diamond geezer

 Monday, July 31, 2017

I went to an art gallery yesterday.
It only had one room.
The room was dark.
In the room they were screening a film on a loop.

Today's post isn't about the film.
It's about what happens when you go into a dark room in an art gallery to watch a looping film.

1) The room where the film is showing needs to be dark, so sometimes there's a dogleg passage on the way in to try to keep daylight out. More usually entering the room involves opening a door, or perhaps finding your way through a curtain. It can take several goes to find the right way through the curtain.

2) Unless the film is really bright, the room always appears dark when you walk in. This is particularly awkward if you've never been inside the room before, because you have no idea what lies ahead of you. You know the gallery won't have put a trip hazard in front of the door, but you still edge forward as if they might have, or simply stop just inside the room until your eyes get used to the gloom.

3) Once your eyes get used to the gloom, you face the dilemma of whether to advance further inside the room, or simply stay where you are. A row of seats might help lure you further in... but only if some are empty. Often it's hard to see if any are empty.

4) Or do you stand? Some people prefer to stand, rather than sit, because they can hide up the back and because it's easier to leave. But if the film is a long one then yes, grabbing a seat (when one becomes available) is the more appealing option.

5) Later on, once your eyes are used to the dark, all of this looks ludicrous. Everyone successive entrant immediately stops by the door, afraid to proceed further, then sits or stands in the general vicinity. The room may be huge, but the majority still cluster into one corner because to go further would be to make a fuss.

6) Advancing further into the room has its own perils, as it's all too easy to enter the projection beam. Sometimes this has to be deliberate, because it's the only way across the room, so you dash as fast as you dare. But more often than not it's unintentional... OMG there's my silhouette on the big screen, I bet everybody watching secretly hates me.

7) Because the film's on a loop, you almost certainly haven't arrived at the start of it. This is a particular problem if the film has some kind of narrative. All you can do is try to work out what's been happening before you walked in, and pick up the story, and make the best of the rest. It's not what the artist who made the film intended.

8) It's often at this point that you realise you have no idea how long the film is. If only you'd read the spiel on the wall outside before you came in, then at least you'd know whether it's a five minute-r or the full artistic hour-and-a-bit. Without this knowledge it's really hard to know how long to stick it out.

9) What you usually end up doing is sitting waiting for the film to loop round again, because that's the time to leave. Does this look like the bit where you came in? If only you'd been focusing on the screen for the first minute when you came in, not simply how dark the room was and where you were going to sit.

10) If the credits pop up... if there are credits... the key decision becomes whether to wait through the bit at the end where the screen goes blank and then watch the film from the beginning. You've already seen the end, so is it worth hanging around until the loop begins again? Or is this the best time to stand up and get out?

11) Unless you see the opening titles... if there are opening titles... you may never know what the film was actually about. Often with these films in art galleries it's impossible to know what the artist was thinking unless specifically told. You should have read the spiel on the wall before you came in, but it's too late now.

12) Sometimes there's a programme, or a leaflet, or some other handout explaining what the film is all about. You pick it up and take it into the room with you, only to discover of course that the room is dark and you can't read any of it. Dammit. You'll have to read it after you leave... it might explain a lot of what you've just seen.

13) If there are more visitors than seats, a game plays out every time somebody leaves. Do you nip in and grab a seat when one becomes vacant, or do you leave it for the next person who stumbles in? Best not move around too much once you're in the room, eh?

14) For a lot of people these days, sitting in a dark room watching a film is quite tricky, especially if that film is obtuse and not especially engaging. Eventually, or not so eventually if the spirit is weak, out comes their phone and a rectangle of light illuminates the gloom. Annoying, and oblivious.

15) Perhaps there's something essential on Facebook which must be checked. Perhaps Twitter is more interesting than the abstract drama playing out on screen - sometimes that's not difficult. As for why you'd hold up your phone and take a photo of the film, though, that's more mysterious.

16) Pity the gallery attendant who has to stay in the room and watch this film over and over and over again. They can't have their phone on because they're paid to behave. If only they were somewhere else in the gallery that wasn't dark... or even better, sat at the main desk on the computer surfing the internet.

17) If the film's quite long, and not especially thrilling, eventually the game becomes how long you can stick it out. Walking out early is for wimps, surely, as if confessing you've failed to see the 'art' in the narrative. Alternatively it's just cutting your losses.

18) Couples are sometimes better than singles at staying to the bitter end. Singles can walk out on a whim, whereas couples have added peer pressure not to be the one to disappoint the other by cracking first. Plus it's not always easy to judge your partner's body language in the dark and know when it's time to go.

19) If the film's worthy but dull, one technique for keeping your mind occupied is to observe how many different postures people are using to sit on the floor. Cross legged. Kneeling forward. Leaning back supported by palms. Resting with back against the wall. If you ever get to making these kinds of observations, the film has failed.

20) What often intrigues me, when sat in a room in the dark in a gallery, is how much display space has been taken up simply to show a single film. Numerous paintings or sculptures could have been fitted into the same space, but instead the curator has chosen to screen one film. That's fine if the film is compelling, of course. Otherwise, well, my mind does tend to wander.

 Sunday, July 30, 2017

This bold, geometric work captures the psychology of a city and its key protagonists. It is joyful, playful and uncomfortable, and has a humorous yet uncanny quality. The artist has used the colours of the different Underground lines from Harry Beck’s iconic Tube map to create a new symbol for the front cover of the pocket Tube map.

Through its apparent simplicity the composition subverts our assumptions about our individual journeys, prompting a double-take as we work out why it seems so familiar. The result is an image that conveys balance and movement that extends beyond the confines of the paper, creating a completely new atmosphere and a positive energy.

Responding to the context of the Underground, this work highlights the multitude of journeys undertaken on the network, whilst spotlighting the individual. The image can be seen as a metaphor: London as a microcosm for the entire world with almost every race, culture, nationality and religion living side by side.

This vibrant, abstract diagram depicts a series of interactions, encouraging us to think about a journey – not a linear journey from A to B but more a slippage where thoughts and interactions occur that cannot be measured or contained. There is a psychedelic intensity to the patterning that reveals the artist’s meditative state and dynamic vision.

The design is a memory audit of the Tube-line colours, cunningly subjecting objective facts and figures to the eccentricities of our consciousness. With no definitive beginning or end, the artwork alludes to a larger repetitive pattern that could feasibly go on for eternity.

The artist said: “The blocks are spreading out over the earth and beyond, onto the infinite great universe. Like these blocks, London is a progressive and ever changing force with a spectrum of colours that echo a vibrancy of life and how brilliantly it shines!”

“The spectrum and colours also hold specific meaning of their own, echoing a stained glass window. For me this reference seemed appropriate because so many of us, including myself, depend on the Tube, its iconic map and London’s huge transport system in order to go about our day-to-day lives.”

“The work is a way of depicting a series of interactions, a subjective way of streamlining perception of multiple chains, movements and interlapping spheres of activity. My work always involves notions of what public space is. I always treasured the London Tube map as a form of Monopoly and my work is not that different.”

Art on the Underground's Curator said: “This commission for the Tube-map cover celebrates the superb quality and range of work being produced by established artists working today and continues London Underground’s tradition as a patron of the arts.”




