diamond geezer

 Friday, August 31, 2018

There are only 100 days to go until Sunday 9th December, the day TfL haven't announced is the opening date for Crossrail.

We'll find out soon enough what their actual plans are. But when Crossrail does finally spring into action, not only will it be brilliant, but it won't be as good as you think.

10 reasons why Crossrail won't be as good as you think

1. It'll open in stages

When Mrs Average Punter wheels her suitcase onto the first Crossrail train and expects to be carried to Heathrow Airport, she's in for a shock. Heathrow isn't due to be bolted onto the central trunk until a year later, which means she'll have to get off her train at Paddington, haul her luggage up to surface level and continue her journey from there. Mr Typical Commuter in Ilford should expect similar problems, as his purple trains aren't scheduled to be attached to the central core for several months, which until then will mean transferring down escalators and along passageways at Liverpool Street. Ultimately the whole network'll join up straight through, but on Day One the purple line will be a three-part beast, and won't be as good as you think.

2. In stage 2, the service to Canary Wharf gets less frequent

If all goes to plan, Crossrail will kick off with fifteen trains an hour off-peak between Abbey Wood and Paddington. A train every four minutes, brilliant. When the connection to the Shenfield branch is made, there'll be twenty trains an hour off-peak in the central core. A train every three minutes, fabulous. But because those twenty trains will alternate from one arm to the other, each eastern branch will only be getting ten trains an hour, and for the Abbey Wood branch that's actually a cut. Commuters at Canary Wharf will go from a train every four minutes in December to a train every six minutes from May. Even at peak times they'll only be every five. Unless some entirely unexpected announcement comes along, Crossrail's service to Canary Wharf will end up being worse than when it started, so won't be as good as you think.

3. It's eventually going to be two separate lines

Even when Crossrail is fully open, you won't necessarily be able to take a train from one end to the other, because the service will be in two distinct parts. Trains from Abbey Wood will run through the central section and out the other side to Heathrow, Maidenhead and Reading, but trains from Shenfield are only going as far as Paddington before they terminate. It won't be a strictly 100% split, for example at peak times, but for most functional purposes the two will act as separate beasts. I think we should give the two lines different names, and propose that Shenfield to Paddington should be Elizabeth I and Abbey Wood to Heathrow/Reading should be Elizabeth II. It's not going to be hard to get from Romford to Heathrow, you'll just have to change trains somewhere in the middle, but it won't be as good as you think.

4. Trains won't be stopping at all stations

The final timetable's not yet finalised, but we do know that a couple of west London stations will be getting a worse service than the others because several trains will be skipping them. At Hanwell only the Heathrow-bound trains will be stopping, whereas Acton Main Line will be served only by trains destined for Heathrow Terminal 4. For comparison, Ealing Broadway and West Ealing are destined to see ten trains an hour, but Hanwell will get only six and Acton Main Line just four. We can also expect this unfortunate pair to get no trains whatsoever on Sundays, just like they get none whatsoever now, because it won't be as good as you think.

5. The carriages don't have many seats

Regular tube users are used to new trains having fewer seats than those they replace, in order to shoehorn more passengers inside at peak times and keep London moving. Crossrail's carriages have a lot of standing room and only about 50 seats, whereas the rolling stock that used to run out to Shenfield had more like 80. Punters at the far end of the Metropolitan line can already tell you how miserable it is having to stand on a long commute because someone took the seats away, a treat now on its way for residents of Twyford and Harold Wood. Don't panic, the trains are longer so will contain more seats overall, but it still won't be as good as you think.

6. Expect rail replacement buses

You might expect a brand new line to be engineering-works-free, and the core section from Abbey Wood to Paddington should be just that. But the arm out to Shenfield and the lines west of Paddington are different beasts because they follow National Rail lines, and their first sets of engineering works are already scheduled. Sundays are looking particularly fraught between Christmas and the end of January on the line out to Shenfield, where the poor sods who've endured endless closures in the run-up to Crossrail opening are going to have to endure several more. If you only want to ride the central section, then when you see "Planned Closure" splash up on the map it probably isn't for you. But out Romford and Essex way, especially on Sundays, it won't be as good as you think.

7. It's not going to get you there any quicker

In the central section from Paddington to Whitechapel and on to Abbey Wood, yes, the arrival of Crossrail will speed up journeys no end. But on the existing Shenfield branch, and west of Paddington, not so. It'll take just as long to crawl from Shenfield to Romford to Ilford to Stratford via all intermediate stations as it does now. Fast Greater Anglia trains will still be the quickest way to whizz into Liverpool Street, for those fortunate enough to live where they actually stop. Likewise Crossrail is destined to be the 'slow' train west of Paddington, overtaken by faster GWR services to Reading, and the Heathrow Express is always going to be the fastest way to Heathrow. Sure, the time savings from not having to change onto the tube to reach the West End will be impressive, but the outer arms will be a crawl, and won't be as good as you think.

8. It's built to a scale you're unprepared for

Crossrail stations are enormous, indeed so big that sometimes they stretch from one tube station to the next. It's going to be important to be at the right end of the train for the correct exit, and you can expect a long hike if you're not. This is because the trains are going to be monsters, indeed at 250 metres, your typical Crossrail platform is twice the length of your typical tube train. Even if you've ridden one of the new TfL Rail trains, so far they're only seven carriages long, whereas from launch day expect nine. This monumental scale is brilliant because it'll allow thousands more people to travel, but at some point you are going to be dumped a long way from where you want to be, and it won't be as good as you think.

9. It's not going to interchange where you want it to

Regular Victoria line user? Bad luck, Crossrail won't be intersecting with your commute. Always nip into town on the Piccadilly line? Bad luck, there'll be no central London station for you to switch at either. Crossrail skips merrily through the heart of zone 1 missing out Oxford Circus, which scuppers the Victoria, and Holborn, which buggers the Piccadilly. And whereas the engineers could have built double-ended stations here, like they did at Farringdon/Barbican and Moorgate/Liverpool Street, they didn't for reasons of cost and under-accessibility. A direct connection at Oxford Circus would have overwhelmed the existing station, which isn't on, hence the Hanover Square entrance to Bond Street is a few minutes walk away. Crossrail's going to be excellent if you can easily get to it, but for many in north and south London an extra change will be required, so it won't be as good as you think.

10. It's going to be late

It's an open secret that the fitting-out of Bond Street is a long way behind schedule, and similar stories are being heard from Whitechapel. As for Woolwich, that's always been a case of "ah well, if it's not ready on Day One never mind, it's only Woolwich". As for the testing of trains through the central section, that was held up for several months after an electricity substation near Pudding Mill Lane blew up last year, throwing plans well behind schedule. An accumulation of snags and issues could force Crossrail to open at the end of the year with certain stations dark, numerous surfaces unfinished and bits of step-free access incomplete. Imagine the nightmare scenario in which things were so bad TfL had to delay December's launch until 2019, maybe even this time next year, and the grovelling press release that'd entail. Only one thing's for certain, it's about to be nowhere near as good as you think.

