diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Postcards from the actual seaside [Margate]

My trip to the Isle of Thanet two weeks ago began in Ramsgate, continued to Broadstairs and ended up in Margate. It's a favourite walk, overlooking the sea atop chalk cliffs, doable in four hours and with a convenient station at each end. Here are some snapshots taken after turning the corner at North Foreland to complete my seaside reportage.

Kingsgate Bay brings your geography textbook to life. That is indeed an arch at the end of the beach, and here too are examples of the previous stage in the coastal erosion cycle (a cave) and the subsequent stage (a stack). Thanet council would rather you didn't walk through the middle for fear of falling chalk, but if the tide's in (which it was) that'd stop you anyway. The angle of my photo is deceptive, the arch is no longer attached to the cliffs due to the collapse of a previous arch, which also cut off footpath access to the top of the headland. If geomorphology isn't your thing there's always the Captain Digby, a pub-stroke-restaurant in the shape of a not entirely convincing castle, who overcharge for their car park safe in the knowledge that drivers have nowhere else to go.

Here's a typical bit of north Thanet coastline... rough grassland above not especially high chalk cliffs above a broad concrete promenade above a sweep of beach. This is Palm Bay below Cliftonville, less visited than Walpole Bay to the west and less impressive than Botany Bay to the east. Access from up top to down below is intermittent at best, either via long sloping ramps cutting underneath the clifftop path or down tottering staircases sufficient to deter the casual beachgoer. In livelier seasons, or in normal years, the Jet Ski Cafe dispenses thrills and tea to fans of watersports. The headland in the distance is Foreness Point, home to a water treatment plant whose unsavoury function can be detected as a pungent whiff, so perhaps don't rush to hit the surf.

This bench made me do a double-take. Who is (or was) Hayden, and why would a sarky plaque of this ilk end up affixed to a sea-facing seat? A bout of later Googling confirmed that Hayden Kays is a Margate-based artist, so I suspect he made the plaque as some kind of self-mocking statement... but his website is so comprehensively empty I can't be certain. A little further up the coast I found another memorial bench labelled In Memory Of The Football Season, H Kays 2020, one of a lockdown trio by the same artist (also including In Memory Of Festival Season and In Memory Of Rush Hour Travel). Works for me.

If you fancy swimming in the sea with minimal risk, the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool is for you. Opened in 1937, and designed by the Borough Engineer, it's a huge concrete-edged enclosure on the foreshore replenished twice a day at high tide with fresh seawater. The two longest sides are 450 feet long and the seaward end 300 feet wide with a maximum water depth of 6 foot 6, according to its Grade II listing. I walked round it once when the tide was out, which was unnerving enough, but didn't fancy risking it with an easterly wind whipping waves towards the outer wall. One family were undertaking some very limited fishing from the breakwater, while a plastic hat bobbed up and down in the water further out as part of a regime of bracing exercise.

There used to be another bathing pool just along the coast at Cliftonville Lido. You can still see the depression where the water isn't, and walk through the complex of decaying buildings onshore where only the Cliff Bar and snooker hall struggle on. What really stands out is the 'Lido' beacon on the roof, a bright orange pillar it's very hard not to photograph, so I did. Another nigh-subterranean building is the Winter Gardens, tucked low behind the esplanade, where Jason Donovan has had to cancel next month but Paul Weller still hopes to play in March. On a windswept weekday afternoon I was more preoccupied by dodging bags of dog poo blown from missed bins and accumulating beside the promenade wall.

Hurrah it's Margate proper, and the tide's out, and the beach is almost empty because it's Thursday afternoon. Normally I'd nip inside the Turner Contemporary for some art, but they've just closed for several months for "a series of capital enhancements" (including improved visitor facilities, redesign of the retail area and enhancements to the digital infrastructure). Dreamland too was very much closed. Instead I got to walk out along the harbour arm past the micro pub to disturb courting teenagers skulking behind the shell lady statue, and to stride unhindered across an enormous crescent of sand. Up on Marine Drive dozens of daytrippers downed pints and guzzled fish and chips at carefully spaced tables, while one Jack the Lad inspected his new leg tattoo as blood slowly dripped through his sterile dressing onto the pavement.

The first building you see as you arrive in Margate, or the last you notice as you head back to the station, is Arlington House. This 18-storey Brutalist block was completed in 1964, its rippling facade affording residents panoramic views of both countryside and sea. At its base was a 52-store shopping mall, a pub, a filling station and a first floor parking deck. The base has not aged well, its shops now terminally depleted after a long decline and the car park hired out for visitors to Dreamland. But a 2-bed flat is currently on the market for £140,000, so if you were planning to flee to the seaside for a concrete skyloft here's your chance.

 Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Local London news doesn't get much of a look-in these days. Journalists are expensive, local papers are threadbare rags and most residents are more pre-occupied with national stories and celebrity gossip anyway. In an attempt to turn the tide I'm going to write about a London council news story but with the name of the borough deleted, in the hope that you'll read on just in case the story is about where you live. It very probably isn't, and you'll breathe a sigh of relief when I reveal all at the end, but what if you're one of the unlucky ones?

               council launches library cuts consultation

Yesterday                council launched a consultation inviting people who live, work or study in the borough to give their views on which aspects of the Library Service should be trimmed to save money. The government continues to cut local government funding so tough decisions have to be made as costs inexorably rise. Like other councils                has a legal duty to provide "a comprehensive and efficient library service", but precisely what this means isn't well defined so further trimming is always possible. Given that                has the 3rd highest library provision in London, legally there's plenty of scope to be more average.

