diamond geezer

 Monday, August 31, 2020

31 unblogged things I did in August

Sat 1: Several new 'No pedestrians', 'No cycling' and 'No horses' signs have gone up alongside the A12, and you are so lucky I haven't blogged about that yet.
Sun 2: My smart TV (aged 7) won't do much that's smart any more. Most of the apps that used to work have vanished, those that remain are rubbish and the web browser now allows you to go no further than the manufacturer's homepage.
Mon 3: I've lost count of the number of times English Heritage have mailed me over the last 18 months urging me to renew my annual membership. It's late summer during a pandemic, guys, not likely.
Tue 4: My local library still hasn't reopened so the return date on the four books I took out in March has now been extended (again, again, again) to 1st October.
Wed 5: Watched ITV's local evening news in case I was walking past while they were interviewing Christine Ohuruogu, but they must have cut that section out.
Thu 6: Signs of autumn: The football pitches on Hackney Marshes are being repainted, and a few of the goalposts replanted.

Fri 7: Ooh, LNER are doing cheap midweek train tickets during August. Ten pounds to York, fifteen to Newcastle, twenty to Edinburgh. Normally I'd leap at the chance, but 2020 is not normal and I haven't even been to King's Cross recently, let alone the north. I bet trains to Lincoln are quiet, though...
Sat 8: After yesterday's 36.4°C, London just experienced a 'tropical night' when the temperature didn't drop below 20°C. We'll miss the heat when it's gone (and curse when it becomes the new normal).
Sun 9: Dear BBC iPlayer, I started watching that series about supernatural French surfers but it was rubbish, so I do not want to be continually reminded to watch episode 2.
Mon 10: Actually I'm not sure I could survive seven hours in Lincoln, not with access to the castle and cathedral being more restricted than usual... but I see there are onward trains to Grimsby and that sounds much more my cup of tea. Go on then, I'll buy a ticket and surprise myself.
Tue 11: Three roses bloomed on my balcony last night, which is unusual because normally the bush only flowers once. I blame the unprecedented heatwave (or the Baby Bio).

Wed 12: TfL have built a bus stand next to Custom House station with room for one terminating route, maybe two, so it looks like they're serious about rejigging the local bus network in readiness for (cough) Crossrail.
Thu 13: It's still 'Happy Pride' at Westfield, according to the banners nobody's taken down outside M&S.
Fri 14: The lady behind me at the supermarket checkout nudged up a little closer than felt comfortable, then put 18 bottles of Tippex and four staplers on the belt.
Sat 15: Sky Arts are filming whatever the Sky Arts version of Watercolour Challenge is, with the contestants spread out across the northernmost bridge in the Olympic Park. They've not got the best weather for it.
Sun 16: It's early Sunday morning and I'm walking through a very quiet Mile End. OMG that's Michaela Coel crossing the road towards me! It's definitely her. I've just watched twelve episodes of I May Destroy You and she was excellent. What do you do, what do you say, how do you act? I decide the most respectful thing to do is smile. She smiles back, and that is my day made.
Mon 17: The new album from Dizzee Rascal is to be called E3 AF, which looks well cool flyposted across a shopfront in Roman Road but somewhat provocative on a wall in Whitechapel.

Tue 18: ITV are filming The Only Way Is Essex on the bridge by the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park. Technically this was once Essex so they are historically correct. I keep well out of the way.
Wed 19: The burnt out van on Stephenson Road I told you about, the one with a toilet dumped in front, has now been joined by an abandoned organ.
Thu 20: Quite fancied a walk round Bow Ecology Park, but spotted two blokes in padded jackets training an alsatian to bite them, so decided against.
Fri 21: My trip to Lincolnshire is pencilled in for Tuesday, and it's becoming increasingly apparent from the the weather forecast that I couldn't have picked a worse day of the week.
Sat 22: The sign outside the Hot Tub Boats kiosk at West India Quay promises 'London's Most Unique Experience'. The dour faces of the two groups of partygoers adrift off the quayside suggested otherwise.
Sun 23: Signs of autumn: Half of Hackney Marshes is awash with Sunday footballers (but there are still cricketers on the other half, so all is not lost).
Mon 24: The Eagle pub in Chobham Road, E15, has a sign in the window saying 'Cash Only', in case you were labouring under the false assumption that the contactless event horizon had been passed.
Tue 25: I haven't been on a train in five months. Today I'm taking seven.

train 1: I need to be at King's Cross at 8am but have no idea how busy the tube is, so rather than risk Bow Road I walk all the way to Aldgate to catch the Metropolitan line (and get ridiculously wet in the process). My new Oyster card works. The train is as quiet as it would normally be.
train 2: King's Cross is uncannily empty for the peak of the morning rush hour. I have a reserved seat on the train to Lincoln, but someone is already sitting in the seat next to mine (which is not how the compulsory reservation system is supposed to work) so I go and sit at the even quieter end of the carriage instead. I see fields and cows for the first time in months. The train never gets busy.
train 3: The little train to Grimsby is easily distanceable. Lincolnshire looks grey and miserable.
train 4: My onward journey to Cleethorpes only takes eight minutes, but the two conductors still manage a full ticket check.
train 5: The little train from Grimsby is easily distanceable. Lincolnshire looks green and gorgeous.
train 6: The LNER service back to King's Cross is much better policed than the trip up. Mel the conductor patrols the train politely reprimanding anyone who's slipped off their face covering, and makes regular announcements to remind everyone to sit in their reserved seat. We like Mel.
train 7: By now it's well after the evening peak so I decide to take the Hammersmith & City line all the way home. We have plenty of seats each. In fact all today's trains have been perfectly fine... but then I did choose them for that very reason.

Wed 26: The penultimate day of Eat Out To Help Out is exceptionally busy at Here East. I haven't seen the riverside this busy since last summer (or maybe it's just that everybody's now eating outdoors rather than indoors).
Thu 27: If you're looking for additional psychogeographical London content I heartily recommend keeping an eye on The Lost Byway - John Rogers' blog - on which he's often to be found walking across outskirts, contemplating woodland or following a lost river. He also makes films and has a YouTube channel. It's very much your kind of thing.
Fri 28: The bus map outside Canning Town station is ten years old today. It is still nearly correct, but should have been updated nine years ago when the 241 was extended to Stratford City. A map in a bus shelter on Woolwich High Street is five weeks older (or at least it was last time I looked).
Sat 29: Signs of autumn: Last year the first autumn day that didn't reach 15°C was 2nd October. This year it was 29th August.
Sun 30: Turned on the oven, light came on, fan whirred into action. Came back ten minutes later to shove a pie in only to discover that the oven hadn't heated up. Tried again, still no joy. Thankfully it's a dual oven so I didn't go pieless, but that is a poor show from a nine-month-old appliance.
Mon 31: If your 13 year-old son headed off this morning on his chunky-wheeled bike, he may well be among the 200-strong posse assembled outside Pudding Mill Lane station doing wheelies on the piazza (unless the police van that just arrived dispersed the gathering, in which case he may be flicking Vs at drivers on the A12 or regrouping at McDonalds for a banana milkshake).

 Sunday, August 30, 2020

Day out: Lincoln

The city of Lincoln is strategically located at the point where the River Witham cuts through a long escarpment, which is why the Romans built here and ultimately why it's an excellent tourist location. Alas I only had a short time to explore while changing trains, once at the start of the day and once at the end, but just long enough to walk Lincoln's amazing main street from bottom to top. Few high streets evolve quite so dramatically (and are quite so knackering). [map] [10 photos] [Visit Lincoln]

lower High Street
I joined the high street in its lowly lower section, the end of the town centre you'd visit for Argos, Poundland and The Sausage Grill. The big retail offering here is a former mainline station they turned into a shopping mall - St Mark's - after the railway was diverted in 1985. They kept the ionic portico, which now shields Sports Direct, but everything else was flattened and the signal box opposite Debenhams is a fake. The railway continues to slice through the high street at a busy level crossing, creating a major obstacle in the lower town. A few years ago National Rail added a footbridge to provide safe passage at all times, but most shoppers prefer to wait for the barriers to rise rather than take a lengthy hike (or wait for two lifts). A separate footbridge one street to the west, overlooking Brayford Pool, was opened last summer and is both architecturally more impressive and (importantly) more direct.

middle High Street
Across St Mary's Street, where the remaining station is, the High Street broadens out and steps up a notch. Banks and clothes shops start to predominate so you get a better class of teenager hanging around, or I imagine you do in drier weather. Two Waterstones would appear to be overdoing things, but the larger branch inside the old Corn Exchange is your better bet. The key building to look out for is the half-timbered Pasty Express, which it turns out is one of England's oldest buildings-on-a-bridge. Alleyways to either side lead down steps to the Glory Hole, an age-old nickname for the low arch which delivers the River Witham underneath the high street. If your beam is wider than 15 feet your craft won't squeeze through.

upper High Street
A castellated limestone building almost blocks the climbing high street, a Tudor obstruction with Victorian upgrades. This is the Guildhall and to proceed you walk through an arch called the Stonebow which marks the southern entrance into the walled city. Lincoln council meetings still take place in a beam-roofed chamber on the first floor. Beyond are more shops befitting of a county town, peaking with House of Fraser, plus an ever-increasing density of restaurants. Having explored Grimsby's retail offering barely an hour earlier, it was a big jolt to see quite so many non-essential shops.

The Strait
The pedestrianised street continues relentlessly upwards before suddenly splitting, the main drag veering off to the right. The road is now of medieval width, and cobbled, and lined by quirkier lifestyle brands. It's charming, aided and abetted by one of the cathedral's towers now poking out above the bunting. On the next bend is Jew's House which dates back to the middle of the 12th century and is one of Britain's oldest surviving townhouses. It's now a restaurant. The road junction out front also marks the unofficial dividing line between the areas of town that locals often call Downhill and Uphill. They are not joking.

Steep Hill
It makes perfect sense that the people of Lincoln would have called this Steep Hill because that's exactly what it is. The steepest stretch has a gradient of 1 in 6 and a handrail if you need it, plus a choice of paved or cobbled ascent. It's not too draining a climb but vehicles are strictly prohibited, and I doubt that many folk with mobility scooters choose to retire to Lincoln. That said it is terribly attractive, and the corridor of old shops towards the top of the hill reflects that. This section's all tea rooms, soap boutiques and fudge pantries, if you like that kind of thing, and I suspect normally a lot busier in August than I experienced.

Castle Square
Here we are finally at the top of the hill, the 75m summit being unusually high for Lincolnshire. You can see why the Romans built fortifications up here, and the Normans a castle and a cathedral. The castle is now a top visitor attraction, particularly for its wall walk, dungeons and copy of the Magna Carta, though not as typically medieval as you're probably imagining. The cathedral was the world's tallest building for 200 years until its spire fell down, and is still phenomenally imposing, even with scaffolding across much of the west front. Unfortunately I was here as Great Tom struck five which meant it was tourist chucking-out time, and anyway I needed to be back down at the Poundland end of the high street to catch my train home. I left the surrounding maze of streets preparing for the evening's fine diners and smart drinkers, and worked my way back down in status and in elevation.

