diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 31, 2020

31 unblogged things I did in May

Fri 1: It rained today. It's not going to rain again this month, other than a brief sprinkle in three weeks time. It's going be England's driest May on record. Best get busy with that watering can.
Sat 2: It's taken until today to notice that the date on my wristwatch has been wrong for the last nine weeks. This is because a) it doesn't recognise February 29th in leap years b) I've been wearing it a lot less recently.
Sun 3: Bus Stop M has lost its maps! I don't know when this happened because I haven't needed to stand inside the shelter for weeks, but both of the spider maps have vanished. The glass remains intact.
Mon 4: Shopping update: Yet again my local supermarket was out of carrots, apart from a few loose ones so I bagged those. But when I cooked one it was absolutely vile, like chewing paper, which I suspect is because it was very old and should never have been on sale in the first place. Still, at least that was only 27p wasted.
Tue 5: Five planters is all it's taken to block Old Ford Road to traffic, creating safe passage for cyclists and pedestrians across the Hertford Union Canal. It's that easy.

Wed 6: This time last month I had a view of a public space from my back window, which meant I could watch people wandering by and get a sense of what was going on in the wider world. Since then spring has sprung, the leaves on three trees have grown and my view is now entirely obscured, making me feel a lot more cut-off. It'll be at least six months before I regain my visual connection.
Thu 7: Jay Foreman's published a new video, a follow up to last month's Why does London have 32 boroughs?, this time entitled What's wrong with London's boroughs? If you're an administrative pedant, or just someone who enjoys good-humoured presentation knee-deep in facts, you should watch it.
Fri 8: My spring cleaning has reached the stage where I start sorting the bagful of old cables that once used to connect something, power something or recharge something. I suspect I can throw almost all of them away, but I worry that one of them may be potentially critical so I haven't dared chuck any yet.
Sat 9: TfL closed Heathrow Terminal 4 station today because it has no longer has any flights, but Piccadilly line trains still go round the loop empty otherwise Terminal 5 would be overwhelmed.
Sun 10: After my Cup Final post, a fan got in touch and asked whether Arsenal was the furthest tube station from a bus stop. After referring to a previous post and undertaking some additional research, I can confirm that...
a) The tube station furthest from a bus stop is Moor Park (1300m)
b) Within London, Barons Court is the tube station furthest from a bus stop (400m)
c) No tube station in London is a longer walk from a bus stop than Arsenal (550m)
Mon 11: Just before lockdown started I went to my local library and withdrew four books. I've only just dared read the novel about viral infection. I'm still halfway through the sci-fi anthology. Two paperbacks remain untouched. Unless they extend the return date again, I have until 1st July get them finished. I should have borrowed more.
Tue 12: In Hackney Wick I found five books laid out on a wall beside a bus shelter, presumably left for passers-by to take away... The Da Vinci Code, Wolf Hall, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Wuthering Heights and 2001 A Space Odyssey. I was struck by how almost-perfect the selection was as a compact cross-section of mainstream popular literature. I didn't take one.

Wed 13: Shopping update: Forced to buy organic carrots, there being no alternatives. On the plus side, non-luxury peanut butter was back on the shelves. Also hurrah, no queue whatsoever at the tills. My chat with the cashier was the longest face-to-almost-face conversation I've had in weeks.
Thu 14: Managed to find a half-mile-long path in the Olympic Park I hadn't walked along during the last two months. Chalked that up as a win. Rewarded with a low-swooping heron.
Fri 15: Mid-afternoon an unseen technician flicked a virtual switch and my email address of 23-years-standing was switched off... the sad ultimate consequence of a company buying up the company that bought up the company that bought up the company I started out with. Changing your contact details on two decades of online accounts is a right pain.
Sat 16: The Eurovision programme they screened instead of Eurovision, for insurance reasons, wasn't as uplifting as proper Eurovision would have been. The Icelandic entry is easily the best Eurovision song in years, so I'm gutted it never got a chance to win, but at least we didn't have to suffer the misery of it only coming second.
Sun 17: Update on previous post: Spotted the Bow Roundabout duck on St Thomas Creek, basking on a safety boat tied to a skip. My thanks to the reader who waited a week to tell me "the Bow Roundabout duck is actually an Egyptian goose", because I was able to email back confirming that an Egyptian goose is actually a type of duck.
Mon 18: Smashed the walls of my lockdown box by walking once round the edge of Victoria Park. Passed 217 joggers along the way. It's OK, they were easy to dodge, it's a brilliantly spacious park.
Tue 19: Watched a bumblebee flitting between my geraniums, which almost makes up for the fact my iris has shrivelled.

Wed 20: Update on previous post: The white vans gathering in Cooks Road every morning appear to be mustering to deliver parcels for Amazon. A steady stream of vans floods out at 9am, and another at 10.30am, which can be a devil to cut across. Maybe your replacement gadget passed through here on its way to your front door.
Thu 21: Before today I had never walked along Red Path in Hackney Wick, nor even realised it existed. Partway along you get a great view of the entrance to the A12 Eastway Tunnel. But don't rush.
Fri 22: Shopping update: Several of the customers in my local supermarket were walking out clutching a pack of sandwiches, a bag of crisps and a can of Red Bull, so I guess the idea of shopping "as infrequently as possible" went out of the window sometime back. I've managed to keep my number of shopping trips this month down to three.
Sat 23: Met up with BestMate on Three Mills Green, at the regulation distance, and pretended that having an hour long chat was perfectly normal. Discussed the flights he's not going on, how his family's keeping, lockdown hairstyles and Dominic Cummings. Outdoor meet-ups are going to be a lot harder in January.
Sun 24: Took yet more photos of a bridge near home I still haven't written a blogpost about yet, but if I ever do I'll have over 50 to choose from.
Mon 25: First thing in the morning, it being a warm sunny bank holiday weekend, many litter bins beside patches of grass were overflowing with empty pizza boxes, paper cups and plastic bottles. Mile End Park was a particular mess. If you'd seen it, you'd have tutted.

Tue 26: The Archers' new monologue-heavy episodes have received a fair amount of criticism, mainly from people who couldn't have written anything better themselves.
Wed 27: Spent the afternoon filling binbags with piles of paperwork that used to be essential for work purposes, or least potentially useful, back in the day when photocopiers ruled the office.
Thu 28: All the goalposts on Hackney Marches have been taken down, greatly inconveniencing local youths who'd been tying springy cables to the crossbars and using them as temporary gyms.
Fri 29: I haven't seen a proper advert on the digital billboard beside the Bow Flyover for weeks, only exhortations to appreciate our NHS carers, so the UK advertising industry must be in deep trouble.
Sat 30: Two buses follow the same route from Bow to Ilford. From today travelling by route 25 (via the front doors) will cost £1.50, but travelling by route 425 (via the middle doors) remains free.
Sun 31: Not only has it been the sunniest spring on record, May has smashed it out of the park. These are London's hours of sunshine every day this month.


That'll be 304 hours in total, whereas the May average is closer to 170. The last non-sunny day was 28th April, and before that you have to go all the way back to 19th March. What a sad waste... (or perhaps a lot of Britons have avoided skin cancer).