 Saturday, July 29, 2017

9 Hendon
The Municipal Borough of Hendon was one of the larger pre-1965 boroughs, running up the eastern side of the A5 from Golders Green to Edgware. Today it's the western strip of the London borough of Barnet, embracing one arm of the Northern line, and a relentlessly residential zone. I've chosen to visit the suburb of Burnt Oak, one of the London County Council's cottage estates, to which my great-grandparents moved between the wars. My great-grandmother died a few months before I was born, but I can now say I've stood outside and admired the shrubs in her garden. I think a poem is in order.

Ode to Burnt Oak

Clusters of cosy cottages in brick, with arched porches in pairs.
Others timber-framed, but all built to last, on green thoroughfares,
A planning masterstroke,
In Burnt Oak.

Streets of homely low-rise, with character, and three bins outside.
A lady in a floral pinny emerges with watering can and pride,
Gives her baskets a soak,
In Burnt Oak.

Down Watling Avenue, several shops brim with cheap glitzy bling.
Sparkly vases and huge silver lampshades are clearly 'the thing'.
It's hardly bespoke,
In Burnt Oak.

Bejam and Budgens are long gone, now global fare substitutes,
Indian veg, Afghan seafood, Romanian meats and African fruits,
Okra and artichoke,
In Burnt Oak.

The grimmest of passages leads down steps and alley to the Saturday Market.
A rat nips out, across the space where if you had a car, you'd park it,
Disappears at a stroke,
In Burnt Oak.

At Abbots Road Allotments St George's flags wilt, while sunflowers soar.
An old man waters his cabbages alongside runner beans galore,
Gives his onions a poke,
In Burnt Oak.

Himalayan balsam clogs the brook on the green, but mind your shoe.
The hand-painted sign planted alongside reads '...Mind the doggy do-do',
To warn the townsfolk,
Of Burnt Oak.

Watling Park is CCTV-enabled and central, with copious green space,
But kids all cluster round the equipment - their imagination's not ace.
One's having a smoke,
In Burnt Oak.

Empty foreign lager cans float in the culvert, the rosebeds look depleted.
Grandma's brought a kite, but the breeze is light so lift-off is defeated,
How softly she spoke,
In Burnt Oak.

A headscarfed beggar kneels outside Tesco, pleading and glum.
A small child whirls round a stuffed toy on a string, ignored by Mum,
Best not provoke,
In Burnt Oak.

No pubs were ever built on the estate. If alcohol was their bag
All the rowdier types bundled into The Bald Faced Stag,
Now boarded and broke,
In Burnt Oak.

Schools out, so scooter boy has crop circles shaved into his hair.
His mum climbs into a pipe under the main street and hides there,
Presumably for a joke,
In Burnt Oak.

Sirens blaring, a fire engine forces a learner on manoeuvres to stop.
Striding across the green, clutching plastic coffee from a corner shop,
Comes some bloke,
From Burnt Oak.

Nets twitch where great gran lived for thirty years or more,
That's her wonky fence, her red roof, and surely the original door,
Where she slept and awoke,
In Burnt Oak.

Neighbouring Colindale is increasingly covered with matchboxy flats,
But lacks the character and allure of spacious pre-war habitats.
It does not evoke
Burnt Oak.

 Friday, July 28, 2017

It's five years since London's Olympic Opening Ceremony, the surreal all-inclusive spectacle which made Britain proud. I hope you watched the whole thing again last night. I certainly did.

The following morning the Games proper began, and the Olympic Park opened its gates to the event-going public. My family and I had tickets to the basketball preliminaries, so we got into the Park early and spent the day there, exploring the restructured Stratford Marshes along the way. Five years later I though I'd go back and retrace our steps, as an excuse to see how the whole place has changed.

9.14am: Good Morning. Welcome to London 2012. Games Maker Wendy has just taken our family photo in front of the Orbit. Thanks Wendy!

We headed into the park from Westfield, through lightly used security tents, because the organisers had deliberately kept spectator numbers low on the first day. You can't walk in the same way any more, they've built whopping great office blocks in their place, but eventually the barriers will clear to open up The International Quarter. In 2012 a scrolling magenta arch welcomed visitors to the park, positioned on the bridge immediately before the poked-out nose of the Aquatics Centre. How great it is to have this now as our local public pool, although the upper entrance and viewing terrace are locked (and essentially wasted) the majority of the time.

I wonder what the Games Makers thought as the first rush of spectators swarmed across the bridge, and whether the flood of requests for photos was what they expected when they signed up. There are plenty of volunteers wandering about again this summer because the stadium's in World Athletics mode, though not quite the jubilant throng of hand-waving cheer-raising grinners we had five years ago. Ascending the Orbit was a lot harder back then, with tickets to head up top pre-booked and all sold out. These days you can turn up and have the viewing platform of this white elephant almost to yourself. Even the slide that was supposed to rejuvenate the attraction hasn't made this a must see, hence the Orbit is in debt to the tune of £12.2m with interest growing by £700k a year.

9.42am: The world's largest McDonalds has a very restricted breakfast menu, but the cheapest food in the park. It is not yet busy.

It doesn't take much to create the world's largest McDonalds, just a few timber struts on a temporary skeleton, plus the world's slowest lift to provide step-free access to the upper storey. We must have been some of the very first customers, speeding through the cavernous enclosure where later there'd be mega-queues. I skipped the offer of a McBreakfast, nabbing an unwanted hash brown off my nephew, and we sat up top overlooking the centre of the park. Then we nipped into the London 2012 Megastore which was also nigh empty, where we could have taken our pick of the high quality souvenirs on sale, and later in the day wished we had.

The site of that McDonalds has been empty ever since the Games, a patch of grass alongside the central bridge where a ramp leads down to Carpenters Road. The site of the megastore is empty too, but now sealed off behind a hoarding, where before too long the neighbourhood of Sweetwater will rise. Development may have been brought forward thanks to London's abject housing shortage, but even five years later this corner of the park is as undeveloped as it has been since the Bow Industrial Park was demolished. As for modern catering options hereabouts, the nearest outlet is a small cabin, shuttered on weekdays, which serves a burger for £5.50 and a 'Juicy Water' for £2.60. Having that McDonalds back might even be an improvement.

10.36am: Sitting where the allotments used to be, beside a giant screen in the river Lea, watching the swimming taking place half a mile away.
11.24am: The waterside meadows are gorgeous, with acres of wild flowers dotted with butterflies, dragonflies and bumble bees.

Landscape-wise, the northern half of the Olympic Park is the pretty bit, as we first discovered five years ago. All those well-trimmed lawns sloping down to the Lea, on one of which I found the remains of a firework from the previous evening's finale. But where my family saw only scenic riverside, I remembered an extensive trading estate scattered to the four winds, and the former Manor Gardens Allotments, their productive soil scraped away to create an extensive drainage bowl. We plonked ourselves down on the grass to watch the big screen plonked in the middle of the river, which showed a selection of the sporting action taking place elsewhere occasionally interrupted by promotional inserts for British Airways. It could all have been very much worse.

The big screen's gone, but the landscaped lawns were built to last. You can still sit on the slatted wooden decking and look out over the wetlands, or jog your way along the riverbank, or take your photo on the high ridge beneath the five coloured rings. Compared to the windblown desolation of some Olympic parks, this is a well-used paradise. The wildflower mix isn't as dazzling as it was back in 2012, but visit now and you can still tell that the plants the gardeners tend were designed to peak in late July and August. Remember, though, that the flat stretch of lawn between here and Here East is destined to be covered with flats, because that was the ultimate point of this whole affair, not the medals or the reedbeds.