 Thursday, August 30, 2018

Try not to think about it, but it's almost September. Never fear, London always puts on a last flurry of events and activities and happenings before the nights draw in, and we're all invited. Here's my weekend by weekend guide to free September delights.

All month
» Totally Thames (Sep 1-30): There was a time when the Mayor's Thames Festival filled the South Bank and lit up the sky for one weekend in September. No more. Now we get a whole month of events, many of them ticketed, ranging from walks to art to boat trips. Alas the events section of the website remains as unhelpfully designed as ever, and I lost patience scrolling through the frustratingly atomised programme in search of one-off treats.
» Lambeth Heritage Festival (Sep 1-30): Dozens of talks, walks and openings across the borough, notably featuring Lambeth Palace, Brixton Windmill and the National Theatre (and a proper brochure to flick through, bliss).

Weekend 1: September 1/2
» Lambeth Local History Fair (Sat, from 10.15): A coming-together of local societies, heritage organisations, friends groups and local history publishers.
» Griffin Brewery Open Day (Sat, 11-4): Street party and general piss-up, including free brewery tours.
» Clapham Old Town Fair (Sat, 12-5): Featuring the London Fire Brigade, a fairground and the Clapham Mutts dog show.
» Camberwell Fair (Sat, 12-9): Music and food, squished into Camberwell Green. Expect queueing.
» 50 Years of the Victoria Line (Sat & Sun, 11-4): Newly restored carriages are the special attraction on this anniversary weekend at the E17 Pump House Museum.
» Thames Tidefest (Sun, 9.30-5.30): River-based activities scattered between Brentford and Chiswick, with a particular marquee-focus at Strand-on-the-Green, W4.
» Streatham Kite Day (Sun, 11-5): Postponed from May, pray the wind picks up across Streatham Common
» Angel Canal Festival (Sun, 11-5): Waterside gaiety beside City Road Lock, now in its 33rd year. Expect the Mayor of Islington to arrive by narrowboat.
» Brentford Festival (Sun, 12-6): Live tunes, stalls and another dog show, for the 14th consecutive year, in Blondin Park W5.
» Palmers Green Festival (Sun, 12-7): All the fun of music on the green, yet another dog show and dozens of community stalls, in Broomfield Park N13.

Weekend 2: September 8/9
» Heritage Open Days (Thu-Sun): This year, TWO weekends! Hundreds of buildings that aren't usually open, are open. Most of them are outside London, but there'll be 51 in London, including the Crystal Palace Subway (Sat), the newly-restored Battersea Arts Centre, a Mary Wollstonecraft trail at St Pancras Old Church, and a look round Mitcham Cricket Club Pavilion.
» St Katharine Docks Classic Boat Festival (Sat, Sun, 11-6): Annual gathering of small boats near Tower Bridge. Includes a visit by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.
» The Great River Race (Sat, 9.45-1.00): 300 craft engage in a spectacular paddle up the Thames from Docklands to Richmond.
» Hackney Carnival (Sun, noon-8): Not of Notting Hill proportions, but follow the feathers and sound systems from Ridley Road to the Town Hall (and back).
» Tour of Britain (Sun, 3.30-5.30): Eight day national cycling marathon terminates with 14 laps of a 3-pronged circuit focused on Trafalgar Square.

Weekend 3: September 15/16
» Heritage Open Days (Thu-Sun): Weekend two.
» London Design Festival (continues until next weekend): Hundreds of design-er events will be taking place across the capital, including several landmark projects, and based in eleven on-trend clusters. The programme's so vast you'll have to look hard for the best bits.
» Scadbury Open Weekend (Sat, Sun, 2-4.30): Archaeological excavations, and refreshments, at the moated medieval manor house near the Sidcup bypass.
» Bermondsey Street Festival (Sat, 11-6): A designery "village fête", plus the obligatory dog show, plus city farm, plus food and stalls.
» Hidden River Festival (Sat, 12-6): In its sixth year, a music festival and family funday on the banks of the New River at Woodberry Down.
» Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival (Sun, from 1pm): Cockney royalty circles the City from Guildhall Yard to St Mary-le-Bow.

Weekend 4: September 22/23
» Open House London (Sat, Sun): The grand-daddy of architectural festivals, with hundreds of weird and wonderful buildings throwing open their doors across the capital. Alasdair's excellent summary list is here. For the first time, hurrah, the organisers have provided a list of all the buildings which require pre-booking. Some of the really special events are already taken, but it's not too late to sign up for the Downing Street raffle. There'll be tons to see over the weekend, in fact far too much to choose from. Be there, or regret it for the subsequent 52 weeks.
» Deptford X (from Friday 21 until next weekend): Emerging contemporary artists make merry in SE8.
» Thames Barrier Closure (Sun, 6.25-4.25): Annual all-day maintenance closure (peaking around high tide at 1.30pm). Come and see water piled up on one side only... while it's only a practice.
» Great Gorilla Run (Sun, from 10.30): Dress up as a gorilla and run 7km to raise money for charity (or just come along and watch sweaty knackered apes).
» The Harvest Stomp (Sun, noon-6pm): The northern half of the Olympic Park pretends to be rural by importing live music, barn dancing, farm animals and the usual 'craft' refreshments.

Weekend 5: September 29/30
» Autumn Ambles (Sat, Sun): Nah, sorry... "the walking weekend project has now drawn to a close". It seems funding for the triannual TfL/Walk London extravaganza has run out.
» Woolmen’s Sheep Drive and Wool Fair (Sun, 10-5): Alan Titchmarsh is the celeb leading this year's first tranche over London Bridge. Come too for wool-related trade stalls, lamb burgers and a bar on a bus.
» Japan Matsuri (Sun, 10-8): Music, martial arts and dance, a bit of origami, and the best of Japanese gastronomy, in Trafalgar Square.

 Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Mayor's press team will be well pleased with the response they've had to the announcement that new public water fountains are flooding the capital.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has confirmed the locations of the first 20 new public water fountains he is funding in busy stations, shopping centres, museums, business districts and othervenues across London.
The first water fountain was installed in March, off Carnaby Street. It's now August and there are four. By the end of the year there will be 20. If you're good with numbers, you'll see how game-changing this is.
Four of the fountains have already been installed – atHeart of Valentines Park, Redbridge, Kingly Court, off Carnaby Street, Westminster,and two at Liverpool Street Station – and are proving popular.
(The press release is rife with missing spaces, in case you were wondering. Also, there is no park called Heart of Valentines Park, despite the press release insisting twice that there is. I went yesterday and, unless the council have a secret rebrand up their sleeve, it's definitely Valentines Park.)

The deft use of statistics can of course make any press release sound unduly exciting.
More than 8,000 litres of drinking water, the equivalent of 16,000 water bottles, has been dispensed from the Liverpool Street Station fountains in less than one month. The Kingly Court fountain, off Carnaby Street, one of London’s busiest shopping areas, has been used more than 10,000 times a month this summer.
The data confirms the fountains are being well used, but these are fascinatingly disparate facts. The number of times a fountain has been used doesn't directly correspond to the number of litres of drinking water dispensed. And the number of litres of drinking water dispensed won't directly correspond to the number of bottles saved. Londoners buy over a billion bottles of water a year. This initiative might have saved 0.005% of them.

