lane. One day this will be the bustling centre of a new residential-cum-diplomatic district, with a green boulevard and cycleway sweeping through. For now it's the outside of a building site, or rather several building sites, as blocks of luxury flats spread along a vast area to the north of the railway. Many are substantially complete, with those around the supermarket already occupied, while others so far exist only as umpteen-storey liftshafts. The street corner is busy with workmen taking a break, workmen parked up in vans and workmen enjoying a fag, all of whom will stare at you if you attempt to take a photo.

I had to find the right spot to stand to ensure two intrusive streetlamps to either side didn't encroach in the frame. I have cropped the original slightly, to remove a pole, another crane and some safety railings. But the tiny cargo dangling from the crane was a coincidence, as was turning up with the angle of the sun just right. Take enough photos and some of them will 'work', but that's a very subjective thing, and it's rare for admirers to pile in.

Flickr has a daily feature called Explore where yesterday's 500 'most interesting' photos appear in a lengthy scrolling gallery. Feature in this list and the world descends, for 24 hours, to take a closer look and leave over-appreciative comments. But these days it barely takes half a dozen 'favourites' for a photo to be sucked into the updraught, whereas previously it took a lot more, and all because Flickr's userbase is on the decline. For example, in 2005 when Flickr was new I managed to get five photos into Explore, but then only three in the entire period from 2006 to 2011. The Olympics permitted me three Explores in 2012, then I got three again in 2013, and six in each of 2014 and 2015. But last year I managed twelve, because the bar for inclusion is somewhat lower than before, and now January 2017 has delivered again.

My American Embassy photo now appears mid-table in what Flickr claims are my Top 50 Most Interesting photographs. I'm pleased to see the Thames Estuary sea forts still at number 1 (and 15 and 22), Blackfriars' impossible yellow lines at number 2 and a Canvey Island gas tank at number 3. There is at least one photograph of Blackpool in the collection, but taken from the top of the tower, and definitely not of the pier. Quite what the Night Tube roundel, a collection of Red Noses and Bagpuss are doing in the list, however, I'm not sure.

Whatever, it's nice to know we still live in a country where taking photographs of the American Embassy is permitted, even encouraged. And if any of you fancy painting my photo in watercolours, particularly if you're famous, perhaps you could ask first.

 Friday, January 27, 2017

Post-Olympic update

How long has it been now? Exactly four and a half years, to the day. And London's Games may be long gone, but new bits of its Olympic Park continue to open up. The latest fresh offering is the island site around the Olympic Stadium, specifically the grassy banks on the riverside, but also the piazza around the eastern side of the arena. Previously this was fenced off with metal barriers unless there was a match on, but now those barriers have disappeared - seemingly permanently - and you can wander all over.

A lot of thought has been given to the landscaping of what was once the back of an industrial estate and decrepit warehouse units. This is partly because the area has to be visually appealing enough to attract wandering visitors, but mostly because it also has to cope with 75000 football supporters swarming all over it on a regular basis. Most of them will never wander down the sloping paths to the waterside with burger and beer in hand, but they might, and the whole thing has to be adaptably robust.

Up top the oval piazza surrounding the stadium is as bleak as any major modern football venue, for example Wembley or the Emirates. On non-match days it's possible to wander round the whole thing for nearly fifteen minutes and not see a soul, except perhaps the West Ham staff chatting by the photocopier in their office, or a jogger taking a shortcut. The busy section, if there is one, is the short walk from the footbridge by the Orbit to the West Ham Stadium Store. Here the devoted pick over replica tops for their youngster, or pretty much anything in claret and blue, some of it currently at 75% off.

What this month's de-barriering does provide permanent access to is the 2012 Olympic bell, cast oversize in Whitechapel and bonged by Bradley Wiggins at the start of that Opening Ceremony. Now anyone can stand beneath this marvellous bronze creation, inscribed with Caliban's words from The Tempest, although most of the time This Isle Is Not Full Of Noises. Of more interest to West Ham's fans, when they're here, will be the World Cup '66 statue of Bobby Moore and friends... when that's here too. It's currently still located near the previous stadium on the Barking Road, but a low octagonal plinth opposite entrance J awaits, as the Hammers transplant their history from E13 to E20.

Follow the footpaths down the banks of the island to reach the river's edge. There's no direct route, I think to prevent football crowds from pouring down and discovering there's no easy exit at waterside level. Instead the paths zigzag down in maximally inefficient sweeps, encouraging a leisurely stroll, with direct steps provided beside only one of the two bridges. The Olympic planners have performed their usual trick of assuming everyone will stick to the paths, whereas the obvious route is to stomp straight down across the grass, which at this time of year isn't yet covered with semi-protective flowers.

If you remember that cute blue-latticed footbridge from the Olympics, or from its previous incarnation as canalside infrastructure, it's now fully accessible. Some railings sealed it off until late 2015 when the towpath down the Old River Lea was reopened, but a row of green hoardings still blocked passage to the south. They're now gone, and the riverside promenade is finally accessible, despite having looked finished for ages. A sign under one of the footbridges warns the public of an algae outbreak two summers ago, long since dissipated, with occasional chunks of ice now the main floating hazard.