2.26pm: I have never before stood for the national anthem of Angola.
4.36pm: Captain America and Spiderman got tickets, and have turned up to cheer on the USA women's basketball team.

Five years ago, it was all about sport. You pre-paid an excessive amount of money for the privilege of gaining admittance to the Olympic Park and watching athletes from countries that probably weren't Great Britain competing in sports you'd normally never watch, while some over-hyped announcer tried to whip you up into a sense of over-excitement for the benefit of audiences watching for free all around the world. That's how we ended up on a back seat inside a temporary ribbed shell watching Angola shoot hoops against Turkey, and being entertained between the quarters by blaring music and a streetdance collective.

Today the Basketball Arena has disappeared, as it was always meant to, and been replaced by housing. The prime flats in the Chobham Manor development are those looking out towards the park across the adventure playground, whereas almost every other resident merely gets to stare at the flats opposite. The court itself has been replaced by Keirin Road, thus far uniquely blessed with actual terraced townhouses, just so the East Village can say it's got some. The first inhabitants generally don't have net curtains on their living room windows, presumably because they don't expect many people to go walking past, and petty domestic tableaux play out where lanky shooters once bounced for baskets.

8.41pm: Park visitors are generally ignoring the scenic waterside pathways in favour of the broad commercial ratruns. Their mistake.
9.42pm: After dark the Olympic Park lights up. Unfortunately, most people have long gone home. There are lots of staff with nothing meaningful to do.

A lot of Olympic visitors came for their event, maybe bought a Coke and a programme, then left the Park. More fool them. A lot of the rest focused their attention on the refreshment opportunities and the sponsors' pavilions, perhaps taking the opportunity to try out this newfangled concept called 'contactless' for the very first time. More fun, for sure, was to explore the parkland's quirkier nooks and crannies, stumbling upon words in water droplets, community bandstands and sliced phoneboxes. We also really enjoyed hanging around until almost chucking-out time, watching the big screen and admiring the illuminations, aware that millions of Britons would have paid a fortune for the privilege of being inside the security perimeter where we were.

The park's greatest success is that people still come, and in pretty impressive numbers. Being just across the bridge from Westfield helps, but so does the variety of family-friendly resources provided, including those squirty fountains children love to play in, the bouncy playground, and more recently the claret and blue hub of the West Ham Store. Some of the sporting facilities could thrive more, but the planners who mapped out this new neighbourhood ten years ago generally got things right. See how things feel in five more years, once the remainder of the empty spaces have become flats or overbearing towers and the estate agents have tightened their control. But some of us will always remember how it used to be, before the bulldozers came, and what it was like to walk on those fresh lawns the day the Sport kicked off.

» 40 photos from Day 1 in the Olympic Park, Saturday 28th July 2012
» ...and 70 photos from Day 2

 Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don't worry, this one doesn't end badly.

I often walk along the Greenway in the early evening. It's the quickest way to walk from my place to BestMate's, so in the spring and summer I walk that way rather than catch the tube. It takes about twenty minutes to get from Stratford High Street to the first street in Plaistow, high above the surrounding houses and water treatment works along the elevated sewer top.

I've been walking this way regularly for the last fifteen years. You meet a lot of 'interesting' folk along the way - joggers, cyclists, dog-walkers, can-swiggers, graffiti-sprayers, berry-pickers, the devout on their way to mosque - but never anyone who could be described as scary. Not until last week.

I reached the Greenway entrance at the Stratford end a couple of hours before dusk, and noticed a small group of cyclists hanging around by the pillars. There's nothing so unusual about that, except that these three had their hoods up and what looked like handkerchiefs draped across their mouths. They could have been straight out of EastEnders central casting, or they could have been three teenagers out for a ride. I assumed the latter.

As I swung off the pavement onto the long path I noticed the cyclists were looking at me. I mean why wouldn't they, people out and about do tend to look at one another as they pass. But this lot just stood motionless and let their eyes follow me round... or at least it felt like they did, I had no intention of staring back.

Normally I walk the Greenway midweek, when the path is busy with commuting cyclists whizzing home. I don't normally use it at the weekend, not in the evening anyway, and hadn't noticed how different the atmosphere can be. On this occasion there was absolutely nobody on the path ahead of me, not even in the far distance, so I'd be stepping out into an isolated corridor alone.

I pondered the situation briefly, and wondered how wise I was being in carrying on. Then I balanced this against the fact I'd been doing this walk for fifteen years and everything had been fine, and decided that probability favoured proceeding over paranoia.

I'd got about twenty seconds down the path when I was overtaken. A fourth lad, answering the same general physical description as the three on bikes, had walked swiftly up behind me and then to one side and then ahead. He didn't have a hood or a hanky, nor did he stop and hassle me, so perhaps I now enjoyed safety in numbers with a fellow traveller. On the basis that this was probably good news, I carried on.

But then the fourth lad turned round and looked behind him. This seemed an odd thing to do, particularly when he did it again a very short time later. He shot only the briefest glance at me, and instead seemed to be looking back towards the start of the path... at which point I deduced there was likely a connection between him and the cyclists behind. Hmmm.

I stole a quick look behind me as well. The three cyclists were still back at the start of the path, perhaps circling a little, perhaps preparing to depart. Quickly I looked forward again. The fourth lad was still walking in front of me, but no longer as fast as he must have been to overtake me in the first place, which didn't seem right. When he turned round for a third time, I grew increasingly uneasy.

I considered a plausible scenario. The fourth lad was an accomplice of the first three, and it was his job to get in front of me while the other three rode up behind, preferably when I was a bit further down the path and there was no means of escape. They might want to taunt me, or to request my valuables, or various other less agreeable outcomes. Or of course they might not.

I might be the unlucky chap in the wrong place at the wrong time without much hope of defending myself against whatever four young people might choose to do. Or alternatively everything might be absolutely fine. But if I continued ahead I'd be on my own for the next few minutes, increasingly cut off from potential assistance, and that didn't seem like a good risk to take.

I turned round and started walking back. If I'd thought more carefully I'd have done one of those fake theatrical turns where you suddenly look at your watch, slap your forehead and head off in a different direction. I did think carefully enough not to suddenly look at an imaginary message on my phone before doing an about turn. The last thing you do in these circumstances is whip out your priciest valuable and wave it around.

I hadn't gone far up the Greenway, so the safety of the main road was barely a minute away. But now I had a suspicious person behind me, perhaps walking away or perhaps not, I wasn't going to look round and check. Plus there were still those three young cyclists to get past, and... oh bugger, they were now cycling up the Greenway towards me.

The three of them rode slowly and deliberately across both sides of the path, adjusting their bandanas upwards as they approached. Their eyes remained visible throughout, glinting with a look that said "you'd never pick us out at an identity parade". I've seen enough scenes like this on the telly. It's rather less enjoyable to be part of one in real life.

I steeled myself to have to say something, at least, or perhaps to have to act. But no, they simply wobbled fractionally and rode on up the path, without even a word or a gesture as they went. "Phew, I got away with that one," I thought. "Or maybe I overthunk the whole thing, who knows?"