» 50 photos of Lincoln, Grimsby and Cleethorpes

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• campaign to persuade parents that school is 'safe'
• increased fines for organisers of mass gatherings
• Tesco add 16000 home delivery jobs
• Scottish high schools to require face coverings
• 1st confirmed case of patient being re-infected
• 1st known UK case was on 21st February
• England follows Scotland on masks in schools
• millions of workers may not return to the office
• Usain Bolt tests positive
• 1 in 4 jobs to go at Gatwick Airport
• low paid to get £13 a day to self-isolate
• Jamaica and Switzerland join quarantine list
• outbreak at Norfolk poultry factory
• Paris makes masks mandatory
• highest number of new cases for 2 months
• Pret to cut quarter of its workforce
• restrictions eased in parts of NW England
• risk to children is 'vanishingly small'
• up to 85,000 deaths in worst case winter scenario
• virus badly affecting several Pacific islands

Worldwide deaths: 800,000 → 840,000
Worldwide cases: 23,000,000 → 24,800,000
UK deaths: 41,423 → 41,498
UK cases: 324,601 → 332,752
FTSE: down 1% (6001 → 5963)

 Saturday, August 29, 2020

Day out: Grimsby

Grimsby is the largest town in North East Lincolnshire thanks to fish. It became an important fishing port in the 12th century, lost favour in the 15th century when its harbour silted up then burst back to life in the mid 19th century with the coming of the railways. By the 1950s it was the largest fishing port in Britain, maybe the world, before fishing quotas brought the industry crashing down. Today Grimsby specialises in food processing instead, mainly of fish caught elsewhere. I fully intend to describe it without using the obvious adjective. [map] [19 photos] [Visit Grimsby]

»» The town centre
This is not somewhere to come touristing, although that's not to say there's nothing to see. There's the big medieval church near the station, for a start, which is Grimsby Minster (although it only gained minster status ten years ago so isn't as important as it sounds). The town hall is an imposing Victorian building in Italianate palazzo style, but sadly the Time Trap attraction in the former police cells won't be reopening before March so you won't be getting in there. Which basically leaves shopping.

Victoria Street is the main shopping street, which paired with the cheerless Freshney Place mall gifts Grimsby sufficient stores to satisfy the extensive hinterland of north Lincolnshire. House of Fraser alas closed its doors for the last time last month, but M&S hasn't given up yet and is about as highbrow as Grimsby gets. My favourite shop was Magazine World, an unashamed newsagent throwback whose window display consisted of shelves of top sporting and household titles (plus a row of Beano and Dandy summer specials at child's eye height). The longest queue, by far, was for Uniform Direct where a horseshoe of glum mums and bored children awaited fittings for the new school year. The Top Town indoor market was rather emptier, an austere grid of part-occupied stalls serving up meat, veg and (of course) fish.

»» The Haven
Grimsby's silted-up harbour was reworked at the turn of the 19th century to create a large rectangular basin for efficient unloading. It now forms a water feature nudging into the heart of town, but overlooked by copious retail parks rather than anything residential. The Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre opened on the west quay in 1991, telling the story of the national fishing fleet... which I fear means a lot of nets and sou'westers. Its galleries reopened to the public on Tuesday but the faff of pre-booking at a specific time meant I had to give the place a miss. At least tours of the classic side-trawler moored outside, the Ross Tiger, haven't yet restarted so technically I didn't miss that.

The most impressive structures hereabouts, genuinely so, are the Corporation Bridge and the Victoria Flour Mill. The former is a single-leaf rolling lift bascule bridge installed in 1925, i.e all the traffic stops and one end tips up. An act of Parliament requires the bridge to retain its lifting capacity despite no boat having sailed into the Alexandra Dock this century, forcing the council to set aside £5m for recent repairs. As for the mill, its seven storey redbrick grain silo looks gorgeous but is merely a shell around a central void, hence somewhat unstable. The council are trying to keep it standing while seeking a future use, but can't turn it into flats because the residents would have no windows. Heritage is sometimes a headache.

»» The docks
In the 19th and early 20th centuries Grimsby's docks spread along the waterfront and out into the estuary, to the extent that the average Grimbarian never sees the Humber. What they can see is the 300 foot Grimsby Dock Tower, a supremely elegant Italianate spike which contains the hydraulics powering the lock gates to the tidal basin. The tower's a long way distant, hence off limits, but it's perfectly possible to wander into the nearer reaches of the docks for a fishy eyeful. The railway bridge on Humber Street provides a great vantage point, as well as being the quickest access for workers walking to and from the Young's factory on Ross Road.

From up here you can see brightly painted sheds, lost-looking buildings that were once part of something larger, vast expanses of hardstanding where nothing much happens any more and even the odd trawler. I identified one from Norway, one from Iceland and one from Whitby. These days Grimsby processes more fish than it catches, so the adjacent streets are packed with refrigerated warehouses belonging to numerous independent companies, one of whom might be breadcrumbing your next supermarket purchase. Walking back off the bridge I was blasted by the smell of fishfingers from a ventilation unit, which was life-affirming.

»» The request stop
The railway hugs the coast on the brief journey between Grimsby and Cleethorpes but is only single track, which doesn't aid a good service. Neither does the fact that most of the trains arriving at Cleethorpes have come all the way from Manchester Piccadilly so have a habit of being delayed (mine was ten minutes late due to issues in the Peak District). New Clee station is a single-platformed halt in view of the docks, adjacent to the Flatfish sushi factory and an Aldi car park, potentially serving backstreets on the northern edge of town. But it's only served by stoppers on the Humberlinc line, and then only every two hours, and then only as a request stop, which'll be how it manages to attract fewer than 500 passengers a year. I got lucky and happened to be present when a train actually stopped, but it was going the wrong way so never mind.

»» The football ground
Continuing along the coast we find Blundell Park, the home of Grimsby Town Football Club, embedded amid a grid of Victorian streets. It's been here since 1899, and its main wooden stand since 1901, so it's not the best appointed of League clubs. The Young's Stand (formerly the Findus Stand) looks considerably more alluring, however, its top tier seats offering panoramic views of the Humber estuary if play on the pitch fails to excite. The club chairman has high hopes of building a new stadium closer to town in East Marsh, one of Britain's most deprived neighbourhoods, but a succession of previous relocation plans have hit the rocks and this looks like another failed dream.

I turned up just after a team practice which meant the gates were open, offering a rare glimpse of the pitch. A couple of players walked out resplendent in their Young's-sponsored kit and unlocked cars rather swisher than most folk have around here. Blundell Avenue, the neighbouring street after which the ground is named, offers an unbroken line of terraced pebbledash with questionable brown splodges on the pavement. Close by is a footbridge over the railway line... which is where I left you in the last paragraph of yesterday's post because Blundell Park is technically in Cleethorpes. Best not mention that when the new season kicks off next Saturday.

» 50 photos of Lincoln, Grimsby and Cleethorpes

 Friday, August 28, 2020

Day out: Cleethorpes

Cleethorpes is North East Lincolnshire's seaside resort. Officially what you're paddling in is the Humber estuary, not the sea, but the beach is broad and sandy so the daytrippers don't mind. Cleethorpes grew from a fishing village to a bathing place to a full-on resort in the 19th century, providing an ideal coastal getaway for the folk of south Yorkshire. It's not so popular today but hasn't lost all of its charm, and prides itself on not (quite) being Grimsby. [20 photos] [Visit Cleethorpes]

»» The pier
Let's start with the pier which is conveniently located at the head of the promenade. It used to be a lot longer to span the broad tidal range in the estuary, but lost three quarters of its length in 1940 as part of defence works to deter German invasion. What remains is a brief asymmetrical boardwalk leading to an offshore platform with a single large pavilion... which has had at least ten different owners over the last 40 years. The latest business trying to make a go of things is Papa's, an east coast chippy brand with a habit of opening "the world's largest fish and chip restaurant", of which this is their third.

The pavilion seats 500 diners and also incorporates a takeaway, although both require pre-booking this summer which made dropping in for battered haddock too much of a hassle. I was also put off by the takeaway cartons stacked against the front window which prominently featured the phrase 'as featured on the BBC', although it turned out this was for reasons of haute cuisine and not the result of a Watchdog investigation. But mostly I took against Papa's because they'd sealed off the walkways around three sides of the pavilion so the best sea views were available only to those seated inside. It's fortunate that Cleethorpes won Pier of the Year the year before this catering monopoly turned up because, although the exterior looks splendid, I doubt it'd win today.

»» The promenade
Cleethorpes' beachfront promenade runs for just over a mile and is divided into North, Central and South.

North's where the action is, if by action you mean amusement arcades, soft play and a low-key nightclub. On a wet day it offers somewhere to hide and something to do. It's also where the station is so the first place tourists see on arrival, enticed by an ornate clocktower only to be deposited at the entrance to the Fantasy World arcade. The bare minimum of a funfair has been set up on the sands featuring a carousel, a not-so-big wheel, a helter skelter and the tamest of rollercoasters. At the red-and-white striped Cleethorpes Rock Company kiosk plastic sheeting is sometimes used to screen the sugar-rich display from the driving rain. Fryer Tuck's Take Away serves absolutely nothing healthy, with chips, as is right and proper at the seaside.

Central starts at the pier and runs down to the lifeboat station beneath the High Cliff Road. The landward side is backdropped by Pier View Gardens, a thin strip of quintessential resort furniture including flower beds, crazy golf and a waterfall. Crazy golf is cutthroat business in Cleethorpes as each 18-holer competes for business. Friend-of-the-blog Richard Gottfried highly recommends the classic Arnold Palmer, a UK rarity, but also also rates Oddballs for its massive windmill and the hole concealed inside a scale model of the pier. The teenager manning the ticket booth looked beyond bored as I dripped past, as did the hopeful soul in the dry at Julie's Ice Cream Parlour. For the best view along the seafront head to Ross Castle, which isn't a castle but a mock ruin built in 1885 with a spiralling ramp to the upper platform.

South is much less commercialised, a long promenade set back from the road for keen strollers only. A strip down the centre is marked for the use of the Lollipop Road Train, so-called because the conductor hands out free lollipops to every child that travels. What else is a former trawler skipper supposed to do after retirement? The Cleethorpes illuminations appear intermittently atop wooden posts, and leave Blackpool nothing to worry about. As for the beach this is easily accessible behind a low concrete wall, and had been freshly raked earlier on the morning of my visit. Walk right to the end and you reach a formidable leisure centre, built to replace a storm damaged open air pool (beyond which are the boating lake, miniature railway and meridian crossing I told you about yesterday).

»» The town
40,000 people live in Cleethorpes and they get a proper high street, although the majority of businesses near the seafront specialise solely in serving food. Top of the recommended list is Steel's Corner House, a half-timbered fish and chip restaurant opened in 1946 and under the same management since 1978. They don't normally do takeaway but have adapted this summer so I had the opportunity of a pre-ordered box of flaky haddock, and all I can say is I'm not sure why the kebab house nextdoor bothers.

I also took the opportunity to check out a couple of estate agent windows, because it's good for a Londoner to be grounded occasionally. Detached chalet bungalow £55,000. Two bedroom flat £79,500. Three bedroomed terraced house £90,000. Three bedroomed semi £135,000. Three-storey house with five bedrooms £180,000. If all that has you sobbing, perhaps ask yourself what's more important, living conditions or location. So long as you love fish and chips you have nothing to fear.

» Cleethorpes resident are nicknamed Meggies (as opposed to people from Skegness who are Skeggies).
» Cleethorpes' most famous offspring are songwriter Rod Temperton and actresses Michelle Dotrice and Patricia Hodge
» Cleethorpes prides itself on overperforming in the annual Britain in Bloom competition, peaking with an RHS Gold Champion of Champions award in 2012, although the gold plaques on the wall above Sandcastles gift shop cease abruptly after 2015.

»» The overlap
At the far end of the North Promenade, beyond the go karts and the Sunday market, the coast path passes onto a high sea wall. To one side an incredible sweep of concrete steps leads down to a crescent of beach, almost as if this were an auditorium rather than a breakwater. The main railway line cuts off access from the landward side, eventually spanned by a single footbridge which fails to match up with a gap in the sea wall. The coast becomes more industrial, the inland streets more resolutely terraced, and somewhere along this stretch Cleethorpes merges silently into Grimsby. Let's save its delights for tomorrow.

» 50 photos of Lincoln, Grimsby and Cleethorpes

 Thursday, August 27, 2020

Prime Meridian 0° (day 5)

138 miles north of Newham the Greenwich Meridian finally hits the coast in the Lincolnshire town of Cleethorpes. [map] [6 photos]

Marine Embankment, Cleethorpes   [53.542°N 0°W]
A strip of stainless steel across the coast path marks the spot. It'd be a fairly anonymous spot otherwise, a mile from the buzz of the town's pier and promenade, facing the mouth of the Humber Estuary across the dunes. But Cleethorpes' borough surveyor had the sense to mark the meridian's crossing in 1933 and today a cluster of commemorative clutter has joined it.

The line cuts diagonally across the path, as you'd expect on a northeast-facing coast. It was provided by a Sheffield foundry with a view to proving that their metal plates could withstand maritime corrosion (and has passed that test with flying colours).

At one end is a signpost pointing towards several far-flung destinations including London, Moscow, New York and Sydney. The North Pole is 2517 miles away and the South Pole 9919 miles distant, which places Cleethorpes 20% of the way down this particular line of longitude. Inexplicably the only other item on the precise alignment is a hulking black bin labelled 'Litter' and 'Dog Waste', and I hate to think what the symbolism of this might be.

The other significant marker here is a two ton granite globe funded by the Cleethorpes Renaissance Town Team. It's only five years old but much of Europe and Africa have already rubbed off its surface so I couldn't tell if the meridian had been marked in a special way. Inscribed on the plinth underneath is the legend 'The World revolves around Cleethorpes' which is an admirably proud civic statement if scientifically untrue. The plinth originally supported a sundial, which means this location has featured at one time or another a metal strip, a signpost, a sundial and a globe - the full gamut of meridian markers.

Three benches face out to sea, or more strictly river. The Humber is still a couple of miles from entering the North Sea, the East Yorkshire shoreline low and very distant, with the occasional ship or tanker passing inbetween. Two garrisoned platforms can be seen amid the muddy waters, Haile Sand Fort and Bull Sand Fort, built to guard the mouth of the estuary during World War 1. Spurn Head is out there somewhere, but being very flat your best chance of seeing it is to spot the lighthouse at its tip. Turning up on the back edge of a storm is not recommended, the view reduced to a thin grey line between the dunes and a leaden grey sky... plus the benches tend to be very wet.

The coast path is half walkway half cycleway, and breaks here for a brief red paved interlude. On the Cleethorpes side it heads past the back of a caravan park and five glum rows of garage-sized beach huts. Almost all were locked shut as I walked by, the sound of a whistling kettle emerging from the odd one out as a husband raised his binoculars towards birds wheeling above the salt marsh. Downriver the path soon reaches the Meridian Car Park at the end of Meridian Road and then an extensive (non-meridian) caravan park. Beyond that are the Humberston Fitties, a 1920s plotlands development of 320 chalets whose leases prohibit residency during the stormy months of January and February.

A narrow gauge track carrying the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway runs immediately south of the meridian cluster. The railway has been sequentially extended along the coast over the last seventy years, the most recent addition taking it into the adjacent hemisphere, and now runs for a full mile and a half. The closest station to the meridian line is the terminus at Humberston North Bay Lane, its signal box plainly visible to the east. The other stations are Kingsway and Lakeside Central, the latter boasting a signal box which doubles up as 'The Smallest Pub On The Planet' (spoiler: the Guinness Book of Records disagrees). A whistle informed me that trains were indeed running despite the inclement weather, but the service which chuffed slowly past was carrying more staff than passengers.

Just beyond the railway are the ruins of the Pleasure Island Theme Park, which alas became economically unviable in 2016 and awaits redevelopment. The Meridian Showground nextdoor isn't having a good 2020 but one of the Meridian Point Craft Units is open for trading should anybody turn up. Venture further towards the boating lake and you'll discover a small zoo, a Chinese restaurant, a dour flat-roofed-pub, a taproom and a multiscreen cinema in what feels very much like Cleethorpes out-of-town leisure destination. But a steel strip across a footpath was enough for me, not quite the Greenwich Meridian's final landing point but a longitudinal link to back home all the same.

 Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Prime Meridian 0° (day 4)

To complete my journey along the Greenwich Meridian through Tower Hamlets and Newham, today I'm covering the section north from Stratford station. It could be worse, I could be blogging all the way to Cleethorpes. [map] [photos]

Stratford station   [51.543°N 0°W]
Stratford station may resemble a sprawling octopus with platforms firing off at all angles, but only one of them crosses the meridian. Crossrail's future platforms miss by some distance. Platforms 9 and 10 serving long distance Greater Anglia services almost reach. But the occasionally-served platform 10a extends a fair bit further to the east, so anyone walking 40m beyond the last shelter could find themselves waiting for a train on the zero degree line.

To take a decent photograph of the far end of the platform I made my way to the unnamed service road that lurks behind Stratford One, the Unite Students accommodation fortress, and ignored all the notices suggesting the public aren't terribly welcome back here.

MSG Sphere   [51.544°N 0°W]
A large chunk of land remains undeveloped behind Stratford station on a triangular site bounded by platform 10a, platform 11 and the High Speed 1 trench. What's planned to erupt here is the MSG Sphere, a huge globular music'n'entertainment venue more capacious than the Manchester Arena, optimally located alongside the perfect transport hub. It'd also sit astride the meridian, which is a boast the O2 down in Greenwich can't quite match. But this 92m tall golfball will also have "a fully-programmable exterior that serves as a digital showcase for the venue, artists and partners", which basically gifts central Stratford an unavoidable advertising screen contaminating the night sky. Planning permission is pending but not yet granted. Whether investors deem the place profitable in a new normal future is yet to be seen.

Eurostar trains cross the meridian here, just before entering/after exiting the tunnel between Stratford International and Dagenham.

New Garden Quarter   [51.545°N 0°W]
It sounds like Telford Homes spun their Residential Development Buzzword Generator when they named New Garden Quarter. Obviously it's new. Yes there is a central garden. No it's not a quarter, just a dense horseshoe of flats built across brownfield land round the back of Westfield. The sales brochure describes it as "a contemporary interpretation of a classic London Square" but although the intention was Grosvenor Square what the architects delivered was a bland white-faced fortress with a jumped-up children's playground in the middle. The meridian runs past the automatic bollards on the central access road, immaculately paved but with the whiff of bins.

To prove it's not all regeneration round here, a tiny light industrial estate survives across Penny Brookes Street. They'll repair your vehicle, they'll tint your window, they'll polish your nails, but best of all they'll fire you up jerk chicken if you're Jamaican Me Hungry.

Warren Gardens   [51.548°N 0°W]
This is random. Warren Gardens is the very definition of an insignificant street, a dozen lowly flat-roofed postwar houses on a gently curving dead-end terrace. One resident has built a play castle in their tiny front garden, complete with battlements, while most have left theirs lightly weeded. But among the paving slabs out front is one with a Greenwich Meridian marker, partly because the zero degree line passes through number 3 and partly because someone at Newham council inexplicably decided Warren Gardens deserved one of the borough's trio of commemorative markers. Abbey Lane and Stratford High Street I get, but this is fantastically niche. Alas the paving slabs have been relaid at some point and someone accidentally rotated the meridian marker through 90° so it now points east/west and is essentially invalid.

We now enter a grid of Victorian terraced streets so the opportunities for meridian marking dry up somewhat. I did find a mysterious circular footprint on the correct alignment in Chandos Road Open Space, but I suspect it's just the remnants of a dead bench or similar.

Crownfield Road   [51.552°N 0°W]
Here's one last slab in the pavement. It's on the south side of the Crownfield Road during a brief run of unterraced houses outside number 153. It's got a crack across it, thankfully not along the central line, but then it is thirty-six years old. You may notice there isn't an 'N' in the middle, and that's because we're not (quite) in Newham any more - Crownfield Road is the first street in Waltham Forest. Sixty meridian-crossed streets in Waltham Forest were marked with green thermoplastic compasses for the millennium, but this gets a bit samey after you've seen a few, plus most of them are now looking very much the worse for wear. I did check out the first in neighbouring Drapers Road just so you get the idea, but best stop there.

• Today's 8 photos can be found here
• The entire set of 40 photos can be found here
• Further meridian markers are listed here and here

 Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Prime Meridian 0° (day 3)

Having passed out of Tower Hamlets yesterday, today I'm continuing my walk along the Greenwich Meridian through Newham. Bear with me, we will eventually reach somewhere you actually recognise. [map] [photos]

Greenway   [51.532°N 0°W]
The Northern Outfall Sewer passes just north of Abbey Mills Pumping Station, above ground on a brick viaduct, with the Greenway permissive footpath running along the top. In 2004 a rather charming meridian marker was embedded in the tarmac, an analemmatic sundial. Stand in the right place, which varies month by month (for reasons previously explained), and your shadow will point towards the correct time. If the brass numerals around the edge look quirky that's because they were designed by children at Manor Primary School in collaboration with artist Kate Williams. Only if you wander over to read a small plaque on a nearby pillar is it mentioned that the noon line aligns perfectly with the Greenwich Meridian, and I wonder how many of those walking or cycling by have ever realised the full significance.

By coincidence this is also the point where Abbey Lane passes underneath the mighty sewer pipes. I'm reliably informed there's another meridian marker down here, a slab set in the ground, but although I've been back twice I cannot find it. I suspect it's either been removed or has been obscured by rampant vegetation... I need to come back in winter and check.

Rick Roberts Way   [51.533°N 0°W]
This is a dull backroad, essentially a ratrun through a light industrial estate, and meridianly unmarked. I mention it partly because the building to the north (now vacant) is St Clements Press where The Guardian used to be printed when it was awkwardly shaped. Meanwhile across the road is the Mercedes Benz service centre which moved from the site of the Olympic Stadium, and whose car park now features several weary notices saying no, this is not the entrance to the Covid-19 test centre.

Channelsea Path   [51.535°N 0°W]
The Channelsea River once threaded north from Three Mills through almost-the-heart of Stratford, but wasn't compatible with a growing suburb so was covered over. Between the Greenway and Stratford High Street they turned it into a footpath, a meandering stripe of tarmac lined by bogstandard vegetation and with a minimal number of access points. Walking along it requires passing out of human sight for several minutes, and within shouting distance only of the back of the Jubilee line depot, so can be somewhat unnerving. The Greenwich Meridian deigns to cross at the northern end where a concrete block topped with insectlike art has been plonked in the middle of the path. The 'Channelsea Gateway' was created by the same team that installed the Greenway sundial, which makes me think its location is deliberate, but this time the accompanying plaque stays silent on the matter.

The meridian scores a direct hit on Buzz Bingo, formerly Gala Bingo, on Stratford High Street. Perhaps they could introduce a zero ball to celebrate the fact.

Stratford High Street   [51.539°N 0°W]
Hurrah, an actual proper meridian marker set into the pavement. This one is located on the north side of the High Street on the bridge above the Jubilee line, specifically the southbound Jubilee line if you want to be really accurate. The slab's been slanted so that the line across the middle follows the correct alignment, and in the centre is Newham's appealingly spiky 1970s logo. Coincidentally this is a letter 'N' which adds reinforcement that the line points north, which indeed it duly does. I understand there are three such plaques across the borough, one in Abbey Lane (that I couldn't find), one here and another further north (that we'll get to tomorrow).

Meridian Square, Stratford   [51.542°N 0°W]
Bullseye! An arbitrary line drawn due north from a telescope in Greenwich just happens to pass through one of London's most important transport interchanges. It lines up perfectly with the revamped pedestrian crossing at the southern end of the Stratford Bus Station. It grazes the passenger-free corner of the bus station behind the mess room and staff toilets. It crosses Great Eastern Road on the slant. It passes through newly-introduced Bus Stop P. It ducks beneath the shiny scales of The Shoal. It then runs pretty much perfectly along the row of doors at the entrance to the Stratford Centre (or possibly a few feet further back through Burger King and Subway). Purely by coincidence this shopping mall portal has become a dividing line between hemispheres... outside west, inside east.

But this is not what the nearest meridian marker says. Inexplicably a geographically incorrect line runs across the main piazza, bold as brass, on the wrong side of the supersized pedestrian crossing. Embedded alongside is a ribbed metal rectangle reading Meridian Line 0°0'0"E when in fact this is 0°0'2"W. If the meridian truly ran along this alignment it'd make sense of the piazza being called Meridian Square, as it has been since the millennium when Stratford station was upgraded. But Newham's planners appear to have made a lazy assumption, then compounded it in 2010 when the brass line was added as part of an upgrade to prepare for Westfield crowds. Thirty metres, it turns out, makes all the difference.

The meridian was previously marked by a twirly sculpture called Time Spiral, again in not quite the right place, but this was removed to Maryland ten years ago (and lost its clock faces to boot). The name 'Meridian Square' appears to have been lost more recently. It was officially used on the street signs at the entrance to the taxi drop-off serving Stratford station, but the remodelling of the bus station shifted taxis elsewhere so this particular loop of road has been sealed off. As of last month it lies behind a shield of whitewashed hoardings and will probably never see traffic again. If you'd like to complain about this action you have until Wednesday next week to apply to the High Court for a suspension order.

Bluntly, the marking of the meridian through Stratford is a mess. It is marked where it doesn't exist and it isn't marked where it does. There again, the modern GPS meridian actually runs through the 4-way atrium at the centre of the Stratford Centre, 100m to the east, so you could wonder why anyone is bothering at all.

The meridian passes through the 23-storey Unex Tower on its way into Meridian Square and through the 33-storey Legacy Tower on its way out, so I suspect that's the Greenwich Meridian laser scuppered.

• Today's 12 photos can be found here
• Tomorrow we continue from Stratford station

 Monday, August 24, 2020

Prime Meridian 0° (day 2)

Today I'm continuing my walk along the Greenwich Meridian through Tower Hamlets and Newham... or attempting to walk along it because direct passage becomes a lot harder from here thanks to a derelict gasworks, a tidal river and several industrial estates. So, plenty to look forward to... [map] [photos]

New Village Avenue   [51.513°N 0°W]
Much of the postwar Aberfeldy estate, cut off behind the A12 and the A13, has succumbed to regeneration over the last decade. Most of the housing association flats bordering the East India Dock Road have been knocked down and replaced by something sparklier, blockier and more likely to have a 24 hour concierge. Initially the marketing team called it Aberfeldy Village but they've since morphed to calling the site Oxbow, which is a godawful name because a) it's not in Oxford b) it's not in Bow and c) it does not in any way resemble a disconnected meander. The main thoroughfare retains the name New Village Avenue, however, although there's nothing rural about a long grassy canyon with occasional footbridges crossing an imaginary water feature. About the only thing I like about the development is that they remembered the Greenwich Meridian exists and marked it with a lovely brass spike across one of the walkways.

The meridian passes through Watermans House, Traders House and Blairgowrie Court. None of these are as vibrant as the marketing collateral claims.

Abbott Road   [51.514°N 0°W]
Nudging up against all this redevelopment malarkey, Abbott Road is a throwback to when these South Bromley streets were the closest to the docks. Only a few Victorian buildings survive, but the majority of residents are still lucky enough to have proper houses rather than flats. The meridian cuts invisibly across the point of a triangular parklet past a road sign using not quite the right typeface pointing not quite the right way.

Poplar Gas Works   [51.516°N 0°W]
In the 1820s the Poplar Gas Company opened its first gasworks alongside a bend in Bow Creek. It did its dirty job for decades, out of general sight, and grew to accommodate three gasholders, two retort houses and numerous tanks and gantries. In 2010, its job done, British Gas announced plans to demolish the lot and remediate the 20 acre site. 28,000m³ of mucky spoil was removed, much of it by barge, and today the land is securely fenced awaiting, you guessed it, 2800 flats. Tower Hamlets nodded through planning permission earlier in lockdown, with full completion scheduled to take many years. One major benefit will be the opening up of 500m of riverside path, but on the downside the developers have only been asked to leave space for footbridges across the Lea rather than funding any themselves, leaving future residents potentially rather cut off.

The Greenwich Meridian cuts across the heart of the site, as you can see on this artist's impression culled from the masterplan. Unfortunately I've had to add the red line myself as the architects appear to have completely overlooked the meridian's existence. It doesn't get a mention anywhere in their 24 page Design Evolution document, and the footprint of the blocks and towers entirely disregards the alignment. There are always other factors to be taken into consideration, of course, but it does seem a terrible waste of geographical good fortune given that branding a location 'Meridian Something' invariably adds value.

A footbridge across to Cody Dock was granted planning permission in 2010 but has never been built, as if this section of the Lea Valley Walk is forever cursed.

Bow Creek   [51.518°N 0°W]
The River Lea is broad and tidal at this point, and also entirely inaccessible to the public. The meridian crosses the river just downstream of Cody Dock, tantalisingly out of reach, and enters the London borough of Newham through the depot of GBN Services Ltd, specialists in skip hire, recycling and waste transfer. To stand on the zero degree line you need to head for the stretch of South Crescent immediately outside the arched entrance to Cody Dock, close to a cluster of parked-up street sweepers, and deftly dodge any passing trucks.

Cody Dock itself is lovely, an evolving community asset to be proud of, but alas it misses the meridian by about twenty metres.

Cody Road   [51.521°N 0°W]
The Cody Road Trading Estate houses numerous businesses London needs but nobody wants to live near. As such the location is ideal because absolutely nobody does. High fences and locked gates screen off cement works, electricity substations, builders yards, document archives, car rental depots, windscreen repairers, food wholesalers, even a dealer in eels. If the wind's in the right direction you might also get the whiff of freshly-roasted coffee but that's a rare treat. The meridian crosses Cody Road in the tiny gap between North Crescent and South Crescent where the pavements are generally clogged by unmarked delivery vans and off-duty ambulances. May you never have any good reason to visit.

For the next 700 metres there is no public access to the meridian, other than those aboard trains between West Ham and Bromley-by-Bow stations. The easternmost of the Twelvetrees gasholder cluster is narrowly scraped.

Long Wall Path   [51.528°N 0°W]
Here's one of my favourite local paths, a secluded dogleg clinging to the north bank of Abbey Creek. It was closed for ten years while Thames Water completed adjacent works on the Lee Tunnel but reopened in 2016 connecting Three Mills to the Greenway. The waterfront is mostly obscured by undergrowth and mud while inland is screened by a security fence, so it can feel a bit like you're walking through a green tunnel. I used GPS on my phone to try to work out where the meridian passes, and I think it's the one spot where the undergrowth has been trodden down and the fence has been yanked open, but ultimately there is no escape.

The field in which the first two series of Big Brother took place is (almost) just behind the fence (but marginally into the western hemisphere).

Abbey Mills Pumping Station   [51.531°N 0°W]
Not only is this an absolutely glorious building but the Greenwich Meridian slices through the cruciform engine room. Abbey Mills Pumping Station was built by Joseph Bazalgette as part of his 1860s sewage masterplan and helped flush London's effluent down the Northern Outfall Sewer towards Beckton treatment works. It is ridiculously over-decorated, but Victorians liked to go way over the top in their public works. These days most of the work has been taken over by a separate silvery-roofed pumping station, also coincidentally astride the meridian, but the old girl still adds her weight when required. Should you ever get the opportunity to look inside, as I managed in 2011 with Open House, move mountains.

Apologies, there's only been one proper meridian marker in today's post, right at the beginning. We'll do better tomorrow.

• Today's 10 photos can be found here
• Tomorrow we continue from the Greenway

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