diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 31, 2020

On the last day of 2007 I posted a review of the year focusing on all the terrible things that hadn't happened. Life on Earth was not wiped out by a passing meteorite, I wrote. The UK was not beset by a string of terrorist atrocities. The atmosphere was not stripped away by rampant global warming. And then there was this.
During 2007 bird flu failed to decimate the world's population. No evil virus mutated inside the bloodstream of an East Asian chicken, before accidentally transmitting itself to a small child during a freak papercut accident. No unstoppable epidemic spread across the globe unhindered by inadequate air travel safety regulations. No ambulances driven by gas-masked medics clogged the streets of Britain carting away the dead bodies of much-loved relatives inside zipped-up plastic bags. The human race didn't fall foul of pandemic viral evolution. Not in 2007.
Alas 2020 has been different. The year we expected has been ripped away and replaced by a global medical emergency, economic collapse and enforced isolation. Plans have been extinguished and futures changed. A fast-evolving response has been overseen by governments of varying ineptitude. Our fellow citizens have shown themselves to be determined selfless heroes and blinkered reckless idiots. Learning to cope with the fallout has been a dizzying and damaging balancing act.

'Pandemic' has been top of the national risk register for years, and for very good reason. But we didn't get the anticipated influenza, we got something novel that spreads without symptoms and clogs up hospitals for weeks. We're going to be a very different society by the time a miracle vaccine finally regains control.

Although the virus rapidly became the defining issue of 2020, it's called COVID-19 because it was first notified to the WHO on New Year's Eve last year. Watch the news today, and as 2021 unfolds, because the next smoking gun could emerge at any time. Normality can go very wrong, very suddenly, and very occasionally it does.

At the start of 2020 I decided to count the number of times I visited each London borough.

• Technically I counted the number of days I visited each borough.
• If I set foot in a borough on a particular day, that counted as 1.
• Standing on a station platform or riding through on a bus didn't count.

This is very much not the end result I was expecting.


You can tell I live in Tower Hamlets because that scored the maximum possible total of 366 days. I'd never normally hit the maximum because I'd spend several nights away (especially at Christmas), but not in 2020.

Newham came a very strong second, partly because that's where Stratford is but mainly because I live less than 200m from the boundary. Getting there is easy, even in lockdown. I've been to Newham on 69% of days this year.

Next come Hackney and Waltham Forest, way way ahead of the other boroughs. This is because my daily exercise under lockdown generally involved walking to the top of the Olympic Park and back, which ticked off both, and it's a route I've continued to walk (and extend) ever since. Were life normal I'd visit these boroughs about once a week, but this year it's been more like three.

Westminster was in third place before lockdown began, it being where much of London's important stuff is. But I've only been three times since, because it's quite a hike, which has allowed the City of London to overtake. That's rather nearer, so since August I've been schlepping there once a week.

The only other boroughs I've been to since March are those with totals in double figures - all of which are within walking distance. Most are in central London, the sole Outer exception being Redbridge (which I can trek to in an hour). These are still ridiculously low totals though - in a normal year Camden would've probably hit fifty.

What's unusual are the outer London totals. If you'd been doing this survey there'd have been a lot of 0s, 1s and 2s, because it's surprisingly hard to go to Havering, Kingston and Harrow accidentally. But I managed at least three visits apiece in two and a half months flat because that's the kind of London-scouring blogger I am. Even in 2020, Sutton got a fair crack.

As for counties outside London, this year's tally is but thin gruel.
Twice: Essex, Kent
Once: Beds, Bucks, Herts, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincs, East Sussex, Surrey, Wilts, Devon, Cornwall
Never: everywhere else
I am already itching to go back to Slough and Surbiton, not to mention Pinner and Penge, because almost anywhere can be a tourist attraction after a year of restricted travel.

And I've been counting other things too...