Once safely back at the start of the Greenway I looked back to see what the cyclists were up to. They'd ridden on at a medium pace, it appeared, and were now playful specks in the distance. As for the extra footsoldier he'd disappeared, which was odd given there were no exits, not unless he'd leapt over something or was hiding somewhere.

Technically my route down the Greenway was now safe, so I should have turned around again and walked all the way to Plaistow. But I couldn't bring myself to head off down an isolated path behind a trio of masked cyclists, because the risk of them changing tack again felt too great, so in the end I walked to BestMate's house the long way round. Better fifteen minutes late than not at all.

That was last week. Last night I went round to BestMate's again, at exactly the same time in the evening, and walked all the way down the Greenway to get there. I've decided not to let one potentially awkward encounter deter me from using a shortcut I've been using without incident since 2002, because past data supports the hypothesis that any risk is very low.

Indeed, I'm encouraged that I was awake enough to spot a potentially dangerous situation and avoid it, even if it didn't turn out to be dangerous at all. Or maybe it would have been dangerous if I'd have walked ahead for another minute or two into a total surveillance blackspot, but turning back promptly saved the day? If I did dodge a bullet on the Greenway, I'll never know.

 Wednesday, July 26, 2017

This is the southbound Victoria line platform at King's Cross St Pancras.

The green bits are new.

Instinctively, what do you think the green bits mean?

And if you stop and think a bit harder for a few seconds, what do you think they mean now?


The green bits are part of a trial which aims to reduce congestion on the platform.
Green lanes trial
A trial to reduce crowding and the time trains spend at platforms is due to go on trial at King's Cross in 2017. Aiming to change customer behaviour on platforms, if successful it will improve passenger flow, reduce congestion and therefore enable us to run more trains per hour, providing greater capacity on the network.
The trial started last week, and is due to continue for "up to three months". But have you worked out what's going on yet?
When customers gather at platform entrances and train doors it can make boarding and alighting difficult, and can lead to bottlenecks. The green lanes trial looks to solve these problems, and ease the high levels of congestion created as a result.
So yes, it's all about directing waiting passengers to stand in some places and not others.

But are you supposed to wait in the green bits, or not wait in the green bits?

This poster spills the beans.

The green bits are "green lanes", and they're for not stopping in.
Green vinyl areas on the platform floor will encourage people not to stop in certain places.
The idea is that those waiting on the platform keep out of the way of passengers alighting from trains, and provide a clear lane at the rear for exiting the platform. Essentially this is 'Please stand away from the doors and allow passengers to get off', writ large.
The trial will clearly differentiate the walking and waiting areas on platforms by creating green vinyl lanes that run the whole length of the platform, and spur off to the train doors. The non-green areas become the customer waiting areas. The dedicated moving area created by the green lanes will improve the flow of customers getting on and off the train and entering and leaving the platform.
But you can guess what's been happening.

People are standing in the green bits.

Lots of people are standing in the green bits.

There are several possible reasons for this.

Firstly there's only one poster explaining what to do, way back at the top of the escalator leading down from the ticket hall. If you don't see the poster, or come in via a different route, or have forgotten which way round the green bits work by the time you reach the platform, you're left to make up the rules as you go along.

Secondly, green is the internationally recognised colour of 'Go'. At street level green means approval to proceed, so a lot of people are assuming that the green bits are where they're meant to be. You can see why it's tempting to stand on green, especially when there's no train in the platform to show you've got things round the wrong way.

But the green lanes are really for passengers alighting from the train, to provide a swift and easy pathway out. It makes perfect sense that they're green when viewed that way. But green doesn't work so well for those hanging around waiting, who are left to deduce they can stand everywhere that isn't.

Thirdly, a lot of people have assumed, correctly, that the green bits show where the doors are going to be. Hurrah, they think, if I stand here I'll be immediately in front of the doors when the train arrives. They recognise this as a convenience, because they're only thinking about themselves, and not the fact that dozens of people will soon be trying to disembark onto the precise spot where they're now standing.

Meanwhile several other people are paying no attention whatsoever to the green bits.

These people simply walk onto the platform and stand where they like, and the colour of the floor beneath their feet is of no interest. These are the people with one end of their shoe in the green lane and the other end out of it, plus maybe a suitcase sprawled across the two. There is no reasoning with the oblivious.

It all gets particularly complicated at the back of the platform, where it's actually quite tricky to stand completely behind the green lane, and most passengers waiting back here don't generally keep clear.

And then, obviously, there are people doing exactly what they've been told and standing in the not-green bits.

Selective use of photos can make it look like everybody's got it totally wrong, whereas in fact several have got it (intentionally or unintentionally) right, as several minutes standing watching confirms.

Most importantly, I should point out that I took these photos in the middle of the day. Between peak hours the platform isn't especially busy, and at these times the green lanes aren't in any way necessary. But TfL's trial is focused very much on reducing congestion in peak hours, particularly the morning crush, and it might work a heck of a lot better then.

I can imagine rush hour commuters standing out of the way, or learning to stand out of the way, and letting their fellow inbound passengers pass. It must be easier to establish a system when there aren't so many one-off tourists around, and when numbers make it easier to observe 'correct behaviour' by example. I could also imagine peak times being an unholy mess as the green lanes are entirely disregarded, but I'm willing to be charitable given I haven't seen the evidence.
Announcements will also be made to remind customers to keep moving.
It appears station staff are making announcements about the green lanes, which'll surely help passengers understand precisely what they mean. I didn't hear a single announcement in the ten minutes I watched, but maybe they restrict them to peak hours when announcements would be relevant and useful, and don't bother wasting passengers' time the rest of the day.

Equalities-wise, a green strip that only makes sense if you can hear an announcement isn't a great idea. And green isn't a good choice for the colour-blind, especially when there's also a yellow strip on the platform which means something completely different.

Perhaps some vinyl arrows on the green bits would help, showing passenger flow away from the train, although they might simply draw attention to where the doors are and make things worse. Previous experiments with arrows on the Jubilee line didn't seem to work either, so maybe that's why they've not been included here.

Anyway, it's only a trial at the moment, so let's not fret.
Using CCTV cameras, we will time how quickly passengers get on and off the train, as well as noting if fewer trains are delayed due to overcrowding. For comparison, we have collected data from before the trial, looking at the morning peak. We will study the results of the Green Lane trial before deciding whether this can be introduced more widely.
But my hunch is we won't be seeing this precise set-up rolling out elsewhere. It reminds me of the 'standing only' escalator trial at Holborn, which solved a problem that only exists for a couple of hours a day, hence trying to enforce the rule at other times proved unmanageable. Rules need to be consistent, and seen to be necessary, else stubborn Londoners will always disregard them.

All we appear to have learned so far is that if you paint something green and don't label it, people aren't going to understand what it means.

