Thursday, August 31, 2017
8♥ Merton & Morden/Mitcham/Wimbledon
Aha, here's another London borough that came to fruition in 1965 just as the Herbert Commission had proposed. Three former boroughs combined, under the oldest of their names, to create the conglomerate now known as Merton. In deciding what to do with my visit, I went to the council website and took their recommendation to track down the borough's most historic resident...
The Nelson Trail
Yes of course Admiral Lord Nelson lived in Merton. He bought a house on Merton High Street in 1801 and lived here for four years - when he wasn't off commanding ships - and it was from Merton that he set off on his final journey to Trafalgar. The council have therefore dragged together ten local locations with which he was associated to create the Nelson Trail, an entity which exists solely as an HTML list on their website. There are no signs, no leaflets, no physical manifestations, nor even a digital map to show you where all the sites are. It is, by a long chalk, the most lacklustre 'trail' I have ever followed. But I did some research, knocked up my own map, and gave it a try.
The Nelson Trail has been designed to allow people to walk in the footsteps of Britain’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson. The London Borough of Merton has a number of sites associated with the life of Nelson. These range from historic buildings and churches, to the site of the Admiral’s former residence Merton Place as well as land owned by his friends and neighbours. All the sites included are accessible by public transport. A number of buildings are open to the public or by prior appointment and you can cover most of the trail in one day.Merton Place
Let's start with Nelson's actual home (even though, inexplicably, it's number 7 on Merton's list). His mistress Emma Hamilton chose the house while he was at sea, preferring it to one in Turnham Green, and describing it as “an elegant and very commodious brick edifice”. Nelson paid £9000 for Merton Place, including 52 acres of land on either side of the main road, and arrived here for the very first time on 23 October 1801. The moat was duly stocked with fish, various shrubs and trees were planted, and pigs and poultry were brought in to give the place proper rural appeal. Emma spent large amounts of money on upgrades and entertainment, including adding an extension on the east side and filling the house with portraits and mirrors. Even Nelson's admiral's salary struggled to keep up.
In May 1803 war recommenced against France and Nelson returned to the fleet, eventually grabbing 25 days shore leave in August 1805 and returning to Merton. His domestic time was filled with family parties, visiting and receiving friends, and planning for the future. But on the evening of Friday 13 September 1805 he left by chaise to Portsmouth
for what would turn out to be his final voyage, and the couple's joint tenure at 'dear, dear Merton' came to an end. Emma's lavish lifestyle continued, however, and by 1808 she was forced to try to sell the house and its land to pay her debts. She ended her life penniless in Paris, and Merton Place stood empty until it was demolished in 1823.
All of which is a long way of saying, if you come hunting for Merton Place now there is nothing to see. Instead the site of Nelson's house is covered by the High Path estate, a local government housing initiative from the 1950s nudged up against South Wimbledon station. Though not entirely unattractive it's archetypally ordinary, a mix of bricky flats, towers and maisonettes, in sharp contrast to the estate-agent-friendly terraces across the road. The four-storey block of flats on the precise spot where the Admiral lived has been called Merton House, a woefully ambiguous name given the area, and faces nothing more interesting than the backs of some garages.
A blue and gold plaque affixed to the last flat in Doel Close confirms that Merton Place used to be 200 feet distant. But are there plans to provide a more fitting memorial to Lord Nelson on the actual site? Hell no. Instead Merton council have advanced plans to regenerate the entire High Path estate, replacing it with mixed-use flats in generic brick vernacular, and the vicinity of Merton House is due to become the centre of a fortified central courtyard with parking underneath. I've read through the consultation documents and can find no mention of Nelson, except as the name for a proposed run of retail units along an alleyway between two rows of flats. Historically it's no great loss, because the eradication of all things Nelson took place several decades ago, but this equally bland rebirth does feel like an opportunity lost.
No, Nelson never drank in this pub on Merton High Street, because it was built 105 years after his death. But the Nelson Arms does mark the site of the entrance gates to Merton Place, and the lodge alongside, so Nelson would have ridden through the lounge bar on many occasions. A brick-lined tunnel once nipped under the road close by, providing private access to the Wimbledon side of Nelson's estate, specifically the stables, gardens and acres of farmland. The exterior of the pub features a number of special glazed murals depicting the admiral and HMS Victory, and these are due to survive the upcoming regeneration, despite the interior being less cocktails/sparkle and more lager/Sky Sports.
Nelson's neighbour James Halfhide lived in a large house called Gatehouse, and owned a calico print works at the bottom of the garden. Nelson apparently bought a strip of land off James in 1801 for £23, which is the wilfully flimsy reason for including Gatehouse on the Nelson Trail. Don't bother coming to look because again no trace remains, and Merton's mapless website doesn't even make it clear where it used to be anyway (somewhere on Merton High Street, "approximately 1-2 minutes walk from Wandle Park, to the right of Savacentre, just past Mill Road", and "now covered by flats").
Here's where things start getting really tenuous. Wandle Park, opposite Colliers Wood station, was once the site of Wandlebank House. This edifice was built by James Perry, editor of the 'Morning Chronicle', the most successful newspaper in Georgian London. As a near neighbour Nelson is known to have visited on a number of occasions, but the house was demolished in 1962 and again there is nothing specific to see. It's a nice park, but you might as well visit the Kiss Me Hardy Hungry Horse restaurant across the road for all the historical insight it's going to give you.
Church of St John the Divine and Nelson Gardens
I was looking forward to seeing this Gothic church on High Path, built within Nelson's former estate to mark the centenary of his death. Inside there's supposed to be stained glass designed by Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones and an altarpiece made from timber taken from Nelson’s flagship, but the building's not overly impressive from outside when the door is locked. More immediately evocative are two 12-pounder cannons pointing towards the entrance of Nelson Gardens, a scrappy patch of recreational space alongside Merton Road, again created for the centenary. According to the memorial stone the land was donated by a great nephew of the late Rear Admiral in memory of "splendid services rendered", but these days they look rather less than shipshape.
Church of St Mary the Virgin
For an actual Nelson-related artefact, head to this delightful medieval parish church half a mile to the southwest. Nelson and his family did precisely that every Sunday morning when they were in Merton, back when St Mary's was surrounded by fields, in order to attend a local act of worship. These days those fields have been swallowed up by the Merton Park estate, but that's very desirably Victorian and remarkably peaceful, as I discovered when I wandered in from the tramstop. Even better the door to the church was open to visitors, which it isn't scheduled to be in the afternoon, so this time I was able to slip inside and admire.
St Marys' roof is splendid and includes 12th century cross beams. Memorials can be found to Queen Elizabeth I's treasurer and the first European to set foot on Australian soil. Edward Burne-Jones designed a set, another set, of eight glowing stained glass windows. A dozen hatchments line the aisle, including one to mark Nelson's funeral. And at the front of the aisle is the plain oak pew on which Nelson and his family once sat, marked with a small plaque, and attached to various electronic gubbins which alert the vicar whenever a motion sensor is triggered. Of all the sights on the Nelson Trail St Mary's is the one to see, for reasons far broader than the admiral's life alone.
Hidden in the southwest corner of Morden Hall Park, here's an even better example of "seriously, what's the point?" At the turn of the 19th century Morden Lodge was the home of Abraham Goldsmid, an eminent financier, whose friends included the Prince Regent and the Prime Minister, William Pitt. Lord Nelson visited several times and, after his death, Abraham was one of the trustees who tried to secure Merton Place for Emma. However a risky deal wiped out his fortune, Abraham took his own life and his home was demolished in 1820. The current Morden Lodge is a replacement, you can barely see this mansion from the road through the hedge, and the gate at the end of the drive screams Private Property Beware Of The Dog. The adjacent park may be a delight, but don't come visiting merely to hunt for a house that isn't there.
Mitcham Cricket Ground
Similarly, you might want to question the need to need to travel an additional mile to visit a cricket ground Nelson may, or may not, have watched a match at. A plaque by the clubhouse door says he definitely did, but the Merton Historical Society casts considerable doubt on the claim. The one true connection to the past is Mitcham Cricket Club, reputedly the oldest cricket club in existence, who've been playing on Cricket Green since 1685. Their kidney-shaped pitch is also one of the most public in London, overlooking a major road junction and adding a proper rural touch to the area. The home side were at 43 for 1 when I arrived, and either fully engrossed in batting or nipping through the traffic into the clubhouse for refreshment. Non-members are warned that both pubs overlooking Cricket Green are now boarded up, awaiting whatever fate decrees, so potential spectators take heed.
And finally, you what? The Nelson Trail now expects us to head to Wimbledon Village, a couple of miles from anywhere else on the itinerary, to see a school the admiral once visited to be "entertained with readings in the front parlour". Admittedly that visit was in September 1805 just before he headed off to be shot, and admittedly the school promptly renamed itself the Nelson Academy after he left, and admittedly Eagle House is a splendid 400-year-old building - possibly the finest in the village - but really, why? Also the long-empty house is currently concealed behind giant hoardings as it undergoes transformation into 8 luxury apartments, price on application, so you won't see much unless you squint past the padlock on the front gate.
In summary, there are far more relevant places to follow in this seadog's footsteps than Merton. And while his time here was fascinating, but brief, the Nelson Trail feels far too much like a good idea spread too far too thinly.
» The Nelson Trail
» A map of the locations on the Nelson Trail
» An excellent 4-page history of 'Nelson at Merton', by the Merton Historical Society
» The Museum of Wimbledon - for all things non-tennis-related
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, August 30, 2017#diamondgeezernews
London's best news-copying accumulator service
★ Across London numerous underpaid graduates working for a variety of websites are busy regurgitating stories other people wrote in the hope that people will click on their version and make their bosses some money. It's great to know that the future of journalism is secure.
★ Twitter users in London have been quick to react to today's wet weather. @savannahstylist said "London my beautiful city! Rain day today!" @LeoD_513 said "I even bought an umbrella. Heck, I might even use it." @strawberrykay said "Can anyone stop the rain in London for me? I need to go home & I only washed my hair this morning." @laurencefvk said "lovely rain, purging London of men in flip flops."
★ This is Local London is reporting that four tiny tropical fish were dumped in 'murky' water in a broken tank on a wall in Earlsfield last week. RSPCA inspector Mike Bearman attended the scene shortly before midnight to collect the stranded fish after a passer-by spotted the abandoned tank on Garratt Lane. A printed note on a piece of plain A4 paper taped to the top of the tank read: "Please take me".
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★ Now that I'm a top London journalist I'm eagerly watching the London Fire Brigade's Latest Incidents page in case some newsworthy conflagration occurs, but so far it offers nothing better than a fire in a Bexley timber yard yesterday evening.
★ The Evening Standard has started pumping out lots and lots of online news stories as its daily edition heads to the printers. In actual news, the Elizabeth Tower was cast into darkness early this morning after lighting of its stonework and illumination behind its famous clockface were switched off during renovations. No MPs have yet expressed additional anger at this lighting travesty.
★ LBC and the Evening Standard finally have the news that the iconic yellow London Duck Tours will disappear from the Thames next month after losing their access point to the river. This coverage comes one day after Londonist reported the news, which they spotted on the London SE1 website, who actually broke the story a week ago, just after the announcement was made on the London Duck Tours blog.
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★ The Mayor of London has today visited the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in Richmond, as he encouraged community groups to apply for his £1 million Greener City Fund to help deliver more air quality improving trees, plants and green play areas in every neighbourhood. News agencies will now be scrambling to reformat the official account of his press call for media consumption.
★ This Is Local London has scraped a press release for news that a new care home in Sudbury Hill will be led by Angela Kamara, who has more than 25 years’ experience in the industry. “I believe that in order to be a successful home manager you need to be an excellent communicator, respectful, kind, and always willing to learn," said Angela. The home has also welcomed Samantha Neal as customer relations manager.
★ An Evening Standard reporter was watching BBC Business Live this morning, and heard the founder of a high-end London cupcake chain saying he wanted to expand in the capital but found it difficult because of rising rents. Are these the end times for affluent snacking? Truly the Cupcakecalypse is upon us!
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★ The Evening Standard has spotted that a Westminster townhouse frequented by Queen Victoria is up for sale for £19.5m. So far the accompanying news article is only 23 words long, and they don't have a photo, but we wish we could move in anyway!
★ Still waiting for some actual London news that isn't football-related. I'm sure all the journalists will be at their desks soon.
★ Time Out's blog is reporting that a Soho restaurant is giving away free portions of octopus and chorizo croquetas for the whole of this week, because OMG free food is like Londoners' favourite thing ever. See you there!