 Saturday, May 30, 2020

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• Cummings "followed instincts of every parent" (PM)
• Step 2 begins 1st June - schools to reopen
• Even the Daily Mail attacks Dominic Cummings
• Dominic explains his motives, but without apology
• Step 2: outdoor markets/car showrooms can reopen
• non-essential shops can reopen on 15th June
• polls show government support in decline
• Remdesivir shortens recovery time 'by four days'
• South America showing rapid increase in cases
• New Zealand now has no hospital cases
• Track and Trace launches in England and Scotland
• ... but won't be fully operational until end of June
• Durham police say Dominic Cummings broke the law
• from Monday, groups of 6 allowed to meet outdoors
• ...but groups of 8 in Scotland, from Thursday
• 10th (and final?) Clap For Carers
• Premier League to restart in three weeks
• too early to ease lockdown, say scientists
• Trump plans to withdraw the US from the WHO
• sport can resume behind closed doors from Monday

Worldwide deaths: 340,000 → 370,000
Worldwide cases: 5,300,000 → 6,000,000
UK deaths: 36,675 → 38,376
UK cases: 257,154 → 272,826
FTSE: up 1% (5993 → 6076)

On this date one year ago I left the house and went to northwest London. It wasn't a very exciting trip, hence I never blogged about it at the time, there being much more interesting things to write about. But it was much more exciting than any trip I've made for the last ten weeks so I thought I'd write about it now. Excitement, it turns out, is relative.

I took the Central line from Mile End, where trains were running normally and there were no signs outside urging me not to travel. I was aiming for Perivale but alighted at Hanger Lane, because in those days I had a Zone 1-3 Travelcard so it made sense to get off at the limit of validity and do the last mile by bus. It didn't strike me to worry the bus might be overcrowded. Once in Perivale it was quite a hike to get across the A40 dual carriageway via the footbridge. I nearly managed to take a good photo of the tube station's strikingly-curved frontage, but unfortunately a businessman in a blue Toyota had other ideas.

My first target was Horsenden Hill, the highest point in Ealing. I started my ascent beyond the canal bridge, striking out into the trees along a familiar path. One particular dividing line between woodland and open grass cast my mind back thirty years to a world where the sky is burning, the seas sleep and the rivers dream. The final assault on the western flank was the toughest part of the climb, but the view from the summit is always well worth the effort. I love the exhilaration of a good hilltop, there being nothing even vaguely this high anywhere near me in Bow.

I watched the planes landing at Heathrow, which planes did frequently in those days, and kept my distance from the couple with the two dogs. Eventually it was time to head back down. Normally I've followed section 9 of the Capital Ring, which takes a circuitous route through the woods for no particularly enjoyable reason, but on this occasion I decided to follow the steep track down the northern side of the hill. This emerged into a large meadow I'd never encountered before, and very pleasant it was too, although it did mean I reached the boring stretch along the road rather sooner.

Sudbury Hill tube station, or the street immediately outside, marks the point where Ealing meets Brent meets Harrow. These are three boroughs I hadn't visited recently, which is why I was making this semi-pointless journey in the first place. Perhaps I should have been using my freedom more usefully. I nearly popped into Wenzel's for some lunch, because this is not a treat afforded to those of us living in East London, but decided a tuna baguette was unnecessary. This meant I was walking past Sudbury Hill Harrow station when a train pulled in and actually stopped, which I'd never been around to see before.

On the far side of Harrow Road I entered Never Previously Visited London, which is always exciting, and chose to follow Sudbury Court Road to see where it led. It led to some allotments, then to a path into a small parklet perched on top of a delightfully minor hill. It looked like the kind of place only locals knew about, somewhere to take the toddler, walk the dog or smoke a spliff. But it offered a fine view of Wembley Stadium over the rooftops, and way beyond that the BT Tower and the Shard, so I was chuffed to have stumbled upon it.

I'd also never walked along East Lane before, nor caught a bus this way, so this was rapidly turning into a voyage of discovery. North Wembley station looked so unfamiliar that it suddenly dawned on me this was a tube station I'd never previously used, nor even seen from the outside, which wasn't something I believed to be possible. But I had no plans to use North Wembley today because it was in zone 4, so carried on walking until the next bus turned up. It turned up half a mile later. I climbed upstairs touching all the surfaces with abandon.

I wasn't as excited by my top deck trundle through Wembley and Neasden as I would be were I allowed to make the same journey today. Ooh a former town hall, ooh a gyratory, ooh an industrial estate. My bus took half an hour to reach Cricklewood where I finally switched to the train and Thameslinked into St Pancras. The Hammersmith & City line was borked so it took an age to get home, but at least I'd finished my library book by the time I reached Bow Road. And I can only imagine how busy that last journey was, indeed most of the rest of London exists only in my imagination these days.

 Friday, May 29, 2020

To the south of Hackney Wick lies Fish Island.

Its remote location earned it the nickname 'the Island' in the late 18th century, when canals and railways first encouraged industry to move in. The 'Fish' part came later from the names of the streets, which included Dace, Bream and Roach. Before WW2 quite a lot of people lived here, but heavy bomb damage saw housing cleared away in favour of predominantly industrial usage. [1895 map] [1949 map]

The precise boundaries of modern day Fish Island are debatable, but let's say it runs from the Hertford Union Canal to the Greenway, with the A12 and river Lea to either side.

Here's my attempt to survey what's gone, what's going and what's likely to survive.

The brown zones are flats completed before the Olympics.
The red zones are flats completed in the last couple of years.
The orange zones are flats under construction.
The yellow zones are cleared and vacant, awaiting development.
The green line marks the edge of the Fish Island Conservation Area.

The pace of redevelopment has been much faster in Fish Island than Hackney Wick, aided by there being fewer people around to notice. The area's also a lot more cut off, with very limited road access and a minimum of footbridges to nowhere terribly important. When the sales brochure for the latest development describes Fish Island as "at the heart of the action" and "well connected to the heart of the city", it is unashamedly lying.

That latest development is Fish Island Village, where "Village" is another shameless marketing fabrication. Its six acre site borders the Hertford Union Canal and was formerly Neptune Wharf, home to a Scottish and Newcastle brewery distribution depot. In its time it's also been a timber depot, paintworks, abattoir and store for pre-cast concrete panels, but FIV's marketing collateral is strangely silent about these. 600 flats are planned, most of them already built and occupied, but construction continues apace at the western end of the site where a new primary school is also earmarked.

The ground floor of many of the new blocks has been given over to low rent studio space for artists and designers, courtesy of The Trampery. A few small units facing Roach Road are occupied, mostly with fashion-related start-ups, while the larger spaces further back remain echoingly empty. Until these communal caverns can be occupied, which the current situation will only delay, the activation of Fish Island Village at street level just isn't happening.

Until this week I hadn't walked through the heart of the new development, and I was struck by how dense and dark it felt. Wyke Road has become a canyon shielded by seven-storey brick, the walkways between residential blocks have a blankly utilitarian vibe, and sunbathing canalside isn't going to be an option until rather late in the day. I have actually been inside one of the blocks for Open House, shown round by one of the architects, and was impressed by the sense of space and interior finish. Very little of that style pervades the exterior, however, and the development's slogan Enhancing Not Replacing is nothing but weasel words.

The prime site at the junction of canal and river was taken years ago by the Omega Works, a rare jigsaw piece already in place when the Olympic decision was made. Newly squeezed-in further along the waterfront is Legacy House, its gated driveway covering the site of one of the original hipster cafes. Thankfully Stour Space nextdoor survives, the lynchpin of Fish Island's cultural offering, although currently very closed. But DOH are still serving up chai, brioche and veg boxes from a hatch round the bend, while the CheeseTruck's very-local owners have an abundance of small-producer cheese and charcuterie they'd be delighted to deliver.

Monier Road is destined to be the spine road of the new Fish Island. It used to head nowhere much but now lines up with a gap where a new bridge is waiting to be winched in, creating a vehicular connection to the Olympic Park. For now it's quiet enough to stand in the middle of the street and snap a photo with a wall of flats on one side and nothing much on the other. Almost every old building on the narrow strip between Monier Road and Beachy Road - marked yellow on my map - has been flattened, and the only one that's left has a notice on the door giving a demolition date. This time 148 flats are planned, with Taylor Wimpey promising an "articulated saw-tooth plan" and "deliberately irregular massing", as the old Fish Island sequentially dissolves away.

Yay, the next block between Beachy Road and Stour Road remains all present and correct. This includes an empty piano factory, a furniture workshop and perhaps most importantly an outpost of the Truman Brewery. It's not the original Truman's, it's the Black Eagle Brewery trading under the name, but they are currently selling cold pints (weekdays only) should you be local enough to pop in. Hang on while I Google the address to see what planning applications have been submitted... ah, dammit, 1908m² of commercial space plus 330 student rooms were approved by the Mayor in February this year. Fish Island's dominoes continue to fall.

Thankfully most of the Island's southern strip, bordering the Greenway, lies within a protected Tower Hamlets conservation area so should be safe. Here we find old blocks like the Algha Works, Swan Wharf, Britannia Works and Percy Dalton's Peanut Factory, each occupied for many years by artists' studios and the generally creative. It's such a compact cluster that you can spin around 360° at the junction of Dace Road and Smeed Road and it looks like very little has changed. This is the weatherworn aesthetic architects in other parts of Fish Island are attempting to emulate, if unsuccessfully.

But redevelopment continues to encroach right up to the conservation area boundary. Forman and Son's yard is being comprehensively residentialised as Lock No 19, an L&Q project delivering 170 canalside flats. At the other end of Dace Road HG Construction are in the early stages of erecting 144 flats in five jarring cuboidal blocks, and on the opposite side of the Greenway Taylor Wimpey have nearly finished 175 more as part of something they've inexplicably christened Aspext. Any unprotected industrial site is fair game, it seems, as Fish Island's yards and warehouses slowly sink beneath a tidal wave of highrise boxes.

 Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hackney Wick was once known for its edgy creative vibe, a neighbourhood of studios and warehouses where things got done but hardly anybody lived. Times are changing.

This is The Wallis, a new residential development on the corner of Wallis Road and Berkshire Road. It's famous as the site of the factory where the world's first synthetic plastic - Parkesine - was developed. It's going to be flats with a Sainsbury's underneath.

To be fair, the warehouse the developers knocked down was thrown up in the 1950s, whereas Parkesine was invented in the 1860s, so nothing of significant heritage value was lost. To be further fair, the four buildings that do survive from the original Parkesine Works are being retained and restored and hemmed into a yard round the back. But all that passers-by will see is a modern brick apartment building looking like any other modern brick apartment building, and that's pretty much how Hackney Wick is going.

Only one building at the Wallis Road crossroads will survive, a 1920s social centre for local workers, but on the other three corners everything will be modern flats. Further along Wallis Road expect further apartment blocks replacing every building that isn't an 'individual heritage asset', which is most of them. Telford Homes are well underway building Stone Studios, a dense wodge of 110 flats "ideal for investors", while planning applications are already in to replace the variety of warehouses on the northern side. The Olympic effect is very real round here, just somewhat delayed.

I've been for a walk around Hackney Wick to try to survey what's gone, what's going and what's likely to survive.

The red zones are 21st century flats, already complete.
The orange zones are flats under construction (The Wallis is the top one).
The yellow zones are cleared and vacant, awaiting development.
Pink shows where development will, or may, take place.

The largest red zone is also the most recent. It's The Bagel Factory, like so many developments named after the building destroyed to create it. Five years ago gorgeous smells still wafted across the area from Mr Bagels, two years ago construction was well underway, and today 140 households are enjoying German-engineered kitchens with a 'renovated warehouse' feel. It's not a bad development of its type but a tad monolithic, and with concierge desks that look far too luxurious for anything here to be affordable.

Across White Post Lane is a long thin parcel of contaminated land surrounded by a ten foot high brick wall - one of the yellow zones on my map. This is the site of the Hope Chemical Works, importers of American crude oil and at one time the UK's main crude petroleum distillery. In 1893 the owners coined the word 'petrol' to describe their main product, which is one heck of a linguistic claim to fame. But since 1971 the site's been empty, and its unbroken wall is increasingly a canvas for some of Hackney Wick's famous graffiti. I'm amazed to see that what's planned here is a 240-room hotel comprising two six-storey blocks linked by a skybridge, plus workspace and foodiespace at ground level. The 150 year-old wall will not survive, summarily dismissed as "a non-designated heritage asset".

The other yellow zone on my map, between Trego Road and the Hertford Union Canal, is enormous. Formerly it was the McGrath waste transfer station, a smelly business few will have been sad to see the back of, and one day it'll be a Galliard Homes development called Wickside. Another 500 homes are pencilled in across seven acres, plus a linear canalside strip amusingly called a park. But redevelopment is moving at a glacial pace, and at present the site is littered with piles of rubble, the occasional mothballed warehouse and a noisy guard dog in the back of a van surprised that anyone's walked anywhere near.

Not everything's disappearing. Lion Works' eclectic warehouse cluster will survive, the Eton Mission boathouse is secure and the shell of the Lord Napier pub remains a centrepiece. But for the time being Hackney Wick is very much a chequerboard mix of old and new. Walk some streets and an air of dereliction still pervades, walk others and you could be in the middle of an estate agent's brochure.

Yesterday I watched one young couple pose for a professional photographer in front of sun-drenched graffiti, while on the other side of the wall a driver manhandled a mattress out of his van into a crumbling warehouse. Incomers waited patiently for a latte from the pop-up hipster joint by the station, while mechanics from the vehicle bodyworks on Chapman Road were content with another cuppa outside Mapps caff. The cramped grocery store on Wallis Road still sells own brand comestibles to members of the studio collective nextdoor, whereas three of the shops in Felstead Street are called Béton Brut, Vinyl Pimp and Frankenbike, suggesting the gentrification battle is already over.
"Victorian and Edwardian buildings coalesce with former industrial warehouses covered top to toe in street art, rivalling the oise stone walls of Belleville, Paris for aesthetic edginess. From the boundaries of Victoria Park to the Lee Navigation Canal, you’ll find wall-to-wall art collectives, with creative activity taking place in every nook and cranny." [The Wallis, sales website]
We need new places to live, and Hackney Wick has the potential to furnish thousands more. But with every block redeveloped and every wall demolished, any reason to make a special visit ebbs away. The developers taking advantage of Hackney Wick's edgy vibe are inexorably destroying it, like moths nibbling at a favourite blanket.

 Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Vacancy #CV19-4872
37.5 hours a week
Full-time, Temporary
Salary: £8.72 /hour

Dear Mr Geezer

Thank you for your application to join our Contact Tracing Army.

It is gratifying that you are so keen to join our never-ending fight against the global disease and those spreading it. Only by identifying the undesirables in society can we hope to contain the infection.

Our phonebank of volunteer interrogators will be the cornerstone of national renewal. Without diligent tracking and timely isolation the virus will swiftly re-establish itself amongst us, damaging the already fragile economic recovery. We hope to onboard you to our nationwide team shortly.

Unfortunately the software needed to complete registration is not yet ready, our online training is suffering teething troubles and the contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight requires further iterations before public rollout. Nevertheless we remain convinced that the entire process will be up and running on 1st June, as promised, or alternatively sometime thereafter. Your role in all of this will be critical.

In the meantime, we ask you to stay alert and save lives.

Our future plans rely on knowing everything about everyone. To this effect we are establishing a new national database to be populated not only by names and addresses, but also statuses, proclivities and probable intentions. Any data you can collect before 1st June will therefore be enormously helpful in moving forward our ultimate goal of comprehensive mass surveillance.

As a Home Office Informer the evidence you gather about your neighbours will be essential. We need you to be the eyes and ears of your community.

We suggest you sit by your front window with a small notebook, twitching your net curtains as appropriate. What are your neighbours doing. Why might they be doing this? Can they be trusted?

Answers to the following specific questions would be particularly helpful.
• Who are their regular and occasional contacts?
• Could they be borderline feverish?
• Is that hayfever or might it be a persistent a dry cough?
• Did they leave the house more than once a day during April?
• Have they recently had friends or family round? (please give details)
• Are they the sort to meet up for a barbecue in the park?
• Might they be claiming Universal Credit fraudulently?
• Is theirs potentially a marriage of convenience?
• Do they ever talk in a funny European language?
• If so, have they ever tried to use the NHS without paying?
While you have your notebook open, we would also appreciate it if you would keep tabs on the other members of your household. Basic details such as age, distinguishing features, lifestyle choices and political affiliation can be entered later into our online spreadsheet. Your initial training will also cover how to scan personal emails for incriminating evidence, the basics of video surveillance and elementary blackmail techniques.

Our ultimate aim is to sign up 170,000 full-time unofficial collaborators, along with a much larger number of occasional informers. An East German-style points system will be used to select the most appropriate candidates.

It is imperative that you download the new NHS Contact Tracing app when it becomes available, because as an employee of the state we need to know where you are at all times.

Please also encourage friends and family to do the same. Later in your training we will explain how to upload the app in stealth mode so that it cannot be detected. We already know more about the population of the Isle of Wight than any other part of the country, and need this unprecedented accumulation of data to continue.

On an unspecified future date we intend to make use of the app mandatory when accessing all types of public service, and early adoption will ensure that your personal health score will be optimised. Subject to confirmation by the Home Secretary, only those scoring above 60% will be allowed to travel abroad and only those scoring over 80% will be allowed back in.

Please do not tell anybody that you have applied for this role. We have been trying for years to introduce a National Identity Database and are delighted to have the perfect opportunity to slip it into operation under cover of a global health crisis. Your cooperation in this matter is greatly appreciated.

We will be in touch again once we have firmed up protocols and got the technology working. We may be some time.

Yours faithfully,


 Tuesday, May 26, 2020

There now follows the longest possible gap between the late spring bank holiday and the late summer bank holiday.

The late spring bank holiday was on the earliest possible date - Monday 25th May.


The late summer bank holiday is on the latest possible date - Monday 31st August.


That's a gap of 98 days.
In all other years, when 25th May isn't a Monday, the gap is only 91 days.

On the plus side, this year we get the shortest possible gap between the late summer bank holiday and Christmas.

The late summer bank holiday is on the latest possible date - Monday 31st August.


The Christmas bank holiday is on the earliest possible date - Friday 25th December.


That's a gap of 116 days.
In all other years, when 31st August isn't a Monday, the gap is at least 119 days, and can be as many as 122.


There's been talk of adding an extra bank holiday this October to make up for the fact we've wasted four under lockdown, and to give the tourist/hospitality industry a boost.

It'd need to be a Monday or a Friday, because any other day of the week would be impractical.


This year most schools are taking half term in the last week of October, so Monday 26th October has got to be a strong contender. Picking 26th October or 30th October would also be the best way to equalise the gap between the late summer bank holiday and Christmas, with roughly two months either side.

On the negative side the clocks go back on Sunday 25th October, which might dampen hopes of a tourist boom on Monday 26th. Also the weather is generally better at the start of October rather than the end, so Monday 5th October has got to be a strong contender too.

There have long been factions pushing to introduce a Trafalgar Day holiday, but 21st October this year is a Wednesday so that's not ideal. The date of the battle of Agincourt - St Crispin's Day, 25th October - has also been suggested, but that's a Sunday this year so a no-hoper. A Hallowe'en bank holiday is, thankfully, also dead in the water because that falls on a Saturday.

I note that October 26th is the feast day of Alfred The Great, being the anniversary of his death, which is just the kind of mythical heroism our current government might seize upon. October 5th is merely St Thraseas's Day, or the International Day of No Prostitution, which is much less promising. We are perhaps fortunate that Margaret Thatcher's birthday is a Tuesday this year.

Of course suddenly throwing a bank holiday into the mix in five months time wouldn't be welcomed by anyone who's already booked a wedding, a holiday or an important meeting on that particular day. Also there's no guarantee that by the time October comes round we won't all be back under lockdown again, thereby totally wasting our additional day off. But it's fun to speculate.

These photos are for the benefit of Men Who Like Buses But Do Not Live In East London.

Route 25 has new vehicles.

On Friday it still had these old ones, which were almost two years old.

Now it has brand new ones, specifically E400 MMC hybrid double deckers.

This is because a new contract started on Saturday.
Previously the buses were operated by Tower Transit, based at Lea Interchange Depot.
Now they're operated by Stagecoach, based at Bow Garage.

Route N25 also changed over. Route 425 changes over in July.

The new buses have USB ports so you can charge your phone while travelling.

I have not been for a ride on a new bus so will not be subjecting you to an end-to-end report.

 Monday, May 25, 2020

Distressingly this is our fourth bank holiday under lockdown. Typically it's another warm sunny day which in normal times would've seen many of us flocking cross-country to make the most of it. Annoyingly these perfect conditions will all be wasted, again, except by those with cars and no sense of communal responsibility.

Under normal circumstances I would definitely have travelled somewhere by train today, not least because it's a rare weekday with off-peak fares, but instead I find myself pottering around ultra-locally. So for blogging purposes I've been imagining where I could potentially have gone, at sequential intervals of 10 miles from home.

10 miles from home: Epping Forest
A walk along socially-distanced footpaths sounds ideal, and the tea hut at High Beach is the requisite distance from home. But my normal means of getting there involves the Central line which remains off limits, and to walk it would be a 20 mile round trip and that's entirely impractical too. If even the first location on this list is out of bounds, all hope of near-future travel is screwed.
also 10 miles from home: Putney, Neasden, Gidea Park, Ruxley

20 miles from home: Sevenoaks
A trip to inner Kent should be cheap and easy, plus I fancy a walk across the Deer Park to Knole because I've not been getting much value from my National Trust membership this year. But even though bank holiday trains to Sevenoaks ought to be quiet, the tubes before that alas won't be.
also 20 miles from home: Uxbridge, Croxley Green, Billericay, Chartwell

30 miles from home: Southend
A dash to the seaside makes for a perfect bank holiday treat, and the seaside doesn't get any closer to me than this. Unfortunately I suspect thousands will have had the same idea, so the pier'll be packed, the prom'll be seething and the queue for a Rossi's lemon ice will be plain dangerous.
also 30 miles from home: Maidenhead, Luton, Maidstone, Gatwick

40 miles from home: Biggleswade
I'm always happy to visit a minor provincial town in search of points of interest, because they always have several. I could even try looking up where Harper Twelvetrees was born. But today is not the day for putting my health on the line for a minor provincial town.
also 40 miles from home: Aylesbury, Isle of Sheppey, Farnham, Reading

50 miles from home: Goring
The Thames Valley is gorgeous at this time of year, and Goring's ideal because I can pair a waterside stroll with a hike up onto the Downs. I've missed both of these lately. I'm less convinced that reaching Paddington will be as enjoyable.
also 50 miles from home: St Neots, Lavenham, Canterbury, Brighton

60 miles from home: Dungeness
This is another personal favourite, first the adventure of riding the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway to get there, then the magnificent desolation of the pebbly waste Derek Jarman called home. But those RHDR trains are really tiny, so couldn't be worse for social distancing, so not today.
also 60 miles from home: Blenheim, Wellingborough, Walton-on-the-Naze, Bognor Regis

70 miles from home: Banbury
It's not the most exciting of destinations but I've never been, except straight through on a narrowboat, and it'd be nice to see the legendary market cross first hand. That said I see the Lego exhibition in the town's museum has been delayed, so maybe I'd be better off waiting.
also 70 miles from home: Thetford, Sutton Hoo, Gosport, Andover

80 miles from home: Shanklin
I love the Isle of Wight, and last time I was in this coastal resort I had to miss out on riding the cliff lift because I had a tube train to catch. I just worry about the additional complications of reaching the island by ferry, catamaran, hovercraft or whatever, and then doing it all again on the way back.
also 80 miles from home: Stow-on-the Wold, Rugby, Stamford, Aldeburgh

90 miles from home: Calais
I had genuinely been considering a day trip to Calais this year, taking advantage of the special Southeastern Day Tripper ticket before the UK's Brexit transition period ends. But a ferry crossing's just too much faff at present, and within weeks the need to quarantine on both sides of the Channel will have killed this day trip off.
also 90 miles from home: The Needles, Evesham, Leicester, Southwold

100 miles from home: Bournemouth
Bournemouth's possibly the perfect target on a sunny spring bank holiday, with miles of sand, two piers, leafy chines and a dash of refined heritage to boot. However I hear the narrow paths zigzagging from clifftop to beach are proving a social distancing nightmare, so where'd be the fun in that?
also 100 miles from home:Bath, Loughborough, Boston. Hunstanton

110 miles from home: Bristol
Or how about Bristol? This waterside city is a cultural hub it's hard to tire of, plus it's easy to use Temple Meads as the jumping-off point to somewhere interesting nearby. I fear the waterfront might be quite busy though, the Clifton Suspension Bridge considerably more so, so no.
also 110 miles from home: Lichfield, Nottingham, Cromer, Dunkirk

120 miles from home: Lincoln
I am persistently cross with myself that I've not been back here this century, at least before sunset. Lincolnshire remains one of my least-blogged counties, and the cathedral on a hill would be an ideal reintroduction. I worry that not much would be open this particular bank holiday, though.
also 120 miles from home: Yeovil, Glastonbury, Hereford, Dieppe

130 miles from home: Ludlow
Here's part of the country I know very little about - borderline Shropshire - but the town has a castle and a museum and a river plus some rollicking scenery. However I note it's a three-and-a-bit hour journey from London, each way, which can't possibly be the safest use of my time.
also 130 miles from home: Bridport, Ironbridge, Market Rasen, Ostend

140 miles from home: Eyam
Nowhere has more historical resonance at present than the plague village of Eyam, whose residents took a hit in 1665 for the greater good. For that very reason I suspect the current inhabitants may not be best pleased with Londoners barging in and poking around, so best give the place a miss.
also 140 miles from home: Barry, Shrewsbury, Cleethorpes, Bruges

150 miles from home: Crewe
It's not the most glamorous of towns, more a jumped-up railway junction, but it has a Heritage Centre full of trains which'd be eminently bloggable. However I'm not convinced walking the streets for the rest of the day would be any more fun than walking the same old streets back home.
also 150 miles from home: Sidmouth, Minehead, Llandridnod Wells, Rouen

160 miles from home: Alderney
I'd love to go back to the Channel Islands, especially this tiny one which I last visited in the spring half term 45 years ago. But I well remember how small the plane was, and we had to catch another plane before we caught that one, so aviation issues mean I can cross this off the list for some considerable time.
also 160 miles from home: Exmouth, Oswestry, Stockport, Pontefract

170 miles from home: Swansea
I've already had to cancel a trip to Wales as part of post-lockdown travel restrictions, so it'd be brilliant to go back properly and explore more of the rocky coast around the Mumbles. However nothing's really changed since the end of March, GWR-wise, so Wales is not going to be happening any time soon.
also 170 miles from home: Torquay, Runcorn, Rochdale, Leeds

180 miles from home: Liverpool
I have never been bored on a trip to Merseyside, there being so much to see and so many things to do, even people to meet. Unfortunately I see there are rail replacement buses in operation this bank holiday weekend, and the idea of piling aboard a crowded coach at Crewe quashes all my desires to go back at present.
also 180 miles from home: Ilfracombe, Machynlleth, Burnley, Harrogate

190 miles from home: Scarborough
How have I never ever been to Scarborough, despite living not so very far away for a year? I've been meaning to go for ages, to finally experience the architecture, the chips and the sweep of the bay. But I haven't pre-booked my LNER ticket, as is now mandatory, so I won't be going today.
also 190 miles from home: Clovelly, Rhyl, Preston, Antwerp

200 miles from home: Plymouth
This actually is the last place I visited outside London, so OK, I really don't need to go again. Indeed it looks like standing on the hillside at Mount Edgcumbe, marginally into Cornwall, is going to be the furthest I get from London for some considerable time.
also 200 miles from home: Porthmadog, Snowdon, Blackpool, Brussels

210 miles from home: Paris
Eurostar makes a trip to the French capital so straight-forward, which is why I've availed myself of several journeys over the past few years. Alas, not only is Brexit cutting us off from the continent but coronavirus is too, so I'm glad I got over there while I easily could.
also 210 miles from home: Tintagel, Pembroke, Bangor, Lancaster

220 miles from home: Barrow-in-Furness
I'm now reaching the boundaries of a viable day trip, indeed this is normally a four hour journey and the only way to get there before noon is to leave Euston at half past five. Today however a railway replacement bus is involved and you can't get to Barrow before quarter to three in the afternoon, so no thanks.
also 220 miles from home: Padstow, Barnard Castle, Middlesbrough, Amsterdam

230 miles from home: Durham
But this sounds like a perfectly reasonable place to visit. I could maybe drive up from London, acting responsibly and with integrity, as I'm sure this would be perfectly legal. In fact I have no alternative but to go, as every adult in the country would doubtless agree, and not even the Prime Minister can stop me.
also 230 miles from home: Newquay, St David's, Holyhead, Lake Windermere

 Sunday, May 24, 2020

This is my local Tesco supermarket, a large drab box beside the A12 in Bromley-by-Bow.

I've shopped here many hundreds of times, but only now thought to dig into the site's history, which is how I came to discover the amazing exploits of Victorian philanthropist Harper Twelvetrees.

Harper was born in Biggleswade in 1823, moving to London in 1848 with the express intention of manufacturing a cheap range of laundry products. Only when the government scrapped duty on soap in 1853 did this become financially viable, and shortly afterwards he set up a small factory on Goswell Road in Islington. Initial success required him to expand, and in 1858 he moved production to a larger site off Three Mill Lane in Bromley-by-Bow adjacent to the River Lea. A century and a half later it's where I buy my milk and frozen peas.

At the centre of the site was a timber-framed house of Tudor origin, much upgraded by its previous owners the Lefevre family (who were responsible for setting up the distillery at Three Mills across the river). One of their number, Charles Shaw-Lefevre, had recently ended a lengthy term as Speaker of the House of Commons and been elevated to the Lords as the 1st Viscount Eversley. Harper Twelvetrees renamed his new property Eversley House, moved his family in and built his new factory around it.

The Imperial Chemical Works was a great success. It manufactured a vast range of products targeted at ordinary working people, with Harper's aim to "encourage cleanliness among the poor by selling them a packet of soap powder for a penny". One of his biggest brands was Saponine, a detergent which "lathers abundantly in hot or cold water" and "washes expeditiously with or without soap". If you were lucky enough to get to the Bodleian Library's The Art of Advertising exhibition at the start of March you could have enjoyed this glorious full colour Saponine ad from Harper Twelvetrees' Soapery, Bromley-by-Bow. In its day, the company's advertising was considered brash, even vulgar.
Scrubwell. Well, this is really wonderful! I had no idea that washing-day could be got over with so little trouble and labour. I think I shall try this wonderful powder.
Thrifty. And just consider what you save, in time, trouble, and labour, by using this ‘Glycerine Soap-powder'. Just consider the difference between slop, slop, slopping about all day, and having your house cleaned up before dinner, or nearly so.
Scrubwell. Thank you, neighbour, for your friendly advice and informa­tion. I will try Harper Twelvetrees' ‘Glycerine Soap-Powder' for myself.
Also manufactured here were Satin Enamel Starch, Harness Polishing Liquid, Soluble Powder Blue, Perfumed Toilet Soap, Saltpetre, Epsom Salts, Metallic Writing Inks, Powder Lead, Yeastrine, Baking Powders, Mice Killer and Bug Destroyer. In one corner of the site was a small factory equipped with lathes and circular saws for the production of washing machinery. Mrs Beeton praised Twelvetrees' Villa Washing and Wringing Machine in her Book of Household Management... "excellent for family use...very easy to work without being cumbersome... strong and very durable", and all yours for 55 shillings.

At its peak the Imperial Chemical Works employed over 400 people. Harper was keen to look after his employees' welfare, building rows of cottages nearby to provide accommodation and setting up a lecture hall on site in a former workshop. Lord Shaftesbury and John Stuart Mill are amongst those believed to have stood at the lectern. A library was set up in one corner, and the hall also hosted evening classes, sewing circles and non-denominational services. Meanwhile sick employees were covered by a benevolent fund subsidised by one hour's pay a week, while thrift was encouraged via a penny savings bank.

As the Stratford Times reported in 1861, Harper Twelvetrees was changing Bromley-by-Bow for the better.
"Instead of dirty, narrow lanes bounded by high walls, now there are to be seen neat, commodious and well-built cottages, flanking tidy roads. The old population is losing its distinctive traits before a new, fresh, and vigorous class that is rapidly settling amongst them, and giving an air of busy life and incessant occupation to a place which once wore an empty gloom hardly redeemed by the the wild rush of waters roaring in the adjacent mill-stream."
But it didn't last. In 1865 Twelvetrees sold his chemical works through a third party to the General Trading Company for £53852-8s-5d, but they then went into liquidation and he only recouped £791. Declared bankrupt through no fault of his own, Harper did what any self-respecting Victorian philanthropist would do and started again, this time on the other side of Bow at the Cordova Works in Grove Road. His reputation was strong enough that the business took off by selling a similar range of products to before, and his patented soap powder was even exported overseas. Harper Twelvetrees died in Upper Clapton in 1881 at the age of 58, leaving behind five children called William, Walter, Florence, Edwin and Herbert.

The original Three Mills site was bought up in 1871 and transformed into the Crown Chemical Works. For almost a century this was home to Kemball, Bishop and Company Limited, manufacturers of citric acid, a full history of which can be downloaded here (courtesy of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society). KB's chief claim to fame, I was thrilled to read, is that its tanks were secretly used by the government during WW2 to scale up the country's production of penicillin. Around the same time the company also teamed up with American pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which worked out well until 1971 when production was outsourced to Ireland and the Bromley works closed down. [1897 map] [1949 map]

The site was levelled and lay derelict until 1983 when Tesco came along and opened their superstore. The building's footprint is on the skew so doesn't precisely match the chemical works, but essentially the homewares and drinks aisles are outside the boundary while most of the food section and the self service tills lie firmly within. Harper Twelvetrees' house would have been in the main car park, just opposite the disabled ramp leading up to the rear entrance, should you ever wish to pay tribute to the great man. It's a shame that the pharmacy counter isn't on the site of the penicillin tanks, and that the washing powder shelves are at the wrong end of the store, but you can't have everything.

If your local supermarket has a more interesting backstory, I'll be surprised.

 Saturday, May 23, 2020

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• reopening schools in doubt over safety concerns
• most of Europe past virus peak
• hospitals in São Paulo overwhelmed
• loss of taste/smell added to UK symptoms list
• food industry seeks 'pickers who are stickers'
• tests now available to anyone with symptoms
• death toll in Brazil overtakes UK
• Trump is taking hydroxychloroquine
• inflation tumbled to 0.8% in April
• contact tracing to begin in June
• track and trace app delayed until June
• 17% of Londoners may have had virus
• Scotland to start easing lockdown next week
• UK buys 10m antibody tests
• global death toll accelerating
• 14 day quarantine for those entering the UK
• UK borrowing at record high
• Dominic Cummings broke quarantine while infected
• ...this was abhorrent behaviour/perfectly OK
• (and may also have driven to Barnard Castle)

Worldwide deaths: 310,000 → 340,000
Worldwide cases: 4,600,000 → 5,300,000
UK deaths: 34,466 → 36,675
UK cases: 240,161 → 257,154
FTSE: up 3% (5799 → 5993)

Today marks two months since the imposition of lockdown, during which time we've all been living under a series of ill-defined rules. So I made some rules of my own.
Go out...
no more than once a day
no more than 5 days a week
for less than 2 hours
no more than 2 miles from home
within a 1×2½ mile box
keeping as far from others as possible
without meeting friends or family
without stopping to sit down
avoiding all transport
and be home by noon
Some of these were the law, some were what I felt comfortable with and others I fell into as a matter of routine. At no point in the first eight weeks did I break any of them.

Then as lockdown supposedly eased, I realised I needn't/shouldn't/couldn't carry on. Some of these rules were no longer necessary, while others risked tying me into a set of limiting behaviours for no particularly good reason. So I started breaking them.

Here's where I stand today, with a red cross if I've finally broken that rule.
In brackets is the number of consecutive days I've kept it up.
no more than once a day (63 days)
no more than 5 days a week (56 days)
for less than 2 hours (59 days)
no more than 2 miles from home (68 days)
within a 1×2½ mile box (60 days)
keeping as far from others as possible (61 days)
without meeting friends or family (73 days)
without stopping to sit down (60 days)
avoiding all transport (68 days)
and be home by noon (60 days)
no more than once a day: This'll be the law requiring 'daily exercise'. I finally broke this rule yesterday when I went to Tesco to do 'essential shopping' and then went out for a walk.
no more than 5 days a week: This is me ignoring my right to daily exercise in favour of staying in a couple of days a week because it felt safer. I got a lot of spring cleaning done. But last week I upped 5 to 6, and this week I've been out the full 7.
for less than 2 hours: Two hours felt about right to start with, then became a self-imposed limit. I finally broke through the 2 hour barrier last week, delayed by writing copious notes, and haven't been timing myself since.
no more than 2 miles from home: I still haven't walked more than 2 miles from home since all this started. I've still managed loads of five mile walks though.
within a 1×2½ mile box: I stayed within my quarantine box for 60 days, then consciously snapped out of it by doing a full circuit of Victoria Park. My new 'box' is now 2 miles wide, but still 2½ miles deep.
keeping as far from others as possible: It's impossible to social distance perfectly, but every step of every walk since March has been made with human avoidance in mind.
without meeting friends or family: My last social meets with friends (73 days) or family (75 days) were both for birthday meals in early March. I have no idea how extroverts are coping with this.
without stopping to sit down: Pausing during daily exercise was specifically outlawed, you may remember, and I still haven't slumped on a lawn or a bench since lockdown started.
avoiding all transport: It's now 70 days since I was last on a bus, and almost as long since I was on a train. In the absence of a bike, my horizons are significantly diminished.
and be home by noon: Entirely my choice this one, but being out first thing in the morning has felt safer than being out in the busier afternoon. I haven't been out in the evening for 79 days, so have been missing a heck of a lot of sunsets.

I intend to break at least three more of these rules today, and then hopefully I won't feel trapped by not doing things any more. But don't expect to see me on board public transport any time soon.

For the last three weeks, in lieu of fresh material, Radio 4's The Archers has been rebroadcasting a number of classic episodes lifted from the last two decades. I have of course continued to count the number of episodes in which each character appears, despite this now being based on editorial selection and hence intrinsically meaningless.
6: Eddie, Jennifer
5: Brian, Clarrie
4: David, Ruth, Jill, Lynda
Eddie and Jennifer have been the most-heard characters, at six episodes apiece, with their spouses Clarrie and Brian as runners-up. Brookfield power couple David and Ruth made four appearances each, along with matriarch Jill and the inimitable Lynda.
3: Tony, Pat, Tom, Adam, Ian, Kenton, Shula, Ed, Emma, Joe
2: Jack, Peggy, Helen, Rob, Henry, Lillian, Siobhan, Debbie, Alice, Neil, Will, Kirsty, Alan
Bridge Farm doesn't register until the rundown reaches three. Here too we find the first of the no-longer-present characters (whose departure I've signalled by underlining), in this case Joe Grundy. Peggy's long-dead husband Jack appeared in two of the selected episodes, as did serial baddies Rob and Siobhan.
1: Elizabeth, Kate, Ruari, Justin, Jim, Alistair, Jazzer, Roy, Susan, Chris, Harrison, Bert
1: Phil, Nigel, Sid, Kathy, Carol, Alf, Christine, Nic, George, Matt, Charlie, Tim, Anna, Ursula
I've split the single appearance category into two lists, one for current characters and one for those no longer heard. Hearing Phil and Nigel again will have been evocative for many listeners, not to mention former Bull stalwarts Sid and Kathy. Given that no episodes from 2003-2005 or 2011-2013 were included in the selection, many other one-offs will have missed out.

Several of these classic episodes contained a much larger cast of characters than would usually be included today, in one case as many as fifteen. However when present-day Ambridge returns this Monday a new monologue-heavy format means that the entire week's episodes will feature only four characters, thereby distorting these statistics even further. I'll keep you updated.

 Friday, May 22, 2020

This road sign on Wick Lane has been puzzling me lately, because the metric measurements are ridiculously precise.

12 foot 9 inches is fine, but 3.890m is given to the nearest thousandth of a metre, i.e. to the nearest millimetre, and that's not the way low bridge signs normally work.

I could have done some proper research, but instead I speculated wildly like a man in a comments box. Surely this was incorrect? Aren't all low bridge signs supposed to be to one decimal place, or maybe two? I think I saw a sign like this somewhere else once? Maybe it's an old sign? What if all low bridge signs are actually supposed to be like this? Perhaps the EU are to blame? Isn't this typical of local councils nowadays? Who employs idiots like these? Obviously this can't be right?

And then I got tired of speculating without any evidence and did some proper research by tracking down the Department for Transport's Traffic Signs Manual. All the answers I needed were in Chapter 4, a meaty tome, twelve of whose 109 pages are given over to signs for bridges. Here we go...
The standard minimum clearance over every part of the carriageway of a public road is 16’‑6” (5.03 m). Where the clearance over any part is less than this, signs should be provided.
This is why you've never seen a low bridge sign saying 17 foot something or 6 metres something. In fact you won't have seen a sign saying 5 metres something either, but we'll get to that.
The Regulations require heights on new signs to be shown in both imperial and metric units.
This dual marking is because bridge strikes are a very serious hazard, and the government doesn't want anyone versed in only one of the measurement systems to misjudge.
Imperial and metric heights should be calculated separately.
It may not surprise you that there are very specific rules for this. Let's start with the rules for imperial.
The imperial figure shown on signs to indicate the available headroom should be at least 3 inches less than the measured height to allow a safety margin. If the resulting figure is not a multiple of 3 inches, it should be rounded down to the nearest lower multiple of 3 inches.
The DfT provide two examples to help you get your head round this.
Example 1: measured height 15’‑2”
• subtract 3” to create a safety margin: 14’‑11”
• round down to nearest multiple of 3”
• sign as 14’‑9”
   Example 2: measured height 14’‑6”
• subtract 3” to create a safety margin: 14’‑3”
• sign as 14’‑3” (rounding down not required as already a multiple of 3”)
This means if you see an imperial height on a low bridge, the real clearance is three, four or five inches higher than that. For example the road sign in this photo shows 10’‑3”, so the real clearance could be 10’‑6”, 10’‑7” or 10’‑8”.

The highest a low bridge can be, you may remember, is 16’‑5”.
Thus, the maximum headroom that will normally appear on a sign is 16’‑0”.
This is the kind of top fact I like to unearth during research.

Next, the rules for metric measures.
To obtain the metric figure shown on signs, the bridge height should be measured to two decimal places, rounding down to the nearest 0.01 m. The following method is then used to calculate the appropriate signed height:
a) if the second decimal digit is 8 or 9, delete it and sign the bridge with the remaining whole number and the first decimal digit;
b) if the second decimal digit is 7 or less, delete it and reduce the first decimal digit by 1. Sign the bridge with the remaining whole number and first decimal digit, as reduced.
Examples are again provided (and arguably even more necessary).
Example 1: measured height 4.19m
• remove the final 9 (subtract 0.09m)
• sign as 4.1 m
   Example 2: measured height 4.17m
• remove the final 7 (subtract 0.07m)
• reduce first decimal digit by 1 (subtract 0.1m)
• sign as 4.0 m
Essentially measurements ending in 8, 9 or 0 round down once, and measurements ending 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 round down twice.

This means if you see a metric height on a low bridge, the real clearance is at least eight centimetres higher than that, and maybe as much as seventeen.
The maximum headroom that will normally appear on a sign is 4.9 m.
This is why you never see a low bridge sign saying 5 metres something. Even though 5.02m officially counts as a low bridge, it'll always be signed 4.9m instead.

And finally, importantly, this.
The height shown on the sign must be to only one decimal place.
Here we have official confirmation that the sign I saw on Wick Lane was incorrect. It shouldn't say 3.890m, it shouldn't even say 3.89m, it should be rounded down to 3.8m. Whoever made the sign broke the rules, because the rules say three decimal places is not allowed.

With my initial query solved, I was now intrigued by the fact that imperial and metric heights are rounded differently. One might be rounded down a lot and the other a little, depending on what its final digit was, and the two heights displayed on the bridge might no longer be equivalent.

A quick bash with a spreadsheet confirmed that the difference between imperial and metric measures is normally small. Three quarters of the time they're no more than two inches apart, but the difference can occasionally be as much as four.

The greatest difference occurs when a bridge has a clearance of 3.57m (11’‑9”), in which case 3.4m is four inches less than 11’‑6”. The maximum difference in the opposite direction occurs when a bridge has a clearance of 2.88m (9’‑2”), in which case 8’‑9” is just over two inches less than 2.8m. But this is all by the by.

I'll end by analysing this classic low bridge on Coppermill Lane on Walthamstow Marshes.

It says 1.5m, which means the actual metric clearance must be somewhere between 1.58m and 1.67m. But 1.58m is 5’‑2”, which rounds down to 4’‑9” and the sign alongside doesn't say that. Similarly 1.67m is 5’‑6”, which rounds down to 5’‑3” and the sign alongside doesn't say that either. This means the actual clearance must be somewhere between 1.59m and 1.66m, which may be some consolation if you rick your back while cycling underneath it.

And this is why I like doing proper research.

If you have nothing better to do, 1700 pages of traffic sign manuals might keep you occupied too.

 Thursday, May 21, 2020

London's Disused Railways
North London Railway: Old Ford - Victoria Park

Today I'm completing my walk tracing the disused railway between Bow and Victoria Park (1850-1944). If yesterday was mostly flats, today is mostly dual carriageway.

Just to the north of Old Ford station, somewhat unexpectedly, the trackbed of the disused North London Railway can still be seen. Step out onto the footbridge at the end of Old Ford Road and there it is, an overgrown strip of green running immediately alongside the A12, plain as day.

A quick bit of local infrastructure history. The A12 is part of the East Cross Route, one of the few sections of the GLC's proposed London Motorway Box to be bulldozed through to completion. It was planned in the 1960s, by which time the North London Railway was only being used for freight, so it made sense to build the new road alongside an existing breach in the townscape. Between 1973 and 1984 an ever-decreasing number of trains ran alongside what was then an urban motorway, the A102(M), before the tracks were finally lifted leaving a thin strip of land unsuitable for development. If only the railway had closed before the road opened a much more efficient use of land could have been achieved, but chronology dictated otherwise. [1893 map] [1949 map]

The flats alongside the line are part of the Locton Estate, another Tower Hamlets neighbourhood laid out before the railway closed, otherwise they could have fitted in a couple of extra blocks. The flats on Candy Street are additionally constrained to the north due to the intervention of Joseph Bazalgette's Northern Outfall Sewer. By coincidence this is also the point where his High Level and Middle Level Sewers converge, rising to the surface beyond Victoria Park to continue their journey to Abbey Mills above ground. Thames Water still maintain a depot here to keep an eye.

The former railway has become a stripe of woodland by the time it reaches Wick Lane. Here the abutment of the original bridge lingers on as a graffitied brick wall, easily spotted alongside the letterbox tunnel beneath the A12. Ducketts Apartments across the street are the only housing to have been built on the railway alignment north of Old Ford. Another brick abutment marks the point where trains once crossed the Hertford Canal, not many feet above the towpath, and has again proved irresistible to purveyors of aerosol art.

This brings us to the unlikely tale of Britain's first railway murder, which occurred on this very line in July 1864. City banker Thomas Briggs was heading home on a late train from Fenchurch Street to Hackney Wick when he was robbed and beaten for his gold watch, then thrown from the compartment. His body was spotted on the tracks by the driver of the next southbound train and taken to the nearby Mitford Castle pub where he died from his wounds. A German tailor called Franz Müller was accused of the crime after selling the watch chain to a jeweller, subsequently arrested in New York and sentenced to death by hanging. The incident captivated the nation and led to the introduction of communication cords in all train carriages. In 2011 Kate Colquhoun wrote a fine book about the case called Mr Briggs' Hat, which I have attempted not to over-spoiler.

A few years ago you could have popped into the Mitford Castle for a pint, although by this time it had lost its upper storeys and been renamed the Top O' The Morning. Alas the pub closed in 2013, and in 2015 was demolished to make for way a jarring stack of luxury apartments and a new pub called The Italian Job. This being borderline Hackney the new place majors in craft beer and 'insane sourdough pizza', while the noticeboard outside informs us that lockdown tragically aborted a Mothers Day cupcake-baking class. At least they've reaffixed the heritage plaque outside, but its murderous legend doesn't fit the incorrigible hipster vibe.

Cadogan Terrace, you may remember, is inner London's only single track road with passing places. Its Georgian terraces face Victoria Park and no longer have a railway chugging along the rear, so residents must be doubly pleased. The run of houses broke only for Wallis Road, here reduced to a stubby cul-de-sac after the A12 barged brutally through. At its lowest point a thickly wooded embankment is the sole clue that trains were once carried overhead. For pedestrians or those on two wheels a dramatic footbridge extends further across six lanes of traffic as the East Cross Route splits to meet the Hackney Wick interchange.

The junction's complex because it was supposed to link to the North Cross Route but that was never built, for which residents of Camden, Highbury and Dalston remain eternally grateful. It was also complicated by the presence of the North London Railway, which swept across the left-hand carriageways at what used to be ground level via a brand new concrete viaduct. This touched down on the wooded embankment you can see in the middle of the photo, which was also the site of Victoria Park station, by this time defunct. The viaduct was finally removed in the late 1990s, having carried no passengers and very little freight.

The entrance to Victoria Park station was on the bend in Cadogan Terrace opposite what used to be the park's Station Gate. Today it's a car parking space, immediately behind which the A12 carves by in cutting, summarily demolishing all trace of the main building and two platforms. The brick footings of a former signal box survive on the far side of the chasm above the Hackney on-ramp. A third platform existed to the rear, this time on the Stratford line, because we have finally reached what used to be the junction with what's now the Overground. Don't bother looking out of the window on your next journey between Homerton and Hackney Wick because you won't see it because it isn't there. A12 one, North London Railway nil.

Abandoned stations: Victoria Park-Bow

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