• OMFG they are so stupidly designed. Don't get me started @chrisapplegate
• I read them instinctively as "stand on the green, then enter train via the green", but that would make it impossible to move along platform @LFDodds
• It's where the doors are and where you should leave space for people exiting? @adebradley
• The internationally recognised colour of forbidden, green. @PaulFedayn
• First impression - queue here for doors. @ThatMattSpencer
• After a bit of thinking I think they're showing the people getting off the train their route out, so I shouldn't stand there? But the shapes are very dazzle ship/cognitive overload imho @adambanksdotcom
• Queue. I am British and assume every line on the ground is somewhere to queue. @stuartgibson
• Natural instinct would tell you that it's ok to stand there. Knowing what That London is like, I bet it means the exact opposite. @WelshGasDoc
• My guess is lead you towards doors? @CJTerry
• Where you shouldn’t stand so you can let people off? Although if that’s the case, it should be red. @chrisbrandrick
• They're identifying where the doors will open for the next train, which will give a helpful advantage to us - the sighted - over the blind @adamdickstead
• Leave paths clear to allow people to get off the train, you damn selfish door blocking pigs? @freudianskippy
• I'd assume that's where the doors were gonna be, but no idea about the long green bit parallel to the track @build_a_fire
• Like where to stand to be by the doors when they open @OliverJ0
• The signs say keep clear, the placement and colour say "queue here" @howlieT
• Green has a strong emotional correspondence with safety. I would be inclined to stand on the green unless I saw people behaving differently.@LeeAnnEspo
• Are they to help partially sighted people find the doors? @liquidindian
• I think it sort of means "please dawdle and play on your phone in this shaded area" @mutablejoe
• Is it 'stand on this unrealistically small portion of the platform only, the rest is lava'? @IanDouglas
• "Go this way for the District Line"? @unloveablesteve
• I think it's a cycle lane. @gredmond76
• Does it mean: You didn't get a garden bridge, so here's our garden platform, but due to driver salary increases, we could only afford paint? @AndrewDoesSEO
• Walk all along the green. As you do so it will light up. Successfully complete the puzzle and win a prize. @JonnieMarbLes
• Miniature golf @mrchimpington
• As a Londoner I dislike this. A LOT. So much so that it made me tut and sigh quietly to myself. @NathanRyan89

 Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What are the Needles?

The Needles are three chalk stacks at the far western tip of the Isle of Wight. There used to be four, but the thin pillar which originally gave the feature its name crumbled into the sea during a storm in 1764. Long treacherous to shipping, in 1859 a lighthouse was built at the far end, which became one of the last such structures in the UK to be fully automated.

But how do you get to the Needles?

Unless you have a helicopter, the best way to see The Needles up close is to take a boat from Alum Bay. Pleasure boats run throughout the summer from a jetty on the beach, with a choice of fast/expensive/whizz or slower/cheaper/cruise. I plumped for the 20 minute option, the one you don't need to wear a lifejacket for, and hopped on deck in return for payment of six pounds. The crew delivered us out into the bay, along with a proper non-recorded commentary, then edged the boat up close-ish to the rocks as the wash rocked us around. The chalk looks very un-needle-like from the side, with only a single row of seabirds perched along the top as an indication of quite how thin each ridge is. Looking shoreward, the cliff face above Scratchell's Bay is exceedingly white, as if the outermost layer only recently slumped into the sea. A couple of small caves can be seen as the returning boat hugs the northern flank of the headland, weak points which will eventually lead to the creation of arches, then stacks, then nothing, as the inexorably slow cycle of coastal erosion continues. So that was fun.

But why go to Alum Bay?

The geology of the Isle of Wight is amazing. A chalk spine crosses the island from west to east, from the Needles to Culver Cliff, with less resistant rocks to either side. At Alum Bay the sedimentary strata are folded almost-vertical, exposing a sequence of soft sands and clays in a multiplicity of colours, each created by a subtly different combination of minerals. Most visitors don't give a stuff about the geology, they just think the cliffs are really pretty. Catch the right light and the rockface resembles a palette of autumnal shades, with the stripes more sharply slanted the further from the chalk they go. It used to be possible to collect fallen sand from below, but plastic tape now blocks footfall above the pebble beach to reduce the risk of landslides. Never mind, you can always sit uncomfortably on the stones and gaze out across the bay towards the Needles, or maybe hop into a boat to see them up close.

But how do you get to Alum Bay?

From the Needles Landmark Attraction you can walk down the cliff path and its multiplicity of steps. But how much more fun to take the transport option modern health and safety legislation forgot, the Needles Chairlift. I'm not saying it's unsafe, far from it, but no 21st century attraction would have been built with a drop-down bar you could wriggle out of above so deep a drop. It's fabulous. 50 double-seats swing round on a looped cable, a bit like a ski-lift, but here you head down rather than up. Wait your turn and sit back into the chair as it comes up behind, trying not to get caught up in the bar/footrest combo as an operative lowers it over your head, then take off into a wooded glade. So far so tame. But then the ground below falls away, as indeed it once literally did, and a vista opens up across the bay towards the Needles. At the cliff edge is one of those masts with rollerwheels to change the angle of travel, over which you pass, and then descend much more steeply above unstable sand towards beach level. If aerial suspension gives you the willies it's now too late to back out, but I felt unexpectedly calm as the dangleway descent continued. The ultimate landing spot is on a pontoon in the bay, where a large wheel rotates and passengers hop off... and another three quid saves you a walk back up the steps later.

But why go to the Needles Landmark Attraction?

Actually that's a good question. The collection of kiosks and amusements above Alum Bay has evolved over the years from a clifftop sideshow to a full-blown adventure park, a bit like the entertainment atrocity blighting Lands End, but not quite that bad. A "4-D cinema" is never a good sign, I find. As well as fairground rides and a dino-themed crazy golf course, visitors are also encouraged to pay to look round a glass-blowing workshop and a sweet manufactory, or insert their offspring into a plastic globe and watch them roll around on water. The unique attraction is the opportunity to make your own souvenir by filling a glass container with coloured sand. A vast array of potential shapes is available, from tubes to teddies and lighthouses to lightbulbs, into which you scoop your choice of shaded grains one layer at a time. It's a great way to take Alum Bay home with you, but only so long as nobody ever shakes your souvenir and mixes up the colours... a lesson I learned the hard way almost fifty years ago.

But how do you get to the Needles Landmark Attraction?

The Isle of Wight has an excellent bus network, plus a trio of open-topped sightseeing buses which run throughout the summer. The Island Coaster runs only once a day for most of the summer, which isn't terribly practical, plus the ride along the south coast between Alum Bay and Ryde takes almost three hours. More useful for Alum Bay purposes is the Needles Breezer, a half-hourly spin round the Freshwater Peninsula, starting and ending in Yarmouth. The route passes various spots of almost-interest, with a commentary provided by a disembodied voice which sometimes sounds like it's reading from Wikipedia. But you do get to see the field where the fabled Isle of Wight Festival took place, and the Tennyson Memorial high on the chalk downs, and the birthplace of Robert Hooke, and plenty of narrow lanes. The highlight (or the proper scary bit, depending) comes when the bus takes the clifftop road up from the Needles car park towards the Old Battery. For a couple of minutes it hangs just that little bit too close to a sheer drop before negotiating a further ascent up a hairpin bend, before turning back and doing the whole thing in reverse. The road is closed during force 8 gales, which is not usually an issue in summer.

But why go to Yarmouth?

It's the western gateway to the Isle of Wight, innit? An ancient market town with a Tudor castle and a Victorian pier - the latter the longest timber pier in the country still open to the public - and a harbour for people who like yachts and own one.

But how do you get to Yarmouth?

The Isle of Wight ferry from Lymington (or a bus from Newport)...
etc etc etc

» eight west-IoW photos

 Monday, July 24, 2017

Route W5: Archway to Harringay
Location: London north, inner
Length of journey: 4 miles, 30 minutes

You should definitely ride this excellent wholly north London bus route, said a reader. So I did. And then I walked the whole thing back the other way.

It's an oddity, the W5. Not because it's stubbornly indirect - most London buses don't go direct. Not because it's operated by little 1-door minibuses - around a dozen London bus routes have those. It's odd because the vast majority of the journey is Hail and Ride, and entirely unsigned Hail and Ride at that, weaving its way round the backroads of Haringey like a shadowy secret. Catching the W5 mid-route might be a challenge, but it's easy enough at each end, and when I boarded behind a nun carrying a packet of Wagon Wheels I knew I was in for a noteworthy ride.

What have they done to Archway? Last time I was here major roadworks were underway to remove the gyratory, and now it's gone, and in its place is a massive new pedestrian piazza with cars diverted round three sides. It makes for a nicer experience on foot, though not necessarily so in a car, and is presumably supposed to be a lot friendlier to cyclists too. Indeed pride of place in the new piazza goes to a twin-lane cycle track running straight up the centre, which I saw being used by absolutely no bicycles whatsoever, although I was only here for ten minutes which might of course be unrepresentative. It took me several of those ten minutes to try to locate the bus stop where the W5 begins, because it's hidden behind the Archway Tavern and signage from the tube station is non-existent-to-poor.

For a little bus, the W5 runs impressively frequently and is well used. About a dozen of us pile in at the first stop, including a police officer called Brian, an old lady in a brown-brimmed hat and the aforementioned nun. She's been to Poundworld and, as well as the aforementioned Wagon Wheels, her bag also contains a half-price packet of tea bags and some black plastic sacks. I suspect she's catering for a 'gathering' of some kind, and am agog to see where she gets off. One lady gets off at the very first stop up the hill, just past the statue of Dick Whittington's cat, which I charitably assume is because this is outside a hospital and not because she's inherently lazy.

By now we have passengers standing, in part because the ascent up Highgate Hill is quite daunting, but mostly because no other bus heads where we're going. That's off to the right down Hornsey Lane, after an expectedly long wait for the traffic lights to change, heading for the covered reservoir and the amazing Archway Bridge. This cast-iron Victorian span hangs high above the A1, with a blinkered view down the dual carriageway which perfectly frames the City skyscraper cluster. It's also an infamous suicide spot, the spiked parapet no insurmountable deterrent, the most recent loss having been mid-afternoon at the end of June. A letter from the family of the deceased is tied to the railings, thanking those who stopped to talk to him during those last fateful moments, and seeking if possible to find out more. Maybe the long-pledged anti-jump fence will be going up sooner rather than later.

The W5 rumbles on, still with actual proper bus stops, then makes a break for uncharted waters. Stanhope Road heads steeply down and then back up, with what looks like a railway bridge at the dip in the middle. In fact this is the Parkland Walk, a former railway turned nature reserve, and a fascinating green walkway to boot. I've walked across the top of the bridge several times, but never underneath. At the top of the rise is Shepherds Hill, a residential backwater blessed with 'courts' rather than flats, and some rather nice villas. Once a ridgeway bridlepath through fields, part of the northern flank was saved from development in 1893, thereby opening up a broad vista from Queens Wood to Ally Pally. With a screen of trees in the way, very little can be seen from the bus.

Our halfway point is Crouch End, one of Haringey's more bijou quarters, as the names of some of the boutiques along Park Road attest. Kiss The Sky. Niddle Noddle. Crystal Life. Rubadubdub. A lot of passengers alight on Middle Lane, the closest stop to the Clocktower, including a couple of ladies who've been droning on and on about work politics since Archway. The nun is still in her seat. After a fresh bunch of passengers have boarded the doors close, fractionally too late for one shopper who proceeds to tap on the glass for admission. Our jobsworth driver's having none of it and pulls away, only to get stuck behind a parking car while the abandoned passenger glares in vain through the window.

The route the W5 takes beyond Crouch End is very different eastbound to westbound, which I assume is to minimise the hassle of one minibus meeting another minibus coming the other way. Westbound the route passes Hornsey Library (a striking concrete and brick confection, which I note from the plaque outside is four days older than me) and the former Hornsey Town Hall (a Modernist pioneer with tall brick tower, which may soon be converted into an out-of-reach hotel). Eastbound we merely get the Crouch End Picturehouse, Kwikfit and the YMCA, which isn't quite as great.

The W5's role is to serve the population east of Ferme Park Road by threading through a grid of streets running from ridgetop to vale. This is serious Hail & Ride territory, with not a single actual stop between here and the end of the route, and the driver picking his moments carefully to pull in to the side. All the locals seem to know precisely on which street corner to wait for maximum effect, or when to ding to hop off at exactly the right spot. I begin to suspect that several pseudo-bus-stops exist when one passenger presses the bell the instant the bus's doors have closed after a drop-off, and the driver continues a few hundred metres down the road before stopping again, at what is evidently precisely where the passenger wanted to go.

The finest view on the route is in the opposite direction only, heading down Uplands Road, from the top of which comes the sight of Alexandra Palace behind a descending chain of chimneyed roofs. And it's at the summit on Mount View Road that the nun finally alights, taking her coffee morning treats with her, destination (in this convent-free zone) alas unknown. The W5 turns again more often than Dick Whittington, and its next detour diverts it down to Harringay station, sub-optimally in one direction only. When I come to walk back the route in the opposite direction I will get repeatedly lost, unable to remember quite which way the bus went, and with absolutely no bus stops or timetable boards to help me.

Escape from the suburban labyrinth brings the bus to Endymion Road, a one-sided affair skirting the northern rim of Finsbury Park. It's also where the traffic jam starts - approximately above the New River - because the lights at the T-junction with Green Lanes are merciless. Only ten seconds of green are provided, every not very often, and the queue creeps forward only a few cars at a time. We're still officially Hail and Ride, so the driver opens the doors and allows passengers off, which is just as well because the bus spends almost 25% of its overall journey time on Endymion Road attempting to turn left. Perhaps this is why, when another green spell fades and all looks lost, the driver blatantly follows two other cars through red to escape another couple of minutes of queueing purgatory. Tut.

To finish, we turn right at McDonalds into what TfL like to call 'Harringay Superstores', although super is surely overdoing it. A Sports Direct and an Argos have been airdropped onto the site of the Harringay Stadium, plus a number of other utterly typical warehouse-sized chain stores, all bookended by a Homebase and Sainsburys. The W5 terminates round the back of the latter, ideal not just for groceries but so that the driver can dash off to use 'the facilities' at a convenience TfL hasn't had to pay for. The bus simply waits to deliver another batch of shoppers back to non-existent bus stops round a swirl of streets you'd never need to visit unless you lived there, which is fortunate, because otherwise you might never know.