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★ Eagle Radio in Guildford are reporting further frustration for commuters at Waterloo after a signalling problem shut platforms 1-3 temporarily this morning. South Western Railway says all platforms are now in use, but delays of up to 10 minutes are expected until 8:30am today.
★ The Evening Standard are reporting that footballer Olivier Giroud has reiterated his lack of interest in returning to France as Arsenal enter a crucial final 48 hours of the transfer window. They have yet to publish any other London-specific news this morning, but apparently a fox fell through the ceiling of a department store in Swindon on Monday and then hid behind a rack of jeans.
★ The BBC are reporting that Prince William and Prince Harry are to visit a London memorial garden for their mother on the eve of the 20th anniversary of her death. The White Garden at Kensington Palace has been planted to mark 20 years since Princess Diana died in a car crash. The Duchess of Cambridge will join the princes on the garden tour. Let's hope the rain stops by then!
posted 08:00 :
Tuesday, August 29, 2017Every two years I walk the best walk in southeast England, across the top of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters.
I walked it yesterday, and am pleased to report there was no sign of Sunday's rogue toxic cloud.
Lots of people were out enjoying the exhilarating views and getting very sweaty in the process.
Sometimes I walk west to east and sometimes east to west, to keep it fresh. This time from Eastbourne, not to.
Sometimes I stop at Exceat, but this time I walked all the way to Seaford, all 15 miles, in six hours.
The best thing about the Seaford extension is this classic view across the mouth of the River Cuckmere.
What better on a warm sunny Bank Holiday Monday than an undulating hike over the chalk cliffs?
» 2007 report and photos
» 2009 set of 30 photos
» 2011 photos
» 2013 photos
» 2015 photos
» 2017 photos (15 of them)
10 notes from along the way
1) A lone bagpiper was practising on the ridge above Eastbourne, droning to a tiny passing audience.
2) Several people wandered behind the chain fences atop Beachy Head to take a closer look at the bouquets and memorials on the edge, usually until those they were walking with pointed out this wasn't a good idea.
3) In October the National Trust are shutting off access to the beach at Birling Gap and shifting the steps inland, in the hope that the reopened bridge will last another seven years before erosion means they need to shift it again.
4) It's ever so easy to forget you're walking above a sheer drop until you get to the next rise, look back, and go OMG.
5) My unofficial opinion is that it's less knackering to walk the Seven Sisters east→west than west→east, because the slopes aren't quite so violently steep.
6) Folk from 7 to 70 were out completing the Seven Sisters section, although the smallest children weren't always as impressed by the experience as their parents told them they ought to be.
7) Two young gentleman walking the other way looked distraught when I told them there was no phone signal for the next 3 miles.
8) At the mouth of the Cuckmere you can save a 45 minute detour inland if you're willing to wade knee-high through the river.
9) The busiest places on the walk were Birling Gap, where the car park is, and the pebbly beach at Cuckmere Haven.
10) A '99' ice cream cornet from the Martello Kiosk in Seaford costs £2, and is really creamy.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, August 28, 2017The London Loop was born in a different era.
To prove the point, this is part of the information board on Hadley Common, at the top of the long climb up from New Barnet.
The dead giveaway to its age is the 0181 phone number, dating the board to before June 1999. The idea to create an official outer orbital walking route around the capital arose in 1990, and soon became the flagship project of the London Walking Forum. The first section to be officially opened was between Hamsey Green and Coulsdon, with a ceremony on Farthing Downs on 3rd May 1996. Other sections followed at a rate of two or three a year, it being no mean feat to fully waymark a path and provide written instructions on how to walk it. Section 16 via Hadley Common must have been one of the first to open, and it took almost ten years for the entire Loop to be fully complete.
The nationwide Walkers' Web mentioned on the board never came to fruition, but London's new administration took the Loop to heart and bundled it up with five other 'strategic walks'. Another was the Capital Ring, a medium-sized orbit in zones 3 and 4, plus the separately sourced Jubilee Walkway linking sights in the centre. Two others followed rivers - the Thames Path and the Lea Valley Walk - and the last was the Green Chain in southeast London, a leftover from the GLC. Only one strategic route has been added since - the Jubilee Greenway - and that's mainly cobbled together from existing sections of existing routes, plus a lot of Regents Canal towpath. Lack of cash means there's no expectation the official network will be expanding any time soon.
The idea of a free guide you can pick up in your local library or council offices now sounds very dated. Full colour fold out illustrated leaflets were provided in a pre-internet era, specifically to encourage Londoners out of their homes. But the money ran out in 2009, since when it's been pdfs only, or shelling out to buy the book for the entire circuit. I collected nearly all the leaflets before austerity kicked in, and when I walked section 16 last week it was definitely the leaflet I took with me to help guide me round, not some sanitised electronic version. Sure it's brilliant to have a map and all the instructions in your pocket on your phone, at basically no cost, but the tiny screen is no match for an expansive sheet of paper when you're trying to assimilate the route.
Funding for the Walk London website, on which all the strategic walks were hosted, disappeared at the end of 2014. Instead TfL were forced to take all the maps and directions in house, eventually (but not immediately) creating a full set of electronic instructions. These are in TfL house style with accurate but strangely vacant maps, more utilitarian than enticing... but at least they still exist. Meanwhile the Walk London website got wiped, and now only bursts into action three times a year to promote special weekends of guided walks. Again they're great, but TfL's commitment to promoting walking now feels somewhat lacklustre - merely keeping the old stuff on life support rather than branching out with something new.
As for the signs, it's no longer true that if you follow the LOOP waymarks you won't get lost. Obviously it's impossible to perfectly sign a walking route through deep country, but enough waymarks are missing that you won't find your way at certain key points without written instructions. Time was when people actually went out to check all the signs were in place, and if not affix a new one, indeed each section of the Loop and Capital Ring once had its own volunteer steward who watched over it. These days there are dozens of missing green circles, and several broken fingerposts, as an idea once high up the priority list slowly decays into obscurity.
The worst thing is you're probably nodding and saying, yes, that's how it is these days, so deeply is the philosophy of "we simply can't afford it" engrained on our public services. Now central government castrates local government spending, making provision for citizens taking a jolly walk is never going to be a priority. No matter that exercise might keep us fitter and keep us away from the NHS for longer, the realities of brutally-trimmed funding mean that today's available money always goes elsewhere. That said, Sadiq Khan did state in his Mayoral manifesto that he wanted to "Open up more walking routes around London, and work with local authorities and TfL to improve the London Loop and Capital Ring walks", but we haven't seen any sight of anything like that as yet.