I was particularly intrigued by the fourth water fountain, not mentioned in the statistics, the one in Valentines Park. So I went to take a look.
The Mayor has worked with theZoological Society of London’s(ZSL) #OneLess campaign to secure the locations of the fountains. ZSL assessed the site applications on accessibility, visibility and footfall to ensure water refills are available for as many Londoners as possible.
Despite "accessibility" and "visibility" being key, it took me over half an hour to find it. One drinking fountain was shown on the map in the park, but that turned out to be an ornate 1898 structure and doesn't work. I wandered around the mansion, and along the lake, and over by the cricket pitches, and up by the main gates, but found nothing there. Eventually I spotted the new fountain on the side of a small hut beside the children's playground. Amazingly, it was positioned right next to an existing water fountain, a low metal bowl with an impressively squirty spout. That's designed for sipping, and the new one is for bottles, but it turns out one of the Mayor's four new machines has been located where it isn't strictly needed.

The new water fountain in Valentines Park was being very well used, indeed I had to wait two minutes to take my turn. First at the tap was a small child with a painted face, who pressed the button and attempted to angle his open mouth into the stream. That took a while, and wasted a lot of water. Second was a child with a plastic cup he'd brought over from an adjacent picnic, making good use of the facilities. The third and fourth were open-mouthed children again, and the fifth was a mum with a cloth she wanted to dampen. We should be wary of equating fountain use to plastic saved.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I’m pleased to confirm the locations for the first 20 of our new public water fountains. Some of these are already attracting thousands of visitors a day and City Hall are working on plans to secure many more across London.”
Let's be honest, a handful of water fountains aren't going to solve any bottled water crisis. 20 fountains in a city with a population of 8 million is one per 400,000 people. That's the equivalent of a city like Coventry having a single water fountain. What's more, the first 20 fountains are appallingly badly spread. The dark blue blobs on this map are the existing fountains, and the light blue blobs are the proposed next sixteen.

Although 20 water fountains are proposed in this first tranche, only ten London boroughs are getting them, and twenty three are missing out. Apart from Valentines Park in Redbridge, all the other fountains are in a relatively narrow strip from Ealing to Bexley. Here in Bow, my nearest fountain is three miles away. Londoners in Enfield, Ruislip, Kingston, Sutton and Purley are over seven miles from theirs. It seems no attempt has been made to scatter these 20 fountains across the capital, and the behaviour of the vast majority of Londoners will not be affected.
Dr Heather Koldewey,#OneLess campaign Director and Head of Marine and Freshwater Conservation at ZSL said:“We were taken aback by the number of applications we received to install drinking fountains across London. We are delighted to be working with the Mayor of London on this exciting initiative to reduce the plastic blight on the ocean and firmly establish London as a city that no longer uses plastic bottled water.”
I fear Dr Koldewey is vastly overstating the impact of this initiative. Give it a few years and there might be a network of bottle-filling stations to match the Victorian drinking fountains that once blessed our city. But what's being lauded in this press release is an absolute drop in the ocean.

 Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Thirty years ago, on the day after the August Bank Holiday, my brother started his first permanent job. This was a big deal, this was his major "moving away from home" moment, which I hadn't completely done at this stage because my job wasn't so far flung.

On the Sunday our entire family had piled into two cars jammed with boxes, cases and a half-dismantled bike. We set off early, in typical holiday weekend drizzle, and stopped off at a Little Chef along the way. It took just over two hours to make our way across Hertfordshire and up the A11, in search of the room my brother had let on the outskirts of Norwich. Before this point, other than a honeymoon and a holiday, our family had had nothing much to do with Norfolk. But this was the day my brother moved there, and our collective centre of gravity shifted, not that we quite realised the significance at the time.

The house looked decent, and the designated room was nice, although the whole place smelled somewhat of the spaghetti bolognaise one of the other tenants was making for lunch. We emptied the cars, and Mum made the bed while Dad popped out to find a paper. That done it became clear there wasn't much else four people could do in a small room, so we drove off to another Little Chef for lunch, because that's how the 1980s rocked. Our platters devoured we drove back, and then it was time for Mum and Dad to leave, and it's fair to say one of them found the moment of separation somewhat emotional.

I was staying over with my brother to help him settle in, indeed I'd be hanging around until his first day was over, which left us with the remainder of a bank holiday weekend to fill. We brewed some tea, we emptied some boxes, we retuned the TV and, erm, we went out for a drive to pass the time. On the Monday, after Rice Krispies, we set out on a longer drive, the aim being to spend the day in Great Yarmouth. But we soon discovered hundreds of other people had had the same idea, and got bored of sitting in jams, so diverted off and spent the day in Lowestoft instead. Lowestoft was not busy.

Tuesday was Work Day One, the tipping point into adulthood. My brother woke up earlier than strictly necessary, had breakfast, and slipped into a nice suit bought specially for the occasion. We chatted to pass the surplus time he could have had asleep, then off he went for his induction, or 'being thrown in at the deep end' as I believe they called it in 1988. This left me with a small number of tasks to perform in town, including getting an extra front door key cut, before meeting up at lunchtime to see how things were going. Things were going fine, aided by half the office staff not being back from holiday yet.

They let him out of work early, which was good because he thought he was going to miss all of Neighbours but instead only missed the first five minutes. Daytime television was just one of the casualties of switching from student life to the strictures of the working day. We cooked turkey for tea, carefully pre-packaged for minimum preparation by a caring parent. There wasn't much else on the TV, other than a new series of Telly Addicts, so we passed the rest of the evening in a pre-internet manner, hard though that is to comprehend these days.

And on Wednesday morning I left him to it. I wished him luck after breakfast and took the train home, where my important task was to answer every one of my Mum's questions and reassure her everything was fine. She'd be reassured to see how fine it still is.

Thirty years later I am back up in Norfolk staying with my brother, this time in a four-bedroom house, not kipping on the floor of a rented room. He's now due his 30-year Long Service award, because it used to be possible to join a company for life, and he's sort of managed that. Along the way he's acquired an entire family, which would never have happened quite this way if he hadn't found a job up here, neither would my parents have followed him a few years later. And now it's that family's turn to step out into the wider world.

This year Eldest Nephew has finished his education and is looking to find somewhere to live in a place called London. This year Youngest Nephew has flown the nest and moved further north than any of us have ever lived before. They've already enjoyed the parental taxi service carting all their worldly belongings cross-country. And this week Middle Niece starts her very first full-time job, though cunningly it's quite close to home so she's not having to fork out on accommodation costs just yet. But we've all still found time to meet up this Bank Holiday weekend and celebrate, enjoying a meal better than a Little Chef, somewhere better than Lowestoft, with the wider family.

Thirty years on it is the next generation stepping out and moving on, making life choices that'll define their futures, and so the whole cycle starts again. Heaven knows what lies ahead for them, but let's hope it turns out just as well.

 Monday, August 27, 2018

One thing about living on the cusp of the Olympic Park is that cranes and redevelopment are never very far away.

As an example of the transforming pressures hereabouts, I'd like to take you on a trip to City Mill Lock Island on the Bow Back Rivers, just off Stratford High Street. In 2012 it looked like this.

That's Lockkeeper's Cottage, once an important guardian of the waterways, later downgraded to a family home. Its residents had the run of the tiny triangular island, barely a quarter of an acre in size, which by Games-time was either overgrown or empty lockside plagued with weeds. The only other buildings on the island were a small shed and a container used for storage. The cottage was locally listed by Newham council for its ‘historic interest’ and ‘townscape quality’, although had obviously seen better days.

Today it looks like this.

The house is still there, renovated and renamed as Lock Cottage. But it's since been hemmed in by a pair of houses on one side and a block of flats on the other, all touching, in a total mishmash of architectural styles. The architects, obviously, are very proud.
"The proposed buildings are historically contextual and the intention is that they will ‘delight’ those who live there as well as those who live within the neighbourhood and visitors exploring the local waterways. The massing has been developed from the perspective of enhancing the setting and the historic value of the existing lock keepers cottage."
Sometimes I think architects live in another world, or at least live elsewhere in buildings they haven't designed themselves.

The block of flats has four storeys, so can't help but dominate the old cottage, and contains two 2-bedroom apartments and three 1-beds. That's a very profitable change of use for a scrap of land that used to be mostly mess and shed. The rear of the block faces what's supposed to be a tiny public garden with raised allotment beds, but is instead fenced off and overshadowed by the adjacent car park. But I think I dislike the new pair of semi-detached 3-bedroom houses most, which is odd because they're supposed to be the jewel of the development.

If you like local history, the Design & Access Statement of any new development is always a great place to look. This one's no exception, with a full rundown of the evolution of the site from Queen Matilda's visit in the 11th century to the realignment of the Bow Back Rivers in the 20th. City Mill Lock is relatively recent, its island carved out alongside a more navigable waterway in 1948. But back in 1806 the original site was purchased by Howards & Sons, renowned manufacturers of quinine, and later of citric acid, ether, borax, aspirin and cocaine. Now there's a heritage to celebrate.

In startlingly brilliant news, the company's founder Luke Howard was also an amateur meteorologist and first developed the classification system for clouds (cumulus, stratus, and cirrus). If you've been to Bruce Grove in Tottenham, you may have seen the blue plaque on his house there. The developers here in Stratford were extremely keen to remember Luke Howard in their development, so have named the smaller addition Howards House. What's more they attempted to base its design on a house Luke used to stay in on this very point of land, immediately alongside the factory complex, with the aid of photographs taken in 1914.

You can see the inspiration - all the right elements are present from the sash windows to the pillared porch. And yet whereas the original has stature, the newbuild has all the charm of a brick box, and not especially characterful bricks either. The extra floor dumped on the roof is the killer, and the two front doors rather than one don't help. It looked a bit more subtle in the planning documents, but historical accuracy has been significantly downplayed in the quest for increased profit. Both of these two semis are already sold, but the lockkeeper's cottage is still on the market for £765,000, should any modern cocaine dealer have the dosh to be able to move in.
"Our objective for the scheme is to reveal the memory of past, in a way that is relevant to the future context of the site, whilst developing a vision for a zero carbon future. This will be achieved by putting the heritage of the site and the long term management of the scheme at the heart of the proposals. Lifecycle thinking and community engagement will help to achieve these objectives."

You may live somewhere established and stable, but here in Stratford they're still squeezing in whatever they can wherever they can whenever possible. All the usual caveats about London needing housing apply, but this is no affordable nirvana, this is opportunistic compression. If a lockkeeper's cottage garden on a tiny island can be turned into eight squashed residences, nowhere is immune.

 Sunday, August 26, 2018


Greenwich is world famous as the point on the Earth's surface which defines the zero line of longitude. But London's line of latitude is far less numerically satisfying, hence much less well known. The 51st parallel passes well to the south of the capital, somewhere around Haywards Heath, while the 52nd parallel passes well to the north through Milton Keynes. Greater London lies slap bang between the two, indeed the line for 51½°N slices the capital pretty much in half.

My challenge over the last two weeks has been to undertake a journey along this fifty-one-and-a-halfth parallel, the line of latitude also known as 51.5°N or 51°30'N, from the edge of Thurrock to almost-Buckinghamshire. I didn't walk all thirty-one miles of it, not least because this particular line crosses the Thames as many as six times, and only one of these has a bridge. But I did stop off at numerous locations which happened to lie precisely on the line as it traversed some fascinatingly mundane parts of London and scored a few amazing direct hits along the way.

The twelve stages of 51½°N
  1) Havering (from the A13 to a concrete diver)
  2) Bexley/Greenwich (across mostly Thamesmead)
  3) Newham (skimming North Woolwich and industrial Silvertown)
  4) Tower Hamlets/Greenwich (the Isle of Dogs and North Greenwich)
  5) Southwark (that'd be Rotherhithe and Bermondsey)
  6) Southwark/Lambeth (closing in on Waterloo)
  7) Westminster (totally iconic tourist London)
  8) Westminster/Kensington & Chelsea (inc Harrods and Albertopolis)
  9) Hammersmith & Fulham/Ealing/Hounslow (an inner suburban safari)
10) Ealing (from Northfields to Southall)
11) Hillingdon (the Grand Union/M4 corridor north of Heathrow)
12) Hillingdon (specifically West Drayton)

...or if you want the entire journey in one go, here it is in a single post.
Warning: that single post is very long! On my screen it's eleven metres deep.

Meanwhile here come all the photos, all 130 of them...

My 51½°N gallery
» an album page with all 130 photos
» a full slideshow, from east to west

And most importantly, here's the map, showing the 51½°N line and all the points I stopped off at.

I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed researching it. I didn't do the journey all in one go, I went out on seven separate days, as you might have been able to tell from all the different weather in the photos. When I started out, in Havering, the summer heatwave was still in full effect. But in the two hours it took me to cross the river from Rainham to Erith the blue skies broke, the rain came, and the skies have been somewhat cloudier ever since.

I got to observe London from the viewpoint of a narrow 11m strip, venturing from the bleaker parts of the Thames Estuary to the very centre of the city and out the other side. I tracked land values from almost nothing to as high as they get, observed suburbia as it gets denser and older towards the middle of town, and met a diverse swathe of the population along the way. I visited parks, canals, hotels, stations, museums, galleries, embassies, street markets, lakes, woods, council estates, newbuilds, supermarkets, farms, fields, factories, pubs, churches, a debating chamber, a cablecar terminal, even the entrance to a tunnel. By following this line of latitude I have (quite literally) visited a cross section of the capital.

By no means have I seen everything London has to offer. I missed the City and its office blocks, I skipped Metro-Land, I didn't get to see a huge number of shops, and I barely crossed a decent contour line because 51½°N parallels the Thames for most of the way. A slightly different choice of latitude and my story would have been very different. 51.4°N would have taken me from St Paul's Cray to Hampton Court via Bromley and Mitcham, whereas 51.6°N would have linked Harold Hill to Harefield via Tottenham and Finchley. But 51.5°N felt properly numerically correct, and my word, it delivered.

Along my journey I stopped off and wrote about sixty separate locations, which is an average of one every half a mile. No wonder my adventures took such a very long time to write up. Best of all, there were more than 20 of these locations I'd never visited before, which when you think of how much of the capital I have been to is pretty impressive. Traversing a line of latitude became a voyage of discovery, with yesterday's eyepopping discoveries in West Drayton a case in point. If you've never been out randomly exploring in London, you have missed out.
Ten other things I didn't mention at the time
In Wennington, I felt sorry for the two kids spending the last sunny day of the summer holiday waiting for Dad to decide which pre-loved car to buy.
In Belvedere, I'd like to apologise for pointing the newbie Tesco distribution worker in completely the wrong direction, five minutes before it chucked it down.
In North Woolwich, when I tried to take a photo of the strip club, one of the chubbier punters crouched down and posed for me with his arms outstretched.
In North Greenwich bus station, the 'helpful' map propped up in the kiosk window is so old it doesn't have the Woolwich branch of the DLR on it.
In Rotherhithe, the leader of a group of feral cyclists dropped his phone while showing off doing a wheelie, and had to go back for it, and looked a right pillock.
On Westminster Bridge Road, I got to duck unchallenged beneath three strips of blue and white police tape, before it turned out the fourth was the real one.
In Methodist Central Hall, our tour was hijacked midway by a loud Australian who managed to twist the remainder of the conversation to be all about him.
In Starch Green, I nearly choked when I saw the price the traiteur on the Goldhawk Road was charging for over-sized pastel-shade meringues.
In Elthorne Park, a mother screamed increasingly loudly trying to stop her daughter running too far ahead, too close to the strange man taking photos.
In Nestles Avenue, even though the London Motor Museum closed permanently in June, Del Boy's Reliant Robin was still parked up round the back.
An intriguing by-product of my challenge is that I haven't been travelling so extensively elsewhere for the last three weeks. Normally I'd have gone to several self-picked attractions, even ventured repeatedly outside the capital, for tasty nuggets to tell you about. But with my blogging focus set, and no space to report on anything else, I fear this may have narrowed my horizons rather than broadening them. I won't be doing another 12-part epic in so concentrated a period of time again for quite a while, that's for sure.

But, yes, I enjoyed that. And there's also the immense satisfaction of having turned a line on a map into a sixteen thousand word photo essay, just for the hell of it. Normal service will now be resumed, whatever normal service is.

 Saturday, August 25, 2018


West Drayton is where this journey ends. But first death, a shaky bridge and some giant fish. [map] [photos]

West Drayton Cemetery   [51.5°N 0.470°W]
Normally this is a quiet tongue of land off the Harmondsworth Road, crowded only with graves and tributes, but I can immediately sense I've arrived a bad time. A pair of white vans and a Range Rover are amongst the vehicles parked up on the verge out front, a couple of suited drivers are standing around smoking, and the little council shed inside the gate is open for business. At the far end of the cemetery, beyond the cypresses, a dense concentration of mourners is starting to disperse from the freshest graveside, their ceremony complete. Everyone's dressed up in their finest black, some in waistcoats which might once have fitted better, others in slim sleek dresses. A strong sense of family reverberates. I make a strategic withdrawal as the first of the hearses zigzags up the uneven driveway and heads off towards the wake. I elect to come back later, after this human drama is complete.

One hour later I'm back, having been kept busy researching the paragraphs you've yet to read. The cemetery is quiet again, apart from the two gentlemen I last saw outside their shed, who in the intervening period have filled in the grave with the aid of a small digger and are busy spreading floral tributes on top. A huge Irish flag labelled 'Dad' forms the backdrop at the head, this just a tiny fraction of the florist's considerable commission, while 'Grandad' and 'Jimboy' are now positioned along each side. A photo of the almost-smiling deceased has been placed on a small easel to one side. I notice that the adjacent grave has a couple of stone leprechauns on it, indeed this whole corner of the cemetery has an Irish feel, and my word there's one particular memorial across the path which takes the breath away.

Jerry Hanrahan wasn't quite 18 when he died, and his loving family have placed two almost-lifelike statues of him on either side of a flamboyantly decorated monument. To the right the young boxer is dressed in a smart blue jacket and has his fists raised, while to the left he's in a tight red G-Star Raw t-shirt, with one hand in his jeans pocket and the other clutching a fibreglass bottle of Bud. Numerous artificial blue roses are dotted around, along with lanterns and patio lights, and the entire tableau is faced by a bright blue bench positioned slightly too close to comfortably sit on. The main text chiselled into the marble is unnervingly lengthy, written as if Jerry is speaking down from Heaven, and has all the sincerity of a much-liked Facebook post. Happy Birthday Daddy, reads the silver balloon his seven-year old left last week. West Drayton, it's clear, will never be allowed to forget.

Cricketfield Road   [51.5°N 0.483°W]
The last road in London to cross the 51½th parallel is Cricketfield Road, which is indeed named after the obvious. It forks off from Mill Road at the very western edge of West Drayton, just before all the waterways start, and runs bumpily and pavementlessly alongside the last few yards of the Frays River. At its top end until a few years ago was the Anglers Retreat public house, ideally suited for post-fishing beers or an after-innings pint. But it was demolished last year and is currently being resurrected as flats, in front of a more snazzy eco-development of a dozen more. The adjacent cricket ground has been out of action for rather longer, but remains undeveloped because it isn't brownfield, despite being just as suitable. Next comes the entrance to the local Travellers site, and then an outstanding London oddity - a Bailey Bridge across the River Colne.

The bridge dates back to the Forties, but isn't thought to be war-related. Before it was constructed vehicles could only reach further Riverside properties across a ford, but then woodyards and scrapyards grew up and needed better access, so a former footbridge got replaced by this prefabricated span. A further cluster of automotive businesses was established as a result, so today's pedestrians need to time their journey across the bridge carefully to avoid a stream of cars and vans. The clatter of the decking is evocative, and I kept expecting a tank to appear and start thundering ominously towards me above the reeds and Himalayan balsam.

The handful of people who live out here, on the very edge of London, own fiercely-defended detached homes behind spiked walls and electric gates. The house at the end of the bridge has a decorative lamppost and a request stop flag in the garden, along with a lot of sheds. The potholed track leading off to the right ends swiftly at the gates of the Arklyn boarding kennels, this unwelcoming dead end the furthest west it's possible to stand on the line of 51½°N without entering private property. Technically it's still 250m to the border, but the remainder is mostly fishing lake, all sight of which is shielded behind bungalow and fence. To reveal more, I'm going to have to take an off-line diversion...

Mayfields Lake   [51.5°N 0.489°W]
The dividing line between London and Buckinghamshire hereabouts isn't quite the River Colne, but a tiny offshoot called the Bigley Ditch, which explains the impractical meanderings of the boundary. Originally the land between the Colne and the Ditch was all meadow, but selective postwar flooding created three separate lakes for angling purposes, the first of which was called Mayfields. Access must be via Thorney Mill Road, a ratrun with a 7-foot width restriction, which passes what used to be the rather splendid West Drayton Mill, where Allen Lane the Penguin books magnate once lived.

Residential quality slumps somewhat after that, with a large estate of mobile homes crammed in just before the boundary. Nobody here gets a garden, only a lot of close neighbours, if a 2-bed for under 200K within walking distance of Crossrail is your thing. The Bigley Ditch is barely visible from the road, but a bright white coal tax post marks the spot, as well as two more modern borough signs. The road continues to a bridge over a single track freight line, whose presence is the reason it's impossible to approach these fishing lakes from the west, with the M4/M25 interchange an even more serious obstacle from the south.

The sole entrance is through a locked gate topped with barbed wire, for paid-up members of the Mayfields Syndicate only. They fish these lakes for humongous carp, some over 30 pounds in weight, whose occasional capture must make up for all the long hours spent patiently dangling bait. According to a notice pinned to the gate, members turning up with wet equipment is a serious problem. While I'm reading about this an archetypal fisherlad appears behind the mesh, baseball cap poised. He pauses, as if wondering why the hell I'm so interested, then wanders off to catch a monster. I'm left staring at a photograph of Mayfields Lake...

...which, as the endpoint of my 31-mile latitude quest, will have to do.

 Friday, August 24, 2018


A very thin strip of Hillingdon stretches west between the M4 motorway and what'll soon be Crossrail. That's where we're going. [map] [photos]

Bull's Bridge   [51.5°N 0.407°W]
Bingo, it's the most important point on the canal network in west London. Bull's Bridge spans the entrance to the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, while the original Grand Union continues down to the Thames. The new connection opened in 1801, when this low humpback was added, and Bull's Bridge became an important stopping-off point where bargees waited for their orders. The adjacent slate-roofed tollhouse used to be in a very poor condition, but has been restored in the last year and looks ready to be reused. All trace of the coal wharves is long gone. Today the boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow and Hillingdon meet right here, each on a separate side of the water.

I am not the only person present. Two silver-haired gentlemen have arrived with rucksacks and pastel rambling-trousers, one clutching a copy of the official guide to the London Loop. They're clearly taking the challenge seriously because they've noted the recommendation to divert 60m off the advertised route to admire the bridge, and are cataloguing their visit with a few carefully chosen photos. A father and daughter lay down their bikes atop the hump and pause for a juice break before cycling on. The narrowboat Little John unties its moorings alongside the superstore on the Hounslow shore, which a sign assures us is called Tesco Hayes Bulls [est 1994]. A small flotilla of moorhens swims under the bridge, the two youngest cheeping for all they're worth when suddenly an older bird dives dramatically for... oh, a bit of weed.

The dandelioned slopes around the bridge are a popular picnicking spot, assuming that picnic consists of lager, vodka and a scattering of Mini Cheddars. Someone has abandoned nearly 100 slices of bread on the path and steps, every single one of them a crust, which begs a question. A proper old-school fingerpost has been positioned at the water's edge, pointing towards Brentford 6 miles, Paddington 13½ miles and... the West Midlands arm is bent and mostly broken off. A much more modern black and yellow fingerpost has been installed for walkers and cyclists, one arm pointing downstream towards the evocatively named Wolf Bridge. I wish I'd picked a sunnier day to visit.

Nestles Avenue   [51.5°N 0.417°W]
Once, when industry was king, residential roads could be named after international manufacturing giants. Nestles Avenue doesn't have the apostrophe or the accent in its moniker, according to the sign at the end of the road, but one hundred 1930s semi-detached houses face directly onto the former Nestlé factory opposite. In 1916 a Swiss company bought up a former cocoa plant here on the banks of the Grand Union and started making Nestlé products under licence, before a merger brought Nestlé UK head office to the site, and a larger Art Deco factory was built. Grocery stalwarts Nescafé and Milkybar were both made here, the freeze-dried coffee being the last product to survive until the whole site closed down in 2015.

1381 houses are on their way, as you'd expect, but for now we're in the pre-development interregnum and the only way to get inside is via illegal urban exploration. Wow. To discourage such behaviour Keep Out signs are absolutely everywhere, while today is the last day to object to planning permission for the erection of ten 'Chocolate Works' flagpoles around the perimeter. At the former pedestrian entrance a set of decorative iron gates and railings (originally 19th century, brought over from Switzerland) have been sealed and locked inside a security nomansland. As for the main entrance for vehicles, its barriers are down, the signs reading Nestlé Beverage Division are illegibly overgrown, and the 1950s Moderne Style canteen stands vacant. It's going to be the gym for all the new residents, obviously, and if they fail to serve Nespresso someone's got this all very wrong.

Asda, Hayes   [51.5°N 0.426°W]
I feel I should stop off in Hayes proper, just south of the Crossrail redevelopment vortex, but all I've hit is the Asda superstore at Fairey Corner. More specifically I've hit the petrol station, which isn't going to score any narrative prizes, although the presence of Hillingdon's mobile library looks promising. Ah, no, it's just here for a lunchtime refuel. Unleaded is 124.7p a litre, and diesel 4p dearer, for future reference. Logistics company Nippon Express have a giant warehouse alongside, the M4 being conveniently close. Two smart young gentlemen walk past clutching a sheaf of green religious tracts which they seem keen to discuss, but I smile and shut them down. I'm unconvinced this brief Asda layover has been worth my time.

Pinkwell Park   [51.5°N 0.440°W]
What I particularly like about Hillingdon's parks, even the smaller ones, is that a mapboard always explains the origin of the space. This one's named after a small pond at the start of the Frog's Ditch, and was laid out in the 1930s when George Wimpey & Co Ltd were building the surrounding Bourne Farm Estate. A separate sign beside each entrance appears to warn that "gathering in groups of two or more" is prohibited, but I think it's just very badly worded. Almost all of the park is requisitioned for recreational activity, including football, basketball, bowls and skateboarding. The bloke practising his halfpipes must be late 30s, at least.

It's walkies time for the Rottweiler I've accidentally followed here from four streets away. No evidence of gender is visible. He/she is a hardwired tugger, stopper and sniffer, and has been brought here by a lad wearing red trackies and green trainers. He has his charge on a very thick silver chain, and even once in the park doesn't dare release them for a runaround. A woman with a less exciting spaniel stops for chat and an admiring stroke. I'm nervous when the conjoined pair approach, but it's only so I can be asked "Brother, have you got a cigarette?" and alas I have not. They wander off to sit in the basketball shelter, where a mate joins them and the dog aches to be elsewhere.

One day Prologis Park will expand south to cover 51½°N, but its logistical megasheds have yet to spread onto the brownfield site along Stockley Road. It's bleak round here, and pedestrian unfriendly, especially the mega interchange where the M4 spur road breaks off and heads for the airport. I have to dash unaided across the four lane southbound highway, praying that the lights don't change halfway, then equally nervously across the four lane northbound off-slip.

Crowne Plaza London - Heathrow   [51.5°N 0.454°W]
Even a mile and a half north of its take-off strip, and a mile north of any Runway Three, the airport's pull is strong. The Crowne Plaza hotel was dumped beyond the M4 in 1973, a Y-shaped beast with five identikit floors on each arm. The handful of flags fluttering out front reflect a global clientele, with China and the USA prominently represented alongside, er, Kenya and Vietnam. A wall of net curtains faces the car park, and a sports club with an enticing swimming pool is bolted on at one end to help the overall four-star-ness of things. Cars and shuttle buses drive in at the front, while hospitality staff from UB7 walk in round the back, where the laundry lorries depart carrying a cargo of soiled cotton.

Living in London I'm never subjected to the unwelcome wastefulness of the overnight pre-flight stay. As well as the need for a £136 room in which you'll spend most of your time unconscious, it's an extra £16 if you want the benefit of wi-fi. It's also £16 a day to park your car here, because you're over a barrel, and the Hoppa shuttle to the airport costs £5 a time. You'll also need dinner, they hope from the on-site Indian restaurant, although it's actually an easy walk to the local chippie if you know which way you're going (which the orientation of the site ensures almost nobody would). Across Cherry Lane, named after the orchards postwar development devoured, residents of the Novotel and slablike Holiday Inn are similarly 'trapped' until their aeroplanes eventually whisk them away.

Which just leaves West Drayton to tick off, tomorrow, and then we're done.

 Thursday, August 23, 2018

A new tube map has been unearthed as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

The 'Pay As You Go Map' shows fare zones, route validators and Out of Station Interchanges. It is very colourful. We thought you might like to see a copy, so here is a link.
Hey Deej,
This is fine as far as it goes, but it's a bit brief. Could you pad it out a bit and provide some additional detail? What our readers want to know is what's in it for them, why should they click through? Come on, Tim Dunning's done all the hard work sourcing the map via FoI, so it's not like our job is difficult. Also, you've illustrated it with a godforsaken section of East London which is not where our target audience lives. Please revise.
bests, Ed
TfL have released a secret tube map as a result of a Freedom of Information request. The PAYG Map, as it's called, shows all the fare zone information tube staff need to keep the network ticking over. It has lots of colour on it.

The map extends beyond the normal fare zones to show additional zones like B for Broxbourne and G for Grays. It shows which lines charge tube fares (green), which lines charge other TfL fares (blue) and which are the more expensive National Rail lines (red). It shows the expensive bit of TfL Rail, and the High Speed line where higher fares apply. It shows the three River zones (West, Central and East) in lurid colours. And it shows the location of all the pink Oyster readers which help orbital travellers pay lower fares.

Also it shows all the official OSIs, or Out of Station Interchanges, which are places where you can leave the network and rejoin it again nearby without having to pay extra. You can see several of these OSIs on the map extract, including Dalston Junction to Dalston Kingsland and Archway to Upper Holloway. Maybe one day one of these special links will save you money.

If you work in a station you get sent a free laminated copy of this map to stick up on the wall. If you work for TfL you can download the map direct from http://luintranet.tfl/static/documents/coo/Oyster_PAYG_Map.pdf. But now the rest of us can download a copy from the What Do They Know website, and enjoy this secret tube map for ourselves.
Hey Deej,
This is better, thanks, but it's a bit dry. We need a lot more oomph to engage the audience, a splash of wow, and a few choice buzz phrases from the approved list. Come on, this is a brand new tube map, and they only come along every other week. Not only do Londoners go wild for them on social media, but they drive our metrics through the roof. I notice that Tim has spotted a mistake on the map. Can we go big on this, please, now he's done all the hard work for us? Also, your snapshot now covers north London, which is definitely an improvement, but I don't think Kentish Town is hitting the spot. Please revise.
bests, Ed
We've seen this new secret tube map, have you?

If there's one thing Londoners love more than a cocktail on a car park roof, it's a brand new tube map. So brace yourselves, folks, because we've unearthed a secret one! Prepare to have all your thrillbuds poked.

This is the Pay As You Go tube map, or PAYG for those of us in the know. As well as all the nine - count them! - fare zones we know and love, there are also special secret zones called B, C, G and W for suburbs we hope you'll never have to visit. We love the rainbow colours everywhere, and especially Zone 8, which is exactly the same shade as our favourite cherry gelato.

Don't worry, the Circle line isn't really green, it's just that all the tube lines are that colour because the fares are the same. The Overground's blue, and real trains are in red or something, but let's not waste time explaining the modus operandi in a patronising manner when there's a secret tube map in town.

It's so secret that normally only TfL staff are allowed to see it, and it had to be tugged screaming from their secretive clutches via one of those sneaky FoI requests. Yay, it's our map now. Basically everything you need to know to work out how much your journey costs is here, except for the actual price.

Ever wanted to know how many stations have those pink readers that save you dosh? Now all your pub arguments are settled because we counted seventeen, so that's how many there are. Just imagine how useful this information could be!

But what we like best are the badly drawn squiggles. These are Out of Station Interchanges, or OSIs for those of us in the know, and they're secret connections which don't cost extra. All the best commuters have known about the shortcut between Paddington and Lancaster Gate for years, but now it's on the secret tube map for everyone to see, and we'll never be able to use it again without imagining a demented deformed snake.

Better still, the OSI between Bayswater and Queensway is brand new since June, and that's the best secret ever. Nobody ever knew how amazingly close these two stations were before, but now you can get out at one and walk 200 metres to the other without paying an additional fare. Mind. Blown.

But TfL has been rocked to its core by the revelation that there is a mistake on the map! This never normally happens, so it's amazing that it has this time. And it's such an obvious mistake too. Swanley in Kent should be in zone 8, like Dartford, but it doesn't appear in any zone at all. Rarely have we been more disappointed in a secret map.

And it gets worse. The key in the corner of the map manages to contain not one, not two, but three additional errors! Someone has written 'Special' as Speacial, the word 'From' has ended up as Form, and most unbelievably the 'O' of OSI has been incorrectly translated as Outer. Also the line between Ealing Broadway and North Acton is the wrong colour - it should be green but it is blue. How shocking that public money has been spent on this secret map and it is wrong.

But don't focus on the mistakes, just weep with joy like you have done every time we've revealed a new tube map so far this year. Remember the futuristic one, and the one with the line depths, and the one with the anagrams of Madonna cover versions, and all the ones those estate agents sent us? This is Thursday's new secret tube map, a brief flurry of collective exhilaration which makes all our lives better, until we forget it ever existed. Don't forget to share this snatch of euphoria with all your social media pals.

And hey, there's also this. A new PAYG map comes out every time a big change happens, so you can bet your bottom dollar there'll be a new one in December when the Queen's purple tunnel finally opens. Do you want to get the FoI request in now, or shall we?

    Hey Deej,
    That's brilliant. We'll run it tomorrow.
    bests, Ed

 Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Onwards across Ealing, our penultimate borough. [map] [photos]

Northfields station   [51.5°N 0.312°W]
South Ealing and Northfields are the closest Underground stations outside zone 1, and aligned approximately east-west, and yet the 51½th parallel still somehow manages to slide between the two. You can see how close they are if you stand on the bridge in Weymouth Avenue and peer through the gauze, South Ealing barely a platform's length away, and Northfields more like two. I feared I was going to have to write about the doctor's surgery on the corner, and an abandoned towel, and Magda's cat who went missing on 17th May ("Wolly has mikrochip!!!!!! can be very hungry!!!!!! empty bowls and his bed break our hearts"). But I went and checked out both stations just in case, and I think one of them just about counts.

It started looking good for Northfields when I spotted Diamond Food And Wine on the street outside. I suspect Magda shops there. And Northfields has always looked good because it's a Charles Holden station, with its tall Sudbury-esque ticket hall balancing out a low horizontal frontage, panelled clerestory windows and a flat slab roof. The Metro bins out front aren't quite the right shade of blue, and the pigeon spikes on the uplighters aren't what the architect intended, but some people are extremely fortunate in where their daily commute starts and ends.

I walked down to the far end of the platform, beyond the concrete canopies, a raised flower bed and those self-supporting roundel/advert combos that were de rigueur in the early Thirties. I watched the latitude on my phone tick up to 51.4998°N, then 51.4999°N, but it wasn't going to reach 51.5000°N unless I trespassed beyond the barrier or stepped off onto the tracks. When the station opened there was a further walkway connecting with a path leading along the trackside to Weymouth Avenue, which has been demolished at one end and sealed off at the other, but it's for this reason I'm claiming that Northfields station just crosses the line.

Elthorne Park   [51.5°N 0.336°W]
Residents of south Hanwell have enjoyed the formal part of this park since 1910, its opening delayed a few days by the announcement of the death of king Edward VII. It's a bandstand and tennis courts kind of place, the latter with a large banner for an investment company hung up behind the baseline. But walk a little further and you enter a much more recent addition, Elthorne Waterside, where scrubby meadows and young woodland are taking over the site of a former rubbish tip.

Though abundant with wildlife it's not especially feature-rich, so Ealing Council commissioned a local artist to work with seven schools to create 'The Mosaic Trail' linking various colourful works of art. I found one by some thistles, a circular disc with only a tiny sliver of its original mosaic remaining, like some smashed fragment of Roman pavement. Best not tell the children. Also, despite being called Waterside, it's very difficult to get down to the River Brent/Grand Union Canal unless you join the towpath at either end, the difference in height being a silent reminder of quite how much waste the park is perched on.

I was expecting a long detour to my next location, but instead spotted a sign by the orchard exit indicating a public footpath. Talk about unpromising. It led me through an industrial estate, past the shedlike Magic Food cafe, to a grimy corner where some workers had brought their own liquid lunch. I eventually worked out that the footpath passed through a closed gate, which led to an unexpected level crossing over a single track freight line. A narrow littered path then ran beside a high fence, overlooked by the occasional horse, alongside a vast tract of undeveloped inaccessible brownfield. And I mention this because sometimes London's most unexpected corners only reveal themselves when you try to walk between two random locations, and this is why we should do it more often.

Windmill Lane   [51.5°N 0.349°W]
This may just be one of London's oddest streets. A mile long, it joins the edge of Osterley to sort-of Hanwell, and looks like a rural road somebody forgot to upgrade. No public transport runs this way but it's a popular cut-through, so has street lamps and signs that flash if you try to do more than 30. Partway up is the kind of lay-by where 'No Dumping' signs are essential, and the pavement (where it exists) occasionally narrows to pushchair-unfriendly width. A collection of buildings hides on the other side of a very long brick wall, the entrance to which is deliberately unlabelled. Try to follow Windmill Lane on Google Streetview and you'll discover the picture freezes out at each end. It's almost like somebody doesn't want you snooping around.

That somebody is the Sultan of Brunei, who bought Aviary Farm many years ago and now maintains it as one of his many global residences. He's not here much, but his extended family are, enjoying the seclusion and a lot of life's luxuries, including a big swimming pool, an outdoor basketball court and a manicured lakeside lawn. I happened to be walking past when a car pulled in and the main gate silently opened, revealing a little more than the Sultan likes to show, if nothing more than some very nicely sculpted trees. Heaven knows what CCTV made of a random pedestrian walking past taking random photos, but thankfully nobody emerged to tell me to stop or to feed me to a pack of hounds. For an unnerving and unwelcoming walk, give Windmill Lane a spin.

Havelock Estate   [51.5°N 0.369°W]
We'll cross the Grand Union Canal one more time, but here's a quiet spot undergoing transformational change. The Havelock is another of Ealing's less-loved council estates, a 50s/70s development that could have worked out better, crammed into an awkwardly inaccessible triangle between an industrial estate and the canal. As at Acton Gardens a phased plan of decanting and relocation is underway, with additional homes added for private buyers, and the end result will look exactly how you expect. Placards advertising 'canalside living' will only become reality once the Canal & River Trust have hacked two and a half metres off the height of the hedge along the towpath, which they're kindly undertaking this summer. Narrowboaters in the know take advantage of ample mooring opportunities.

King Street, Southall   [51.5°N 0.383°W]
Here I found myself well to the south of the railway station, in what was originally Southall Green, with its typical Middlesex high street. But the suburb's character changed dramatically after 1950 when the partitioning of the Punjab brought Sikhs and other South Asians to Southall in great numbers, initially in search of work. Today Southall has Hindu mandirs and most notably ten Sikh temples, with Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha the largest anywhere outside Asia. Its domes can be seen from some distance, or suddenly come into view when you turn into the adjacent terraced street. What the other gurdwaras lack in size they make up for in dazzle, or openness, or the overuse of orange paint. At least three Sikhs passed me on their way to a service holding sitar-sized carrying cases.

I didn't see a single other European face on King Street as the local mixed community went about their business. I should emphasise I never felt uncomfortable, it's just another vibrant neighbourhood, but the only other monocultures I've walked through in London have all been white. Clothes and food shops predominate, the former incorporating textile merchants and tiny cubbyholed-sized dry cleaners. The Naan Shop sells its takeaway goods for a pound. One bazaar advertises nothing but its supply of Rakhi cards for those celebrating on 26th August. So many letters have fallen off the front of the Tesco Express (or 'Teo press') that the opening times somehow read 'penery damp'. A half-timbered pub nobody wants to drink in any more has become a Ladbrokes. The paving slabs outside what used to be St John's Church are inscribed with the names of local historical figures who resonate with a minority of the community. I'm pleased not to have reached the end of my journey without a reminder of the capital's true diversity.



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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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quality & risk
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ten sets of lovely photos
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war of the worlds
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