Route W5: route map
Route W5: live route map
Route W5: timetable
Route W5: The Ladies Who Bus

 Sunday, July 23, 2017

How 50 London places got their names

Aldwych: lair of the ancient sorceress
Arnos Grove: small wood, formerly belonging to Arno
Barbican: where barbecues were permitted
Barking: Henry VIII's favourite hostelry
Barkingside: close to Henry VIII's favourite hostelry
Barnes: place for agricultural storage
Battersea: site of heavy wave action
Blackfriars: known for its overcooked fish
Bloomsbury: a subterranean garden
Brixton: huge pile of building materials
Camberwell: a nicely-sloping road
Catford: where kittens crossed the river
Crossness: known for its angry residents
Dulwich: lair of the boring sorceress
Ealing: site of Cockney 'ospital
Feltham: home of the infamous Pigstrokers Gang
Finsbury: shark cemetery
Fulham: a lot of pigs lived here
Fulwell: hole which overflowed with water
Goodmayes: most excellent labyrinth
Greenwich: lair of the inexperienced sorceress
Hackney: place where half a leg was lost
Hatch End: closed-down chicken farm
Hatton: place to find millinery
Hayes: susceptible to fog
Highbury: hilltop cemetery
Hurlingham: home of the infamous Pigchuckers Gang
Kew: where the line to enter London began
Kidbrooke: riverside grazing for young goats
Kilburn: place of murder and arson
Kingsbury: royal cemetery
Ladywell: women's hospital
Limehouse: bright green cottage
Maida Vale: wedding dress headgear created here
Nunhead: place of habit
Paddington: huge pile of stuffing
Pinner: where ladies were tied down
Ponders End: place for contemplating death
Poplar: a lot of people used to live here
Purley: seat of Cockney royalty
Riddlesdown: a very wet place
Shacklewell: a particularly good torture chamber
Slade Green: parkland for duelling
Spitalfields: saliva-strewn pasture
Sudbury: cemetery for washerwomen
Tooting Broadway: avenue lined by owls
Wandsworth: marketplace for wizards
Wapping: huge place
Whetstone: rock in a river
Woolwich: lair of the knitting sorceress

 Saturday, July 22, 2017

5 Coulsdon & Purley/Caterham & Warlingham
Not every district proposed to become part of Greater London in 1965 made the cut. Coulsdon and Purley made it in, and probably would've rather not, whereas Caterham and Warlingham were left outside, and remain resolutely part of Surrey. Today a seemingly arbitrary dividing line wends its way across the suburban landscape, with one side genuinely part of the Home Counties and the other merely looking the part. In trying to work out where to visit for today's post I realised I'd been to Coulsdon, Purley and Caterham but never Warlingham, so headed there, then threw in a bonus trip to Woldingham for good measure.

OK, how to get to Warlingham? From here I think the Overground to Croydon and then the 403 bus. Weather forecast looks OK. I'll pack the suncream just in case. Who let that school party onto the train? Must be an end of term trip. We didn't have to wear hi-vis in my day. I see they're all wearing special stickers too. What an excitable racket. I can hardly concentrate enough to read my book. Actually it's not a very good book is it? The cover makes it look a lot more interesting than it is. Never mind, I can take it back to the library on Monday.

West Croydon bus station's odd. And new-ish. Not bad looking, a bit like a chalet. But how on earth am I meant to cross the tram tracks to reach it? Would it have been so hard to add a direct pedestrian crossing? Everyone just walks across the tracks anyway. Oh god, the speakers are playing muzak. I quite like the electronic display showing when all the next buses arrive. Shame the lettering's so small you can't read it from any of the bus stops. Why are there never Countdown displays at bus stops in bus stations? And why are there three police officers on patrol here? All they're doing is standing around watching proceedings. Easiest job ever. They should be somewhere else being useful.

Bus to Warlingham. Top deck front seat obviously. How far round the houses are we going? Although the houses are quite nice round here. I wonder if my auntie's in. Hang on, it's raining. It wasn't supposed to do that. Aha, I recognise Hamsey Green, this is where the London Loop goes through. Didn't that wasteland used to be a pub? I see it's going to be a Lidl. Rain's coming down a lot harder now. I can hardly see out. Warlingham looks quite splotchy. I'll stay on until Sainsbury's. Let's hide in the shelter for a bit. I see everyone's had the same idea. Well this is a bit grim.

OK, if those old ladies can brave the weather, so can I. It's only rain, I'll be fine. Where's High Lane? I can see why there's a sign warning cars with satnavs to stay away. Gosh, there's almost a good view down there. Oh, the entire valley is filled with a golf course. Rain's easing. Is that a wolf coming the other way? Ah no, it's got a man with it. It looks hungry. Good, it's on a lead. Ah, the path goes straight past the clubhouse terrace. I don't think these golfing gentlemen appreciate having a man with a rucksack interrupting their al fresco drinks. I shan't stop. Which way does the path go?

I guess this is quite pretty on a decent day. Today is not that day. I could always hide out in that garden centre for a while. But it's only drizzling now, and quite frankly I'd rather get wet. Woldingham has how few buses a day? Sheesh, this is what happens when you live a couple of miles outside London. There again, the station has a brilliant service. It's down here isn't it? Typical that the only shop outside the station is an interior designer. Ticket office has just shut for the day. Village of two thousand people has a ticket office open for six hours every morning, and yet all the ticket offices on the tube have been closed.

Let's try following a bit of the Woldingham Country Walk. Useful that there's a map immediately opposite the car park. I'm not sure whether the track through that farmyard is a public footpath or not. Ah bugger, here comes a dog not on a lead. It looks like it owns the place. Such an over-confident swagger. Damn, the owner is on horseback, so can't directly control it. Hang on, I'll just retreat up this side path for a bit. And wait. And wait. And back on track. The footpath must be across the edge of this field, somewhere. Nice old brick bridge over the railway, weight limit three tonnes.

The footpath heads off into deep woodland across the mouth of the tunnel. It's a bit overgrown. It'll be fine if I duck. Ouch that was a nettle. Path goes on a bit, doesn't it? Ah, I appear to have most of last night's thunderstorm soaking into the bottom of my jeans. Hopefully it'll dry off before I bump into anyone else. But I don't think I'll be meeting anyone else on this path, not in the middle of a weekday. If I had an accident here and fell unconscious, I wonder how long it'd be before anyone walked past and noticed? I am not going to have an accident here and fall unconscious. This is fabulously isolated. I adore remote-footpathing midweek.

Ah, here's the tiny church. I shall take a free history leaflet from the plastic dispenser on the gatepost. Only somewhere as rich as this would the leaflet be printed on glossy paper with a single colour photo. Ooh, the door opens. What a wonderfully trusting country we still live in. OK, it's nice, but it's not as quaint inside as I was expecting. More chapel than church. On the lectern by the font are a prayer book, a copy of the electoral roll, a history of the church in a plastic folder, the guidebook for a Maltese chapel and a copy of the parish's Policy for Safeguarding Children 2017. I'll only read one of them.

Some of these houses are enormous. Not unattractive, but enormous. Reassuringly unfortress-like too. I wonder which one Davina McCall lived in. And Jordan. Oh look, someone's dropped a half-full packet of Morrisons Iced Slices on the pavement. Reduced to 30p too. How very un-Woldingham. The telephone box looks a bit forlorn now it's had its phone removed. I wonder what the flag up the pole on the green is. So many private roads everywhere. I missed the Zumba class at the village hall this morning. All the essential shops for a highfalutin commuter village are here. A mini-supermarket, an estate agent, a catering company, a beauty parlour and a saddlery. That saddlery'll outlive them all.

I'll try a different footpath back to Warlingham. Sadly there are no butterflies up Butterfly Walk. I blame the weather. It's quite a climb. Ah, the next field contains cattle. Beef cattle with horns. Does that mean they're bulls? Please let them be at the bottom of the field, not up here where the path is. Phew, they're at the bottom of the field. I shall risk it. I wonder how quickly bulls can run up a hill if they want to. They don't seem to be moving. I shall speed up anyway. Lovely meadow, and a lovely view, if only I had time to enjoy it. The next gate seems a very long way away all of a sudden. And... through. That's better. Nice coal post.

Time to take a shortcut through the nature reserve. It's surrounded by houses, but there's absolutely nobody else here except me. My jeans still have specks of seeds stuck to them. They're not quite dry yet, but then none of me is. I think the suncream was a mistake. Let's see what's going on in the latest parish council minutes. The road outside the retirement flats has been badly resurfaced. Several entries for the flag/logo competition have been shortlisted. Timetable changes mean the morning rush hour buses are now too close together. The chairman is very concerned about flyposting for the Sausage and Cider Festival.

Time for one last look around the village green. It's mostly shops and a war memorial. The flowerbeds are immaculate. The bank has just closed for good, and so has the petrol station. A concrete mixer is parked outside the fish and chip shop. If I ever own a wine bar I will never call it Chez Vous. Ludovic charges £9 more than Mickaël for a cut and blow dry. Only in well-off commuter villages are there boutiques selling 'shoes, clocks, jewellery and collectables'. Alas it seems half-day closing is still a 'thing' round here. Is the bus home due yet? Damn, it appears to be school-chucking-out time.

 Friday, July 21, 2017

5 Coulsdon & Purley/Caterham & Warlingham
Not every district proposed to become part of Greater London in 1965 made the cut. Coulsdon and Purley made it in, and probably would've rather not, whereas Caterham and Warlingham were left outside, and remain resolutely part of Surrey. Today a seemingly arbitrary dividing line wends its way across the suburban landscape, with one side genuinely part of the Home Counties and the other merely looking the part. In trying to work out where to visit for today's post I realised I'd been to Coulsdon, Purley and Caterham but never Warlingham, so headed there, then threw in a bonus trip to Woldingham for good measure.


Warlingham's a village on a hill, or rather the scarp of the North Downs, which grew from medieval manor to commuter nirvana over several centuries. The heart of the village is on the Limpsfield Road around a triangular green, at the centre of which is the war memorial, and above which flies a Union Jack, because its that kind of place. It's also the kind of place that still has a 'hardware' store and a newsagent that sells books, as well as an independent cafe and a gift shop for dogs (as beneficiaries, not as shoppers). But not a bank, because NatWest just whitewashed the windows of the branch on the corner, nor an old-school petrol station, because that's barriered off awaiting transformation into a dozen flats.

The absence of pubs in neighbouring Sanderstead and Woldingham meant that several could be supported here, although Ye Old Leather Bottle has upgraded to tapas, The Hare and Hounds has downgraded to coffee, and most of the others now prioritise food over ale. Of these the half-timbered White Lion looks by far the most appealing, although the phrase 'Free House' painted on the side wall is alas no longer true. Gold gothic letters above the door confirm the inn as '15th century', but also warn off potential canine visitors with 'No Dogs Please' in similar script.

All Saints Church is 13th century, and is said to be where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first conducted a service from the Book of Common Prayer. It's definitely the site of Britain's first ever televised church service - the BBC filmed the Harvest Festival here in 1950 - while the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, Sir Joseph Swan, is entombed in the graveyard. Of more immediate importance (if banners plastered all around the local area are to be believed) is the 2nd annual Warlingham Sausage and Cider Festival, taking place all this weekend at the John Fisher Sports Ground, with a rumoured appearance by Randy and the Rockets.

Warlingham's centre of gravity has shifted noticeably west since Victorian times, thanks to the arrival of the railway. Ironically Upper Warlingham station is at the lowest point in the village, but a steep flight of steps leads up to a residential quarter where the avenues are more sweeping and the back gardens more spacious. Less stockbrokerish types can enter the village by London bus - the 403 rumbles regularly across the border through Hamsey Green, and terminates at what used to be Chelsham bus garage but is now a large Sainsbury's.

How to walk from Warlingham to Woldingham

1) Follow the track opposite the Village Hall into Blanchman's Farm Local Nature Reserve. The farmhouse used to be opposite the pond. On the opposite side, where the narrow lane of Bug Hill starts to tumble over the escarpment, look out for the historic coal post masquerading as a gatepost. To avoid any traffic, take the footpath across the very top of a steep pasture, focusing on the great view and trying not to wonder whether the Longhorn Beef cattle sharing the field are all bulls. Then hairpin back down a long path called Butterfly Walk and follow the remainder of Bug Hill down to the crossroads.

2) At the village sign, just past Sainsbury's, turn off down High Lane (which Surrey County Council wisely signs as inappropriate for vehicular traffic). Plantation Lane hugs the rim of the delightfully-named Halliloo Valley, and swiftly narrows, bordered by anguished signs warning dogwalkers to keep their charges under firm control. After a pleasant half mile the track swings down into the golf course which fills the entire valley floor, passing an ostentatious pillared clubhouse where players gather on the terrace for a post-round drink. Don't linger, stride on towards the gates, and they won't look at you too funny.


The next village south is very much not part of London, more a sprawling web of lanes dotted with detached homesteads. Woldingham covers approximately the same area as Caterham on the opposite side of the A22 but has only a tenth of the population, such is the allure of a Downland hideaway. This time a bus service isn't an option, not unless you catch one of the two minibuses a day, but the East Grinstead railway provides a perfect commuter link to the City. The station's small car park fills up fast (BMW, Landrover, Lexus, Landrover, etc) so latecomers are forced to leave their vehicles in single file down Church Lane, 50-strong, rather than endure the inconvenience of a long walk down Long Hill.

Woldingham's village green looks a lot more rural than Warlingham's traffic island, with horse trough planter, recently disconnected phone box and almost enough space for cricket. The remains of an air raid shelter can be seen in one corner, while a nearby cottage proudly displays an inn sign out front despite the fact it hasn't been a pub since 1884. Local residents' retail needs are met in The Crescent, a brief parade offering semi-permanent eyelash extensions, replacement windows and, at the far end, a saddlery. A key difference between Warlingham and Woldingham is that the latter only supports one estate agent, not two, but the majority of its properties top the million threshold.

St Paul's is a flint church in medieval style, but built in the 1930s, as the artsy craftsy lettering round the tower subtly hints. Of rather more interest is Woldingham's former parish church, St Agatha's, hidden up a lane to the south and built on the site of a 13th century chapel. This is one of the smallest churches in England, seating 20 in six pews either side, but still perfectly functional and still used for a weekly service. Lift the latch to look inside and admire the (old) piscina and (much more recent) stained glass windows. The ash tree in the churchyard is reckoned to be 800 years old, while an ancient yew shades the burial ground where generations of Woldingham paupers lie in unmarked graves.

Close by is the entrance to Great Church Wood, gifted to the Forestry Commission by conductor Sir Adrian Boult. Walk its shady paths half a mile to the south and you reach the crest of the North Downs, indeed the very section of the North Downs Way I told you about on Sunday. It seems incredible that so pastoral a viewpoint could ever have been considered for the southern edge of Greater London, but Surrey would not let go, and Woldingham's rich and famous certainly prefer it that way.

» Warlingham Countryside Walk 1
» Warlingham Countryside Walk 2
» Woldingham Countryside Walk (recommended)
» Woldingham Millennium Walk

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