diamond geezer

 Friday, April 30, 2021

One thing about getting older is that your body works less well. Little things, mostly, that mount up over time to maybe something significant. Bits of you stop functioning properly or get damaged or break, and other bits work less well than they used to, and some things might be wrong but you can't easily tell, and before you know where you are your conversation is peppered with endless references to aches and pains.

I'm fine, thanks for asking, but still afflicted by bodily degradation, everyday niggles and potential poorliness.

So I thought I'd make a list of the most obvious ways my body's going wrong, or might be going wrong, in the hope it'll be cathartic rather than hypochondriac.
» I intend to be quite vague in what follows.
» For reasons of privacy I'm not telling you precisely what the various niggles are so have numbered them.
» The list is in a random order rather than juggled by potential seriousness.
» Some of the afflictions occur more than once but I've numbered them separately every time, just to throw you off the scent.
» I'm fine, thanks.
Don't waste your time trying to guess what the niggles are as I won't be confirming anything. And please don't offer advice based on your assumptions because I'll just roll my eyes at how completely wrong you are.

• For several years I've been a bit concerned about [Niggle 1]. It used to ache on and off, often for months, but then it would suddenly stop aching and be perfectly OK for ages. Thankfully it's been perfectly OK for at least a year so I've stopped being concerned about it... but I did once show it to a doctor and he said it's probably a sign of eventual [Affliction 1] and that wouldn't be great.
• I know it happens to everyone eventually, and it was due to happen to me earlier than most, but it's still unnerving to see [Niggle 2] because the change is only ever one-way.
[Niggle 3] is mildly noticeable and started in March. It might be linked to [Niggle 4] but as yet I haven't distinguished any obvious deeper issues.
[Niggle 5] has been there for absolutely ages, long enough for me no longer to be concerned about what it might be a signal of, because it clearly isn't.
• I've often thought [Niggle 6] would turn out to be an issue, especially the longer time's gone on, and I'm more convinced right now than I've ever been, but in a smaller way than I'd been expecting.
• Associated with [Niggle 7], a nearby part of the body also used to ache in a minor but prolonged way, and it was never really annoying but I'm pleased it doesn't do it any more (and hasn't for ages) because it could be a symptom of [Affliction 2].
• I've only recently spotted [Niggle 8] and it's totally minor but also definitely shouldn't be there.
• I'm forever waiting to get symptoms of [Affliction 3] or the related [Affliction 4] because it runs in the family, but thankfully there's nothing yet and may never be, but then my Dad would have said that at my age.
• I came to terms with having [Niggle 9] quite early in life, which is just as well because otherwise I might have lost all confidence in social situations. But it does also mean I have to be a little bit wary, especially in conjunction with [Niggle 10], just in case.
• Previously they'd been perfect but then [Niggle 11] came along, very much accelerated by lockdown. Thankfully I've rolled back the worst of it through careful choice of clothing.
• I'm not as concerned about [Affliction 5] as a doctor suggested I ought to be, and I have definitely let things slip during lockdown because I've had different priorities, but I suspect I could probably pull things back if necessary.
• It's about time I got [Niggle 12] sorted because I really should have done by now, in fact I was convinced it was going to be sorted last time. But I'm getting by OK and I have a cheap workaround for when it gets really awkward, which thankfully isn't very often, especially in summer.
[Niggle 13] is mildly noticeable and started in February. It might be linked to [Niggle 14] but as yet I haven't distinguished any obvious deeper issues.
[Niggle 15] is something I might once have laughed at in older people and here it is happening to me, but thus far in a wholly manageable and not too wildly awkward way.
• My [Niggle 16] definitely shouldn't be that colour. There was a point where I thought it might be something serious but I think it's probably a one-off and it seems to be growing out.
• I had a real shock earlier this month when [Niggle 17] suddenly appeared. It was actually enough to make me go and get it checked out by a professional, but apparently it's not a problem and I can continue with my life unchecked so that's brilliant.
• I already have a fairly good idea of the most likely thing that'll kill me, and just very occasionally [Niggle 18] happens and I wonder... but so far I've wondered unnecessarily.
• I never understood [Niggle 19] until it happened to me a couple of years ago, and now it's a fairly permanent daily fixture. It became much easier to deal with once I relocated it.
• I remember my grandmother suffered from [Niggle 20], not that suffer is quite the right word, but it is unnerving to see it inexorably emerging.

Three of these niggles are niggling me more at present than the others. [Niggle A] and [Niggle B] occasionally raise their heads and remind me they're there, independently, which I'd rather they didn't. Both are probably just inconveniences but there is an outside chance they're not, indeed they might potentially be connected, although I know that's just my brain running ahead of my common sense. [Niggle C] only emerged last week, annoyingly, and has proven capable of disturbing my sleep even though I'd rather not be thinking about it. Logically it cannot possibly be anything bad, but I suspect it is and am struggling with the disconnect between these contradictory positions.

You know how it is with niggles, they often come and go. A few years ago I was most concerned about [Niggle D] which I had bad feelings about, but then it totally went away. [Niggle E] looked chronic for a while but then disappeared of its own accord for reasons I have never understood, but could just as easily come back. [Niggle F] suddenly limited my existence over the winter and I thought it was going to be permanent but then just as suddenly went back to normal. I spent a few years peeved by [Niggle G] until I went along to the doctors' and they totally sorted it, removing it from my list.

It's so hard to be certain which current niggle is going to hang around for the rest of your life and which is merely a temporary annoyance. I'm hoping for the latter.

 Thursday, April 29, 2021

This was Clarnico Lane in the Olympic Park. It was a road on Monday. It's not a road any more.

It had been a road for the best part of 100 years, conveniently carrying traffic over the North London Line railway . For most of its life it was the southern end of Waterden Road, the spine road of a backwater industrial estate in Hackney Wick. When the Olympics arrived it was remodelled slightly to bend more sharply, and also renamed Clarnico Lane after the former sweet factory which made peppermint creams alongside. But the alignment of the curve down from the railway bridge survived 2012 unscathed and has been a key part of the QEOP road network ever since. Until this week.

A parallel road has been built which extends across the railway line but then continues towards the stadium without curving down. If you came here during the Olympics or have been since you'll remember it as the central walkway linking the northern and southern halves of the Park. As of this week it's no longer just for pedestrians, it has a segregated cycle lane and a brand new roadway with actual traffic. It's called Marshgate Terrace and it joins Waterden Road to Marshgate Lane.

It's part of a remodelling of the road network designed to service Sweetwater, a new Olympic neighbourhood which as yet has no residents nor building sites, just roads. It's also designed to connect to a new road bridge onto Fish Island, the sorry tale of which I told two years ago when construction began. I thought they'd wait until this bridge was open before closing Clarnico Lane and opening the new road but that's still some weeks off. Instead traffic heading for Hackney Wick gets to weave in a horseshoe through a non-existent neighbourhood, and the direct pedestrian/cycle connection's been lost too.

I've watched the new road being built, oh so slowly, throughout lockdown. It's kept dozens employed adding carriageway, laying cycle lanes, perfecting paving, tweaking signage, shifting barriers, installing lampposts, remodelling junctions, painting lines on tarmac, digging trenches, planting trees and generally standing back and admiring the results. Posters originally suggested the work would be complete by summer 2020, but in fact it's taken until spring 2021. Still, here it is and there's no going back now.

The new road opened at 10am on Tuesday morning. Its first hours unfortunately coincided with a closure of the A12, bringing unexpected queues of traffic down previously uncharted streets while the Balfour Beatty workforce stood around and looked on. It's quietened down since but a significant number of vehicles now find themselves diverting round the back of the Olympic Stadium and trying to find their way out. Directional signage is at best vague, with several signs featuring the unhelpful phrase 'All other routes'. The biggest faux pas is for northbound traffic where a recently-planted tree partly obscures the main sign (and will completely obscure it after its leaves unfurl).

My other favourite "what on earth were they thinking?" moment is the entirely unnecessary kink in the segregated cycle lane. It bends to avoid a bus stop, or at least where a bus stop is intended to be according to the yellow letters painted on the road. But there is no stop or shelter, nor indeed any scheduled bus route intended to come this way, so the lane squishes the pedestrian gap to a bare minimum for no good reason whatsoever. I've already watched one elderly cyclist ignore the bend and carry on straight ahead regardless, and a father and son ignoring the restrictive lines on the tarmac altogether.

The biggest transformation is the remodelled T-junction in the centre of the Park. With Clarnico Lane closed off and the new sidestreet opened all the traffic lights have had to be nudged a few metres east, bringing the heart of the crossing much closer to the pedestrian desire line. The left filter lane has yet to be unblocked so we're not yet in final mode, but I was impressed by the speed with which the lights changed in reaction to gaps in the traffic. What I didn't enjoy, as a pedestrian, was the sensation that I was now crossing a busy tarmac chasm where previously it'd felt more like crossing one road. Indeed I'd say this is the week when QEOP feels like it's shifted from being a park of two halves to two parks connected by a road.

And that's it for Clarnico Lane, formerly Waterden Road, which is now sealed off at both ends. Its destiny if you hadn't already guessed is to become flats, as a fair chunk of Sweetwater's residential massing replaces its gentle slope. Best not mourn too loudly as pretty much everything else that was here pre-Olympics has already been destroyed. But I expect to be mildly annoyed every time I can't go this way and have to follow the swish new road over the bridge instead.

 Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Here's what the City skyline looked like at the end of last year, as viewed from the Isle of Dogs.

From left to right the tallest buildings are the Scalpel, the Cheesegrater, 22 Bishopsgate, Tower 42, the Gherkin, 100 Bishopsgate and Heron Tower. The Walkie Talkie is some way off to the left and the Broadgate Tower some way off to the right.
» Walkie Talkie (160m, 37 floors, 2014)
» Scalpel (190m, 39 floors, 2018)
» Cheesegrater (225m, 46 floors, 2014)
» 22 Bishopsgate (272m, 62 floors, 2019)
» Tower 42 (183m, 47 floors, 1980)
» Gherkin (180m, 40 floors, 2003)
» 100 Bishopsgate (172m, 40 floors, 2019)
» Heron Tower (230m, 46 floors, 2011)
» Broadgate Tower (164m, 35 floors, 2008)
And here's a striking image of "the future City skyline" according to The Square Mile: Future City, a five year action plan published earlier this week by the City of London. It's getting crowded up there.

The image includes eight new tall buildings "that are under construction, consented or with permission pending, but not yet built". Only three are currently building sites. Note how the City's skyscraper cluster is getting more dense and more defined. Also note how the poor old Gherkin is increasingly being surrounded and disappearing from view.

Here's my attempt at showing these locations on a map. Existing towers higher than 150m are in blue and the eight new buildings in red.

And here's a list of the eight proposed skyscrapers and how they're progressing.

1) 8 Bishopsgate (204m, 51 floors)
This one's already going up on the corner of Leadenhall Street and Bishopsgate. Last time I looked it had passed the 20 storeys mark. The design consists of four stacked blocks, the top two narrower than the lower two. Reminds me of a cassette rack on a cereal packet on a fencepost. Will contain 86,000m² of office space because this was deemed economic when planning permission was granted. Designed by the same architects who are hiding Battersea Power Station.
Public access: A rooftop pavilion on floor 50
Developerbolx: "The skyscraper will accent the nearby Leadenhall Building and add to the area's dramatic contemporary architecture"
Planning permission: 2017 | Broke ground: 2019 | Completion: 2022?

2) 1 Leadenhall Street (165m, 37 floors)
This one's on the opposite side of Leadenhall Street immediately adjacent to Grade II-listed Leadenhall Market. The Victorian Society have denounced it as "a glass lump". The existing buildings on site are undergoing demolition - they were making a heck of a racket knocking stuff down on Sunday. The design consists of a four storey block topped by three very lofty 'blades'. Will contain 40,000m² of office space.
Public access: A public terrace on the 4th floor (overlooking the market roof)
Developerbolx: "A vertical architectural composition that provides a singular, distinctive elegant identity on the skyline"
Planning permission: 2017 | Broke ground: 2021 | Completion: 2024?

3) 70 Gracechurch Street (155m, 33 floors)
This one'll be on the corner of Fenchurch Street where Marks and Spencer is now. It's only just received planning permission. The design consists of a trio of squished skyscrapers linked by vertical planters and looks rather odd. The entrance lobby will be on the second floor, opening up a large area of public realm at ground level. Replaces a building opened in 2002. Will contain 73,000m² of office space. The Walkie Talkie will no longer be out on a limb when this goes up.
Public access: A public gallery and winter garden at levels 29 and 30 offering views across London
Developerbolx: "The development creates a unique and dynamic silhouette without dominating the City skyline and showcases sustainability measures to promote health and wellbeing"
Planning permission: Feb 2021 | Completion: 202x?

4) 55 Gracechurch Street (150m, 36 floors)
The first tall building to be approved this year. Immediately adjacent to the Walkie Talkie. Its rectangular tower has two distinct parts - one silvery, one black - on top of a six-storey podium. Architects are making a big thing of 'vertical greening'. Not an especially unusual shape (or memorable design). Will replace an (existing) 8-storey building and contain 34,000m² of office space.
Public access: 6th floor roof garden
Developerbolx: "An exemplar in a new generation of office-led buildings, embracing sustainability and innovation and seeking to diversify the occupier base of the City of London"
Planning permission: Jan 2021 | Completion: 202x?

5) 1 Undershaft (the Trellis) (290m, 73 floors)
Second attempt at replacing St Helen's (formerly the Aviva Tower). Will be the second tallest building in the country, 20m shorter than the Shard, forming the highest point in the City skyscraper cluster. The core needs to be off centre to create public space underneath, hence the diamond-shaped cross-bracing that inspires the nickname. Will contain 93,000m² of office space. The existing building is still in use so it'll be at least five years before this could possibly be finished.
Public access: Free top level viewing gallery (which could include a museum).
Developerbolx: "While the quality of building will continue improving, new voices can join the dialogue and offer a direction to its actual development"
Planning permission: 2016 | Completion: 202x?

6) 100 Leadenhall Street (the Diamond) (263m, 56 floors)
Should be the third tallest building in the City. Will be immediately to the south of the Gherkin. The design is roughly wedge shaped, hence it's also been nicknamed Cheesegrater 2. A hexagonal cross-section rises from a limestone podium and tapers to a four-sided crown. The facade will have a 3D pattern of interlocking diamonds in an attempt to make it interesting. Will have 102,000m² of office space. The existing buildings have not yet been demolished.
Public access: The two uppermost floors (used for hospitality outside viewing times)
Developerbolx: "More than a landmark on the skyline, the tower is designed to respect the city's historic and contemporary urban context"
Planning permission: 2018 | Break ground: 2023? | Completion: 2028?

7) 40 Leadenhall Street (155m, 34 floors)
A slow burner. Demolition started in 2018 and has opened up a big gap between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street. Central cores now rising. The design is made up of several stepped blocks, terracing down to the south to remain out of sight from Fleet Street. Has been nicknamed Gotham City (or The Toast Rack). Will have 125,000m² of office space. Site currently hosts the City's tallest crane.
Public access: maybe not
Developerbolx: "A well-thought-out confluence of architecture, townscape and commercial need"
Planning permission: 2014 | Broke ground: 2020 | Completion: 2023?

8) 50 Fenchurch Street (150m, 36 floors)
The Clothworkers' Company have been on this site since 1528, but the current postwar livery hall "is not fit for purpose". It'll be rebuilt underground with a massive tower on top, gifting a philanthropic windfall for the Clothworkers. The building will include a vertical green wall and 88,000m² of office space. The tower of All Hallows Staining will be blended into a new piazza. Dan Cruickshank hates it for encroaching on views of the Tower of London World Heritage Site. For now, Sainsburys, Halifax and Superdrug continue trading.
Public access: 10th floor terrace with 360° views (plus a double-height wintergarden)
Developerbolx: "The design journey of this urban proposition has been one of the most remarkable alignments between commerce, culture and the public realm that I have experienced."
Planning permission: 2020 | Completion: 202x?

 Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Random City of London ward (15): Farringdon Without

My 15th random ward is the largest and also the furthest from home, so a bit of a challenge to cover. I haven't coloured it in wrong on the map, it really is in two parts (technically linked by the westbound carriageway of High Holborn outside Sainsbury's Head Office). Farringdon Without contains a lot of the City's historic legal activity, the whole of Smithfield Market and the medical heartland of St Barts. I can't possibly do it justice in a single post so expect considerable skating about. [pdf map]

First a word about the name of the ward. It's named after Sir Nicholas de Faringdon, the ward's alderman in the early 14th century and four-time mayor of London. In 1394 it was split into the part inside the City wall (Farringdon Within) and the much larger part outside (Farringdon Without). Neither ward contains Farringdon station, which was instead named after Farringdon Street, now Farringdon Road. The City's idiosyncratic boundary changes in 2003 recast Farringdon Without into two smaller segments, neither of which aligns with the old City wall. None of this is especially satisfying, sorry.

Let's start on the Victoria Embankment where a dragon guards the southwesternmost entrance to the City. It's also where you'll find the National Submarine War Memorial, an elaborate bronze commemorating 50 craft lost during WW1 and another 82 from WW2. Facing the Thames here is what's colloquially known as the Temple, more precisely two of the City's four Inns of Court called the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. They've been here on this site since medieval times and are officially outside the jurisdiction of the City of London despite being inside their boundary. Entrance is via the steps on Middle Temple Lane... unless it's Sunday in which case the enclave is closed and the iron gates are firmly locked.

I chanced my luck and asked the security guard at the Tudor Street gate whether I could come in "for a look round". He surprisingly agreed so I got to walk round the utterly empty interior of this legal fortress, a veritable labyrinth of courtyards and passages. At its heart is Temple Church, founded in 1185 by the Knights Templar, which boasts a rare circular nave and several chivalrous effigies. I was a tad early for Choral Communion, but the service is up on YouTube if you want to see what I missed. Elsewhere are numerous legal chambers (the names of their barristers neatly listed in the doorway), plus Georgian corners they hire out to film costume dramas, plus extensive splendid gardens (normally open to the public 12.30-3pm on weekdays), and what a treat to be able to wander round in peace. The security guard appeared to be asleep when I walked out.

Administrative normality is restored along Fleet Street, or at least the short stretch from Gino D'Acampo's pasta restaurant to where Temple Bar used to be. Among the buildings of note are Prince Henry's Room (one of the City's handful of Jacobean buildings, no longer open to the public), St Dunstan-in-the-West (an octagonal church whose clock gives off Trumpton vibes) and publisher DC Thompson's offices (a narrow block emblazoned with the names of classic Scottish titles).

Heading north the ward follows Chancery Lane (east side) and Fetter Lane (west side). Sandwiched inbetween is Cliffords Inn, oldest of the Inns of Chancery, or at least its gatehouse because the rest was demolished in 1934. More substantially unmissable is the Maughan Library, Kings College's neo-Gothic research fortress, which was originally the headquarters of the Public Record Office. Don't expect to gain entrance at present without a reader's card and a good reason why you can't study at home. The triple point where Westminster meets Camden meets the City is immediately outside.

It's taken several paragraphs but we've finally reached some bogstandard minor backstreets. Many are lined with anonymous newbuilds, one hosts the drab-but-officious Upper Tribunal Immigration & Asylum Chamber and one has an ex- churchyard sucked dry of heritage and transformed into a public garden. Of genuine interest are the London Silver Vaults, a quirky market consisting of 30 strongrooms off two underground corridors, very much the kind of place that London-based media revel in describing as 'secret'. As for the timber-fronted Tudor building facing High Holborn that's Staple Inn, the last surviving Inn of Chancery, though now crawling with actuaries rather than wool-taxers.

It's time to cross to the other half of the ward via the five-way junction at Holborn Circus. The church here is St Andrew Holborn, founded over 1000 years ago on a small hill above the river Fleet (hence named after the patron saint of fishermen). It survived the Great Fire but was in such a bad state that Wren rebuilt it anyway. Much of its churchyard was swept away by the building of Holborn Viaduct, which you can still duck under if you follow Shoe Lane round the back of the Vicarage.

Smithfield's famous meat market is divided into five buildings in varying states of decay. The General Market faces Farringdon Street, where the dragon is, and links to the smaller (triangular) Fish Market and larger (rectangular) Poultry Market. These three are being transformed into the new Museum of London, as sheaths of scaffolding confirm, although it's a complex job so the completion date (2021) keeps (2022) slipping (2024). Black wooden barriers were recently erected along one side of West Poultry Avenue, shielding decrepit butcheries from view, and it's going to be a long expensive haul prettifying this for the masses.

Business continues in the West and East Market Buildings, as the general whiff of slaughtered animal confirms. Huge refrigerated lorries park up outside, their cargoes trolleyed into the building between dangling plastic strips. The noticeboard in Grand Avenue has vacancies for lamb cutters, experienced butchers and multi-drop delivery drivers. It also reminds wholesalers that the City plans to relocate all its food markets to Dagenham in a few years time, with the vacated market halls subsequently converted into a tourist-magnet food campus. I expect it'll have all the appeal of the upgraded Spitalfields Market, for good and for bad, so get down and admire the genuine Smithfield while you still have a chance.

I've already blogged about the garden inside the market's spiral ramp, the end of the number 56 bus route and the incline of Snow Hill, so I'll skip describing those here. Instead let's turn to the naked cherub hung on the wall at the top, appropriately, of Cock Lane. This is the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, erected outside a pub in the late 17th century to mark the point where the Great Fire of London finally spluttered out. His chubby form represents the sin of gluttony, given that the conflagration started at a bakery on the other side of the city in Pudding Lane, as the inscription underneath confirms.

Across the street is St Barts, the famous 898 year-old hospital. It covers a vast site, part of which is Georgian and surrounds a large leafy quadrangle and part of which is a very modern redevelopment. The museum's just off the former. Hanging around outside you're likely to find patients in wheelchairs and/or dressing gowns, plus various members of staff, all of whom have crept out for a much-needed cigarette. Please don't throw butts in the planters, several signs warn. Inside it's very much a specialist heart hub, mainly thanks to A&E services being relocated in 1995 and the trust needing to do something useful with the building.

And St Barts is also the point where Farringdon Without splits Farringdon Within in two, because neither Farringdon ward is in any way geometrically straightforward. We'll be back here later.

 Monday, April 26, 2021

The 10 most populous islands of the British Isles (and have I been?)

  1) Great Britain (60,800,000): Yes, I have lived 99.3% of my life on this island.
  2) Ireland (6,600,000): Yes, but only for a long weekend in Dublin.
  3) Portsea Island (207,000): Yes, I have been to Portsmouth at least a dozen times (but never stayed overnight).
  4) Isle of Wight (142,000): Hell yes, including a full week's holiday in 1971.
  5) Isle of Man (83,000): Yes, for a short break in 2014.
  6) Anglesey (59,000): Yes, but only for a brief trip to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
  7) Isle of Sheppey (40,000): Yes, three times, once for a job interview (which thankfully I didn't get).
  8) Canvey Island (38,000): Yes, I think three times (once unwillingly).
  9) Lewis/Harris (21,000): Yes, for an unforgettable week in 2006.
10) Mainland (Shetland) (19,000): No, this is the most populous British island I have never been to.

...followed by Hayling Island, Mainland (Orkney), Holy Island (Anglesey), Walney Island, Skye, Mersea Island✓, Bute✓, Arran, Islay and Mull.

If you consider the Channel Islands to be part of the British Isles then Jersey would be 5th (108,000) and Guernsey 7th (63,000). I have only been to the latter.

20 things my secondary school now does which would have freaked me out had they happened when I went

• The school day still starts at the same time but now finishes 25 minutes earlier (that's two hours less school per week, or 500 hours education I wouldn't have had)
• Every year group is now 50% larger than it was in my day (and I thought the school was plenty big enough back then)
• You're not allowed to leave the school premises during the day until you reach the Sixth Form (in my day you were allowed out to the ice cream van, or up to the park, or even into town to go shopping)
• Lessons are now one hour long (which means the weekly PE lesson lasts 60 minutes, and I used to think 35 minutes was hell on earth)
• The school now has a fully-equipped gym which can be used at reduced rates by former pupils after hours (not just a bleak hall with wallbars, ropes and a vaulting horse stashed in the corner)
• Every pupil is expected to have a gum shield for rugby (I told you it was dangerous)
• Free porridge is provided in the canteen from 8am (if it wasn't Coco Pops I'd not have been interested)
• The canteen's gone cashless, based on a system which requires your fingerprint (it's also used for taking books out of the library)
• Everything you buy in the canteen is digitally recorded so your parents can see what you're eating (shudder)
• School letters are now sent by email (rather than folded up at the bottom of a briefcase and hopefully tugged out when you get home)
• School reports are now digital, and for each subject include “behaviour”, “attitude to learning” and “progress against target” (I'm pleased to say I got through school without ever being subjected to targets)
• Lockers are available but students are expected to supply their own padlock (I left everything in a wooden desk with a flip-up lid and hoped it would all be there at the end of the day - it invariably was)
• No knives are permitted in school (understood, but there's also now a 7cm limit on the length of scissors)
• Detentions can only be given with 24 hours' notice (whereas we got "sorry I'm late home Mum, the whole class was kept in")
• We never needed a 'Corridor Code' (actually, thinking back, maybe we did)
• A strict mobile phone policy exists, with no phones to be used inside the building and nothing 'smart' in your first year (I think I rang my best friend at home once in seven years)
• Departments which didn't exist in my day include Computer Science (we had one terminal connected to a mainframe 10 miles away) and Food Technology (I never learned to cook anything)
• You can't pick the modern language you learn in your first year, they randomly allocate your class either German, Spanish or French (the very idea it might not have been French would have horrified 11 year-old me)
• The school uniform policy looks like it hasn't changed in 40 years (although there is now a haircut policy, which is particularly hot on 'contrasting' lengths and styles)
• Full beards are now permitted in the Sixth Form (admittedly this would never have troubled me, but how very modern)

While I was up in town yesterday I noticed a lot of printed material left over from Saturday's anti-lockdown march. Some of it was leaflets, including one promoting Piers Corbyn for Mayor and dozens of scattered missives for a wannabe Freedom Party councillor in Oxfordshire. But most of it was stickers.

Stickers on phone boxes, stickers on bus stops, stickers on bus shelters, stickers on street signs, stickers on maps, stickers on shop windows, stickers on lampposts, stickers on walls, stickers basically anywhere. The stuff on the ground will be cleared away soon enough but the stickers will last rather longer.

The slogans on the stickers are the usual twistings of truth. They're cleverly written to engage and provoke a reaction but are generally based on false premises and exaggeration. Several of them attack scientists, the police and the BBC. A lot of them are questions. And most of them seem to have come from the same campaign.

Once they've hooked you in there's a web address at the bottom of the sticker they hope you'll search out. It turns out not to be a website but a Telegram group they want you to join, and then off down the rabbit hole you go.

The hope is that you too will become a disciple spreading the word, specifically downloading a stash of sticker files and then printing them out for wider dissemination. A series of cheap Brother printers is specified, allowing you to "print hundreds of stickers per minute, for DIRT cheap, from the comfort of your home". They call it waking up the masses, but I'd call it littering the environment with misinformation.

I expect council operatives will remove the stickers, eventually, assuming they can peel them off the variety of surfaces defaced. But in the meantime it's a remarkably invasive way of spreading a message, far more effective than most political parties ever manage. And what a load of rubbish.

 Sunday, April 25, 2021

London's homes were once built from bricks, but these days they're much more likely to be built from fake bricks.

Many modern blocks of flats look like they're built from bricks, because that's the modern aesthetic, but no bricklayers ever turned up to build them. Instead it's all done with panels hoisted onto the front of the building so it looks like brick. Here's one dangling into place.

You see it a lot round my way because the Lower Lea Valley is Construction Central. First a concrete shell goes up, floor by floor, and then when the building's mostly finished they smother the outside in large brickish rectangles. It's all a bit of a cheat.

It's not a recent phenomenon. Concrete skeletons have been the favoured way of constructing flats and tall buildings for years - much less hassle than trying to lay brick walls several storeys above the ground. Masking them with coloured panels was the big fashion in the late 2000s, and later stuck-on tiles, but bricks have since become the covering of choice for a more vernacular look.

If you look closely you can spot which buildings are proper brick and which are merely brick-panelled. The artificial walls are all made from identical panels so there are telltale vertical lines where they meet, regular breaks which might be structurally disastrous if built in the traditional manner. It usually looks fine from further away, but close-up it's a dead giveaway.

Basically this stuff is brick cladding, and cladding hasn't exactly had a good press of late. So what on earth are we doing shrouding our buildings in sheets of fake brick?

(and breathe, and go away and do some quick research)

Ah, ok, they're called brick veneers. You can have all sorts of veneers, the overarching term being 'masonry veneers'. What we're getting a lot of in London are brick veneers.

Loads of companies make brick veneers, their explicit aim to "Give The Appearance Of Hand Laid Brick Walls". Sometimes they're actual full bricks, carefully stuck to a panel with adhesive and surrounded by mortar. Other times they're slices of brick, perhaps quite thin slices, better known as brick slips.

For many years our homes have been built with two outer layers, officially called wythes, with a gap inbetween for insulation purposes. Originally both layers were brick, back when you could squeeze foam between them as cavity wall insulation, but then people worked out they didn't both have to be. Only the interior wythe needed to be load-bearing and the outer wythe could be anything, hence the introduction of flimsier coloured panels and more recently all these brick veneers.

Modern flats therefore tend to be constructed out of concrete masonry units, providing the inner strength in a cost effective way, and once these have been stacked up into the sky the builders come back and cover everything with brick veneer. Incorporating the window frames in the panels also helps keep costs down because it's a lot cheaper to add your glazing at ground level.

The air space between the outer and inner wythe is good at preventing 'thermal bridging', i.e. the tendency of heat to escape when two conducting materials touch each other. Energy expended on heating your flat is less likely to leak out, and if a heatwave hits the warmth is less likely to leak in. Also brick's not always especially waterproof, so the internal gap allows any rainwater that soaks through to flow down what's still the outside of the building and 'weep' away through special holes.

Yes, these prefabricated brick veneers are indeed a means to enable developers to employ system-building procedures and cut costs, and very much a visual cheat. But they also have benefits including better insulation, acoustic buffering and air moisture regulation, plus the brick facing is more durable than a lot of other materials, requiring little or no maintenance over the lifetime of the building.

Basically they're cheap but they're not all bad. They also help to get London's housing built faster and provide an architectural uniformity that might otherwise be lacking. But I bet there are thousands of Londoners who think they live in a brick building when in fact they live in a concrete shell covered in slices of brick veneer.

 Saturday, April 24, 2021

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• 4000 fans attend FA Cup semi final
• Germany holds day of mourning
• India added to red list; PM cancels visit
• clots a very rare side effect of the J&J jab
• PM hopes for Covid treatment pills by autumn
• UK could have summer surge
• Denmark introduces digital Covid passport
• Delhi hospitals run out of oxygen
• 95% of over-50s vaccinated
• PM/Dyson ventilator text messages leaked
• Japan imposes third lockdown
• UK borrowing highest since WW2

Worldwide deaths: 3,000,000 → 3,090,000
Worldwide cases: 140,000,000 → 146,000,000
UK deaths: 127,260 → 127,417
UK cases: 4,385,938 → 4,403,170
Vaccinations: 32,693,527 → 33,508,590
FTSE: down 1% (7019 → 6938)

Fire brigades don't just put out fires, they also rescue animals from perilous situations. But how many?

We can answer this question for London because the London Fire Brigade kindly publish a spreadsheet with full details of all their animal rescues. The data runs from the start of January 2009 (DOG WITH JAW TRAPPED IN MAGAZINE RACK) to the end of March 2021 (KITTEN BELIEVED TO BE TRAPPED UNDER FLOORBOARDS).

Altogether the London Fire Brigade's database includes 7370 animal rescues. This averages out at 600 animal rescues a year, or about 12 a week. From 2009 to 2019 the annual totals were all very close to the average, but for some reason the total shot up last year to 758. For comparison purposes the total number of fires attended over the same period was 265,596, i.e. 22,000 a year, so fires outnumber animal rescues by a factor of 36 to 1.

Of the 7370 animal rescues 61% were for domestic animals (FERRET TRAPPED IN RADIATOR), 27% for wild animals (including birds) (GULL TRAPPED IN GUTTERING) and 11% for farm animals and livestock (PONY FALLEN INTO SEWAGE DUCT).

The animal most in need of rescuing, it won't surprise you to hear, was the cat (CAT TRAPPED IN BUSH AFTER FALLING FROM WINDOW).

 cat 3591
bird 1484
dog 1176
fox 338
horse 191
 deer 124
squirrel 63
hamster 16
rabbit 14
snake 12

Cats accounted for almost half of all animal rescues in London between 2009 and 2021 (CAT TRAPPED IN SOFA). 547 of these rescues specifically mentioned kittens (KITTEN WITH HEAD STUCK IN BONGO DRUMS). Birds were next (PEREGRINE FALCON STUCK IN NETTING AT 5TH FLOOR LEVEL), with a very strong showing for pigeons who accounted for at least 30% of all avian incidents (PIGEON IMPALED ON TV AERIAL ON ROOF). Dogs and puppies took third place (DOG THROWN INTO ELECTRICITY SUB STATION) (PUPPIES POSSIBLY TRAPPED UNDER GRILL). The fox was the highest placed wild animal (FOX CUB WITH HEAD STUCK IN WATERING CAN).

Among the rarer animals that needed to be rescued were 8 cows, 8 ferrets, 6 sheep, 2 goats, 2 hedgehogs, 2 lambs, a bull and a tortoise (TORTOISE TRAPPED). Animals that don't climb trees tended to be lower down the list (PET LIZARD TRAPPED BEHIND RADIATOR) (HAMSTER STUCK IN CAVITY WALL).

Altogether 36% of incidents involved animal rescue from height (DUCKLINGS TRAPPED ON BALCONY). This is where the fire brigade's big ladders came in very handy. 88% of these 1655 incidents involved a cat (CAT STUCK ON ROOF IT KEEPS SLIDING). Meanwhile 10% of incidents involved rescue from below ground (HAMSTER TRAPPED IN HOLE) and 5% rescue from water (HORSE FALLEN INTO SWIMMING POOL).

Trees were the most frequently mentioned hazard with 802 rescues (PARROT TRAPPED IN TREE BY HARNESS). Following behind were 619 roofs (SQUIRREL TRAPPED ON ROOF), 444 tangles with netting (FOX CUB TRAPPED IN FOOTBALL NETTING), 366 chimneys (KITTENS TRAPPED BEHIND CHIMNEY BREAST), 176 railings (MUNTJAC DEER TRAPPED IN RAILINGS) and 121 drains (DUCKLINGS STUCK IN LOCKED DRAIN).

Just over half of the animal rescues were at private residences (PERSON WITH SQUIRREL TRAPPED BEHIND WARDROBE) (KITTEN TRAPPED IN LOCKED WASHING MACHINE) (PREGNANT DOG WITH HEAD TRAPPED IN CAT FLAP). Outdoor locations accounted for just over a quarter of incidents (SHEEP WITH HEAD STUCK IN FENCE NEAR TO THE HARVESTER), outdoor structures 8% (HORSE STUCK IN HAY CONTAINER), non-residential buildings 10% (CAT TRAPPED IN SHOP SHUTTERS) and vehicles 4% (DEER TRAPPED UNDER BUS). There were also 3 rescues at mosques (PIGEON TRAPPED BETWEEN LIFT DOORS), two at art galleries (HARRIS HAWK IMPALED ON ANTI PIGEON SPIKE), two at estate agents (DOG IN PRECARIOUS POSITION) and one at a zoo (PIG STUCK IN RAILINGS).

The RSPCA were involved in at least 1242 animal rescues, that's 17% of the total (ASSIST RSPCA WITH 2 DUCKLINGS TRAPPED BETWEEN CAVITY WALL), but most of the time they weren't present (SNAKE LOOSE IN FLAT - RSPCA TOLD CALLER THEY WERE TOO BUSY TO ATTEND).

As for location, the borough with the most animal rescues was Enfield with 332 (CAT WITH HEAD TRAPPED IN RADIATOR) (DOG LEG STUCK IN TRAMPOLINE) (COW IN DISTRESS IN WATER), closely followed by Croydon, Barnet and Southwark. Discounting the City of London, the fewest rescues were in Harrow (131), just ahead of Kingston, Merton and Sutton. If you adjust the figures for (human) population, Kensington & Chelsea tops the list (FERRET TRAPPED BEHIND KITCHEN UNIT) (DOG WITH HEAD STUCK IN PRAM) (BIRD TRAPPED IN OLYMPIC ADVERTISING BANNER ON LAMPPOST), with Harrow again in last place (HORSE TRAPPED INSIDE HORSE BOX TRAPPED UNDER PARTITION UNDER ANOTHER HORSE).

The only other brigade I could find similar figures for was Trumpton. Their firefighters attended 13 incidents in 1967 (MAYOR'S HAT IN TREE) (STATUE'S CROWN DISLODGED) (PAINT TIN BLOCKING TOWN HALL CLOCK), but only two of these involved animals (BIRD'S NEST BLOCKING MISS LOVELACE'S CHIMNEY) (ROCKING HORSE NEARLY THROWN ONTO BONFIRE) and none involved putting out fires. The London Fire Brigade continue to do a much more impressive job.

 Friday, April 23, 2021

Let's continue along National Cycle Network Route 1, East London section. This is the Sustrans route from Dover to Shetland and nothing to do with TfL, preceding Superhighways, Quietways and Cycleways by several years. Yesterday we rode from the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the corner of Victoria Park and today we'll continue to Walthamstow Marshes, looking out for any particularly poor bits of infrastructure along the way. [OS map] [OpenCycleMap]

Victoria Park is an ideal choice for an off-road cycle route, its outer carriage drive being broad enough to cope with walkers, joggers, cyclists and errant hounds. NCN1 hugs the southern edge, which is nice because it passes the ornamental lake and a heck of a lot of plane trees. The biggest hassle is crossing from one half of the park to the other, which is achieved by exiting one set of gates, negotiating the green stripe across Grove Road and entering another. Tiny numbers on fingerposts direct you very pleasantly eastwards, right up to the point where you exit via the car park.

This is not good. NCN1 bears off past the gardeners' compound where a low gate spans the tarmac, accompanied by a sign imploring Cyclists Dismount (which everyone ignores). It then enters the St Mark's Gate car park, which on my visit was both packed and active, where bikes are expected to negotiate from one side to the other. Admittedly this is the last scrap of "on-road" cycling before the North Circular, so perhaps worth the inconvenience, but highly unimpressive all the same.

A chunk of canal towpath is next, ramping down to the Hertford Union just in time to have missed its most awkward locks, narrow bridges and cycle-unfriendly dips. Cyclists may have to dodge a graffiti-sprayer, or more likely lots of people coming the other way, because the path gets narrower as the Olympic Stadium comes into view. It's a measure of how old the Sustrans network is that the blue sign at the entrance to this section says Lea Valley Park 1½, completely ignoring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which is just round the corner.

Here's another rubbish bit. After crossing the Lea at White Post Lane NCN1 has to descend from the bridge back to riverside level. It does this down a steepish slope of cobbly bumps, definitely bike-unfriendly, before doubling back and continuing northwards. QEOP's management recognised this was bad a couple of years ago and added a proper ramp down past Barge East's outdoor seating, a few metres further on, but the blue signage continues to point the bad way. It seems updating 20-year-old cycle routes to take advantage of later improvements doesn't generally happen.

An even better example of this phenomenon is that NCN1 ignores the Olympic Park completely. This wasn't here at the turn of the century when the route was designed, so the Lea's towpath was a much better bet than a grubby road through an industrial estate. But careering off through an iconic landscape blessed with broad paths built with bikes in mind would now be a much better option. Nothing's stopping you cycling that way, indeed all signage for NCN1 pretty much dries up for the next mile, but officially the path ploughs on beside the river.

Beyond the A12 an additional broader track starts to shadow the narrower towpath. That's the way you're supposed to go, leaving the riverside clear for pedestrians, but the only blue sign telling you this has sadly peeled off. At present the broad track's closed while workmen improve the state of its surface, which is just the sort of investment any decent cycleway needs and should be very welcome. But any cyclist not on this parallel path very much risks not noticing the moment NCN1 veers off into the woods to cross the top of Hackney Marshes.

Bugger. Friends Bridge (across the other braid of the River Lea) is closed for six weeks for the undertaking of necessary repairs. It closed on Monday, just after I took this photo, and is currently blocked off by blue metal sheeting. A significant diversion is required, this being the sole crossing for a mile hereabouts, which just goes to show how a cycle route which prioritises remoteness can be scuppered by events. Still, never mind, the next bit's blocked too...

This is the subway under Lea Bridge Road, normally a marvellous bit of infrastructure but alas currently flooded and impassable. It's been this way for at least the last six months, wasting innumerable people's time as they were forced to turn back, and only very recently have Thames Water turned up with barriers suggesting some remediation might be going on. The only alternative is to ride up to street level, deviate via a signalled crossing and then try to find your way back down... but this has been the third consecutive paragraph with closures and repairs, which merely confirms how vulnerable national cycle routes can be.

Wahey, the next mile's across good old Walthamstow Marshes. Not along the riverside but via the surfaced track on the far side past the riding school and pylons, at one point ducking beneath the viaducts where two railway lines cross. It all feels a bit remote and cut-off, but if it's low traffic and a smooth ride you're seeking then this is perfect. What's interesting is that when TfL came to add a Quietway here they did indeed choose the riverside path and that's now much better used, plus it would allow NCN1 to skip the utterly ridiculous bit of infrastructure that's coming up next.

Coppermill Bridge is infamous as London's lowest bridge, its headroom a miserly 1.5m. That NCN1 and Quietway 2 both feel the need to duck under this nightmarish railway bridge just goes to show the paucity of alternative routes in these parts. Some bend their backs and cycle underneath, others do the safer thing and walk stoopingly underneath, but it's a disruptive intrusion all the same. Looks great on social media, but not much fun in real life.

To get back to the Lea there's a further annoying bridge, privately owned and never designed with cyclists in mind. A metal furrow's been added to help push your steed up its steep flanks, the central span is impractically narrow, and quite frankly it would have been better if NCN1 had never deviated away from the river five paragraphs ago. At least from this point onwards it simply hugs the River Lea all the way north to Gunpowder Park on the Greater London boundary. Put your map away, stop looking at the signs and cycle safely.

→ Nazeing → Harlow → Chelmsford → Colchester → Ipswich → Norwich → King's Lynn → Boston → Lincoln → Hull → Scarborough → Middlesbrough → Sunderland → Berwick → Edinburgh → Dundee → Aberdeen → Inverness → John O'Groats → Orkney → Shetland

 Thursday, April 22, 2021

London has its Cycleways but Britain has the National Cycle Network - twenty thousand kilometres of specially designated routes criss-crossing the country, most of it existing roads and paths with a smidgeon of additional infrastructure to improve the two-wheeled experience.

Every NCN route is numbered and signed (using a white bicycle on a blue background) and the longest of them all is Route 1. This stretches from Dover to the northern tip of the Shetland Islands, such is its ambition, taking in such delights as Hull, Middlesbrough and Aberdeen along the way. It's an astonishing 1721 miles long. It's also the only NCN route to cross London, entering through Bexley, exiting through Enfield and passing through my local neighbourhood along the way.

So let's go for a walk along NCN1 to see where it goes and how easy it is to follow.

» Sorry it's not a ride along NCN1 because me and bikes don't mix, but I'll try and point out where the cycling experience might not be ideal.
» Sustrans, who devised and monitor the network, don't provide a map of NCN1 but they do link to an Ordnance Survey map where it's all shown.
» You may find www.opencyclemap.org easier to use - I certainly did.

Let's pretend we've already ridden from Dover to Canterbury to Rochester to Dartford (via the occasional remote estuarine path), then hugged the Thames through Erith, Woolwich and Greenwich before popping up north of the river. We'll be heading up the Isle of Dogs, then shadowing the Regent's Canal and the River Lea, only occasionally diverting through a car park.

We start at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel where cycling is tolerated but not permitted. Hopefully the lifts are working, otherwise it's 90-odd steps to the surface. Bikes emerge into Island Gardens - the riverside park, not the DLR station - where refreshment used to be available from a kiosk and cafe but currently isn't. The nicest way to go would be straight ahead past the station and across Millwall Park, but NCN1 often chooses not to go the nice way in favour of a more cycle-friendly route.

Instead it turns left up a very quiet street, then right into a very quiet street which happens to be cobbled. Cobbles are by no means ideal but we'll be seeing quite a few more of them ahead, and what is a bike ride if not a mildly exhilarating adventure? The pub on the corner, the Ferry House, opened in 1722 and claims to be the oldest pub on the island. Pretty much everything north of here would have been extremely marshy at the time.

Ahead is East Ferry Road, the Isle of Dogs' central spine. It's not normally excessively busy but it's still surprising to see it doesn't have a cycle lane as so many key routes in Tower Hamlets now do. The delights of Mudchute Park & Farm are not for us. Instead NCN1 breaks off to duck underneath the DLR (it's ok, there is a ramp) and out onto Millwall Dock. We're aiming for the single bridge across the centre and a very 80s shopping parade where green barriers span the road and an unwelcoming sign says Pedestrian Access Only. Yes it is this way.

When NCN1 was devised the next street, Millharbour, would have been less of a skyscraper boulevard. It's possibly the most highrise street anywhere between Dover and Shetland. Next comes a backstreet zigzag where watching out for blue signs on lampposts is crucial (we'd have been scuppered if travelling in the opposite direction because one of them is missing). Only the teensiest bit of busy Westferry Road needs to be negotiated and then we're back by the Thames, where we're greeted by this...

This is the western edge of the Docklands estate where the land closest to the Thames is earmarked for a skyscraper combo that's never been built. JP Morgan bought it for a new European HQ in 2008 but only ever got round to building the foundations before deciding to pull out. A narrow 'temporary' walkway hugs the riverside, blocked at regular intervals by a yellow chicane designed to slow down pesky cyclists. It's a right pain for those on foot too, and during lockdown has made social distancing miserably more difficult. NCN1 is not at its best here.

Beyond Canary Wharf the Thames Path continues through a private housing development where riding a bike is officially not permitted. Most cyclists ignore this edict but NCN1 has to comply so instead bears off early up Three Colt Street. This leads to another lengthy cobbled street, very close to Limehouse's Hawksmoor church which cyclists can admire as their saddle judders up and down.

At Commercial Road we find a proper toucan crossing, evidence that NCN1 has bespoke infrastructure rather than simply being a line on a map. Salmon Lane has the last shopping parade before leaving London, a lowly cluster of neighbourhood essentials plus an evangelical church that brands itself The Museum of the Book. And at the far end we head down to the Regent's Canal towpath via another bespoke intervention, a ramp that absolutely wouldn't be here were it not for NCN1.

Ahead lies a decent curve of towpath, which might mean dodging joggers but cunningly avoids some much narrower sections to north and south. NCN1 then takes advantage of Mile End Park, a linear greenspace which just happens to go in exactly the right direction and just happens to have been finished around the time the route was being planned. A mile-long sinuous path weaves north, with cyclists and pedestrians directed to separate channels, and just before the Green Bridge we find this...

This is one of the 1000 cast iron Millennium Mileposts installed around the network 20 years ago courtesy of Sustrans and the Royal Bank of Scotland. There are four designs - this one's The Cockerel by Scottish sculptor Iain McColl - and each contains a coded hieroglyphic disc. These combine to form the Millennium Time Trail, "a puzzling treasure hunt with a secret code to crack", which I suspect proved much too hard for most recreational cyclists to bother with (and is no longer promoted).

Crossing the Green Bridge cunningly avoids contact with the A11, after which Mile End Park's wiggles continue. NCN1 could just have hugged the canal but instead takes this slightly longer more interesting deviation, and is all the better for it. But eventually it returns to the towpath and sticks with it under the railway, past the pub and under Roman Road. Cyclists get a separate subway to pedestrians here (not that most cyclists and pedestrians appear to have noticed).

A few more cobbles intrude at the end of the Hertford Union Canal, mostly avoidably. NCN1 might then have followed this new waterway - it would have been the most direct route - but instead overshoots to take a friendlier route through Victoria Park with no lockside gradients to negotiate. The only problem is knowing when to turn off because the only blue sign is concealed behind a tree until you're almost on top of it and, worse, is now pointing in entirely the wrong direction. Like I said, you really need a map (or else to have ridden this way several times).

Let's pause there and come back tomorrow to ride NCN1 from Victoria Park to Walthamstow Marshes (and beyond).

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big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards