Wed 1: It didn't seem the right year to do an April Fool's post, and the rest of the world's media seemed to agree, although I did enjoy the National Trust's squirrel signposts. Thu 2: Tuned in to watch One Man, Two Guvnors on the National Theatre's NT at Home YouTube channel, which was a very welcome three hours of escapism, and creatively brilliant. A wistful reminder of a time when gathering together in large numbers was permitted, even encouraged, simply for the purpose of enjoyment. Sounds proper dangerous now. Fri 3: BBC1 rejigged its schedules to end the evening with Sliding Doors, the what-if romcom. I spent most of the early part of the film grimacing at the relentless geographical inexactitude (that train doesn't go to that station, that's not the street outside, you couldn't possibly walk there...), and the rest of the film being repeatedly amazed by how different life in 1998 was. Giving both of the lead characters mobile phones would have solved most of their problems. Sat 4: Sir Keir Starmer is the new Labour leader, which feels like a total irrelevance at present but also a return to some kind of reality, even potential electability, if not for some time. Sun 5: The Queen has far better speechwriters than the government. Mon 6: Shopping update: I've managed to stay away from shops for the last eleven days, but today I needed groceries so had to go back to Tesco, and I was a bit nervous but they'd upped their social distancing procedures since last time and it was fine. Yay, even pasta is back on the shelves. Tue 7: Every spring there's a last day I go out in my winter coat before realising this was an unnecessary mistake, and that day may have been today. Wed 8: To keep me occupied, one of the tiny habits I've picked up is tackling the daily sandwich sudoku at puzzle-sudoku.com (although I have my adblockers at full strength). I've completed it in under ten minutes just the once. Thu 9: I finally received a note through my letterbox from a neighbour reaching out to share a general offer of help, running errands or whatever. We're not as organised as my Dad's village where everyone knuckled down to help each other on day one. But my neighbour's note also came packaged with a Bible tract called 'Hope Beyond Corona Virus' which bleated on about sin, hope and judgement, so that went straight in the bin.
Fri 10: It being Good Friday I walked down to the Widow'sSon, where the annual bun-hanging ceremony will not be taking place today. It's now the last surviving building on a block of land overtaken by towering flats. Sat 11: The bumper prize crossword in today's paper usually keeps me occupied over Easter, but I couldn't buy a copy today so had to make do with filling in a pdf and it just wasn't the same. But I did complete it by 7pm and damn I was hoping it'd last longer than that. Sun 12: It's not quite the warmest Easter Day of recent years - last year and 2011 both topped it - but 25 degrees and sunny is about as good as anyone could expect. I stared out of the window at it. Mon 13: After 28 weeks of top-flight quizzing, my Monday evening now has an Only-Connect-sized hole in it. Instead I enjoyed BBC4's slow sheep gather and ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire coughing drama. TV feels more important while we're locked down, but nothing new is being made which suggests thin gruel later in the year. I fear Only Connect may not be back for some considerable time. Tue 14: I must be more confident about the nation's future food supply because I opened one of my stash of tuna cans today. Pre-Brexit hoarding has unexpectedly paid off. Wed 15: Shopping update: My supermarket seems more organised this week, with a longer chicane outside for queueing and smoother access to the checkouts. Because I went early I didn't have to queue for either. But shoppers seem less careful than before, lingering mid-aisle with no thought for others and ignoring the one-way arrows stuck to the floor. Most annoyingly, however, no cheap leftover Easter eggs. Thu 16: Digging around in a box of old stuff I found a) a letter from a teenager destined to become Foreign Secretary, b) a Christmas card from the son of an Oscar-nominated actor, c) the scribbled note which unexpectedly led to my first shag. Fri 17: My library books were supposed to go back at the start of the month, but then they extended the deadline to the end of April. Now I see the return date's been postponed again until the end of July, so the librarians clearly aren't expecting anyone back soon.
Sat 18: Geoff and Vicki are doing a rail-themed quiz on their All The Stations YouTube channel every Saturday night at 8pm, which is proving an excellent way of filling 4% of the day. My Saturday lockdown routine also invariably includes Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 6Music at 8am, Pick of the Pops on Radio 2 at 1pm and Stereo Underground on BBC local radio at 6pm. Sun 19: I've finally cancelled my Annual Travelcard because it's not getting any use. In good news they'll backdate the refund to the last time I used it, which means I should get six months back. In bad news refunding a travelcard also cancels the Oyster card it's on, because that's how TfL's internal systems are calibrated, so I need to go out and buy a new one. Mon 20: I went outside at 10pm to try to watch dozens of Elon Musk's intrusive Starlink satellites passing overhead. This is difficult from my balcony because I have a severely restricted view of the sky. "Sheesh," I thought, "the light pollution from those things is horrific...!" but it turned out I was looking at Venus. Alas I never spotted the artificial train overhead. Tue 21: I grabbed a Wagon Wheel as mid-afternoon snack, and after a couple of bites suddenly realised it didn't taste of anything. Alarm bells rang. Losing one's sense of taste is a potential early symptom of coronavirus, which perturbed me as I finished off the rest of the flavourless snack. There was definitely jam inside, so why couldn't I taste it? Thankfully a Polo mint confirmed that all was well (and further experimentation confirmed that I'd probably just bought a duff pack). Wed 22: I had to go to my local pharmacy to renew a prescription, and I wasn't looking forward to it because the place is always busy, but today there wasn't a single other customer. Normally I have to sign something, but today they did that for me. Thu 23: TfL have confirmed that one of its least frequent bus routes, the W10 from Enfield to Crews Hill, is to be extended to North Middlesex Hospital in October and renumbered 456. That means buses before 9.30am for the first time, and after 2pm, even a Sunday service in case you ever feel the need to nip up to the garden centres. Fri 24: Shopping update: No carrots, so I doubled up on sprouts. No peanut butter either, so I stood wistfully in the aisle for a bit until I realised that wasn't going to help. But I'm quite proud of only going to the supermarket three times this month.
Sat 25: Today I reached the "maybe I'll wash the curtains" stage of lockdown. Should probably have done it sooner. Sun 26: Some of my neighbours decided to go outside into the courtyard to cook Sunday lunch, and the first I noticed was when toxic fumes from their cheap barbecue tray wafted up to flood my lounge, and they looked so surprised when I closed my windows. Mon 27: These are London's hours of sunshine every day so far this month.
This is almost unheard of. This is how it's managed to be the sunniest April on record. Last week was particularly impressive, with maximum sunshine on four out of seven days (and almost max on two more).
That's just 5% of the normal monthly total. Alas it'll all go wrong tomorrow, the first damp (and fully overcast) day of the month, but what a joy this April would have been under normal circumstances. Tue 28: While I was tidying up I found a spare filter for my vacuum cleaner, which I somehow had the foresight to buy in 1999. Replacing the old filter has had a transformational effect on my Electrolux's ability to whip fluff off the carpet. Wed 29: If you're not going out much you may not have realised, but Metro is still publishing a daily newspaper in spite of the absence of large numbers of commuters. Every morning someone delivers 50 copies to the bin outside Pudding Mill Lane DLR (and presumably removes the 45 copies nobody picked up yesterday). Thu 30: As the nation celebrates the 100th birthday of chart-toppingCaptain Tom Moore, war veteran and NHS fund-raiser, I'm particularly thrilled to discover that he was a contestant on Blankety Blank on Christmas Day 1983, appearing alongside Terry Wogan, Beryl Reid, Patrick Moore and Ruth Madoc.
Since February 2003, for one month each year, I've kept myself busy counting ten different things.
Previously The Count has always taken place in February but this year I thought I'd have another go in April, counting exactly the same things for 28 days to try to get a quantitative handle on how life under lockdown has changed.
Below are my ten counts for April 2020, each compared to the corresponding count for February.
(and the average for Februaries over the previous five years)
Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been another good month for people turning up to read what I've written, averaging two and a half thousand visitors a day. That's slightly better than February 2020, indeed better than every February since I started counting, indeed one of the busiest months on the blog ever. I might have expected fewer readers this month given that I haven't ventured more than two miles from home so don't have anywhere new to tell you about. Perhaps posting additional shorter posts this month has encouraged people to come back more than once a day, bumping numbers up, or more likely the increase is because a lot more people are sat around at home in search of content. Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2020: 66682 Total number of visits to this webpage in April 2020: 70463 (↑6%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 64000
Count 2 (Blog comments): This is the big surprise - comments this month are massively up on normal. Generally I can expect about 25 a day but this April it's been 35, which means I've burst through the 1000 threshold for the very first time. I should point out that I'm not including the 284 responses to this week's mask survey, because that was purely data entry, otherwise I'd have smashed all previous records out of the park. I've tried to think of a reason for this boost and have come up with several possibilities. Firstly people might be missing human communication, so an opportunity to broadcast their thoughts is increasingly welcome. Secondly I've been a bit more interactive than usual, including five quizzes and a special request for your favourite royal anecdote. But most likely, I think, is that I've been writing more about things you can actually relate to. A lot of my posts are normally about places you've never been, but because I can't travel I've been forced to write about more general topics so you now have something to say. Pleasingly the increase isn't just the same few commenters droning on and on, because well over 300 different people have commented this month. Thanks everyone, because it's you that help to bring this page to life. Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2020: 702 Total number of comments on this webpage in April 2020: 1019 (↑45%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 600
Count 3 (Blog content): Of course I'm writing less. I'm not going anywhere, and usually my longest posts are lengthy screeds offering an in-depth look at somewhere I've just visited. But I'm not writing much less. On average I've cut back by just 70 words a day, the equivalent of half a paragraph, so you've probably not noticed. I have in fact written more posts this month - nine extra compared to February - so the content's still churning out, just in slightly shorter bursts. But what's really kept the word level high is that I've not been interrupted by having any kind of social life, leaving me nothing else to do of an evening but type. Let's see if I can find anything left to write about in May. Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2020: 29099 Total number of words in diamond geezer in April 2020: 27316 (↓6%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 31700
Count 4 (Sleep): I'm sleeping less. Perhaps you are too. It's odd because I have nothing urgent to wake up for so I'm not setting my alarm, but I'm still not managing to stay asleep for as long as I did before. I was sleeping worse in March, when it wasn't quite clear how lockdown might proceed and whether food supplies might run out, so my brain kept waking me up in the early hours to churn over some fresh nightmare scenario. April's been much better, I'm pleased to report. And seven hours a night isn't a bad average under the circumstances. Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2020: 199 Total number of hours spent sleeping in April 2020: 190 (↓5%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 185
Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, indeed this count has only once surged into double figures, but never before has it been rock bottom zero. Normally I can expect a weekly trip to BestMate's sofa, but lockdown has killed off that small pleasure... and indeed all expectation of social interaction whatsoever. Checking back I see my last night out was in the first week of March, all of eight weeks ago, and it could be some time yet before I get to enjoy another. The number of nights in February 2020 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4 The number of nights in April 2020 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 0 (↓100%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 6
Count 5a (Days out): Days out might be a more useful lockdown barometer than nights out. Back in February I left the house every single day, even on the really grim days beset by heavy storms. This month I've spent two days a week indoors, forgoing 'daily exercise' to stay safe and for the greater good. Given it's been the sunniest April on record, what a miserable waste. The number of days in February 2020 I left the house: 28 The number of days in April 2020 I left the house: 20 (↓29%)
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. It's become increasingly hard to source in pubs in recent years, hence February's big fat zero. But I do keep a few bottles in my fridge, and one of those got opened after dinner three weeks ago and that is the entirety of my alcohol consumption this month. You may be doing a lot better than that, or arguably worse. Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2020: 0 Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in April 2020: 1 (↑1) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 3
Count 7 (Tea intake): My tea consumption has always been impressively consistent, and strangely lockdown hasn't altered that. I might have expected to be drinking more given that my days are now spent adjacent to my kettle, but somehow I've remained within my normal 120-135 window. One cuppa with breakfast, one late morning, one early afternoon, one late afternoon and maybe another in the early evening helps to bring a bit of structure to one's day. And so I remain a four-and-a-half cups-a-day man. Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2020: 122 Total number of cups of tea I drank in April 2020: 128 (↑5%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 126
Count 8 (Trains used): As anticipated, total collapse. What's normally a monthly total of over 100 individual train journeys has dwindled to zero, for obvious reasons, and will likely remain at zero for some time yet. On the bright side I haven't heard the 'See It Say It Sorted' announcement for over six weeks, and that has been a blessed relief. Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2020: 136 Total number of trains I travelled on in April 2020: 0 (↓100%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 122
Count 9 (Steps walked): In February I was averaging seven miles of walking a day, but this month that's slumped to four. I'm amazed the total's still that high. I've spent at least 22 hours of every day in April indoors, venturing out for no more than two, and spent eight full days entirely confined. Thankfully my regular walk up the Olympic Park and back always contributes at least ten thousand steps, and mooching around the flat manages to add a few more. I remain grateful that we've been allowed outdoors to exercise, and that I have somewhere safe and extensive to roam. Total number of steps I walked in February 2020: 405000 Total number of steps I walked in April 2020: 245000 (↓39%) Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 340000
Count 10 (Mystery count): This will surprise absolutely nobody, under the circumstances, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I knew on day one of lockdown that it wouldn't be edging higher. Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2020: 0 Total number of times that the mystery event happened in April 2020: 0 Average for February 2015 - February 2019: 0
Here's hoping February 2021 will see a return to normal, or nearly normal, rather the oddities of this most anomalous April.
I haven't climbed a hill since I was in Neasden six weeks ago (and that was only 30m).
I haven't climbed a decent hill since I was in Cornwall seven weeks ago (and that was only 50m).
I haven't climbed a proper hill since I was in Crowborough nine weeks ago (which was all of 140m).
Back in February, my smartphone tells me, I was averaging an ascent of eighty metres a day. This month I've been averaging six.
Since lockdown started even escalators are entirely off limits. I've now got to the stage where I'm eyeing up steps like these and making a deliberate detour to try to remember what climbing things felt like.
My problem is that my daily exercise takes me no further than the Olympic Park, and the Olympic Park is devoid of hills. It does at least have artificial ridges, which is more than the surrounding area can muster, but they're not exactly challenging.
This is as good as it gets for me these days, an assault on the northern face of the mound with the Olympic rings on top. It must be all of eight metres high, and takes almost fifteen seconds to yomp to the top. Small pleasures.
From the summit I can see a good length of the River Lea, the towers of Docklands and the tip of the Shard. It used to be possible to see the City of London too but the new flats in Eastwick have put paid to that. It's not a bad view though, from the loftiest viewpoint I'll be tackling for the foreseeable future.
My real problem is living in East London, within walking distance of no hills whatsoever.
Which is how I got to wondering where my nearest proper hill actually is.
Estuaries are generally flat places, and the Thames estuary is no exception. Along the north bank of the river the contours barely fluctuate between Tower Bridge and Canvey Island. As for the lower reaches of the river Lea they only serve to flatten out my local neighbourhood even more, indeed much of Newham used to be marshland until the late 19th century.
What's difficult is visualising all this on a map. Google doesn't believe in contours, and even on an Ordnance Survey map the faint orange lines are almost entirely overwhelmed by roads and sprawling suburbs.
The clearest depiction of London's topography I've been able to find is this relief map, beautifully crafted in porcelain by The Little Globe Company. Zooming in on east London confirms the paucity of ups and downs around here.
Nothing much is going on along the Thames through central London, contour-wise, but the flat valley floor really spreads out once the Lea is passed, especially north of the river. Nowhere in Tower Hamlets or Newham exceeds 20m above sea level, neither Hackney nor Barking & Dagenham ever top 50m, and the highest points of Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Havering are all to be found along their northern boundaries.
It appears I have no hope of reaching high land within my daily exercise limits, let alone climbing a hill.
For a more nuanced view, wherever you live, I recommend en-gb.topographic-map.com. This displays the elevation of the land using a colourful scale, with blue the lowest and red the highest. Precisely what colour equals what height varies as you zoom in and out. On this London map at this scale the reds go up to 700 feet, or about 200m.
I live bang in the centre of this extract, surrounded by a sea of blue. A rise in sea level of about 20m would submerge most of the blue region. This is another reason why my lack of local hills could be problematic.
Northwest London has hilly bits, especially around Barnet and Hampstead. Northeast London has hilly bits, notably along the Essex fringe. But it's southeast London where the properly hilly bits are, and not just along the edge of the North Downs. You're never far from a gradient in Sydenham, Hayes or Chislehurst, even New Addington, in a way that north London rarely manages.
Southeast London's particular good fortune is that its high land spreads almost to the Thames. A ridge of chalk and sand stretches from Greenwich to Erith via Charlton and Woolwich, including the hump on which Greenwich Observatory was built and the heights of Shooters Hill. If I lived south of the river I'd have a lot more options for daily exercise involving hills... but for the time being south London is somewhere I can only dream of visiting.
So to return to my earlier question, where exactly is my nearest proper hill?
It could be Greenwich Park at 3½ miles, although as we've just determined I can't get there right now. The City of London has a few steep slopes and is also 3½ miles distant, although I don't think anything there really counts as a hill. Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill are definite summits, but they're both 6½ miles away so out of contention. East of the Lea I'd need to get out to Chingford to reach anything resembling a proper slope, but that's no closer.
I think my closest hill is in Upper Clapton, specifically around Springfield Park opposite Walthamstow Marshes where the land rises sharply from the banks of the Lea. It may not be a thrilling summit at barely 30m high, but the ascent takes at least a couple of minutes which would add a hillclimbing frisson that's been missing from my life of late. Alas Springfield Park is 3 miles from home... and even further via the towpath... so again not an option for reaching on foot under current circumstances.
I have over the past couple of decades entirely underestimated the importance of public transport in helping me to reach hills that are properly worth climbing. Only now do I fully recognise the folly of living somewhere without a single decent slope within an hour's walk. I hope your daily exercise, unlike mine, includes the option of a slightly challenging gradient.
Specifically whether or not we should be wearing one.
And, perhaps more interestingly, why some people think they know whether we should be wearing one or not.
Which is why today I'd like you to post me a six-digit number.
• Here are six aspects of mask-wearing, each with a scale of five options.
• Decide which option is closest to what you believe.
• Create a six digit-number from your choices, e.g. 324511
• Post it in the comments.
3pm update: We've now had 280 responses (blimey, thanks!)
...so I've added the results below, plus some commentary.
First question, are you wearing a mask when you go out?
wear one 4%
Will wear one
if told to 56%
wearing one 24%
wearing one 14%
wearing one 2%
An easy one to start with, you either are or you aren't. And if you aren't already, three of the options ask you to consider whether you might later.
Results: Most people aren't wearing masks and will only start wearing them if they become compulsory. Another quarter are thinking about wearing them anyway. Only one in six have started already. A small minority (4%) assert that they will never wear one.
Second question, what's your motivation for wearing a mask?
Wear one to
protect self 5%
Wear one to
feel safe 6%
Wear one to
protect all 45%
Wear one to
avoid guilt 18%
Wear one to
protect others 26%
I suspect there's considerable divergence amongst the wider population on why wearing a mask is a good idea. Some will be doing it to protect themselves, while others are only doing it so their coughs and sneezes don't infect others. Option three is the balanced answer, but if one of the others is your prime motivation, be honest.
Results: Almost half of you went for the middle option, believing that masks help yourself and those around you. A quarter think they best protect others, while only 10% think masks are more about protecting themselves. I suspect this latter percentage is higher amongst the wider population.
Third question, why do you believe we should (or shouldn't) wear a mask?
Masks are unhealthy 3%
The science says 'unproven' 40%
It can't hurt
to wear one 40%
The science says wear one 15%
Obviously we must wear one 2%
Your underlying understanding of the science behind mask-wearing will inform your decision here... unless of course your opinion is more instinctive.
Results: This is possibly the most intriguing finding - options 2 and 3 have equal support. 40% of you take the view that the safety aspects of mask-wearing are unproven, while another 40% say it can't hurt to wear one. It's science versus instinct... highlighting two very different strands within the population. The government is currently siding with the scientists. Another 15% reckon that science does prove the need for masks, which is the joy of selective evidence. Meanwhile 3% reckon that mask-wearing is actively unhealthy... the same percentage who say they'll never wear one.
