diamond geezer

 Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Leap years occur quadrennially, that's every four years. They're required because a solar year is almost exactly 365¼ days long, and over a four year period those four quarter-days add up to make one whole extra day.
2) Today is the 515th leap day to be observed since the first in 45BC.
3) The first thirteen leap years were 45BC, 42BC, 39BC, 36BC, 33BC, 30BC, 27BC, 24BC, 21BC, 18BC, 15BC, 12BC and 9BC. At this point Roman priests spotted they'd been adding leap years every three years, rather than every four as Caesar decreed, so all leap years were temporarily suspended. They restarted in 8AD, after which they continued every four years as intended.
4) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year (ditto 2200, 2300, but not 2400). This is because a year isn't precisely 365¼ days long, but eleven minutes short.
5) Algorithmically, a year is a leap year if ((year modulo 4 is 0) and (year modulo 100 is not 0)) or (year modulo 400 is 0).
6) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every four years. Raenell is one, and her website celebrates the joy of being special.
7) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
8) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
9) About 45000 people in the UK, 225000 people in the USA and 5 million people worldwide are leap day babies.
10) The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000 because there was no February 29th 1900.
11) Pope Paul III was born on February 29th 1468, the composer Rossini on February 29th 1792, actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928 and rapper Ja Rule on February 29th 1976. Traditionally, Superman's birthday is also February 29th. More leap day birthdays can be found here.
12) In a leap year salaried workers get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
13) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
14) Today is the first February since 1992 to have five Saturdays (the next will be 2048). Leap Day last fell at the weekend in 2004.
15) If you have a leap year birthday you have to decide whether to celebrate it on February 28th or March 1st in non-leap years. In legal situations, for example learning to drive, UK law dictates March 1st. By contrast, New Zealand presumes February 28th.
16) The origins of the tradition of women being allowed to propose marriage on February 29th are uncertain, and may or may not involve St Bridget and St Patrick. Forfeits for refusal in various parts of Europe include a silk gown, the fabric for a skirt or a pair of gloves.
17) In any 400 year period there are 97 leap years, after which the calendar repeats. The most likely days of the week for February 29th to fall are Monday and Wednesday. The least likely are Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
18) When Julius Caesar introduced leap years the extra day wasn't February 29th, it was February 24th. The Romans repeated the sixth day before March 1st, or "dies bissextus", and leap years are still sometimes called bissextile years.
19) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
20) Sir James Wilson, former Premier of Tasmania, was born on February 29th 1812 and (unbelievably) died on February 29th 1880 - his 17th birthday.
21) Leap Day number 1s of the past six decades would make a fascinating compilation CD: Anthony Newley (Why, 1960), Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000), Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004), Duffy (Mercy, 2008), Gotye (Somebody That I Used To Know, 2012), Lukas Graham (7 Years, 2016) and The Weeknd (Blinding Lights, 2020). [four years ago I compiled a 54 minute Spotify playlist, but as a free user I can no longer edit/play it, sorry]
22) Leap day is also St Oswald's Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died during a feet-washing ceremony on February 29th 992. His feast is celebrated on February 28th during non leap years.
23) The Academy Awards have twice been awarded on February 29th - in 1940 (best picture: Gone With The Wind) and 2004 (best picture: Lord of the Rings III).
24) French satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur (The Soldier's Candle) only publishes on February 29th. Today's 11th edition has a cover price of €4.80 and a cover story about Maurice the rooster. Its 200,000 print run is expected to sell out.
25) Leap year rules make the Gregorian calendar accurate to 1 day every 3236 years. But better still is the modern Iranian calendar (eight leap days inserted into a 33-year cycle) which is accurate to 1 day every 110,000 years.
26) In the Chinese calendar, a leap month is inserted if there are 13 moons from the start of the 11th month in one year to the start of the 11th month in the next year.
27) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103.
28) There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden, and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar, but forgot to miss out February 29th in 1704 and 1708 so had to add an extra leap day in 1712 to get back in sync. Pity the Swedish babies born on February 30th 1712, because they never saw another birthday.
29) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

 Friday, February 28, 2020

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Seventeen years later I can confirm it's changed quite a lot, not least because I no longer have a job so get to spend my February how I like. Below are my counts for February 2020 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
note: in leap years, only the first 28 days count.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been another good month for people turning up to read what I've written, even if it hasn't quite matched last year's total (which was the busiest February ever). Whatever, I'm still averaging almost two and a half thousand visitors a day so I can't complain. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about dead kettles, random bus stops or minor streams in Finchley, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average person in the street. But I do try to provide you with a varied diet where possible, rather than endless recycled press releases, because I believe there is still demand out there for original subject matter. As one of my regular twenty-four hundred, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety, or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2020: 66682
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012:40018) (2013: 55369) (2014: 51727) (2015: 58380) (2016: 60609) (2017: 63770) (2018: 68993) (2019: 69102)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. This month we've been averaging about 25 a day, which is fractionally down on last year's total but still well above numbers in my first decade. For a blog in the 2020s I'd say it's also damned impressive. Most blogs either no longer allow feedback or have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking, nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic query, a nostalgic nod, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, particularly if the topic is transport-related, and some days the gradient between sparkling and tedious can be steep. But one amazing statistic is that 270 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. Somehow a community has evolved here, where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2020: 702
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440) (2013: 546) (2014: 477) (2015: 625) (2016: 687) (2017: 752) (2018: 810) (2019: 706)

Count 3 (Blog content): The number of words in my posts had been creeping up since I started blogging, but this year I've nudged it back down a notch. After six years of writing more than thirty thousand words a month, this year sees a 12% drop. But I'm still averaging over 1000 words a day, which is not to be sniffed at, indeed it's the equivalent of writing five novels a year. I wonder how many of you write that much on a regular basis? One possible explanation for the fall is that the number of photos I posted this February is 12% higher than last year (...suggesting that in my case a picture is worth 300 words).
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2020: 29099
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698) (2013: 29410) (2014: 32283) (2015: 30362) (2016: 31192) (2017: 33094) (2018: 30680) (2019: 33361)

Count 4 (Sleep): Now that I don't have to go to work I sleep longer than I used to. That's perhaps no surprise. Previously my alarm was always set for six-thirty but now I just wake up when I wake up, which is invariably later. Interestingly my going-to-bed time hasn't really changed, it's still well past midnight, usually because I'm finishing off the post you're going to read the following morning. But averaging seven hours sleep a night rather than six must be doing my body the world of good.
Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2020: 199 (30%)
(2011: 172) (2012: 167) (2013: 163) (2014: 165) (2015: 169) (2016: 174) (2017: 183) (2018: 197) (2019: 198)

Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, as you can tell by the fact this count has only once surged into double figures. The majority of this February's trips have been no further than BestMate's sofa (where we watched Netflix-sourced video on his telly and put the world to rights), while the other involved tea and an obsessive tray-clearer in Dalston. An average of one evening a week isn't great, but I do at least have two bookings pencilled in for next week so things must be improving.
The number of nights in February 2020 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4
(2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9) (2012: 6) (2013: 4) (2014: 6) (2015: 8) (2016: 8) (2017: 6) (2018: 3) (2019: 4)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count, my definition of alcohol has always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. I cling to Becks for familiarity and ease of ordering, plus it doesn't give me hiccups. Alas it's become increasingly hard to source in pubs in recent years, and this month I haven't actually been to any licenced establishments anyway. I should probably have opened that chilled bottle in the fridge.
Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2020: 0
(2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20) (2012: 14) (2013: 2) (2014: 4) (2015: 0) (2016: 1) (2017: 10) (2018: 5) (2019: 0)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains impressively consistent. Every February other than 2005 has fallen within a narrow range of 120-140 teas, despite very different behaviour on weekdays and at weekends. My deskbound days were always brimming, brown-liquid-wise, whereas days out invariably find me rushing around without pausing for refreshment, and there have been a lot more of those recently. Nevertheless I remain, on average, a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2020: 122
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008:134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135) (2012: 133) (2013: 127) (2014: 129) (2015: 128) (2016: 133) (2017: 122) (2018: 123) (2019: 121)

Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally been pretty consistent too... always just over a hundred a month (apart from the year when I had a "one train" commute rather than two, when the total dipped a bit). I don't have to travel by train any more, but I choose to do so to explore the capital, hence the number's crept up this year to an all-time record. If you're interested I've also travelled on 40 buses this month, walked up 40 escalators and heard the 'See It Say It Sorted' announcement on 33 separate occasions.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2020: 136
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007:100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109) (2012: 118) (2013: 139) (2014: 101) (2015: 124) (2016: 132) (2017: 108) (2018: 110) (2019: 135)

Count 9 (Steps walked): February's weather has been poor for walking, not just relentlessly grey and wet but squidgy underfoot. Nevertheless my monthly steppage total remains high because I've forced myself out in all conditions, mostly along solid paths. I've been averaging fourteen thousand steps a day, the equivalent of seven miles daily, which means I've walked almost 200 miles altogether this month. Why sit in the house when there's a world outside to explore? That said I had hoped the extra exercise would help knock a couple of pounds off my waistline, but not a bit of it.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2020: 405000
(2013: 273300) (2014: 254600) (2015: 282300) (2016: 238200) (2017: 328100) (2018: 342000) (2019: 464000)

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I know, I'm as unimpressed about the outcome as you are. And January was no different, nor December, before you start wondering if all the mystery has been sidelined elsewhere. Apologies.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2020: 0
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0) (2012: 0) (2013: 0) (2014: 0) (2015: 0) (2016: 0) (2017: 0) (2018: 0) (2019: 0)

» The Count 2020 (for individual daily statistics)

 Thursday, February 27, 2020

Obituary: Translucent Kettle

My friend and colleague Translucent Kettle, who has died at the age of 15, was the pre-eminent heater of water in the immediate household. A constant presence within the kitchen environment, 'TK' enabled the consumption of tea and other hot drinks for almost half a generation. Staunchly upright and firmly customer-focused, Translucent Kettle bubbled its last on Wednesday 26th February after a short illness. Immediate family have been informed.

Translucent Kettle was born at Argos, New Oxford Street, at 6.42pm on Tuesday 30th November 2004, emerging fully formed from Collection Point 'C'. Delivery would have been earlier had it not been a tough week in the office, which had required working past Argos's closing time the previous day. Protection during initial transportation was provided by a cardboard box and diverse internal packaging. The previous incumbent, a late 20th century Morphy Richards, had to be unexpectedly withdrawn following a sudden and catastrophic failure.

Translucent Kettle slipped out of its plastic sheath and irregular moulding with ease. This revealed a game-changing cordless design, whose base was soon plugged into the wall to begin a lifetime of service. Familiarity with ergonomic processes initially proved challenging, including spout orientation, lid-flipping technique and switch depression, but Translucent Kettle was soon being treated like one of the family. Within minutes the first Tetley One Cup bag was being warmed by a falling stream of water to create a reassuringly familiar beverage. It has been estimated that almost twenty thousand mugsworth have been brewed since.

The sterling service provided by Translucent Kettle was well-known for following a familiar pattern. Fluid from the cold tap was allowed to enter its internal cavity by means of the force of gravity, then a switch flicked to stimulate electrical resistance within the coiled element beneath the reservoir. When individual molecules were sufficiently agitated a bi-metallic switch triggered a cessation of power, allowing the now-boiling water to be poured swiftly into a waiting receptacle. To those from an earlier era all of this might have seemed truly miraculous.

Translucent Kettle's masterstroke was that it was translucent, allowing clear sight of the water level within. As its owner remembers, "When you live alone it's important not to boil more money than you really need. Not only does a 'one cup' option decrease the financial burden of your electricity bill but it also destroys the planet just that little bit slower. Translucent Kettle was a true eco-warrior long before the international media jumped aboard the climate change bandwagon."

Translucent Kettle spent most of its time in the company of its friends Earl Grey Teabag Stash, Diamond Geezer Mug and Woolworths Tea Jar, hemmed into the narrow hinterland between the fridge and the cooker. Their staunch fellowship, and close proximity, allowed for the efficient creation of a choice of leaf-based beverages according to taste. The most prolonged partnership was that with Teabag Stash, but Tea Jar always took the starring role first thing in the morning. Although crucial to the production process, at no point did Polyethylene Milk Bottle and Translucent Kettle directly interact.

Key events in the life of Translucent Kettle include facilitating the first cup of decent tea after flying home from America, generating hot water during prolonged boiler failure and providing familiar reassurance after an unexpected family bereavement. The owner also warmly recalls deliberately exceeding the maximum fill line to see what would happen and the relief on discovering all was well. When the local water supply failed but it turned out Translucent Kettle still contained sufficient liquid to permit the brushing of teeth, celebrations ensued.

Over a period of fifteen years and three months Translucent Kettle provided hot refreshment for almost dozens of visitors. Their choice was usually tea, but occasionally the presence of builders and artisans required the preparation of coffee, for whose benefit a tiny jar of Nescafé had been procured. It goes without saying that Translucent Kettle always poured its water into the mug after the addition of bagged leaves, but before the immersion of milk. "That's not a bad cuppa" was probably the finest accolade Translucent Kettle ever received.

But the battle against the ageing process proved an unexpectedly tough challenge. Chalky deposits which had built up within the interior proved harder and harder to shift, despite regular descaling. The red plastic float designed to display the water level through the translucent surface snapped off through overuse. And because plastic cannot be described as unreactive the surface gradually became more discoloured and blemished over time, having been indisputably white when factory-fresh. "I am not drinking tea brewed out of that," said one guest during Translucent Kettle's later years.

In early February the red light within the rear-facing on-switch failed to illuminate. The time taken for initial start-up to become audible then gradually extended. Finally this week the auto-shut-off entirely failed to trigger, and the need for manual termination became necessary. With the beleaguered mechanism now unable to perform its key duties unaided, a decision was made to terminate life support forthwith. Translucent Kettle boiled its final mugful of water at 11.33am on Wednesday 26th February 2020, after which the machine was unplugged and 'TK' was allowed to die with dignity.

The funeral will be held at the Tower Hamlets Reuse And Recycling Centre, Yabsley Street, at 11am on Thursday 27th February. Informal dress is encouraged. No flowers. A reception will be held afterwards at a local venue. Liquid refreshment will be available. Translucent Kettle is survived by its partner Big Disney Mug and an entourage of bereaved teabags.

BIRTHS: At Westfield Stratford on Wednesday 26th February 2020 at 1.56pm, to John and Lewis, a son 'Ken Wood'. Baptism has already taken place in line with religious practice. Adoptee and baby are doing well.

 Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Where are London's largest circles?

The Circle line is famously not a circle, indeed has never been vaguely circular in shape. So where in London are the largest genuine geometric circles? I've been to investigate four whoppers, and you can decide for yourself which is the biggest.

1. The Millennium Dome (diameter 320m-380m) [map]

The largest circular object in London might be the Millennium Dome, or as it's known these days The O2. It was built for the Millennium, obviously, and thrown up on a former gasworks in two years flat. Technically it's not a dome, more a tent (but then technically it's not an oxygen molecule either, but this hasn't stopped the branding rights being sold for £185m). The teflon roof is 52m high at its loftiest point, representing the number of weeks in a year, and is supported by 12 steel masts (representing months). Officially it's 365m in diameter, to match the number of days in a year, but I own a 200-page coffee-table book about the construction of the Dome which states it's really 320m. Mike Davies' original plan was for the covered area to be 400m across, but this would have overhung the edge of the site and "got in the way of some existing riverbank support structure" so the dimensions were scaled back.

Looking down on the Dome today, its perimeter is anything but circular. The edge of the roof loops down to the ground every thirty degrees, and extra semicircular indentations allow for ingress and egress. But underneath the canopy is a glass wall which curves appropriately, and I suspect this is the basis of that 320m measurement. It isn't possible to walk around the edge of the Millennium Dome, both for security reasons and because the owners use the backlot for storage. A perfectly round (but inaccessible) service road loops the perimeter with a massive diameter of 380m, which is also the length of the "Up at the O2" walkway. By rights this service road should be the largest circle in London, but alas has a physical break at the front where the public walks in so I don't think it counts. Try 320m instead, probably.

2. New Southgate Cemetery (diameter 350m) [map]

We now jump to New Southgate, technically Brunswick Park, towards the northern end of the Piccadilly line. The Great Northern London Cemetery was opened in the 1850s as a joint venture between Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum and a railway company. They recognised the potential of an out-of-London site for the burial of bodies transported by train, in this case from King's Cross, much as the better known Necropolis Railway ran from Waterloo to Surrey. Direct rail services stopped in 1873, after which the cemetery continued more normally, and burials are still conducted today. I unintentionally walked into a group of grieving policemen by the chapel while I was trying to keep out of the way of a fox.

New Southgate Cemetery has very a pleasant setting on land sloping down to the Pymmes Brook. It also has an unusual spoke and wheel layout courtesy of the architect Alexander Spurr. A chapel sits at the centre, then ten roads radiate out towards an outer rim, a bit like the segments of an orange. Somewhere in the midst of these sectors lies Ross McWhirter of Guinness Book of Records fame. But the most notable burial is that of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith, whose resting place is contained within a special locked garden overlooked by an eagle on a marble column.

I walked the ring road, with its 350m diameter, in the hope I was following the largest circle in London. Pictures of smiling Italian grandparents adorned the gravestones in the first sector, while the Arthurs and Marys of days gone by filled much of the centre. The lower slopes were busy with relatives arriving by car, particularly to the newish Greek Orthodox section which spreads down to the river. It was here that the otherwise circular road demeaned itself by including a 100m straight. I was willing to overlook this short aberration as a modern upgrade, but at the end of my circuit the road stopped short of the very last 'slice' and linked to the entrance instead, breaking the ring entirely. A lovely walk, but not quite a circuit.

3. Inner Circle, Regent's Park (diameter 330m) [map]

This one is unarguably a circle because that's how John Nash designed it. He refashioned Marylebone Park into a landscape suitable for the Prince Regent's summer palace, although that was never built and neither were most of the 56 luxury villas Nash planned to include to help fund the project. But the central looping carriage drive survived, known as the Inner Circle, with considerably more open space than originally intended. It's about 330m across, which by coincidence makes it one kilometre all the way round, so the broad lightly-traffic circuit is popular with cyclists. One serious-looking bloke in Union Jack lycra lapped me several times while I was walking round.

The Royal Botanic Society took over the centre of the Inner Circle and laid it out with lawns and a lake. The public weren't allowed in until the 1930s, when the formal rose beds of Queen Mary's Gardens and the famous Open Air Theatre were added. Outside the Circle are allotments, tennis courts and two of Nash's original Regency villas. St John's Lodge is now owned by Brunei's royal family and The Holme by the Saudis, because London addresses don't get much more prestigious. A third villa has been replaced by the campus of Regent's University London, much beloved by international students. It's hard to tell if the waistcoated chauffeurs parked outside are waiting for wealthy students or a crown prince. Very much not your average street, but very much a circle.

4. Crowley Crescent/Cosedge Crescent, Waddon (diameter 290m) [map]

Finally to the southwest suburbs of Croydon and an interwar housing estate in Waddon, close to Purley Way. A lot of housing estates include semi-circular roads and some have proper circles, but I haven't spotted any others in the capital on quite this scale. Here are two concentric circles, the innermost with a diameter of about 150m, the outermost double that. Denning Avenue cuts through both, off-centre. The middle of the ring was once an old chalk pit, which perhaps explains why the estate's designers preferred to loop houses around the outside and left the middle as mostly grass.

The outer ring is actually two roads, Crowley Crescent and Cosedge Crescent, both named after Croydon soldiers killed in the First World War. Each is lined with solid but unremarkable semis, faced in plaster and liberally sprinkled with 'No Junk Mail' stickers. Some gardens are hedged-off gravel, others scattered with garden-centre-sourced statues of small dogs, but most are simply somewhere to park. It's not possible to drive round the circuit because both crescents are one-way streets, but to walk it takes just over ten minutes. I did this, and sadly discovered that the very eastern side of the loop is actually a separate straight road, a bit like a soap bubble clinging to a dunked blower. So maybe this circle doesn't officially count either, which'd leave Regent's Park's Inner Circle as the clear winner.

Honourable mentions
• Caesar's Camp, Wimbledon Common (not circular, but pretty close for an Iron Age hillfort) - diameter 300m [map]
• The new Wembley Stadium is "almost round", but not a circle (thanks Ian!) - diameter 300m [map]
• Roundabout at M25 Junction 29 (intersection with the A127 on the outskirts of Upminster) - diameter 230m [map]
• Valence Circus, Becontree Estate, Dagenham (thanks Lynn!) - diameter 220m [map]
• Some other enormous circle I've entirely overlooked (n.b. needs to be an actual circle, and enormous)

 Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Facts are easy. Giraffes have long necks. Eleven is a prime number. The Sun is a star.

But when faced with an opinion or assertion, I wonder where you fit along this scale.


If the answer is 'it depends', you're probably somewhere in the middle. I'm up the grey end.

Some people live very certain lives. They know what they like, they know what they believe, and they have very fixed views on right or wrong. Other people are less sure.

If you're trying to work out what to have for dinner or how to run the country, being a decisive person is a useful trait. But living in a black and white world can also have significant downsides, for example when judging others or making a decision with wider implications.

We draw conclusions about the world around us all the time. We react to items in the news, draw inferences from social media, interpret what others say and make assumptions about human behaviour. For some of us our reaction will be "I know what's going on here", while for others it's "I'm not so sure".

If you see someone reading a particular newspaper, for example, you may subconsciously jump to all sorts of conclusions about how they live and what they believe. "Typical Daily Mail reader," you might think, without stopping to consider that no such narrow archetype exists.

The accused looks guilty. Everyone knows the BBC is biased. My football team deserves to win. It's obvious how to vote. Everyone at TfL is incompetent. Some people know exactly what they think, in all kinds of situations, even when evidence is thin on the ground.

Certainty often results from not considering the wider picture. That amazing video someone retweeted into your timeline might be fake. Fixating on the colour of your passport is no guarantee of long-term economic success. Your newspaper might be convinced the storm of the century is coming, but did you think to check elsewhere?

Certainty also arises from shaky understanding of cause and effect. "Most coronavirus victims are Chinese" does not translate into "they look Chinese, they're probably infected". If the Chancellor is seen drinking one particular brand of tea, that's no reason to fervently boycott it.

Certainty sometimes derives from a narrow worldview. One source on the internet proves nothing. The Bible might not actually be true. You presume you know why that organisation made a 'bad' decision, but you don't really know why they did it because you weren't there at the time.

Certainty is seductively simple. The real world is messy and complex.

Scientists are trained to rely on hard evidence rather than a hunch. Mathematicians know the difference between proof and a flawed argument. Historians look for primary sources rather than secondary accounts, and even then take opinions with a pinch of salt. Our education system tries to make us question, hypothesise, even doubt, but still churns out citizens who rarely stop and think.

I prefer not to pre-judge, or at least I try to make a conscious effort not to. I don't always get it right, but I aim to remember that my first impulse might not always be correct. I can't just believe something, I like evidence. I'm aware that more than one factor might have been involved. I prefer 'might' to 'will', and 'could' to 'must'. I'm hardwired to see the world in shades of grey, not black and white.

I know I could be wrong. My trusted sources might not be entirely correct, and my assumptions might be embarrassingly inaccurate. But I am at least trying to consider all sides, even if my ambiguity doesn't always come across. It's good to have an element of circumspection about you, a recognition that what you think you've seen might not always be true.

Too much certainty can be dangerous. A mindset based on hunches and gut feelings is likely to be fundamentally flawed. A society founded on fixed opinions cannot react to changing circumstances. A world fed by lies presented as truth will end up stoking intolerance and dissent. The certain, I believe, are far more likely to be angry than the doubtful.

The world splits into people who think "definitely", people who think "probably" and people who think "maybe".

Be more maybe.

 Monday, February 24, 2020

30 things stashed in an old LBC Radio (261) bag dating back to when I was in the Sixth Form

1) Carbon copy receipt for one two-hour driving lesson, cost £13
2) Mr Fussy's Note Book, containing field notes from Geography Field Trip to Cader Idris
3) Full colour mail-order brochure for new Sinclair ZX Spectrum (8 colours, BEEP command with variable pitch and duration, high resolution 256x192, "Massive 16K RAM")
4) Punched computer card, on which I scribbled down the Top 40 chart for 20th July 1982 during the Gary Davies show (1 Irene Cara, 2 Trio, 3 Steve Miller Band)
5) HF Holidays Conistonwater Centre Programme 1982 (Week Two - Fairfield, Scafell, Helvellyn, Swirl How)
6) Certificate awarded by BBC Television for successfully following the Puzzle Trail to the Treasure
7) A letter from Jan (written on the back of a Peppermint Aero wrapper, the back of a Bournville Dark wrapper and the inside of a box of Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles)
8) Day-by-day plan for a week's Youth Hostelling in the Peak District (total accommodation cost £20.15)
9) Letter from London Country Bus Services Ltd, St Albans Road, Garston, inviting me to ring for an appointment to pop in and chat to the area manager
10) Newspaper cutting from the Sunday Times confirming that the Masquerade riddle had been solved and the golden hare discovered 'close by Ampthill'
11) ET Glow in the dark Action Transfers, given away free inside a packet of Shredded Wheat
12) Computer printout of a BASIC program I wrote to sort a pack of cards into four bridge hands
13) Birth chart, drawn the old fashioned way, confirming Mars in Virgo and Venus conjunction Saturn
14) Train ticket to Coventry, for attending Warwick University open day
15) UCCA reply forms from five universities - Conditional Offer, Interview, Conditional Offer, Unconditional Offer, Conditional Offer
16) Christmas card from the son of an Oscar-nominated actor
17) Statement of Failure to Pass Test of Competence To Drive, dated 23rd December 1982 (with reference to use of gears and inadequate three-point turn)
18) Statement of Failure to Pass Test of Competence To Drive, dated 24th January 1983 (with reference to unsafe manoeuvre exiting driving test centre at start of test)
19) Photocopy of Certificate of passing of a test of competence to drive, dated 10th March 1983 (signed by A.J 'Failer' Taylor)
20) 18th birthday cards from close family, ageing aunties, old ladies we called aunties, penpals and school friends (one with a racing car on the front, another with a yacht)
21) Careers brochures for Journalism, Advertising and Operational Research
22) Letter from manager at Lloyds Bank, hoping very much that I might open an account when I start university, and by the way his branch has three Cashpoint machines
23) Handwritten list of all the Doctor Who stories from 1977 to 1983
24) A Level statement of entry, Oxford & Cambridge Schools Examination Board (including two exams on 24th June)
25) Scales & Arpeggios for Violinists, Book 2, from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
26) A Level Revision timetable, painstakingly drawn out in multiple colours
27) 10p ticket for school Summer Fair draw (1st prize Acorn BBC Microcomputer, value £300)
28) Election leaflet from the first person I voted for in a general election ("By voting for me on June 9th you will not only be voting for a package of sensible policies but also for a new start for Britain")
29) List of 69 clues for the Mothers' Union Car Rally, July 1983 (we scored 43)
30) Book token, remnants of, signed by headmaster (used to buy a book he would not have approved of)

Our capital city is 36 miles across and 28 miles wide, so a lot of places lie directly north, south, east or west of somewhere within it.

Here are a select few.

Not quite North
Due North
Not quite North
King's Lynn
Downham Market
Not quite West
Cork, Milford Haven, Merthyr Tydfil, Cirencester, Oxford
Not quite East
Chelmsford, Rotterdam, Paderborn, Łódź
Due West
Bantry Bay, Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Bath, Swindon
Margate, Eindhoven, Essen, Dortmund, Leipzig, Chernobyl
Not quite West
Banff, Calgary, Minehead, Cheddar, Andover, Basingstoke
Due South
Le Havre
Not quite East
Maidstone, Sandwich, Bruges, Antwerp, Düsseldorf
Not quite South
Not quite South

 Sunday, February 23, 2020

Step-free tube stations
68 tube stationsVauxhall z1
Tower Hill z1
Tottenham Ct Rd z1
Bond Street z1
Bromley-by-Bow z2/3 
Buckhurst Hill z5
Victoria z1
Newbury Park z4
Finsbury Park z2
South Woodford z4
Mill Hill East z4
Cockfosters z5
Amersham z9
Ickenham z6
Wimbledon Park z3
Debden z6
Osterley z4
Hanger Lane z3
Northolt z5
Sudbury Hill z4
Harrow-on-the-Hill z5 
Burnt Oak z4
Knightsbridge z1
Battersea Pwr Stn z1 
Nine Elms z1
Moorgate z1
Whitechapel z2
Ealing Broadway z3
Colindale z4
Boston Manor z4
North Ealing z3
Park Royal z3
Rickmansworth z7
Ruislip z6
Snaresbrook z4
68 (25%)78 (29%)90 (33%)103 (38%)

Mill Hill East became the 79th step-free tube station last week.
Mill Hill East is the Underground's 15th least used station.

Stations shown in red are used by fewer than 3 million passengers annually.
This year's 12 additions, combined, have fewer entries/exits than Tottenham Court Road.

The Mayor's priority, with a limited budget, is to increase the number of step-free stations.
This is good news for the suburbs (and for Essex, Herts and Bucks).
The number of step-free stations should increase by 35 between 2016 and 2024.

Only about 15% of 'underground' Underground stations are step-free (mainly on the Jubilee line).
Only 3 of the 21 stations inside the Circle line are step-free.
  • Green Park (2012-funded)
  • Bond Street (Crossrail)
  • Tottenham Court Road (Crossrail)

The Cato Street Conspiracy (23rd February 1820)

200 years ago today, in a Marylebone sidestreet, a plot to murder the entire top tier of British government was foiled. Terrorism is nothing new.

Britain was a restless country in 1820, the Tory government intent on keeping the emerging working class in their place with repressive legislation. A group of radicals called the Spencean Philanthropists set about hatching a plot, and saw their chance when King George III died on 29th January triggering a constitutional crisis. One of the gang spotted an advert in a newspaper announcing that the Prime Minister and all his ministers would be attending a 'grand Cabinet dinner' at a house in Grosvenor Square on a particular evening. Chief conspirator Arthur Thistlewood drew up a plan to storm the building with pistols, grenades and cutlasses, then round everyone up and behead the lot of them. He did not succeed.

On the evening of 23rd February the plotters met for one last meeting in a stable block in Cato Street, unaware that the whole thing had been a set-up. Thistlewood's second in command was actually a government spy, and the newspaper advert had been placed in the paper with the full knowledge of the Prime Minister. Twelve officers of the Bow Street Runners lay in wait at a pub across the street and at half past seven moved in for a mass arrest. In the resultant brawl Thistlewood killed one of the officers with a sword, then escaped out of the back window, while others either surrendered or were overpowered. He was captured the following day.

The conspirators were put on trial for high treason and sentenced to death. Five of them (including Thistlewood) were hanged and beheaded at Newgate Prison - the last time this particular punishment was applied on British soil. Another five had their sentence commuted and were transported to Australia for life. And in the midst of all this the Tory government called a general election, campaigning on a strong public order ticket, and won a sizeable majority over the Whigs. Cato Street was renamed shortly afterwards, becoming Horace Street, and only regained its former title in 1937 after its notoriety had faded.

To find Cato Street aim for the big Waitrose on the Edgware Road and head a couple of streets back. It's not an easy road to spot, a narrow mews-like backwater accessed at either end via a low arch. Don't try driving in, it's a yellow-lined dead end. Number 1A where the conspiracy took place, since renumbered 1, is the first house at the northern end and one of only two to have survived from Georgian times. As a coach house it still has stable-sized doors at ground level, since repurposed for vehicle storage. The rest of the western side of the street was redeveloped in 1972 as twenty mews flats, while opposite is a very recent brick apartment block, somehow almost sympathetic.

If you head to Cato Street today, the Harrowby and District Residents Association are organising a special bicentenary celebration starting at 12 noon. They promise horse-drawn tram rides, costumed musicians, playground games, a street magician and other things which didn't necessarily exist in 1820. The best fancy dress will win a prize, while two of the local pubs are doing 'conspiracy cocktails' and traditional 200-year-old food. It sounds fun, but if you want to experience the street in all its secluded notoriety I'd suggest visiting after all the hullabaloo has been cleared away.

 Saturday, February 22, 2020

It's a great weekend to visit attractions along the Bakerloo line, so long as you're not travelling by tube.

With passengers advised not to travel due to a strike by train operators, queues are certain to be a lot shorter than usual.

Here are eight Bakerloo-dependent attractions that need your custom, so come on down!

Lambeth North: Imperial War Museum

Half term is always a busy time at the IWM, but expect the hordes to fade away as the Bakerloo line becomes inaccessible. The multitudinous galleries will be all yours, rather than having to shuffle slowly through the WW1 experience or continually being obstructed by teenage boys taking selfies with torpedoes. The museum certainly feels a lot larger since its 2014 revamp, possibly because the lower ground floor has been stripped of exhibits to make it easier to see the shop, the cafe and the other shop. But there's still plenty to see in the galleries upstairs, apart from all those at the rear which are closed for a transformational upgrade and all those on the third floor where the next season of exhibitions doesn't open until April. If you've not visited recently, here's your chance.
Second closest station: Elephant & Castle (except there's no Northern line service on the Bank branch this weekend so the area'll be a ghost town)

Regent's Park: The Broad Walk

This is the next station up the line served only by the Bakerloo, so expect Regent's Park to be a lot quieter than normal this weekend. That's the southeastern non-Zoo corner of the park, where the gardeners have been doing splendid things with bedding plants and the cherry blossom is at springlike levels. There's less to see in the Rose Garden, other than savagely-pruned bushes, but fans of crocuses and daffodils will find the occasional display to enjoy.
Second closest station: Great Portland Street (except this has no trains this weekend either, so expect tumbleweed)

Regent's Park: Royal Academy of Music Museum

This often overlooked museum overlooks the Marylebone Road and is bolted onto practice rooms used by some of London's most talented musical students. You need to visit today if you want to enjoy 'What a Song and Dance', a celebration of musical theatre, because its eight month run ends at 4pm tonight. See the magnificent display of programme covers, admire costumes from Les Mis and Aladdin, and discover how big numbers require different staging to non-musical shows. Upstairs are the excellent permanent galleries, one devoted to strings, the other to a dozen historic pianos. If you've ever wanted to play a ukulele or listen to what a compact disc sounds like, now is the time.
Second closest station: Baker Street (except TfL are strongly advising passengers to avoid Baker Street this weekend, so best not)

Marylebone: Bicester Village

The Bakerloo is the only tube line serving Marylebone station, which means Bicester Village shopping mall in Oxfordshire will be impossible to reach this weekend. Normally Asian tourists flood up the Chiltern line in search of branded bargains, but without railhead access they'll no doubt be forced to stay in town and queue for Madame Tussauds instead. Fortunately there aren't many Chinese tourists in London at the moment because of coronavirus, so the economic impact in the shire counties will be no worse than it was expected to be, but that's still cold comfort to Bicester's vacant retailers.
Second closest station: Bicester North (except that's also accessed via Marylebone so is no better)

Edgware Road: Lisson Gallery

When the weather's damp and grey an art gallery is always an excellent hideaway, in this case for at least a couple of minutes. The Lisson Gallery is a smart split-site 60s throwback, instrumental in the emergence of contemporary art, located one street back from the start of the Marylebone flyover. Behind one press-to-enter door is a modern angular space with room for numerous artworks, but currently displaying just five. Expect one of the staff to keep an extra-close eye on you as you peruse Richard Deacon's twisted wood and giant ridged crisp. Tony Cragg's Stacks may be even frostier across Bell Street, should they deign to answer the buzzer and admit you.
Second closest station: Edgware Road (except the entire Circle line is suspended this weekend, so access will be limited)

Edgware Road: Church Street Market

This is no fancy millennial hangout, this is an authentic street market serving some of Westminster's least prosperous backstreets. That means seriously cut-price clothing, umpteen stalls selling trays of fruit and the spicy whiff of no-frills streetfood. Join the ladies rifling through piles of smalls and pensioners trolleying provisions home, or nip into one of the adjacent bargain bazaars for unbranded cosmetics or some of Alfie's Antiques. As Time Out once recognised, this is what a genuine London market looks like. Alas without the Bakerloo line to bring the punters in this weekend they're going to have to rely on locals only.
Second closest station: (see above)

Warwick Avenue: Little Venice

What a sylvan spot this canal basin is, a three-way watery junction overlooked by ritzy stucco townhouses. February perhaps isn't the best time to hunker down on a bench to watch hardly any narrowboats coming and going, but you can always hide away aboard the Waterside Cafe with a cheese and onion panini. The other top floating business is the Puppet Theatre Barge, this weekend putting on The Water Babies fresh from a triumphant season at the Corn Hall in Diss. Let's hope their audience can get there somehow, what with all the best transport connections down.
Second closest station: Paddington (but Hammersmith & City line only, and no further east than Baker Street, so maybe don't bother)

Maida Vale: Paddington Recreation Ground

History comes thick and fast at this extensive greenspace which this year celebrates its 127th anniversary. Believed to be the earliest public athletic ground in London, it's where Roger Bannister trained before delivering his inaugural four minute mile and also where Bradley Wiggins learned to ride a bike. Both are commemorated by plaques on the pavilion, which looks out towards the cricket pitch that now covers the cinder track. Numerous other sports are playable, and "responsible slacklining is welcome here". With the Bakerloo line out of action expect to find space on the tennis courts and spare machines in the gym, so long as you can find a way to get here.
Second closest station: Kilburn Park (except that's equally borked, unless it turns out several Bakerloo line trains are running anyway in which case I apologise for wasting your time)

 Friday, February 21, 2020

50 things stashed in an old Marks and Spencer's bag dating back to when I was at primary school

1) The Green Cross Code, a six step guide ("Mothers and Fathers, it's up to you to teach your children the Green Cross Code")
2) A card showing the tune for Sing A Song Of Sixpence, colour-coded for playing on my xylophone
3) Soccer Action Replay Action Transfers (A Letraset Product) depicting Arsenal v Liverpool in the 1971 Cup Final
4) The National Westminster Bank Pocket Guide To London 1972 ("The Post Office Tower is London's highest building and has a viewing gallery: 20p, children 10p")
5) Geographers' A-Z London Guide and Map 1972 (Hampton Court Palace: Adults 20p Apr-Sep, 10p Oct-Mar, children 5p at all times)
6) A map of the new traffic arrangements in Watford on completion of Phase 3 of the Central Area Redevelopment in November 1972 ("The new Eastern Relief Road has been named Beechen Grove")
7) A cutting from the Evening Echo in 1973, in which I appear crosslegged on our sofa
8) My ticket for a recording of BBC TV Songs of Praise on Thursday 10th May 1973
9) A pack of W.H.Smith & Son 'New Trend' Writing Paper, no longer including ten sheets of notepaper and ten matching envelopes (3/6, 17½p)
10) Map of our back garden, including bus stops (dated 17.8.73)
11) 1st prize certificate for the children's class at the village Flower Group Show 1973
12) My Cub Scout Membership Card (awarded 23rd October 1973)
13) The Cub Scout Handbook 1973 (I can tie a reef knot and know its uses. I can hank a short rope)
14) A maze I drew on a sheet of orange paper entitled Journey To The Centre Of The Malteser
15) Set of magazines called Splodge, running to six editions, which I wrote but nobody else was particularly interested in reading
16) Programme for performance of Captain Pugwash at the Watford Palace Theatre, March 1974
17) Grand Prix racing game, and stylus, played using the Letteromic Movement Selector (Patent Pending)
18) Cub Scout Map Reader Badge Certificate (awarded 13th May 1974)
19) 'The Wombles' writing pad (20 sheets, three remaining) by Wiggins Teape
20) 'Wonderful Wombles' Letraset Fun Doodles set (Instant Rub Down Transfers)
21) Clem's Golden Nuggets Riddle Maker, copyright Nabisco Limited 1974
22) The Ashridge Nature Trail (National Trust, 10p)
23) A postcard I was supposed to send to my grandmother from Wales, but she died before I went
24) 'A Year's Journey' - a book to accompany the BBC Television For Schools programme of the same name (48 pages, 1974)
25) A story I wrote called 'The Prunes Revolt'
26) Sheet of hole reinforcers
27) A souvenir woven badge from The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu (16p)
28) Programme for the 25th (& Farewell) Gang Show at Watford Palace Theatre, 1975
29) My annual report from the Watford School of Music - "Excellent work and progress" (July 1975)
30) Flyer from the Alderney Pottery (open to visitors on weekday mornings)
31) Card confirming that I weighed 333 Newtons when standing in a wind tunnel in September 1975
32) The words to We Plough The Fields And Scatter (school Harvest Festival, 7th October 1975)
33) Yellow 'Scout Job Week' stickers
34) Pink blotting paper (with four large black blots)
35) Strip of ½p Green stamps, self-drawn
36) A postcard from Warsaw sent by my schoolfriend Roman ("we even saw some red squirrels")
37) Postcard of the chapel window at Hatfield House
38) Lyrics to Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo, run off on the school Banda machine
39) 1976 pocket diary, including two dozen games of noughts and crosses
40) A Littlewoods pools coupon for 6th March 1976 ("Do Three 8 from 10's")
41) A 24-piece birthday jigsaw from Michael B, depicting a gorilla
42) A summer 1976 British Airways Shuttle timetable (London - Glasgow/Edinburgh). Check-in at least 10 minutes before departure. "You can get your ticket at your Travel Agent, British Airways office or on board the plane."
43) 'Know Your Motorways' - a fold-out map with driving advice by the RAC (1976, 15p)
44) My 4th year school spellings book (A = actor, almost, acrid, accompany, angel, almost, admitting)
45) My Tuesday afternoon 'Français' folder - mostly labelled drawings, politely ticked
46) Autograph book used on last day at primary school, including signatures of Headmaster, class teacher and five friends who went on to another school so I never saw them again
47) TV Guide 17-23 July 1976 (includes complete guide to Olympics coverage, 30¢)
48) 'Keep Ontario beautiful' in-car litter bag
49) My Junior Jet Club Membership Kit, including badge, log book and enrolment card (opened with flight aboard G-BDPV on 6th August 1976)
50) A card slipped into this pile of memorabilia on 20th February 1978, on which I wrote "Write date here every time read". The eighth, ninth and tenth dates are 15.4.83, 20.8.91 and 20.2.20

 Thursday, February 20, 2020

Random Bus Stop: Poynders Road (Clarence Avenue)
Clapham Park, Lambeth, SW4 8PL [eastbound]

This is Bus Stop U on Poynders Road, a very typical London bus stop, randomly selected for the purposes of today's post.

One pole, one shelter.

The stop is served by routes 50 and 355 - ideal if you want to get to Croydon or Brixton. All its timetables are in order. The orange bench is comfortably flat rather than convex, and comfortably seats three. This is not a locality with spider maps so the rear frame contains default generic fare information. The big advert inside the shelter is for mango, carrot and banana yoghurt, which must have been a fun day in the research lab. The big advert outside is for a phone company.

The pavement within the shelter is littered with tiny twigs and an apple core. Chewing gum splatters the slabs like a giant dot to dot. An elderly gentleman walks over and waits outside, until it starts to spit with rain and he swiftly shifts. A second arrival already smells of alcohol, which is good going given it's not yet lunchtime. A middle-aged couple soon follow, she in red boots, he for some reason carrying two bananas. Eventually a convoy of buses approaches, the waiting passengers split into two groups and off they go.

Poynders Road ekes out a dual existence as the South Circular - not the roaring arterial that characterises the North but an apologetic girdle threaded along residential roads. Traffic streams from the tip of Clapham Common to the foot of Streatham Hill, or vice versa, or crawls, depending. Most of it is private cars, but interspersed with vans, refrigerated lorries, tipper trucks, bikes, motorbikes and of course the occasional bus. A white Volkswagen pauses alongside the shelter, held at the lights, blaring out some tune that only the driver is enjoying. In the front seat of a silver van, driven by Dad, a boy on halfterm holiday bites down on a biscuit.

Across the road the view is of a line of trees, half of which are shrouded in pinky white blossom (which is unnervingly premature for mid-February). Behind the screen of branches lies Agnes Riley Gardens, one of Lambeth's lesser-known medium-sized parklets. It was bequeathed to the LCC in 1937 by Frederick Riley, owner of one of the last big houses hereabouts, on the pre-condition it was named after his wife. He'd only intended to hand over his garden, but after his death 'Oakfield' was also demolished to help create a larger landscaped mix of shrubbery and recreational features.

Today a broad sweep of grass spreads down towards basketball courts and football pitches, all of which are enjoying half term kickabout action. Smaller offspring clamber over a cluster of damp playground equipment while shivery parents look on. Pensioners with brollies walk once round the perimeter to give their small dogs some exercise. The Rileys' long pond has been marshalled into two much smaller circular pools, one amenable to frogs and the other filled with rocks. Their greenhouses, meanwhile, have been replaced by a community garden, a polytunnel and a bug-friendly orchard. Few public spaces tick quite so many boxes within just four acres.

Bus Stop U sits on the dividing line between two very different flanks of Clapham Park. A few yards to the west is Rodenhurst Road, an exclusive sweep lined by large Edwardian villas, its front gardens flush with magnolia trees and Range Rovers. A few yards to the east is Clarence Avenue which once looked similar, indeed its gardens were significantly bigger, but which was replaced after the war by a heterogeneous council estate. Now this too is being sequentially demolished by a housing collective as part of a regeneration project, with archetypal brick structures slowly devouring the older stock. Those waiting for the bus tend to arrive from the east rather than the west.

Poynders Road was also once lined by big houses, before the Luftwaffe and a desire for densification replaced most of them with unpreposessing blocks of flats. One such intervention was Poynders Parade, intended as the shopping hub for all the additional residents, and built in a long arc across the grounds of what used to be Clarence House. What high hopes there must have been on opening, and what a sad sight it presents sixty years later. Out of a dozen shops only one still trades, the Londis on the corner, and even that has an anachronistic Evening Standard poster stuck outside. Nextdoor is Regal Wines, long shuttered, and further along a dead post office, dead bakery, dead pub and dead chippy.

The signs outside Pantry Snacks and the Poynders Fish Bar still boast 0181 phone numbers, while W. Perry (Hardware, D.I.Y. and National Express Agent) remains firmly frozen in the 01 era. Most decrepit is the very-oddly-named Bank Of Swans, an estate pub with rotting doors, browning curtains and a fading sticker in the window inviting you inside to watch the 2010/11 Premier League. The entire parade was supposed to have been demolished five years ago, but Metropolitan's masterplan is running late after arguments with the council and so the unloved wall of shuttered retail remains.

Back at the bus stop the rain is falling faster now, and traffic flicks up spray as it passes. Droplets of water fall intermittently from the shelter's overhang. The red route markings in the gutter have been submerged. The youngest of a family of four is jumping in a puddle to see how far it'll splash. The park, glimpsed through sodden blossom, has mostly emptied. Too many cars are passing for a pensioner to risk crossing the road, so she has to walk down to the lights before returning bedraggled. Hopefully a dry double decker will be turning the corner shortly and whisking us away.

 Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Brits 2020 Live Blog (delayed)

19:00 The 40th BRIT Awards, sponsored by a credit card I don't own, are being held at an arena sponsored by a mobile network I don't use.
19:05 I thought of popping down to see the stars being whisked out of their limos, but obviously you can't just turn up and see that, instead only mingle with executives and hangers-on surging off the Jubilee line to join the queue for security, so I decided to stay at home with a mug of tea.
19:25 This year the number of awards has been cut from thirteen to nine so they can squeeze more music in.
19:30 The Brit Awards have been held annually since 1982 when they were hosted by David Jacobs. That year Cliff Richard won British Male Solo Artist and Randy Crawford won British Female Solo Artist, which is a more diverse set of winners than we're likely to get this evening.
19:40 Social media from the red carpet is particularly ingratiating, and relentlessly focused on how gorgeous everyone looks. In the last half hour the official @BRITs twitter account has used over 20 emojis, most especially 😍.
19:55 The BRITs were first televised in 1985 when they were hosted by Noel Edmonds. I watched in student digs while eating a £1.10 fish and chip supper. Prince and Frankie Goes To Hollywood won two awards each. Christopher Hogwood's Four Seasons won Best Classical Recording.

20:00 Jack Whitehall ticks all the traditional boxes in the opening backstage sequence, most importantly not funny.
20:01 Neneh Cherry's daughter starts the show by singing a song the audience seems to know, backed by an army of writhing call centre interns. I'm pretty certain she's miming because nobody sounds like that naturally.
20:06 Jack Whitehall namechecks some famous attendees to see who gets the loudest cheer, and a 72 year-old wins.
20:08 Lewis Capaldi sings the one song of the night even your nan's heard, with his eyes closed, surrounded by red mist.
20:12 AWARD - Best New Artist: I have heard of three of these. One of them I expect to never hear from again. The winner is the chubby Scottish lad who just sang about Some Birdy on stage. His entire five second speech has to be bleeped out because it's before the watershed. He then pops up three times in the subsequent ad break, which I suspect is no coincidence.

20:20 AWARD - Female Solo Artist: I have heard of four of these. The winner is the daughter of the Best International Solo Artist 30 years ago. Mabel also performed at the top of the show, which suggests that performing live on the show might in fact be some kind of mass spoiler.
20:24 Harry Styles, in a lace jacket and pearls, sings his latest single to hysterical indifference. Behind him a grand piano gushes water.
20:30 I'm the same age that my parents were when we sat down and watched Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood present that fiasco of a ceremony in 1989, and now I know how they felt.

20:33 Lizzo gives a body positive performance and shakes her backside a lot, seemingly wrapped in cirrus clouds at sunset. Her supremely commanding stage presence distracts from her songwriting ability.
20:34 Meanwhile the @BRITs twitter feed announces who's won the next award, because events in North Greenwich are subject to a six minute delay.
20:40 AWARD - Male Solo Artist: I have heard of all of these. The winner is exactly who Twitter said it would be. Stormzy thanks God, then his management, crew and family. Harry Styles applauds politely dressed in a yellow jacket and magenta neckerchief that Yootha Joyce would have been proud of.

20:45 Twitter is now pre-announcing winners with a ten minute delay, so that's nice.
20:48 Dave sits at a two-sided piano whose surface is a video screen. Several Eurovision nations are no doubt taking presentational notes. He delivers a poetic celebration of race, rising to an angry crescendo - quite the most powerful presentation I've seen at the BRITs in years. Extra marks for slipping in "our Prime Minister's a real racist" halfway through.
20:54 AWARD - International Male Solo Artist: I have heard of three of these. The winner is the one I have heard of the least, but he slags off Theresa May for banning him from the country five years ago so I warm to him rapidly.
20:58 AWARD - Best Group: I have heard of four of these. I own none of their albums. The winner is the only band named after small horses. They look more likely to sit in the corner of a cafe than wreck a hotel room.
21:03 Billie Eilish performs the new Bond song, breathily, backed by a full orchestra. It's only obviously 007-related because the producer shoehorned in a familiar horn riff after one minute, and a stereotypical chord right at the end.
21:07 Jack Whitehall interviews Lizzo, in what could best be described as a wacky car crash. Harry Styles and a flautist play minor starring roles.

21:14 AWARD - Rising Star: It's Celeste. We've known it was Celeste for weeks. That means no nominations, just a performance. This wouldn't have sounded out of place in Cabaret.
21:20 AWARD - International Female Solo Artist: I have heard of four of these. The winner is one of the two nominees who've flown all this way and have already performed. Her hair colour matches the right half of the sponsor's logo, and could be custard powder.
21:25 Jack Whitehall interviews Harry Styles, who the directors have managed to slip into the show more frequently than ad breaks because they know their demographic. Lizzo is very much in second place.

21:32 Stormzy has been granted the coveted 'lengthy medley' slot which occupies an entire segment of the show. Initially he's backed by a gesturing choir, then he gets up off his chair like Boyzone and strides into the audience, then he hikes up to a raised platform for some Audio Muted waving, then the action segues into mass gyration with a guest vocalist, then everything goes full-on gospel with a Les Mis-sized cast, until finally it starts raining and everybody is very wet. I preferred Dave.

21:48 AWARD - Best Song: I can hum five of these, but that's out of ten. Sir Tom Jones presents the award to the obvious young Scot, who is careful to have a bottle of Buckfast in his gob at the precise moment the camera cuts to him. He carefully places the bottle on the podium beside his statuette, the label facing forwards, and dedicates the award to his dead gran.
21:53 AWARD - Best Album: I have heard of all the artists but only two of the albums. Dave wins, like he won the Mercury Music Prize, which hints at genuine credibility. He's wearing a particularly flammable-looking tracksuit. He bigs up South London and reminds everyone that they can be whoever they want to be, but leaves the Prime Minister out of it on this occasion.
21:58 Rod Stewart and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra see us out, delaying the start of News At Ten by ten minutes. They have a joint album to promote rather than a career to celebrate. If anyone's Mum is still watching, she'll be saying "now that's a proper tune". Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones join him for the finale, wearing some fantastically unconvincing hairpieces, to round things off with a reminder that music no longer sounds anything like it used to.
22:07 We end with a compilation of what the producers thought were the best bits, and a reminder that Love Island is starting an hour later than usual on ITV2.
22:08 Nine awards, nine performances and only six ad breaks, if you were counting.

 Tuesday, February 18, 2020

If Sutton ever gets a new tram service, we now know which way it'll go.

A consultation in 2018 proposed three possible routes, one replacing the existing Thameslink service and two linking to the Northern line by road.

Last week the outcome of the consultation was announced, and the selected route is the easternmost, connecting to the Northern line at Colliers Wood. This was the public's second choice, behind South Wimbledon, but practicality and cost have won out so Colliers Wood it is. [factsheet]

Here's my attempt at depicting the route as it might appear on the tube map.
(although the extra bit would extend off the bottom of the existing map, and also nobody's yet confirmed how many stops there might be and what they might be called, so it won't look like this)

The new tramline would head south from Colliers Wood station to cross the existing tramline at Belgrave Walk. Services are expected to stay separate, rather than passing from one line to the other. Trams would then continue south through the St Helier estate via the Rosehill roundabout, terminating with a loop around Sutton town centre. Total distance five miles, 21 minutes end to end.

This is where the proposed Sutton Link would start, somewhere amid the relandscaped plaza at the foot of the once-hideous Colliers Wood tower. There'd be plenty of room to squeeze in a tram terminus here, whereas there wouldn't have been outside South Wimbledon station which is one key reason why this route was chosen. Connecting with the tube here, and onward connections to central London, would be relatively straightforward.

The first section of the route passes a couple of retail parks, likely without stopping. Christchurch Road is busy and broad but junctions are complex, so that's going to be fun to reengineer. Most local traffic heads off towards Morden or Mitcham but the tram will continue down Church Road, an impressively ordinary street with the added bonus of being slightly wider than average. Church Road doesn't even merit a bus service all the way down at present, but could be gifted a regular tram service simply because of what it connects.

Cutting across to Belgrave Walk tramstop will require entering an industrial estate and taking land off local businesses. One looks like it'd have to lose its portakabin offices and parking for a hundred cars, while another has a large warehouse firmly in the firing line. Discussions are underway, we are told. Initial plans had suggested that a bridge would be required for the new tram track to cross the old, but latest thinking is that the whole thing can happen on the level. The relative simplicity of the interchange is the other key reason why this option was preferred - trying to cross the line at Morden Road would apparently have been prohibitively difficult.

If there's a serious downside to the Colliers Wood option it's the next stretch along Morden Road. This is narrow with two awkward bends, on the second of which an old mill building beside the Wandle sticks out onto the pavement. In a philistine world tracks would be laid direct across Morden Hall Park, but the National Trust would never agree to that, so expect trams to share space with other traffic slowing journey times somewhat.

Negotiating the next roundabout will require an awkward left turn, possibly to the detriment of some trees and daffodils. We've missed the centre of Morden by half a mile, which is a further downside to this particular route (which I suspect has been selected as the least worst option). But from this point on the two potential tram routes merge because there's no argument about which way to go now, indeed St Helier Avenue is pretty much tram-perfect.

When the London County Council planned the massive St Helier estate in the 1920s they gifted it a broad spine road in homage to the newfangled motor car. Hundreds of houses sprawl to either side of a hedge-lined dual carriageway, a major thoroughfare and red route, but also with additional parking spaces a speedy tramlink might steal. Trams would probably stop a couple of times along this all-residential mile, transforming public transport connections hereabouts.

When the idea of a Sutton tram was first floated it was suggested that they loop off at the Rose Hill roundabout to serve St Helier Hospital, easily the most significant location in the vicinity. The latest plans leave patients 400m short, but speed up journeys for everyone else. The roundabout is a serious six-armed affair so will need substantial modifications. For some reason the proposed route veers right down Reigate Avenue rather than carrying straight on, then cuts across a park at the bottom of the hill to get back on track.

Rosehill Park isn't beautiful but it is well used, and a tram running diagonally across the lower slopes may not be popular. A Phantom Laminator has already covered the tennis courts with dozens of angry notices protesting about their replacement by a 'prison block school', so expect further imminent frothing about the damage caused by trams. Local drivers may instead be delighted that there's at least one section of the route where their journey times won't be adversely impacted.

Angel Hill, on the descent into Sutton proper, is one of the most awkward sections of the route. At present a two-lane road runs in cutting between two rising flanks of housing, with access ramps to either side and a cute little footbridge in the centre. As the northern entrance to the town centre Angel Hill has to stay open to all traffic, so a fairly dramatic reconstruction is going to be required. TfL's engineers have been "exploring a number of potential options" which will be the subject of a future consultation.

All traffic was banished from Sutton High Street in the 1980s and forced to follow a one way loop to either side, greatly improving the town's shopping experience. There is technically room for the new tram to thread through the pedestrianised zone, but Sutton doesn't want to be like Manchester so the proposed route follows the outer circuit too. Balancing the needs of cars, trams and several bus routes is going to be challenging, but central Croydon copes so I'm sure Sutton will too.

The far end of the loop will be close to the station where a new highrise Sutton is emerging. It feels quite out of place in these outer suburbs, if perfectly normal in many other parts of London. If nothing else it allows the Mayor to claim that the new tram will "unlock new development opportunities", because there's precious little opportunistic brownfield elsewhere along the route. Instead the Sutton Link is more of a kindness to existing residents and to encourage them out of their cars, rather than the usual flat-flogging exercise.

If funding can be found then construction of the new tram route could begin in 2023 and be complete by 2026. The big problem is that TfL don't have £425m lying around so are expecting somebody else to come up with most of the cash, which'll have to be Merton and Sutton councils and they're not exactly flush either. I wouldn't bet money on the five mile extension happening any time soon... but if Sutton ever does get a tram, we now know which way it'll go.

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