The consultation proposes a number of different options, each of which could be implemented singly or in combination with others to save even more money. Potential annual savings are shown in brackets. The proposed implementation date is "late spring/early summer 2021".
Option 1: Reduce opening hours at all council managed libraries
a) Close each library for one day (or two half-days) per week (£150,000)
b) End the late evening opening hours currently offered once a week (£35,000)
c) End Sunday morning opening at the Central Library (£15,000)
              's libraries currently open six days a week, which is good going for 2020, so maybe knocking one day off wouldn't matter. It would also be a different day of the week for each library, easing the overall inconvenience for the wider community. However in one case that day would be Saturday, and if                are also killing off evenings and the sole Sunday opening then that's not good news for anyone who works 9-5.
Option 2: Operate libraries for half of the day on a selfserve basis (£150,000)
This'll be technology taking away people's jobs again. It's also coronavirus's fault for proving that               's libraries can function without the need for staff to handle books. Don't worry, says the consultation, "there would be an appropriate security presence to ensure visitors feel safe", but lower-paid security staff are unlikely to be able to provide recommendations or track down that elusive Wilkie Collins.
Option 3: Reduce the number of events and activities delivered by library staff (£0)
This isn't a separate option, it's a necessary result of any cuts made as part of options 1 and 2 because fewer staff means fewer activities. The consultation questionnaire includes the telling question "Would you be interested in volunteering in libraries to assist with the delivery of events and activities?" with the obvious follow-on that "if volunteer uptake is not sufficient... some events and activities may be discontinued." Storytime, Knitting Club and Living Well with Dementia are not sacrosanct.
Option 4: Introduce appointment system at the Local Studies and Archives Centre (£30,000-40,000)
Having specialist staff sitting around on spec isn't cost effective, so pre-booking would remove the need for a permanent presence at the enquiry desk, and that's another salary or two trimmed.
Option 5: Reduce or end council funding for Community Managed Libraries (up to £200,000)
               has several community libraries, spun off in 2016 to save cash while continuing to offer provision in smaller communities. Current funding arrangements end on 31st March 2021, so the perfect opportunity to slash funds is on its way. The consultation notes that "if financial support was withdrawn there may still be an option for these libraries to raise funds from other sources", and if they couldn't then "the council would seek to find an alternative community provider who was able to operate with less, or no, financial support" but in the real world this kind of approach would almost certainly "ultimately result in closure".
Option 6: Do nothing
Every council consultation in a time of austerity includes this option, then goes on to explain why it isn't really an option. The positive spin in this case is that the cuts are an opportunity "to build on new digital opportunities and support changing patterns of usage", but the reality is that                "faces unprecedented financial challenges from the increasing pressure to protect, and meet rising demand for, essential services such as adults and children’s social care." Capped budgets have to be balanced somehow, and care will always trump libraries.
Option 7: Other ideas
In case               's brainstorming has been insufficiently wide-ranging, the consultation states that "we would welcome suggestions for any other ideas on how the council can either reduce the cost of the Library Service or generate additional income from its library assets to offset costs." This'll encourage some to propose fruitloop savings based on personal prejudice, and others to scream that the council absolutely must not cut precious libraries under any circumstances despite this now being untenable. Don't expect any of these additional suggestions to be taken up.

It's a sad world in which                has to ask residents how best to cut library services, in this case to save perhaps £600,000 a year, which is the price of a couple of nice flats in the area, because central government remains intent on throttling local government spending. Austerity's been squeezing councils for ten years now, and under the current government in the current challenging economic circumstances has a lot further to go.

It's not just Bexley, and it's not just libraries, where these kinds of difficult decisions are having to be made. But there is a limit to how far councils can salami slice local services until they fall apart, and this particular local news story probably resonates wherever you happen to live.

 Monday, September 28, 2020

Where are your nearest tunnels? That's proper tunnels, tunnels you could actually walk or travel through (trespass nothwithstanding). If you live in the countryside they could be dozens of miles away. If you live in central London the tube might run beneath your flat. I've done some digging, metaphorically, and uncovered mine.

My nearest tunnel: Crossrail (less than 100m)

The closest tunnel to my home belongs to London's flagship new railway, the one that isn't open yet and may not be for some time. Tunnelling machines Jessica and Ellie burrowed their way from Stepney to Stratford eight years ago and just missed me, passing unexpectedly close to where I'm sitting now. According to Crossrail planning documents one of the twin bores crosses Bow Road at the junction with Fairfield Road, the other outside the former Kings Arms pub and ATS Euromaster garage. They then pass underneath the western side of Grove Hall Park, cross the A12 at the end of Wrexham Road, duck under the River Lea and emerge alongside Pudding Mill Lane station. At present the only people down there are engineers readying the track and drivers testing software, but one day millions of people will speed underneath Bow without ever seeing it. I look forward to standing on top of them.

My 2nd nearest tunnel: Ham and Wick Sewer (150m)

In 1897 the London County Council presented plans to the Main Drainage Committee for a new sewer connecting Hackney Wick to Abbey Mills. I know it ran roughly parallel to the river Lea, although I haven't been able to determine whether it's large enough to permit human access, at least hypothetically. This sewer caused major headaches for Crossrail by existing at precisely the point they needed trains to be rising up to the surface, and at one point there were expensive plans to divert it under Grove Hall Park. Thankfully Crossrail changed their minds and strengthened the pipes instead, avoiding the imposition of half a dozen disruptive worksites locally, and the original Victorian alignment flows on.

My 3rd nearest tunnel: Bow Interchange (200m)

Not only does the Bow Roundabout have a flyover it also has an underpass. Traffic on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road doesn't want to faff around with lights and signals so civil engineers gifted them direct passage underneath the roundabout, a privilege they retain fifty years later. Walking through the tunnel's not allowed, indeed would be terrifyingly dangerous, and regular buses don't go this way either. That means I've only ever driven through it as a passenger in a car, and even then only rarely because this is normally where you'd turn off, so it's all a bit of a mystery to me. Some might claim that this is an underpass and not a tunnel because it doesn't have official tunnel signage at each end, in which case my nearest (motorway-grade) road tunnel is the Eastway Tunnel at Hackney Wick, well over a mile to the north.

My 4th nearest tunnel: Lea Navigation (225m)

Not many of us can boast a canal tunnel less than five minutes from our front door, although this one's not your traditional narrow brick-lined tunnel, more a dark chamber under concrete slabs created fifty years ago when the Bow Roundabout was plonked on top. I hope it counts as a 'proper' tunnel - it ought to given it takes a minute to walk through. The floating towpath added in 2011 is either gloomily atmospheric or a mugger's paradise, depending.

My 5th nearest tunnel: Central line (250m)
The Central line also makes a subterranean dash through my part of Bow without stopping, indeed Mile End to Stratford is the third longest gap between stations on the entire line. The tunnels break off from Bow Road near Bow Road station, then veer north of Bow Bus Garage before joining the mainline alignment, with a telltale ventilation shaft beside the A12 to mark their passing. So very near and yet so far.

My 6th nearest tunnel: Low Level Sewer No 2 (300m)

When Joseph Bazalgette contrived his pan-London sewerage system, he built three interceptor sewers north of the Thames - the High Level, the Middle Level and the Low Level. Low Level Sewer No 2 was added as back up thirty years later, draining the unmentionables of Hammersmith and Kensington via Piccadilly, the Strand, the City and Whitechapel on their way to Abbey Mills. It's this sewer that famously clogged with a fatberg expunged in 2017. Round here the sewer's passing is marked by a stinkpipe at the junction of St Leonard's Street and Priory Street, a particularly tall pipe designed to carry any gas as high as possible. The Palace of Westminster's excrement follows Low Level Sewer No 1 via Devons Road, a little further to the south. [map of local sewers]

My 7th nearest tunnel: DLR/Crossways Estate (350m)

The DLR enters a 200m-long tunnel just south of Bow Church station. This doesn't need to exist, the land's all flat, but a concrete shell was deemed useful in order to build some social housing on top. Originally these were the maisonettes of Holyhead Close, until regeneration in 2014 reworked the area into something much more estate-agent-friendly. Most of the tunneltop is now back gardens, although a couple of small blocks of flats sit astride the railway on Trevithick Way. It's quite the model for housing densification, should TfL become increasingly desperate for cash.

I reckon that's a pretty good haul for tunnels within quarter of a mile from home: three railways, two sewers, a dual carriageway and a navigable river. Even better four are publicly accessible, one will be eventually and only the sewers are generally off limits. And it doesn't stop there...

My 8th nearest tunnel: Low Level Sewer No 1 (500m)
My 9th nearest tunnel: District line (600m)
My 10th nearest tunnel: Northern Outfall Sewer (700m)

My 11th nearest tunnel: Tideway Tunnel (800m)
My 12th nearest tunnel: Lower Lea Valley Cable Tunnel (900m)
My 13th nearest tunnel: Lee Tunnel (1000m)
My 14th nearest tunnel: Abbott Road tunnel (1 mile)

I ventured down the Abbott Road tunnel yesterday on a Mild Urbex exploration, so that's a decent place to stop.

 Sunday, September 27, 2020

Urbex, or Urban Exploration, is the exploration of manmade structures, usually abandoned ruins or hidden components of the manmade environment. It can be a bit dangerous, plus it usually involves trespassing by going inside things you shouldn't, so isn't necessarily recommended for the conscientious risk-averse citizen. Dark spaces, head-torches and illicit break-ins aren't for everyone. But you can still get a frisson of excitement if you lower your expectations by venturing inside something mostly unused, still quite gloomy but potentially legal. I call it Mild Urbex.

Mild Urbex - the Abbott Road Tunnel

When the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road was built fifty years ago its dual carriageway severed a thin slice of Tower Hamlets between the A12 and the Lea. Mostly this didn't matter because nobody lived there, but the Aberfeldy Estate was an exception and merited an underpass to help residents access the rest of the borough. Abbott Road was reengineered at its eastern end to include a lengthy ramp down to a short tunnel, beyond which a second ramp rose parallel to the northbound carriageway. Today this shortcut operates in one direction only, is hardly used and has never had a pavement. It seemed the ideal darkspace for some Mild Urbex.

The tunnel's descent into irrelevance began in 2011 when TfL added a set of traffic lights up top on the A12 - the only such lights between the Redbridge roundabout and the mouth of the Blackwall Tunnel. This allowed local traffic to cross the dual carriageway without using the underpass, so one lane was hatched over and vehicles restricted to northbound passage only. A decade later very little traffic comes up the ramp so it's easy to wander off the official pavement at the Zetland Street junction and jaywalk brazenly down... on the hatched side, of course.

This ramp's really long, well over a hundred metres all told, engendering an appropriate sense of impending doom as you approach the distant portal. It's not long before you've dipped out of sight of the cars, vans and lorries rumbling above, the isolation becoming increasingly tangible. Beneath your feet the tarmac turns a faded shade of red, a leftover from when this was a contraflow lane for the 309 bus route towards Canning Town. Southbound buses now take the high level route via the new lights and the (possibly jammed) A12, whereas northbound buses continue to venture through the tunnel. A redundant traffic island keeps everyone in their place.

Deep breath... we have arrived.

The tunnel ahead is concrete-roofed, concrete-walled and curved. It's also illuminated by sodium lights, which is useful if you haven't thought to bring a torch but has also given countless generations of pigeons somewhere convenient to perch. Brief crescents of murky white droppings hug the wall at regular intervals, adding a proper Urbex vibe, but are easily dodged. On the inside of the bend a metal grille shields an automatic fire hose reel which looks like it's been here since the tunnel opened. No security cameras are visible, presumably because this entire set-up predates such paranoia, suggesting that your slightly transgressive behaviour is not being recorded.

Against the outer curve are a couple of abandoned traffic cones, one stacked loosely on top of the other. Alongside is a locked door into some mysterious chamber hollowed out beneath the southbound carriageway. A yellow warning triangle is the sole clue as to what might lie inside... that and a power cable of some kind snaking down the wall from above and disappearing within. A visitor intent on making trouble might attempt to force the handle, but this is Mild Urbex so such behaviour cannot be condoned.

After perhaps forty metres of minor peril the unpavemented tunnel emerges into reassuring daylight. The eastbound ramp rises straight ahead, two of the original lanes plainly painted over. A much-extended kerb at the foot of the slope forces any oncoming traffic to keep left, which is fortunate otherwise there'd have been nothing to stop a speeding vehicle hugging the inside of the curve around a blind bend and accidentally running you down. Fear not, the hatched area to your left will eventually merge with the barriers on Abbott Road, delivering you safely into the heart of the Aberfeldy Estate.

You could now attempt to break into the deserted special needs school on Bromley Hall Road, or try to gain access to the demolished gasworks on Leven Road, even nip back through the subway to the Balfron Tower and sneak past the builders to reach the upper floors. But those would be daring escapades worthy of brazen adventurers seeking fresh perspectives on city living, hence proper Urbex, and a brief jaywalk through a forgotten semi-operational tunnel far better encapsulates the Mild Urbex experience.

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• Singapore issues Bluetooth tracking devices
• 20% of UK population under local restrictions
• 'last chance saloon' before a 2nd lockdown
• if no action, 50000 daily cases by mid-October
• four more Welsh counties locked down
UK virus alert level rises from 3 to 4
• pubs & restaurants must close by 10pm
• "if you can work from home you should do so"
• "we've reached a perilous turning point" (PM)
• new rules are "for perhaps six months"
• household visits banned in Scotland
• daily cases continue to rise rapidly
• NHS COVID-19 app (finally) launches
• Chancellor announces new Job Support Scheme
• only 28% of tests turned round in 24 hours
• virus spreading in university accommodation
• tighter lockdowns in Cardiff, Swansea & Leeds
• Tesco limits sales of toilet roll & pasta
• R number rises to 1.2-1.5
• 2m deaths worldwide 'not impossible' (WHO)

Worldwide deaths: 950,000 → 990,000
Worldwide cases: 30,600,000 → 32,700,000
UK deaths: 41,759 → 41,971
UK cases: 390,358 → 429,277
FTSE: down 3% (6007 → 5842)

 Saturday, September 26, 2020

At the start of the month, when 20 ticked over to 70, I suggested three numberplate spotting games. Three different sequences to try to follow on new-style registration plates, for no particularly good reason other than to pass the time while out and about.

» Alphabetical By Area Code: A~, B~, C~, D~, E~, F~, G~, etc
» Sequential London Identifiers: LA, LB, LC, LD, LE, LF, LG, etc
» Reverse Chronological: 70, 20, 69, 19, 68, 18, 67, etc

I've now tried playing all three and can confirm that one of the games works really well and the other two very much don't. I was intrigued as to why, so this week have undertaken mass collection of numberplate data to try to understand.

Alphabetical By Area Code

This is the game where you try to spot a plate beginning with A, then a plate beginning with B, then C and so on. Each letter represents a different part of the country so A is for cars registered in East Anglia, B for Birmingham, C for Cymru and so on. You can see a full list of area codes here.

Alas this is one of the games that doesn't really work. Only 19 of the 26 letters of the alphabet are in regular use as area codes, so if you try working your way through this particular alphabet you will get repeatedly stuck.

• Codes I and Z are never used (because they look took much like 1 and 2).
• Codes Q and X are only used on vehicles purchased tax free for export, hence particularly rare.
• Codes J, T and U have no meaning whatsoever, but can still be purchased as part of a personalised plate, so are very rare too.

Experiment 1 - first letter
I stood beside Stratford High Street long enough to watch 571 vehicles go by. I tallied the lot, I didn't wait to do them in order. I wondered what the overall distribution of first letters might tell me. Here are my results as a graph.

There's a lot to unpack here. Numberplates starting with L were a lot more common than any other letter - 22% of the overall total - because L is for London. In second place was E for Essex with 11%, and in third place K for Herts/Beds/Bucks/Northants. I suspect if I'd stood in a different part of London I might have seen a lot more G for Kent or R for Reading. The least common regional plates were C for Wales and V for Worcester because they're a long way away, and O for Oxford because it's only small. I saw more Ss than expected because a lot of our local double decker buses were registered in Scotland.

At the lower end I was amazed to see a Q among my 571 vehicles because they're ridiculously uncommon, and far less surprised not to see an X. Of the three letters used only on personalised plates I only spotted a J, this on a white van owned by J Kent Roofing Specialists from Basingstoke. I could probably have stood there for most of the morning and not seen a T or a U. And this is why Alphabetical By Area Code doesn't really work, the letters are very much not evenly spread.

Sequential London Identifiers

This is the game where you have to work your way through all the initial two-letter pairs in your local area, which in my case means starting with LA and ending with LY. It's crucial to know which pairs were never released, which in London's case is LI, LQ and LZ, and not to waste your time waiting for those.

I know from my previous experiment that around 20% of vehicles in London have L codes of some kind, so there ought to be plenty of spotting opportunities. But when I tried playing the game I got very stuck around LE to LH, wasting days looking without getting any further forward, so something untoward was evidently going on.

Experiment 2 - first two letters
While walking around London I spotted 636 vehicles whose registrations started with L. I tallied the lot, I didn't wait to do them in order. It took a couple of days. I wondered what the overall distribution of area codes might tell me. Here are my results as a graph.

The two-letter codes are a lot more equitably spread this time. Most of the 23 possible codes appeared a reasonable number of times, so if you were hunting for (say) LA then LB then LC then LD you ought to be in luck. But two codes appeared a lot more often than the others, namely LV and LX, with LV easily the champion with 12% of the total. Meanwhile two codes, namely LE and LU, hardly appeared at all. I was so surprised when a single LU finally turned up that I went over and took a photo of it. But I didn't spot LH at all, indeed still haven't, despite the fact it has allegedly been released.

When the new numberplate system was launched in 2001 London had three separate DVLA offices. Wimbledon issued codes LA to LJ, Stanmore used LK to LT and Sidcup took LU to LY (although these offices closed in 2013 and everything's now run from Swansea). These sub-areas may help explain the overabundance of LV and LX in east London, but not the mysterious scarcity of LE, LH and LU. All I can say is that Sequential London Identifiers doesn't really work because there are too many exceptionally rare occurrences along the way.

Reverse Chronological

Which brings me to the game that does work. Counting back from 70 (September 2020) to 51 (September 2001) works rather well, so long as you manage to keep remembering which number comes next in the sequence. There are just enough 70s out there now to start you off, and still just enough 19-year-old 51s to allow you to finish.

Experiment 3 - age identifier
I stood beside Ruckholt Road long enough to watch 417 vehicles go by. I tallied the lot, I didn't wait to do them in order. I wondered what the overall distribution of age identifiers might tell me. Here are my results as a graph.

At last a genuine pattern, and one that makes economic sense. Most vehicles on the road are fairly recent, hence the hump at the beginning, while there are fewer older vehicles the further back you go. I saw more 68s than anything else but the other codes from 2016 to 2020 weren't far behind... indeed 43% of the overall total came from the last five years. Meanwhile a quarter of the total came from 2011-2015, and this dropped to just 5% by the time I got back to 2001-2005.

The surplus bar at the end of the graph includes all the vehicles registered before the current system was introduced, plus all the personalised numberplates that sit outside the system. Altogether they made up about 7% of the total, or one in every 15 vehicles. On this particular dual carriageway they split roughly fifty-fifty between old and personalised, but you'd get a very different split if you surveyed traffic in Barking or Belgravia.

And this is why, if you want to play a sequential numberplate spotting game, it's much better to focus on ages than area codes. Always do your research before undertaking a potentially pointless activity. I'm sure you'll all be rushing to have a go this weekend.

 Friday, September 25, 2020

Before entering this webpage
please scan the QR code below
using the NHS COVID-19 app

It is now a mandatory requirement to collect details for NHS Test and Trace upon entering a public place.

Over two thousand people gather on this website daily, many of whom may be asymptomatically infected with coronavirus. It is therefore essential that we all check in and share our personal details every time we visit the blog in order to stay alert and control the virus.

Do not scroll down until you have scanned the unique QR code using the NHS COVID-19 app.
If you do not have a smartphone you must enter your details physically.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020 require that you provide:
(a) the name of the individual;
(b) a telephone number on which the individual may be contacted
(c) an e-mail address if the individual is unable to provide a telephone number;
(d) a postal address if the individual is unable to provide an email address;

telephone number:
e-mail address:
postal address:

Please note that NHS Test and Trace cannot guarantee the security of the personal data you have entered here, just as it cannot guarantee the security of any data you may scribble on a piece of paper before entering a restaurant, bar or leisure centre. The app's much-lauded decentralised security protocols only apply to people with suitable smartphones, and everyone else is stuck with plain text.

Please do not feel tempted to enter false data for contact tracing purposes, even though this is very easy and nobody will ever know.
The new NHS COVID-19 app is now available to download for free in England and Wales. It has a number of tools to protect you including contact tracing, local area alerts and venue check-in. It uses proven technology from Apple and Google designed to protect every user's privacy (unlike the bespoke app the UK was promised in May but which had to be scrapped in favour of something which actually worked).