Fourth question, when out in public, what do you think of those not wearing masks?
Angry when others aren't wearing one ½%
Tut when others aren't wearing one 1%
Sigh when others aren't wearing one 3%
Notice when others aren't wearing one 41%
that registers 55%
This is going to depend on where you are and what you're doing... but imagine you're out on the street, or in the supermarket, or on a bus, or whatever is the riskiest thing you currently do.
Results: We are not a nation of angry tutters, despite the view certain newspapers might offer. The only person angered by people not wearing masks lives in Germany where it's now compulsory. Instead the big divide is between those who consciously register that people aren't wearing masks and those who don't. I'm surprised by quite how many people are noticing something that isn't there.
Fifth question, what kind of mask do you, or would you, use?
with a scarf 16%
own mask 23%
new mask 35%
a mask 21%
I'm intrigued by countries which have made mask-wearing compulsory, because we don't all have one lying around at home. If it happened here, what would you use? Option 1 is for anything suboptimal. Option 5 is for anyone with a dust mask, ski mask or whatever.
Results: For a change this one's not about opinion. Only a quarter of you already own a mask, suggesting a challenge for the government should they ever choose to make them compulsory. Of the remainder, half would buy one, 30% would attempt to make one and 20% would cobble something together.
Final question, what's your underlying belief about mask wearing?
Pointless to wear one 7%
Solely a personal choice 25%
Only in confined places 49%
People should wear one 15%
Everyone must wear one 3%
This scale runs from 'I will not be told what to do' to 'everyone should be told what to do', via some less rigid opinions in the centre.
Results: The extremes are not popular here, although a hardcore 7% of you are mask dismissives. Instead public opinion leans towards the wearing of masks in confined places (such as shops or public transport) but not at all times. Only 20% believe mask wearing should be the new normal for those outdoors, while slightly more of us reckon we should be left to make up our own minds.
You should now have six digits with which to create your six-digit number.
Please enter it in this special comments box → enter your results here
Numbers only in that box, thanks.
Any general comments about mask-wearing should go in the normal comments box below. 3pm update: The comments box remains open, but I've now stopped counting.
Thanks for your phenomenal number of responses! We've discovered that you don't own a mask and won't be wearing one until you're told to. That you think masks are for protecting yourself and others, and that compulsory use should be restricted to confined spaces. And that the nation is split between those who believe the case for wearing masks is unproven and those who think surely wearing one can't hurt. If government policy ever moves on, expect to hear a lot more about this.
A bike lane entirely blocked by a bus shelter and a litter bin.
This is not great.
It's part of a major upgrade to improve cycle provision at the junction with Temple Mills Lane, immediately outside Spitalfields Market. The rest of Ruckholt Road between here and Leyton was upgraded five years ago, but this junction didn't meet expectations so Waltham Forest council agreed to improve it. They haven't quite.
Previously an unsegregated cycle lane skirted the bus stop along the dual carriageway, then faded away at the traffic lights. Now a proper segregated lane hops up onto the pavement around an enlarged bus stop and continues safely over the railway bridge. It ought to be a big improvement, apart from the fact the cycle lane is closed because it careers through a bus shelter.
Obviously this is not deliberate. The bus shelter is supposed to be closer to the kerb but hasn't yet been moved from its original position. An extra swathe of pavement has been added where the buses used to stop, and a fresh rectangular area is plainly visible where the bus shelter is due to go. The bus stop pole should also be here, not to mention the big litter bin, but until someone relocates them passing cyclists are being forced to swerve off in front of the bus shelter instead.
It looks like the workers revamping the junction got sent home before they'd finished. One piece of evidence for this is a sign attached to a lamppost which suggests that five months of roadworks were scheduled to end on the Friday after lockdown started. Another piece of evidence is this as-yet unfinished half-a-bicycle painted where the new cycle lane meets the old.
I suspect that moving the bus shelter was one of the last things the workforce were supposed to do, and one day they'll come back and shift it. Let's hope they do, because what they've left behind is ludicrous.
Update: It seems Waltham Forest finished their works in early March... but they don't move bus shelters, that's TfL's responsibility, hence the embarrassingly uncoordinated outcome.
Proper cyclists will have opinions about the remainder of the new infrastructure. They may, for example, be impressed that bikes and vehicles are now kept substantially apart. They may be pleased that the absence of an Advanced Stop Line is no longer an issue because cyclists now have their own separate lane. They may be confused, and perhaps a little perturbed, by the way the eastbound lane splits either side of a filter lane used by vans and large trucks entering Spitalfields Market.
They may also be disappointed by the way the westbound cycle lane simply peters out and merges with the pavement, forcing cyclists and pedestrians to share the same space all the way to the A12. I was particularly disappointed because it's made social distancing much harder, not that this was in the planners' minds when they devised the layout. Much of the central reservation along this stretch is really wide, so the road's breadth could have been carved up much more practically.
At least the cycle lane doesn't pass through the bus shelter this time... but only because there isn't a cycle lane, leaving cyclists to negotiate their way through the queue of waiting passengers instead.
But as a pedestrian the chief thing I've noticed is that all the traffic islands have vanished. Previously crossing either Ruckholt Road or Temple Mills Lane required three presses of a button, thanks to an archipelago of small islands designed to permit filtering traffic.
Those islands have now been removed and what remains is a vast black tarmac expanse, in each case crossable in one step only. You might think that'd be good, and surely quicker than having to cross in three stages with all the additional waiting required. But in reality the traffic on Temple Mills Lane was normally light enough that no waiting was required, meaning I could normally nip across using each island as a stepping stone. Now the gap is so wide it's best not risked in one go, and it can be quite a wait before the 'green man' phase finally comes round.
I've noticed this elsewhere, that the addition of a segregated cycle lane often means the removal of a traffic island. Improving safety for those on two wheels can sometimes leave those on foot with a much wider gap to cross - now forced to wait for the lights to change because there's no longer a safe refuge in the centre. It's not cyclists' fault, merely a consequence of limited road space, but it's not a development I enjoy.
Update from TfL's Senior Press Officer: "Just to let you know that we are keen to work with Waltham Forest council to get the shelter moved as soon as possible – however, all TfL-funded construction sites are currently paused in support of social distancing. As soon as restrictions are lifted and staff return to work, we will progress the opening of the cycle lane with our borough partners."
• "PM skipped five COBRA meetings" (Sunday Times)
• 6½m jobs at risk if lockdown continues
• delivery of PPE from Turkey delayed
• no plans to reopen schools any time soon
• Italy finally seeing fall in number of cases
• US oil prices turn negative
• weekly UK death total hits 20-year high
• Parliament returns, mostly virtually
• Germany eases lockdown; Spain extends it
• row over inadequate government preparations
• UK testing regime not up to speed
• Trump suspends immigration to the US
• "don't expect a return to normal life this year"
• over half of European deaths are in care homes
• Oxford University starts vaccine trial
• Trump muses on injecting disinfectant
• testing extended to all essential workers
• virus test website swiftly overwhelmed
• 'no evidence' recovery confers immunity
• road traffic levels rising again
Worldwide deaths: 155,000 → 200,000 Worldwide cases: 2,300,000 → 2,900,000 UK deaths: 15,464 → 20,319 UK cases: 114,217 → 148,377 FTSE: down ½% (5786 → 5752)
...US state starts with D
...Football League team starts with E
...Olympic host city started with H
...tube station starts with I
...shipping forecast area starts with L
...EU member state starts with M
...country starts with O
...capital city starts with Q
...UK city begins with R
...English county begins with T
How many can you name?
All the answers are in the comments box.
Try to work out the answers before you peek.
How many out of 10 did you get?
It's from a hoarding beside the entrance to the UCL East site in the Olympic Park. Mace are building a new university campus on the lawn just south of the Orbit*, and this is part of their health and safety campaign for workers on site.
It goes on about 'striving to reduce risks', but that's fine. It mentions stakeholders, but everything does these days. And 'safety first second nature' is a perfectly decent slogan, providing a strong encapsulation of an essential truth. My issue isn't with the main text, but with the colour wheel alongside.
This is the most perfectly bland set of project buzzwords that I have ever seen.
Ignoring the black circle in the centre, pretty much everything here applies to every project in every workplace everywhere**. This is so generic as to be almost entirely meaningless.†
Indeed, having once worked for a company which thrived on this kind of babble, I recommend saving this graphic somewhere in case you're ever asked to lead on project delivery for whatever it is you do. Change the slogan in the middle to whatever suits‡ and stick it on page 1 of your motivational document. Flash it up on screen in front of an audience of your colleagues and wait for management to praise your cohesive integrated approach. If required, talk through the behavioural significance of "changing culture" and the environmental importance of "consistent quality". Basically, use it to make yourself look good without putting in any effort at all. Take action. Improve performance.
* Mace suspended operations when lockdown started but opened up again last week, so there are now a couple of dozen cars parked outside and cranes lifting chunks of liftshaft up to higher floors.
** Admittedly you could consider deleting the word 'site', because 'consistent quality' would be even more mainstream.
† I should point out that other aspects of Mace's health and safety collateral are entirely specific and transparently clear. It's just this big colourful wheel whose emptiness grates.
‡ 'Less is more.' 'Where agile meets lean.' 'Embracing scalable solutions'. Whatever.
When Royal Mail announced in 2011 that a new E20 postcode was to be introduced for the Olympic Park, many were surprised. By rights E19 should've been next in line, but they skipped that and adopted the postcode district used by the fictional borough of Walford instead. E20 was to cover Westfield Stratford City and the Athletes Village, as well as the five new neighbourhoods created after the 2012 Games. It was carved out of the existing E15 postcode district, but there was never a map to show precisely where the boundary would be. Nine years later I've been wondering where it's finally ended up.
What made me wonder were these.
These street signs are in the northwestern part of the park around Here East. Oddly they've all been stickered over. Previously they all said E20, but now they say E15 instead.
Meanwhile a couple of the signs at the top of Waterden Road have had their postcodes covered over entirely, because those responsible couldn't work out what the appropriate nomenclature actually is.
The Olympic Park's street sign makers already have poor form, having slapped Newham's coat of arms on street signs that were actually in Hackney or Tower Hamlets. It seems they also made a similarly wrong assumption about postcodes, and have again resorted to stickers to put things right.
I tried investigating further.
Normally I check postcode district boundaries on Streetmap where they're shown as thin red lines. According to Streetmap the E20 boundary runs down the River Lea, not down Waterden Road, which suggests the whole of Here East ought to be in E20 not E15.
Then I tried checking on Google. Normally if you type a postcode district into Google it offers up a map showing the boundary, but for E20 mysteriously that doesn't work. I had to get creative by typing in E15 instead, and that threw up a ridiculously contorted boundary around E20 that can't be correct either.
Then I tried Doogal, a website which lists individual postcodes. It can generate a map showing where all the properties with E20 postcodes are - green pins active and red pins no longer in use...
...but that looked ridiculous too. Basically, never trust a computer to draw a line around some dots.
The E20 postcode district has three sectors - 1, 2 and 3.
E20 1 is around Westfield and the East Village, and is by far the most densely populated and the best defined. It runs as far east as the railway line between Stratford and Temple Mills, but not including the bus depot at Temple Mills because that's in E10. Each of the E20 maps I've looked at includes an odd indentation around Chobham Manor, but that's because these new homes haven't been built yet and I'd expect the gap to disappear once they start getting mail.
E20 2 covers the southern half of the park around the Olympic Stadium. Thus far there isn't very much here that needs a postcode, which may explain why currently only five exist. E20 2AA and E20 2AE are for two new schools, E20 2AD is for the Orbit, E20 2AQ for the Aquatics Centre and E20 2ST for the stadium. But other buildings immediately adjacent aren't included in the E20 envelope. The View Tube is at E15 2PJ, the Thames Water Recycling Centre at E3 2NW and the former Big Breakfastcottage, you may remember, at E3 2NN.
Finally there's E20 3 in the northern half of the park. Three of its handful of postcodes are for ex-Olympic venues - E20 3AB for the VeloPark, E20 3AD for the Hockey/Tennis Centre and E20 3HB for the Copper Box. Another (E20 3AF) is the construction base for the Sweetwater and Eastwick neighbourhoods, whose thousands of residents will one day enjoy E20 postcodes. Which just leaves Here East - the former Main Press Centre and International Broadcast Centre - and this is particularly baffling.
Here East turns out to be an entirely schizophrenic neighbourhood, simultaneously in E20 and E15. No wonder the signmakers were confused.
If Royal Mail's original press release is correct and the five new Olympic Park neighbourhoods all end up with E20 postcodes, the district boundary should eventually become better defined. It could even spread south of the railway for the first time into Pudding Mill (where as yet, even eight years after the Games, nobody lives). But for now the E20 postcode district boundary remains an illogical wiggle around a meagre set of dots. I hope your daily exercise is throwing up psychogeographical peculiarities as intriguing as this.
One of the most overused phrases on this blog is "until it was interrupted by WW2".
"WW2 stalled construction by almost three decades"
"war brought trading to a sudden close and the market never reopened"
"when the station finally opened after the war"
So many grand plans of the 1930s were seriously delayed, or snuffed out, by the outbreak of war and the associated economic shock. Central line extensions to West Ruislip and Hainault were paused in 1940 and didn't open until 1948, for example, while the Northern Heights programme on the Northern line was cancelled. Waterloo Bridge's rebuild stalled. The suburbs stopped spreading.
Is London about to face a similar abandonment of major projects as a result of coronavirus?
Seismic economic shifts will force companies, organisations and local government to focus on retaining what they have, not building new. Significant job losses will reduce overall consumer spending. A switch to working from home could transform transport demand. A lot of the "nice to have"s lined up for future years will become "can't be afforded"s.
So what might survive, if somewhat delayed, and which projects' futures hang in the balance?
• Heathrow's third runway was already under threat after being ruled illegal over climate change issues. With the aviation industry on the backfoot and a potential slump in demand for global travel, it may no longer be sustainable, or required.
• The Tideway super sewer beneath the Thames is far enough advanced that it will eventually link through.
• Crossrail may not hit its revised summer 2021 deadline, but the vast majority of its budget is spent and it will be completed. It will however boost London's rail capacity by 10% at a time when passenger numbers may be significantly contracting.
• Crossrail 2 is another matter. The Mayor once described it as essential for London's future, but that was before London's future changed, and the massive capital investment required may no longer be available.
• High Speed 2's survival will be a purely political issue. Already hugely controversial, a world in which business meetings can be completed perfectly satisfactorily over Zoom would otherwise kill it off.
• Old Oak Common was expected to be this decade's largest redevelopment hub. Should investment and rail connections fail, it may never happen.
• Hammersmith Bridge may not get rebuilt.
• The Battersea/Fulham and Nine Elms/Pimlico footbridges are firmly on the "could be done without" list.
• The Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf ferry for cyclists and pedestrians is unlikely to be a future priority.
• The Silvertown Tunnel has been embroiled in controversy for years, and always seems to be on the brink of construction work maybe starting soon. Because it hasn't yet, and because environmental issues are now even harder to discount, this would be an easy budget-saving cancellation.
• The Lower Thames Crossing, skirting Tilbury and Gravesend, ended its consultation period a couple of weeks ago and was about to enter a final design phase. Cancellation could mean longer queues on the Dartford Crossing but £6bn saved.
• The Northern Line extension to Battersea Power Station, for what it's worth, may still be on track for completion next year.
• The Barking Riverside extension is rather further behind, with viaducts and terminus as yet incomplete. The new station is deemed critical for the construction of ten thousand homes on the adjacent brownfield site, assuming new housing is still a priority in a depressed market.
• The Bakerloo Line Extension is still at the consultation stage and in desperate need of a funding agreement, so even the current plan for services to start operating "from the mid-2030s" might be wildly optimistic.
• Thamesmead's best hope of a direct rail connection is currently a DLR extension, but I wouldn't bet on it.
• It had been mooted that Crossrail might one day extend into Kent. Dream on.
Other tube plans
• The Four Lines Modernisation signalling programme will eventually be completed.
• Bank station will get its capacity boost.
• The rebuiilding of Camden Town and Holborn stations might now be less likely.
• South Kensington might not get its ground level makeover.
• The introduction of new trains on the Piccadilly line is probably further away than ever.
• The Bakerloo's older rolling stock may have to struggle on.
• If you don't have the Night Tube yet, don't expect it soon.
Other transport projects
• Several extra cycleways are in the pipeline across the capital. Will they be given priority now cycling is a healthier way to get around than cramming onto the tube?
• London's Ultra Low Emission Zone is due to be extended next year... and yet we currently live in a world where the Congestion Charge has been suspended and air pollution has dramatically improved. It's all up for grabs.
• TfL launched 4G on the Jubilee line less than a week before lockdown started, so haven't been able to make a song and dance about it. What chance underground wifi being rolled out elsewhere as planned?
• The Sutton Link, a proposed tram connection from Colliers Wood to Sutton, seems highly unlikely to go ahead.
• On-demand bus trials in Sutton and Ealing were suspended last month and probably won't restart.
• Extra stations at New Bermondsey and Beam Park will be at the back of the funding queue.
TfL expect to run out of ready money before the end of next month, hit by the perfect storm of running an essential service hardly anybody's using and even fewer are paying for. Even when lockdown's eased we won't be rushing back into overcrowded buses and tubes, the environmental challenge being to keep people out of their much safer cars. International travel is likely to remain depressed for some time, crushing tourism's contribution to London's economy. Leisure travel to pubs, restaurants and cinemas will be among the last things to return. But these are medium-term issues, and today's post is very much about longer term investment.
One of the most overused phrases on this blog may soon be "until it was interrupted by coronavirus". Expect those projects that survive to be those focusing on realistic consolidation rather than optimistic expansion.
During my lockdown spring cleaning I've come across a small number of little folding leaflets. Here's a selection.
Each is about 5½cm wide and 8½cm long, sandwiched between two cardboard covers, and inside is a sheet of paper which unfolds to show useful information.
They were usually printed by a public body with information to share, in the hope you'd carry their handy-sized leaflet in your pocket. My selection includes mini-leaflets from councils, event organisers and railway operators, amongst others.
The city of London Cycling Guide was particularly useful because one side included a fold-out map of the City including the names of almost all the streets. The leaflet also included a list of cycle racks and cycle shops and guidance on how to cycle safely, which would have been a lot more useful if I'd only had a bike, but the detailed pocket-sized map was good enough for me.
Hackney's leaflet featured a double-sided map aimed at support walking in the borough, while the Brent map was supposed to promote tourism, nudging readers towards the Welsh Harp reservoir or newly-opened Wembley Stadium. The Mayor's Thames Festival issued a foldable map in 2007 otherwise you might not have found everything or known when to come back for the fireworks. These are like relics from a different era.
My earliest mini-leaflet is from 2003, but the Annual Gold Card information listing is from 2018 so they haven't completely died out yet. As far as I can tell their heyday, was around 2006-2011, before the age of smartphones made them mostly redundant. Today we have all the information we need in our pockets in digital format, including scrolling maps, travel guides and regularly updated listings. It's barely a decade since a folded bit of paper might have been your best option.
My collection includes a whole series of little folding leaflets from 2008-2010 promoting leisure travel on the DLR. Maps showed how to get to East London Pilates, Greenwich Market or the Dockmasters House restaurant, plus whatever special events were on at the time. Further editions were used to list station closures and engineering works, back when TfL still printed full details of rail replacement buses rather than expecting you to check online. They'd never waste money on them now.
Crossrail's tiny leaflets are intriguing, especially the one from 2009 providing an overview of how the project was due to proceed. I'm impressed to see that most of the information inside is still true, except for the map that shows trains terminating at Maidenhead and the proposed start date of 2017. More recent online information may have blinked out of existence overnight, but my printed leaflet remains a permanent record frozen in time.
The company that invented these folded leaflets was called Z-Card, indeed still is because they still sell to every corner of the globe. Internal pockets and lenticular covers cost extra. But you don't see their products around anywhere near as often as you used to, because printed information has been mostly superseded. Didn't take long.
And that's a quick nostalgic look back at something I could have blogged about at the time but didn't. If I find anything more interesting during my clearout I'll let you know.
Update: I should have mentioned that Z-cards were invented in 1992 by George McDonald, a travel writer and consultant for British Airways. He founded the Z-Card company in 2003. Update: I'm told they're still quite popular in continental Europe, notably in Budapest. Update: Yes, some of you have some too.
The Queen is 94 today - an impressive age for a reigning monarch, if now a risky one. We may never see her walk amongst us in public again.
But throughout her reign she's criss-crossed the realm to wave, greet, console and generally open things, which means many of us have been fortunate enough to see her up close. Here are five of my top royal reminiscences featuring her and key members of the family. If you'd like to share yours (one each, 60 words max) I'll add the best later.
HM The Queen
In 2005 I was in Docklands buying a birthday card when the police suddenly coned off the pavement outside Reuters HQ and a couple of minutes later the Queen arrived by car and stepped out wearing a red hat and a dark red coat, then went inside to officially open the building.
Prince Charles(and Camilla)
In 2004 I went to a Prince's Trust concert at Wembley Arena featuring the music of Trevor Horn. Prince Charles was seated a few rows to my left. I'm not sure what he made of the Buggles, Grace Jones and Propaganda, but during Frankie's Relax he waved one hand vigorously while Camilla slapped her thigh three seats away.
Prince William (and Catherine)
In 2011 I stood in St James's Park to watch William and Catherine's wedding, or at least squint briefly at their passing carriage, then got lucky and paraded down The Mall to stand amid the throng in front of the palace, so was unexpectedly close when the happy couple appeared on the balcony for a wave and a kiss.
In 2018 I was walking to the supermarket round the Bow Roundabout when Princess Anne's black limo whizzed past preceded by whistle-blowing outriders, and her briefly-flashed face was unmistakable.
In 1975 I spotted the Queen Mother's legs behind a helicopter at Alderney Airport.
On a soaking wet day in 1984, near the end of a long sponsored walk crossing the Balmoral estate, a Range Rover pulls up alongside. Passenger window descends. 'Hello!' says the Queen. Phil is driving. Back seat full of corgis. We had a good five minute chat. Always thought it was nice of them to stop. [Kevin]
I saw Prince Charles at the National Theatre watching The Madness of George III The whole area in front of our row was empty until the royal party entered as the play was about to start. He sat right in front of me and you could hear him chuckle. [Dave B]
In 1990 I was walking down the quiet end of Floral Street en route to the Royal Opera House when a grubby-looking Ford Mondeo stopped immediately ahead of me. The rear door opened and a very shapely pair of legs emerged and there stood Princess Diana looking as glamorous as you would hope/expect. [Waterhouse]
In 1986 I glimpsed the top of Princess Diana's head as she did a walkabout in Exeter after opening a new swimming pool. [Jonathan]
In 1979 the Queen visited Abu Dhabi and I was part of the school band that played the National Anthem. I was the only one to dress up properly in bowtie etc. [ianVisits]
In 2008 at the reopening of the Royal Institution, Peter Watts and I were asked to guard the handbag of historian Lisa Jardine while she got to meet Her Maj. We then witnessed the Queen snub some of Heston Blumenthal’s liquid nitrogen ice cream, though Philip was very keen. [M@]
In 1957 my school was 400 years old. The Queen, who was young and beautiful, visited us for a couple of hours. She and Prince Philip watched me for a few seconds in the fencing display. Four years later, I took a posy from the headmaster's garden to the Palace in remembrance of her visit. [JeremyB]
In 1980, whilst learning to drive in York in a BSM Mini, I gave way to a rather aggressively driven Escort XR2 coming the other way down a narrow street. Prince Andrew was at the wheel. He was doing flight training at one of the North Yorkshire RAF bases. He didn’t acknowledge my kind gesture. [Jeremy]
The Queen & Duke of Edinburgh came to open a toilet block at a Scout campsite in Sheffield. I was one of the Venture Scouts lining the path. [Anders]
In 1951 Queen Mary (the Queen Grandma) visited a maternity home and commented to my mother that my newborn sister was "damp". [Malcolm]
One thing about being Queen, especially if you hold the post for 68 years, is that lots of things get named after you. Here are ten in and around London.
1) Queen Elizabeth Reservoir(1962)
We start a mile outside the capital among the Walton reservoirs at West Molesey. The first two were dug in Edwardian times to store drinking water for a growing capital. A third much larger reservoir was authorised in 1935, but WW2 stalled construction by almost three decades so it got to be named after our Queen, not her parents. The QE2 Reservoir contains 20 billion litres of water, is surrounded by a 2½ mile-long embankment and supports the world's largest floating solar farm.
2) Queen Elizabeth Hall(1967)
Part of the Southbank complex, the QEH is a veritable feast of reinforced concrete. It was built on land previously used for the Festival of Britain, and opened on 1st March 1967 with a concert conducted by Benjamin Britten. A recent attempt to replace the skateboarding undercroft with hospitality and retail units thankfully proved unsuccessful.
3) Queen Elizabeth II Stadium(1977)
The home of Enfield Town football club can be found at the end of Donkey Lane. It started out as an athletics track in 1939, with a splendid Art Deco pavilion (now Grade II listed) added in 1953. Its royal title was granted in the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, around which time Coe, Ovett and Christie regularly trained here. Enfield Town FC arrived in 2011, and the stadium now (normally) hosts matches in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
4) Queen's Gardens(1983)
Adjacent to Croydon Town Hall, Queen's Gardens are a split-level recreational facility combining a Victorian garden (lower) with a modern geometric expanse (upper). They were opened by the Queen in 1983 to celebrate the borough's centenary. Major redevelopment works are underway replacing council offices at Taberner House with a cluster of four residential towers, to be called Queen's Quarter, while six towers to the north will become Queen's Square. It's unlikely Her Maj will return to do the honours.
5) QEII Centre(1986)
This postmodern conference centre at the heart of Westminster, designed by Powell Moya & Partners, was built across the combined sites of the Stationery Office and Westminster Hospital. Over 25 years passed between demolition in 1950 and the building's official opening by the Queen in 1986. If and when the Palace of Westminster is closed for major internal refurbishment, Lords and/or MPs may relocate here to continue their work.
6) Queen Elizabeth II Bridge(1991)
The Dartford Crossing started life as a tunnel, then two tunnels, with a cable-stayed bridge added a decade later. It was named after the Queen as a compromise after Thurrock residents objected to calling it the Dartford Bridge and Kent residents similarly objected to Thurrock. The bridge has a main span of 450 metres, tops out at 137m tall and carries traffic in a southbound direction only. Her Majesty unveiled its plaque on 30th October 1991.
7) Elizabeth Tower(2012)
The Palace of Westminster's clocktower houses the famous bell Big Ben and is London's premier architectural icon. Before 2012 its official name was the Clock Tower although it was more widely known as St Stephen's Tower, a nickname made popular by Victorian journalists. MPs proposed a change of name to the Elizabeth Tower in 2012, matching the honour paid to Queen Victoria in her diamond jubilee year when the King's Tower at the other end of the palace was renamed the Victoria Tower.
8) Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park(2013)
Initially simply the 'Olympic Park', this Leaside expanse was renamed after the Games in honour of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee... the other big 2012 event. She's visited more than once, most memorably leaping out of a helicopter during the Opening Ceremony, but has never official named the place.
9) The Queen's Terminal(2014)
First there was the Queens Building, an office block from whose roof terrace a generation of plane spotters watched comings and goings at Heathrow. The Queen opened that in 1955. It was demolished in 2009 along with the original Terminal 2 to make way for a much larger Terminal 2 which the Queen came back to open in 2014. One day Terminal 1 will go the same way and The Queen's Terminal will be further enlarged, aviation industry permitting.
10) Queen Elizabeth Terrace(2019)
Not everything in this list is on a grand scale. Morden is home to the largest estate owned by the Haig Housing Trust, formed in 1929 to provide housing assistance to ex-Service people and their dependants. 68 additional rental properties were added last September and duly opened by Her Majesty. Judging by the grin on her face, she greatly enjoyed meeting former Grenadier Alan and centenarian Ken before unveiling the plaque on Queen Elizabeth Terrace.
Finally, four that aren't named after her...
a) Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge(1543)
Wrong Queen Elizabeth. This is named after the first one, and was built for her father. b) Queen Elizabeth Hospital(2001)
Woolwich Common's major PFI project gets its name from the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital which occupied the site from 1977 to 1995 and was opened by that other Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. c) Queen's Hospital(2006)
Romford's new hospital was not named after Her Majesty. As local MP Andrew Rosindell complained in Parliament at the time, "Queen’s does not seem to represent any particular monarch—our current queen or a previous one. It is a vague title that means very little. I and many others are also disappointed that such an important decision should be made without consultation, and it seems against the wishes of the NHS trust itself." d) Crossrail(202?)
Back in 2016 TfL were all too keen to name the purple line after Queen Elizabeth, but ever since the project stalled embarrassingly in 2018 their press releases have preferred to call it Crossrail so as not to tarnish the eventual royal brand. One day, but no day soon.
Far more numbers start with the digit '1' than the digit '9'.
The first person to notice this counter-intuitive result was the American astronomer Simon Newcomb, who in 1881 observed that the pages at the front of his book of logarithms were tattier than those at the back.
The phenomenon was properly investigated by the physicist Frank Benford in 1938. He analysed 20 naturally occurring sets of data and noted a common pattern in their leading digits.
One of the sets of data he analysed was the area of 335 river basins. He also looked at the population of 3259 towns, all 308 numbers in a copy of Readers' Digest, the house numbers of 342 scientists and 1458 baseball records. In each case he noted the first digit of the numbers and came up with the following.
Benford averaged out all his results and discovered they related to a logarithmic function.
30% of numbers start with 1. Only 5% of numbers start with 9.
Today's it's called Benford's Law. In a naturally occurring set of data, the leading digit of a number is much likelier to be smaller than larger.
Let me attempt to sort-of explain why this works.
Imagine you live in a random house in this street. With nine houses, each starting digit is equally likely.
But add one more house and '1' is now twice as likely as the other starting digits.
Add ten more houses and suddenly more than half of the numbers start with a 1!
Extending the street to 30, 40, 50... decreases the proportion of 1s each time, until at 99 the probabilities are equal again. But all of the next 100 houses start with 1, which means by house 200 the overall percentage has leapt up to an impressive 55½%. Add further houses and the proportion falls back, reaching equality at house 999, but after that it shoots up massively again through the 1000s.
If you could draw a graph, it would look something like this.
Of course most streets don't have 1000 houses, let alone 10000, but the principle remains the same. The street you live in could be of any length, and in most streets '1' is much more likely than any other leading digit.
I thought I'd have a go at extracting some data myself. I found an old copy of the East London phone book and looked up the house numbers of 100 consecutive people, starting with Mr Benford at 8 Exning Road.
Here are those 100 house numbers rearranged by leading digit.
1 is by far the most popular leading digit, thanks to a lot of houses in the teens and a lot more in the hundreds. A single house in the thousands (on Westferry Road) also makes an appearance. House numbers in the twenties are also very popular, but there are rather fewer in the 30s and 40s so the frequency of the leading digits starts to fall. The results don't perfectly match Benford's Law because my sample was small, and because most house numbers are fairly low, but they do fit the general overall pattern.
Next I decided to investigate the populations of the 69 cities in the UK. Here are those populations rearranged by leading digit.
Over a third of these city population figures start with the digit 1. They range from St Davids (1841) to Birmingham (1092330), with a heck of a lot of six-digit populations inbetween. Over half of the cities have populations starting with either 1 or 2 - a greater proportion than Benford's Law might suggest. But the numbers certainly drop away fast. Only Glasgow starts with 6. Only Bath starts with 8.
Importantly, Benford's Law doesn't apply to all kinds of statistical data. It works best when numbers are plucked from a continuum of values covering several orders of magnitude, for example measurements from a population or prices of goods. It doesn't work well for numbers issued in sequence, random numbers (e.g. lottery draws) or variables with constraints (e.g. years of birth). Also it doesn't matter what the units are, so for example lengths of rivers should work just as well in kilometres as in miles.
For one last experiment, I thought ticket numbers would be an interesting thing to check. I don't have hundreds of old tickets lying around at home so I went to the London Transport Museum's online collection which does. First I sampled 100 train tickets (mostly from the tube) and then 100 bus tickets. And this happened.
Serial numbers on train tickets matched Benford's Law fairly well, with a lot more 1s than any other digit and not so many 7s, 8s and 9s. This may be because the tickets were in all kinds of historical formats, some with three digit serial numbers, some four, some five or even six. But the numbers on the bus tickets were spread out much more equally across the different digits at roughly 11% each. I think this is because bus ticket numbers were invariably four digits long and sequentially issued, in which case the law wouldn't apply.
Benford's Law isn't just a mathematical curiosity, it has a genuine use in the detection of fraud. Any accountant inventing numbers is likely to balance out their first digits rather than including lots more 1s, and a simple analysis of leading digits can be all it takes to catch them out.
If you're interested you could always read more about Benford's Law (at varyinglevelsofmathematicaldifficulty) or view some contemporary datasets at testingbenfordslaw.com. Better still, do some practical investigating of your own. Pick a set of data, tally the first digits and see whether or not they fit the pattern. Likely you'll find a lot more 1s than 9s, just like Frank Benford did.