So really this is just a plea to go out and enjoy the London Loop and the other strategic walks while they're still available. I've learned an absolutely huge amount about London by walking routes around and across it, carefully curated by people who knew what they were doing, and enjoyed myself thoroughly along the way. It doesn't matter if you only walk a single section, or like me take ten years to complete an entire circuit, the point is to give these official walks a try. Nobody's going to be funding the Santander Suburban Stroll any time soon, so best get out and make best use of what we've got.
posted 07:00 :
The London Loop
1 Erith → 2 Old Bexley → 3 Petts Wood → 4 West Wickham → 5 Hamsey Green → 6 Coulsdon South → 7 Banstead Downs → 8 Ewell → 9 Kingston Bridge → 10 Hatton Cross → 11 Hayes → 12 Uxbridge → 13 Harefield → 14 Moor Park → 15 Hatch End → 16 Elstree → 17 Cockfosters → 18 Enfield Lock → 19 Chingford → 20 Chigwell → 21 Havering-atte-Bower → 22 Harold Wood → 23 Upminster Bridge → 24 Rainham → Purfleet
Favourite sections: 5, 17, 3, 20, 24
Least impressed sections: 7, 10, 14, 22
Sheesh, the mud! sections: 13, 18
Bleak estuarine sections: 24, 1, 24
A lot of river/canal: 1, 8, 10, 11, 12, 23, 24
Mostly rural sections: 3, 5, 15, 16, 17, 20
Longest sections: 1, 3, 4, 9, 15, 16, 17
Shortest sections: 6, 7, 10, 13, 18, 23
» Official TfL page
» Planning a London Loop walk
posted 00:24 :
Sunday, August 27, 2017WALK LONDON
The London Loop [section 16]
Borehamwood to Cockfosters (10½ miles)
Ten years ago, I walked my first section of the London Loop. Exactly ten years ago I wrote about it. Today I'm rounding off the project with an account of my final section of the London Loop, the last of the 24, which I walked last week. I didn't walk them in order, I nipped around the edge of the capital on a whim, so I'm not ending up with Rainham to Purfleet. Instead my final section is the longest section, from Hertfordshire to Enfield via Barnet, which I've never walked all in one go before. However I have previously blogged about two chunks, so there'll be less about those in what follows and more about the remainder. Let's end this. [map]
Almost nobody exiting Elstree and Borehamwood station is planning to walk to Cockfosters, but today I am that nobody. Up the steps by the Barbara Windsor information panel, back across the railway and turn left at the Asda garage. Deacons Hill Road is not a thrilling start, a flush commuter avenue which takes a full half mile for the house numbers to reach 100. But that's nothing compared to Barnet Hill at the far end, a proper millionaires row, one residential fortress along which is rightly famous. Simon Cowell grew up in Abbots Mead, an eight bedroom gabled pad, so he was hardly poor when he got his first job as a runner at Elstree Studios. But the blue plaque on the gatepost isn't his, it commemorates Stanley Kubrick, to whom the Cowells sold the house in 1965. The London Loop doesn't actually go this way, by the way, I was just feeling nosey.
Yomping east along Barnet Lane isn't thrilling either, unless you get excited by the sight of ventilation shafts for the railway tunnelling underneath. The pavement slog passes several more hedge-hidden bastions, until finally a red postbox comes into view which is the signal to (finally) follow a footpath. A short distance down, where the vegetation improves, the path crosses from Hertfordshire into Greater London, and a short distance after that reaches some accidentally famous woodland. Scratchwood became well known when an M1 service station was shoehorned in on the western side, and an even more sizeable chunk was eaten away by Mill Hill Golf Course in 1927. What's left is ancient woodland, Barnet's finest, being mostly sessile oak and hornbeam with a scattering of wild service trees. Had M1 junction 3 ever been completed, a broad stripe of Scratchwood would been lost forever.
Instead enjoy a fine stroll under the canopy and over the occasional would-be brook. At one point the path breaks out into a broad clearing, then back into the trees, then out again into more of a park. Every litter bin here had had its contents scattered across the surrounding grass, either by a really specific whirlwind or more likely by organic scavengers - I considered foxes, tramps and/or the police. A previous Loopwalker had warned me to watch out for prowling men, Scratchwood being a prime dogging spot, with the thickets around the car park presumably the carnal focus. I spotted nobody, but that's weekday mornings for you. Instead I revelled in dark meandering undulations through the subsection known as Thistle Wood - which is well named - and then Clump of Trees Wood - which isn't.
Next comes easily the worst mile on the entire London Loop. What the path wants to do is continue into Moat Mount Open Space, a couple of hundred metres ahead, but in the 1920s a four-lane dual carriageway was plonked in the way and pedestrians shall not pass. Often a bridge or a traffic island or an underpass is provided, but not here. The A1 Barnet Way has a tall metal barrier running the entire length of the central reservation so a 20 minute diversion, down to a distant subway and back, is alas required.
A special mention for TfL's Bus Stop Naming Department, who've called the bus stops on both sides of the road 'Moat Mount Park'. That's fine southbound, the entrance is barely a minute's walk from the entrance, but northbound it's not possible to get across the road without taking that lengthy diversion. Indeed you have to walk all the way back to the previous bus stop, The Fairway, before you can duck under the dual carriageway and walk back. I doubt there's any other bus stop in London named after a publicly accessible feature you can't reach in under 15 minutes.
The next section of Loop 16, from the former Moat Mount car park to Barnet Playing Fields, perfectly matches the opening three miles of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk. Having posted about that before, I'm not going to post about it again, save to say it's the best bit of the walk. The remote brookside haymeadows below Totteridge are usually a delight, although on this occasion I made the mistake of walking through after their annual mowing so some of the lush diversity was absent. I can also confirm you don't have to cross the stream where the big signpost says, it's OK to walk one footbridge further on, which avoids sight of the adjacent housing estate for a crucial extra few minutes.
The London Loop veers off the Dollis Valley Greenwalk just past the table tennis club in Barnet Playing Fields. Here it's time to start the slow climb up to Monken Hadley, starting by passing the kickabout turf and the basketball hoopzone before exiting to the nearest road. It'd be more direct to take the alley up the side of Underhill, Barnet FC's former football ground, which was supposed to have been knocked down and turned into a school by now but is still sitting untouched because planning in Barnet is weird. What has changed since my first visit is The Old Red Lion at the foot of Barnet Hill, closed 18 months ago and now reborn as six particularly ugly brick townhouses, overpriced, and which I'm pleased to say don't seem to be selling.
To continue, climb Potters Lane, breaking just before the summit to take steps down to acres of open space beside the railway. Had the Northern line required more sidings at its High Barnet terminus, all this lot would have gone too. Instead I passed a lady with a bucket brimming with blackberries, very-locally sourced, and a couple of couples taking a shortcut from the neighbouring estate. Meadway is a typical suburban avenue with Metroland semis and faux-timbered bungalows, which must be descended before reaching an unpromising looking alleyway. Fear not, a splendid green ascent up King George's Fields lies ahead, this the very last half mile of the London Loop I still had to walk.
Someone's been busy with a lawnmower. A broad strip of cut grass marches upwards between trees and thicker meadow, even occasionally a mass of harvestable brambles. The gradient's just about right to be challenging but not knackering, rising eventually to a point where you can turn round and see rather a lot of north London laid out beneath. I fancied a seat, but the sole bench had already been taken by two gentlemen necking Eastern European lager so had I to make do with standing behind them, somewhat awkwardly. And at the top of the slope, at Hadley Green Road, my ten-year 150-mile circumnavigation of outer London was finally over. I very much liked the fact there was a Loop information board here, possibly the oldest on the circuit, complete with 0181 phone number to ring for more information.
I'd walked the rest of section 16 on a Winter Wander, one of Walk London's guided walks, back in 2013. The weather had been so inclement that Paul our guide had decreed this hill too muddy, so the group walked up via Barnet's shopping streets instead. But we did all the remainder, through the village heart of Monken Hadley and along the Common before ploughing into Hadley Wood. One particular quagmire then took us five minutes to walk through, so it was amazing on this occasion to see it as a solid clearing, immaculately grassed, and no obstacle whatsoever. Having written about this at the time I'll not blog it all again, save to say that if this section of the London Loop is a bit too long, at least the last bit is well worth walking. Cue Cockfosters, cue tube home, Loop complete.
» London Loop section 16: official webpage; map and directions
» Who else has walked it? Tetramesh, Des, Stephen, Andrew, Mark, Oatsy, ratter, Richard, Maureen, Tim
» See also sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
posted 00:16 :
Saturday, August 26, 2017A place you can visit: Virginia Water
What is there? A very big lake with landscaped gardens.
Is it pretty? Yes, that's the main reason for going.
Where is it? In the southern half of Windsor Great Park, where Surrey meets Berkshire.
How do you get there? If you live locally you probably drive. The car parks get absolutely packed out.
I do not live locally: There's always the train. Virginia Water station is about half an hour's walk from the lake.
That doesn't sound like a very interesting walk: Christchurch Road runs direct, and is lined by all sorts of million pound houses, plus gateways to the private Wentworth Estate which surrounds the famous golf course and is where Bruce Forsyth lived. It's not quite so interesting on the walk back.
Where is the entrance? There are several, but the main one is on the A30 where you'll also find the Virginia Water Pavilion, a new timbered cafe/kiosk/toilets combo. Pasta Plus Pesto costs £6, but if you've any sense you'll have brought a picnic.
What to do? Most people walk around the lake. It's a big lake, so the path around the edge is 4½ miles long. If you're fit enough to commit to a circuit, it's ideal for a good stroll, or a cycle, or for the walking of a dog. Less committed visitors tend to merely saunter up to the ice cream van by the totem pole and back.
Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Obviously either, but I'd recommend clockwise because there's only one path along the south side of the lake but a multitude of options on the north side on the way back.
Is there a scenic cascade? Why yes there is, at the point where the River Bourne exits the lake. It's ten metres high and was built by King George III's architect in the 1780s as part of the landscaping of Windsor Great Park. There's now a little viewing platform, perfect for photos and gushing selfies.
Has anyone stolen a city from Libya and dumped it by the lake? Technically the British colonel who acquired the stones of Leptis Magna would say they were a gift to the King, but these days the three dozen columns look very much like brazen cultural appropriation. The current set-up is a repair job following much-needed restoration in 2009.
Was any of Harry Potter filmed here? Some lakeside scenes from The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire were shot by the lakeside, but bits you probably don't remember, so don't come here just for that.
Hang on, did you mention a totem pole? Indeed. 100 feet tall and cut from a single log of red cedar, the pole was a gift from Canada to the Queen in 1958, and is carved with ten staring faces.
What are The Valley Gardens? 220 acres of forested gardens on the northern side of the lake, part of The Royal Landscape, and a glorious place to wander, rest and admire.
I thought that was The Savill Garden: No, that's half a mile to the north. The Savill Garden is a lot more ornamental with a lot more flowers. It's gorgeous but it costs £10.50 to get in, whereas The Valley Gardens are six times larger and you can explore for nothing.
When were The Valley Gardens created? Immediately after the Second World War at the request of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, as a splash of brightness amid the austerity, freely open for all.
What's the best way to explore The Valley Gardens? You can wander anywhere, but two waymarked paths weave across the the tumbling contours, full details of which can be found in an excellent free leaflet dispensed on site. The red path is the Hilltop Route, via the Heather Garden, and has the best views down each of the micro-valleys. The yellow path is the Discovery Route, which explores the horticultural dips and hillcrests in a more undulating way. The blue Lakeside Route is positively dull by comparison.
Where do the Royal family play polo? That'd be at the Guards Polo Club, a large exclusive complex of ten pitches behind the Heather Garden. It costs mere mortals a five figure sum to join, and over £6000 a year to play, so don't think you're going to be welcome.
When's the best time to visit The Valley Gardens? Probably spring, when the national collections of rhododendrons and azaleas are doing their thing. Autumn colours are often very impressive, given the combinations of trees on site. Summer is more about verdant foliage - lush, but not as colourful.
What's special about the tiny stream down Daffodil Valley? It marks the boundary between Berkshire and Surrey. For a month it's also surrounded by the largest display of daffodils in Britain, allegedly.
Best thing about Virginia Water? The Valley Gardens, as part of a wander round the lake and perhaps a wider exploration of Windsor Great Park.