Checking-in is simplicity itself, using long-standing QR technology with which the entire nation is familiar. Hold your phone near the QR code, or maybe point your camera at it, or perhaps you have to fire up the app first - you'll certainly know which of these it is.

A confirmation screen will pop up displaying your location, while simultaneously storing your location in case anybody else at this location should test positive during the relevant window.

Please note that you remain checked-in on this blog until midnight or until you check in at another location using an NHS QR code, whichever is the earlier. Technically this means that if a reader who tests positive arrives at 3pm but you navigated away at 9am the system doesn't recognise this and may still send you notification to self-isolate for 14 days possibly destroying your livelihood for no good reason... but better safe than sorry.

If you do receive notification to self-isolate you absolutely must do this despite the lack of collaborative evidence. You will not be told who triggered the self-isolation because the system does not know who they were. The privacy of the app is inviolable. On the plus side the system doesn't know who you are either, which is excellent, both for reasons of personal freedom and because if you are told to quarantine and still decide to pop down to the shops nobody official will ever know.

Regrettably users of older iPhones may be unable to download the official NHS app. Users need to have installed iOS 13.5, released in May 2020, because this contains the low-level Bluetooth technology which allows the security protocols to operate. In particular the iPhone 6, last sold in 2018, does not support this upgrade and owners will not be able to protect their loved ones using the NHS COVID-19 app. Cheapskates who can't afford a decent smartphone deserve everything they get.

Intriguingly the sole smartphone requirement in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Collection of Contact Details etc and Related Requirements) Regulations 2020 is that an individual should use it "to scan the QR code with that smartphone as, or immediately after, they enter the premises". Nothing in the legislation states that the NHS app must have been downloaded, nor that the scanned QR code has to trigger anything whatsoever, so you could probably get away with waving your dud phone at the code and walking straight past, but please don't do that.

Do not question how the NHS COVID-19 app actually works, just be reassured that it probably does. Privacy is paramount, which is the main reason it's taken four months to develop, and the relentless drain on your battery is a small price to pay. Only by testing and tracing can we control the virus, and this is a big step towards making contact tracing almost work. Prompt effective nationwide testing, alas, may take considerably longer.

 Thursday, September 24, 2020

Postcards from the actual seaside [Broadstairs]

When I went to Ramsgate last week I didn't stop there, I continued around the coast. This means I can also bring you reportage from Broadstairs, thereby getting additional value from my day out (and if you're really lucky I'll bring you Margate later).

Broadstairs is probably the most seasidey of Thanet's coastal towns, and in a good way too. A horseshoe of a promenade overlooks a crescent of a beach, very much from above, with food and ice cream up top and sand and seaweed down below. A lift connects the two but it's often closed, and permanently closed at present, so rather a lot of stairs remains your best option. This is Viking Bay, no longer subject to horny-helmeted invasion from offshore and all the better for it.

One arc of beach huts runs along the sand and another, much smarter, on a raised terrace behind. The southernmost corner of the sand has been genteelly fenced to surround swings and roundabouts - more of the former than the latter. The beach wasn't at its busiest midweek, despite the very decent weather, so two very large signs pointing inland towards 'Deckchairs' were proving unnecessary. That said a few topless bookreaders had turned up, plus a grazing couple safely tucked behind a windbreak, and I was wholly unnerved by the ring of seagulls surrounding one particular elderly couple.

Up on the boardwalk a lot more activity was going on. A crowd of appreciative pensioners were engrossed beside the bandstand listening to a bloke in a flat cap singing Valerie. Restaurant terraces were packed with couples dining on seafood and fizz, especially at the back of the hotel where Charles Dickens stayed in <checks plaque> 1839, 1840, 1845, 1849 and 1853, penning a few chapters of Nicholas Nickleby while he was here. The Broadstairs Information Kiosk apologises for being closed for the remainder of the year, a sign which I suspect went up in March, but hopes to be back in 2021. The longest queues were outside Morelli's, Broadstairs' fabulously Art Deco ice cream parlour, which was a shame because the prevailing rigmarole proved just enough to put me off buying a classic double scoop.

Twirling offshore were the turbines of the Thanet Wind Farm. They're actually eight miles offshore, so somewhat indistinct, but a decent zoom (or a good pair of binoculars) make them a lot clearer. The 100 turbines are laid out in rows half a mile apart, so if you walk along the coast to the right point the seemingly random blades suddenly combine to form a multi-fingered beast. This wind farm was the largest in the world when it opened in 2010, generating enough juice to power a quarter of a million households, but technology has moved on since and it's no longer even in the Top 20. Plans for 34 more turbines, closer to the shore and collectively more powerful, were turned down by the government earlier this year.

The clifftop between Ramsgate and Broadstairs makes for an attractive (and extremely accessible) stroll. At one point the path heads through a secluded park but most of the way it's all coast-facing promenade, lined on one side by homes you'd retire to (or buy up well before you retired to take full advantage). A lot of dogs get walked here, generally of the small kind. Memorial benches remind passers by that Jack and Doreen, Gordon and Vera, Moss and Joyce loved this place. What I didn't really get was a proper sense of the sheer chalk cliff face beneath me, save at a few choice spots where a headland provided an oblique viewpoint... or by reading the repeated signs warning me that clambering over the railings probably meant death.

Outside one of these clifftop houses I found this car with this numberplate, which I present without comment, other than to say of course it's a Kia, and that when this particular plate was released in 1996 the DVLA can't have been as censorious (or as alert) as they are today.

The only break in the cliff face south of Broadstairs occurs at Dumpton Gap, a V-shaped notch where a steep straight path provides access to a small beach. In 1914 this spot was chosen as one end of the Siemens Brothers Anglo-Belgian telephone cable, consisting of 28 copper wires wound into seven groups of four, the other end being at Ostend. A separate cable ran from here to the North Goodwin Light Vessel. European communication is no longer reliant on the hut at the top of the ramp, so you could probably ring down to Sam's Cafe and get them to do you a bacon sandwich using much superior mobile technology.

Meanwhile to the north of Broadstairs the sandy bays and residential clifftops continue. The surf was up this time last week so a few groups of wetsuited boarders trod water in the breakers waiting to ride the North Sea back to shore. Cyclists whizzed by in slightly podgy lycra, following the Saxon Shore Way for an exhilarating long distance ride. And on North Foreland, where the houses got larger, grander and much more security conscious, I made sure to check out the top of the staircase cut into the chalk which inspired John Buchan's 39 Steps. I wish I'd dared to follow it down to the beach the first time I came here in 2008 because it's subsequently been gated and locked with an electronic security code. I tried 3939 on a hunch, but sadly it didn't open.

 Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Today it's six months since the Prime Minister addressed the nation and ordered us to lockdown, and the toilet roll ran out and the economy collapsed and everything was cancelled and thousands of people got sick and died and we didn't see one another for weeks and months, maybe still haven't.

And last night he was broadcasting to the nation again, reversing some of the normality he'd chosen to unlock and warning us these restrictions might be in place for another six months, six months, crushing normality until next spring or even longer, who's to say, that is if normality ever comes back at all because our old lives might just be gone and this is how things are now, forever maintaining a distance from one another as the economy crashes beyond the point of no return and everything we ever built up is systematically destroyed by a mismanaged pandemic.

They urged us not to catch the virus and then caught it themselves, they told us to stay at home if we were ill and then drove across country regardless, they failed to plan ahead and left millions vulnerable, they appointed their mates, they misjudged the tipping point between freedom and common sense, they paid us to eat out and then told us off for mingling together, they urged us to go back to work and then urged us not to, they promised a world-beating system which failed to deliver, they dripfed us rules too complicated to follow, they blamed us when everything went wrong, they left us to burn.

The country's been going to hell in a handcart for some time now, society has somehow been divided into two opposing factions, entrenched positions well beyond the fault lines of normal politics, prejudices keenly whipped up by social media and a hysterical press, fellow citizens hurling insults and invective, each side hating the other with deep-seated intolerance, how dare they think that, breaking us apart at precisely the time we should have been working together, whatever happened to consensus, it's now one extreme or the other and woe betide if you dare to disagree.

And it's not just us here in the UK, other countries have found themselves engulfed by division, America in particular, what did they do to deserve the current incumbent of the White House, a man so self-obsessed that he lies by default, a dangerous ignoramus who should never have been allowed near high office in the first place, and yet he could easily be re-elected in a few weeks time because millions believe what they're told without question, and admittedly we've survived almost four years without him pressing the nuclear button, or worse, but that's no guarantee we'd survive another term.

Meanwhile Brexit is still ticking away, not the endless agonising debate that's now behind us but the awkward truth of what happens next if at the end of this year a deal fails to materialise, like that hasn't been the underlying plan all along, unless it's all a grim game of poker and our side is holding out against sanity until the last gasp, but the Irish border question remains logically unsolvable, an entirely undeliverable pipedream, so best expect paperwork meltdown, queues at the border and gaps on the shelves one week after we've all failed to meet up for Christmas.

How did we end up with a government like this at a time like this? Boris's election strategy last year flushed out the moderate MPs and appointed only lickspittle disciples, ideal for voting through the necessary agenda but hardly a pool of talent, from which has been selected an inexperienced cabinet dealing with problems the like of which nobody has ever seen before, for which the country will pay the price for a generation, and all the while forwarding a radical deregulation agenda, because what better time to tear apart our national institutions than under cover of a global disaster.

The economy was always too finely poised, the rules of competition forcing companies to function on the narrowest of margins, hard enough to make profitable in the best of times, nigh impossible in a year of unprecedented disruption, and if you had the bad luck to be in a business targetted by social distancing doubly so, some jobs simply won't be coming back, so when furlough tips over into redundancy millions of workers' livelihoods are doomed, it's a benefits lottery on a grand scale, and while it's possible to continue to throw away billions to keep the wolf from the door the country'll be indebted for years, if not the rest of your life, if not forever.

Our fellow citizens have become intransigent and bitter, getting furious about things they'd never previously been angered by, jumping to conclusions based on incorrect assumptions, twisting words to ridicule opinions never intended, cancelling others on limited evidence, emboldened by support from people as irrationally furious as themselves, screaming into the void and poisoning public debate, because this is how we live now, in an echo chamber of hysterical fury, overlooking consensus, seeing only the bad, raising hackles rather than listening to reasoned arguments, forever ignoring the fact we might be wrong, and history warns us where all this ends up.

Meanwhile the ice sheets melt and the atmosphere warms up, inexorably, because although we could do something to stop it we can't be bothered, why save the future if it might inhibit the present, and yes we might create deserts where there are none, and yes we might end up flooding the land where billions of us live, and yes we might eventually struggle to feed the planet, and yes if you think the migrant crisis is bad now just you wait, but never mind because it's only our grandchildren who'll suffer so who cares that an investment not made today will be a catastrophe tomorrow.

And who's to say there isn't another pandemic waiting in the wings, and what happens anyway when all our antibiotics stop working, and a single solar flare could neutralise all our technology tomorrow, and we're only ever one large meteor away from total destruction, and artificial intelligence is sure to rise up one day rise up and override us, and it only takes one human error to create the doomsday scenario that destroys modern society, and what if 2019 was genuinely as good as it ever gets and from this point on we are merely freewheeling to our doom?

We are but one tiny planet in the vast emptiness of the universe, maybe even the sole example of cultural intelligence in the history of creation, custodians of innumerable generations of human advancement with a whole range of possible models of society at our disposal, and yet we seem happy to throw everything away and live in increasing misery, led by idiots we somehow elected to a position of absolute power, brought to our knees by a virus we always expected but never prepared for, and all because self-interest and short-term thinking trump foresight and cooperation, until the whole of human existence collapses around us and if we weren't all dead we'd only have ourselves to blame.

Or maybe it won't be quite that bad.

 Tuesday, September 22, 2020

At the autumn equinox, which is precisely now, the northern hemisphere passes from the brightest half of the year to the darkest. But how much darker is it? Let's bash some numbers.

London gets about 4480 hours of daylight a year (the equivalent of 187 days). If that daylight was spread equally then each month would see about 8% of the year's total, but it's not so they don't.

 Sep  Oct  Nov  Dec  Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr  May  Jun  Jul  Aug 

September and March get the average of 8% because they're the months when the year's two equinoxes take place. December has the least daylight, less than half of that enjoyed in June and July. July actually has a smidgeon more daylight than June, solely because it's one day longer.

But what I'm more interested in today is what percentage of the year's daylight falls between the autumn equinox and the spring equinox. How much darker is it about to get?

In London autumn and winter get 39% of the year's daylight while spring and summer get 61%. This may not be as great a variation as you were expecting given how dark it's about to get. But viewed another way it means that spring/summer has about half as much daylight again as autumn/winter, and maybe that chimes better with our imminently disappearing evenings.

The daylight balance varies at other latitudes.

  London (51½°)39%61%
Paris (49°)40%60%
Rome (42°)42%58%
Cairo (30°)45%55%
Manila (15°)48%52%
equator (0°)50%50%

The closer you get to the equator, the smaller the discrepancy between the brighter and darker halves of the year. In the tropics it's almost imperceptible.

But the closer you get to the North Pole, the greater the imbalance.

 London (51½°)39%61%
Newcastle (55°)37%63%
Shetland (60°)34%66%
Reyjkavik (64°)31%69%
Svalbard (78°)13%87%
North Pole (90°)0%100%

The further north you go the smaller the proportion of the year's daylight occurring over the autumn and winter months. Up in Shetland it's only one-third, and by the time you hit the Arctic Circle more like a quarter. The North Pole's weird, so let's not go there.

In short, the further north you live the gloomier the next six months are going to be, possibly quite significantly so. Hang on in there and the good times will return, half a year from now.

Open House: Bow Baptist Church

Every year there's one building in the Open House programme that makes me go "wow, they're actually opening that up this year?!" In 2004 it was the Gherkin, in 2005 Broadcasting House, in 2013 Beckton Sewage Works, in 2015 Millennium Mills and this year Bow Baptist Church. I'd walked past it thousands of times but never been inside, and Open House 2020 provided an unexpected opportunity.

There's been a Baptist church here since 1785, initially a frail structure in the meadows by Bow Bridge whose pastor baptised new members in the River Lea. A sturdier meeting house was erected in 1801 at the current location, facing the village green at the foot of Old Ford Lane by the windmill, with seats for 600 worshippers. A third chapel was needed by 1866, "a building of majestic proportions and perfect acoustics", this time with capacity for 1000 and a vast Sunday schoolroom tucked away in the basement. I know all this because the church website majors in history as well as faith, including a reproduction of the 150th anniversary pamphlet packed with much heritage detail.

The Victorian chapel was bombed in 1940 which meant a fourth building was required, an austere confection in brick, although this didn't get completed until 1956. And it would still be here today if only land hereabouts hadn't become so valuable recently. The neighbouring plot overlooking McDonalds got turned into lofty residential towers a while back, and the developers had a word and suggested incorporating the chapel into their plans. A church only really needs a ground floor so how about rebuilding it with flats on top, all community housing of course... and so in 2012 was born Bow Baptist Church number 5.

All I've ever been able to distinguish from the road is a boxy foundation with one large reinforced glass window. It is at least a very attractive window, given how simple it is - a grid of squares with pastel-coloured infill forming the shape of a cross. Having now been inside the building, I can confirm that this window is also pretty much the sole piece of decoration in the interior. Baptist worship is far more about people than unnecessary artefacts, so a white-walled room laid out with chairs, a lectern and a buried pool will suffice. The chapel no longer seats 1000, because these days it doesn't need to, but they had 30 in on Sunday morning which in these distanced times isn't bad going.

What was particularly impressive is how much extra capacity has been stashed away on the ground floor behind the main room. A separate (subdividable) hall permits a wealth of activities including a popular Mother and Toddler group. The Sunday School is no longer confined to a basement, instead sharing a wood-panelled room with the weekly Youth Group. A kitchen has of course been provided at the back - one of the boons of a modern building - but also a shower room which permits an unexpected extra activity. One night a week the church hosts rough sleepers, or did before the pandemic forced alternative arrangements, with volunteers serving up food, shelter and the opportunity for a welcome wash.

Your local church probably has a similar programme of unpaid good works, indeed I suspect if I ever had the opportunity to tour the mosque in the converted pub across the road I'd discover something similar. But it's always good to discover what's really going on in your community, rather than repeatedly walking past a spangled window oblivious to all that's being coordinated within.

 Monday, September 21, 2020

Open House: Aberfeldy Street

In 2020 the ideal Open House venue is a) outdoors b) architect-led c) within walking distance of home d) low-key enough that fewer than six people will turn up e) Instagram-friendly. Welcome to Aberfeldy Street.

The Aberfeldy Estate is a large triangle of postwar housing in Poplar bounded on two sides by the A12 and A13, and on the hypotenuse by Bow Creek. Easily overlooked, it's one of the most deprived corners of Tower Hamlets and for years has had a dubious reputation. Unsurprisingly redevelopment is afoot. The local housing association is replacing its stock in partnership with a construction company, sequentially demolishing 300 residential units in order to build 1200 more. Phases 1 and 2 are pretty much complete, replacing the A13 flank with a wall of cappuccino-friendly apartments. Aberfeldy Street will be phase 4.

It might seem strange to paint a high street pretty colours shortly before you knock it down, but there is method to the madness. Aberfeldy Street has long been somewhat drab, a brief shopping parade to satisfy the needs of local residents, peaking with a Londis supermarket, a chicken shop and a pub. What it couldn't do is satisfy the aspirations of moneyed incomers, so the plan has been to brighten up the fronts of 26 retail units and refurbish a few to boost the attractiveness of the area. The whole thing's been funded for less than the market price of a single apartment, and created over a few months by a team of architects engaging with the existing community. And it looks cracking.

The design concept references a Bangladeshi tradition of recycling garments, with each individual facade based on a different swatch of fabric. Most of these fabrics were sourced by members of the community, while others were lifted direct from the architect's wardrobe. Once scanned and processed this created a diverse patchwork to be applied to the fronts of the shops and the flats above them, the biggest decision being which design to place where. Over 800 litres of paint were used, in 200 different colours, with the entire street-sized mural applied in approximately six weeks. You can see lots of close-up images (and watch a fly-through video) here.

The end result looks anything but traditional, perhaps more Mediterranean or even Latin American, as the two brightly painted parades face off against each other. Walls, balconies and shutters combine to create a riot of colour, aided and abetted if the sun happens to be shining on one or other side of the street.

The supermarket now looks cheery, the tailor's shop bright and welcoming, and the Chinese takeaway requires a double take. The chemist has scrubbed up well, the mosque has a particularly colourful pattern which helps it stand out, and even the dusty old workshop rented by the old bloke who should have retired by now has a delightfully individual frontage. The Tommy Flowers pub was already a shade of dazzling blue, with its mural of the bespectacled computing pioneer who grew up two streets away painted down one side, it's just that the rest of the street has now surpassed it.

And yet.

Spending some time in Aberfeldy Street on a Saturday afternoon it was fascinating to see who wasn't here. The Bangladeshi grocers was busy, but only with people walking over from the undeveloped side of the estate. The punters gassing outside the pub included a late middle-aged couple so blunt that if they appeared on EastEnders you'd assume they were caricatures. Barely a single vehicle drove down the street in the course of half an hour, other than the lowly 309 bus squeezing its way through without stopping. The barber took a break from a loud conversation with two mates to head inside and shave a customer. A couple of teenagers walked up the street clutching the obligatory box of chicken. But of the residents of the new development around the corner I saw not a sign.

Aberfeldy Street barely gets a mention in the marketing brochure written to attract Nespresso-friendly professional couples to this corner of E14. The gym gets a double page spread, as does the 24/7 concierge, plus the promise of an on-site deli "for daily essentials and organic groceries". Londis definitely won't cut it for residents being nudged towards "Canary Wharf for Marks & Spencer Simply Food and Waitrose", or urged to "head into the West End for shopping and champagne afternoon tea." If the newly-repainted high street makes it into the next iteration of the publication it'll only be because it looks pretty, not because it's aspirational... it doesn't even boast a cafe where you could pick up a decent cup of coffee.

The repaint of Aberfeldy Street, glorious though it is, is only a temporary 'meanwhile' project with a lifespan of maybe five years. The next phase of the estate's redevelopment will be to build a new retail area, slightly to the south, after which the existing parade of shops can be safely demolished. Whether the existing traders of Aberfeldy Street, many of whom currently benefit from paying low or no rent, will be able to transfer across remains to be seen. Looking at the artist's impression, with bland units buried beneath stacks of brick balconies, I have my doubts.

At present, even in its rainbow state, Aberfeldy Street is serving traditional estate residents rather than the incomers. The danger is that the next retail hub will serve mainly the new lot, having been shifted onto their turf, with a consequent focus on hospitality fripperies rather than affordable services. The hope must be that the brightly repainted street proves so popular that nobody can bear to see it die.

 Sunday, September 20, 2020

Open House: 20 years of TfL

This year sees the 20th anniversary of Transport for London, a brand introduced in 2000 when the Greater London Authority was created. It's not an especially exciting anniversary but some years any excuse will do. For Open House TfL chose to celebrate by organising a self-guided walk routed via a number of key transport locations in the centre of town. It seemed an especially appropriate event to attend given that this year is my 20th Open House... plus it was outdoors, non-virtual and didn't require booking, and there weren't many other places to go this year.

It wasn't quite clear what you were letting yourself in for before you turned up, the Open House listings being as obtuse as they often are...
Regular tours every 60 mins (11am-4pm). Tours will be self-serve and all day.
... but in the end it turned out to be a 2½ mile walk undertaken at your own pace, ticking off five transport nodes around a looping circuit. Cheery staff were waiting at each stop with an information sheet, and if you collected all the information sheets you got a prize at the end. Think of it as TfL orienteering. Here's how it worked out...

1) Palestra
Palestra is TfL's main office block, otherwise known as the tall building opposite Southwark station with the jutting-out top. Normally it holds thousands of staff, but times are not normal so the furniture's been rejigged to cater for rather fewer, but times are not normal so nobody's due back at their desks before next month. Nobody's back at the other office blocks in North Greenwich and Stratford either, so best not think about the rent currently being paid out on empty buildings (not that TfL will be the only ones with this particular problem). Just look up at the colourful Will Alsop architecture, grab your information sheet and move on.
Palestrafact: 'Palestra' derives from the Greek for arena and is a reference to the boxing gym that once occupied the site.

"Here's your map" said the member of staff outside Palestra. The problem was it wasn't a map, more of a line diagram, which given the organisation who'd designed it perhaps wasn't surprising. But this meant the next location was only ever listed by name, with no visual or digital clues whatsoever. I got over-confident at this point, believing myself to be a London expert, and headed off convinced I knew where 'Waterloo Bus Garage' might be. Perhaps they meant bus station, I thought. They did not, and I walked quite a long way off course having not spotted the earlier checkpoint someone had hoped would be obvious.

2) Waterloo Bus Garage
Waterloo, it turns out, has a bus garage. It's had one since 1951, established to serve the Festival of Britain, but it's hidden behind a high fence and all the buses inside are single deckers so basically who knew. The two routes based here are the 507 and 521, the high-capacity, high-frequency 'Red Arrow' routes designed to disperse commuters across central London. They can't be dispersing anywhere near as many commuters as usual at present. TfL are very proud of their electric credentials, hence we were stopping off here with nothing to see rather than at the visually more impressive station across the road. The best thing I learned was of the existence of The Bus Cafe, ostensibly a works canteen but one to which the public are invited for a cuppa, fry-up or West African fish dish at hugely reasonable prices. Open weekdays only. File away this important information for later use.
Waterloobusgaragefact: One of the photos on the fact sheet was captioned 'This Routemaster was used to provide tours of London for visitors arriving for the Festival of Britain in 1951', but I didn't want to be the one to point out that the first Routemaster didn't enter service until 1956 and the vehicle in the photo was actually an RT.

3) Embankment station/pier
This check-in point was outside the station, not the pier, which was fine because we'd just trooped across the Golden Jubilee Bridge to get there. We'd also battled the crowds on Waterloo Road and the hubbub alongside the Royal Festival Hall, and should probably have walked through the mainline station too but I didn't fancy trying that. I did at one point question the sanity of traipsing through some of the busiest parts of post-lockdown London, it being no ghost town any more, but the promise of a prize at the end drove me to plough on. Embankment had the only non-chatty staff on the tour, so I can't tell you anything new other than what was on the information sheet.
Embankmentfact: Twice as many journeys start or finish at Embankment station each year (20m) as are made on the entirety of the TfL river services network (10m).

4) Temple station
In good news we got to admire the outside of Temple station as built in Portland Stone in 1911, as opposed to being forced to confront the northern end of the Garden Bridge which, in an alternative timeline, had been due to be completed by now. In less good news Temple station is closed this weekend, so we couldn't have enjoyed a one-stop trip on the tube and enjoyed "the red detailing on the top and bottom of the support columns" even if we'd wanted to. At least the lovely vitreous enamel geographic tube map from 1932 is always visible outside (a proper Journey Planner is available inside the ticket hall, as the heritage panel attests).
Templefact: The Temple cab shelter has a 'CSF' monogram, for Cabman's Shelter Fund, which built the structure.

5) Blackfriars station
This checkpoint was just inside the station, so I wondered what the current rules were regarding face coverings and ticket halls and whether British Transport Police would rush out and caution me if I asked for an information sheet, but thankfully nothing untoward happened. This particular stop merited two information sheets, one covering the station and intersecting cycleways, the other cycle hire and the history of London buses. The tour's organiser had done well to include quite so many TfL modes of transport in a single short loop, but alas the Overground, trams, Crossrail and Dangleway missed out this year.
Blackfriarsfact: The subway entrances, which no longer provide an entrance to the station, were opened in 1925. Another sealed-off entrance, opened in 1977, once led down to the Victoria Embankment.

6) Palestra (again)
Brandishing my complete collection of information sheets permitted me to claim my prize - a tote bag with a rather snazzy rainbow-lines-and-roundel design. It also finally gave me somewhere to put my information sheets as I headed off to my next Open House venue. I felt a bit guilty claiming my freebie having given TfL less than £10 of my money over the last six months, but rules are rules. I shall store it with all my other freebie tote bags which are supposed to be good for the environment but which I have never used. It's probably not a good sign for TfL's finances that my next venue was two trains away but I chose to walk five miles instead rather than board any of their services.

My thanks to whoever organised 20 years of TfL, though, for a well-planned diversion around once-familiar areas of central London. I even went south of the river for the first time since March. It was good to be back, however briefly.

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards