diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 31, 2021

31 unblogged things I did in January

Fri 1: I thought I'd celebrate the new year by making up a Bird's trifle, given that the packet was now eight years old rather than seven. I successfully avoided the milk boiling over but I did end up with all sorts of powders everywhere, right across my surfaces. Other than the Dream Topping, which no longer lived up to its name, the trifle tasted impressively nostalgic.
Sat 2: I opened up my phone to check my email. The battery percentage immediately plummeted from 45% to 1%. I took this as a sign that I do indeed, urgently, need a new phone.
Sun 3: My nextdoor neighbours have returned home today. I know this because the packages propped up against their front door since before Christmas have finally been taken in. My other nextdoor neighbours have also returned home today. I know this because the courier note that's been poked under their front door since before Christmas has finally disappeared. So much for Tier 4 regulations.
Mon 4: Winter Walks on BBC4 is extraordinary television, in part for its non-intrusive 360° photography but mainly for its sweeping landscapes, thus quite the tonic for these freshly-locked down times.
Tue 5: Last time I bought a new phone someone transferred everything across for me. This time I did it all myself because i) technology has improved ii) needs must.
Wed 6: The storming of the US Capitol - extraordinary scenes - thankfully confirms Donald Trump's legacy status will be evil psychopathic despot, not merely unhinged populist egomaniac.
Thu 7: When one of the most dangerous things you do is pop into the chemist to pick up your prescription, it's not good when they fail to order it and leave you standing there for five minutes while they work that out, then ask you to come back tomorrow.
Fri 8: Along with my new phone I bought a cheap adapter so I could continue using my old headphones rather than forking out for bluetooth earplugs. Used it for the first time today. Two hours later my headphones stopped working, dammit.

Sat 9: On today's walk Docklands looked like it was glowing in the fog.
Sun 10: Someone I haven't spoken to in 15 years rang up out of the blue for a much-belated catch-up conversation, and all because I emailed my Christmas cards this year instead of posting them. Given the price of stamps I might do this more often.
Mon 11: Having received no post whatsoever last week, today a 1st class letter arrived postmarked last Monday.
Tue 12: Ah, my headphones haven't broken, it's just that my new phone no longer has a case so the volume button was being nudged downwards in my pocket.
Wed 13: Unexpected emails today include one from a lady whose shop I blogged about last year (which narrows it down considerably) and one from a graphic design student who wants to include my photo of a semaphore tower in her dissertation. This is the kind of inbox I like.
Thu 14: Tog up in waterproofs and head out to Victoria Park. It's rained so much that part of the perimeter road is underwater. It continues raining after I drip home, indeed it'll be the wettest January day so far this century.

Fri 15: I found a lone grey hair in my eyebrows today... two decades later than my mum told me it would happen, but eminently disconcerting all the same.
Sat 16: On a riverside path on the Isle of Dogs I passed a litter bin overflowing with dog poo bags and with a further pyramid of dog poo bags piled on top. Either Tower Hamlets refuse collectors are understaffed or E14's canines are being taken on longer walks.
Sun 17: It's now 300 days since the PM first locked the country down. That's 1½% of my life (and, if you're 16 years old, 5% of yours).
Mon 18: I'm pleased to confirm the existence of a street in Dalston called Grace Jones Close.
Tue 19: TfL have permanently switched the traffic on the Old Street roundabout so that it now runs round the 'correct' three sides of the original square. Don't rush down, it'll be the end of next year before they've tidied up the current mess and opened up a central public space. [The project page on the TfL webpage has yet to be updated and still details the previous configuration]

Wed 20: Joe Biden's inauguration speech was interrupted by a phone call from my dad who was being driven home after his first vaccination jab. Moments in history don't get much better than that.
Thu 21: Crossrail are still running empty test trains back and forth on the Abbey Wood branch, at least a year before they'll enter passenger service. If the Victorians had taken the same approach to health and safety the UK's rail network would never have got off the ground (but they didn't have software to contend with).
Fri 22: It's A Sin is very good isn't it, as you'd expect from Russell T Davies, even down to how brown the 1980s decor was. I'm being true to the era by watching the episodes live once a week rather than streaming ahead to the inevitable unhappy ending.
Sat 23: Broke into a £20 note I took out of a cash machine last March. Still got three more £20 notes to break into.
Sun 24: Had bacon for the first time in almost a year. One mouthful and I immediately added it to my list of regular lockdown comfort foods.
Mon 25: Birdwatching update: Stumbled upon the kingfisher in the Olympic Park again, directly in front of me and perfectly framed on a branch below the main footbridge. Unfortunately I assumed it was a robin, because it normally is, so I carried on walking and off it flew in a perfect low arc above the river. [map]
Tue 26: wintry Wanstead Flats, dodge swans and icy puddles, pure isolation #haiku
Wed 27: The 'Vaccination Centre' signs on the walk between Canning Town station and ExCeL have been rehung and now all point in the correct direction (apart from the pair at the start of the Silvertown Viaduct which are entirely contradictory).

Thu 28: Took a detour down Grove Passage in Bethnal Green, a properly atmospheric alleyway beneath the viaduct at Cambridge Heath station.
Fri 29: Unusual things I saw on today's walk: a) the Olympic Park in flood b) a Eurostar train being washed c) a priest celebrating mass.
Sat 30: I braved the rain to go out and buy a newspaper, except the shop was closed because they'd had a power cut. Thankfully there are still at least six other places within ten minutes of home where I can buy one - how very fortunate I am.
Sun 31: Time to eat the last mince pie until, what, September?

 Saturday, January 30, 2021

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• 500 cases at the DVLA in Swansea
• 75% of over-80s have had first jab
• NZ reports first case for months
• calls for clarity on schools reopening
• riots in Netherlands over introduction of curfew
• Moderna vaccine effective against new variants
• EU concerned by reduced supply of Pfizer vaccine
• UK death toll reaches six figures
• "We truly did everything we could" (PM)
• hotel quarantine for some incoming travellers
• schools won't reopen before 8th March
• only 'essential' foreign travel permitted
• PM visits Scottish vaccine centres
• Germany limits Oxford vaccine to under-65s
• Novavax 89% effective against UK variant
• Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66% effective
• EU approves Oxford vaccine
• Western Isles (finally) go into lockdown
• EU backtracks on export controls for vaccines
• Wales extends shielding until the end of March

Worldwide deaths: 2,110,000 → 2,210,000
Worldwide cases: 98,000,000 → 102,000,000
UK deaths: 97,329 → 105,571
UK cases: 3,617,459 → 3,796,088
Vaccinations: 5,861,351 → 8,378,940
FTSE: down 4% (6695 → 6407)

It's been ages since I posted a photo, so here's one taken in E2 just to prove I have been out this week.

A few months ago I shared with you some of the thrilling numberplate-spotting games I've been playing to keep me occupied during daily exercise. I suspect from your minimal feedback that none of you are doing likewise, but that won't stop me outlining the latest addition to my oeuvre.

Last year while spotting registration letters I noticed that E reg cars were more plentiful than they ought to be, certainly more frequent than the adjacent Ds and Fs. I put this down to local car owners being keen to display their postcodes as a badge of identity - not many, but enough to nudge the E prefix above the average.

So I decided to see how long it'd take me to spot one of every E postcode on a car numberplate. There are 19 altogether, from E1 to E20 (excluding E19), a range which just happens to coincide with car numbers issued only as personalised plates. I started looking on January 1st and kept a list. Four weeks later I'm only missing three.


I haven't seen E19, but that isn't a postcode so that's precisely what I predicted would happen. I also haven't seen E2 which is Bethnal Green, nor E20 which is the Olympic Park. E20 is by far the smallest postcode district and has by far the fewest residents, which I suspect is why I haven't seen one of those. And I know E2s exist because I saw one in December, but last year doesn't count. I have walked the streets of Bethnal Green purposefully since, particularly the gentrified ones where the personalised numberplates lurk, but there was no sign of E2. Maybe residents don't have the same pride in their postcode as other East Londoners.

And that's not all I've been looking out for. I also kept a record of whether I saw a car with a particular postcode numberplate within the boundary of its relevant postcode. Let me colour those a darker shade of blue and then rejig the boxes into something more geographic.

 E1 E14 E16

It didn't take long to spot an E3 in E3, and it turns out E14s are super-abundant in E14. People must be particularly proud of their 'hood on the Isle of Dogs. Altogether I spotted nine personalised numberplates within a relevant postcode, that's half the possible total, either driving round the streets or parked outside some young buck's house. I'd only been in E17 for three minutes before I spotted an E17. E13 cropped up pretty swiftly too. I saw an E12 100m outside E12 so grrr, that doesn't count. I'm surprised not to have seen an E15 in E15, given how local it is to me. I'm not surprised not to have seen an E4 in E4 or an E18 in E18 because I can't walk that far.

Random sampling may have disrupted the underlying distribution but what I think I've confirmed is that several East London folk like to shell out for numberplates which reflect where they live. This may be the deprived side of town but drivers with disposable income exist and like to splash it around, in some neighbourhoods more than others.

I haven't ticked off any new postcodes in the last week so I suspect the game has pretty much run its course. It was fun while it lasted and a fascinating insight into socio-spatial economics. It's also helped me to understand how East London's postcode districts fit together. This game probably won't work near you, sorry, because it's very rare to live at the heart of a cluster of single letter postcodes. But if you too are out walking 70 miles a week, I hope you're keeping yourself similarly occupied.

 Friday, January 29, 2021

Hills and mountains quiz
Here are clues to the names of 20 high things. How many can you name?

  1) kk
  2) day before sleep
  3) inside car, a rattle
  4) substance trumpet
  5) murder one male, canister zero      
UK peaks
11) bin 7?
12) flakes fell here
13) king's backside
14) more generous cub
15) south coffee shop 50/50 fish
mountain ranges
  6) unstables
  7) map collection
  8) two knee joints
  9) a record second
10) anthem-a-chickens
UK ranges
16) minor crags?
17) write numbers
18) freeze sea birds
19) beds west elderlies
20) grandfathers called Ian

All answers now in the comments box, thanks.

After almost 600 comments in two days (blimey, thanks) it'd be remiss of me to move on without reflecting on your responses. Here's my analysis of your highs and lows.

What's the highest you've been this year?
• The easy winner, twice as high above sea level as anyone else, is Will from "travel-unrestricted Switzerland". He's been 2630m up Greppon Blanc near Siviez, as well as over the border into France on his touring skis.
• Second place goes to Friar Sven at 1300m on the third floor of an office building in Lusaka, Zambia, and third to Wayne at 991m outside Whistler, British Columbia.
• My highest UK reader is Putters at 526m, crossing the Buttertubs Pass (in the Yorkshire Dales) to get milk in his Toyota Auris.
• Only a quarter of you have been above 200m this year, but two-thirds have topped 100m.
• I've been no higher than 42m this year, and 87% of you can beat that.
• My most vertically challenged reader is Jochem in the Netherlands, the top floor of whose home scrapes 8m above sea level.

What's the highest you've ever been above ground level?
• Plane flights were excluded, so this was the "tallest building" question.
• Three of you have been to the world's highest observation deck at the top of the Shanghai Tower, 560m up.
• Three of you have been up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is just four metres lower.
• Only 14% of you have been higher than me, all in Shanghai, Dubai or Tokyo.
• My highest ascent was 447m in the SkyPod at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto. 20 of you joined me, making the CN Tower the most common highest point.
• The second most common highest point was the (former) World Trade Center in New York, around 415m, and the third most common was the 3ème étage of the Eiffel Tower (276m).
• A quarter of you, or at least a quarter of those who responded, have never been higher than 300m off the ground. Three of you have never topped 200m, and one's never been higher than 80m at the 120 Fenchurch Street roof garden.
• It'd be fascinating to ask the wider population the same question, I suspect we're more ascendant than the norm.

What's the highest you've ever been above sea level?
• This was the "highest mountain" question. And blimey, you put my efforts to shame.
• Our winner was HTFB who's climbed Stok Kangri, a 6153m peak in Kashmir. That's the equivalent of two-thirds of the way up Everest.
• 8% of you have climbed in the Himalayas, notably in Nepal and Tibet. For some the highest point was a pass, for others a base camp and for others a peak.
• The Himalayas account for half of you who've been above 5000m. The others achieved that elevation in the Andes, Mexico and Tanzania (including 5895m on the rim of Kilimanjaro).
• A quarter of you have been above 4000m, 60% above 3000m and 80% above 2000m.
• For one third of you, your highest point is in the Alps. This includes the most popular summit of all, Aiguille du Midi (3842m) near Mont Blanc, at the top of Europe's loftiest cablecar run.
• After the Alps, the Rockies were the next most popular mountain range. Your ascents here varied from Pikes Peak at 4302m to wandering around Denver at 1609m.
• Ten of you topped out in the Canaries, notably up Mount Teide in Tenerife (3715m).
• My 1105m in Vermont was waaaaay down the list, only beating the nine of you whose highest points were in Britain. Peculiarly none of you had Ben Nevis as your lifetime peak. I so need to up my game.

What's the lowest you've been this year?
• Our winner is Alan in Hong Kong who's been 30m below sea level in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
• Just ten of you claim to have been below sea level this year, including two on the tube. Just one of you has been on the Jubilee line through Waterloo (26m), which would be an astonishing statistic in any year other than 2021.
• Three of you have ventured under the Thames in east London, including the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the Blackwall Tunnel and the Thames Tunnel. In a normal year such journeys would be commonplace and entirely unremarkable.
• Only three of you have been to the seaside in the last four weeks.
• Meanwhile only two of you claim to have been no lower than 100m this year (one of whom lives in a land-locked African country). But I must remember that my question most likely appealed to the lowest of you and attracted a self-selecting sample, so these results are unlikely to be reflective of my readership at large.

What's the lowest you've ever been below ground level?
• This essentially divided you into 'mines' versus 'tunnels'.
• The lowest of the low was a mine. Martin's been 3600m down to the bottom of Western Deep Levels No.3 shaft in South Africa. That's more than two miles below the surface of the earth!
• But the next 25 of you had all been through tunnels.
• The real biggies are all tunnels through the Alps. Seven of you have taken a train through the Gotthard Base Tunnel (2450m), nine through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and eight through the Simplon Tunnel (2150m). The Gotthard Base Tunnel is definitely deepest, so we don't understand why Wikipedia gives the depth of the Mont Blanc Tunnel as 2480m.
• Mines make a reappearance at 400-1000m, with DavidH going deepest (998m) because he used to work down Manton Colliery.
• England's deepest railway tunnel is the Cowburn Tunnel west of Edale at 277m. For three of us, that's the lowest we've been.
• The most popular mine on the list was the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow at 135m.
• Nobody claimed that the Underground is the furthest underground they've ever been.

