diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The author Jane Austen lived most of her life in Hampshire, and her final years in the village of Chawton. It's the only one of her many homes you can still visit, having been opened in July 1949 as the Jane Austen's House Museum. The first literary pilgrims only got to see one room, but precisely 70 years later the site is a proper attraction filled with ephemera, epistles and biographical detail. A short distance across the village is Chawton House, a stately home inherited by her brother, and whose existence helps to explain much of Miss Austen's literary universe. The two combine to make a persuasive day out.

"I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them."
[Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility]
Before moving to Chawton Jane's life had become increasingly unsettled, her father's retirement uprooting the family to Bath and his death leaving them financially vulnerable. It came as a great relief when her brother invited them to live in a tied property on his new estate, gifting the female members of the family a decent sized corner cottage in the heart of the village. Jane lived here from 1809 to 1817, the peace and security gifting her the time to focus on writing, until the onset of a chronic disease snuffed out her career at the age of just 41.

The museum is now too busy to allow entrance up the garden path, so visitors enter up the side alley via a shop in an outbuilding. This is stocked with enough books to satisfy the most ardent Austenophile, and also the obligatory bookmarks, postcards and chocolate. From here you get the freedom of the backyard and the garden, its borders riotously planted and currently in full summer splendour. A small visitor centre doubles up as a cinema for playing a looping 10 minute biographical film, all very useful as background info, and then you can head into the cottage proper.

It had been a pub before Jane and her sister Cassandra moved in, and was later divided into labourers' lodgings, so don't expect to see the cottage precisely as Jane would have known it. Also most of Jane's letters were destroyed by her sister after her death (to protect family sensibilities), so the museum has spent a small fortune over the years acquiring some of the few possessions known to survive. The most evocative of these is her writing table - a 12-sided slice of polished walnut - upon which the bespectacled author polished many of her most famous paragraphs.

Upstairs are a jade ring she definitely wore, fragments of letters she definitely wrote and a bed which looks like something she might have slept in. Various first editions are on show, plus a reading room where you can settle back with Mansfield Park in Russian or a Marvel graphic novelisation. In one room we learn that when Jane's estate was settled after her death, sales of Sense and Sensibility contributed £200 and Pride and Prejudice just £110. The museum makes the most of what it has, and presents its information to maximum effect, and there is of course a genteel tea shop across the road after you've finished.

"Their estate was large, and their residence was in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance."
[Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility]
Quarter of a mile distant is Chawton House, the Elizabethan manor house inherited by Jane's brother Edward and which remained in the family until the 1990s. She'd have walked up here for family dinners or to while away some time in the library, referring to the place as 'the Great House' in her correspondence. It very much looks the part, with twiddly chimneys and oak-panelled corridors, all accessed up a sweeping front drive and surrounded by splendid gardens.

If all you want to do is access the courtyard tearoom, you get in for nothing. Otherwise it's £10 for a house and gardens combo, kicking off with a wander through historic chambers, up a creaky wooden staircase and through the upstairs suite. The key theme throughout isn't Austen but female authors, the house having been purchased in 1992 by a businesswoman whose interest was in establishing The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600–1830. The last room on the tour is therefore a library containing thousands of vintage books, which has to be unlocked before you're allowed inside. You might be most impressed by the Mary Wollstonecraft first edition, or maybe the Belgian hunting tapestry, or (if you're a philistine) probably the secret drinks cupboard.

The gardens are a delight to explore, and are thought to have inspired the fictional landscape in Mansfield Park. A large part is a wooded wilderness nudged up beside a lime avenue, but the prettiest chunk is the walled kitchen garden built one year too late for Jane to have enjoyed. Here the gardener was hard at work thinning out the strawberries, the purple-headed thistle-tops were enormous and the marjoram in the herb garden was alive with bees and butterflies. Come and enjoy the brand new Garden Trail, launched earlier this month, with key locations marked by apposite Austenesque quotations. And maybe hurry, because the business foundation which used to fund Chawton House has now turned its focus elsewhere which means crowdfunding donations has become the urgent way forward.

Jane Austen's House Museum: daily, 10am-5pm, £9
Chawton House: daily, 11am-4.30pm, £10
» £1 off admission at one property if you show a ticket from the other
» Half-price admission to Art Pass holders

Chawton is a lovely linear village packed with thatched cottages, spoiled only on its outskirts by the A31 dual carriageway scything through. If tearooms aren't your thing there's also a 16th century pub with exposed beams, cask ales and a seasonal menu. Visit the churchyard to find the graves of Jane Austen's mother and sister, both called Cassandra. Jane is buried 15 miles away at Winchester Cathedral.

The nearest station to Chawton is in Alton, the nearby market town, and an easy ride out of Waterloo. From the station it's a walk of just under two miles to Jane Austen's House, initially along the high street which is very pleasant indeed. An illustrated leaflet showing the walking route is available from the Curtis Museum in the town centre, unless its Sunday or Monday when that's closed, in which case download the trail here. Ignore the sign in the ticket hall which recommends you take the number 64 bus to the village, because that won't even take you a mile before you have to get off and walk for the last fifteen minutes.

 Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Shipping forecast quiz
Here are picture clues to the names of the 31 sea areas used in the Shipping Forecast.
How many can you identify?

All answers now in the comments box.
But do still tell us how many of the 31 areas you could guess without looking.

 Monday, July 29, 2019

For today's post I selected a six figure grid reference somewhere in London, entirely at random, and then spent an hour there. I was extremely fortunate to get a park.

Random grid reference: TQ344719
Sydenham Wells Park Lewisham SE26

I find a bench at the top of the park, conveniently empty, with my back to the council depot. Its gates are chained for the weekend, with two decaying Christmas wreaths slung over the top. The ornamental flower bed alongside is the finest in the upper half of the park because the gardeners don't need to hop into their trucks and buggies to reach it. A sign by the park entrance lists closing times month by month (for the next few days 9pm). Parkgoers wishing to avoid getting locked in at dusk are warned to "Please listen for the audible sound", because somebody at Glendale Services failed to spot how unhelpful that advice is.

The park spreads down a grassy slope towards a playground and landscaped gardens. I'm fortunate that my vantage point provides a clear view across a considerable area, not just TQ344719 but also TQ344718, TQ343718 and TQ343719 which should make today's post four times more interesting than it might have been. I can see about two dozen people altogether, mostly in and around the playground or walking the promenade circuit around the hillside. The Crystal Palace transmitter rises high above the trees, it being less than half a mile distant. A rook rattles in the centre of the lawn. The shrubbery behind me is alive with... oh, wasps.

One family with three young girls have settled at an elevated viewpoint, from which they'd be able to see Kent if only they were looking. Another family with five offspring have monopolised the swings, of which there are four, so each child is taking it in turns to be the one chatting with mum. The recreational highlight is an aerial runway, tame enough to have passed municipal risk assessment, launched from a green stepped frame. A young girl rides repeatedly, tugging the wheel back up to the top with a jarring squeak.

If you don't have children you're probably here with a dog. Two young women climb the path followed by something that's not quite a poodle, one loudly relating an anecdote about her jowls. They make the first of several upcoming deposits at the red bin for unmentionables. "Yeah I've got a floppy hat but I just assumed there'd be umbrellas," says the next dog owner into her phone, before launching into a discussion about factor 70 suncream. Her hellhound is brown and ugly as sin, and not in a cute way. Once around the edge of the park appears to be the optimal walkies.

Unexpectedly a small green van enters the park and drives across the grass to the foot of the slope, followed by a small excitable black terrier. The van is branded 'Simple Food' and has a National Trust logo on its bonnet, so looks like it'd be more at home serving Pimms at some historic gardens in Surrey. Over the space of ten minutes the crew unload four green chairs and a pair of white tables from the back, place a blackboard out front and raise a shutter to reveal a mini-kitchen inside. Nobody rushes over.

The contours of the perimeter path prove popular with trainee cyclists. One small boy in a Real Madrid top whizzes by at speed, claiming to have his hands firmly on the brakes, followed by his mother who's carrying the helmet he ought to be wearing. One smaller boy wobbles downhill more slowly then falls off, but is brave enough not to need his father's close attention. Three hoodied lads, long past the parental supervision stage, slouch out of the park and return fifteen minutes later to smoke a questionable substance on a nearby bench.

The terrier by the food van runs uphill towards the family with the three girls, who immediately stand up to play with it. I'm never able to ascertain quite who the dog belongs to, but within quarter of an hour the entire family has a) moved downhill, b) nudged ever closer to the truck to play with the dog, c) settled at the outside tables having ordered food all round. I'm too far away to see precisely what they've chosen, but the rear grill is now in operation so I suspect it's the £3 hot dog meal option.

A tennis wannabe arrives at the swings, rackets in hand, and tempts the family of five off to the courts. This allows the child dressed as Spiderman to come down off the climbing frame, where he's been patiently waiting, and take his turn on swings. Another child steps over to the dynamic water feature and deduces that water gushes out of the vertical pipe every time he stamps on a button a few feet away. But he's playing alone, so can never quite dash across to the torrent before it stops pumping... until his dad wanders over to offer a helpful foot.

George III came here once, back when mineral waters gushed from springs on Sydenham Common and physicians swore by their cathartic qualities. The King reputedly spent most of the day at Well Cottage but didn't like the taste. Inevitably the spa faltered as fashions changed, retaining a degree of popularity only as a place of entertainment, until 1865 when the wellhead was summarily replaced by St Philip's church. Sydenham Wells Park opened alongside in 1901, providing the wealthy folk of Upper Sydenham with somewhere to promenade, and the parkkeepers' superior tree-planting choices are still evident to this day.

Two spaniels pad up the path, followed by oversized owners in matching flipflops. A grey-haired woman passes my bench carrying a water bottle whose label is so faded she must have reused it dozens of times. A bald man in a Duffer of St George t-shirt and fireman's leggings arrives with a poodle to walk. A young father in a sensible straw hat turns up next, with a tiny son kitted out in matching sunhat and trousers, and announces that they're off hunting for ladybirds. A single butterfly crosses the turf.

As my hour draws to a close the food van has become quite the social hub, especially with dog owners, but it's unclear whether anyone's actually buying anything. A cry of "LBW!" goes up from the knockabout cricket match by the toilet block. Our ladybird hunters have reached the gushing water fountain, which distracts them from their quest. The fireman's back with a dangling bag of excrement to drop in the red bin. The camera on the top of the CCTV pole swivels so that Lewisham council can check nobody's been enjoying themselves too much. There are far worse places to randomly be.

 Sunday, July 28, 2019

Today's post is about tracking down the trig pillars in Greater London, like this one at One Tree Hill in Alperton.

A triangulation pillar is a cast concrete structure positioned in the landscape to facilitate the making of maps. Over 6500 were installed across the country between 1936 and 1962, each 1.2m tall with indented brass plate on the top face to support a theodolite. The underlying maths is (relatively) simple. If you know the precise distance between two points and two angles to a third, you can calculate the precise location of that third point and thus build up an accurate map. Trig points therefore tend to be located at high points in the landscape, because line of sight was all important.

The initial triangulation of Britain kicked off in 1784 with a line rather than a triangle. Major-General William Roy established his first baseline across Hounslow Heath and came up with a distance of 27404.01 feet (which turned out later to be within two inches of the correct length). His two historic endpoints are now marked by cannons embedded in the ground, one up a cul-de-sac in Hampton and the other beside the Northern Perimeter Road at Heathrow Airport. Below is a photo of the Heathrow cannon, taken last week while the temperature was 37½C. It's one of my favourite psychogeographic London landmarks, and you can read more about it here.

Unsurprisingly the Ordnance Survey's initial survey wasn't perfect, which is why the Retriangulation of Great Britain kicked off in the 1930s. It didn't just use concrete pillars, but also bolts embedded in the ground, rivets poking out of buildings and "intersected stations" at the apex of church spires, chimneys and masts. Southwark Cathedral's tower's flagstaff is a trig point, as is a rivet on the Heathrow Airport control tower and a disc on the ground outside Brent Cross Shopping Centre. A complete list of UK triangulation points is downloadable here, if you want to check the data for yourself.

But the advance of digital mapping has made the trig point redundant. The Ordnance Survey now employs GNSS technology to determine location data much more precisely, and the OSGB36 datum has been replaced by ETRS89 (European Terrestrial Reference System 1989). Over the last 30 years several hundred trig pillars have been lost or destroyed because the OS no longer maintains them, but the vast majority remain as much-loved curiosities. Schlepping up to the top of a hill always feels a bit more special when there's a trig pillar on top.

In researching London's trig pillars, I've discovered that there are fewer than I thought. That's not because dozens have been destroyed, but mainly because London's more blessed with tall buildings than it is with hills. In total there are 24 triangulation pillars in the capital, and only one of these is in inner London. Half of the total are in just four boroughs - Havering, Harrow, Bromley and Croydon. Some seem ridiculously close to each other, others leave surprisingly large gaps, but that's a mixed demarcation system for you.

Here then are London's two dozen trig pillars, arranged approximately geographically. The height shown is the height of the top of the pillar, not ground level. Click on the height to see an Ordnance Survey map depicting (with a blue triangle) precisely where the trig pillar is. If the pillar is publicly accessible I've coloured it green, and if it isn't I've coloured it red. It's a 50/50 split.

Arkley Reservoir (144.8m)King George V Reservoir (23.1m)
Pole Hill (91.4m)
The Kiln (144.1m)
Belmont (105.1m)
Banbury Reservoir (16.3m)Dog Kennel Hill (84.5m)Romford Common (71.5m)
Dagnam Park (75.6m)
Barn Hill (85.9m)Tomkyns (74.7m)
Islips Manor Park (48.0m)Horsenden Hill (84.8m)
One Tree Hill (53.9m)
Central LondonBerwick Pond Road (17.3m)
Richmond Park (56.0m)Hilly Fields (50.8m)Plaistow Reservoir (77.6m)
Pollards Hill (64.9m)Garland Hill (80.5m)
Chessington (63.9m)Layhams Farm (157.9m)
Selsdon Park (164.0m)
Riddlesdown (160.2m)

A more accurate map of the London area can be found here. You can also see the precise locations if you go to osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk, click the Places tab and select Trigpoints from the menu down the side. This works for anywhere in the country.

Some people are obsessed by visiting trig points, and their exploits can be read at trigpointing.uk. The keenest trigbaggers aren't averse to visiting off-limits trig points by snapping padlocks, creeping under electric fences or wandering across golf courses, which is taking an obsession too far. But I recommend checking their research before heading out because it turns out several red trig points are clearly visible from public land and certain green trig points are an overgrown disappointment. The best ones to visit are those in the second and fourth columns of my map. Just don't try collecting them all.

 Saturday, July 27, 2019

Seven years ago today, just up the road from where I'm writing this, London's Olympic Games began with that unforgettable Opening Ceremony. It's still online, all four hours of it, should you wish to take time out to remember the inclusive country we used to be.

A seventh anniversary isn't normally one to celebrate, but it was in July 2005 that the IOC confirmed the 2012 Games were being awarded to London, which means July 2019 is as far after the Games as the announcement was before.

Since 2012 the stadium's become a controversial home for West Ham United, the Aquatics Centre is Newham's best municipal pool and the Velodrome occasionally echoes to competitive pedals. White elephant status has been avoided through careful planning, and hundreds of people still throng across the landscaped site on a daily basis. But the most important thing about the post-Olympic Park is that it still isn't finished, so I've been out to look at what's changed over the last twelve months and what's (still) yet to come.

Western edge

Here East continues to attract e-start-up-folk, but has lost at least one of its canalside bar/restaurants over the last year. You can also now hire an electric scooter and ride it down to almost-Westfield, thanks to QEOP being a private rather than a public space.
East Wick, one of the Park's new residential neighbourhoods, is finally underway between Here East and the Copper Box and already looks like the usual cluster of stacked flats. Building works and road diversions are ongoing. Nobody has yet started on the much larger redevelopment across the grass to the east of Waterden Road.
Clarnico Quay, between the Copper Box and the Lea, will be a temporary independent business centre and then flats, but for now is a scrappy mess.
With every passing month Hackney Wick creeps from edgy creative neighbourhood to bland residential silo. Demolition continues down Wallis Road in a non-uplifting manner. In the meantime, the Hackney Wicked Open Studios festival returns this weekend, and should be cracking.
Barge East, a Dutch sailing barge kitted out as a bar/kitchen, has proved so popular it's encroached onto Canal Park with a dozen outside tables (until 10pm only) and added a silver Airstream beside the BBQ drum.

This very morning the towpath beneath Bridge H14 is being closed off so the footbridge can be removed and replaced by something which takes buses and cars. The new bridge has already been dropped off close by and is waiting to be winched into place.
Bridge H16 opened as a replacement for Bridge H14 back in May, but the steps down to the towpath remain sealed off and the thin layer of turf draped ineffectively behind the bench seating has curled up in the heat.
The owner of Forman's salmon smokery is now one of London's Brexit Party MEPs, and reckons Boris Johnson's new cabinet "is superb in every respect."
Forman's former car park is rising again as 200 flats to be branded as Lock No 19. They will not enhance the waterside.
The hut alongside Old Ford Lock, most recently the preserve of Anglers Who Looked Like They Were Also Cabbies, has become a Canal and Rivers Trust outpost. When I tried walking past yesterday one of their t-shirted representatives stopped chatting to his colleagues, stepped up to a table of collateral and tried to engage me in conversation about their good works. I do not give money to organisations which squander funding on canalside chuggers.
If someone would repave the connection between the Lea towpath and the Greenway so it isn't a puddle for 11 months of the year, that would be excellent.

Southern Park

Construction of Sweetwater, one of the Park's new residential neighbourhoods, is almost underway between the stadium and the Energy Centre.
Carpenters Road is sealed off for most of its length so that construction can begin (indeed has begun) on the East Bank cultural cluster. The first buildings will open in 2022, including a Sadler’s Wells theatre, the rest in 2023, including a V&A museum.
Bus route 339 has been diverted away from Carpenters Road around the stadium since last Christmas, and future plans propose diverting it again across Bridge H14 once that's ready.
A lot of Stadium Island is sealed off because it's the summer events season. It doesn't look like anyone has any interest in opening the southern end of the City Mill River towpath.
The View Tube cafe has reopened under its third set of management, with a less ambitious menu and no great prospect of economic success.
Bobby Moore Academy (Secondary) completed its first academic year on Wednesday.
The lawn to the south of the Orbit has been fenced off and is just starting transformation into a UCL London campus, because six years of greenery is no guarantee of future leisurespace. The scrappy wasteland just south of the Aquatics Centre will be next. Both projects fall under the East Bank umbrella, despite not being waterside.
If you remember how fantastic the wildflowers were during the Games, they're still good, but absolutely nowhere near as good.
As recently blogged, the Greenway between the railway and Stratford High Street has reopened after 10 years, sheesh 10 years. It may never be possible to follow the City Mill River out of the Park.
Pudding Mill's empty tarmac spaces still aren't a residential neighbourhood, nor even yet a building site. The Marshgate Lane Trading Estate has recently been levelled, so looks like joining them in inactivity.

Northern Park

The road junction where Waterden Road meets Clarnico Road, home to what may be London's most lethargic pedestrian crossing, is being massively reengineered to connect to a new link road which is almost complete, The new tarmac carriageway is an admission that the original legacy road network was inefficient, and a lot more flats can be crammed in by redrawing the underlying canvas.
Chobham Manor neighbourhood continues to extend, street by street, creating a peculiar postmodern neighbourhood of geometric flats, narrow townhouses and identikit street trees.
This is not, currently, the most change-focused end of the Park. By 2026, expect unrecognisable bits.

 Friday, July 26, 2019

Yesterday was the UK's hottest day on record, with temperatures hitting 38.7°C in Cambridge and 37.9°C at Kew and Heathrow.

TfL reacted by hoping very much that everyone would carry water with them, not because they're especially benevolent but because dehydrated people get ill and disrupt trains. The People Who Display Posters displayed posters. The People Who Write Tweets wrote Tweets. And The Muppets Who Write Tube Announcements broadcast this, repeatedly, at every station on the network.
"Please carry water with you in this hot weather.
Search Refill London for nearby water fountains."
I first heard this message at West Ham station, indeed I heard it there last week. I duly searched for Refill London, as requested, because I have a smartphone capable of doing this. I ended up on the Refill London page, where I was harangued about cookies and signing up to emails. I skimmed down the page and was told I had to download an app. I waited while the app downloaded and then opened it up. I skipped past the bit where they wanted me to set up a profile, having deduced it wasn't compulsory. I waited while thousands of refill stations slowly whirred into place. I confirmed I wanted to find a refill station rather than adding a new one. And eventually the map informed me that there weren't any refill stations near West Ham station, so I'd completely wasted my time.

Same at Plaistow.
Announcement: "...search Refill London for nearby water fountains."
App outcome: "We can't find any Refill Stations nearby yet."
Same at Bromley-by-Bow.
Announcement: "...search Refill London for nearby water fountains."
App outcome: "We can't find any Refill Stations nearby yet."
Same at Bow Road.
Announcement: "...search Refill London for nearby water fountains."
App outcome: "We can't find any Refill Stations nearby yet."
Apparently there are 2500+ Refill Stations in London, just not anywhere near these four stations. But they play the announcement anyway.

At Mile End, better luck. Two Refill Stations popped up, but neither of them were water fountains. One was Starbucks on the Mile End Road and the other was Costa Coffee across the road. It turns out all you have to do is go in and ask staff to refill your water bottle with tap water and they'll do it for free, which is excellent, assuming you have the bottle.

Don't get your hopes up looking for a water fountain. According to Refill London, "The Mayor of London and Thames Water have partnered to install a network of more than 100 drinking water fountains in busy and accessible areas of London." 100 water fountains isn't very many in a capital of 9 million people, indeed it's barely enough for three per borough. Worse, London's current water fountain total stands at only 28, according to a Mayoral press release last week. I used that press release to direct me towards two actual proper water fountains, newly installed, close to Farringdon station.

Here's one in St John's Garden.

Here's another on Clerkenwell Green.

But when I tried opening up the Refill London app, it didn't know they existed. It knew about the Starbucks, Costa Coffee and two specific pubs near the station, plus the Coco di Mama restaurant in Cowcross Street (offering "free water from a jug"). But even though I'd downloaded the app that morning, the two local water fountains failed to appear.

I heard the announcement again at Ruislip Gardens - same words, different voice. The app told me that water was available at Basebox Fitness Studio on New Pond Parade. It also gave me their postcode, Twitter handle and web address, which was useful. Unfortunately I was on the platform and they were four minutes up the road, and I couldn't afford to touch out again, refill and touch back in. But were I local it would be very useful to know the offer was there.

I heard the announcement again at Wood Lane - same words, different voice. The app told me that water was available at the Starbucks in the ticket hall, and indeed it was, not that there was any physical indication outside to alert passengers that water was available inside for free. If the Mayor were serious about Refill London, there'd be at least a sticker.

I should also report that the Refill London app crashed almost every time I used it, usually just after displaying its results. This could be an issue with my phone rather than the app, but I grew bloody tired of reloading it and waiting while the refill stations reloaded too. I wished there was a Refill London map on the Refill London website, but no, they guard their information religiously so it's the app or nothing. Quite frankly you could discard the app entirely and simply walk into a Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pret or Greggs every time you need water and demand your free refill, it would save a lot of unnecessary digital hassle.

Refill London aims to help prevent plastic pollution in our capital, which is an excellent aim. Refill London plans to install water fountains across London, which may one day be excellent but isn't yet. The Refill app is an excellent idea, but I found it impractically unreliable to use. And the Muppets Who Write Tube Announcements should think again about their less-than-excellent Refill London wording.
"Please carry water with you in this hot weather.
Search Refill London for nearby water fountains."
It's not about water fountains, it's about water refill stations, and that's a somewhat different concept. Also please don't waste our time by playing your generic announcement at every tube station, you muppets, not if there are zero water refill stations nearby. And it's just a thought, but perhaps install some water fountains on your own property rather than expecting everyone else to provide them for you.

 Thursday, July 25, 2019

This week, for what it's worth, London became a National Park City.

The concept is essentially meaningless, having been invented by a former geography teacher from South Oxfordshire, indeed no other National Park Cities exist. But the Mayor has been impressed enough to sign up to its principles in an attempt to boost his green credentials, and has decreed this week to be a National Park City Festival. I'm wildly sceptical, but went out to visit a few events anyway.

Living Symphonies
Epping Forest, Chingford, 11am-8pm, 20-28 July

This one's a joint event between Waltham Forest and the National Park City Festival, indeed it's really a London Borough of Culture event reappropriated because it happens to fall in the right week. It's also located right on the very fringe of the capital, deep in Epping Forest only a few steps from the Essex border, so you won't be dropping in by accident. Head to Chingford and look for the twin flags by the Hunting Lodge, then yomp across Chingford Plain to the edge of the forest, then follow the signs into the trees.

Here I met the project's co-curator eager to explain all. It's important to chat to someone before you go any further else all you're going to hear is some music in the woods. What we did here, said Kirsteen, is analyse the wildlife across the project space and then commission local musicians to write themes for each. See that small weather station in the undergrowth? That's what triggers various sounds to be played as conditions change, so you might hear a high flute for a bird of prey in the rain or a very different sound representing ground-based creatures just before dusk. It was quite spooky here last night. You've come at a good time.

A single clearing has been staked out with hidden speakers, so don't wander too far off because there's nothing behind the hornbeams. Depending on atmospheric conditions you could hear strings playing behind you, pulsing percussion low on the ground or a woodwind theme high in the branches... or at lively times a combination of each. You'll have no idea which animal each theme is meant to represent, but you can have fun wrongly guessing. It's not always as musical as this captured segment suggests...

Because the school holidays are underway my visit was also 'enhanced' by numerous young humans brought to the forest by their arty parents. One child strode around the clearing trying to spot the loudspeakers and shouting "look here!" whenever he found one. Another no older than six repeatedly stomped up and down singing into a plastic microphone as if she were auditioning for The X Factor. Two toddlers shrieked when Bella the labrador arrived off leash, then screamed louder when she bounded onto their picnic tablecloth while her baffled owner looked on. But you won't get any of that. The Living Symphonies experience is always different, and a trip to Epping Forest is always a treat.

National Park City Rooftops
Various locations, last weekend, so no you can't

Another thing the National Park City Festival let you do last weekend was go up things and stand on top of them. The rationale behind this freedom of access was to enjoy their green roofs, showcasing what can be done to boost wildlife even in the heart of the city. But I was simply happy to have the opportunity to go up things, and the view was invariably more impressive than the handful of flowerbeds.

Number One Poultry is the striking 1990s structure which faces the road junction at Bank, its roof occupied by a restaurant normally the preserve of the financial elite. You could sense they weren't entirely happy at the hoi polloi arriving randomly from the street and making their way round the vine-spangled pergola to the open deck. Its grass was fake, its topiary understated and one of the waiting staff politely barked at me when I unknowingly stepped off limits. The correct target was the 'prow' of the building where two wooden platforms extend out above the street, some of the regulars with champagne flutes, the rest of us with cameras pointed at the jagged skyline. I left impressed and belittled.

The White Collar Building rises beside what used to be the Old Street roundabout. It's barely a year old, with a downstairs lobby that better resembles a timber-clad cafe than an office reception. The lift took Festivallers to the 16th floor, where a 145m running track runs round the outside of the building, but our target was the small cafe-side roof terrace on the 17th. This provided a magnificent vantage point to observe various City clusters, with the Shard rising beyond the greensward of the Honourable Artillery Company Grounds, and St Paul's and the London Eye visible in the gaps between the Barbican's three residential towers. Numerous lenses fixated on the panorama. If there were any National Park City reasons for being up here, they have slipped my mind.

My third and final roof was just off Carnaby Street, through an anonymous entrance between restaurants, nodded through by weekend security and up a few floors in the lift. This roof had some proper planting, including ox-eye daisies, alliums and lavender, and a less dramatic skyline because Westminster council believes in reining in building heights. It'd be great if all employees had somewhere like this to pop up to at lunchtime... but a few planters on a handful of rooftops do not a National Park City make.

 Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Ten populist policies sure to be a vote winner on the road to Brexit (and into the sunlit uplands beyond)

1) A new unit of currency

Every true Brit loves our noble pound sterling, and rightly so. But a fresh start demands a fresh break and a new coin we'll love even more, which is why from 11th November 2019 Britain's new currency will be the Poppy. One Poppy () will be divided up into twenty Shillings and one Shilling into twelve Pennies, which is excellent news for everyone over the age of 60 who won't have to learn any new arithmetic at all.

The One Poppy coin will be circular with a smooth rim to encourage counterfeiting and boost the entrepreneurial economy. Dame Vera Lynn will be appearing on the Five Poppy note, Sir Winston Churchill on the Tenner and Bomber Harris on the Twenty. The Bank of England aren't expecting our post-Brexit economy to require any larger notes so Alan Turing can consider himself cancelled.

Pounds will be exchangeable for Poppies at approved moneylenders for one week prior to P-Day. To prevent devaluation it has been decided to peg the new currency at a fixed rate of one Poppy to two dollars. Not only will this make transatlantic trade deals much easier, it should also help to disguise the unfortunate price rises which may follow a No Deal Brexit.

2) An iconic national monument

To demonstrate our faith in Global Britain, one of the first acts of the new administration will be to commission a massive observation tower atop the White Cliffs of Dover. The monument will resemble a massive finger raised towards France, with a golden Spitfire perched on top which will also double up as a cafe selling bacon sandwiches.

Guests arriving at the foot of the tower will enter a magical animatronic history of Britain from Boudicea to the Blitz, then ascend 300m in a gold elevator accompanied by a stirring musical composition penned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The viewing platform will face Kent, our glorious Garden of England. Toilets will face Calais.

Technically the proposed site is protected land under the control of the National Trust, but Jacob Rees Mogg's Bonfire of Planning Regulations will swiftly solve that problem. Potential sponsors of the Dover Finger should contact Liz Truss at the Treasury with details of a potential financial settlement, but rest assured the taxpayer will end up footing most of the bill.

3) The Northern Powerhouse

All future onshore wind farms will be built north of the M62. No fracking will take place further south than Nottingham. Sorted.

4) St Heroes Day

21st October, formerly Trafalgar Day, will be renamed St Heroes Day and become a UK bank holiday. The day will be dedicated to all the heroes who make Britain great, focusing especially on our boys in the armed services (and maybe some of our girls too). A Parade of Heroes will be held in every community across our great nation, mostly comprising military personnel but each led by a lollipop lady and with the police bringing up the rear. Trawlermen may be included according to local circumstances.

Every year a new profession will be embraced into the Heroes' cadre, kicking off in 2019 with the Taxi Driver, in 2020 the Stockbroker and in 2021 the Medicare Consultant. All Heroes will be rewarded with half-price bus travel and reserved seats in cinemas. St Heroes Day will also mark the start of the annual poppy-wearing season, with fines for non-compliance donated mostly to charity.

5) The Northern Ireland Zipwire

Trade between the home nations is critically important, especially once the backstop has been ditched and goods flow freely across the Irish border. Just in case that doesn't happen it is proposed to stretch the world's longest steel zipwire between Scotland and Northern Ireland and use it to send bundles of cargo 20 miles across the North Channel. Everyday operations will be outsourced to Chris Grayling Freight Solutions Limited.

The Stranraer mast will be slightly higher than the Belfast mast to ensure that goods travel by gravity in one direction only, thereby getting round pesky post-EU import regulations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will inaugurate the connection by making a celebratory crossing, probably as far as halfway, whilst waving all the flags he can carry. Frictionless trade will never have been easier.

6) Rebalancing the capital

London has had the lion's share of our nation's wealth for too long, generating resentment in hard-working provincial towns and far-flung bucolic villages. The title of Capital of the United Kingdom will therefore be awarded to a different regional town or city on a rolling annual basis, potentially absolutely anywhere but London.

Winchester has been chosen as the first nomadic capital, as a pretence that this change has at least some historical legitimacy. Sunderland is the obvious shoo-in for 2021, then from 2022 the title will be awarded to the highest bidder. Business leaders and councillors wishing to embrace the commercial sparkle that capital status brings should send details of where MPs will meet, which sports hall will accommodate the Lords and which restaurants will offer Cabinet members free meals. Towns which voted to Remain should recognise the futility of their applications.

While Parliament is on tour, a long-awaited opportunity will be seized to renovate the crumbling Palace of Westminster, which will then be flogged off as a luxury hotel as a sweetener to our esteemed Chinese trading partners.

7) It's A UK Knockout

It is important sometimes to remember that the other home nations exist, so a spectacular televised tournament will take place each summer on the Saturday closest to Premier Johnson's birthday. Teams from the four countries will compete in hilarious slapstick competitions involving oversized mannequins, dangling ropes and gunge-filled wellington boots, broadcast free-to-air on UK Fox News.

The winning team will be rewarded with laurel wreaths, Toby Carvery vouchers and one additional ration book for every citizen of their country. During the 2020s it is expected that the number of home nations may decrease, in which case contingency teams will compete from the English regions (plus almost certainly Wales).

8) Rebranding London

London aspires to remain a key financial hub post-Brexit, and its unmatched reputation for heritage will persist around the world. But embracing entrepreneurial flair requires blue skies thinking, which is why the Exchequer intends to sell off naming rights to the former capital going forward. Only multinational superbrands need apply. Once all bids have been considered, and bungs taken, one company will be selected and the city renamed for a four year period.

Will foreign tourists be setting their sights on a holiday in Emirates London? Could the city's tube network be operated by Transport for Netflix London? Also, just to show who's in charge now, might Sadiq Khan be forced to take the title Mayor of Coca-Cola London? Crucially the billions raised by this rebrand will not be pumped into local government but will instead fund tax cuts for the richest 1%, thereby achieving this key pledge at no cost to the general public.

9) The British Health Service

Our beloved NHS will always be free at point of use and will never be sold to foreign bidders. To this end we are rebranding our hospitals and surgeries to become the British Health Service, which will be fundamentally identical but intrinsically more fair. Each BHS appointment will therefore necessitate a token administrative charge of ten pence, which will help protect our key services from timewasters and freeloading foreign nationals. To minimise delays in administering emergency treatment, and future fee increases, citizens should register their bank details in advance via trumpcare@bhs.com.

10) Adequate Food

Please bear with us during The Rebalancing while trade tariffs are renegotiated and key deals struck with former partners. We will aspire to maintain supplies of perishable foodstuffs until such time as this becomes impossible. There is no need to stockpile tinned goods. A very reasonable substitute for bread can be made from shredded potato peelings. Every child will be guaranteed at least one satsuma this Christmas. We hope you like soup. There will always be drinking water. Do or die.

 Tuesday, July 23, 2019

This is the 8000th post on diamond geezer. I like the fact that it references the 5000th.

From tomorrow the name of Boris Johnson will be added, forever, to the list of UK Prime Ministers. Well done London, because arguably it's his eight years at the helm of the capital that propelled him to the highest post in the land. So I've trawled back through my archives to remind us how his mayoralty went, and perhaps learn some lessons about what to expect from a BoJo premiership. My clickable retrospective starts almost exactly twelve years ago...

Yesterday the Conservative Party (finally) launched its London Mayoral Candidate shortlist. It's a list of four right-on souls, one of whom will be selected to stand against Ken for Mayor in London-wide elections next spring. How very exciting. The Conservatives have taken months longer than expected to reach the shortlisting stage because insufficient major figures put their name forward for this prestigious post. Things were so desperate that not even DJ Mike Read could be persuaded to put his name forward. But now we have four successful applicants. ... It'll be Boris, obviously. (22 Jul 2007)

Boris Johnson MP - "I'm looking forward to putting a smile back on the face of Londoners." (28 Jul 2007)

So London has spoken, and Boris Johnson is to be the Conservative candidate for next year's London Mayoral election.... Boris romped home with more than 75% of the vote, at least among the 19000 Tories and 1000 non-Tories who bothered to vote in the primary phase. He'll need a lot more support than that to win in May. (28 Sep 2007)

Boris Johnson has managed to plant an incredibly alluring idea in the minds of London's electorate. "Vote for me and I'll scrap all the bendy buses and bring back Routemasters." As campaign ideas go, it's brilliant. Alas that's not what he's promised at all, it's just what people think is on offer... Oh London, I worry about you sometimes. And if you can't see through Boris's Routemaster ploy, then I fear you deserve everything you get. (19 Mar 2008)

When Boris Johnson isn't canvassing to become Mayor of London, he has a day job as Member of Parliament for Henley. But, I wondered, does being MP for Henley provide any relevant experience for taking the reins of the capital? Would throbbing multicultural London (population seven and a half million) be a better place if it were more like genteel riverside Henley-on-Thames (population ten thousand)? So I headed upriver to Henley at the weekend to find out. And what do you know, I think Boris has it sorted. (28 Apr 2008)

• Number of outer London boroughs directly responsible for Boris's election last night: 6
(3 May 2008)

"The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has today announced the closure of The Londoner newspaper saving London nearly three million pounds. A percentage of this saving will be spent on planting 10,000 new street trees as London's new Mayor continues to deliver on his manifesto pledges." (14 May 2008)

And so Boris's alcohol ban slaps down on public transport in the capital. It's a cheap and easy ban to impose, although rather more expensive to enforce. We now face the ridiculous situation whereby tube trains leaving central London termini must be dry, whereas inter city services will happily sell you a can, a beaker or a bottle. That's everybody's civil liberties curtailed so that a bit of minor anti-social behaviour can be quashed. (1 Jun 2008)

"Fare rise will fix Ken's TfL black hole" (Evening Standard)
It'll also fix Boris's scrapping of the £25 Congestion Charge for guzzly 4×4s and fund the cost of replacing bendy buses with pseudo-Routemasters. But sssh, no mention of that in the lapdog Standard. (5 Sep 2008)

So new trains are on their way, and Boris is duly chuffed that they'll be entering service on his watch. Just don't call them bendy trains, however much the concertina-ed interior reminds you of bendy buses. And do try to ignore that fact that Ken announced these new carriages all of two years ago, and all that's really changed this week is that there's a now a prototype you can sit in. Or more probably stand in. (28 Sep 2008)

"I have asked GLA and TfL officials to produce an initial report into an island airport in the Thames estuary" (6 Nov 2008)

After Bonfire Night came Bonfire Day. TfL's latest business plan has incinerated several slow-burning transport projects, each liberally doused with car-friendly petrol by our beloved Mayor. A few important projects that Boris inherited, such as Crossrail and (most of) the East London line, will be prioritised. But their funding will be secured by sacrificing various smaller projects, generally at the expense of residents in boroughs that voted for Ken. TfL's emphasis will be on upgrading existing networks, not branching out into new areas, no matter how great the local need. Boris refuses to raise taxes to pay for anything, including it seems investment in London's future. There'll be no new transport projects in the pipeline for his successor to open, but never mind, eh? (7 Nov 2008)

Today's winning design will one day become a much-loved icon of London, replacing the evil cyclist-crushing bendy bus, and tourists will flock from all around the world to ride it. Londoners will once again have confidence in their elected officials, safe in the knowledge that their hard earned taxes aren't being wasted on pointless vanity projects. And residents in the Outer London suburbs will be able to say "Look, there goes Boris's new Routemaster, it's great to have this noble beast back on our streets again, now hop into the car darling and let's drive down to the shops." (19 Dec 2008)

I thought it would be good to have a sponsor this year because big fireworks are terribly expensive. So I asked a fridge manufacturer to give us lots of cash, and in return I'm allowing them to write patronising PR drivel on websites, and plaster their logo across the Embankment. Now where's the harm in that? It also saves me having to charge £10 a ticket for spectators (although, hmmm, maybe next year). (31 Dec 2008)

Has it really be a year since London swapped Ken for Boris? Yes it has, which explains why you haven't been able to move all week for BJ retrospectives in the media. But what's BoJo actually done for the capital in the last 12 months? What are his big schemes, what's he forced through and what's he cancelled? Here's my attempt at a semi-comprehensive list... (2 May 2009)

The 507's not just a bus route, it's an electoral policy in action. Last week the 507 was operated by the "writhing whales of the road" - Boris's much-derided bendy buses. And now they're gone. Extinction starts here, on this minor commuter route running between two mainline termini. The big question - was it worth the effort? (26 Jul 2009)

"Can’t believe that the Thames disappeared off the tube map whilst I was out the country! It will be reinstated..." (18 Sep 2009)

Stuff climate change. What London needs, obviously, is a new carbon-guzzling airport, otherwise international air travellers will go somewhere else and the UK will become less important and that would never do... So Boris is looking east to somewhere where nobody lives and no Londoner votes. To an artificial island in the middle of the Thames Estuary. Yeah right. (21 Oct 2009)

Only last month Boris delighted in announcing that an enormous lump of public art would be erected beside the Olympic Stadium. This sculpted tower of coiled steel will be called the ArcelorMittal Orbit (but only to people who write press releases), and has been designed by artist Anish Kapoor. (25 Apr 2010)

The rear platform will only be open when there's a uniformed presence on board, which'll be at busy times only. If the staff budget gets squeezed, which would seem likely, then expect to be trapped on board and bloody angry that you can't get off because that was the whole point of the new bus wasn't it? Most of the time the door will be shut, which is an utterly wasted opportunity. (18 May 2010)

CS2 isn't officially due to be operational until next Summer, but the latest of Boris's bank-sponsored cycle lanes is already making an appearance. A blue stripe has been daubed along parts of Bow Road and Mile End Road over the last week or two, and bikes are already speeding their way along. Sounds great? I'm not convinced. (11 Dec 2010)

OMG, it's a cablecar! I bet you didn't expect to see this on a tube map. Here's Boris's aerial pipedream writ large as a thin black line connecting the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks. TfL's Business Plan has little concrete to say, except that "the service will make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Thames in east London. Crossings will take around five minutes and the cable cars will carry about two million passengers per year." (30 Mar 2011)

One of the defining themes of Boris's first year as Mayor was the cancellation of transport projects. Let's not take the DLR to Dagenham, let's not build a bridge to Thamesmead, let's not drive a tram through Camden, there's no money. Now suddenly, as the last year of his mayoral term begins, quite the opposite. Last week a massive splurge of potential DLR extensions seeped out, merely aspirational at this stage, not much likelihood of happening soon. And yesterday came the official Taking-Seriously of a possible Northern line extension to Battersea. I wish I were more excited. (10 May 2011)

City Hall (Sat, Sun): Ever since Boris scrapped monthly weekend openings, Open House is your only opportunity to see London's seat of government from top to bottom. (17 Sep 2011)

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: "A cable car spanning the majestic Thames would not only provide a unique and pioneering addition to London's skyline, but also offer a serene and joyful journey across the river. Passengers would be able to drink in the truly spectacular views of the Olympic Park and iconic London landmarks whilst shaving valuable minutes from their travelling time." (9 Oct 2011)

"He may have been 58 but he was very fit and very road aware. He has not just decided to cycle to work - he has always cycled. It's awful, just absolutely awful. To think that Brian will end up as another statistic on Boris Johnson's cyclist superhighway." (1 Nov 2011)

London's last bendy bus departs tonight. The articulated fleet has been on our streets for less than a decade but bows out tonight, shipped off to any other town or country who'll have them instead. Many have hated them (long, obstructive, uncomfortable), while others have loved them (fast, accessible, 'free'). Whichever, I've been out to sample one final bendy bus ride before Boris obliterates them from London's roads altogether. (9 Dec 2011)

There was condensation on the front window, even though weather conditions didn't seem to merit it. The upper air conditioning hissed relentlessly, like niggling mechanical tinnitus. It was impossible to see out of the back window because the bus's iconic design prevents it. The ceiling was a bit low for anyone tall getting up from an upstairs window seat. Rather too many of the downstairs seats require you to face backwards, or to step up before sitting down, or both. But nobody noticed any of this, neither those on the bus nor those watching it pass. All they saw was a gorgeous modern vehicle with a human face, and a Routemaster-like rear platform for hopping off between stops, and a Mayoral promise made instantly real. To fully understand the significance of the New Bus For London, watch the happy faces of the voters who've ridden it. (1 Mar 2012)

In two months time Boris Johnson hopes to be back at his desk in City Hall with a big grin on his face. But what would he do over the forthcoming four years? His newly-published Nine Point Plan supposedly tells all. But is this a set of pledges for the future, or a tick-list of successes past (or a confusing mix of both)? (6 Mar 2012)

My letter from Boris appears to be a nothing but a devious data-harvesting exercise masquerading as a helpful offer to facilitate my postal vote. No chance - I'll be attending my local polling station in person, as usual, on May 3rd. (22 Mar 2012)

25 reasons why London will be voting for Boris Johnson tomorrow (2 May 2012)
1) He's a laugh, isn't he?

Voted for Boris (1st + 2nd choice) 1,054,811 (52%)
Voted for Ken (1st + 2nd choice) 992,273 (48%)
If Bexley and Bromley were in Kent, Ken would have won. (5th May 2012)

Boris has pushed through his vanity project in a little over a year, aided by insufficient sponsorship money and a stash of taxpayers' cash. Although East London certainly needs more river crossings, it's hard to argue that an aerial solution for pedestrians and cyclists only is the most efficient way to hike people across the Thames. As I've mentioned several times before, the cablecar goes from nowhere quite useful to nowhere quite useful, along a route few normal commuters would ever need to use. Instead it's far more likely to be frequented by tourists, come to see the "delights" of East London, if the sponsored tube map can tempt them out. (19 Jun 2012)

Mr Johnson's had a good Games, hasn't he? A grinning face on a global stage, a jovial word for every occasion, even a fortuitous zipwire dangle. That's the joy of having a predecessor with vision, and a large team behind you in whose reflection you can bask. That's also his nationwide profile significantly lifted. I always suspect Boris would rather be President than PM, because that's less effort, but the latter's maybe rather closer after 2012. (11 Sep 2012)

There are greater architectural battles to be fought in London than the Fruit and Wool Exchange and its adjacent multi-storey. But it's clear that heritage now counts for very little when the alternative is jobs and shopping, because the economy is the Mayor's clear overriding priority. Indeed every time Boris has been called on to judge some new building project turned down by councillors, every time he's ruled in favour of the redevelopers. (12 Oct 2012)

The pay-as-you-go bus fare rises by 3.7% in January. That's a whopping 56% rise since Boris came to power, whereas Ken actually decreased fares over the previous five years. Equally Ken was ruling through a time of plenty whereas Boris has virtually no money to play with, so maybe the difference isn't surprising. (8 Nov 2012)

Every year, on the weekend closest to April 23rd, the Mayor throws a St George's Day bash in Trafalgar Square. Yesterday he threw a Feast of St George, or at least his underlings did - Boris probably only signed the piece of paper that paid for it all. And I'm guessing he agreed a slightly smaller sum of money this year. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, you understand, but the clues were there. (21 Apr 2013)

To boost tourist revenues this spring and summer, TfL has published a full-colour leaflet entitled Fly across the Thames. There are hundreds of these leaflets at stations, even at those miles away from the Greenwich Peninsula, issued in hope of luring additional visitors aloft. On page 2 Boris introduces this "handy link between the O2 and ExCel", and mentions "jaw-dropping views of London's skyline". (23 Apr 2013)

I checked my thermometer. It had read 26°C in the office, and 26°C in the street, and now it read 31°C. You might expect the temperature aboard a bus to be a bit warmer than its surroundings, except this is a bus with air conditioning, and if that aircon doesn't keep the temperature down then it's worthless. (10 Jul 2013)

Bow Police Station closed its doors for the last time on 22nd June. That's permanently closed, after 110 years of service, due to cuts, rationalisation, austerity and stuff. I got a leaflet through my door at the time, not to announce the closure outright but to list instead the remaining police stations in Tower Hamlets, its outposts halved overnight. (18 Aug 2013)

Up until now TfL have gone out of their way to be careful not to call them Routemasters, because they're not. Routemasters are much-loved 50-year-old inaccessible workhorses with a permanently open rear platform, and these shiny things very much aren't. Except that earlier this week TfL sent out a press release calling this same bus the "New Routemaster". (7 Dec 2013)

As well as being Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is also self-appointed overlord of three North Kent villages. They have the misfortune to exist where he'd like to build a 3200 hectare international airport, and he wants to wipe them from the map. It's a bold and eye-catching scheme, but also expensive and impractical, hence today the Davies Commission is pulling the plug. (2 Sep 2014)

The plan is for sleek new trains to replace all the existing stock on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Waterloo and City and Central lines. But not just yet... All the new trains will have a driver's cab, despite Boris's pledge he'd never buy a new train with such a facility, because it won't be technically possible to run entirely automatic trains from day 1. (10 Oct 2014)

50 reasons why the Garden Bridge will be excellent
33) Absolutely everybody wants it, apart from those with a hatred of beauty. (19 May 2015)

TfL is meeting this morning to discuss, among other things, the Croxley Link. Their job is to rubberstamp increases to the project's funding and to oversee the transfer of the entire project from Herts County Council to London Underground. Thus far HCC have led on the entire delivery structure, but cost escalation and programme slippage have caused concern and now their time is up. The Mayor is essentially saying thanks to Hertfordshire for getting everything this far, but TfL's better at this than you so we'll take over now thanks. Funding arrangements will be officially transferred at the end of July, and then it's all systems go. (17 Jun 2015)

When the Mayor announced the launch date for the Night Tube last September, many of us circled September 12th 2015 on our calendars in red pen. Social plans were made, hotel rooms quickly sold out, and several wedding venues were fully booked. But last night on the war-torn streets of London, Boris's firm pledge proved nothing but a hollow sham. (12 Sep 2015)

This is Boris's final fare settlement, with next year's due to be implemented by his successor. And whereas Boris has been happy to raise fares to protect investment, at least one of his potential replacements wants a fare freeze for the duration of his four year term... If fares don't rise, several unpalatable choices will have to be made regarding cuts, contraction and commercial activities. Indeed come 2020 we may look back at Boris's reign over the TFL budget as some kind of golden age. (13 Nov 2015)

Two years ago London was up in arms at the thought of losing its ticket offices, and rounds of disruptive strike action were on the cards. Yesterday TfL successfully snuffed out its last remaining ticket offices to a chorus of no disapproval whatsoever, as well-trained passengers embraced a digital future, almost without even noticing. (19 Dec 2015)

In just 100 days time, London goes to the polls to decide who runs City Hall after Boris. Once the master of inactivity has departed, who are we going to get instead and what do they stand for? (26 Jan 2016)

Her Majesty the Queen today visited the unfinished Crossrail station at Bond Street to boost the credentials of the Lord of Brexit, Boris Johnson MP. She wore a special matching hat and coat in Crossrail purple, and he announced that the new railway will be described as the Elizabeth line in all of its brand collateral. (24 February 2016)

There was just time yesterday to sneak out one last 80 page report on a matter very close to the outgoing Mayor's heart - that bloody airport again. There's only one way an estuary airport might ever get built, and that's if the man with the big idea suddenly becomes the man in charge of it. But for that to happen would require blustering Boris Johnson to somehow become Prime Minister, a scenario so ridiculously unlikely that... oh, hang on. If the Brexit referendum splits the Tory party and David Cameron falls, his successor might just arrive in 10 Downing Street with all the donkey work for an estuary airport already complete. (21 Mar 2016)

As Boris departs his post at London's helm after an eight year voyage, it's time to take a commemorative trip to view his legacy.
2.00pm Victoria Park: Our tour ends here, at the site of the plaque unveiled to commemorate Mayor Johnson's triumphant zipwire dangle in the summer of 2012 - the precise moment that his elevation to the post of Prime-Minister-In-Waiting was confirmed. London's not so much losing a chief as bequeathing a leader. (5 May 2016)

 Monday, July 22, 2019

KIDDERMINSTER (pop 55,000) is the largest of the towns along the Severn Valley Railway but has the least character, for which we can blame carpets. The town's cloth industry switched over to making woven carpets in the 18th century and trade never looked back... at least until the 1970s. Although a few streets of redbrick municipal survive, elsewhere post-industrial redevelopment has done its thing and the architecture does not inspire. The town's most esteemed son is Rowland Hill, the stamp man, who merits a statue outside the town hall and a shopping mall he'd not be proud of. Across the canal an old carpet mill has been transformed into a Premier Inn and a critically-important Debenhams (it's OK, they're closing Wolverhampton's, not this one). The town's not especially economically bereft, but the density of charity shops is (to my southern eyes) outstanding.

But there is one attraction you should make time to visit, indeed I made it my first stop of the day, and that's the quintessentially-titled Museum of Carpet. This exists thanks to a group of volunteers who collected underfoot ephemera while the town's carpet mills were closing down, and also thanks to a national supermarket chain. Morrisons opened a huge new store on the site of Stourvale Mill in 2012 and had their arm twisted to allow the Museum to take over the offices at one end, which means once you're through the electronic doors you turn left for carpet heritage and right for the checkouts.

A full history of carpets runs the length of the building, at least as far as it relates to Kidderminster. The presentation's very nicely done, whether your interest is machinery, working conditions or the topology of knotting. A video history shows how the number of mills in the town advanced and declined, and which one Queen Victoria used by royal appointment. An art gallery at the far end displays exhibitions on a vaguely weave-y theme. There aren't a lot of actual carpets, not unless you gain access to the study centre upstairs, but you will see two huge powered looms on which they were made and might even get to watch one in action.

I got to watch a small hand loom in action, programmed by patterns of pegs rather than long chains of punched cards. For this I have to thank a volunteer called Janet who led us enthusiastically through the complex set-up and subsequent shuttling, eventually knocking up another few rows of communal cloth. The volunteers really make the museum, no question about it, and I felt thoroughly churlish handing over just £2.25 for my half price Art Fund admission fee. I also walked away with my own museum-produced sample of double-sided Kidderminster weave from the shop, choosing from four different West Midlands football team colour pairings. A minor delight. [5 Kidderminster photos]

BEWDLEY (pop 9,000) lies astride the river Severn and until the 1770s was an important inland port. Here goods from the West Midlands were transferred to boats bound for Bristol, that is until James Brindley connected the Staffs & Worcs Canal to Stourport instead and the town's economy tanked. What remains is a delightful tourist-friendly town with narrow Georgian streets (delightful unless you're trying to drive through, in which case it looked like queueing hell). Everything centres around Thomas Telford's bridge, for years the only crossing of the river Severn for miles, thankfully bypassed downstream in 1986.

The waterfront is splendid and very much the place to hang out with refreshments (on my visit, heavily dominated by fish and chips). Sitting here it's hard to imagine the place as a dockside, nor indeed the river rising up and flooding everything as has happened on several occasions over the centuries. That's just one of the tales told at Bewdley Museum, an unexpectedly successful attempt to integrate history sustainably at the heart of the town. Its cloistered walkway is lined by small galleries and craftspersons' workshops, opening out at the far end into a half-decent cafe and the town's Jubilee Gardens, making it plain and simply 'the place where everyone goes'.

One display celebrates the life of Stanley Baldwin, Bewdley's most famous politician, who rose to become Prime Minister three times between 1925 and 1937. Here's the New Testament he took his oath on in the Commons, here's his pipe and tobacco, and if you walk for five minutes you can see the house where he was born. I thought Lower Park Place was going to be the grand one with the big gates, but instead it was the townhouse opposite with the ornate porch, bollards out front and a telltale plaque. Uplifted from this quiet corner to dealing with the General Strike and the Abdication, our PMs come from the most random places. [8 Bewdley photos]

BRIDGNORTH (pop 12,000) is the unmissable town, a former Norman settlement perched on a promontory above the Severn. This proved the utterly obvious place to build a castle, although later owners chose the wrong side in the Civil War so all that remains are the ruins of one tower tilted precariously at an angle of 15°. The inner bailey has become an attractive garden of remembrance, although I'd question the need for a topiary warplane, naval destroyer and armoured tank as a centrepiece to the flower beds. Adjacent is a strikingly Georgian domed church, courtesy of Thomas Telford, while the outer bailey morphed into two elegant rows of townhouses.

One of the town's medieval gates survives, assuming you count a complete Victorian rebuild as survival, with the town's museum lodged on the upper levels. It only opens a few days a week, so on my visit I missed out. The arch below the gate is narrower than it is high so provides a major obstruction to traffic entering the high street. A further blockage is the half-timbered town hall erected on sandstone pillars in 1652, slap bang in the middle of the street, its oak-framed interior off limits unless you turn up on a Saturday morning or are thinking of getting married. The adjacent shops appear to be all those that Kidderminster lacks, including a Prezzo, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and several non-Wetherspoons.

Bridgnorth exists at two heights - the High Town to the north of the castle and the Low Town by the river. Views of the latter from the former can be spectacular. The two are connected by a winding medieval street called the Cartway, which is very narrow and indirect, or down a flight of approximately 200 steep stone steps. This is hardly conducive to a cohesive community, so in 1892 the Bridgnorth Cliff Railway was inaugurated, and is still operated by the same private company. It's the UK's only inland funicular, irredeemably cute, and operates with impressive frequency throughout the day for just £1.60 return.

Step into the tiny kiosk at the top of the climb to start your adventure. If you wanted to see the winding mechanism you should have popped into the tearoom alongside. Unless the cabins are on the move you'll be able to progress through into the streamlined interior and take your seat on one of the wooden benches. You may not get long to admire the view before the upper operator dings, and the lower operator double-dings back, and down you go. I timed the descent at 58 seconds, a goodly proportion of this being the braking to prevent a crash at the bottom. But there's not so much to see in the Low Town, so you may soon be back accompanied by whichever shoppers, schoolchildren and daytrippers are making the return journey. [8 Bridgnorth photos]

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