Jan1435½ miles12st 11
Feb1136 miles12st 11
Mar414 miles12st 9
Apr03½ miles12st 6
May05½ miles12st 4
Jun07 miles12st 3
Jul07½ miles12st 2
Aug27½ miles12st 0
Sep19 miles11st 12
Oct07½ miles11st 12
Nov09 miles11st 11
Dec09½ miles11st 10

I'm counting TfL journeys because they can be easily (and objectively) tracked. TfL tot up all your Oyster journey segments in a convenient weekly database, ostensibly so you can keep track of how much they cost. Every change of mode means starting another row, so for example a trip from Bow Road to Richmond Park would count as tube(1)+rail(2)+bus(3), plus another 3 journeys back again. At the start of the year I was averaging 4 'TfL journeys' a day. Since March I've only taken three in total, all on the tube and no further than King's Cross. If TfL are in severe financial difficulties, sorry, I'm an example of why.

Which means I've been walking a lot more. The second column shows my average daily distance, month by month. Treat January and February as normal, i.e. about six-miles-worth. April was my rambling lowpoint because I didn't walk far and spent a lot of days indoors. But by the summer I was up to seven miles and since September it's been more like nine (four miles out and four back). The average dipped in October because it rained a lot. But that's still a heck of a lot more walking than I expected to be doing this year... by my calculations 2500 miles in total (the equivalent of walking to Baghdad).

The last column shows how my weight has changed during this extraordinary year. It had been consistent up until mid-March and then went into unexpected freefall, dropping by half a stone in a couple of months. It's dropped another half stone since. The most obvious reason should be 'increased exercise', but the table actually shows the complete opposite with the pounds falling off just as I stopped going out. My best guess is that mid-March is when I started eating less to avoid going to the supermarket too often, in which case lockdown has been an unexpectedly effective diet. Indeed I've gone from a BMI of 26 to a BMI of 24, which is exemplary, and now all I have to do is make sure that any resumption of normality doesn't cause me to put it all back on again.

This won't have been your 2020 experience, so forgive me for indulging you with mine, but I hope it demonstrates the power of keeping tabs on personal data. Maybe pick something to count yourself in 2021, and hopefully watch it improve as the year goes by.

 Wednesday, December 30, 2020

dg 2020 index

Beyond London
Plymouth/Cornwall: The last normal thing I did, thankfully, was a long distance rail safari to the heart of the southwest. [photos]
Swindon/Avebury: The railway town and its Magic Roundabout are a short bus ride from the world's largest prehistoric stone circle. [photos]
Crowborough: The hilltop commuter town Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose for home. [photos]
Bedford: The Panacea Museum is the home of Joanna Southcott's Box.
Eye: It doesn't take long to walk round this historic Suffolk town. [photos]
Grimsby/Cleethorpes: For my first trip outside London in five months obviously I escaped to North Lincolnshire. [photos]
Lincoln: ...and stopped by in Lincoln on the way. [photos]
Southend: A grey day down the pier, plus the London Stone in Chalkwell.
Ramsgate/Broadstairs/Margate: September by the sea, because this is always a cracking walk.

Wider London
London: severance, largest circles, postal districts, market towns, London Planner, back gardens, Queen Elizabeth, nearest hill, golf courses, I-SPY book, balconies, furthest from a park, top London blogs, Percy Ingle, London something, Open House, Monopoly, best wood, tall buildings, libraries
Hillingdon: Myrtle Avenue
Sutton: Cuddington, Sutton tram
Brent: Borough of Culture, Neasden Nature Trail, Dollis Hill, North Wembley
Southwark: Red Cross Garden
Wandsworth: Nine Elms
Camden: Mail Rail
Westminster: Household Cavalry Museum, Cato Street
Greenwich: London City Views Ring Walk, County Gate, Corona Road
Rivers: Thames crossings, Strawberry Vale Brook, Bounds Green Brook, crossing the Lea
2020: Twentyman Close, SE20 (Anerley), SW20 (the Apostles), N20 (Totteridge & Whetstone), route N20, 20 minutes in E20, the A20

Within walking distance
home: walking at home, M&S bag, LBC bag, Translucent Kettle, 2012 souvenirs
Bow: named streets, Harper Twelvetrees, other Bows, Low Traffic Neighbourhood, pubs, high streets, history, Old Ford, tunnels, sound barrier
Tower Hamlets: passing places, Hackney Wick/Fish Island, Westferry Print Works, Wapping, Regent's Canal 200, Mile End Road, Canary Wharf, maximum density, mild urbex, Thames Path, Autumn Street, Connected By Light, Ephemeral Stream
E20: Northwall Road, where is E20?, East London Soil Hub, 1980 Cup Final, History Trees, Lea photos, East Wick and Sweetwater, new exit, benches, Snoozebox, Hackney Bridge, postcards, haiku, 50 things
Newham: Greenway Action Group, Beckton Creekside Nature Reserve, Cooks Road, Bow Street, The Crystal, Big Brother house, E15, The Line, Royal Docks, Maryland, footpaths, around E13
Hackney: Pitfield Street, sharks, postcards, Holly and Ivy
Waltham Forest: cycle lane through bus stop, viewpoint, postcards
City: Beech Street, postcards, tree trail, changing boundary, Shepherdess, protected views
Random City ward: intro, Candlewick, Bishopsgate, Aldgate, Queenhithe, Bridge, Vintry
local walk: March, lockdown box, May, June, July, lockdown box, one mile, three miles, Footways, October, November, lockdown circle, December, 140 things, alphabetical streets
Greenwich Meridian: a five day series

TfL: sponsorship, hold the handrail, reducing services, assets for rent, threatened projects, snapshot, book now, Journey Planner, TfL Go, terms and conditions, finances
Tube stations: seven Actons, step-free, Bromley-by-Bow, on the boundary, quiet times, Shaun Bailey
Tube journeys: Hainault Shuttle, Bakerloo strike, shortest/longest
Tube map: May, terminus bar, December
Tube fares: leaflet, Google Pay, Oyster card fee, cashless
Dangleway: still running
Overground: closing ticket offices
Crossrail: delayed again, delayed again, service pattern, two years late
Rail: HS2, first stop out, Dudding Hill line, North London Railway
Bus: south Newham consultation, Poynders Road, parts of a bus stop, Croxley Green, Nightingale Hospital, bus stations, school services, end-to-end chains, Sutton consultation, spider maps
Bus routes: 497, 55, 404
Streets: max headroom, A roads, high-numbered, Boer Roads, straight across crossings, ULEZ extension, increasing A roads
Anorak corner: rail, tube, DLR, Overground, TfL Rail, bus, rail (again)

Coronavirus: 'safe' places, cancellations, mitigation/suppression, a year in food, progression, social distancing, stay at home, April cancellations, one form of exercise, next event, masks, three factors, stay alert, breakages, my rules, contact tracing, perception, go shopping, unlockers, unlocking, priority postboxes, gatherings, although, face coverings, Eat Out To Help Out, foreign travel, go back, daily briefing email, six months, app, avoid visiting, joggers, I think I caught it, re-lockdown, travel rules, fiction review, crossword, Advent calendar, Tier 4, nativity

Quizzes: 2020 anniversaries, eggs, totals, crossword, London animals, only one, Scottish islands, NHS, European countries, Hallowe'en, All Saints, presidents, No Deal
Time and space: palindromic dates, Easter dates, the equation of time, bank holiday gaps, solstices, equinoxes, heatwave, great conjunction
Maps & geography: Travel To Work Areas, due north, Marilyns, hemispheres, coastline
Stats & maths: retirement age, the Count, World Heritage sites, decimal prices, Benford's Law, The Archers, BMI, early closing, best football team, letterboxes, numberplates, lists, Pick of the Pops
Unblogged: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

And... 2020 vision, 2030 vision, Introvetr, Pet Shop Boys albums, Brexit, PR masterclass, be more maybe, PR emails, Emerald Club, I saw the Queen, double spaces, old food, grocery vinyls, Hutch, Disney World, regrets, capital cities, indirect consequences

» My ten favourite photos of the year

 Tuesday, December 29, 2020

31 unblogged things I did in December

Tue 1: Birdwatching update: I'm on an afternoon walk up the Olympic Park. I've already been startled by a daffodil and now, blimey, look, it's a kingfisher again! It's in the stream at the exit to the Waterglades, first hugging the water and then soaring high into the air. For a bird I'd never seen a month ago, I appear to be having phenomenal luck.
Wed 2: Lockdown ends, tiers restart, non-essential shops reopen and a vaccine is approved. It's the most positive news day in ages. I take advantage of none of it.
Thu 3: I'm making a list of cherry trees currently in full blossom so that I can confirm in four months' time whether or not they flower twice or are solely winter bloomers.
Fri 4: It's fish and chips tonight, oven-cooked version. Somehow I manage to trap half an oven glove inside the oven when I close the door and fail to notice for ten minutes. Thankfully it only melts slightly on the inside and doesn't set off a conflagration requiring evacuation of the building.
Sat 5: If I leave an acorn out on the balcony for the squirrel, the magpie always gets it first.
Sun 6: Ooh, another number 25 with a wreath on its front door. I must remember to file that photo away and use it on Christmas Day. (Forgot, dammit)

Mon 7: I took a pile of books back to the library. It took me three attempts to put my mask on because I was holding a lot of books. My glasses steamed up as soon as I went inside. I smeared sanitiser over the covers while I was putting the books down. The staff had no other customers. I couldn't quite make out the instructions on the self-service screen so they had to call me back to the machine to finish the transaction. Handing over my name and number for Test and Trace meant I spent twice as long in the library as I would have done otherwise. I had considered withdrawing more books but my misty specs meant I couldn't read the spines so I decided against. As I went to leave one of the staff asked "Are you not taking any books out?" I left the library feeling sad and inadequate.
Tue 8: It's not just 90 year-old Margaret Keenan getting her vaccination this week. My brother's father-in-law is pencilled in for jab one on Friday.
Wed 9: Watched a plane take off from City Airport. Struck by the sheer unusualness of the spectacle. Also watched four helicopters weaving east following the line of the Thames.
Thu 10: Nobody correctly guessed where I was heading when I described "70 things I saw on a long walk to a busy high street". It was Stoke Newington. To put one reader out of their additional misery, the 55 mosaic hounds appear on a marvellous new portrait wall in the middle of Hackney Downs.

Fri 11: Spotted an actual TV chef in the tattooed flesh. He walked past chatting on his phone, then sat down and took a selfie. He had a posher voice than I was expecting and a far filthier mouth.
Sat 12: I have been summoned to my local surgery for vaccination. It's only for flu, and it's three months later than they normally ask me, but it's important to get it done. A lot of other people have been summoned too, but I appreciate that the nurse has time for a proper chat, not just a prick-and-go.
Sun 13: I would have been able to walk safely past Stepney Green tube station had not the Tower Hamlets Covid Ambassadors been blocking the pavement while handing out advice and testing kits. Thankfully the Cycle Superhighway was unoccupied.
Mon 14: The Tier 2 tube map is, by some margin, the second most popular thing I have ever tweeted (behind Boris Johnson's neighbourhood police station and ahead of a skinhead in Romford).
Tue 15: I whinged last month that the map of libraries on Greenwich's website displayed ten libraries on one page and two on another. Today the borough's head of digital messaged to say that all twelve now appear simultaneously, and this is a deeply reassuring outcome.

Wed 16: Things that pass through your mind as you fly low over Upper Street: I appear have lost contact with the ground. Uh-oh. I wonder what I tripped on. My body is at an increasingly horizontal angle to the ground. Dammit. I have no control over this aerial manoeuvre whatsoever. I wonder if this is what being in free-fall feels like. I bet this is going to hurt. Those railings are getting closer. I hope I stop short. It could be a very awkward four mile hobble home. At least the pavement looks clean. Adrenalin incoming..... Ouch!
Thu 17: Opening Christmas cards is such a lottery, especially this year. Today I discovered that one former colleague is delighted to be a grandmother and another lost her husband in October.
Fri 18: Trip hazard update: The extensive grazing on my lower arm thankfully doesn't look too deep and should heal fine once the crust has done its job. The whopping bruise on my upper arm is now an impressive yellow colour, but again could have been much worse. Note to self - try not to do this when in your 70s.
Sat 19: My Tier 2 tube map is already out of date. Never mind, my tiered calendar depicting December in London is going to be the fourth most popular thing I've ever tweeted.
Sun 20: The Christmas tree under the Cheesegrater is impressive this year. A lone security guard watches over it (and the adjacent bank of escalators) even at weekends.

Mon 21: Birdwatching update: It's a wet and lonely morning in the Olympic Park and I'm down by the river again. I wonder if calling out for a kingfisher might work. I call out. A kingfisher zips out of the reeds and curves downstream. I swear I am not making this up.
Tue 22: The Christmas episode of The Good Life may be TV's finest 30 minute comedy masterclass (unless it was last Saturday's Blackadder II - Beer).
Wed 23: I'm pleased to report that the cycle lane behind the bus shelter on Ruckholt Road, which for seven months was a cycle lane through the bus shelter, has finally been resurfaced and at last provides a smooth ride.
Thu 24: Birdwatching update: Don't forget to keep an eye out for kingfishers, I tell BestMate. That's where I saw one on Monday. One minute later he points out a kingfisher flying fast, straight and at approximately head height, like a rocket above the river. That's now six times in the last 40 days I've seen one - probably the same one. I think I have a new neighbour. If you're interested in what appears to be a damned good opportunity to spot a kingfisher, I've made a map showing the six sites. Head to the east bank of the Lea in the northern half of the park for your best chance (but don't get your hopes too high).
Fri 25: 7 things I don't normally get the chance to do at Christmas: wake unprompted, watch the International Space Station fly overhead, walk to the West End, cook my own sprouts, pop a cork, eat half the Christmas pudding, watch six TV shows of my choice. 7 things I missed this Christmas: being with family, hot sausage rolls, refusing to play Monopoly, a roomful of presents, roast potatoes, someone to pull a cracker with, laughter.

Sat 26: The Inner London Ramblers have taken on the mantle of Guardians of the Capital Ring, hurrah, and their Rangers have spent 2020 revising the walk guides. Downloadable pdfs are now available on the ILR website along with up-to-date guidance on diversions and blockages. This is excellent news if you were thinking of walking (or rewalking) it, not least because they've used OpenStreetMap so the directions are really clear.
Sun 27: I've lost count of the number of times I've watched the Sound of Music - a film released the week before I was born. My first screening was at the Watford Odeon, and I remember being very relieved when they inserted an intermission after the wedding. This time I nipped to the kitchen for a cuppa during Edelweiss.
Mon 28: Surprised to see that the ExCel centre at the Royal Docks looks like an exhibition hall again, complete with 'Welcome' branding in global languages. I guess we don't need that Nightingale Hospital any more (or perhaps there never were sufficient staff to operate it).
Tue 29: Parked in a row outside a small block of flats in Hackney - nine delivery mopeds (four with L plates). For many inner London residents, the new career choice.
Wed 30: The increasing price of the Radio Times over the last decade - 2011 £1.20, 2012 £1.40, 2013 £1.60, 2014 £1.80, 2015 £2.00, 2016 £2.30, 2017 £2.50, 2018 £2.80, 2019 £3.00, 2020 £3.20, 2021 £3.50 (average annual price rise = 11.3%)
Thu 31: I haven't stayed in on New Year's Eve for ages, but this year no distant firework-watching viewpoint was on offer. Instead a spider wandered in from the hallway and lurked on the wall beside me and we saw in 2021 together. Cheers, and good riddance.

 Monday, December 28, 2020

As the year draws to a close, let's look back at what the weather's been doing. Not because it's something we all want to reminisce over, but because I reckon it's interesting to see what a full year's weather looks like.

The tables below show the weather for each day in 2020, grouped into categories and totted up by month. Yes, there are still four days to go, so I've used the forecast to predict the rest, and I'll come back later to update speculation with fact. I've blanked out the background of every empty cell to make the pattern of the coloured data stand out more. I've also emboldened any tally that enters double figures, making the general trend a bit easier to follow.

This is data from a weather station in Hampstead, so won't perfectly reflect your experience, nor the national picture. But it does present an intriguing picture of the twelve months gone by, and in a year of lockdown the weather's never been more/less important.

Maximum daily temperature, Hampstead, 2020

35-40°C       11    
30-35°C      3 5    
25-30°C     51643   
20-25°C    101212191513   
15-20°C   2109135511134 
10-15°C 151716951 13181812
5-10°C 1612131      811
0-5°C            8

This is what the rise and fall of the year's maximum temperatures looks like. What stands out here are the two days when the mercury topped thirty-five degrees - on consecutive Fridays no less. This is not normal, indeed 35°C has only been exceeded at Hampstead on one other occasion in the last decade, which was last summer. The temperature in London topped 30° on ten separate occasions and exceeded 25° on 29, so 2020 had plenty of short-sleeve weather to go round. The true outliers were April and May which were much milder than usual, but also wasted because most of the time we were confined to our homes. Only eight days (all of them this month) failed to reach 5°C, and there's not a single occurrence of temperatures remaining below freezing all day (which is the joy of the inner London heat island effect).

Minimum daily temperature, Hampstead, 2020

20-25°C        2    
15-20°C      46194   
10-15°C   12112221916941
5-10°C 20128211454110221611
0-5°C 9172266     1014
-5-0°C 2  1       5

Minimum temperatures show a similar rise and fall through the course of a year, but within a narrower range. Thirty-five days this year had nights exceeding 15°C - ideal for sitting outside - including two rare 'tropical nights' in August when the temperature didn't drop below 20°C. We may see more of these in future. This year's cold snaps were in mid-January, late March and December, especially late December, with New Year's Eve the coldest day of the year. On only eight nights did the temperature dip below freezing (anywhere outside central London will likely have had rather more).

Hours of sunshine, Hampstead, 2020

12-15hr    10146412   
8-11hr 429985899 1 
5-7hr  361553710611
2-4hr 1112773577312139
0-1hr 685217644413
0hr 10441 233291418

Sunshine is where all the records were. May was the sunniest calendar month ever recorded (an accolade that'd normally be taken by June or July when the sun's above the horizon for longer). April was almost as good, a pairing which helped make this the sunniest spring on record (again totally wasted unless you were out on your daily exercise). From the start of lockdown to the end of May, somewhat cruelly, only one day was fully overcast. The summer months, though statistically more normal, could not compete. Meanwhile the last three months of the year have been particularly disappointing, with barely two-thirds of the expected level of sunshine and over half the year's complement of entirely dull days.

Daily rainfall, Hampstead, 2020

>20mm         3  
10-20mm 111 1 2 1 1
5-10mm3711 122 414

It doesn't rain that often in London, with over 50% of days this year (the bottom row) completely dry. Even most of the wet days weren't that wet - fewer than forty days exceeded 5mm. As for relentlessly wet days, only eleven times did Hampstead's rain gauge top 10mm. But October was a total washout, including three consecutive days which proved to be 2020's wettest, each with more than 20mm of rainfall. February was the other unusually wet month, dampening our final pre-lockdown weeks, and then of course we had the driest May on record with Hampstead enjoying twenty-nine completely dry days. It felt like 2020 was really toying with us, precipitation-wise.

Extreme weather, Hampstead, 2020

Fog  1          
Hail  1   1      
 Thunder    213 5    
Frost 2  1       5
Snow  1          

Finally, still based on observations in Hampstead, a look at some of the more unusual meteorological conditions. Fog only descended briefly in February, while hail fell for the first time since 2017. As for thunder this rumbled during spring and summer about as often as it normally does. Air frost bookended the year, with one horticulturally-annoying outlier in early April. The year's entire complement of snow fell, unmemorably, on a single morning in February.

All in all 2020's weather has been fairly ordinary with a few extraordinary exceptions. Here's to more typically atypical weather in 2021.

 Sunday, December 27, 2020

This was Piccadilly Circus on Christmas morning.

It wasn't proverbially busy but at least a dozen people had turned up, mostly on bikes. I think I was the only one not wearing a woolly hat. One couple were pushing a toddler in a pushchair, presumably from a hotel room not terribly far away. A well-wrapped bloke was orbiting Eros on his skateboard while recording the panorama on his phone. And all the time the big digital screen blazed down, advertising phones, fashion, cars and fizzy drinks to hardly any people who weren't looking anyway.

And I mention this because Piccadilly Circus is the furthest west I've been on foot since lockdown started. It's also the furthest I've been from home in the last 100 days, because 5¼ miles isn't a distance to be undertaken lightly given the need to walk all the way back again. It's even more awkward on a day when almost everything in Central London is closed. My bladder only survived the experience thanks to a particularly fetid urinal which will haunt my Christmas memories forever.

But Piccadilly Circus isn't the furthest west I've been all year. It's time for a 2020 compass point retrospective.

The furthest west I've been in 2020: Saltash, Cornwall [4°12'W, 12th March]

It's hard to remember how almost-normal things were in the second week of March. The Prime Minister had yet to be spooked by an Imperial College report, herd immunity was still a thing and making non-essential journeys was deemed acceptable. I had an advance rail ticket to Plymouth and thought hell yes, I'm still going (but was mighty relieved when the carriage was nigh empty). I made the most of my day trip by going to Cornwall three times, twice by ferry and once by train across the iconic Royal Albert Bridge. I wanted to see what the bridge looked like close-up (answer - a very ornamental trench) and to walk along the picturesque quayside past the pub painted like a Union Jack. It was a particularly showery day so I first enjoyed blue skies, then got absolutely drenched and was swiftly rewarded by a stunning rainbow as the clouds cleared. Fore Street was the furthest west I've been this year, and also where I grabbed my luckiest photo.
2nd furthest west: Avebury [1°51'W, 6th February] (specifically the National Trust car park)
3rd furthest west: Chesham [0°37'W, 11th January] (marginally more occidental than Lincoln)

The furthest south I've been in 2020: Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall [50°21'N, 12th March]

Cornwall again, this time on a peninsula four miles south (or 15 miles away by car). Mount Edgcumbe is a country park surrounding a mansion on a wooded headland overlooking Plymouth Sound, and a glorious place to explore. I only had an hour between ferries so didn't explore as far as I'd have liked, but did encounter the National Camellia Collection, a precipitous ravine and an upcycling boutique. The Duke's Garden was the furthest south I've been this year, and again a heavy shower delivered a stunning rainbow... from above. In the depths of winter, memories of distant spring travel sustain.
2nd furthest south: Crowborough [51°3'N, 29th February] (outside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's house)
3rd furthest south: Banstead [51°19'N, 11th January] (M&S Simply Food is 1km further south than Ramsgate harbour)

The furthest east I've been in 2020: Broadstairs, Kent [1°27'E, 12th September]

You can't go any further east in Kent than North Foreland Point, where the lighthouse is, atop chalk cliffs above Joss Bay. Follow the coastal path from Broadstairs round to Margate and you'll pass the spot, close to the locked gate which leads down to the 39 Steps. Back in September when rail travel was again acceptable, I stood beneath a field of salad leaves and stared out across the neck of the North Sea towards a whirling wind farm, and that was the furthest east I got. My brother's house in Norfolk is very nearly that far east but a couple of villages short, and alas I never got there this year anyway.
2nd furthest east: Eye [1°9'E, 9th March] (between the church and the castle ruins)
3rd furthest east: Southend [0°43'E, 7th September] (the Kursaal is 100m further east than the tip of the pier)

The furthest north I've been in 2020: Grimsby Docks, Lincs [53°35'N, 25th August]

Grimsby's docks are far from the most glamorous of locations, unless you like refrigerated sheds, trawlers and the smell of fish fingers, but I'm so glad I made a dash for undiscovered north Lincolnshire in the summer. I'd hate to have thought the second half of the year was a complete travel wipeout, plus I managed to tick off Cleethorpes and Lincoln along the way. Also I'm chuffed to say that Grimsby is (slightly) further north than Manchester and Liverpool, which makes me feel slightly better about not managing to reach either of those this year.
2nd furthest north: My dad's house [52½°N, 9th March] (I'm so pleased I made a birthday visit)
3rd furthest north: Bedford [52°8'N, 6th March] (another fortunate slice of pre-lockdown normality)

And to finish, the final extent of my 2020 lockdown box...

The furthest I've been on foot in 2020

West: Piccadilly Circus [25th December, 5.1 miles] (see aforementioned)
North: Walthamstow High Street [30th November, 3.8 miles] I walked the full length of the non-existent market, dispiritedly.
East: Gallions Reach [10th October, 4.2 miles] A delightful riverside vantage point alongside Beckton Sewage Works looking out towards Thamesmead.
South: Island Gardens [6th September, 3.0 miles] The southernmost tip of the Isle of Dogs isn't where the foot tunnel pops up, it's on the riverfront outside the Kinkao Thai restaurant.

 Saturday, December 26, 2020

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• 17 million Britons enter tier 4 lockdown
• daily cases at record high
• Dover/Eurotunnel closed to accompanied freight
• 40 countries ban travel from the UK
• supermarkets say no short term shortages
• Joe Biden vaccinated on live TV
• new variant is 'everywhere' in UK
• 3000 lorries now stuck in Kent
• first cases in Antarctica
• France reopens border for those who test -ve
• calls to use single vaccine dose, not two
• tough restrictions on arrivals from SA
• 2% of Londoners have the virus
• schools may need to close in January
• Trump blocks coronavirus stimulus package
• no Christmas gatherings for 43% of England
• Queen's broadcast - "you are not alone"
• SE England & East Anglia → tier 4
• mainland Scotland & NI back into lockdown
• new variant detected across Europe

Worldwide deaths: 1,680,000 → 1,750,000
Worldwide cases: 76,000,000 → 80,000,000
UK deaths: 67,075 → 70,405
UK cases: 2,004,219 → 2,256,005
Vaccinations: 650,714 → 963,208
FTSE: down ½% (6529 → 6502)

20 things that happened this week #brexit

• trade deal requires 'substantial EU shift' (UK)
• any deal must be 'balanced and reciprocal' (EU)
• final decision expected before Christmas
• Dover/Eurotunnel closed to accompanied freight
• some couriers suspend NI deliveries
• PM rules out extension of transition period
• UK would prosper mightily under WTO terms (PM)
• No. 10 denies breakthrough on fishing rights
• 'final push' for trade deal
• negotiations are "all down to fish"
• PM and EU president in direct contact
• reports that a deal is being finalised
• late night haggling over quotas and red lines
3pm Xmas Eve - A DEAL IS AGREED
• "we have built a new partnership" (EU)
• "everything promised has been delivered" (PM)
• "the clock is no longer ticking"
• EU sombre, UK government triumphant
• deal has 1246 pages (mostly appendices)
• little chance for scrutiny before Commons vote

I have never spent Christmas in London before. I was expecting it to be emptier.

It was mostly cars, as families nipped off on Christmas morning to form illicit festive bubbles. It was also bikes, which may be a side effect of walking alongside a superhighway into town, or may be because hire bikes are everywhere these days, or may be because people are tired of being cooped up inside and fancied some exercise while the turkey was cooking. It wasn't particularly people on foot, at least not early on - I passed barely a dozen pedestrians before reaching the edge of the City.

But it was still pretty empty.

This is Ludgate Hill, about as empty as it ever gets. I guess relatives heading to Peckham or Pinner don't normally drive this way. But what you can't see here is the check-in tent on the steps of St Paul's, the shivering stewards, the table for the hand sanitiser and the lone worshipper wielding a printed-out ticket. I'm not sure if they were slightly too late for Morning Prayer or much too early for Sung Eucharist. I may not have got to experience a normal family gathering this year, but there was something uncommonly special about hearing the bells of St Paul's on Christmas morning.

And emptiness is something we've got used to.

This is Leadenhall Market, the City of London's prettiest shopping arcade. Yesterday it was totally and utterly empty - the lights blazing and the tree glittering just for me. I might have been impressed but I'd actually walked through the arcade last weekend and it was equally deserted then. Admittedly Sunday mornings are usually quiet in the City, plus Leadenhall Market is packed with pubs and non-essential shops so they're all shut, and anyway most potential purchasers of specialist cheesemongery have been working from home for months. My Christmas stroll through central London mainly reminded me of lockdown in the spring, back when everyone was taking all this seriously.

So emptiness is no longer special.

Time was when you could wander into the centre of London on December 25th, take some photos of empty streets and wow the world. These days if you turn up at Trafalgar Square on Christmas morning it's surprisingly hard to get a photo that resembles the set of 28 Days Later. I was confronted by a pair of cyclists in red cloaks, another pair with reindeer ears and a further cluster in fluorescent hi-vis, not to mention a professional photographer with a big lens. Meanwhile behind St Martin's a group of Samaritans with a trolley and a Waitrose bag arrived to offer hot food to the grateful homeless.

I very much hope my Christmas Day hike to the West End was a one-off, but if it is I do at least now know what I'm missing.

 Friday, December 25, 2020

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