diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 31, 2020

31 unblogged things I did in March

Sun 1: The weather's not great, but nothing's stopping me going out for a walk. Round the first bend on the Lea towpath I pass a boatful of dazed revellers, several smoking, some pissing into the hedge. A couple of minutes later a moped and a quad bike approach very suddenly from behind and speed to either side of me. I hope that's as scary as March gets.
Mon 2: Stayed in for the day, not realising that within a few weeks I'd be itching to do anything but.
Tue 3: Went to Walthamstow to ride my birthday bus, judging that the sooner the better. Then a lovely night out at a quiet pub in the City with a former work colleague, discussing upcoming travel plans, office gossip and wedding preparations. May have overdone the peanuts.
Wed 4: Weekly shopping trip to Tesco. Could have bought pasta. Didn't buy pasta. Haven't seen any since.
Thu 5: Went round to BestMate's for our weekly dinner and catch-up. Haven't been round since.

Fri 6: On my day trip to Bedford, I noticed 'Store Closing' signs in the windows of Beales department store so went inside for a last poke around its warren of departments. Ladieswear was busier than men's. The homewares department was stacked high with all kinds of gadgets I don't currently need, plus far too many sets of bedlinen. Staff served a steady stream at the tills, polite as ever in spite of imminent redundancy. Closure'll leave one big hole in the town centre.
Sat 7: Rode the DLR to Greenwich (without touching anything, by letting other people press the door button ahead of me). Then walked along the river to Tower Bridge, dodging numerous joggers. I wish I'd taken more photos because then I could have written an emergency post about it in the weeks to come.
Sun 8: While walking along the Hertford Canal I was narrowly missed by a chunk of bread flying past my left ear. Looked up to see an oblivious resident lobbing food down from his second floor balcony to feed the ducks.
Mon 9: It being my 55th birthday, I made a last minute decision to go and see my Dad in Norfolk. The train was late. We started off with a walk round Eye following the Town Trail, then went to the White Horse on the Ipswich Road for lunch. I had pie, he had liver, we both had apple and sultana crumble with custard. Then we drove back home where I helped sort out a few IT issues and we chatted about village life. Whatever separates us over the next few weeks and months, I will always have March 9th.
Tue 10: Picked up a free copy of Time Out. I may keep it as a souvenir.
Wed 11: Went out for a belated birthday lunch with BestMate. It took us far far too long to decide where to go, and when we did finally pick somewhere it was unnervingly empty. Staff who'd normally have been dealing with gourmet bankers sat idly in one corner fiddling on phones and eating street food from the market outside. Decided against dessert. I haven't see BestMate since.

Thu 12: Yay, day trip to Plymouth. The train down was mostly empty but otherwise normal. The gentleman sitting behind me coughed twice but thankfully got off at Taunton. I was one of a handful of tourists in the city, it being a tempestuously showery day, but the rewards were great. Life in the South West was continuing pretty much as normal. Nobody coughed on the train home. I have no idea when I'm ever going to get the opportunity to undertake anything similar again.
Fri 13: Tesco was still out of pasta and toilet rolls, but also tuna fish, porridge oats and toothpaste. Many of the sizes/varieties I'd normally buy weren't there. Bought an extra pack of cod fillets for the freezer and quite a lot of Wagon Wheels.
Sat 14: The last time I rode on a bus.
Sun 15: This weekend brings the first feelings that we are barrelling towards the unknown, with the government primed to take what could be severe measures to control viral spread. As it turns out, today will be the last 'normal' day for weeks.

Mon 16: The builders should've turned up today to make good some of the mess they left when fitting my new boiler in November, but they've cancelled. Instead I went to the library, because it might be useful to have a stash of unread books at home. And then I went to Brent, because I'd not been there for a while, and enjoyed a walk in the park. I was careful to stick to quiet trains between the rush hours. Shortly after getting home Boris popped up to give an unexpected press conference and suddenly 'non-essential travel' was toast. And that's the last time I rode on the tube.
Tue 17: Walked the length of Roman Road trying to find toilet roll, because who knows how long my dwindling stocks might have to last. Found some in shop number eight. Hurrah for local hardware stores.
Wed 18: One little luxury I thought might help me through the coming months was a new pair of slippers. Walked to M&S in Westfield, where the food section was busy but the upper floors deathly quiet. "It's been like this all day," said the cashier. When two more shoppers approached clutching socks and trousers she joked that rush hour had started. And still the share price tumbled.
Thu 19: The lady in front of me at the supermarket was trying to buy eleven dozen eggs. The cashier told her to put eight back.
Fri 20: I've started listening to Radio 6 Music a lot more. I think Radio 6 Music is going to help get me through.
Sat 21: Even venturing out for a newspaper feels fraught with risk and danger. I haven't bought one since.
Sun 22: I've lost almost half a stone in the last week. This is despite walking half as far as usual. It seems the key to dieting isn't exercise but "rationing your food supplies very carefully in case at some point they run out."

Mon 23: And in the midst of all this madness I had a routine doctor's appointment. I kept expecting them to cancel, but when they rang a few days beforehand it was only to check I hadn't been travelling abroad and didn't have any symptoms, and I hadn't, so in I went.

The garden at the entrance to the surgery was empty, its fountain bubbling quietly. A few years ago automatic doors had been installed at both entrances and I could see now what an excellent idea this had been. Sanitiser was provided in a dispenser on the wall to be squirted on the way in and on the way out. Normally you sign in for an appointment using a touchscreen, but this had been removed. A strip of black and yellow tape at chest level ensured nobody could approach the receptionist too closely.

An elderly resident hobbled in hoping to collect a prescription for her husband, and struggled with the unfamiliar conditions. We self-isolated in separate parts of the waiting room while staff went the extra mile to print her prescription ahead of time. Then I sat alone in reception for several minutes, taking in the surroundings. Several posters advertised a mental health service promoting positive thinking. A banner left over from the winter displayed the slogan Don't underestimate the risks of flu on one pennant and Book your jab today on another. If only it were that simple.

Eventually my doctor led me through to his consulting room where an entirely normal face-to-face chat and check-up took place. We went over my history, discussed options and confirmed no need for action (or concern). The ordinariness of the situation was palpable, perhaps the quiet before the storm. After ten minutes I wished him well and set off for home, taking the scenic route to avoid risk. And then at 8.30pm Boris made his ratings-busting prime ministerial broadcast and UK lockdown officially began.

Tue 24: Having walked through ExCel several times, the scale of NHS Nightingale Hospital unnerves me.
Wed 25: If you enjoyed Cabin Pressure on Radio 4, you'll enjoy John Finnemore's ongoing series of short Cabin Fever videos in which Arthur Shappey vlogs from self-isolation.
Thu 26: These collective Doctor Who re-watchings, to uplift the spirits of the nation, are splendid occasions. Tonight it was 'Rose', the first episode of the reboot first shown fifteen years ago, accompanied by a stream of eye-opening tweets from @russelldavies63. Next please.
Fri 27: I've not been sleeping very well. Normally if I wake in the small hours I can drop back off easily, but now my mind churns off down paths of its own devising and unconsciousness rarely follows. In good news it'll get better tomorrow, but I don't know that yet.
Sat 28: Took the rubbish out. Also threw away two bagfuls of recycling, because we're supposed to leave that on the pavement at awkward times and it feels like Tower Hamlets council has more important things to worry about.

Sun 29: Went out for my daily exercise before the hailstorm hit. The Olympic Park was full of joggers. The switch to British Summer Time is proving harder to cope with this year.
Mon 30: If I divide up spring-cleaning my flat into tiny but tenacious stages, perhaps I can make it last until summer.
Tue 31: Today is my nephew's 21st birthday, all plans cancelled. It's hard to believe that I celebrated my birthday perfectly normally just three weeks ago.

 Monday, March 30, 2020

London has'd* many markets, but not so many market towns.
* a new word, which means "usually has, but currently doesn't".

To be a market town required a royal charter, back in the days when kings and queens granted retail favours. Each charter confirmed certain days of the week on which the market could open, and forbade other markets within 6⅔ miles from opening on the same day. Even in medieval times, royalty was adept at balancing economic competition with practical travelling times.

These market rights have now since passed to the local authority, but several places in London retain the historic right to call themselves market towns. They form an approximate ring around Westminster (whose market was granted its royal charter in 1256 but no longer trades). Some of the apparent gaps are plugged by market towns outside the existing boundaries of Greater London, for example Watford and Epping. [Full gazetteer]

Barnet: granted by King John, 23 Aug 1199 (Thursday)
Barnet's original charter was granted to the Abbot of St Albans, and probably started off as a livestock market. It was originally located where Wood Street divides from the High Street. By the 14th century the area became known as Chipping Barnet, 'ceapen' being the Old English word for 'market'. Queen Elizabeth I granted a new charter in 1588, with market day changing to Mondays. Many of London's butchers came to Barnet at the start of the week to purchase cattle, which were kept on farms nearby and driven into town as needed. The market has moved numerous times (full history here). Fifty stalls currently trade round the back of The Spires on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the bandstand area beside Waitrose.

Enfield: granted by King Edward I, 8 Apr 1303 (Monday)
Although Humphrey de Bohun and his heirs were granted a charter early in the 14th century, it took until the 15th for Enfield's market to become well established. The site has always been close to St Andrew's church. Sales stepped up in the 17th century when the present market place was created (21 stalls and 90 trestles were known to be trading in 1648). A market cross was added, which is now to be found in the rose garden at Myddelton House, and market day was switched to Saturday. The Enfield Society has an impressively full history here. Thursday trading started in 1974 and Fridays were added in 1987. The market's Instagram feed showcases the current (successful) set-up.

Romford: granted by King Henry III, 22 Sept 1247 (Wednesday)
This one started out as a sheep market. Indeed it's sheep which originally defined the separation between different markets, six-and-two-thirds miles being the official distance sheep could be driven in one day. Romford's ducking stool survived beside the market place until the early 19th century. Today Romford boasts one of the largest street markets in the South East with over 100 regular stalls. A separate covered market (sorry, Shopping Hall) is semi-crammed with further nooks and eateries. Likely London's most genuine salt-of-the-earth market experience (Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays only).

Barking: granted by King Henry II, 1175-ish (day unknown)
The oldest of all Greater London's markets, because Barking was once a pre-eminent port and abbey town. Nobody's quite sure when precisely between 1175 and 1179 Henry II granted it a charter, only that its existence suddenly appears in the abbey's records. A market house was built in 1567 (since demolished, and its timbers incorporated into the doors of the 1950s town hall). The market's fortunes declined considerably as the town lost importance, and had ceased trading completely by the 1930s. Today it's back four days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday) along East Street, but very much for the cheap and convenient.

Woolwich: granted by King James I, 1618 (day unknown)
This is the most recent market in the list, at a mere 400 years old, founded by royal charter in Stuart times. It started out by the ropeyard, then moved to Market Hill (in front of today's Waterfront Leisure Centre) before being shunted to what's still called Market Street. This proved too peripheral so traders moved back, then slowly took over the new square outside the Arsenal - a relocation officially recognised in 1879. The market's been in Beresford Square ever since, apart from a recent dalliance which nudged it briefly up Greens End, and I doubt any other London market has been given the runaround quite like this one. Come any day except Sunday, and don't set your sights too high.

Bromley: granted by King John, 19 Jul 1205 (Tuesday)
The market was first held outside Bromley Manor, later moving to Market Square halfway down the High Street. A subsequent royal charter in 1447 switched market day to Thursday. In 1933 traffic improvements saw the market moved to the less convenient environs of the car park beside Bromley North station, returning to the High Street only in July 2012. The town remains inordinately proud of its royal origins, branding its assemblage of stallholders Bromley Charter Market to make the point. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday it offers "an assortment of traditional, modern, speciality and staple goods, beautiful gifts, quality produce and delicious food", because this isn't Woolwich.

Croydon: granted by King Edward I, 10 Dec 1276 (Wednesday)
Croydon's medieval marketplace occupied a large triangle of land now defined by the High Street, Surrey Street and Crown Hill. Corn was traded on one side and meat and livestock on the other, hence Surrey Street was originally called Butcher's Row. Over time this triangle was filled in by buildings, including a covered Butter Market, but all of this was comprehensively redeveloped by Croydon Corporation in the 1890s. This forced the market into Surrey Street where it remains today, trading every day except Sundays. A council refurb in 2017 means artisan produce and street food now intrude.

Kingston: granted by King John, 1208 (day unknown)
Kingston has Saxon roots, and significant royal connections, but its first market charter appeared in the 13th century. Its location - the triangular Market Place - hasn't changed in centuries. A timber-framed town hall was built in the centre in Tudor times, with a ground floor open market supported on columns. The present Italianate building dates from 1840 and was renamed Market House in 1935. Kingston council gave the 'Ancient Market Place' a significant refurb in 2014, repaving the piazza with granite and introducing 29 permanent stalls in jagged wooden clusters. The emphasis is now more on cuisine and lingering with nibbles - a market for the ABC1s rather than the C2DEs.

Brentford: granted by King Edward I, 23 Dec 1306 (Tuesday)
Brentford used to be a much more significant town, hence its medieval market charter. In 1550 an orchard behind the Crown Inn was taken over by traders (roughly where the Magistrates Court is now). The growing market passed through many owners in the 17th and 18th centuries, filling an area still known as Market Place today. To ease congestion a new Brentford Market was opened in 1893, on land to the east of Kew Bridge (now the Fountain Leisure Centre), specialising in fruit and veg from local market gardens. This closed in 1974, replaced by the Western International Market in Southall, and Brentford's current market is a Sundays-only shadow of its former self. Excellent histories here and here.

Uxbridge: granted by King Henry II, 1180 (Thursday)
Uxbridge was a minor hamlet before the Lord of the manor of Colham, Gilbert Basset, was granted a market charter by the king in 1180. A prosperous market town grew up, and by 1513 a market-house had been built. At the turn of the 19th century Uxbridge boasted one of the largest corn markets in England, with a separate Saturday market for food and goods. The pillared Market House opposite the station dates back to 1788. In the 1970s Market Square was absorbed into the new Pavilions shopping centre, and trading (such as it is) now takes place in a dispiriting quadrangle between M&S and Iceland.

» Middlesex, Herts, Essex, Kent, Surrey, other counties

Other historic charter markets in the Greater London area: Lambeth (1199), Orpington (1206), West Ham (1253), Carshalton (1259), Harrow (1261), Rainham (1270), Plumstead (1270), St Mary Cray (1281), Eltham (1284), Chelsfield (1290), Hounslow (1296), Bexley (1315), Pinner (1336), Crayford (1396)

 Sunday, March 29, 2020

In normal circumstances I'd have brought you a post about South Wales today, maybe Barry, then followed up with reports from Aberfan and the Valleys on Monday and Tuesday. But circumstances are not normal, so this outburst of content will not now occur.

My wasted rail ticket isn't the only thing I've had to cancel, but it is the last. By chance I have no other bookings in my diary from today onwards - no purchased tickets, no medical appointments, no social obligations, nothing. From today I may be in limbo but all I'm missing out on is potential activity. You may not be so lucky.

So I wondered what what my readers would be missing.

If you had something booked in April and can't now go, let us know.

Let's see if between us we can fill in a complete 30 day calendar.
Mundane is good. Extraordinary is good. It's all good.
One or two cancellations each, thanks, don't list your full diary.
I'll be including a maximum of four cancellations per day.
I'll be keeping it short.

102 things diamond geezer readers won't be doing in April
Wed 1
Vee Jay Em won't be getting a cut and blow-dry.
mike won't be seeing Milton Jones at Derngate.
David(@DTL) won't attend a job interview.
Simon P won't be flying to Portugal
Thu 2
bblb won't be starting his walking trip in North Yorkshire.
Richard won't be pubcrawling along the Southminster branch.
Ian D won't see Procul Harum at the London Palladium.
Ian won't get new utility room windows fitted.
Fri 3
Singing Organ-Grinder won't hear his choral work performed at Hengelo town hall.
Brightside won't fly to Berlin for a cruise on the Elbe.
Matt Buck won't be going to Roy's People Art Fair.
Dominic H won't head to Plymouth for a long weekend.
Sat 4
Nick won't be at the Ducati owners club AGM.
Steve won't be seeing Pentatonix at Hammersmith Apollo.
Henry won't be flying to Kyushu for a 3 week holiday.
BP won't be getting married!
Sun 5
onionbagblogger won't be adding lawn seed to his lawn.
Dave B won't watch West Ham v Chelsea at London Stadium.
Paul Dredge won't be at the Brooklands bus rally.
mushroomcounter won't see "Of Love & Law" at the Letchworth Garden City Film Club.
Mon 6
John Simmons won't be delivering poll cards for the local and PF&CC elections.
Chris P won't be touring Bateman's Brewery in Wainfleet.
Gregg won't be inviting his work colleagues to leaving drinks.
Tue 7
Robert Butlin won't be seeing the hygienist.
Neesi won't go to a talk on clocks at the Science Museum.
Frank F won't attend a recording of The Chase.
Rick C won't go out to celebrate his 21st birthday.
Wed 8
martin won't be going to Strasbourg and Europapark.
timbo won't be taking his car in for its annual service.
Steve won't be going to the dentist.
Thu 9
David won't set off on a mini break to Riga.
Tim won't be taking his dad to the chiropodist.
Mu won't begin a family minibreak to Paris.
Fri 10
lmm won't ride his first ever Flèche Vélocio.
Dave won't head to Margate for the Easter Beer Festival.
ganching won't hear St Matthew's Passion at the Barbican.
Malcolm won't be returning from a family break in the Peak District.
Sat 11
Nick won't be on the Hidden London Moorgate Tour.
Jack won't be running a relay leg round the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
the other eric won't join old friends for a reunion lunch.
scrxisi won't see Boothby Graffoe at the Royal Albert Hall.
Sun 12 - Easter
Thomas won't be starting home exchange with a family in Utrecht.
Phil's sister-in-law won't be visited by the Easter Bunny.
Mon 13
timbo won't be singing evensong at Canterbury cathedral.
Ian won't spend his 1st wedding anniversary overlooking Waikiki Beach.
Tue 14
David won't attend the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower.
Alan S won't tutor an Expert Patient Course for the NHS.
Waterhouse won't be splashed by a swimming pool at the Almeida Theatre.
Wed 15
Steve won't depart for a two week holiday in China.
Sean won't be eating in the House of Commons dining room.
Thu 16
Peter won't hear David Attenborough at the Royal Albert Hall.
strawbrick won't attend a routine skin lesion appointment.
Jimbo won't spend his 15th wedding anniversary at a mystery location.
Keith won't be getting a massage.
Fri 17
Kirk won't attend his 9am Sleep Clinic appointment.
Tony Maxwell won't be at a Pokemon Go event in Liverpool.
Josh won't fly to Vancouver to start an epic journey across Canada.
Daniel S won't hear the Colorado Symphony play The Planets.
Sat 18
pop artist won't be showing his daffs at the Gardening Club Spring Show.
Jack won't ride the Epping Ongar Real Ale Train.
Tony Maxwell won't be at the Boom Bang-a-bang Eurovision preview in Manchester.
NickW won't be gathering for Norouz Persian New Year.
Sun 19
bob won't be seeing Gillian Anderson at the BFI.
Dave B won't be going on the Harry Potter studios tour.
Ian D won't be at Essex CCC's first home match of the season.
NLW won't see Michael Schenker at the Shepherds Bush Empire.
Mon 20
DGD won't be attending the local Writers' Group meeting.
Peter CS won't be heading to Provence by train.
Edward Lockheart won't be riding Mail Rail.
Tue 21
Andy H won't be making a 300 mile round trip to the Tutankhamun exhibition.
Bob S won't be out walking with the Freedom Pass Wanderers Group.
OverTheHills won't be relocating from New Zealand to the UK.
Caz won't be getting her ears microsuctioned.
Wed 22
Jamesthegill won't hear Nick Offerman talk at the Brighton Dome.
EskimoPie won't be seeing Harry Styles at The O2.
Sarah won't be attending a Curriculum Review Awayday.
Thu 23
Dave won't be biking to a Harley Davidson rally.
Jamesthegill won't be seeing Harry Styles at The O2.
Geofftech won't be visiting the least used station in Staffordshire.
Fri 24
Gareth won't get a posh dinner to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Chris Tuft won't set off on a 4 day trip to Marrakesh.
Sally won't be camping in Kent before her cousin's wedding.
PiccDriver won't go on a Continuous Professional Development course.
Sat 25
Jon Combe won't resume his round Britain walk in Scotland.
Petras409 won't be cruising on the Exe to celebrate his 70th birthday.
Sara won't begin a 40th anniversary cruise round the Norwegian fjords.
Scrumpy won't see Toyah and Hazel O'Connor in Birmingham.
Sun 26
John Abbott won't watch his son play in the National Open Youth Orchestra.
Andrew won't be cheering on London Marathon runners.
Peter B won't be signalling on the Severn Valley Railway.
martxw won't attend a script-in-hand reading at the Globe.
Mon 27
Richard Pinch won't attend a meeting on "Confronting radical uncertainty".
Raedwald won't be at a pinball tournament in Birmingham.
Andrew H won't be returning from Aachen by train.
103-V-504 won't be celebrating their birthday in London with friends.
Tue 28
RosemaryT won't be taking her husband out for a birthday lunch.
Wed 29
Malcolm won't stopover at Soest on his way to Leipzig.
Jonathan Wadman won't hear The Cardinall's Musick sing at Cadogan Hall.
Harry Harrison won't hear his composition played at the Guildhall School.
Thu 30
Jeremy GH won't be listening to a talk on the Bricklayers Arms branch.
Jonathan won't be seeing his psychiatrist.
Nails UK won't be seeing the chiropodist for a routine nail trim.

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

"don't visit your mother on Mothers Day" (PM)
• (nation goes to parks and the seaside instead)
• 1½m most vulnerable told to isolate for 12 weeks
• Global economy will suffer for years to come (OECD)
UK goes into lockdown for at least 3 weeks
• public gatherings of more than two people banned
• "one form of exercise a day" permitted
• Summer Olympics postponed until 2021
• daily Govt press conference goes virtual
• launch of NHS Volunteers
• 4000 bed hospital established at ExCel
• situation worsening in Spain and New York
• Prince Charles tests positive
• unemployment skyrockets in USA
• government to pay 80% of self-employed income
• South Korea starting to ease restrictions
• nation applauds the NHS at 8pm
• PM and Health Secretary test positive
• testing to be rolled out to frontline NHS staff
• USA now has more cases than any other country

Worldwide deaths: 13,000 → 30,000
Worldwide cases: 300,000 → 650,000
UK deaths: 233 → 1019
UK cases: 5018 → 17089
FTSE: up 6% (5191 → 5499)

 Saturday, March 28, 2020

Today I should be on a day trip to Cardiff. I bought cheap rail tickets back in January, along with cheap returns to Swindon and Plymouth, but Cardiff alas I scheduled too late. So today I thought I'd take a virtual trip to the Welsh capital, imagining how my day might have panned out in more normal times...

Day Trip to Cardiff - virtual live blog

05:00 Sheesh that's early.
05:40 Normally I'd have caught one of the very early trains from Bow Road, but the station's closed today because of engineering works so I have to walk to Mile End instead. Behind me, the sun dawns into a vivid blue sky.
06:47 🚆 London Paddington Yay, window seat. I have a newspaper while everybody else seems to have a screen, a coffee and a pastry. Looking forward to enjoying the view out of the window, and spending a lot of the day on trains.
08:12 Deep in the Severn Tunnel I enter Wales (for the 18th time, if you're counting).
08:38 Cardiff Central Hurrah, I'm back in Cardiff. Last time I was here I focused on the city, so this time I intend to use my ten hours to explore the environs of South Wales instead, focusing on places I have never been before. To that end I need to buy an Explore Cardiff & Valleys rail rover for the bargain price of £13.50. Let's see how long it takes to buy one at the ticket office. [map of validity]

08:55 🚆 Cardiff Central Right, let's get going. This first train is heading somewhere I've long wanted to go, but I bet isn't as exotic as it sounds.
09:24 Barry Island We've crossed the breakwater and here I am at the Welsh seaside. It's too early in the day (and too early in the season) for the Pleasure Park and Tourist Railway to be open, but the sweep of Whitmore Bay looks alluring. I should have time to scour the peninsula to see what's occurring, then cross back to the mainland and find the street where they film Gavin and Stacey.
10:14 🚆 Barry Well that was fascinating, and a gorgeous sunny morning for it too. Easily enough there to fill a day's post when I get home. Also I love the idea of a station called Barry.
10:43 Cardiff Central Back again. Sadly no time to nip out for Welsh cakes.
10:51 🚆 I've switched to the Treherbert train on platform 7. You really have to know where you're going at this station, in particular which finger of the Valleys you're aiming for. As a traveller from London, the age of trains in South Wales is providing a useful reality check.
11:50 Tonypandy I'm blaming George Thomas for this. I wanted to see the Rhondda, it being the pre-eminent Welsh valley, and with ten stations to choose from I picked the home of the former Commons speaker. I'm only here briefly to experience what living among terraced streets perched on quarry-topped slopes might be like. The view from the train has already been highly illuminating.
12:03 🚆 OK, so I only really got to see the main road threaded up the valley alongside the railway, plus a chunk of Tonypandy's high street, but the dense backdrop loomed memorably. Looks like it's finally clouding over.
12:12 Trehafod I've ridden three stops back down the valley to visit a proper attraction, the Rhondda Heritage Park, formerly Lewis Merthyr Colliery, now the Welsh Mining Experience. I don't have time for the Black Gold Underground Guided Tour, led by former miners, although a lot of it is merely electronic recreation (and I suspect I got a much better experience at the National Coal Mining Museum in West Yorkshire). I'll visit the winding houses and exhibitions instead.
13:12 🚆 Getting from one valley to the next is tricky, and often nigh impossible without doubling back. You can see how communities round here became resilient.
13:19 Pontypridd One of the joys of a rover ticket is that you can nip out of the station, even if you're only here for a very short time while changing trains.
13:28 🚆 Ok, that was much too brief. I should have skipped Tonypandy and spent an extra half hour here instead, which would have given me time to follow Market Street to the town's museum, then cross the river Taff to admire the National Lido of Wales. Instead I barely made the High Street. Still, that's a lesson learned, should I ever make this journey again.
13:44 Merthyr Vale On the other side of the river, across the footbridge, is the one place in the Welsh valleys I've always wanted to visit. An ordinary mining village touched by tragedy.
14:44 🚆 Aberfan touches the heart. A memorial garden where the primary school used to be before it was swept away by a heap of spoil. A cemetery on the hillside, predating the disaster, where many of the 144 dead lie in graves topped by pearl white granite memorial arches. Terraced streets they never came home to. A new school by the riverside. And, somewhat unexpectedly, the A470 dual carriageway which now skirts above the village on the hillside, crossing the path of the deadly landslide. Should you ever visit, surely unforgettable.
15:01 Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr is one of the big towns at the heads of the Valleys, built on coal and iron. But it fell fast and hard as the mining industry declined, so let's see how it looks now.
15:33 🚌 One bonus of the Explore Cardiff & Valleys rover is that you can also use local buses. So I've boarded the hourly X4 from the bus station to cross the heads of the valleys to the tip of another railway line. I can't begin to imagine what the scenery is going to look like.
16:15 Ebbw Vale The bus skipped Rhymney, and Tredegar doesn't have a station, so I've continued to Ebbw Vale. An unfortunate town, closure of the steelworks saw its unemployment rate skyrocket from the lowest in the UK to one of the highest. I need to head from the town centre down to the regeneration zone, hopefully via the funicular.
16:37 🚆 Nope, the Ebbw Vale Cableway is broken at the moment, and even if it had been functional it doesn't run at weekends, so I had to find a different way down to the station. I'm now about to ride the newest stretch of railway in the valleys, extended from Ebbw Vale Parkway five years ago. The line's mostly single track which means trains are only hourly, so I absolutely had to catch this one or miss my connection home.
17:35 Cardiff Central That was a long ride, wiggling down a less industrialised valley and almost scraping Newport. Now I have three quarters of an hour to enjoy in central Cardiff, which most of you would likely spend grabbing something to eat or drink... but I'm not wasting the opportunity to roam further on foot.

18:22 🚆 Cardiff Central Yay, window seat again. At least the first part of my two hour journey back to London is in daylight. Where's my thermos?
18:46 Back in England again. I wonder when I'll next return to Wales.
20:11 London Paddington And back in London again. About time, it's been a long day.
21:05 Finally home, sixteen hours after setting out. While I put the kettle on I can reflect on a rare and fabulous trip to Wales (and start flicking through some of my photos). Never take for granted your freedom to explore, and enjoy, the unfamiliar heartlands of your nation.

 Friday, March 27, 2020

For numerous reasons, now is the precisely the wrong time to think of opening up a new business at a tube station. But should this ever be something you've always wanted to do, or if you simply fancy poking round a portfolio of TfL's commercial assets, here's your chance.
We are one of London's largest landowners and offer a wide range of opportunities for businesses across the city. Exciting spaces are available for organisations of any size, from pop ups and small businesses to global brands. Most of our sites are near transport hubs - with over 31 million passenger journeys a day, we put you close to your customers, in locations convenient to them.
TfL have a website, tfl.completelygroup.com, where they display a list of kiosks, shops, arches, former ticket offices and all sorts of other spaces available to let. At time of writing it contains 104 properties either To Let or Under Offer, each with its own webpage and downloadable brochure. Let properties do not appear, so the full portfolio is much broader than this.
Our unique position means we can use our assets to keep London moving, working and growing. We generate long-term, sustainable income from 1,000 retail units and 800 railway arches to reinvest in our transport network. Our work also helps to support the Mayor's priorities around sustainable transport, health, homes and jobs as laid out in the Mayor's Transport Strategy.
Here are ten interesting ones - you can dig for more.

First up, a pair of classics.

Unit 5, Piccadilly Circus Underground Station (To Let, 48 sq ft, £15,000 pa)
This unit forms part of a parade of shops within Piccadilly Circus Underground station. The unit occupies a prominent location within the station adjacent to exit 2. There is no water or drainage in the unit and it is currently vacant. [brochure]

District and Circle Line Ticket Hall Unit, Victoria Underground Station (Under Offer, 203 sq ft, £40,000 pa)
Situated within the District and Circle Line ticket hall, the unit is the sole retail offering in one of the ticket halls in a high footfall transport hub. The unit offers a large retail space with a simple configuration and is visible from the ticket barriers and the main station entrance. The unit sits adjacent to one of the staircases leading into the ticket hall from street level and benefits from an open entrance which fronts onto the ticket hall, secured by roller shutters. This unit does not have water and drainage. [brochure]

Then let's head further out.

167 High Street, Uxbridge Underground Station (Under Offer, 419 sq ft, £20,000 pa)
The unit is prominently situated within the station entrance on the left side before entering through the ticket barriers. The unit is in good condition and suitable for a broad range of A1 retail uses. The unit has a front and rear shutter for both access points. (also available, number 168) [brochure]

Ex-Station Office, Colliers Wood Underground Station (Under Offer, 440 sq ft, £22,000pa)
The unit adjoins Colliers Wood underground station, with frontage onto Christchurch Road. The area is largely residential, with the existing retail offering on the high street providing local amenities such as estate agencies, fast food, mini cab offices and a convenience store. The unit benefits from power, water and drainage. [brochure]

Parsons Green offers both tiny and huge.

Kiosk in Ticket Hall, Parsons Green Station (To Let, 33 sq ft, £15,000 pa)
The subject unit is the only retail offering within Parsons Green Underground Station and is situated immediately in front of the ticket barriers before you exit the station. The unit has a countertop from which customers can be served. The unit benefits from power and would be suited to a dry use operator. There is no water or drainage. Parsons Green is an affluent area of South West London, with a mixture of independent and high street retailers in close proximity to the station. [brochure]

Unit 8B, Parsons Green Depot, Parsons Green Station (To Let, 5683 sq ft, £142,075 pa)
The property comprises a warehouse/industrial unit of steel truss frame construction with brick elevations and benefits from a height to the underside of the truss of 4.2m rising to 9m at the apex. Parsons Green Depot is located off Parsons Green Lane, adjacent to the London Underground District Line. The site previously supported the operation of the District Line when it opened in 1880 and is currently occupied by a diverse mix of small businesses. [brochure]

A disused station is available.

Former Station Building, Angel Underground Station (To Let, 4500 sq ft, £tbc)
The property comprises part of the former station building along with a structure which appears to be temporary in nature fronting city road which could be replaced with a permanent solution on a subject to planning basis. The property is prominently located fronting City Road on the corner of Torrens Street, approximately a 1-minute walk from Angel Underground Station in a particularly busy environment. [brochure]

TfL also own a lot of railway arches.

Arches 1-13, Wood Lane Underground Station (To Let, each 800 sq ft approx, "on a turnover basis")
Transport for London are regenerating 31 railway arches to create a destination for eating, socialising, shopping and working. Over the next 10 years five major development projects will deliver 2.3m sq ft of retail, 2.2m sq ft of offices and 5,000 new homes to the area. The Wood Lane Arches are nestled right in the middle of this area, next to the new 230,000 sq ft full-line John Lewis and seconds away from Wood Lane tube station making it the perfect spot for retailers, cafes, restaurants and bars looking to break the mould. [brochure]

Finally here are two properly new retail intrusions.

New Unit in Ticket Hall, Liverpool Street (Under Offer, 1044 sq ft, £150,000pa)
The new retail unit will occupy a very prominent location within the high footfall ticket hall. It will be extremely visible as you enter the ticket hall from the main National Rail concourse and as you exit through the London Underground ticket barriers. The subject unit sits within the main underground ticket hall and will be the conversion of the former ticket office. The configuration of the unit will allow for half of the space to be used for sales whilst the remaining half can be used for storage or kitchen facilities. [brochure]

New Retail Units in Ticket Hall, Oxford Circus Underground Station (Under Offer, 280/150 sq ft, £115,000/£70,000 pa)
Situated opposite the ticket barriers, both new retail units will occupy a prominent position in Oxford Circus Station. The units will benefit from excellent visibility within the ticket hall, which captures all passenger footfall from exits 1-4. The units are located on the unpaid side of the ticket barrier. They will be handed over in shell condition with capped off services and a shop front installed. [brochure]

If the economy ever recovers, maybe give TfL a call.

 Thursday, March 26, 2020

As staying at home becomes the new normal, many of us find ourselves living within a much smaller orbit. I've not been on a train in the last ten days, nor on a bus for the last twelve, restricting myself only to places I can reach on foot. I'm very fortunate that my immediate neighbourhood is so walk-friendly.

On Lockdown Day One I stayed in, but yesterday I took advantage of my "one form of exercise a day" by heading out for an early excursion in fine spring sunshine. Sorry, but you may be hearing a lot more about the Bow Flyover Fringe in the near future.

Let's start with Bus Stop M, whose existence continues unabated. It's very quiet too, despite a full Saturday service operating to Ilford, Holborn, Newham Hospital and my local Tesco. It was entirely passengerless when I passed by, which doesn't normally happen during what used to be the rush hour. In good news the pavements along this stretch of Bow Road are particularly broad, making social distancing relatively simple should anyone be coming the other way.

This is Grove Hall Park, my local. It's only small, but it is a valuable greenspace in the heart of a community. The cherry trees are at their finest at present, almost glowing in the sunshine. A jogger pounds through the gate to the walled garden, carefully avoiding the lady watching over her squatting dog. Only one family are in the playground, it being early, but evidence suggests anti-social overcrowding is not an issue. The benches are already a sensible distance apart.

Down by the Bow Roundabout the 24 hour McDonald's drive-through has now closed. On Monday afternoon a queue of vehicles snaked round the car park for a last chance to grab a Quarter Pounder and Fries before supplies dried up for the foreseeable future. Now the access lane and the main entrance are taped off, printed signs in the windows apologise for the inconvenience and the usual cluster of delivery riders is eerily absent.

Pudding Mill Lane DLR station is rarely busy, but today the silence is tangible. TfL's bright red poster warns passengers not to travel unless their journey is essential, but hardly anybody lives around here yet, let alone key workers. The piazza is empty, the bike rack holds a single steed. Half a pile of Metros await an audience. Occasionally an announcement upstairs alerts nobody to the arrival of a train.

Although not many people are out, I'm impressed by how well they keep out of each other's way as they pass. Normally you'd get funny looks if you stepped into the road or meandered across a grass verge to avoid someone, but now such strategies are expected and they happen, time after time. On only one occasion, trapped beside some railings at the Bow Roundabout, does a pedestrian stride a tad too close to me, oblivious.

Up on the Greenway the View Tube's cafe is closed, whatever the banner draped across the railings might say. But Wednesday is the day for the weekly Farmers Market and that's still running because a single stall has turned up. One is the normal total, indeed I've often wondered why they keep coming back to flog groceries in the middle of nowhere, but today that's also the middle of nobody. A strip of tape protects the seller from non-existent punters. Such is the perseverance of the self-employed, for whom no economic safety measures have yet been deployed.

Many of the construction sites around the Olympic Park are still busy as hard-hat hi-vis workers plough on with their usual work. Erection of the residential neighbourhoods of Sweetwater and East Wick continues apace. The new link road connecting north to south is having further surfaces laid and flattened. Social distancing is neither likely nor practical. But some other building sites are silent, for example Mace have paused all operations on the East Bank, as a few employers buck the trend by placing responsibility above profit.

Since Monday the playground in the southern half of the park has been fenced off. Back then it was the only place in QEOP where I saw people gathering unwisely, attracted by the availability of equipment no longer accessible in their local gym. Today young lads no longer hang out while hanging from the overhead bars, nor can an impromptu all-female boxing lesson break out. Elsewhere on the grass another group of teenagers are standing in a big circle patiently kicking a football between them, so only a tiny handful were being thoughtless.

Victoria Park has already succumbed to locked gates because a minority of the populace still wanted to socialise rather than stand apart. But the Olympic Park remains accessible, for now, for the enjoyment of blossom, birdsong, and long strolls by the river. How much easier this lockdown would have been had the weather stayed damp and grey, rather than delivering perfect blue skies for the first time in weeks at the most inopportune moment. So long as our outdoor spaces continue to be used sensibly, at distance, let's hope they can be kept open for one form of exercise a day.

 Wednesday, March 25, 2020

At a time when some of the population is frantically busy but much has little to do, you may be in need of 'content' to help you through the coming weeks. An archive of films you've always meant to watch, a shelf of books never quite conquered, or perhaps the deeper recesses of the internet. So I'm indebted to Peter Watts for pointing out that The London Topographical Society, an august body of map-based historians, has just put all of its newsletters since 1975 online for the first time.

What a fascinating treasure trove, not just for the learned articles and embedded cartography within, but also for observing the evolution of presentation, availability and content over the best part of fifty years. The full downloadable archive is here, a 1999 index is here and the most recent edition is here. Should you wish to join the other 1200 members in supporting the LTS through our uncertain future, an annual subscription costs £20 and their back catalogue of publications is here.

Issue 35 includes a treatise on the evolution of the Metropolitan Police District, issue 48 reports at length on London's Telephone Exchanges and issue 34 muses on Big Ben's time delay across the centre of town. But I've decided to focus on issue 29 from November 1989, and Simon Morris's essay on The London Postal Districts, because people always seem to be interested in where London's postcodes came from. Read the original for full details and proper maps, I'm merely summarising.

The London Postal Districts

Although postal districts were first introduced in 1857, their origins lie in the 18th century. By 1794 postal services within built-up London had been divided into nine 'walks', more for their practicality than geographical spread. The St James's walk, for example, covered much of Mayfair, while the East walk stretched from the edge of the City towards Stepney and the Docks. Camden and Islington were not included, despite being much closer to the centre, so would not have received direct deliveries of General, Foreign and Twopenny Post. [map page 2]

Outside this elongated envelope a more circular structure emerged, because delivery services operated up to a 15 mile radius. Nine horse-drawn delivery 'rides' spread radially along main roads to drop off mail in towns along the way, from which they were distributed on foot. The Edmonton Ride reached Enfield, the Brentford Ride stopped off in Kensington and Hanwell, while the Wadden Ride tackled Morden and Croydon. Areas covered varied enormously in size, with the Sydenham Ride by far the smallest, while the Woodford Ride spread as far as Barking and Loughton. [map page 3]

By 1837 the system was ripe for reform. Enter Penny Post pioneer Rowland Hill, who proposed replacing one single sorting office at St Martin's le Grand by half a dozen offices closer to coaching hubs (for example at Bank and Angel). Commissioners initially resisted his restructuring ideas, but in 1854 Hill was elevated to the role of Secretary of the Post Office and was finally able to establish a Committee On Establishing District Sorting Offices. This proposed introducing two compact central districts, WC and EC, surrounded by a circle with 12 mile radius divided into eight compass-based segments (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W and NW). [map page 4]

West Central and East Central were defined so that postmen would start their rounds no more than fifteen minutes walk from the GPO at St Martin's le Grand. The outer districts showed more flexibility, their boundaries bending to keep distinct geographical localities together, and beyond London sticking mainly to the original 'rides'. For example, although the western boundary of the NE sector was pretty much straight, mostly following the Lea Valley, the eastern boundary wiggled across the East End and the Essex countryside. Specifically it followed the Whitechapel and Mile End Roads as far as the Regent's Canal, then the Hertford Canal along the edge of Victoria Park, then zigzagged onwards to include Leytonstone but omit Stratford and Barkingside. [map page 5]

Londoners were first urged to add Postal Districts to their addresses in 1857. Adoption by the public was initially slow, but the innovation meant their mail started to arrive more quickly. However further reform of the outer segments soon became necessary because equality of area didn't equate to equality of population. N, for example, included twice as many addresses as NE, whereas SE, S and NW were predominantly rural. Several peripheral towns were spun off into separate districts, for example Romford, Beckenham and Ealing, and the use of postal district notation became far less commonplace beyond inner London.

The abolition of the NE and S postal districts can be laid at the door of the novelist Anthony Trollope, no fan of Sir Rowland Hill, and by 1864 Surveyor to the Post Office. He spotted that postmen in these districts carried fewer letters per delivery, so decided to improve efficiency by merging the North Eastern district with the Eastern. Staff were transferred at the end of 1866, and the public asked to stop using NE on their letters from 1869. Street names were not initially changed, however, because the Metropolitan Board of Works and local boards disagreed over who should foot the bill. The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney continued to use NE on its street signs until 1917.

As for the Southern District, its viability had been weakened when Croydon was withdrawn, so Trollope proposed splitting it between the two adjacent districts. Kennington, Lambeth, Camberwell, Dulwich, Norwood and South Norwood were transferred to SE, while Clapham, Tooting, Merton, Stockwell, Brixton, Streatham and South Lambeth moved to SW. The change was implemented in early 1868 - SW on 1st March and SE on 1st April. The abolition of the S and NE districts would later allow these codes to be used by Sheffield and Newcastle.

Minor tinkering to boundaries continued over the years, for example rationalising to fit new suburbs built across former fields. But the most obvious next step, the introduction of numbered sub-districts, was for years thought too complex and costly to enact. It took WW1, an influx of untrained sorters and a suggestion from a Mr Percy Holland of Cadogan Gardens, SW, to force the Post Office's hand. Within each existing district the subdivision containing the head district office was numbered 1, then the remainder followed in alphabetical order. For example the Eastern District's list begins E1 Whitechapel, E2 Bethnal Green, E3 Bow.

Postal districts are now known as postcode areas, but London's haven't changed much since 1917, at least in outline. Central London exceptions include Aldgate, Mount Pleasant and Clerkenwell Road which were later absorbed into EC, and Shaftesbury Avenue and Northumberland which switched to WC. Further out, the NW district gained Kilburn Park from W in return for Park Crescent. But for most of us, whether we're in E or SW or whatever comes down to horse rides, postmen's walks, compass directions and a huge circle centred on St Paul's. As Simon Morris's essay explains, it's a fascinating topographical tale.

 Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Lockdown - simple version

More detailed but still woolly* version [pdf]

You should only leave the house* for one of four reasons.

●  Shopping for basic necessities*, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent* as possible.
●  One form of exercise* a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
●  Any* medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable* person.
●  Travelling to and from work*, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

You should be minimising* time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart* from anyone outside of your household.

Since Friday we've all been urged to travel only if it's absolutely essential. In response TfL have been reducing frequencies and shutting down parts of the network, while leaving enough open to ensure key workers can still travel.

Since Saturday, the zone 1 tube map has looked like this.
(click for a larger version)

For example on the Central line Holland Park, Queensway, Lancaster Gate and Chancery Lane have closed. Meanwhile on the District line it's now only four stops from Victoria to Cannon Street rather than the usual seven.

Only stations underground are affected, because those at surface level have far less stringent staffing needs. Also only non-interchange stations have been closed (with the exception of Charing Cross, which is very close to Embankment). Some very efficient choices have been made.

Elsewhere entire lines have closed and other modes have been restricted. So I thought I'd attempt to create a day-by-day record to chronicle what closed down when, as a measure of sequential superfluousness. I'll try to keep it updated as further closures continue.

DayLines closedStations closed
Wed 18  
Thu 19 Arsenal, Barbican, Borough, Bounds Green, Bow Road, Covent Garden, Goodge Street, Hampstead, Manor House
Fri 20Waterloo & CityBayswater, Caledonian Road, Charing Cross, Great Portland Street, Holland Park, Hyde Park Corner, Pimlico, Queensway
Sat 21DanglewayBermondsey, Blackhorse Road, Chalk Farm, Chancery Lane, Clapham South, Gloucester Road, Kilburn Park, Lancaster Gate, Mansion House, Mornington Crescent, Redbridge, Regent's Park, South Wimbledon, Southwark, St James's Park, Stepney Green, Swiss Cottage, Temple, Tufnell Park, Warwick Avenue
Sun 22Circle 
Mon 23Surrey Quays - New CrossIsland Gardens
Tue 24-
Fri 27
Sat 28Thames Clippers
Uxbridge - Rayners Lane
Sun 29 Prince Regent

As of Tuesday 233 out of 270 tube stations remain open.
Ideally you shouldn't be using any of them.

The frequency of services is another matter. Cutting frequencies makes for a more resilient service, better able to cope with staff shortage. But it also makes those trains which do run more crowded, endangering the health of those squeezed aboard. On Monday the Overground was operating at roughly normal intervals but the tube much less often.

Under the upcoming lockdown all may change. But it's more important than ever not to travel unless you really have to.

 Monday, March 23, 2020

United Kingdom Examination Board

Social Distancing

March 2020

Answer all questions

Section A - Multiple Choice

1. What is social distancing?
    staying 2m away from other people
    not seeing your Mum on Mother's Day
    something else

2. What are the most important rules of social distancing? (tick all that apply)
    Avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms
    Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible
    Work from home, where possible
    Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces
    Avoid gatherings with friends and family
    Use telephone or online to contact essential services

3. Why is social distancing important?
    to save my own life
    to save the lives of others
    convince me

4. Can you go outside?
    yes   no   sometimes   try not to   of course you can, this is a free country

5. When can you go to the park?
    only if you stay 2m apart
    daily, because it's important for your health
    whenever the sun comes out
    I'd rather go to the seaside
    try not to

6. What should you do if you see a large group of people in a public place?
    walk over to them and tell them off
    upload a photo to social media
    I wouldn't go to a park in the first place
    pass them by

7. When you hear the phrase 'congregating in groups', how many people do you think of?
    2     3 or 4     maybe 10     100+

8. Can you go to the shops?
    whenever   weekly   only for groceries   only by yourself
    if it's the only place I can go, that's where I'll be going

9. How do you stay 2m away from everyone else while grocery shopping?
    it can't be done  
    scrupulous queueing  
    I don't care, where's the pasta?  
    shop online (and wait 2 weeks)

10. Which of the following should you no longer do? (tick all that apply)
    pop round to your neighbours for coffee
    get your hair cut
    mow the back lawn
    get the bus into town
    climb Snowdon

11. Social distancing is...
    recommended   mandatory   strongly advised utterly fudged

12. Name something you shouldn't do unless you aren't under 70
    phone NHS 111
    stay indoors for 12 weeks
    no I'm lost now

Section B - Essay

Answer two of the following in no more than 500 words each.

a) Outline, as clearly as possible, the main differences between social distancing and self-isolation.
b) Compare and contrast the social distancing regime in the UK and another country of your choice.
c) Demonstrate, by use of examples, how a Prime Minister can offer entirely contradictory advice.
d) Explain, using misconceptions and misunderstandings, why social distancing does not apply to you.

Section C - Practical

Explain social distancing to a five year-old.

Where did you see this social distancing advice?
daily government press conference     a leaflet through my letterbox
in my daily newspaper     TV advert     Twitter/Facebook
WhatsApp conspiracy meme     sorry, what advice?

 Sunday, March 22, 2020

Route 404: Caterham-on-the Hill to Cane Hill, Coulsdon
Location: London south, outer
Length of journey: 8 miles, 40 minutes

The 404 is a minor bus route scaling the foothills of Croydon. Infrequent, twisty and little used, it is nevertheless a lifeline to locals... and yesterday received a big boost. Its route was diverted in the middle and extended at one end, its frequency was doubled to half-hourly, and it gained a Sunday service for the first time. Unlucky timing, but a contract is a contract and there are still key workers to serve.

I had been planning to go for a ride, but this would have been the very definition of 'unnecessary travel' so instead I'm going to attempt to recreate a journey from home. I'm hamstrung by never having been to either terminus, only ever riding a bit of the route once and not having any specific photos in my archive. But let's give the virtual 404 a try anyway...

Our starting point is just outside London, in Surrey, specifically Caterham-on-the-Hill. I've never been, so this is a photo of Caterham which I presume is similarly affluent but lower down. The 404 kicks off its journey in the middle of Westway Common, a recreational greensward, not far from the library. Only proper Surrey buses are allowed in the High Street. Previously only one vehicle was needed to operate the route, half an hour there and half an hour back, but now it's two miles longer it needs three. This means our imaginary driver has a little longer to rest before flipping open the doors and welcoming her only passenger.

We start with a spin round the common, part of a big triangular loop that gets the bus back on a northbound track. This delivers the delights of the Caterham Community Recycling Centre and a run of sturdy terraces that could easily be in London, but aren't. At the Clifton Arms we turn from Chaldon Road into Coulsdon Road, and I note that this route seems unduly concerned with places that start with the letter C. To prove the point the next pub (and timing point) is the Caterham Arms, where Google Streetview suddenly switches from June 2019 to April 2018, plunging us into fog.

This is where Caterham hides its big Tesco, which makes the meandering 404 ideal for the car-less to pick up provisions by bus. Our surroundings remain built-up until the boundary of Greater London where, in a reversal of what you might expect, development stops dead and thick woodland takes over. This is Coulsdon Common, home to the southernmost pub in London, The Fox, where I had a particularly nice ham and cheddar melt last Easter. If you've ever walked London Loop section 5, which by my reckoning is the finest section of the lot, you'll have crossed our bus's path on your way to the delights of Happy Valley.

So far our route has been identical to the double decker 466, which takes a more direct route to Croydon, and more often. But at Lacey Drive the 404 embarks on its public service remit and veers off to tour the backstreets, part of TfL's commitment to keep as much of London's population as possible within 400m of a bus stop. You'd never send a bus into these hilly avenues otherwise, and the size of our single-door single-decker reflects this. Initially it's all bungalows, white-walled and high-gabled, then more substantial semis nudge in. Nobody is waiting at any of the bus stops - some of these only see five passengers a day.

Here we come to what should be the first of this weekend's tweaks to our route. Previously buses climbed Waddington Avenue direct, but the new plan is to deviate up even hillier Shirley Avenue to better serve the houses there. But the road's narrower and needs new bus stops squeezed in, and the London Borough of Croydon haven't finished the necessary works yet, so this deviation is on hold. Possibly indefinitely. If you've walked Loop 5 and remember walking down from Kenley Observatory, that was round here. But our bus can't get round here yet, so we skip ahead to serve the newer-builds at the foot of Dollypers Hill instead.

The other proposed diversion of route 404 is much longer, and is ready, so we cross Coulsdon Road and start trawling the backroads on the other side. TfL try not to do double-running (i.e. following the same streets in both directions) but here it's the only sensible way to reach the Tollers Lane Estate. I've never realised it was up there, hidden behind a shield of trees, whenever I've been hiking through Happy Valley. What a blissful spot to have at the bottom of your road, and what an odd place to have wedged an unglamorous postwar estate. Our bus is destined to run a clockwise circuit of this distant tongue of flats and social housing, bringing 250 properties within 400m of a bus stop for the first time. For local residents it's a gamechanger, and for anyone else on board the bus an extra eight minute detour.

Back on line of route we finally reach the shopping parade in Old Coulsdon. This feels very much like a village centre, based round St John's church and the Tudor Rose pub, with the added benefit of Danny's award winning fish and chips. It's also a good place to switch to a quicker bus, be that the 60 or the 466, because the 404 has one last big twiddle to complete. All looks promising as we aim direct down Marlpit Lane, but then we veer right up Stoneyfield Road to serve the big semis on the hill. I can almost hear the other passengers who ought to be on the bus with me sighing at the inconvenience.

If you've ever stood on the ridge at Farthing Downs and been gobsmacked by the view, that steep bank of white houses to the east is where we are now. First we ply to the top, where the biggest houses are, then we sweep back down the unlikely switchback of Rutherwick Rise. At one point we're only a few metres away from the rim of a quarry - a quarry which now contains a Waitrose distribution centre and the Ullswater Industrial Estate. Although the street is lined by parked cars it's very much the place potential bus passengers might live, the 404 cementing its social credentials as a needle threading through the community.

Finally we reach the valley bottom, rounding the recreational treasure of Coulsdon Memorial Ground. Again, ramblers who've tackled Loop 5 will remember this as the end of the section, the final few yards after walking down Ditches Lane from the top of Farthing Downs. 404 passengers who've been aiming for Coulsdon South station need to alight here, and those who aren't might be expecting one more stop to the town centre. No longer! The new extension at the end of the route requires the bus to be passing southwards down the high street, so we're about to do something no other bus does and wheedle round the by-pass.

The Coulsdon Reilef Road was slotted in beside the railway in 2006 to extract through traffic on the A23, which has made shopping in Coulsdon far more pleasant. Amusingly the dual carriageway was built with a northbound bus lane as far as Coulsdon Town station, and the 404 is the first TfL bus to use it, fourteen years later. Brighton Road has the best shops this side of Croydon, including a proper Waitrose, and also a pretty decent selection of bus and train connections. But what it's never had until this weekend is a direct bus to the mental asylum on Cane Hill, which is where the 404's extension goes.

Cane Hill Hospital opened in 1883 as the Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum, then the largest in Britain, evolving only slowly as its patient numbers increased. It finally closed in 1991 and was left to decay, a decision to demolish most of it being taken in 2008. The land would be used for an estate of 700 Barratt homes, retaining only the water tower, chapel and (burnt out) administration building from the original layout. Construction's not quite finished yet, but enough families have moved in for TfL to deem them worthy of a bus route. It's only a fifteen minute walk from the shops, but not everybody can walk, or has two cars, and being uphill doesn't help either.

So the 404 now heads up that hill, starting from the roundabout on the relief road which we drove round five minutes ago. Very few passengers are expected to ride through all the way, this is very much a short hop extra. Buses stop four times on the ascent of Cane Hill Drive, where it seems each street has been named after an author or a poet, like some stereotypical Reggie Perrin commute. The terminus is high on Crawford Crescent, between the chapel and the water tower, an enclave so fresh the Streetview car hasn't got here yet. I am the only virtual passenger to alight, indeed the new improved 404 may be carrying virtual passengers for months. But it's good to see the network in outer London is improving, or at least I hope to see it one day.

Route 404: route map
Route 404: changes to route
Route 404: live route map
Route 404: timetable
Route 404: route history
Route 404: The Ladies Who Bus
Route 404: route consultation
Route 404: error

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
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