"Oi! You're not supposed to be over there!!" It took me a while to work out that the Park Security Bloke on the opposite bank was talking to me because I had my headphones in, but his cross-river yelling was quite insistent. He wondered how on earth I'd trespassed into this previously inaccessible zone, so I told him the barriers up the far end had gone. He told me he didn't think they had, whereas I knew he was wrong, so I reiterated the obvious truth. He told me I wouldn't be able to walk out at the far end because the steps were blocked, so I told him I didn't think they were and walked on. I was right again, and really fancied re-educating him, but alas the ignorant gent had swiftly disappeared. QEOP HQ needs to sort its L&D asap.

Come the spring these banks and benches might be worthy of a visit, gazing out towards the climbing wall and the joyful shrieks of kids in the playground beyond. You'll be able to step down via the newly-restored Carpenter's Lock, or take the back stairs outside the entrance to the West Ham Stadium Store. For now, however, it's a bit bleak, and a bit out of the way, so unlikely to become a popular corner of the Park. Still, it's nice to finally reach the water's edge, now the spiritual centre of the Olympic Park has become fully accessible for the first time.

In other peripheral Olympic news...
I mentioned earlier in the month that a new exit south from the Olympic Park was open, alongside the Waterworks Road past the allotments. Nah, they've sealed it off again, sigh.
If you use Pudding Mill Lane DLR, the existing pavement route into the Olympic Park is currently closed, and a new arch in the railway viaduct (with pretty fluorescent tube lighting) has been opened up instead.
North of the Bow Roundabout, the River Lea will be closed to pedestrians for a fortnight from tomorrow while the pontoon alongside Crossrail's new Pudding Mill Substation is removed and the towpath reinstated.
On the other side of Cooks Road, where the grubby Heron Industrial Estate used to stand, work is just beginning on a new cluster of 194 flats under the godawful brand name 'Legacy Wharf'.
The Porsche showroom on Stratford High Street has just been demolished, because flats are more valuable than flogging luxury cars.

 Thursday, January 26, 2017

I've heard this a lot on the tube lately.
Why not use your contactless bank card today? Never top up again, and it's the same fare as Oyster.
Except it isn't always the same fare, is it? Not necessarily.

Here are some occasions when Oyster is cheaper than contactless.

 NotesExample cost
7 Day TravelcardThe weekly contactless cap always runs from Monday to Sunday.
However, an Oyster Travelcard can cover any 7 day period.
Z1-3 travel, Thur-Wed
7 Day Travelcard: £38.70
5 daily caps: £38.50
but 7 daily caps: £53.90
7 Day Travelcard
outside Zone 1
"If all your travel is outside Zone 1, you should continue using a 7 Day Travelcard." (this is official advice)Z2-3 tube travel
7 Day Travelcard: £24.70
5 daily caps: £38.50
Monthly TravelcardNot available on contactless.
A monthly Travelcard on Oyster is cheaper than four weekly caps.
Z1-5 tube travel
Monthly: £215.90
4 weekly caps: £224.80
Annual TravelcardNot available on contactless.
An annual Travelcard on Oyster costs the same as 40 weekly caps, not 52.
Z1-2 tube travel
Annual: £1320
52 weekly caps: £1716
Monthly Bus & Tram PassNot available on contactless.
A monthly pass on Oyster is cheaper than four weekly caps.
Bus travel
Monthly pass: £81.50
4 weekly caps £84.80
Annual Bus & Tram PassNot available on contactless.
An annual pass on Oyster costs the same as 40 weekly caps, not 52.
Bus travel
Annual pass: £848
52 weekly caps: £1102
DiscountsHolders of 16-25 Railcards, Senior Railcards, Disabled Persons Railcards, Gold Cards, etc can claim 1/3 off peak tube travel.
National Railcard discounts cannot be added to contactless cards.
16-25 Railcard
Z1-6 off-peak: £3.10
With discount: £2.00
Overseas transaction feesCharges may apply for travel made with a contactless card issued outside the UK.
Generally, this is only one charge per day.
Z1-6 tube travel, peak
No charge: £5.10
3% charge: £5.25
Child faresChildren who 'look older than 10' pay full fare unless they have a Zip Oyster photocard or an Oyster with Young Visitor discount.
Child fares are not supported by contactless cards.
Z1 tube travel, age 13
Zip Oyster: £0.00
Young Visitor: £1.20
No discount: £2.40

Here are some situations when contactless is cheaper than Oyster.

 NotesExample cost
Weekly cap (tube/rail)Runs from Monday to Sunday.
Approximately 5× daily cap.
Not available on Oyster.
Z1-4 tube travel
Weekly cap: £47.30
5 daily caps: £47.50
7 daily caps: £66.50
Z2-7 tube travel, peak
Weekly cap: £42.70
5 daily caps: £65.00
Weekly cap (bus/tram)Runs from Monday to Sunday.
Approximately 4.7× daily cap.
Not available on Oyster.
Bus travel
Weekly cap: £21.20
5 daily caps: £22.50
7 daily caps: £31.50
Split cappingOyster takes your journeys sequentially and charges the overall cap.
Contactless uses more up-to date technology. At the end of the day it checks for the optimum split of all your journeys and charges that, which can be cheaper.
For example, this Londonist video shows what happens if you travel in from the suburbs, make multiple separate tube journeys in zone 1, then head home.
Z6-1, Z1, Z1, Z1, Z1-6 
Z6-2 fare: £1.50
Z1-2 cap: £6.60
Z2-6 fare: £1.50
      Total: £9.60

Z1-6 cap: £12.00

Help me out with this...

What have I missed, or calculated badly, or got wrong?

In particular, this 7 Day Travelcard thing is wildly complicated, isn't it? TfL have lots of posters up at the moment advising people to switch from 7 Day Travelcards to contactless, but sometimes contactless is more expensive. Can anyone give a simple explanation of which is cheaper when, and why?

At least TfL are up front on their website that contactless isn't for everyone. Why do they keep announcing their over-simplistic message everywhere else?

 Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Battersea/Wandsworth
This undelivered London borough would have been created by combining the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea with the western end of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. Long and thin, it would have hugged the south bank of the Thames from Putney to Nine Elms, a stretch of riverside now increasingly given over to towering flats. For my visit I decided to focus on the Battersea end, and wandered aimlessly in search of vaguely interesting things to tell you about.

Postcards from Battersea

St Mary's Church faces the rippling river, nudging the Thames Path around its historic Anglo-Saxon site. A crowd in black has gathered on the steps beneath the four white columns in front of the main entrance, and is talking quietly. The vicar waits at the gate to greet the chief mourners, just stepped from a spacious vehicle with a sign on the windscreen politely requesting that it not be towed away. Down by the slipway a young man oblivious to this solemn gathering sways beside a bench, his streaming service on full blare. Another man, twice the width, shuffles round the back of the church and finds himself in the path of the approaching hearse, as the funeral party looks on. In the chamber above the tower, half-muted by a passing helicopter, a clock chimes.

The Battersea Bar, in the shadow of the Badric Court Estate, appears to have tried everything to stay afloat, save doing up the exterior to look attractive. Live music, pool and darts were once a draw, but no longer. The words "+ Food" added to the pub's name hint at Caribbean cuisine once served within, but no longer. The windows of this drab brick box are boarded up, allegedly protected by live-in guardians, but by the looks of the place I wouldn't recommend a stay. A property company bought up the bar in 2013 and closed it with the intention of replacement by a four storey block of flats. That dream stalled, and the site is now a Residential Development Opportunity, Under Offer. An entirely different local clientele prefer to fill themselves with craft beer at the Tap Room alongside.

Battersea High Street is not the central parade of grocers and tradesmen it used to be, nor the bubbly boutique hub my reading of Time Out suggested. A curving spur remains, before the housing estates begin, its cobbles narrowed by bollards and insufficient parking spaces. Two tables stand idly outside the gluten-free bakery, waiting for spring, while a Deliveroo rider with L plates prepares to set off with his cargo of Portuguese chargrill chicken. Round the corner on the Battersea Park Road there's noticeably more life, where interior design havens mingle with charity shops, and eateries offer focaccia or chips (but not both). Here Batterseas old and new intertwine, one immaculately scrubbed, the other getting by, and each within walking distance of home.

Battersea Park may be chilled and icy, but SW11's dogs need exercising nevertheless. They lead their owners through the trees by the pagoda, past the bandstand and around the frozen lake. They hunt for chucked balls on the lawn outside the zoo, and pant quietly afterwards in the tent by the turned-off fountains. Inside the Tea Terrace kiosk a millennial with nobody to serve stares into her phone, which pings intermittently to pass the time. A film crew has turned up to use the whimsical Fifties pergola as a backdrop, and waits for a pair of dawdling runners to jog on. The Pump House Gallery is closed until further notice due to unforeseen circumstances, we read, which turns out to be flooding. Fear not, the remainder of the park is a joy.

It's still possible to see Battersea Power Station from the south, its four chimneys in various stages of reconstruction, but from the west it has already disappeared behind a barrier of apartments. Deep foundations reveal where the next glass screen will arise, while the cranes beyond hint at more. The new terminus of the Northern line is marked by a stack of white portakabins and a tall metal staircase, with a chain of trucks and lorries queueing to enter the combined site beyond. Up the road at Nine Elms the cuboid American embassy/fortress is almost complete, and surrounded by an emerging community of high-value high-rise flats. Workmen on lunch break perch alongside sushi-shoppers at the Waitrose juice bar, and there is so much more building yet to come.

 Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Yesterday, and most likely today as well, air quality in London will have triggered a 'Very High' alert. This is bad news for anyone with lungs, and particularly bad for anyone with breathing difficulties.

 At-risk individualsGeneral population
Very HighAdults and children with lung problems, adults with heart problems, and older people, should avoid strenuous physical activity. People with asthma may find they need to use their reliever inhaler more often.Reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as cough or sore throat.

The Mayor headed to Twitter to warn everybody who follows him.
The shameful state of London’s toxic air today has triggered a ‘very high’ air pollution alert under my new air quality warning system.
This is the highest level air quality alert. Everyone, from the most vulnerable to the physically fit, may need to reduce physical exertion.
Warnings were issued at bus stops, on roadside signs and at tube stations, although I will confess I missed all of them. I caught a bus, and saw nothing, and rode on a couple of trains, and saw/heard nothing either. Maybe I wasn't looking properly, or more likely I was unlucky with the journeys I made, Whatever, I missed it.
Use public transport if you’re able to. It will help us cut emissions and pollution.
If you are making an essential car, van or lorry journey please avoid idling and turn your engine off if stationary for more than a minute.
I wonder how many drivers, and potential drivers, noticed and/or acted on that advice. And they'd have been wise to. All the evidence suggests that polluting gases and particulates are worst alongside major roads, indeed if I value my health I should probably move away from the Bow Roundabout at the earliest opportunity.

On this occasion major news outlets gave high priority to news articles about the high levels of pollution , so I learnt about the alert from the BBC, and adapted my behaviour to cut back on roadside aerobic activity. But I wondered - and this is a genuine question - what is the best way to find out about air pollution in your immediate locality?

I have the 'London Air' app on my phone, powered by data from King's College, which ought to do the job. It ranks the air pollution at various points around the capital on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0-3 being normal, and 10 being what we're enduring right now. Previously I had the app set up to notify me about one site near work and two near home, but both of the Lea Valley sites blanked out a while back and no longer seem to report at all, so it's no longer especially useful.

The associated 'London Air' website is packed with pages and features, including a regularly-updated map showing a pollution score at various sites across London. I don't remember seeing it this bad before.

But zoom in and it turns out the data is only available at certain clustered spots. Central London is well covered, but (for example) Newham, Hackney and Waltham Forest have nothing, and Tower Hamlets has only one site at an unrepresentative point north of the Blackwall Tunnel. In a city of eight million people, this is hardly ideal.

Other pages on the website include a pollution 'Nowcast', which (as I write) suggests that everywhere inside the M25 is at a uniformly high level. There's also a written 'Forecast', which is up-to-date and splendidly informative about conditions today and tomorrow. There are numerous background pages with advice on how to reduce potential health damage regarding how you travel and where you live. And there's a summary map which shows average air pollution levels in 2013 where you can zoom in and see whether your street is more dangerous than a few streets back. Try not to live in inner London or close to a dual carriageway, appears to be the message.

The Mayor mentioned another website, airtext.info, in his flurry of pollution-related tweets.
You can sign-up for air quality alerts from @airTEXT here: http://www.airtext.info/signup
This has a more basic set-up, which at a high level is less confusing. At time of writing this too is suggesting a uniform risk within the M25, apart from a bubble around Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 which is presumably plane related. It (currently) differs in its assessment of Tuesday's risk, having decided on Moderate rather than London Air's Very High. As well as offering text alerts to your phone it also has its own app - maybe I should give that a try.

Or there's the government's official air pollution site, specifically DEFRA's, whose data is impressively up-to-date. This has a overall map (pictured below), as well as a simpler regional map which is (currently) suggesting London's at maximum risk, which isn't what the other websites are saying. There's also an interactive map covering individual sites across the entire country, but again it gives East London a wide berth. Apparently we do have a monitoring site on the Mile End Road but it isn't working, or there isn't any data from it, or something. If you live nearer one of the functional sites, you may find this level of information quite useful.

Anyway, I hope that some of this air quality information might be useful to you, some of the time, depending. It also begs the question of whether there's anything better I could be using, and whether there's any better way of being alerted when conditions locally get bad.

Overall, however, it turns out that I could hardly be living anywhere worse than on the A11 very close to the A12, which means I'm shortening my life expectancy on a daily basis simply by inhaling. If only there was some way of cutting the pollution in the air, maybe by reducing vehicle use or replacing engines, or by not building massive road schemes in the first place. I'm not holding my breath.

 Monday, January 23, 2017

One thing Middlesbrough has that nowhere else in England has is a transporter bridge.
"A transporter bridge, also known as a ferry bridge or aerial transfer bridge, is a type of movable bridge that carries a segment of roadway across a river. The gondola is slung from a tall span by wires or a metal frame. The design has been used to cross navigable rivers or other bodies of water where there is a requirement for ship traffic to be able to pass. This has been a rare type of bridge, with fewer than two dozen built, and just twelve that continue to be used today."
What's more Middlesbrough's is the world's longest transporter bridge and, even better, it's still in operation.

The Tees Transporter Bridge was opened in 1911, replacing a steam ferry service. It spans the mighty River Tees, about five miles upstream from the North Sea, before the refineries and chemical works begin in earnest. Two steel towers rise into the sky, currently painted blue, but in their time they've been red, brown, green, whatever. Between these stretches a striking latticed cantilever, approximately 50m above the river, and it's along this that the wires supporting the gondola are drawn. The bridge stands alone on the skyline and is a much-loved local landmark, even featuring in the town's logo in symbolic form.

Unless there's high wind, fog or heavy rain, the bridge is operational every day of the week except Sunday. The gondola shuttles back and forth repeatedly in the morning and evening peaks, and every fifteen minutes at other times of the day, unless any shipping happens to be passing in which case it waits. Staffing levels require a one hour break at noon so that lunch can be taken, and also to allow the machinery holding up the wires to be checked. But for the rest of the time anybody can turn up and be carried across - cars pass for £1.30 and pedestrians for 60p. There's space for nine of the former or 200 of the latter, assuming no other vehicles are on the deck. Bargain. And when in town, surely a must-visit.

To reach the Transporter Bridge head north from the town centre - it's about a ten minute walk from the station. A few heritage buildings remain to the north of the railway, but these fade away across a half-demolished landscape ripe for redevelopment, which is precisely what the council have in mind. A new district called Middlehaven is planned, overlaying the original dockside street layout with tree-line boulevards and parkland, and filling in the gaps with flats. Middlesbrough College has been first to move in, its campus bringing teenage life to a desolate quarter by the Dock Clock Tower. Further downstream lie the Riverside Stadium and Temenos, Anish Kapoor's recent enormous 'butterfly-net' sculpture that rivals the Transporter in scale and size.

Before crossing the Transporter Bridge, be sure to pop into the adjacent Visitor Centre on the south bank. This was recently upgraded with lottery money as part of a post-centenary refurb of the entire structure, with the crossing being closed to traffic for 18 months. The tiny Visitor Centre now has displays including 3D projections, plus a hatchway described as a shop, and a viewing window in front of the Winding House where you can watch the rope uncoiling as the gondola sweeps across. A long-retired volunteer was on hand to chat to me about the bridge, its operation and its character, which added greatly to the experience.

The most amazing facility added during the upgrade is a glass lift. This rises from a ramp beside the Visitor Centre and ratchets up one of the towers on the southern bank, taking about a minute to reach walkway level where there's now an observation deck. From here there are amazing views across Middlesbrough and down the Tees, plus the unnerving sensation of being exposed at the top of a lofty steel structure where only maintenance engineers were ever intended to go. The combined cost of a lift ride, guided tour and double gondola crossing is only £5, which is gobsmackingly good value. But it pays to book ahead. There were no tours during the half-day I was in town - news which I greeted simultaneously with enormous disappointment and vertigo-avoiding joy.

A trip on the gondola more than sufficed. Even better I was fortunate to get the deck entirely to myself, the intermittent stream of vans and taxis having unexpectedly paused. The whole operation's now programmed by computer, hence every crossing takes precisely 2 minutes and 19 seconds, but two staff are still required on board to close the gates, lock the glass doors and collect the fares. Off we glided, revealing the ironwork on which the gondola rests when docked, and passing the bottom of the glass lift on the riverward side. Newly installed glass windows allow flat estuarine views to be seen, if not necessarily enjoyed, while the roof of the gondola obscures the cats-cradle of cabling vaulted overhead.

"Are you coming straight back?" asked the gondolier, well aware that there's very little on the opposite shore for anyone to enjoy. A small linear settlement called Port Clarence follows the adjacent freight line, while the A178 continues north past silos, inland lakes and oil terminals towards, very eventually, the Seal Sands bird reserve and Hartlepool. "There are some benches down there," the man advised, so I walked along the riverbank wall while he and his mate carried nobody back. I loved the bleak loneliness of it all, gazing back towards Middlesbrough's peculiar combination of culture and dereliction, while seagulls wheeled above the grey waters of the Tees. And of course I stared back at the amazing Transporter Bridge, a proud testament to engineering and preservation - long may she operate!

I also had time to explore some of central Middlesbrough before leaving town, in particular mima - the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. This contemporary art gallery opened precisely ten years ago, as part of the wave of civic cultural buildings aimed at kickstarting various peripheral English communities. In this case mima is a fairly typical glass and steel box, run in cooperation with Teesside University, with a mission to be "useful" rather than simply pretty. One long open staircase rises through the atrium at the heart of the building, from the gallery and shop on the ground floor to the events space and roof terrace on the third. The art on display was variable, in some places minor, in others beautiful. I enjoyed the colourful Winifred Nicholson exhibition, and the Brexit-focused scribblings in The Office of Useful Art. I greatly admired a marvellous earthenware necklace punched out from a plate in the Collection Gallery. I almost worked out what the slabs inlaid in the adjacent garden square were meant to represent, while joining a young mum and her toddler on the upper terrace. I did not stop for coffee and kedgeree in The Smeltery.

The civic heart of town rubs up beside streets of close-packed terraces, where dock workers and their families would once have lived. One glance in an estate agents window reveals a few homes for sale here for under £50000, more generally under £100000, as if to mock anyone stupid enough to pay hugely more for hugely less in London. The shopping centre stretches to all the big name chains, and there is one street of perky cafes and boutiques for those not wedded to the necessity of Aldi. I didn't have time to head south to the Dorman Museum, nor to the suburb that was Captain Cook's birthplace where (in the summer months) another heritage home awaits. I think I was expecting Middlesbrough to be a more prominent kind of place, whereas the Tees Valley is more a sprawl of merged industrial centres with collective importance, a one-time powerhouse getting by on EU grants and chemical works that nowhere else would bear. There's much to explore hereabouts, but the marvellous Transporter Bridge will do nicely for a first attempt.

My Middlesbrough gallery
There are 36 photos (mostly of the bridge) [slideshow]

 Sunday, January 22, 2017

The National Railway Museum comes in two parts, sixty miles apart, both refreshingly distant from London. The main collection (with the most stuff and the most visitors) is in York, immediately adjacent to the station. But the annexe is in Shildon, a small town ten miles north of Darlington, and consequentially less well known. The location may be out on a limb but it's historically faultless, slap bang on the route of the world's first passenger railway.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in 1825, its purpose to link the collieries around Bishop Auckland to the estuary of the River Tees. A local enginewright called George Stephenson championed the use of steam-driven loco-motives on the line, the first named Locomotion No. 1, which duly left Shildon that inaugural day with around 500 passengers on board. They crowded into coal wagons fitted with seats and puffed intermittently towards Darlington, eventually reaching the heady speed of 15mph on the final run into Stockton. Along the way one wagon wheel fell off, and one passenger fell out and had his foot crushed, but the owners still deemed the day a great success and celebrated with a slap-up dinner.

Shildon became the place where engines were built and maintained, and most of the men in the town worked on the railways rather in the pits. A massive set of workshops and sidings grew up, with a few key buildings preserved to this day, and before long production switched to focus on wagon building and repairs. The freight business kept Shildon afloat until 1984, when British Rail closed the works down, and a small museum was maintained in the cottage home of a former chief engineer. Plans for a much larger building took root after the millennium, with an area of former sidings cleared for the construction of a vast silver shed, seven tracks wide. Tony Blair opened it in 2004, he being MP for the constituency nextdoor, and Locomotion: the National Railway Museum at Shildon was born.

The museum's unusual in that it's spread along a kilometre of old railway line, with the existing Shildon station roughly in the middle. All the heritage buildings are at the western end, adjacent to the edge of the town, and freely available to view from outside. These include a former Goods Shed, a Parcel Office, and a line of brick Coal Drops formerly used for refuelling. The 'Welcome' building used to be the Methodist Sunday School, and I thought this was where you were supposed to go first, except it was firmly closed. The interior, and that of the adjacent chief engineer's cottage, are only accessible on tours booked at the other end of the trail, and January isn't the best month to expect these to be running.

The Collection is where the action is, this in the aforementioned silver shed, which is home to over 70 vehicles of historical provenance. The oldest is Sans Pareil, the local entrant at the Rainhill Trials (the three-way 1829 competition which brought Stephenson's Rocket to prominence), which is normally kept in the Welcome building (but currently presumably not). Locomotion is also here, except that's a replica, lined up as part of a phalanx that impresses the moment you walk in.

Most of the engines on show are steam driven, from a variety of eras, great sleek shiny beasts with footplates you can peer into and marvel at the pre-digital interface. A number of old carriages have also been crammed in, including Edward VII's over-upholstered smoking saloon, a cross-Channel sleeper and the actual baggage van used to transport Winston Churchill's coffin on its last journey to Blenheim. Shildon's freight wagon tradition isn't ignored, although most visitors probably gloss past that. Up in the far corner a number of volunteers are working on restoring a Network South East carriage, because all eras deserve representation, and yes of course there's a model railway layout at the back staffed by old men who prefer things small.

The train that stirred me most was a unique creation from the 1970s, the Advanced Passenger Train. This tilting wonder was due to revolutionise high speed travel, but the technology didn't deliver, and British Rail rolled out the ubiquitous High Speed Train instead. The APT-E at Shildon is a glimpse into a future that never came, with a sharp silver snout and streamlined body, its unfulfilled status reflected in the serial numbers roughly hand-painted onto locomotive and carriage. Adjacent displays and videos reinforce the message that the APT concept was in fact brilliant, and most of the world's modern tilting trains can trace back their underlying technology to BR's engineers. But instead here she sits, severed and shortened - for your own safety, No Entry.

The museum's essentially four long sets of parallel tracks, with the focus very much on vehicles rather than other railway paraphernalia. Careful thought has been given to keeping children occupied, and also in keeping the local community involved, with space given over (at present) to a display about historic local non-league football teams. A cafe and a gift shop fill out two corners, the latter with a considerable model railway section, and yes admission's free, because that's how the NRM rolls.

Trains on the Bishop Auckland line run every two hours during the day, and I'd say this two hour gap is all you need to enjoy the contents of the Collection. Unless the other historic buildings are open there's not much else to see in Shildon, so you might want to nip back to Darlington where the actual 1825 Locomotion is on show in a smaller museum alongside North Road station. Alas that was closed when I passed by, so I can confirm there's not much else to do in Darlington either, except for staring at the Town Hall and wandering around the shops. Never mind - it left me half a day free to venture elsewhere...

» NRM Shildon website/Facebook/Twitter
» A walk around historic Shildon [8 photos]
» Visit Darlington [4 photos]

 Saturday, January 21, 2017

I was heading home late on Thursday evening when I discovered that Bow Road station was closed. I'd been waiting for a train at Mile End, expecting to be able to ride one stop down the line, with no indication to the contrary. But when I stepped on board the train the driver announced that the next station was closed, so I got off again, and walked home instead.

And this isn't the first time Bow Road's been unexpectedly closed. There have been several closures "due to an absence of staff" over the last couple of months, usually first thing in the morning or late at night. Bow Road is a Section 12 station, because part of it is underground, so staff have to be present for safety reasons at all times. And if not enough staff turn up, for whatever reason, the gates are shut and travellers have to go elsewhere instead.

Last February staffing on the tube was reduced and rejigged as part of a programme called Fit For The Future. The plan was to make staff more visible, and staffing more flexible, with stations grouped together to share personnel. Bow Road was coupled with Stepney Green, and it seems that when staff go short it's Stepney Green that takes priority. Bow Road's less than ten minutes walk from Mile End, and three buses head that way, so passengers can generally cope if Bow Road is closed.

It's closed a lot. On ten occasions since the start of December the station's closed early, including five times this week. On seven occasions in the last month it's opened late, and on 3rd December it closed for an hour in the early afternoon. When not enough staff are available it's the public that suffers, and we've been suffering more of late, because these kinds of closures weren't happening so frequently before.

So I've trawled back through Twitter to try to determine the scale of the overall problem. I've focused on the District line, and used tweets on the @districtline account to tabulate every staff-related closure since the start of December.

Tweets related to strike action or security incidents are not included. Please note that the data may be incomplete (there's no guarantee that every closure's been included), and will be inaccurate (the times given are the times of the tweets, not the closures). But with all those caveats, three stations really stand out.

District line station closures due to staff shortage
Dec 2016 - Jan 2017
StationOpened lateClosed during dayClosed early
Temple5th Dec, 07:02
6th Dec, 07:06
17th Dec, 07:07
24th Dec, 05:50
6th Jan, 06:06
19th Jan, 07:09
20th Jan, 07:17
21st Jan, 15:08
22nd Jan, 07:30
23rd Jan, 07:23
17th Dec, from 12:27
18th Dec, 2hrs, morning peak
2nd Jan, 7hrs, from 16:30
6th Jan, to 15:19
7th Jan, 8hrs, to 15:20
8th Jan, 10 hrs, to 16:26
18th Jan, from 14:35
4th Dec, 22:35
5th Dec, 22:41
8th Dec, 23:08
11th Dec, 22:47
13th Dec, 23:58
14th Dec, 20:54
15th Dec, 24:43
16th Dec, 20:34
18th Dec, 20:44
24th Dec, 22:20
19th Jan, 22:29
20th Jan, 22:25
21st Jan, 22:35
22nd Jan, 22:31
Bow Road22nd Dec, 07:59
23rd Dec, 07:50
24th Dec, 07:45
3rd Jan, 05:37
8th Jan, 06:58
16th Jan, 07:06
21st Jan, 07:18
22nd Jan, 06:49
23rd Jan, 06:55
28th Jan, 05:54
3rd Dec, 1hr, early afternoon10th Dec, 22:44
11th Dec, 22:21
21st Dec, 23:30
24th Dec, 22:36
15th Jan, 23:35
18th Jan, 21:51
19th Jan, 21:00
20th Jan, 22:34
21st Jan, 22:35
22nd Jan, 22:31
St James's Park28th Dec, 06:10
21st Jan, 06:52
26th Jan, 07:22
3rd Dec, 3hrs, evening
4th Dec, 40m, early evening
10th Dec, 1.5hr, late afternoon
17th Dec, 6m, morning peak
31st Dec, from 07:26
1st Jan, from 07:15
7th Jan, 1.5hr, evening
14th Jan, 1hr, morning peak
20th Jan, 22:46
Stepney Green19th Dec, 05:38
23rd Jan, 05:52
28th Jan, 07:42
 18th Dec, 22:57
22nd Jan, 22:32
Mansion House3rd Jan, 05:58 13th Dec, 23:59
Blackfriars  18th Dec, 23:58
Monument19th Dec, 05:41  
Earl’s Court  19th Dec, 23:13
Tower Hill24th Dec, 05:39  
Aldgate East24th Dec, 06:17  
Becontree 26th Dec, from 07:27 

Temple is easily the District line station with the biggest staff shortage problem. It's closed early fourteen times since the start of December, sometimes before 9pm, with closures commonplace in the weeks before Christmas. It's opened late ten times (frequently, it seems, saved by a member of staff turning up around 7am). And it's closed during the day seven times, in some cases for several hours, which must have been annoying to anyone who'd walked to the station expecting to get in.

St James's Park is an interesting one because it's the station underneath TfL's historic HQ, and it's suffered twelve closures at a wide variety of times since the start of December. I note that St James's Park is paired with Embankment as part of the Fit For The Future programme, and presumably it's deemed more important to keep Embankment open. Similarly Temple is paired with Blackfriars, and Blackfriars will always be the priority when staff numbers drop.

Other than those three stations, staff-related closures on the District line are very rare. There haven't been any at any station beyond Earl's Court, and there's only been one to the east of Bow Road. Stations underground are always going to be most at risk, because of fire regulations, and at other stations it's always possible to leave the gates open and unstaffed. Indeed at Bromley-by-Bow it's so incredibly rare to see someone in uniform that it's as if TfL have given up on staffing the station completely.

If you're thinking come on, opening slightly late in the morning doesn't hurt, think of all the people who've missed connections or got to work late. If you're thinking come on, closing early in the evening's not the end of the world, think of all the people who've been forced to travel less safely after dark. If you're thinking come on, this doesn't affect where I live, the point is that previously it hardly happened at all, and now it's a regular issue in several locations.

It's hard to know precisely why these three particular stations have been singled out, and what might be the specific situations that differentiate them from other similar locations. But when unions threaten strike action over inadequate staffing, and TfL admit they might have reduced staffing numbers too far, something about the current system is very much Unfit For The Future.

 Friday, January 20, 2017

It's not every day that Bob Dylan appropriates your photograph, or at least it's not every day the world finds out that he did. Several people were interested. Actually that would be an understatement.

The world of Twitter got excited. Gizmodo gave it a mention. Various internet forums posted a link, including the venerable b3ta and a longstanding Dylan-related board. Not all the commenters there were impressed - they reckoned it could have been anybody's photo, and they objected to me being described as an "esteemed blogger". Various sarcastic gifs were deployed.

Then the newspapers got in touch. The Evening Standard wanted a chat, but it wasn't a good day for a chat, so they went silent. The Daily Telegraph were next, and the i paper, and then the Blackpool Gazette (which pleased me, because they're local news). These three journalists also wanted a chat, but were happy with email instead, aided by the fact that I'd already posted several of my thoughts on the matter online. One of the contactees even said they were a long time reader, which was nice.

All of the journalists at all of the newspapers were professional and pleasant, as you'd hope and expect. Both the national newspapers offered payment for use of the photo, which is as it should be, and in both cases I asked them to send the fee to charity. The RNLI have done rather well out of my trip to Blackpool, having previously earned £50 through corporate use of a completely different photo taken from the same pier.

One particularly cheering thing was that Hilda commented on my post - she was the lady who discovered the Blackpool link in the first place. I also received an appreciative email from Scott Warmuth, who'd been the researcher who initially contacted me about the Blackpool connection. And still the readers kept coming, mostly from Twitter, making Wednesday the third most popular day this blog has ever experienced.

The i newspaper whipped out their story first, whereas the Daily Telegraph's had to wait until their afternoon news conference had decided what was worthy of appearing in the printed paper. My story eventually made it to page 11, indeed half of page 11, although Bob's painting was afforded rather more square inches than my photo because he's the star. Their online version also came complete with a clever sliding gizmo that allowed readers to compare painting with photograph directly.

The Blackpool Gazette published their piece a little later, and it contained some original information because their reporter had thought to email me a short list of questions, so well done Michael. The story even made this week's front page - as a strapline at least.

The Daily Mail released their version of the story at two o'clock yesterday morning, along much the same lines as the others, except they hadn't got in touch with me first. They'd obviously read my post, because they quoted from it extensively, but chose to skip over the sentence where I slagged off the Daily Mail - ironically for stealing one of my photos on a previous occasion. Back in 2009 they replaced it when I complained, but on this occasion I have yet to hear back from them, the shameless plagiarising bastards.

I haven't heard anything from Bob Dylan, or his people, or the gallery who exhibited his work. But the Daily Telegraph got a quote out of the latter...
A spokesman for the Halcyon Gallery said: “There is no attempt on behalf of the artist to name the scenes accurately. While the essence of the exhibition is a journey through America, the compositions of the paintings are based on a wide variety of sources including archival and historic images.”
So there you go, Bob's paintings aren't always of where they say they're of, which is how Blackpool came to stand in for Norfolk, Virginia. That's fine, that's art. Bob is simply creating an evocative collection of works, and an entertaining puzzle for anyone attempting to deduce the true locations.

And he admits his works are sourced from a variety of images, historic or otherwise, which is how my Blackpool holiday snap came to be plucked from the internet for Bob's attention. I'm chuffed. I should even be honoured. And trust me, it's a joy to get a photograph into a national newspaper that isn't of a Romford skinhead in an abusive T-shirt.

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the diamond geezer index
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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards