diamond geezer

 Friday, January 31, 2020

21:00  Mass gathering of Brexiteers in Parliament Square - several hundred expected
21:08  Ann Widdecombe arrives in Parliament Square on a chariot dressed as Boadicea
21:15  Nigel Farage drives into Parliament Square in a vintage car dressed as Toad of Toad Hall
21:24  Jeremy Corbyn cycles into Parliament Square on a bike waving a 'Got Brexit Done' tea towel
21:30  Jim Davidson keeps the crowd entertained with a series of politically-now-correct jokes
21:50  Rally pauses for commercial break hosted by Sir James Dyson
22:00  TV coverage of Brexit Night kicks off on four terrestrial channels
22:05  Prime Minister gives speech from steps of 10 Downing Street promising a Golden Brexit based on British pluck and ingenuity
22:08  Downing Street countdown clock breaks down and stops
22:09  Prime Minister blames Romanian electricians, gets a laugh, and continues
22:28  Falmouth fishing fleet now lurking off Normandy waiting to pounce on French scallops
22:30  Thousands of disconsolate Remainers go to bed early rather than face the future
22:45  Spar supermarkets confirm they've sold out of English sparkling wine
22:57  Nutter with EU flag on long pole still shouting at TV cameras on Palace Green
22:59  Over-excited 79 year-old dies from heart attack, one minute before the brave new dawn he longed to see

23:00  Big Ben fails to chime, so the assembled crowd shout 'bong' twelve times instead, then cheer wildly
23:01  Celebratory fireworks in Bolsover, Sunderland and Washington DC
23:02  Millennials join hands to sing Auld Lang Syne, but don't know any of the words
23:04  Smugness levels in Parliament Square at record high
23:07  Unrestrained sobbing causes serious flooding in Islington
23:08  EU President thanks the UK for 47 years of valued membership
23:10  Katie Hopkins posts a video of herself in army fatigues burning an EU flag
23:20  Mass Shaking Of Fists on the White Cliffs of Dover
23:35  Celebratory bonfire in Walsall spreads out of control and sets light to housing estate
23:47  First foreigner accidentally stoned to death

 Saturday, February 1, 2020

00:38  They're partying late into the night at the Sunnydale Old People's Home in Clacton
05:34  Today's souvenir Daily Express has to be delivered in wheelbarrows
06:10  Today's Sun comes with a free Brexit 50p sellotaped to the cover
06:11  Rupert Murdoch grins, because it turns out he is as powerful as he thought he was
07:05  First happy citizen receives blue passport in the post, despite having no plans to travel abroad ever again
07:39  The sun rises on a free country (weather permitting)
08:30  Most of the British public go about their normal Saturday oblivious that anything important has happened
09:00  Frictionless Trade Made Simple: a workshop at Belfast City Hall (continues tomorrow and Monday)
09:30  Halifax Pre-Decimalisation Market: spend your florins on bendy bananas weighed in pounds and ounces
10:00  National Jam Festival: opened by Andrea Leadsom at Kidderminster Town Hall
11:17  Wetherspoons will no longer serve foreign lagers, but hurrah, Watney's Red Barrel is back
12:47  Boris Johnson confirms that the country is now united, and anyone saying otherwise should be ignored
13:21  'Now Go Home' scrawled on mosque in Bradford by activist who's missed the point
14:49  Lord Lucan reappears in Munich, now that Germany no longer has an extradition treaty with the UK
15:00  Six Nations rugby tournament cut back to four nations
15:38  Dominic Cummings seen getting 'Brexit Meant Brexit' tattoo
16:00  Michael Gove announces that Great Britain is to be officially renamed The People's Great Britain
16:15  Transport Secretary announces that Euston station is to be renamed UKston
17:54  Guy Verhofstadt announces that the EU can't be arsed to negotiate a trade deal with the UK, so good luck
19:00  BBC1 relaunches as BBC Leave and BBC2 relaunches as BBC Remain, for the avoidance of bias
19:01  The first programme on BBC Leave is Mrs Brown's Boys
19:01  The first programme on BBC Remain is a repeat of the Eurovision Song Contest
19:07  BBC Leave stops showing Mrs Brown's Boys after it turns out the series is set in the EU
21:30  President of the Federated States of Micronesia flies in for crucial trade talks
23:00  Residents of Stockton-on-Tees livid that nothing seems to have improved yet

 Sunday, February 2, 2020

04:30  President Putin sends troops to invade the Shetland Islands, just to test the waters
06:00  Deadline to apply for pet passports for travel in the EU in 2021
08:13  An anonymous tweeter finally comes up with a watertight argument why leaving the EU is wrong, but it's too late
09:02  Home Office Settled Status database hit by virus - EU citizens invited to resubmit
09:35  Boris Johnson opens the first 'Blue Passports Only' lane at Southend Airport
10:00  The Health Secretary opens a new hospital in a caravan on Canvey Island
11:00  Jacob Rees-Mogg appointed Minister For Indefatigable Deregulation
11:25  Council offices in Southwark fined £500 for still flying EU flag
12:00  Italian restaurant in Doncaster rebrands as Chlorinated Fried Chicken
13:30  Education Secretary announces that A-levels in foreign languages are to be withdrawn
14:22  Unconfirmed reports that an old people's home in Preston still has sufficient care staff
14:38  Boris Johnson urges couples of childbearing age to Bonk For Britain
15:00  Government launches new public information campaign - 'See, We Told You There Wouldn't Be Food Shortages'
15:45  Humber Bridge demolished because it was built using dirty European money
16:20  Nigel Farage launches his new political force, the English Independence Party
17:16  Skegness Tourist Board launches 'Sun, Sea and Fruit-picking' holiday campaign
18:22  Donald Trump flies in for initial US/UK trade talks (entirely coincidentally held at Leeds General Infirmary)
19:04  Wall to be built along the Kent Coast so that the continent can no longer be seen
20:50  Wetherspoons announces that people who voted Remain are no longer welcome in its pubs
20:53  Huawei confirms it knows who those people are
20:57  Wetherspoons signs contract with Huawei for installation of facial recognition system

 Monday, February 3, 2020

09:00  The dawning realisation that nothing has changed, we're still following all the rules of the community we just left (and powerless to change them)

 Thursday, December 31, 2020

23:00  Now this is going to be the interesting one...

 Thursday, January 30, 2020

A year ago I bought an Art Pass, which is the magic plastic operated by a charitable organisation called the Art Fund. They award grants to museums and galleries, and cardholders get to visit some of them for less, or for nothing. Tomorrow my Art Pass expires and I thought I'd check to see if it had been value for money.

Spoiler: Yes, it's fabulous value... and no, I won't be renewing it.

A National Art Pass covers hundreds of sites across the country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It arrives in the post along with your annual Art Map (which isn't a map but a chunky pocket-sized handbook of regional listings). A quarterly magazine entitled Art Quarterly arrives every three months. One year's membership costs £73, up from £70 last year, plus an extra £40 if you want to add a Plus One. Pay by direct debit and they'll offer a 25% reduction on your first year, which drops the cost below £55.
I bought mine when there was a special offer on, so got a free Plus One and a free tote bag for my trouble. This January there's a different special offer, which I'll mention later.

For comparison, a year of the National Trust currently costs £72 and a year of English Heritage costs £60. But whereas those deals allow you free access to everything, a £73 Art Pass usually doesn't. Only about 250 of the 700 properties in the Art Pass handbook remove the admission fee entirely - hundreds more offer 50% off, others only give reductions on exhibitions and several merely provide 10% off in the shop or cafe. A significant number of the listings are free to enter anyway, and simply hoping to increase footfall by appearing in the book. The sliding scale of rewards drops off sharply.

As an example, here's precisely what the Art Pass offers in London.

Free admission: Brunel Museum, Cartoon Museum, Charles Dickens Museum, Dorich House, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Fan Museum, Foundling Museum, Guards Museum, Handel & Hendrix in London, Heath Robinson Museum, Household Cavalry Museum, Jewish Museum, Keats House, Kensington Palace, Leighton House Museum, The Postal Museum
Free admission to NT or EH property: 2 Willow Road, Apsley House, Carlyle's House, Chiswick House, Eltham Palace, Ham House, Marble Hill House, Osterley House, Ranger's House, Red House
50% admission: Benjamin Franklin House, Churchill War Rooms, Cutty Sark, Estorick Collection, Fashion and Textile Museum, Florence Nightingale Museum, Freud Museum, Garden Museum, HMS Belfast, House of Illustration, Museum of Brands, Old Royal Naval College, Royal Observatory Greenwich, Spencer House, St Paul's Cathedral, Strawberry Hill House
Smaller reduction: Emery Walker's House, Photographers' Gallery
Free admission to exhibitions: Ben Uri, Horniman Museum, ICA
50% off exhibitions: British Library, British Museum, Design Museum, Courtauld Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Guildhall Art Gallery, Hayward Gallery, Imperial War Museum, Museum of London, National Army Museum, National Gallery, National Maritime Museum, Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, V&A, Wallace Collection, Whitechapel Gallery
Reduced entry to exhibitions: Barbican Art Gallery, Royal Academy
Small discount in cafe or shop: Bankside Gallery, Camden Arts Centre, Cubitt Gallery, Gasworks, Jerwood Arts, Kelmscott House, Mosaic Rooms, Museum of the Order of St John, Sir John Soane's Museum, South London Gallery, Two Temple Place, Wellcome Collection, William Morris Gallery
Free anyway: 25 other museums/galleries

The top box (free admission) is a pretty decent collection. I used my Art Pass in twelve of them over the last year and saved myself £115.50 altogether. Already that means I've saved twice as much on admission fees as I spent up front. The biggest prize was Kensington Palace where I saved £20 in one go. The Postal Museum was next (£11 off), then the Foundling Museum and Handel & Hendrix in London (£10 each). If I blogged about my visit, I've linked to it in the table above.
What I didn't visit were the National Trust freebies, because I already have membership of that, nor the English Heritage freebies, because that was my year-long subscription over the previous twelve months, nor four other museums I'd been to recently enough.

Half price admission to museums in the second box wasn't so alluring. I'd been to 13 of these attractions before so didn't feel a need to pay money to go again, and the other five didn't grab me enough.

As for getting 50% off exhibitions, which is what the Art Pass is really about, I barely used that. I got £9 off Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery last week, and she was excellent, but that's the only half price show I've seen. Most London art exhibitions are so expensive that even half price hasn't tempted me inside, for what's essentially a slow walk round a couple of rooms, and this is the first reason I'm not renewing my Art Pass for 2020.

Outside London my best Art Pass saving was in Ironbridge, where I didn't have to pay £26.50 to visit half a dozen museums down the gorge. Almost as good was £25 not spent to visit Chatham Dockyard. Just these two alone redeemed almost my entire annual outlay. Throw in Brighton Pavilion, The Museum of Carpet and seven other provincial locations, and I saved another £104.30. My thanks to the two readers who accompanied me.

So my total saving for the year was £228.80, which is comfortably over four times what the Art Pass cost me in the first place, and that is stunning value. But only £22 of that £228.80 was art-exhibition-related, the rest was basically museums, and this is the other reason why I'm not renewing my Art Pass for 2020. If I've been in 2019, I don't need to go again.

I rang up to cancel my subscription six weeks ago. It was surprisingly easy, they didn't try to stop me, they simply struck me off and put the phone down. I cancelled my direct debit too and thought no more about it. Then three weeks ago they sent me a new card - it's green this year - with a note saying they'd be taking £113 from my account last week. But they didn't, and they haven't got in touch since asking where my money is, so I appear to have ended up with a free Art Pass by mistake. I shan't be using it.

If you'd like one, there's a special trial offer at present where you can get three months of Art Pass membership for just £15. Imagine how much money you could save in three months if you made several visits over that time. But the special trial offer ends tomorrow, so you'll need to get a move on. Just remember to cancel before they charge you full whack... unless it turns out an Art Pass is for you.

Household Cavalry Museum
Location: Horse Guards, Whitehall SW1A [map]
Open: 10am - 5pm
Admission: £9 (free for Art Pass holders)
Five word summary: the army doesn't always fight
Website: householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk
Time to set aside: maybe half an hour

This one's where you'd expect it to be, beside the arch through the centre of Horse Guards. This is tourist central, indeed the guardsmen in the sentry boxes out front are harangued by cameras of all kinds for most of the day. The museum's target audience is thus the overseas visitor seeking a paid-for bolt-on to The Changing Of The Guard, as well as anyone who likes men on horseback. That's probably not you.

What's in the museum is very well arranged and displayed. All sorts of regalia past and present related to the Household Cavalry division. Sefton's hoof. The reason why there are so many pubs called The Marquis of Granby. Videos of current soldiers explaining how tough the training is and how many hours a day they spend cleaning their kit. The creeping realisation that the Household Cavalry was originally the ideal hideaway for rich gentlemen who wanted an army career without going overseas and fighting very often, if at all.

Inbetween the two galleries is a one-way window into the actual stables at Horse Guards, where you can watch whatever happens to be going on at the time. I arrived during The Changing Of The Guard, but all I saw was one large horse and a stablelad with a broom taking a selfie beside it. The smell of Brasso was coming from a museum volunteer buffing some harnesses in a recreation of the stalls. I walked round twice to get my moneysworth, then headed back outside to watch the free practical demonstration.

 Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Postal Museum
Location: Phoenix Place, London WC1 [map]
Open: 10am - 5pm
Admission: £17 (free/£6 for Art Pass holders)
Five word summary: letters, and a miniature railway!
Website: postalmuseum.org
Time to set aside: a couple of hours

The very excellent Postal Museum opened three years ago, but I've taken my time to visit (for reasons to be explained at the end of this paragraph). It morphed out of the British Postal Museum & Archive in 2017 and relocated to new premises in Mount Pleasant within the footprint of Britain's largest sorting office. It's on a split site, with the museumy bit and cafe on one side of the road and Mail Rail fractionally downhill on the other. Your £17 ticket covers both - that's one ride on the railway and a year's admission to the rest. But if you have an Art Pass the museum comes for free and a Mail Rail ride is just £6, and that is postal-tastic.

The museum is a walkthrough of postal history (plus thematic clusters). The first royal mail service was initiated by Charles II, who liked what he'd seen on the continent, and expanded to mail coaches crisscrossing the nation. One particular anecdote about an escaped lioness gets undue prominence amid the displays, educationally speaking, but at least it livens up the interactive bits. Pretty soon Roland Hill turns up and invents the Penny Post, which kickstarts the modern postal service, and then we're into pillar boxes, post vans and air mail. Whoosh, you can send a message to the other side of the museum through a pneumatic tube. Blimey, nothing beats commemorative stamp designs of the 60s and 70s. Lo, an actual Post Bus. They're all here.

What you're not getting is depth. When the BPMA had a giant storehouse in Debden this boasted pillar boxes of every age and size, which were amazing, but only a handful of the more interesting ones have made the journey to Mount Pleasant. Stamps are tiny things so a complete chronology would be technically possible, but barely a couple of hundred feature in the corner display. Don't worry, there is a proper archive upstairs for those who want to take their research further (open Tuesday-Saturday only), whereas the downstairs displays have a broader audience in mind. Sit around in the mini-theatre long enough and they'll even screen nine minutes of Night Mail for you, so no complaints.

At the end of the circuit is an exhibition space which for the next couple of months is focusing on the Great Train Robbery. It also features a bundle of stories from the wider casebook of the The Post Office Investigation Branch, because otherwise there'd be empty walls. But 1963's most notorious crime takes centre stage, and it's fascinating to listen to witness testimony and to see actual evidence from the farmhouse hideout (including a recreation of the incriminating Monopoly set).

Your Mail Rail ticket is tied to an hourly slot, so time your crossing of the road carefully. I thought I'd been clever by arriving at the end of my slot rather than the beginning, then got to share my ride with a class of schoolchildren. That's Tuesdays for you... but the infants were wide-eyed and engrossed throughout, so absolutely no trouble. London's Mail Rail was built to carry envelopes and parcels rather than passengers so the carriages are teensy but not impractical (although visitors over 6ft may disagree). An operative locks you in and brings down the transparent roof, as if you're being despatched at a fairground, then down the ramp you go.

As you enter the curving tiny tunnel, it's important to remember that GPO operatives never actually did this, only sacks. A running commentary helps explain what you're seeing, why it's here and why tunnels keep branching off in various directions. Mount Pleasant was the heart of the London Post Office Railway network with tunnels knotted round in complex loops, so you'll be threading some of these for about a kilometre, not escaping towards Whitechapel.

Before long the bore gets wider, then double-tracked, then you pull in on an actual Mail Rail platform. One side still has its dartboard from when the working environment was mothballed in 2003. The other wall makes a really good screen, because this is where the audiovisuals kick in. It's not quite no expenses spared, but it is all-encompassing and creatively smart. Sit near the centre of the train for the best view. There'll be another film to watch when you finally get round to the westbound platform, this time on the opposite side of the train. It all makes for an unexpectedly good fifteen minute ride, with more subterranean variety than you'd expect... plus there's a bonus gallery to explore on your way out.

All in all a winning package, professionally delivered. But you'd expect nothing less from the Postal Museum.

 Tuesday, January 28, 2020

All around the edge of Greater London are suburbs that might, or might not, be part of London but for some geographical quirk. One of the oddest is a lump sticking out of the edge of Sutton which contains 300 homes and a golf course but is only tenuously attached to the rest of the borough. If London ever declared independence, residents of Cuddington would only be connected to the rest of the capital via a single private road. [map]

Cuddington's a particularly strange beast because technically it no longer exists. Henry VIII had the village demolished so that he could build Nonsuch Palace, a glittering rival to Hampton Court... which he never completed, and was later entirely torn down. But its parish lingered on, a long thin finger sandwiched between Ewell and Cheam, which is why there's still a Cuddington Recreation Ground three miles away in Worcester Park. These parish boundaries mattered little when everything round here was Surrey, but when Cheam sided with Sutton and ended up in Greater London an anomaly was born.

The heart of this severed settlement is Cuddington Golf Course, opened in 1929 across a swathe of Banstead Downs. It has a splendid Arts and Crafts clubhouse, architecturally very much of its time, and a Terrace Bar from which members can survey the fairways whilst sharing drinks. The course may not be busy on a damp weekday in January, but the car park suggests the social side is buzzing. The golf club is the only community facility hereabouts, there being no shops, school, church, village hall or anything, so unless you're a member you're very much on your own.

Nestled within the golf course, strung out along the Banstead Road, are some particularly desirable houses. They have a very Metro-land feel, despite being on the wrong side of town, all homely and cottagey with tiled gables and leaded bays. There isn't a semi-detached in sight. Each house is differently designed to its neighbours, which I can imagine being a selling point when the first stockbrokers moved in, with generous front gardens that only hint at the extent of the rear. A couple of broad sweeping crescents extend to either side, completing a generous whorl of perfect Surrey real estate. Only the 'Sutton' logo on the bins reveals the ghastly truth.

These are five-bedroom four-car kind of homes, augmented here and there with tasteful modern infill. Houses have names like Egremont, Leigh Lodge, Spinola and Perryville. Some have ornamental fountains outside, some lampstands, some minor tropical shrubberies and others just significant hardstanding. The true indicator of luxury living is that houses have both a driveway in and a driveway out, because reversing is for losers. It could all be unbearably snooty but instead feels warm and friendly, aided by an absolute minimum of divisive leylandii and keylocked security gates. Only the gaudy flatpack Tudor monstrosity on the corner of Gilham Avenue lets the side down, its astroturfed garage walls a particular lowpoint.

The one road you can't enter is Cuddington Park Close, a gated estate built on the site of a late Victorian isolation hospital for patients with scarlet fever and diphtheria. One of its residents gave me quite the look as I walked by, perhaps because any pedestrian round here looks suspicious. A footpath runs along the side - part of one of the dullest sections of the London Loop - linking to a small nature reserve carved out of the northern end of the hospital footprint. Cuddington Meadows can only be accessed via Surrey but is peripherally in Sutton, so I made the effort to follow the muddy track and visit. In summer this is one of the few habitats in the capital where the small blue butterfly thrives, but the chalk grassland's not at its best at this time of year and the dog mess bins seemed the most prominent feature.

Both ends of Banstead Road have signs welcoming drivers to Surrey, with Sutton council more reticent to declare that the intervening three quarters of a mile is their responsibility. Just beyond the border at the eastern end is Banstead station, providing an easy but slow commute up to Victoria. There is no through bus service. Instead the only other direct connection to the rest of London, as previously hinted, is a single private road along the edge of the golf course. Traffic keeps well away, perhaps deterred by prominent signs at the entrance saying 'Beware humps', or perhaps by past experience of the potholes. But I chose to walk Cuddington Way back to Cheam, my first task to negotiate round a giant puddle the full width of the road which I wouldn't have risked in trainers.

The secluded lane passed what purported to be a garden centre but looked more like a row of empty greenhouses and a tree surgeon's lair. Further along was a shabby paddock with the offer of manure for sale if you rang Andy on his mobile. What sustained my interest were the ancient lampposts, some smashed, some cannibalised, some still with spindly iron tops, because when the council isn't paying for lighting you make do with whatever you've got. And eventually another row of detached houses kicked in, more security conscious this time, but directly connected to the edge of London's built up area because I wasn't in Cuddington any more. Sometimes the outskirts are truly weird.

 Monday, January 27, 2020

This isn't very reassuring.

The Greenway, as you're probably aware, is a footpath/cycleway on top of a sewer threading from Hackney Wick to Beckton. It's an extremely useful link. I've walked it hundreds of times (in daylight) without serious incident. But the mugging of cyclists at knifepoint is a disturbing turn of events.

The Greenway Action Group, whose poster this is, appears to be a single blogger. One of the posts on their website is a 'crime log' listing violent incidents on the Greenway, or reports thereof, dating from November 2017 to as recently as 16th January 2020. Only one of the 18 incidents catalogued involved a knife, and this was wielded at the blogger who's managing the list. Other weapons used include baseball bats, a telescopic baton and a crutch... or more usually no weapon at all. Threatening behaviour by a large group is commonly mentioned. The usual motive appears to be robbery. Several incidents took place after dark, others in broad daylight.

I tried to use the police's online crime map to gauge the seriousness of the problem, but that proved impossible. Crimes are pinned to the map by postcode and sewers don't have postcodes, so apparently no crimes have taken place there. Even if you do dig down and click on individual incidents nearby there isn't enough information to draw any conclusions. Stratford police's Twitter feed confirms a bladed mugger was arrested on the Greenway on 22nd November 2019, but that's all I can get from there.

A couple of years back the Greenway was upgraded with lighting and CCTV so that it could be used, especially by cyclists, 24 hours a day. Before that most cyclists definitely wouldn't have risked it. Now several do. But a local PCSO raised eyebrows in November by advising "Please be careful when you are using the Greenway during the hours of darkness. We advise you to try and use alternative routes where possible." Another police sergeant has subsequently disagreed. Meanwhile TfL have said they're not aware of any increases in crime along the Q22 route since it opened. Who to believe?

Then there's the bike shop in Plaistow who say they know of 22 people who have had their bikes taken from them on the Greenway, often by groups using broken glass to puncture tyres. This would seem to be the most convincing data yet. But what I still don't know is how great a risk this actually is, whether staying off the Greenway after dark significantly reduces any danger, and how much of this applies to me as a pedestrian. Staying alert at all times is plainly always the best option. But is it wise to change behaviour because of fear of crime, rather than based on genuine understanding of facts?

If you know what you're talking about because you use the Greenway yourself, please start your comment with three stars (***)

You've likely seen this poster at tube stations. It's the go-to poster of the month, often appearing several times on the same platform.

But the slogan has been bothering me.
Pay as you go single fares... are frozen until 2020
Why say 2020 when you could say 2021?

Of course fares are frozen until 2020, because it's 2020 now. Even when the poster dribbled out at the very end of last year there were only days to go, so the claim was almost meaningless. It's just such an odd slogan to plaster everywhere.

Normally fares change on 2nd January, so the next update ought to be on 2nd January 2021, which'd mean fares are frozen until 2021. But the poster doesn't say that, it says 2020. What might be going on?

Maybe (bureaucracy theory) posters aren't allowed to make claims extending beyond the next Mayoral election.
Maybe (simplicity theory) the slogan merely refers to the the 2020 fare settlement, a TfL fare freeze.
Maybe (conspiracy theory) fares are secretly planned to rise later this year, before 2021.
Maybe (mediocrity theory) the slogan's just not been very well thought through.

The official TfL January 2020 fares leaflet doesn't make this claim. It says 'Fares frozen 4 years running' on the cover and 'frozen for the fourth year in a row' inside. This is true, TfL fares didn't rise in January 2017, January 2018, January 2019 or January 2020.

The Fares Freeze page on the TfL website simply states 'Fares frozen from January 2020'. Meanwhile the press release issued on New Year's Eve is clear that 'All fares set by the Mayor remain frozen during 2020', suggesting they're frozen until 2021.

Fares do need to go up at some point, and will, ending a rare period of debatable austerity. But 'fares are frozen until 2020' is just such an odd thing to say. I'm sure there's a rational explanation.

 Sunday, January 26, 2020

[NEW] Route 497: Harold Wood to Harold Hill
Location: London east, outer
Length of journey: 3 miles, 18 minutes

Yes, it's another new London bus route, the seventh in three months. And the 497 is the least useful of all.

These are the outskirts of Havering amid the overspill estate of Harold Hill, where buses matter. Four years ago TfL reviewed bus services in the area in light of the arrival of Crossrail, and came to the conclusion that an additional route was needed to feed residents towards the new purple station at Harold Wood. The 497 would serve the new Kings Park estate and also close a hole in the network along Chatteris Avenue where a handful of residents were over 400m from a bus stop. It wouldn't do much else, but it was cheaper* than diverting or extending an existing route and so the 497 got the go-ahead. It ran for the first time yesterday.

The 497 begins outside Harold Wood station, where it's most needed. It's not allowed to hang around because there's no space for a bus stand, so vehicles have to be timetabled to depart two minutes after they arrive. In it nips, flips its blind and off it goes. You don't get much notice that it's coming because it vanishes off the Countdown display several minutes before it arrives. And you won't have much idea about where it's heading unless you ask the driver. Nobody's put up any timetables. No maps have been updated. It's all very much par for the course.

On the bright side, ooh, shiny new buses. These have glowing USB charging ports on the backs of the seats which is cutting edge for London, if old hat in the provinces. On the less good side, there aren't many passengers to plug things into them. Also, these buses only run every 30 minutes, which means the entire route can be operated with just two vehicles, which keeps the costs down.

Almost immediately the route enters the Kings Park estate, which used to be Harold Wood Hospital but has been remodelled into 863 new homes and a polyclinic. It looks typically modern, but feels utterly out of place amid these postwar outskirts. A single spine road weaves through the middle, signposted as a No Through Road at either end to try to deter ratrunning car drivers, but ideal for a bus route. The developers painted two bus stop boxes onto the road a while ago, long enough for the yellow paint to have already faded, but nobody's yet added any bus stop poles so this entire section remains hail and ride.

It's possible to walk from here to the station in five minutes, so waiting for a half-hourly bus seems mostly pointless. But an elderly couple who live at the far end of the estate are on board trying to make the most of the convenience. "We were hoping to get the train to Brentwood," they sigh, "but there are no trains so we're going straight back home." Not only has the 497 launched well over a year before Crossrail opens, but its first weekend coincides with the entire eastern chunk of TfL Rail being closed.

The first actual bus stop is round the back of the Gallows Corner Tesco. Nobody gets on and nobody gets off, despite it being peak Saturday shopping hours, but a few waiting passengers stare at us in a baffled way. We then join the queue of cars waiting to exit, which is brutal because the A12 is a jammed barrier which blights north-south travel across Havering. By the time we've finally crept up to the lights and slipped through, our entire journey (according to the timetable) should already have finished.

I'm expecting more housing after we've crossed the dual carriageway, but no, the next bit is industrial estate. It's also hail and ride again, until we reach a road already served by a bus service at which point bus stops reappear, but only until we turn off after which it's back to hail and ride. This must be one of the cheapest bus routes TfL have ever introduced, resources-wise, because absolutely no new stops or shelters have been added anywhere along the route.

Chatteris Avenue is the key reason the 497 was created, because it used to be the only part of Harold Hill more than 400m from a bus stop. This is TfL's prime metric for network coverage, so closing off this hole ticks a big box. It was only a very small hole, covering (I've counted them) fewer than 100 houses, and nobody was more than 450m away from a bus stop so you could argue why bother? But the Briar Road Estate is more than deserving, a lowly mesh of pebbledash boxes intermittently emblazoned with tatty flags, its residents far more likely to catch a bus than the BMW-incomers back in Kings Park.

A teenager in a top-to-toe tracksuit raises an eyebrow as our 497 passes, because buses have never passed this way before. A woman carrying a 12-pack of Andrex up her garden path stops and visibly questions our presence, then smirks, a brand new journey option alight in her mind. Two angry dogs battle on the greensward. The only other passengers on board turn to each other and chuckle... "I never thought we'd be coming down here!"

And then we turn right onto Hilldene Avenue, our final road... already. Route 497 is barely two and half miles long, brief enough to make it one of London's ten shortest bus routes, which is another reason to question its existence. But we still have three more bus stops to go, the first outside a smashed-up pub, the second outside a boarded-up library. More usefully it's opposite Hilldene Shopping Centre, Harold Hill's retail hub, a monolithic parade of pound shops, takeaways and supermarkets. The smell of fried fish and vinegar is in the air.

We pause at the penultimate stop so a pensioner can interrogate the driver on the new bus service and where it goes. He initially assumed the unfamiliar number must be a mistake, given that the 496, 498 and 499 all run round these parts. He is eventually persuaded, but intends to stick with his normal 256 because that gets to the station faster and more direct. And then that's it, the end of the journey, just before the Gooshays Drive roundabout. The entire route has only served six bus stops, all the rest was notionally hail and ride. And it's taken all of 25 minutes... when it was only timetabled to take 18.

The 497's finest quirk happens after all the passengers have alighted. The timetable makes it look as if the driver has the luxury of 22 minutes to wait before heading off again, but there isn't anywhere local to park so instead they're forced to drive on for another mile and half to the bus stand at Dagnam Park Square. It's already got a toilet, so that's great, but it is yet further evidence that TfL have spent as little as they possibly can on introducing route 497. You need never come and ride it, and most Harold Hill residents never will either.

» Roger was also out and about yesterday, and his report is longer than mine with a lot more photos (which is what you really wanted)

Route 497: route map
Route 497: live route map
Route 497: timetable
Route 497: route consultation

Review of bus services in Harold Hill (TfL's illuminating planning document) (2.9MB pdf)

*Options explored in the September 2016 review
Extend 347: £900,000 per year (too expensive)
Restructure 347: £800,000 per year (too impractical)
Extend 346: £545,000 per year (too many negatives)
Extend 496 and 499: £450,000 per year (too generous)
New route 497: £295,000 per year
Extend 499: £200,000 per year (nowhere to park)

 Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today is the final day for one of the tube's quirkier connections.

Central line trains to Woodford via Hainault.

Currently some trains from central London run all the way round the eastern side of the Hainault Loop to Woodford, every twenty minutes. But from tomorrow they won't. Instead a separate shuttle service will operate between Hainault and Woodford all day, still every twenty minutes, but passengers will have to change trains.

Essentially we're going back to how things were 30 years ago.

There is a reason for this.

» Central line trains first entered service 27 years ago
» Central line trains have dodgy motors which need replacing
» One train needs to be taken out of service, repeatedly, until all have been upgraded
» The current timetable cannot operate with one less train
» A new timetable is needed, making cunning use of resources

And this is the cunning solution.

» One existing train will be split in half, creating two four-car trains
» These shorter trains will operate a Woodford-Hainault shuttle
» The rest of the Central line will continue to be served by full length trains

Rest assured that these half-length trains won't cause overcrowding issues because Roding Valley, Chigwell and Grange Hill are the three least-used stations on the entire Underground network.

As well as replacing the old motors, engineers will also be adding wheelchair spaces, LED lighting and CCTV, and improving on-board audio-visual information. It's hoped that the upgrade will be complete by 2023. But until then, or maybe later, the Hainault Loop is severed.

You can tell things are serious when TfL go to the effort of printing a full colour leaflet.

I particularly enjoyed the second diagram which is titled "Future Woodford via Hainault service", despite no longer having any "via" whatsoever.

There is additional fallout. The end of the Epping branch will now see fewer peak time services, with passengers at Debden, Theydon Bois and Epping having to make do with two fewer trains an hour. But additional trains will now operate between Leytonstone and White City from 6-7am on weekdays, from 10-11pm almost-daily, and from 4.30-6pm on Sunday afternoons. All the stations gaining are in London. All the stations losing out are in Essex.

But the most prominent change will be the introduction of a Woodford to Hainault shuttle. Having to change trains at Hainault and cross to platform 1 for onward connection won't be fun, but at least the frequency on the chopped-off section isn't changing. And there will still be a tiny number of through services...

  Weekdays  Saturday
Grange Hill - Leytonstone (via Woodford)     0526 0549 
Grange Hill - West Ruislip (via Woodford) 0653 0719 0758  0619 0742 

Those two early morning trips to Leytonstone are nothing special, they're simply to get trains out of Grange Hill depot first thing. The three West Ruislip services are a bigger deal, ideal for commuting to central London, and are a feature of the existing timetable which is being retained.

Woodford - Ealing Broadway (via Hainault) 0807

This is the only other train to escape the shuttle zone and make its way to central London. Once a week, Sundays only.

 Weekdays Saturday Sunday 
West Ruislip - Hainault (via Woodford)1632  
White City - Woodford (via Hainault)  1749
Ealing Broadway - Woodford (via Hainault) 181816572240

Meanwhile these are the only direct services from central London. One train clockwise to Hainault (via Woodford) in the evening peak, one train anti-clockwise to Woodford (via Hainault) slightly later in the evening, plus the last train on Sundays. But that's it. You won't be seeing "Woodford via Hainault" flash up on the display at Oxford Circus any more, unless that is you happen to be there around quarter to seven on a weekday evening, twenty past seven on a Saturday evening or around six or eleven o'clock on a Sunday evening.

The early evening Woodford (via Hainault) journeys are for an unexpected reason.

» Two four-car trains operate the shuttle service for most of the day
» In the early evening one of the four-car-trains goes back to the depot
» A full-length train comes in to replace it for the rest of the evening

This means half the trains serving Roding Valley, Chigwell and Grange Hill in the evenings will have four carriages and half will have eight carriages, for a frisson of added variety.

But don't head out to see these unique four car trains tomorrow because they're not ready yet. Nobody's chopped an eight-car train in half yet, but the new timetable has to be introduced tomorrow because drivers' shift patterns were set in stone months ago. It's a bit galling for the affected passengers, knowing TfL have introduced an annoying shuttle service before it was technically necessary. But those "Woodford via Hainault" services will still be out there, very occasionally, if only you know when to look.

» Central line Working timetable 70 (starts 26th January 2020) [3.8MB pdf]

 Friday, January 24, 2020

A new Pet Shop Boys album is released today.
I'd better add it to my collection.

Please (24th March 1986)
Bought from: Our Price Records, Watford High Street, straight after a visit to the opticians. Paid for using a tenner from my very first use of an Abbeylink cashpoint machine. I had to go back and get the cassette replaced because there was a serious wobbly dropout one minute in.
Favourite non-single: Two Divided By Zero [Let's not go home, we'll catch the late train, I've got enough money to pay on the way]

Disco (17th November 1986)
Bought from: W.H.Smith, Paragon Street, Hull. It took me a week to buy this one because my student lodgings were out of town. I also bought a Red Box album, the Utter Madness compilation and five blank cassettes, then walked home rather than splurge money on a bus.
Favourite non-single: Paninaro [Passion, love, sex, money, violence, religion, injustice, death]

Actually (7th September 1987)
Bought from: Woolworths, Peascod Street, Windsor. By coincidence, release day was also my first ever day in full-time employment. I was the only person who turned up in a suit and tie. By coincidence, it was also the day Sylvester McCoy first appeared as Doctor Who.
Favourite non-single: King's Cross [Dead and wounded on either side, You know it's only a matter of time]

Introspective (10th October 1988)
Bought from: Boots, Peascod Street, Windsor. I was going to buy it from Woolworths, but it cost £5.99 there and only £4.99 in Boots. Played the album a lot that evening, before and after Brookside. The last time I bought a Pet Shop Boys album on cassette.
Favourite non-single: I Want A Dog [Don't want a cat, Scratching its claws all over my habitat, Giving no love and getting fat]

Behaviour (22nd October 1990)
Bought from: Our Price Records, Watford High Street, straight after a visit to the dentist. No fillings. I'd had a CD player for over a year, but I was still staggered that this new album set me back £12.49. You get a much better quality insert in a jewel case than a cassette box, but this one merely contained four photos.
Favourite non-single: Nervously [We don't talk of love, We're much too shy, But nervously we wonder when and why]

Discography (4th November 1991)
Bought from: Woolworths, Midland Road, Bedford. Got a lift into town after work so I could arrive just before the shops shut. Used a voucher cut off the back of a cereal packet to get £1 off my purchase. A 'Long Play CD' with 'over 76 minutes of music'. Somewhat early in their career for a Greatest Hits album, but nobody realised this at the time.

Very (27th September 1993)
Bought from: Andy's Records, Harpur Street, Bedford. This is the best-selling one in the knobbly orange box. But I really wanted the limited edition see-through plastic version with the extra 'Relentless' album included. Annoyingly by the time I turned up on Monday afternoon Our Price, Smiths, Boots, Woollies and Andy's had all sold out, and I was well gutted. But Andy's said they might have some more tomorrow, so I put my name down, and they got six and saved one for me and I was well chuffed. It still doesn't fit in my CD rack.
Favourite non-single: Forever in Love [Did you ever walk on a stormy night, Oblivious to the rain?]

Disco 2 (12th September 1994)
Bought from: Andy's Records, Harpur Street, Bedford. Only £9 this time. Went to Safeway afterwards and bought turkey burgers for tea. Didn't get time to listen because I had to go back to work for an evening meeting. Wasn't overly impressed when I finally did.
Favourite non-single: We All Feel Better In The Dark [And now our time has come and I'm feeling really horny]

Alternative (7th August 1995)
Bought from: Woolworths, Midland Road, Bedford. Ahh, the wonderful B-sides album. I arrived in town so early in the morning that they hadn't finished restocking the record racks yet. Decided against buying the special edition this time, because I didn't think the proper holographic cover was worth two pounds extra.
Favourite non-single: Too Many People [A devoted son and family man, Or the wicked uncle who doesn't give a damn, How often these have tempted me]

Bilingual (2nd September 1996)
Bought from: Our Price, Harpur Street, Bedford. This time only two of the record shops in town had a copy, and Our Price was cheapest at £11.49 so I bought it from there. One of my neighbours was serving behind the counter. It's not my favourite album.
Favourite non-single: Metamorphosis [It may not last but here am I, once a caterpillar now a butterfly]

Nightlife (11th October 1999)
Bought from: Our Price, Potter Street, Bishops Stortford. I bought this on the drive home from a weekend away, during the month when my relationship was combusting. After we broke up I played it over and over and over and over again in the car because the songs resonated so much. You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk. I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More. Happiness Is An Option. I have never been so obsessed by any other album. I certainly got my £13.99sworth.
Favourite non-single: The Only One [There's so much that you hide from me, The mystery: am I the only one in your life?]

Release (1st April 2002)
Bought from: HMV, Victoria Walk, Leeds. A group of us from work were at a conference on Merseyside, but I was allowed the day off to go and do some proper work with a former Yorkshire Television announcer. Sneaked in a trip to the shops before catching the train back. First time I'd been to Leeds. Impressed.
Favourite non-single: The Samurai in Autumn [It's not as easy as it was, or as difficult as it could be]

Disco 3 (3rd February 2003)
Bought from: HMV, Trocadero, Piccadilly Circus. Bought it on day one, but only because there was a short gap between going bowling at the Trocadero with work colleagues (I came last) and watching a musical at the Cambridge Theatre with BestMate (and his future business partner). My Mondays weren't normally that manic/memorable/expensive.
Favourite non-single: Sexy Northerner [Says he wants a job, Something interesting like a graphic designer]

PopArt (24th November 2003)
Bought from: Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus. Another compilation album, purchased during my lunch break. I bought the DVD too, but had to take it back because the packaging had broken. These days YouTube functions perfectly as both greatest hits CD and DVD, for nothing.

Fundamental (22nd May 2006)
Bought from: Fopp, Earlham Street, Covent Garden. Another special edition, with a bonus 8-track remix album I may have only listened to once. Grrr, pulling off the price label ripped the surface of the album cover (but I think it's still eBay-able).
Favourite non-single: The Sodom and Gomorrah Show [I'd heard about their way of life, Took it with a pinch of salt]

Yes (20th March 2009)
Bought from: HMV, Oxford Street. My afternoon meeting finished early so I dashed through Mayfair in the pouring rain to the enormous HMV that became the Disney Store. I also bought the new Röyksopp album, but it wasn't as good as the first one.
Favourite non-single: Pandemonium [Is this a riot or are you just pleased to see me?]

Format (6th February 2012)
Bought from: Fopp, Earlham Street, Covent Garden. Another B-sides and rarities album, which proved really hard to find, and during the first week of release I failed to find it at Westfield, along Oxford Street... everywhere really. Hurrah for Fopp, finally. On the way home I also bought a new camera, because my phone wasn't good enough in those days.
Favourite non-single: The Truck-driver And His Mate [Parked inside the lay-by, Their destination can wait, Dancing in the moonlight]

Elysium (10th September 2012)
Bought from: Fopp, Earlham Street, Covent Garden, the day after attending the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. A thin album, both in terms of packaging and musically. Skimming down the tracklisting today, I can't hum a single track.
Favourite non-single: -

Electric (15th July 2013)
Bought from: HMV, Westfield, Stratford City. Thanks to the joys of bespoke streaming I'd been listening to the entire album before it was released, but I still went out and bought it. A return to form.
Favourite non-single: Bolshy [I hesitate (Я не решаюсь) to intrude (вмешиваться)]

Super (1st April 2016)
Bought from: HMV, Westfield, Stratford City. I had been intending to buy this from the PSB pop-up shop at Boxpark, Shoreditch, but when I got there I found they were charging £15 so I went to HMV and bought it for £10 instead. Only one of the dozen shops in which I've bought a Pet Shop Boys album is still trading, and it isn't this one.
Favourite non-single: Happiness [It’s a long way to happiness, A long way to go, But I’m gonna get there]

Hotspot (24th January 2020)
Bought from: Sister Ray, Berwick Street, Soho. London has a dearth of record shops these days - my closest HMV is in Bromley, for heaven's sake. But having traipsed around some survivors, hurrah, Soho's long-standing independent had the new CD at the cheapest price (and were super-friendly with it). Fopp and HMV were a penny dearer at £10, while Rough Trade East wanted one pound more. Next time the Pet Shop Boys release an album, I wonder how many options will be left.
Favourite non-single: Wedding in Berlin [We're getting married because the time feels right, We're doing it without delay]

 Thursday, January 23, 2020

There's a lot of debate at the moment about whether HS2 should go ahead or not, but the arguments are clear.

HS2 will one day link London to the North, unless it doesn't.

HS2 will start at Euston, unless it starts at Old Oak Common, and speed passengers to Birmingham, unless the southern end is cancelled, then extend later to Manchester and Leeds, unless phase 2 is scrapped to make the project more affordable. When HS2 reaches the North, or rather if, it'll also connect to a new east-west Northern Powerhouse rail upgrade between Liverpool and Hull, unless that's not built either, unless it's built using the money saved by not building HS2, unless that's deemed unfeasible or impractical.

The first phase of HS2 is due to open at the end of 2028, or maybe 2031, unless it's completed even later or isn't built, but the second phase isn't expected to be completed until 2035, or even 2040, unless that's an entirely over-optimistic prediction too, or it isn't built either.

HS2 will cost £106bn, unless it ends up costing more than that, although 'considerable risks' mean the budget may have to rise by 20%, unless you take the earlier estimate of £56bn as a benchmark, but HS2 must be built because it's strategically important, but it's currently costing £250m a month, although that's a small price to pay to keep the project ticking over, unless this overspend shouldn't continue, although long-term benefits are always greater than initial costs, except the funding should be spent on something more important.

HS2 will drive the regeneration of the North, unless it isn't built, unless not building it allows money to be spent on the regeneration of the North. MPs are strongly in favour of building HS2, apart from those who object, but especially the new Tory MPs in the North, apart from those who'd rather see it cancelled, but the North is now key to Prime Ministerial policy-making, unless it doesn't need to be.

Cancelling HS2 would do irreparable damage, but also save billions, but also cripple future investment. Thousands of trees have already been destroyed anyway, but scrapping HS2 would save thousands more, but you can't build railways without reshaping the landscape, but nobody complains about Victorian railway construction these days, but these threatened environments and ecosystems are irreplaceable, but they could always build more tunnels, but tunnels are one of the reasons why the project is so expensive.

HS2 is about speed, unless it's about capacity, unless it's about both.

HS2 will be transformational, but only for people who can afford expensive train tickets, but the increase in capacity will actually release space for additional trains on existing lines, but they'll fill up soon enough, but all this will bring additional choice, but it'll still be a monopoly, but you'll save half an hour on a trip to Birmingham, but you'll be charged a lot more for the privilege, but it's greener than flying, but it's a lot dearer too, but the emissions are lower, except the carbon footprint of building the railway is phenomenal, but that's excusable in the long term, unless it turns out not to be.

HS2 needs to go ahead because much of Euston has already been demolished, but the empty space could be replaced by flats and offices, but that would preclude completing HS2 at a later date, but more Londoners want homes than to go to Birmingham, but these new homes wouldn't be affordable, but at least there could be some nice shops and restaurants to visit, but nothing could replace the historic pub they bulldozed, but hardly anybody went there anyway.

HS2's plans could be tweaked to save money, but this would only delay things more, but an additional station between London and Birmingham might be really useful, but then it wouldn't be a high speed line, but perhaps the branch to Manchester should be scrapped instead, unless the line to Leeds was less of a priority, but that would only antagonise everyone, but better to build some of HS2 than none of it, but imagine how many existing rail lines in the North could be upgraded for the same amount of money, but that's a false choice because the investment capital wouldn't actually be shared out like that, but some upgrades are better than nothing.

HS2 will create thousands of jobs, but who's to say what jobs will look like by 2030, but businesspeople will always need to travel to the Midlands and the North, unless videoconferencing kills off first class travel, unless that's already happening.

HS2 has support from key figures in government, but much opposition too, but the Prime Minister once said he supported it, but he's no longer Mayor of London these days, but he didn't scrap it outright when he came to office, but his review was simply a way of kicking a decision beyond the election, but the Transport Secretary has made positive noises, but he's also expressed doubts, but he hasn't scrapped it outright either, but the PM's transport advisor is 100% sceptical, but Tories never want to spend public money on anything anyway, but 'The North' might be an exception.

HS2's business case is watertight but debatable. The economic benefits are self-evident but unproven. The environmental impact is criminal but critical. We can't afford to build it, or not to.

A final decision about HS2 will be taken soon, unless it's kicked into touch again, or only partly confirmed, but the arguments are clear.

 Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Travelling across London, what's the maximum number of times a straight line can cross the Thames?

I make it twelve.

Travelling west to east along a line of latitude I can only get to eight.
But tilt the line a bit, to make the most of all the meanders, and a dozen is just about possible.

Crossing 1: Thistleworth Marine, IsleworthOld Deer Park, Richmond

My line starts where Twickenham bleeds into Isleworth, near the mouth of the River Crane, specifically within the boatyard of Thistleworth Marine. If you've walked the Capital Ring you'll have passed by on your way from Richmond Lock to Syon Park. The marina's a useful place to overwinter barges and pleasureboats, a cluster of three pontoons midriver where a little light maintenance might take place. Access is via Railshead Road, which for centuries led to a ferry crossing but now peters out beyond some cottages. The Thames is only 100m wide at this point. It's a pleasant place to begin. [map showing my line]

Crossing 2: Stag Brewery, MortlakeDuke's Meadows, Chiswick
Crossing 3: Duke's Meadows, ChiswickBarnes Bridge station

We've leapt across Kew to the Thames's next big meander, the one below Chiswick. My line only just scrapes the bend, which means a long diagonal crossing, a brief flirtation with the northern bank and another diagonal crossing back. The launch point is close to the marker which shows where the Boat Race finishes, just behind the Stag Brewery in Mortlake. They brewed proper beer here until 1995, then Budweiser until 2015, and the complex remains an empty shell awaiting transformation into flats. Most of the rest of the southern shore is already built up, and highly desirable, especially around Barnes Bridge. Duke's Meadows, by contrast, is an undeveloped expanse of recreational space divided up into pitches, fairways, courts, boathouses, stadia and other sports grounds, because flood risk makes it so.

Crossing 4: Barn Elms Sports CentreCraven Cottage, Fulham

This crossing, close to the London Wetland Centre, comes a couple of miles earlier in the Boat Race. The western side is again all sports grounds, of the kind which prep schools drive their pupils to in minibuses for an afternoon of jolly scrummage. If acreage is any judge, they play a heck of a lot more sport in west London than east. A stripe of riverside has been commandeered by Thames Water's Tideway tunnel crew to intercept the West Putney sewer overflow. Across the water is Craven Cottage, Fulham's football ground, currently dominated by a screen of cranes helping to build the club's new Riverside Stand. The width of the Thames now exceeds 200m.

Crossing 5: World's End, ChelseaChelsea Bridge, Battersea
Crossing 6: Chelsea Bridge, BatterseaGrosvenor Road, Pimlico
Crossing 7: Grosvenor Road, PimlicoSt George's Wharf, Vauxhall

If you're wondering how I managed to find a line crossing the Thames so many times, it's because I aligned it with this stretch of the river. The Thames from Chelsea to Vauxhall is almost straight, but these two miles include a slight bend which I've exploited to cross the river three times. Crossing 5 is a very long glide past Chelsea Embankment, then the whole of Battersea Park, eventually glancing the southern bank at Chelsea Bridge. Crossing 6 continues straight beneath Grosvenor Bridge to shave the northern bank in Pimlico where some pricey waterfront real estate juts out into the river. Finally Crossing 7 bears off through the Westminster Boating Base on a beeline for Vauxhall Cross, specifically St George's Wharf. Had my line been a few metres further north I'd have missed Battersea, and a few metres further south I'd have missed Pimlico.

Crossing 8: Greenland Dock, RotherhitheSir John McDougall Gardens, Isle of Dogs

My line skips central London, and the useful-looking bend between Wapping and Rotherhithe, because if I'd hit those I'd have missed the proper meanders that follow. Instead here we are at the mouth of Greenland Dock, about to launch off across the water towards a grassy bit of Millwall on the Isle of Dogs. The Thames is now almost 350m wide and capable of supporting shipping.

Crossing 9: Folly Wall, Cubitt TownGreenwich Peninsula Golf Range

Traversing the Isle of Dogs, just south of the main skyscraper cluster, delivers us to the far side amid a much less affluent quarter. If you know where the exuberant postmodern pumping station is, we're very close to there. Across the water is the North Greenwich peninsula, this being the side still awaiting its turn for development, hence the land being used for a 'temporary' driving range for cityboy golfers. Alongside is an even more temporary black shell called Magazine which hosts one-off events, especially noisy ones where it's helpful not to have any neighbours. Bleak, but evocative.

Crossing 10: Dangleway SouthPeruvian Wharf, West Silvertown

This isn't deliberate, but my line scores a direct hit on the North Greenwich end of London's most pointless cablecar. As the empty pods hoick up into the sky, so the route I'm tracing heads across Bugsby's Reach towards the as yet undeveloped flank of Silvertown. Peruvian Wharf's flattened footprint has been pencilled in for housing for 20 years, but last year the Port of London Authority finally wrested back control and it'll be used for cargo handling instead... mainly to supply materials for the construction of tens of thousands of homes elsewhere.

Crossing 11: Armada Green, East BecktonCross Ness, Thamesmead
Crossing 12: Cross Ness, ThamesmeadDagenham Dock, Dagenham

To finish with, another very close shave. My line very nearly doesn't brush against Thamesmead, without which it wouldn't have crossed the Thames at all, but does just scrape the shore at Cross Ness Lighthouse, a squat red tower from the analogue age of navigation. It reached here from the easternmost edge of Beckton, the very point at which the Gallions Reach Bridge may one day rise, then followed the Thames for just over two miles before hitting land. The final crossing is back to the industrial north bank, the very haven from which Dagenham Dock got its name, immediately alongside what's left of the Ford car plant. The Thames is now over 600m wide. And although there are still estuarine bends to come on the way down to Erith and then Essex, my line is now heading in completely the wrong direction because you can't hit them all. Twelve'll do nicely. [map showing my line]

 Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A consultation in south Newham, just launched, is proposing to extend two bus routes to serve new developments and withdraw two others from a shopping centre. TfL giveth, and TfL taketh away.

This is Royal Wharf, a significant development of 3400 homes on the Thames waterfront just upstream of the Thames Barrier. It has a DLR station at each end, a new river pier and a single bus route skimming past, but doesn't yet have a bus route of its own. So TfL propose to extend route 241 to Royal Wharf, connecting back to Custom House, Plaistow and Stratford City. [map]

This will be the end of the route. This is Royal Crest Avenue, one street back from the river amid a canyon of highrise flats. Royal Crest Avenue isn't yet finished, indeed most of the western chunk of Royal Wharf is currently building site, and that yellow crane will have to move before any buses can thread themselves through. But there is a coffee shop, because the important facilities go in first and the bus arrives later.

This is Royal Albert Dock, or RAD, a significant Chinese-funded commercial development along the quayside of the Royal Albert Dock. It has a DLR station at each end and a single bus route skimming past, but doesn't yet have a bus route of its own. So TfL propose to extend route 325 to Royal Albert Dock, connecting back to Custom House, Plaistow and East Ham. [map]

This will be the end of the route. This is Dockside Road, two streets back from the river amid a canyon of empty offices. Dockside Road isn't yet finished, indeed the entire eastern chunk of Royal Albert Dock isn't yet a building site, so a heck of a lot of construction needs to be undertaken before any buses can thread themselves through. But there is a marketing suite, because the important facilities go in first and the bus arrives later.

These are both sensible, forward-looking route extensions. Royal Wharf is already hitting critical mass, and RAD will one day be an important business cluster, so both deserve buses to the heart of the development. But TfL's resources are limited, as we well know, so increasing provision here requires a sacrifice elsewhere.

This is Gallions Reach Shopping Park, a large out-of town mall within the footprint of the former Beckton Gas Works. It opened in 2003 and features a huge Tesco at one end, a handful of restaurants and a long row of warehouse-sized outlets around two sides of a car park. It doesn't have a DLR station within easy walking distance, but it does have three bus routes with declining passenger numbers. So TfL want to cut back route 101 and route 262 to Beckton bus station, both double deckers, leaving just the single decker route 366 to deal with all the shoppers. [map]

It's not as busy out here as it used to be, partly because of online shopping but also because Westfield opened on the other side of the borough in 2011 and has a hugely better range of shops. This lot aren't bad, and include Next, H&M, Foot Locker, Boots, Smyths, TK Maxx and Decathlon, but they used to be better. The car park was half full when I visited yesterday, which I reckoned was pretty good for a Monday in late January, and the bus I departed on also carried a decent load. But it may not be enough.

Gallions Reach Shopping Park is currently served by "up to 22 buses per hour", but TfL's statisticians have noted that "only four buses per hour are required to meet demand at the busiest time". Removing the 100 and 262 would cut the existing service back to six buses an hour. Technically that's sufficient, but this requires bag-laden shoppers to pile aboard a single decker departing every ten minutes if they're lucky, so is a huge step-down on the current set-up. Also route 366 only goes as far as Beckton bus station, rather than deeper into Newham, so everyone travelling further would have to change.

It's also bad news for anyone attempting to clock on for a shift at Beckton's DLR depot, and for residents at Gallions Reach, a remote but rapidly-expanding housing development who'd lose two-thirds of their nearest buses too. Losing either the 101 or the 262 might be fairer, but TfL appear intent on curtailing both in a savage proposal which prioritises budgets over passengers. It seems London's bus planners are increasingly capacity-obsessed, remodelling the network by whittling down over-capacity and using the Hopper fare as cover for their broken links. Feel free to submit your thoughts on their latest proposals here.

This consultation is complicated by the fact there's already a separate consultation affecting five other local routes which won't be implemented until Crossrail opens, at which point south Newham's bus map is going to be radically redrawn. It would be damned useful to see what the proposed future network might look like, but alas TfL can't be bothered to produce composite bus maps any more because it's too hard/expensive/unnecessary. So I've had a go myself.

Here are the proposed extensions of the 241 and 325 (along with other planned changes to the 104, 300, 330 and 474, plus new route 304).

Note how Custom House station becomes the key local hub, with as many as six routes tweaked to link Crossrail to as much of the surrounding area as possible.

Here's the proposed cull of routes 101 and 262, leaving Gallions Reach substantially de-bussed.

Note how Beckton bus station becomes the terminus of six routes, twice as many as today.

And here's a link to a larger version of my amateur map showing the complete south Newham bus network should all these changes ever be implemented. Let's hope they're not.

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