I really must visit Virginia Water sometime: Yes indeed.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, August 25, 2017If you're looking for something new to try in the Olympic Park, how about orienteering? That's the sport which combines mapreading with cross-country running, where the aim is to visit several control points around a course but how you navigate between them is up to you.
British Orienteering hosted the British Sprint Championships in the Olympic Park last summer, part of the legacy of which is a permanent set of markers dotted all over the site. Six separate courses have also been established, three in the North Park and three in the South Park, which can be completed on a non-competitive basis.
•• Yellow North and Yellow South are suitable for beginners as an introduction to orienteering, are about a mile in length and should take 15-35 minutes to complete.I walked Red South, that's how non-competitive I was feeling, and it took just under an hour.
•• Orange North and Orange South are suitable for families with young children who are familiar with map reading or have done orienteering before, are a little longer, and should take 25-50 minutes.
•• Red North and Red South are suitable for those who are familiar with map reading or have done orienteering before and are looking for a longer activity, are about 1.5 miles long and should take 35-60 minutes.
Each course nips round approximately 14 control points, and each course follows a different route. However, many of the control points are common to more than one course, so once you've done one of a set of three, you won't get much fun out of doing the other two. Select your level of difficulty carefully before you begin.
Each control point is a small wooden post with a slanted top and a plaque with an ID number, a QR code and a letter of the alphabet. You know you've found the right post if it has the correct ID number, and you prove you've been to the correct post by writing down the letter. Don't expect the letters to spell out a well known phrase or saying, it's not that kind of puzzle.
Unless you have the right app, the only way to follow the course is to get hold of a map. You can't simply download these, the British Orienteering website insists on taking some personal information before emailing them to you in pdf form. Alternatively, hard copy maps are available from the information point opposite the London Aquatics Centre, on the bridge next to Westfield, which is open daily from 10am - 3pm. Here I picked up all three South maps for free, and decided to try the most difficult of the trio because I'm already familiar with the park's layout.
It's not giving too much away to say that the first post for Red South is by the playground to the north of the squirty fountains. It's in the flowerbed - a lot of these posts are in a flowerbed - and fractionally obscured by vegetation - ditto. A key claim made by British Orienteering is that each course is suitable for people in wheelchairs, and this first post certainly is, which is a nice touch.
The key reason why the Olympic Park is ideal for orienteering soon becomes clear. The park is on several levels, including bridges, raised areas and waterside, whereas the map can only show locations in 2D. The challenge is often to work out whether you need to be up or down, and then to decide the best way of getting between one level and the other. Good map reading skills are also key, specifically matching the symbols and shading to the area around you as you narrow in on the next control.
The course was mapped out in 2015, and the Olympic Park is an ever changing place. The routes have been carefully chosen to avoid the oft-closed podium around the stadium, but for the last two months two of the control points near the Orbit have been out of bounds thanks to World Athletics back-of-house facilities. Only this week has the fencing finally been removed, making the Orange and Red courses possible to complete. Meanwhile a sign on the fence near control point 5 warns that the main route from Fish Island will soon be closing for house-building purposes, and when that happens the challenge may become impossible again.
More disappointingly, one of the control points isn't accessible to people in wheelchairs. Red South 4 is in a planter on a path down to Carpenters Road, but can't be seen from the path, and can't be reached without rumbling over a broad strip of rough vegetation. Perhaps things were different in November 2015 when the course was surveyed, but the (very) poor positioning of one marker instantly wrecks the accessibility of the entire course.
Whatever, these courses are certainly an enjoyable way to become more familiar with the wider backwaters of the Olympic Park, and to keep fit at the same time. If you have children this might be a fun thing to try as a kind of treasure hunt, not necessarily running, maybe as a filler activity in the last week before schools go back. Or you could take up orienteering more seriously, because 'intelligent jogging' is a lot more engaging than repeatedly panting down to the bottom of the street and back.
» Permanent Orienteering Course: QEOP
» British Orienteering
» Orienteering associations in SE England
» London Orienteering Klubb
» Chigwell and Epping Forest Orienteering Club
» South London Orienteers
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, August 24, 20179♥ Barnes/Richmond
Under the original plans for Greater London, only the Municipal Borough of Barnes and the Municipal Borough of Richmond would have been merged to form the new borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. Instead the Municipal Borough of Twickenham was thrown in too, creating the capital's only cross-Thames district. For today's post I've visited a single building on the Barnes/Richmond boundary, the big attraction in Kew that isn't the Gardens, opened by the Queen in 1977 on the site of the Ministry of Labour Claims and Record Office.
The National Archives
If you need a nationally important document, or matter of public record, chances are it's housed in a brutalist concrete fortress near Kew Bridge (or a salt mine in Cheshire, but let's not go there). Formerly based in Chancery Lane, when it was known as the Public Record Office, the archive in Kew started out as an extension and eventually became the main repository. Anyone can visit, and anyone over the age of 16 can get a Reader's Ticket, request a document and get their hands on it for research or scrutiny. I did just that yesterday, with ease, and grinned at least twice after unwrapping my goodies from the stack.
The National Archives almost overlook the Thames, thanks to a screen of trees, but are set in their own landscaped grounds which can be visited whatever. The two lakes in the grounds aren't just ornamental, they're part of an emergency drainage system designed to protect the building if the Thames ever floods, this perhaps not being the wisest location for a storehouse of irreplaceable paper. Swans and geese patrol the waterside, while I was amazed to see a heron preening on the handrail - easily the closest I've ever come to one of these mighty birds.
The building looks like a multi-storey car park up one end and a shopping mall at the other, and none the worse for that. If you like concrete you'll love the sleek stacked slabs, while a revolving door leads into a glass atrium which welcomes you unashamedly to the late 20th century. Conferences to the right, archive action to the left. A large well frequented cafeteria sprawls across much of the accessible ground floor, tastefully arrayed, and giving off an aroma of teacups and plated rice. There is a reason why it's busy, and necessary, which we'll come to in five paragraphs time.
As well as use the cafe, every visitor can browse the bookshop, which has a particularly good selection of genealogy and history titles, topped up with transport, architecture and maps. The other 100%-accessible room is the Keeper's Gallery, a museum area showcasing various key documents and a variety of temporary displays. I particularly liked the collections of pertinent anniversary-related ephemera, including maps showing the partition of India, admission tickets for pre-decriminalisation LGBT hideaways and registration certificates for 1960s toys like Lego and Action Man.
It's time to talk lockers. Nobody gets too deep within a document repository without surrendering their bags and coats, plus any other forbidden items. Pens are not allowed, nor pencils with erasers on the end, nor pencil sharpeners, nor (obviously) food or drink. That's why there's a locker room behind the foot of the stairs with space for 500+ sets of personal possessions, and joyfully there are no issues with old pound coins here because it's free. Anything you're taking further can go into a see-through plastic bag - again provided - and then you head upstairs.
Regular users know what they're doing and can get straight to work, whereas for newbies there's a "start here" desk where a member of staff will guide you gently through acquiring a Reader's Ticket. If you've any sense you'll have applied for this online before arriving, but if not you can apply for it at a terminal here. Part of the process involves sitting through a five minute video showing how old documents should be handled - deft manoeuvring of foam wedges is sometimes required. Then it's name, postcode, accept terms and conditions, done.
Whether you signed up in the building or elsewhere you'll need to visit the desk by the barriers to collect your barcoded card. Proof of identity and of address are required, which is where any millennial who's gone entirely paperless may get shafted. They also take a photo - I shaved specially before turning up - and within a minute your laminated Reader's Ticket is emerging from the machine. It's valid for three years, so I shall be stashing mine away somewhere safe for future visits.
With ticket in hand it's now possible to go back to the terminals and order up actual stuff to look at. The National Archives website has a 'Discovery' catalogue with descriptions of over 32 million records held either here or in archives across the country. Almost 10 million of these are available for download, so can be reviewed straight away, indeed without even venturing to Kew. Census data and army records form a substantial proportion of these. Up to 21 physical documents can be requested - no more than three at a time - and if they're in the building they'll be with you in under an hour. This is where the cafe comes in particularly useful.
Having picked my trio of records, I used the waiting time to do some family history research. Specifically I dug into The 1939 Register, a snapshot of the civilian population taken on 29 September 1939, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. The entire 1931 Census was destroyed by fire, and the 1941 Census never took place, so this is the only national dataset over a two-decade period. Access to the digitised records normally costs, thanks to a deal with a private company, but from the terminals in the National Archives building you can view the whole lot for free (so long as the target of your search was born over 100 years ago, or is now dead).
I hunted down ten of my departed ancestors, plus my Dad (who appears on the register despite being very much alive). The most interesting column was for occupation, confirming that one grandfather was indeed a Postman Driver (Motor) and the other an Asbestos Cement Productive Worker Heavy Work. Both grandmothers were listed as having Unpaid Domestic Duties, while one of my great-grandfathers was a Brick Layer and parent to two Errand Boys and a Fish Rounds Man. What most surprised me was that my Mum had moved temporarily to the country with my gran, while her husband hung on in town as part of the Post Office ARP Decontamination Squad. I'd love to ask them more about that first month of wartime, but will alas never get the chance.
Once my requested documents were ready, I swiped through the gate to the reading room and found my stash waiting in a locker. One was an old book from 1881, tied up with ribbon to stop it falling apart, and another a folder containing an inspection report from 1907. I might blog about this at some point, but for now let me just say that when I opened up the wallet at the back and pulled out two Underground signalling diagrams, possibly not viewed in over a century, that's when I grinned.
I'd selected the third document on a whim, namely the London County Council (Bow Road Island, Poplar, No 6) Order 1936. Again I beamed as it turned out what I'd extracted was a compulsory purchase order for two of the slums facing Bow Church, both scheduled for demolition to make way for the LCC's new Bow Bridge estate. A stack of typed carbon letters revealed that one of the inhabitants had strongly protested to the Minister of Health via a solicitor, in response to which an official had scribbled a memo saying "write usual reply", and the usual reply was duly sent. A plaintive follow-up letter was also disregarded, and 11 "displaced members of the working classes" were eventually kicked out to "suitable accommodation" elsewhere.
Again the big prize was in a wallet at the back - a huge map showing the location of the two homes in context. I've been trying to track down the pre-war street pattern on the south side of Bow Church for years, and here it was in perfect administrative clarity; the Black Swan pub on the corner of Bromley High Street, a long-gone cinema, various courts and alleyways, a printing works, a furniture factory, two more pubs and no fewer than 16 narrow shops. I gawped for ages at the doomed buildings on the map, and took lots of photos, because you're actually allowed to do that so long as your flash isn't turned on. And then everything went back into the Ministry of Health manilla folder, labelled Do Not Destroy, Closed Until 1988.
The reading room at The National Archives seemed busy, especially with the retired, but also with younger folk diligently scribbling down snippets and students snapping with their cameraphones. The building houses a veritable treasure trove, from parchment to paperwork, each item fully accessible if anyone ever deems it worthy of digging out. I shall ponder and search more carefully before visiting again, rather than just picking out three documents with 'Bow' in the title, although I uncovered a heck of a lot during my first research safari and look forward to Kew-ing again.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, August 23, 2017Twenty years ago yesterday I was offline.
Twenty years ago today I first connected my home to the internet.
I never looked back. It changed my life.
In the middle of August 1997 I bought a new computer. I needed a new one, not least because my old one couldn't connect to the new-fangled internet and this one could. At the time only about 5% of UK households had an internet connection, and I very much wanted to attach myself to this futuristic form of communication. I used my existing computer for word processing, printing stuff and playing games, but only with myself. Connecting to the wider world would open up a whole new range of possibilities I thought... and I was right.
The day after I bought my new computer I ordered a modem. My computer wouldn't connect to the internet by itself, I'd learned, so I needed an extra box plugged in at the back. I also needed some special software, so I ordered that too, and then I threw in a digital camera for good measure. Owning a digital camera was cutting edge at the time, and would mean I didn't have to take my negatives down to the chemist every time I wanted photographs. How ridiculously restrictive all that sounds now typing twenty years later.
The day after I ordered my modem it arrived. Gosh that's small, I thought. Then I realised it hadn't come with a connecting cable. this being well before the introduction of wi-fi, so popped out to Tandy in the High Street to buy one. The connection didn't seem to work, even after I'd tried fitting it into all sorts of holes all sorts of ways round, so I went back to Tandy to swap the cable, and that worked fine. But it didn't connect me to the internet.
For the next couple of days I continued in pre-web isolation. I watched some Star Trek repeats on BBC2. I bought newspapers and did the crossword. I picked up the brand new Oasis album in Our Price Records. I walked down to the building society to transfer some money from one account to the other. I played Minesweeper on my new computer. I sang along with Chumbawumba on Top of the Pops. Oh yes, I'm sure my life was well within its usual frame, the day before it came.
On the afternoon of Saturday 23rd August 1997 I finally worked out that the internet was only a phone call away. I rang up Demon, my internet provider of choice, and gave a nice Scottish lady all my debit card details. I then told her my choice of domain name, and she said that was stupid so I changed my mind, and settled instead on something I later wished I hadn't. And once all the necessary admin had been completed she told me I could be online in 15 minutes, and that my email account would be operational the following day.
I don't know what you did the first time you were let loose on the internet, but obviously I searched for stuff. I'd heard there was a search engine called Alta Vista so I used that, once I'd worked out how to type the address without getting any of the punctuation wrong. I swiftly located the Radio 1 website, and a fansite for the BBC2 show The Adventure Game, and the website of the local paper, and a website with amazing detail about upcoming solar eclipses, and a page with contact details for a friend from university, and it snowballed from there.
The next day I discovered newsgroups, and that was lots of Sunday taken care of. Through that I found a site about the London Underground, I don't think it was official, and then attempted to manoeuvre my way through the world of Yahoo. When my parents tried ringing in the evening they discovered my telephone line was engaged and had to try again later, and I had to explain what the reason was. Dial-up killed your phone bill, I'd soon discover, and had to be careful not to spend too long online during peak times on weekdays.
Once my email account was up and running I got in touch with that university friend whose contact details I'd discovered. A flurry of emails followed, my first email conversation, and the next weekend we met up again to say hi. The power of the internet was already apparent. I also discovered IRC, which opened up a completely different channel of communication, and ICQ, ditto. Everything was still seriously primitive compared to everything we can do today, but the enormous benefits of being able to find things out without leaving the house were already clear.
The BBC still didn't have a news website at that point, but the death of Princess Diana that weekend inspired a fledgling minisite which proved the appetite was there. I love the fact that those Diana news pages still exist, complete with tiny photos which wouldn't clog bandwidth and links to historic Real Audio files. These days we think nothing of opening up our phones to discover what someone the other side of the planet said 30 seconds ago, whereas back then it was simply amazing not have to wait for the next hourly news broadcast or daily paper.
Within a month I'd chatted with my future partner online. Within six months that conversation delivered a long-term relationship I'd never have entered offline. Within a year the internet sourced me a new job, 50 miles away, which I'd never have spotted otherwise. And within another year it helped to bring that so-called relationship crashing down, and kept me in touch with a support network throughout, and found me somewhere new to live afterwards. I'd not have moved to London without the internet, or met BestMate without the internet, or be talking to you now.
It's no exaggeration to say that connecting early to the internet changed my life, ultimately for the better. I just never realised quite how transformational it would be, that August Saturday 20 years ago, when my dial-up burbled for the very first time.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, August 22, 2017Proud Britons assembled beneath Big Ben yesterday at noon to witness the last chimes of the world's most important clock.
Planned maintenance means that Westminster's iconic clocktower will be out of action for four years, with scaffolding already smothering the lower half of the tower and plenty more to come. It seems some government committee decided the bell needed to be switched off to protect workmen's hearing, thanks to European health and safety legislation, which means no more bongs until 2021.
Thousands turned up in Parliament Square to wave the old girl off, while patriotic MPs gathered in the courtyard at the foot of St Stephen's Tower. Many had their phones poised to capture the bell's last hurrah for posterity, perhaps to replay as a crumb of comfort during the upcoming drought.
Dozens of TV crews had pitched up on the grass facing the Houses of Parliament, this being an event of international significance. In amongst them were several blue-jacketed guides handing out cut price vouchers for tours of the Palace, although their leaflet described Big Ben as 'the Great Bell', a glaring inaccuracy which suggested their special offer might be somewhat suspect.
At a few seconds to noon the familiar strains of the Westminster Chimes rang out from high overhead. Everyone stopped and looked up, enraptured, as the sixteen note prelude to the big event played through. In the short silence that followed both hands on the clock nudged closer to the vertical position, and then the first of twelve final bongs was heard.
The crowd swiftly hushed, their reverent silence interrupted only by the occasional bawling child and the growl of traffic intermittently streaming past. How familiar the sound, but also how fragile. These were the very same chimes which Queen Victoria herself once heard, which introduced Winston Churchill's finest speeches to the nation, and which stir the soul each night before the Shipping Forecast.
Every note which rang out was a reminder of the great clock's longevity, the importance of tradition and the unshakeable confidence of our island nation. A shiver ran through the collective backbone of all those present. Those planning ahead counted the chimes to be certain which was the last, while others lost track partway through, so only knew the tolling was over after the last reverberation finally faded away.
As one, the crowd burst forth into a spontaneous round of applause. Together they demonstrated their heartfelt approval with their hands, then with their voices, as a loud cheer went up across the square and along Westminster Bridge. If only the bell could have heard their approval how proud it would have been, but instead workmen moved in and clamped it tightly to prevent it from ever chiming again.
What kind of country switches off its prime timepiece for four whole years? I'm no expert, but surely the repairs can't be so difficult that Big Ben must be silenced until 2021. We must finish them sooner, tracking down deaf clockmenders if need be, and send them up onto the scaffolding 24 hours a day. Let us regain some of that Dunkirk Spirit! The current maintenance timescale makes no sense whatsoever.
Apparently the bell will be restarted for Remembrance Day, Remembrance Sunday and New Year's Eve, so that's something. But why can we not undertake this complex restitution every evening after the day's work is complete? And what of St George's Day, the Queen's Birthdays and The Day We Leave Europe? The greatest celebrations of our lives will surely ring hollow without the moral support of the Westminster Chimes.
Also, not enough people turned up in Parliament Square yesterday to bid farewell. True Britons would have paid their respects in person, providing true comfort at this desperately sad moment in our island's history, and their failure to show up reveals a real poverty of imagination. What is wrong with our country that we accept this bureaucratic travesty without a fight?
Most onlookers had vanished by quarter past twelve, when the first unnatural silence kicked in, and almost all had fled by one o'clock when the truly historic event occurred - nothing bonged. But let us celebrate the fact that thousands of people did come to see, and cheer, something they could have heard every hour on the hour every day for the past several decades. What sweet rapture it was to experience the truly ordinary one last time.
We shall not hear its like again. How dare they!
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