What's the lowest you've ever been below sea level?
• Huw is our deepest-ever reader, an honour earned 1100m below the coast of northeast England. He's taken the lift down to the Boulby Underground Laboratory at Boulby Mine, located between Saltburn and Whitby, a working potash, polyhalite and rock-salt mine operated by ICL.
• Our next two contenders also ventured down mines. Man of Kent went on a school trip to Tilmanstone Colliery in Kent (600m??) and Estepnist descended to Level 19 of Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall (480m).
• A quarter of you have been to the Dead Sea, which at 430m below sea level wipes the floor with all rail and road tunnels.
• Robin's been through the current world record breaker, the Ryfylke Tunnel. This road tunnel passes 292m beneath a Norwegian fjord and opened at the end of December 2019.
• Just one of you has taken the Shinkansen from Tokyo through the Seikan Tunnel (240m).
• Let's round things off with the most popular answer of all - as many as half of you said the Channel Tunnel was the furthest below sea level you'd ever been (115m). Thank goodness they built it, because the Jubilee line really doesn't compare.

 Thursday, January 28, 2021

Thanks for the frankly astonishing number of responses to yesterday's post.

After which the only sensible follow-up question is What's the lowest I've ever been?

Again I'm going to consider 2021 first and then my entire lifetime. And apologies, because although this sounds like a much more interesting question than yesterday's it's actually riddled with caveats and probably less satisfying.

We don't normally venture below ground level and when we do it tends to be not very far, for example to go down into a basement or to walk through a subway. In certain parts of the country, say Norfolk, there's very little opportunity to go down any further. For most of us going deeper underground is something we only do when travelling, for example riding on the tube or driving through a tunnel underneath something, or when visiting a subterranean attraction. And we've not been travelling or touristing much this year, so asking how far underground we've been in 2021 risks being exceptionally mundane.

It'd be more practical instead to consider depth in relation to sea level. What's the lowest I've been, contourwise, on my perambulations over the last four weeks? And the problem here is that I think it's a positive number because I haven't been on the tube, let alone for a walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. 2021 is an astonishing year thus far, depth-wise, because most Londoners who'd normally expect to have been significantly underground at some point probably haven't.

I have therefore been scouring the streets of east London to see where the lowest point I've been is. In this quest I've been aided by a post I wrote in 2019 where I scanned the Ordnance Survey map of London for the lowest spot heights. The only places with a 1m spot height are too far east, on the borders with Thurrock and Kent, but 2m spot heights are a bit more commonplace in Newham with a scattering between the District line and the Thames.

What I did yesterday is go for a walk round the relevant area using the altimeter on my iPhone as a check. The walkways along the edge of the Thames, which you might expect to be the lowest, registered 5m. But stepping back inland, say from Thames Barrier Park to the road at Silvertown Way, saw a drop to 3m. A heck of a lot of southwest Newham turned out to be 3m above sea level, including most of Custom House, a lot of Canning Town and a fair chunk of Plaistow. It's just as well that the riverside is higher, for reasons of flood defence, but a substantial area of low-lying land lies just beyond.

I registered 2m around West Ham station, Memorial Recreation Ground, Grange Road and Cundy Park, and on a couple of occasions my app flickered down to 1m. One of these was alongside Star Lane DLR station, specifically within Sycamore Close, and the other was at the southern end of Sheppard Street to the south of Hermit Road Rec. This residential depression is one mile from the Thames and half a mile from the Lea, so absolutely not where you'd expect a low point to be. It's also the lowest place I've been in 2021.

If only it hadn't been high tide I could have got lower, climbing down some steps somewhere onto a muddy beach beside the Thames. The river's tidal and typically has a 7m range... and that got me wondering how all this fits in with the official definition of sea level. The UK's Ordnance Datum is based on measurements at Newlyn in Cornwall, so it'll come as no surprise to hear that the midpoint between high and low tides is generally how the zero point for altitude is defined. The highest spring tides at North Woolwich reach 3½m above sea level whereas the very lowest get down to 3m below. It's not exactly the same all along the estuary but '3m below sea level' is fairly typical for low tides between Tilbury and Westminster.

So What's the lowest you've been this year? turns out to be a bad question. People who've stayed inland in 2021 will be beaten by people who've been to the seaside. People who've been to the seaside and walked to the water's edge will have been above sea level if it was high tide and a few metres below if it was low tide. Nobody's going to have been more than 5m below sea level unless they've been diving, or burrowed underground somewhere else. So better to consider the long term and ask...

What's the lowest you've ever been?

Londoners may be wondering how low the Underground takes them. I can answer this courtesy of an FoI request ten years ago which revealed how far below sea level and how far below ground all the platforms on the tube are. Here are the lowest stations on each line (tracks inbetween may of course be lower).

 below groundbelow sea level
Bakerloo25m Piccadilly Circus20m Elephant & Castle  
Central30m Notting Hill Gate10m Shepherd's Bush
Jubilee31m Bond Street/Green Park  26m Waterloo
Northern59m Hampstead20m London Bridge
Piccadilly  41m Holborn (w/bound)14m Covent Garden
Victoria32m Euston16m Pimlico
W & City20m Bank  6m Bank

» The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines never go more than 9m beneath ground level and never go below sea level.
» The DLR at Bank is, I believe, a metre or two further below sea level than the Jubilee Line at Waterloo.
» Crossrail, Londonist reckons, will reach 42m below ground level.

To summarise, if you've travelled a bit on the tube during your lifetime you'll have been 40m, maybe 60m, below ground level at some point and 26m below sea level. That's pretty good going for starters. But it's easily beatable.

 below ground  below sea level  
Channel Tunnel   75m 115m  

If you've been through the Channel Tunnel you have at one point, on the English side, been 75m below ground level. But you've also been 115m below sea level and this is quite possibly the lowest you have ever been. The Hvalfjörður Tunnel in Iceland gets down to 165m below sea level, the Seikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido in Japan 240m and the new Ryfylke Tunnel in Norway 292m, but only a few of you will have passed through those. All are easily beaten by a visit to the Dead Sea, which is an amazing 430m below sea level, but I've never floated there.

The other thing about tunnels is that they can go a very long way below ground level if they pass through a hill or a mountain. The Standedge Canal tunnel, for example, may be 196m above sea level but still manages to be 194m below ground. Anyone who's travelled between Manchester and Sheffield on the Hope Valley line, myself included, has gone much deeper. The air shafts above the Totley Tunnel are 200m deep, while the Cowburn Tunnel (just west of Edale) is England's deepest railway tunnel at 277m below the surface.

One European monster is the Simplon Tunnel between Switzerland and Italy where trains pass beneath 2150m of rock. The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland is now the world's deepest, passing an astonishing 2450m beneath the Alps. Tunnels overseas wipe the floor with our paltry British specimens (although you may never know how deep because websites are often silent on the precise figure).

Which is why I'm not 100% sure how low I've been below ground level. I hoped it'd be my cage ride at the National Coal Mining Museum which our guide told us descended further than the height of St Paul's Cathedral. 140m below ground level is pretty impressive... except I've also been through the Cowburn rail tunnel and that tediously beats it. Also the top of the mineshaft at the museum is 133m above sea level which means the bottom is only 7m below sea level, a depth I can easily beat by travelling on the Underground.

All I know for certain is that the furthest I've been below sea level was 115m in the Channel Tunnel, and a lot of you can probably say the same. So the following aren't very good questions - too hard to research, too many similar answers and too riddled with uncertainty - sorry.

What's the lowest you've been this year? comments
(measure from sea level, if you can)
Sprout Eater's been on the Jubilee line through Waterloo - nobody else has! (-26m)

What's the lowest you've ever been below ground level? comments
(could be a mine, cave or tunnel)
Five of you have been through the 5-year-old Gotthard Base Tunnel (-2450m)

What's the lowest you've ever been below sea level? comments
(if it's not the Dead Sea it's probably a tunnel)
Eleven of you have been down to the Dead Sea (-430m)

If you're not sure, or if you have any other deep comments, please use the normal comments box below.

 Wednesday, January 27, 2021

We don't have hills in East London, as I blogged last April in a mournful post called I miss hills. I may be able to wander far and wide to north, south, east and west, but my vertical movement is considerably more restrained. Nowhere in Tower Hamlets or Newham is more than 16m above sea level, the City tops out at 22m and Hackney only exceeds that around Stoke Newington. If I lived in a taller block of flats I could at least climb the stairs and go higher but I don't. Instead I've spent almost of 2021 so far less than 20 metres above sea level.

But I did finally beat that at the weekend when I walked the length of bus route 812 in Islington. The area around the Angel breaches the 30m contour, which is one reason why the escalator at the station there is so long. The peak, such as it is, comes just to the north of the big Sainsburys opposite the Islington Business Centre. It's no coincidence that the Regents Canal passes (in tunnel) directly underneath. My phone told me I was 42m above sea level, and the OS map concurred, so that's my 2021 elevation record.

I did better last year. I reached 50m in Cornwall at Saltash and Mount Edgcumbe and climbed to 60m by the cathedral in Lincoln. I barely broke a sweat in the centre of Swindon, which just happens to be around 100m, while the stone circle at Avebury delivered 150m. Better still I walked along the main road between Chesham and Amersham stations and the spot height there says 163m. But my 2020 record came when I went to the Sussex town of Crowborough where a bus stop by the A26 in the middle of a residential area peaked at 240m.

But I've managed a lot better than 240m in my time, which got me wondering...

What's the highest I've ever been?

I shall be asking you this question shortly, so pay attention.

For most of us the highest we've ever been was in an aeroplane, but at some unspecified time on some unspecified flight. Unless you've been paying extra-special attention, or were in the cockpit, you probably have no idea precisely how high it was. Long haul aircraft normally fly at a height of around 35000 feet, which is an astonishing 7 miles (or 11 kilometres) off the ground. That's an order of magnitude higher than anywhere you or I have been to on the ground, indeed well above the summit of Mount Everest. So we need to disregard plane flights, otherwise we're all going to have much the same record as each other.

So, importantly, what's the highest I've ever been without leaving the ground?

Tall buildings sound promising. I've been up the Shard, for example, which still is the tallest building in western Europe at 310m high. But visitors only get as high as the observation deck on the 72nd floor and that's 244m high instead. Sounds good, but it's beatable if you climb something that isn't officially a building. I beat that in April 1980 when I took the lift to the third stage of the Eiffel Tower which is 276m off the ground. Take that London. The Berliner Fernsehturm TV mast is higher, at 368m, but the restaurant where I dined in June 2016 is down at only 207m.

It ought to be a slamdunk for the Eiffel Tower but I have in fact been up the third tallest freestanding structure in the world - the CN Tower in Toronto. It was the tallest when I went up in 1976, five weeks after it opened, as part of the trip of a lifetime to see Mum's Canadian penpal. The main observation deck is 346m high, which wins already, but an extra SkyPod near the top of the pinnacle hits an amazing 447m. Unless you've been to China, Taipei (449m), Seoul (486m) or up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (556m) you cannot beat me. The world record for the highest observation deck belongs to the 118th floor of the Shanghai Tower at 562m and this (currently) tops the lot.

But I've been higher, and you probably have too, if you measure elevation in a different way.

Heights can be measured above ground level, which is what we did with tall buildings, or above sea level, which is what we normally do with hills. The two measurements give different answers. The bottom of the Shard is 4m above sea level, for example, which lifts the elevation of the observation deck from 244m to 248m. This turns out to be important because the highest ground in London (at Westerham Heights) is 245m above sea level, and that extra 4m makes the Shard fractionally higher. But if you happen to live in the adjacent livery stables then good news, your upstairs bedrooms are higher than the Shard's observation deck (just with not quite such a good view).

I'd like to argue that the highest I've been depends on height above sea level and not height above the ground. That's AOD (above ordnance datum) rather than AGL (above ground level). Paris is about 35m above sea level which puts the Eiffel Tower's top deck at 35+276=311m AOD. Toronto is about 75m up, which puts the Sky Pod at the top of the CN Tower at 75+346=421m AOD. These are undoubtedly massive... but are easily trounced by big hills.

The highest hill near London is Leith Hill at 294m, which comfortably beats the observation deck at the Shard. So do Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh (251m), the Cotswolds (330m) and the Malverns (425m). Walking boots are not always necessary to hit such heights, for example the centre of Buxton in Derbyshire is 300m above sea level. If you've ridden the Settle to Carlisle railway you'll have reached 356m at Ais Gill, and if you've driven the M62 across the Pennines you peaked at 372m. Both of these are beaten by the railway between Glasgow and Inverness at Druimuachdar (452m) and Snake Pass in the Peak District (512m). If you're measuring up from sea level, Snake Pass is two Shards high.

If you like serious hill-climbing you'll have beaten all these too. The summit of Kinder Scout is 636m, the Cheviot 815m and Scafell Pike - the highest peak in England - reaches 978m. Been there climbed that. But six Welsh mountains beat it, three of which I've conquered, including the highest of all which is of course Snowdon. At 1085m AOD it's the highest place I've ever been in Britain while still connected to the ground. The date was 18th September 1985, the view was entirely obscured and I got absolutely drenched.

If only I'd done some Scottish mountaineering I could have trounced that. No fewer than 56 Scottish mountains are higher than Snowdon, topped off by Ben Nevis at 1345m. But even that's beatable if you've climbed a higher mountain abroad. Your skiing holiday may be an easy winner, and without even leaving the resort. Zermatt's at 1608m, for example, Val d'Isere 1850m and Val Thorens 2300m. If by chance you've been to the top of Mont Blanc that's 4809m.

It seems that 'What's the highest you've ever been?' equates to what's the highest mountain you've ever been up, which in my case is Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. I went up two weeks before I went up the CN Tower, when I was just 11, aided and abetted by there being a Gondola Sky Ride from the car park at the bottom. The cablecar only got as far as a restaurant at 1105m, not the full 1340m, but that's as high as I've ever been. An American viewpoint in 1976 beats Snowdon in 1985 beats Scafell Pike in 1982.

And you may have beaten all those mountains with some quite ordinary global sightseeing. Denver is at 1610m, Johannesburg at 1750m and Nairobi at 1800m. Meanwhile Mexico City is at 2310m, Bogota at 2600m and La Paz at 3850m. If you ride the Teleférico cablecar around the Bolivian capital you should be able to top four thousand. High can mean urban rather than wild.

So I have three questions for you. Think carefully before you answer, and measure from the right base. You can access OS maps here and topographic maps here and here. No planes or helicopters, thanks.

What's the highest you've been this year? comments
(it's probably local) (measure from sea level)
The easy winner so far is Will who lives in 'travel-unrestricted Switzerland' (2630m)

What's the highest you've ever been above ground level? comments
(it's probably a tower or tall building)
Two of you have been up to the Shanghai Tower observation deck (562m)

What's the highest you've ever been above sea level? comments
(it's probably a hill, mountain or elevated city)
James C and David C have climbed Uhuru Peak on the rim of Kilimanjaro (5895m)

If you're not sure, or if you have any other elevated comments, please use the normal comments box below.

 Tuesday, January 26, 2021

We've all got somewhat institutionalised over the last few months, those of us without jobs or caring responsibilities especially so. Our activities restricted and horizons limited, one day merges relentlessly into another. A bit of routine helps, although there's always a danger it ends up a repetitive rut. Ideally we discover what works for us to get us through.

Here's how my days generally pan out at the moment, and have done for a while, and will do for a while more.

n.b. These events happen most days, but most days aren't exactly like this.
n.b. Think more weekday than weekend, because there is still a difference.
n.b. Things that don't happen most days, like shopping, aren't included.

My daily routine

6-7: Come to. Check time. Maybe a bit longer.

7-8: Come to again. Reach out and turn on the Today programme. Turn off as soon as it hits either a) the sports news b) Thought For The Day. Get up. Mug of tea. Check early responses to today's post. Smile/sigh as appropriate. Doomscroll back to midnight.

8-9: Switch on Radio 6 Music. Ablutions. Weigh self and record result. Porridge. Check RSS feeds. Insert contact lenses (if can be arsed). Hibernate laptop. Tog up appropriately for current weather. Check pockets include essential stuff.

9-10: Set off on daily exercise. Follow carefully-worked-out routine to leave building without touching anything. Set off in designated direction. Plug into two- or three-hour programme downloaded on BBC Sounds (likely a Sounds Of The..., a weekend breakfast show or the latest Dance Devotion). Keep eyes peeled for next numberplate in sequence.

10-11: Keep walking. This is all very exciting, relatively speaking. Reach farthest point of journey. Hope to see something interesting and blogworthy. Take notes/photos if appropriate. Yes it is a long walk home. Try to follow a route back which meanders down some street or path I somehow haven't followed before.

11-12: Finally open packet of Mini Cheddars. Attempt to make it last by eating half and putting it back in my pocket. All gone within five minutes. Switch to additional BBC Sounds programme if still some distance from home. Wave goodbye to the great outdoors for another day.

12-1: Return home. Check mailbox. Wash hands. Change out of jeans into something more comfortable. Unhibernate laptop. Restart browser. Mug of tea. Upload carefully-selected photo to Instagram. Update compass rose of post-its stuck to hallway wall showing approximate direction and distance of seven most recent walks.

Run bath. Pick 30 minute programme to listen to while soaking, for example More or Less, Counterpoint or The News Quiz. Make sure to have exited bath by 12.50. Start making lunch at 12.53. Finish making lunch at 12.59.

1-2: Watch BBC One O'Clock News (in preference to the Six or Ten later in the day - once is enough). Toast, something spreadable, cucumber, cheese, bag of Frazzles, cup-a-soup, choc ice. Tackle today's sandwich sudoku. Follow up with BBC local news. Wash up. Say hi to BestMate, virtually.

2-3: Consider doing one of the many tasks I've been putting off, like sorting out that box of stuff from the 1980s or cleaning my trainers or rationalising some shelves or filing some bills. Decide against because there isn't time. Instead head to iPlayer and find something worth watching for approximately two hours, like a film or two episodes of a mini series or four half-hour episodes of something (or equivalent).

3-4: Pause streaming. Mug of tea. Hot cross bun. Restart streaming. Stray onto sofa. Pick an unread bit of the weekend newspaper and read/solve it. Attempt to do this before it gets dark (n.b. this has got easier lately).

4-5: Switch to BBC Sounds on smart TV. Fire up this morning's Chris Hawkins early breakfast show (because it's 2½ hours long but only interrupted by a single news broadcast). Start writing tomorrow's post (or earlier if particularly long, or later if inspiration has yet to strike). Try very hard not to eat a Kit-Kat.

5-6: Continue writing. Ignore any government press conference because I've learned my lesson. Turn on oven. After appropriate interval remember to go back and add mainstay of evening meal. Heat pan of water. Add potatoes.

6-7: Add mushrooms, carrots and sprouts. Add peas. Pile onto plate. Add pepper, plus gravy, vinegar or ketchup as appropriate. Find something to watch while eating, maybe on YouTube. Fruit yoghurt. Clean hob. Another mug of tea. Succumb to Wagon Wheel. Continue writing.

7-8: The Archers, if I remember. Continue writing. Switch to linear TV, depending on what's on.

8-9: Continue writing. Continue watching. Probably an apple.

9-10: Continue writing. Continue watching. Maybe a hot chocolate.

10-11: Hopefully reached the tidying-up and adding links stage by this point. Switch to something more music-based (but at low volume).

11-12: Finally press publish. Finish doomscrolling. Clean of teeth. Retire to bed. Write diary. Play Threes once too often. Muse on the extraordinary mundanity of life.

12-1: Listen to Radio 4 Midnight News. Try to stay awake until weather forecast. If unsuccessful, reawaken during Sailing By. Sleep.


 Monday, January 25, 2021

Last week I spotted a vehicle which operates one of London's most unusual bus routes - the 812.

That's odd, I thought. I'm in in Dalston and the 812 doesn't go to to Dalston, it runs round the backstreets of Islington. Even odder, I'm sure route 812 was suspended last March and hasn't operated since. I decided the branded minibus must be off doing something more useful like transporting the elderly elsewhere, but my close encounter also encouraged me to go and explore the route on foot...

Route 812: Hoxton to Old Street
Location: Islington south
Length of journey: 4 miles, 30 minutes

The 812 is the only inner London bus route not operated by TfL. Instead it's funded by Islington council to ferry its older and disabled residents around the southern end of the borough. Local people had their say in where it goes, which is almost entirely down streets where no other buses go, linking homes to key services, shops, surgeries and day centres. Freedom Pass holders get their spin for free, but anyone else can ride for a bargain £1 fare (Oyster not accepted). Buses run every 30 minutes but only on weekdays and only between 9am and 5pm. They're operated as a social initiative by the Hackney-based HCT Group who also run 17 'proper' red bus routes in northeast London. For more information check out their special route 812 website.

If you remember TfL bus maps, the 812 was the sole green-coloured route wiggling around central London.

Buses start their journey in the borough of Hackney, but only just, on the south side of the Regents Canal by the Rosemary Branch bridge. No bus stop is provided, nor obvious layover space, so I guess you just wander over and look willing when the minibus appears. The first stop is across the water on Southgate Road opposite Tesco Express, a rare occasion when the 812 is marked with a tile and a timetable. Almost all of the rest of the route is along otherwise unbussed streets, and Hail & Ride, so physical evidence of the 812's existence is generally minimal.

The first deep dive into the backstreets is up Downham Road, through a narrow bus gate marked buses and cycles only. Local residents with cars must curse the 812 every time they take a lengthy detour. The housing mix hereabouts is postwar flats and elegant Georgian terraces, mostly the latter, plus the occasional converted warehouse. Nobody in this otherwise unserved neighbourhood is more than 400m from a red bus route, the usual TfL threshold of concern, but the immediate elderly must welcome the opportunity to walk less far.

At New North Road the 812 briefly crosses the path of the 271, then plunges back into residential solitude. The City of London runs a retirement home down one side of Prebend Street, liberally decorated with 'No Junk Mail' signs on individual front doors. If Sunday mornings are the judge then Pophams Bakery is by far the most popular business along the entire route, the queue outside inexplicably over twenty strong. Either local people really like coffee or they're entirely unable to bake Marmite, Schlossberger, spring onion & sesame seed pastries at home.

The 812's next task is to thread from Essex Road across to Upper Street. On the outward journey it diverts via the boutiques of Cross Street (and a community centre), whereas coming back the other way is quicker thanks to inner Islington's one-way system. Drivers then turn right at Hotblack Desiato, the infamous hard rock estate agents, to enter the elegance of Theberton Street. This is an unusually broad thoroughfare, but also now blocked halfway down by a bus-only slalom, which must annoy cabbies ending up here after following the first ride in 'The Knowledge'.

The 812 cunningly avoids passing any of Islington's tube or railway stations because it's that kind of route, so skips the main drag by the Angel. Instead it nips round the back of the Angel Central shopping mall, then stops at a proper bus shelter outside the giant Sainsburys. But I like to think that most of those aboard the minibus instead alight at the far end of Chapel Market and do their grocery shopping properly there. The fruit and veg stalls were doing a roaring trade on Sunday morning ('Shop quickly, Shop Alone').

Across Pentonville Road the 812 again strikes out alone as it descends past the reservoir (and the triple point where the N, W and E postcodes meet). This odd route's oddest moment comes when it bears off down Cruikshank Street for a down-and-uphill doubleback. It first skirts Bevin Court, the modernist block which contains Lubetkin's most stunning staircase, then loops round the sloping 'roundabout' of Percy Circus. It's hard to imagine any of the local populace needing a bus, merely cursing another recently-installed bus gate, but who's to say who really lives behind these elegant front doors?

After that diversion the 812 continues past New River Head and across Rosebery Avenue into the heart of Finsbury proper. Here passengers can ding the bell, or whatever they do, to alight at the launderette end of trendy Exmouth Market. Next it skirts Spa Fields and passes beneath the first tower block on the journey, because the southeast corner of the borough is densely residential. And then it's time to set off on the mile-long anti-clockwise loop at the end of the route which serves the backstreets to either side of Old Street.

St John Street is historic and has the last of the proper bus stops. Compton Street has a chicane that only a minibus could tackle. Golden Lane scrapes the edge of the City of London, because that's how far south we've ventured. Bunhill Row serves a historic nonconformist burial ground but also a lot more bog-standard flats than you'd expect to exist this close to a global financial centre. Ironmonger Row is where the very splendid Baths are, plus Finsbury Leisure Centre if that's your preferred destination. Lever Street is much broader than modern usage suggests it needs to be... and then the loop is closed and the 812 continues back towards Hoxton.

I started out wondering why on earth the 812 was needed and ended up realising quite how many elderly and disabled people might live close to its meandering path. Islington is the most densely-populated borough in the UK, so if you can't make a bespoke minibus service work here then what hope do you have? And even though the 812's not running at the moment, tracing its route is still a great way to explore some fascinating corners of inner London that aren't quite on the beaten track. Well worth a pound of your money should the opportunity ever return.

 Sunday, January 24, 2021

The first flake comes as an exhilarating surprise. It is not alone, that's definitely snow. A mother and her small daughter share the joy, pausing their walk to beam at the animated sky. The queue outside the bakery looks up and chatters excitably. The streets have a dusting like icing sugar. It's been a year since London saw anything like it.

The flakes fall larger and faster - proper Christmas card stuff. Families come out onto their doorsteps to watch, or gather on their balconies, or start togging up in coats and scarves and hats. The queue outside the coffee shop disperses to upload the scene to Insta. It's been a couple of years since London saw anything like it.

The air is swirling. It's what Londoners like to call a blizzard despite being nothing of the sort. The grass in the park is increasingly covered, not just with snow but also with people come to experience it. Toddlers stare in wonder at something they've never seen before. It could ultimately be the heaviest fall London's seen in years.

The snow has reached that special thickness where it scrunches underfoot. One boy's rolled enough to make the bottom of a snowman - his sister's working on the head. Even the trees are catching it now. What chance 'Stay At Home' when outside is such fun? Flip your camera to capture a winning face'n'flakes selfie. It's been a full hour now and London is agog.

The rate of snowfall looks to be easing. Watch your footing on the slushy pavement, it's starting to get slippery. People are cold and wet now and the novelty's wearing off - should've brought a warmer hat. It'll not be long before the magic fades, the grass is green again and the brief excitement but a memory. Watch the skies.

Only three London boroughs can be spelt out using the first letters of London boroughs.

One is Westminster
(but it's not ideal because
it uses Tower Hamlets twice)

Tower Hamlets
Tower Hamlets
 Another is Greenwich
(but it's not ideal because
it uses Greenwich itself)


What's the other one (the only proper one)?

It's not a difficult puzzle, and someone'll probably have written the correct answer in the comments box within a few minutes, but see if you can work it out before you look.

Bus Stop M has never been more important.

20 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• ten more regional vaccination hubs to open
• phased exit from lockdown if vaccine targets met
• Australia may not reopen its border this year
• vaccinations extended to the over 70s
• UK now has world's highest infection rate
• 1 in 10 Britons had antibodies in December
• Health Secretary self-isolates
• Scotland's lockdown extended to mid-February
• army helping out at NI hospitals
• "there will be tough weeks to come" (PM)
• Biden replaces Trump and reverses key policies
• 65 new vaccination centres open
• Glastonbury cancelled (2nd year running)
• vaccination rates vary considerably across UK
• Bond film postponed again, again
• R back below 1
• new variant may (or may not) be more deadly
• no plans for universal self-isolation payment
• calls to reduce gap between Pfizer jabs
• Guernsey reimposes lockdown

Worldwide deaths: 2,020,000 → 2,110,000
Worldwide cases: 94,000,000 → 98,000,000
UK deaths: 88,590 → 97,329
UK cases: 3,357,361 → 3,617,459
Vaccinations: 3,559,179 → 5,861,351
FTSE: down ½% (6735 → 6695)

 Saturday, January 23, 2021

Walthamstow Queen's Road station isn't on Queens Road in Walthamstow. I noticed this yesterday when I walked the full length of the street and didn't pass the station at any point. I saw a sign pointing towards it up Edinburgh Road but the station wasn't visible because it was too far away. The railway crosses underneath Queens Road a bit further down but that's not where the station is (which is 270m away to the north).

And I wondered, is this the London station furthest away from the thing it's named after?

This is a good question but also a subjective one. I discovered this when I made a list of all the tube, DLR and Overground stations in London and went through them one by one.

I immediately disregarded all the stations that were located somewhere within the place they're named after even if they weren't in the centre. Plaistow station is definitely in Plaistow, for example, even if it's not terribly central. I also disregarded all the stations named after a thing that later gave its name to the locality, for example Dollis Hill or Bush Hill Park. I entirely disregarded historical derivations, for example the pub and the battle which gave Maida Vale its name. You wouldn't have made exactly the same decisions as me, but then you probably wouldn't have worked your way through a 400-row spreadsheet either.

A lot of the places I was left with were the names of roads, green spaces, specific buildings or physical features, for example Goodge Street, Ravenscourt Park, St Paul's or Pontoon Dock. Next I got my digital ruler out and started measuring. I measured from the edge of the station to the edge of the thing, which at Surrey Quays meant the edge of the car park, not the shopping mall. I measured to where things used to be if they weren't there any more, for example Euston Square or Arsenal. And then I shuffled the resulting list in order of distance with the furthest first.

And I confirmed that Walthamstow Queen's Road isn't the station furthest from the thing it's named after, although it does sit squarely in the Top 10.

The ten London stations furthest away from the thing they're named after

1) Wanstead Park (1600m)
Wanstead Park is a splendid public park covering the grounds of a substantial Georgian mansion. Wanstead Park station is a mile to the south, not far from Wanstead Flats, which is what it should have been called instead. This perverse nomenclature, unaltered since the station opened in 1894, earns Wanstead Park the title of the London station furthest away from the thing it's named after.

2) Turnham Green (600m)
Turnham Green is a historic scrap of common in Chiswick alongside Chiswick High Road. The nearest tube station to Turnham Green is Chiswick Park, 200m distant. But Turnham Green station is 600m away on the edge of two different open spaces - Chiswick Common and Acton Green. This makes it the London tube station furthest away from the thing it's named after.

3) Harrow-on-the-Hill (550m)
This station may be terribly convenient for the centre of Harrow but it's very much at the bottom of the hill not the top. St Mary's Church and Harrow School are half a kilometre away to the south (and 25 metres higher up).

4) Brent Cross (500m)
This opened as Brent station, named after the adjacent river, but was renamed after the local shopping centre in 1976. Alas it's not as local as it could be, severed from the station by a roaring arterial road which makes for a less than inspiring walk.

5) Latimer Road (400m)
Latimer Road, the road, was once much longer and passed within 40m of the end of the station platforms. But Latimer Road was brutally severed fifty years ago by the construction of the A40 Westway, so the section south of the mega-roundabout is now called Freston Road instead.

6) Kew Gardens (390m)
If they'd called this station Kew I wouldn't have included it. But they called it Kew Gardens after the botanical paradise at the far end of Lichfield Road, so here it is in the Top Ten.

7) Royal Oak (330m)
The Royal Oak, you'll not be surprised to hear, was a pub. But the pub wasn't near the station, it was at the other end of Porchester Road at the junction with Bishops Bridge Road. And it isn't called the Royal Oak today, it's called The Porchester, which is a pity.

8) Bow Church (300m)
My local DLR station couldn't be called Bow Road because there was already one of those, so instead they named it after St Mary's the medieval church in the middle of the road. It's 230m from the station to the churchyard entrance but a full 300m to the front door, so I'm counting that.

9) Walthamstow Queen's Road (270m)
As previously mentioned, this Overground station on the Gospel Oak to Barking line is nowhere near the road of the same name.

10=) Upminster Bridge (255m)
The penultimate station at the eastern end of the District line is named after a bridge over the River Ingrebourne, just down the road past The Windmill pub.

10=) Mansion House (255m)
The Lord Mayor of London's official residence is adjacent to Bank station, not Mansion House station. The second closest station is Cannon Street and then it's a toss-up between Monument and Mansion House. It's Central London's most inappropriately named station, geographically speaking.

also more than 100m away from the thing they're named after: Putney Bridge, Stamford Brook, Stepney Green, Bond Street, Woolwich Arsenal, Holland Park, Chancery Lane, St James's Park, Wimbledon Park, Royal Victoria, Pontoon Dock, Cutty Sark, Maida Vale, Canons Park, Parsons Green, Temple, Arsenal, London Bridge, Island Gardens

n.b. I only considered tube stations in Greater London, otherwise Chalfont & Latimer would probably have won because the parish of Latimer is over 1000m from the station.
n.b. I only looked at tube stations, Overground stations, DLR stations, TfL Rail stations and tram stops.
n.b. I gave National Rail stations a miss because life's too short, sorry.
n.b. Alexandra Palace station beats everything here, for example.
n.b. You'd have done it differently, I know.

 Friday, January 22, 2021

One of the most important journeys you might make in the near future is to a vaccination centre. It might be to somewhere you know well or it might be to somewhere unfamiliar, in which case guidance on how to get there might prove helpful. TfL have therefore stepped in with a page on their website, the snappily titled tfl.gov.uk/jabs, to provide directions.

The page kicks off with a warning not to turn up unless you have an appointment and to wear a face covering while you travel. The page is frequently updated, launching two weeks ago with just one centre, and has subsequently been extended and refined. Currently three of London's largest vaccination centres are included:
• NHS COVID-19 vaccination centre, Newham at The ExCeL London
• NHS vaccination centre, Wembley
• NHS vaccination centre - Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Health Centre
The webpage is a useful resource but by no means perfect, indeed some of the transport-related information is unhelpful, unnecessary or misleading. Let's take a look at what it says about getting to ExCel.

Getting to the ExCeL vaccination centre by public transport ought to be simple. You head for Custom House station, and as soon as you're on the footbridge a series of electronic signs directs you to the main entrance. It's a very short walk and should take less than two minutes. That's all the guidance you really need.

The most important thing is that you head to the correct end of the building - the western end - because ExCeL is 600 metres long and negotiating your way around the perimeter is quite awkward.

The TfL webpage takes a unnecessarily complicated approach. Use our Journey Planner, it says.

But the destination it wants you to use isn't Custom House, it's ExCeL London, Western Gateway, London. And if you enter that, the Journey Planner tacks an unnecessary extra onto the end of your journey. After you reach Custom House station it invites you to continue for 6 minutes to an address it describes as 1 Sandstone Lane, because that's where you'd go if you were driving. But Sandstone Lane is a service road running underneath the main walkway, and there isn't a staircase where the Journey Planner claims so you can't get down there anyway. Not only is the end of the route unwalkable, it's an entirely pointless distraction.

And if you enter the postcode E16 1XL instead then the Journey Planner takes you somewhere entirely different. This time the extra walk takes 13 minutes and leads you round to a staff-only entrance on the other side of the building alongside the Royal Victoria Dock. Admittedly you would have walked past the correct entrance on the way so wouldn't have gone all the way, but this is ridiculous overcomplication.

In summary, using ExCeL London, Western Gateway, London takes you to the north side of the building and using E16 1XL takes you to the south side, whereas the correct entrance is to the west. It'd be a lot better to just use Custom House for ExCeL and keep it simple.

Next we get a map.

The map shows two walking routes to ExCeL but one is tiny and one is big. The walk from Custom House is tiny, and sensible, but gets very little prominence. Instead your eye is drawn to the walk from Canning Town which is much longer, and entirely unnecessary.

Anyone coming to ExCel by tube will first reach Canning Town, at which point the obvious thing to do is head up to the DLR and travel two stops east. It makes no sense to leave the station, which is a palaver in itself, and then walk the last mile on unfamiliar roads. Neither does it make sense to catch a bus for the last bit, as the map also suggests, nor to hail a taxi. The DLR is fully accessible and delivers you to a station alongside your destination with level access and no roads to cross. It's hard to imagine a situation whereby changing to any other mode at Canning Town would be better.

I went down to Canning Town station to see what efforts have been made to direct passengers to the vaccination centre. In the public part of the ticket hall, nothing. On the passageway out of the ticket hall, nothing. At the top of the main escalator, nothing. In the bus station, nothing. You could ask a member of staff, there's always one about, but the sum total of printed collateral is nil.

Only if you think to walk all the way through the bus station and out the other side does the first sign appear. This time last week it was a Nightingale Hospital sign but someone's been round and replaced those with a correctly branded Vaccination Centre version.

Unfortunately the second sign in the chain is pointing the wrong way... into a building site rather than along Silvertown Way. The third sign is 200m away, out of sight, and the fourth and fifth are pointing in the wrong direction back the way you came.

Should you make it round the corner into Tidal Basin Road the arrows remain very hit and miss, and by the time you reach the foot of Gateway Tower the sign has half-fallen off its mounting and is pointing at the sky.

I bet these were correct when they were installed, less than a week ago, but recent storms have done their worst with flimsy signage poorly attached. The end result is an ineffective intermittent chain of help to nobody, indeed somewhat of an embarrassment throughout.

The best thing I can say about the walking route is that the map says it takes 21 minutes and when I walked it that's precisely how long it took. However I'm a fit and healthy adult, a good 25 years younger than those currently making their way to ExCel for a jab, and I bet most octogenarians would take a lot longer.

This poster about buses is good.

Unfortunately I didn't see it where it would have been useful, i.e. at Canning Town bus station. Instead it's been posted up in the bus shelter outside the main entrance to ExCeL - the temporary shelter introduced in April for staff shuttles that are no longer running. In this location the poster's of no use whatsoever, because it describes how to get to the place you're already standing.

The website also has something to say about buses. "Download a bus spider map for the ExCeL London", it says, because ExCel is one of the places that still has one. Unfortunately a spider map is most useful for finding out how to leave somewhere, not how to get there, so the listed bus stops aren't much help. Also several of the buses on the map only stop at the wrong end of ExCeL so you really don't want those. The website helpfully lists the useful three, which are the 147, 241 and 325. Perversely it also lists the N551 which only serves ExCeL in the early hours, but perhaps that's a nod ahead to 24 hour vaccination.

The website goes on to give directions for anyone intending to drive to ExCeL, which is basically to go away and look at the ExCeL website instead. Parking is free for those attending for vaccination, which is good because the normal charge is £20. Taxis and private hire also get a mention on the webpage, but there's nothing whatsoever here for cyclists. This may be because ExCeL only has 60 cycle racks and 54 of them are at the wrong end of the building. The only convenient cycle racks are tucked away under the DLR walkway in a gloomy spot, almost as an afterthought. I doubt these six'll be overused during the octogenarian phase of vaccination, but capacity may prove awkward later in the process.

If you get an invite for vaccination in Wembley instead, the website's a lot more useful. For Hornsey Central Neighbourhood Health Centre it's rather less so, mainly because the nearest station's a mile's walk away and only one bus goes past the front door. Eventually there may be a lot more centres on this list, to the point where the webpage scrolls down and down and down for what seems like forever. It already manages to include an excess of information, not all of which is necessary and some of which is downright unhelpful. So if you do get an invite to ExCeL at some point then just get yourself a train to Custom House and best give the website a miss.

Afternoon update: won't you look at that...

 Thursday, January 21, 2021

come with me to little ilford.
we will see a medieval church, a hindu temple, the inspiration for a 60s hit record and britain's most profitable penalty charge notice hotspot.

little ilford, as the name suggests, is near ilford.
the pair are separated by the river roding and used to be called little ilford and great ilford.
today little ilford is in newham and ilford is in redbridge.

little ilford is recorded in the domesday book with a population of ten.
the centre of the medieval village lay half a mile south of the london-essex road.
soon it had a church, a manor house and a handful of cottages.
the railways came in the 19th century and then streets of terraced houses.
today you would not guess it was ever old, except...

this is the church of st mary the virgin.
parts of it date back to 1150, but the nave could be even older.
it's built of rubblestone with later brick additions, and topped with a louvred weatherboarded bellturret.
there you are walking down this very ordinary suburban street and suddenly across a stone wall is a grassy churchyard with scattered tombs and higgledy gravestones dated seventeen-something.

it's delightful.
it is not what you expect to find in the middle of a housing estate.

as if to prove the point, this is st stephen's across the road.
it's the local roman catholic church.
the current building is of 1950s vintage, but you probably guessed that from the copper spire.

and this is sri murugan temple just round the corner.
it opened in the backyard of a former pub in 1984 with the aim of serving london's tamil community.
the tower is 52 feet high and intricately carved with gods and pillars in traditional style.
inside is a black granite shrine devoted to lord muruga, one of the sons of parvathi and shiva.

further down church road by the shops is where the local manor house used to be.
in the 16th century it became a farmhouse, a large one, with fields spreading down to the river.
its last owner died in 1895 after which its land became the manor house estate.
today the area is generally known as manor park rather than little ilford.
if only the station had been called something else you might have heard of the place.

the houses eventually stop at little ilford park which rubs up against the north circular.
it has a lacklustre shrubbery, a couple of pylons and an awful lot of grass.
it's said to be the inspiration for itchycoo park, the famous small faces song written by steve marriott who grew up nearby, but the same claim is made for several other local open spaces.

little ilford has been in the news this week courtesy of a press release from comparethemarket.
they analysed penalty charge notices issued to drivers nationwide between august 2019 and july 2020 and decided that newham had issued the most.
in total the borough issued as many as 239,000 pcns raising £10,625,600 for council coffers.
and the site in newham which caught out the most drivers was browning road in little ilford.

this is the offending bridge crossing the london overground between woodgrange park and barking.
it has a sign saying no vehicles except buses, taxis and permit holders, plus two different signs warning about cameras.
you'd think it was clearly enough marked.
but no, thousands of people have driven through and been caught out and forced to pay up.
i particularly enjoyed this outburst on a legal forum.
After watching movie at Ilford I drove to EastHam following the route map which has been suggested by Google maps in my mobile. Surprisingly after 8 days I have received a PCN. However there was no prior displays stating the said condition. I drove as per the directions given by Google Maps. Could any one kindly suggest how do I avoid paying the PCN. Any reply will be highly appreciated.
they got short shrift i'm pleased to say.
what's odd about the closure is that browning road is a two-way street but local residents with permits are only allowed to drive through in a southerly direction.
that's because the adjacent roads form a veritable maze of one-way streets and travelling north is vaguely possible elsewhere.

if you walk to the other side of the bridge the sign is different and depicts a no through road.
there's also a separate blue sign just before the bridge saying bikes, buses and taxis only.
it is perhaps not as clear and consistent as it could be.

that's little ilford.
railways cut through it without stopping.
but vehicles can't use it as a cut-through because it's blocked off.
this may explain why little ilford is so little known.

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