diamond geezer

 Monday, May 31, 2021

It's not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey (specifically the corner of Page's Walk and Mandela Way, SE1).

This is the Bermondsey Panzer, a German tank captured in Belgium in 1945 and rediscovered 30 years later in a scrapheap at the back of a railway goodsyard. The Bricklayers Arms Goods Depot was established in the 1850s on the site of one of London's first passenger rail termini. By the time of the Second World War it had become a locomotive repair shop, but the postwar shift from steam to diesel saw it become surplus to requirements and the complex was eventually sold to developers, complete with unintentional armoured vehicle.

Much of the site became housing but the western end, closest to Page's Walk, became the Mandela Way trading estate. This Panzer IV tank was discovered underneath a heavy tarpaulin behind the turntable amid what's now the Royal Mail Southwark & Rotherhithe Delivery Office. How it got here has never satisfactorily been explained but historian Dan Cruickshank thinks it may have been captured during the Ardennes Counteroffensive and shipped back to Britain to be melted down to make fighter planes, then forgotten as the tide turned.

Councillor Stephen Marsling campaigned to get the tank placed at the entrance to the new trading estate, a site which had previously been the goods depot's western gateway. It now forms the heart of the Mandela Way Peace Garden, a pocket park opened by Nelson Mandela during his four day visit to London in 1996, as a plaque on the rear wall attests. Delegates from Southwark's twin towns assemble in the garden on the anniversary of VE Day, at least in normal years, to hang a laurel garland from the gun attachment before retiring to The Victoria pub to raise a toast to the Bermondsey Panzer. It's very much not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey.

It's not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey (specifically the corner of Page's Walk and Mandela Way, SE1).

This is Southwark Rising, a new art installation by Myfanwy Roberts as part of the Old Kent Road Sculpture Festival 2021. This summer-long celebration of community renewal kicked off last weekend with a virtual parade down Albany Road and continues today with a Bank Holiday picnic in Burgess Park. Myfanwy's tank-shaped contribution took several months to complete, moulded in fibreglass recycled from plastic waste collected by children from three local schools. A companion piece made from papier-mâché has been placed in the centre of the Bricklayers Arms roundabout.

Myfanwy took inspiration from a V1 bomb strike on Page's Walk in 1944. Although nobody was killed the blast destroyed several buildings and a Victorian pub, as well as rendering the Surrey Stables uninhabitable so that several horses had to be rehomed. By placing a facsimile German tank on the site the conflicting themes of retribution and rebirth are deftly juxtaposed, forcing residents to address the nature of the catalyst that facilitated the creation of local postwar housing.

The most startling aspect of the artwork is the musical soundtrack combining the futuristic rap of MC Flohio with backing from New Cross harpist Jean Kelly, an ethereal duet which ends with the sound of the 'All Clear' siren. Playback is solar-powered and is triggered by proximity sensors (except between 8pm and 8am when neighbours are granted temporary respite). The artwork is expected to remain in place until the end of August when, lockdown permitting, the tank will be carried in procession to the SELCHP recycling centre and incinerated. But for the next three months it's very much not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey.

It's not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey (specifically the corner of Page's Walk and Mandela Way, SE1).

This is Stompie Garden, home to a genuine Soviet T-34 tank installed by a local resident with a grudge against the council. The tank was built in Czechoslovakia in 1953 and probably saw action on the streets during the Prague Spring uprising of 1968. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain it found its way over to England as a film prop, specifically facing off against Ian McKellen within the ruins of Battersea Power Station during the film Richard III. Shortly afterwards it was bought by Page's Walk resident Russell Grey for £7000, splashing out on an extra-large birthday present for his son.

Russell had previously been refused planning permission for this vacant plot, so got his own back by submitting a request to install "a tank" instead. Southwark council supposedly assumed it would be a metal container holding some kind of liquid, so granted approval, and were then shocked when it turned out to be an armoured vehicle. It's been here since 1995, initially with its gun barrel pointing towards council headquarters but no longer quite so vengefully aligned.

Over the years Russell has been happy for artists to give the tank a makeover so it spent a considerable time being pink, while its latest colourful coat replaces an all-blue tribute to the NHS. He also gave it the nickname Stompie as a tribute to the teenager murdered by Winnie Mandela's bodyguards in 1998, hence the corner plot is now known as Stompie Garden. Originally the garden was sealed off but recently one of the fences has been removed and a public open space created complete with picnic table, bark chippings and a couple of flower beds. It's all very pleasant, but not what you'd expect to find on a street corner in Bermondsey.

 Sunday, May 30, 2021

I see the ferry between Canary Wharf and the Doubletree hotel in Rotherhithe is running again. It's also one of London's worst value fares, costing £4.60 for a 220 metre journey. Even Leicester Square to Covent Garden is longer than that, not to mention two quid cheaper.

So I wondered, how much does it cost to cross the Thames downstream of central London.
(maps are in a previous post here)

  cycle/walk train/bus vehicle 
Tower Bridgefree unnecessary free
Rotherhithe Tunnelnot advised-free
Jubilee line-£1.50-
Doubletree ferry£4.60--
Greenwich Foot Tunnel free--
Blackwall Tunnel-£1.55free*
Jubilee line-£1.50-
Silvertown Tunnel-from 2025 from 2025* 
Jubilee line-£1.50-
Woolwich Ferryfree-free
Woolwich Foot Tunnelfree--
Crossrail-from 2022-
QE2 Crossingbikes free£3.10£2.50
Tilbury Ferry£4.00--
High Speed One-£18.30-
* tolled from 2025

» For pedestrians and cyclists there are free crossings in Greenwich and Woolwich, hurrah, but to cross the river from Canary Wharf or North Greenwich costs at least £4.
» It is possible to zigzag across the river on a Thames Clipper, but that's also £4.60.
» Bus and rail crossings cost £1.50-£1.60 within London, but double that if you venture down to Dartford. High Speed One is impractically expensive for a ten minute train journey.
» Drivers can cross for free within London, at least for now, but tolls will be introduced through the Blackwall and Silvertown Tunnels when the latter finally opens.

By far the most expensive East London crossings are for those on foot and those with bikes, namely the Doubletree Ferry and the Dangleway. There were plans for a footbridge across the Thames to replace the former, which would have been free, but lack of funding means an upgraded ferry is the best we can expect. A decent boost for walking and cycling would be to make these two crossings free, or at least to bring the price down, to help knit the two sides of the Thames together.

A couple of Sundays ago I took the tube from Bow Road to Paddington, partly to reacquaint myself with the Underground while it was quiet and partly because it was somewhere new to walk home from. I thought I might do something similar this Sunday but no, the station's closed as is the entire Hammersmith & City line and the vast majority of the District line. What's more, having checked the list of forthcoming line closures, Bow Road's going to be closed for 10 of the next 12 weekends as well.

29/30/31 Mayclosed closed (except West Ham - Upminster) 
5/6 Junclosedclosed Earl's Court - Dagenham East
12/13 Junclosedclosed Tower Hill - Barking
19/20 Junclosedclosed Tower Hill - Barking
26/27 Jun closed W'chapel-Barking closed Tower Hill - Barking
3/4 Julclosedclosed Tower Hill - Barking
10/11 Julclosedclosed Whitechapel - Barking
17/18 Julclosedclosed Tower Hill - Upminster
24/25 Jul  
31 Jul/1 Augclosedclosed (except Barking - Upminster)
7/8 Aug  
14/15 Augclosedclosed Tower Hill - Upminster
21/22 Augclosedclosed Tower Hill - West Ham

It's all thanks to the much delayed Four Lines Modernisation plan, stages 6 & 7, building up to testing the new signalling system east of Stepney Green on the weekend of 13/14 August. It wouldn't surprise me if there's some Crossrail works in there too. These upgrades will be great when they're finished, but that's a heck of a lot of weekends of rail replacement buses and a busier than normal Central line, which isn't ideal during a post-lockdown summer.

...and although the weekend of 7/8 August looks clear at Bow Road, an unprecedented line closure is scheduled for Wednesday 4th August to Thursday 12th August (yes you read that right). The District line will be closed between Earl's Court and Aldgate East for track replacement and the realignment of points, resulting in the closure of nine stations for nine days, so watch out for the publicity on that.

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• 2nd jab effective against Indian variant
• NI lifts ban on indoor socialising
• advice not to travel in/out of 8 surge areas
• ...furore over 'lockdown by stealth'
• "PM unfit for the job" - Dominic Cummings
• "tens of thousands died unnecessarily" (DC)
• DC comments bear no relation to reality (PM)
• France to introduce quarantine for UK arrivals
• 75% of new UK cases could be Indian variant
• Melbourne enters fourth lockdown
• Janssen vaccine approved - the UK's 4th
• R between 1.0 and 1.1 (and rising)

Worldwide deaths: 3,450,000 → 3,530,000
Worldwide cases: 166,000,000 → 170,000,000
UK deaths: 127,716 → 127,775
UK cases: 4,460,466 → 4,480,945
1st vaccinations: 37,726,924 → 39,068,346
2nd vaccinations: 22,071,497 → 24,892,416
FTSE: up 4 (7018 → 7022)

 Saturday, May 29, 2021

I am now a double jabbee.
I went to ExCeL yesterday and received my second vaccine dose.
So that's excellent.

I had my first in March when things felt rather less upbeat. That feels like a heck of a long time ago but in fact it's only eleven weeks, one week shorter than the maximum recommended gap. I know the government's moved the goalposts since March and now prefers eight weeks instead, but nobody got in touch to hasten mine so I stuck with the second appointment I'd originally booked.

I also know I've been leapfrogged by a number of people younger than me, indeed I keep seeing vaccination cards on social media and wondering how these youngsters managed to nip ahead. But it's not too serious a delay - I was number 23 million and something getting my first jab and I'm number 24 million and something getting my second.

I wasn't especially nervous beforehand because I didn't get any nasty after-effects last time. A substantial number of people were laid low by their dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, generally within 24 hours, but I didn't even get the basic dead arm let alone the full on headache and fatigue combo, so I'm remarkably grateful to my immune system for that.

I've had the date of this second jab in my calendar for ages - it's basically the only thing in there. Forgetting it was never an option, but I still wondered whether the NHS would remember to remind me just in case. Kerching, an email arrived exactly three days in advance listing date and time plus three things I needed to bring with me. They forgot one, but I remembered to take it anyway.

And so I found myself back at ExCeL yesterday morning, pleased that the sunny weather had permitted the wearing of a short-sleeved shirt. It looked busier than before, with several other people turning up around the same time as me, but venturing inside would soon confirm this notion to be false.

As last time the first thing they checked was that I had my booking reference and NHS number. Knowing your NHS number is essential, at least for those getting vaccinated via the national system rather than anything GP-related, but they still don't tell you to look it up beforehand or include it in the confirmation email which I consider a systematic failure. The number does appear if you get your invite by letter, apparently, but otherwise a faff with a QR code, a smartphone and the NHS website is required. Thankfully I'd prepared this time by writing all my important numbers in advance on a post-it note, a useful device which prevented me from reciting digits like a parrot on two further occasions.

The exhibition hall swiftly swallowed me up. Two vast queueing slaloms were laid out, only one of which was in use and there were never more than ten of us standing in it. The space should have been hosting Retail Supply Chain & Logistics Expo 2021 or Restaurant & Bar Tech Live or some other schmoozy meet-up for service professionals, but instead a few random local citizens stood in one small corner waiting to be ushered through by cheery volunteers.

At the check-in desk I got to confirm my name and that I was well, and wielded my post-it note again. I had to repeat a few things because a mouthful of cloth and a sheet of perspex don't make communication easy, but it was all fairly quick and painless. Now go off and join Queue 2, she said, despite the fact both funnels appeared to lead to the same place and both were empty.

The doctor who summoned me into the far pod was American, and unlike on my previous visit he didn't have an acolyte to help him out. He fitted the important questions into his smalltalk, remarked how pleased he was with my choice of short-sleeved clothing and patiently copied my very long number into his ledger. He also checked if I'd had any side-effects last time, and advised I might still be in line for adverse symptoms this time round because past performance is no guarantee of success.

I have no idea why medical staff insist on referring to injections as a "sharp scratch", when scratches tend to be tangential to the skin rather than poked in and left there for a few seconds. Still, that was me done, another citizen duly ticked off towards the government's national target. I was now the proud owner of a fully completed vaccination card, the second row just about legible in typical doctor-y scrawl.

I didn't get a plaster this time, for reasons unexplained. I also didn't get a sticker, so I was glad I'd received one last time or I'd have felt like I'd missed out. I resisted taking a selfie in front of the official selfie backdrop, which is now a thing. In a neighbouring cubicle I noticed shiny helium balloons spelling out EXCEL 100000, suggesting the site's now been responsible for almost 0.2% of the nation's jabs. And I was allowed straight out again because I was walking home, not driving, so the whole thing was over in fifteen minutes flat.

I'm not quite sure how I feel now I've had the requisite two doses. Relieved, perhaps, given that this time last year there was no guarantee anyone would find a vaccine let alone be able to distribute it twice to millions of people. Pleased, certainly, but not so pleased I'd show my appreciation by supporting the government without question. And also mildly confused, because nobody's ever specifically defined what benefits being 'fully vaccinated' brings.

I know several surveys confirm I'm x% protected, y% non-transmissible and z% safe from hospitalisation, where x, y and z are high numbers, but x, y and z always seem to vary. I know x, y and z for the Indian variant are probably lower but I don't yet know if that matters. I know maximum protection doesn't happen for another couple of weeks so officially I'm not there yet, but confusingly I do now have 'full course' status which would allow me to apply for a vaccination certificate, if only they were a thing.

I might feel safer, and I might now choose to act in a different way, but officially that second jab has changed nothing. Government advice still states "You should follow the guidance on how to stop the spread of coronavirus at all times, including if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19", so my new status brings no privileges whatsoever. Were this America I'd no longer have to wear a face covering in public, because that's their rule, but our government just witters on about common sense and continues to lump everyone in together.

I might now present virtually no risk to others, or technically I might not, but nobody's offering any nationally-certified opinion on my new status and it's basically left up to me to decide. I can see why nobody's keen to introduce a two-tier society essentially defined by age, because that could be unduly divisive, but being double jabbed is simultaneously bloody excellent and behaviourally pointless.

 Friday, May 28, 2021

The big new thing in food shopping round these parts is rapid grocery delivery. An army of companies will deliver to your door, usually in 15 minutes or less, to save you the effort of having to go to the supermarket yourself. Invariably it involves an app, a dark store and a chap on a bike. A lot of investors with deep pockets are very much betting on this being the future.

In part it's convenience. If the kids are playing up, or it's raining, or friends unexpectedly nip round, how great for someone else to do your shopping for you.
In part it's speed. Sometimes you don't want to wait days for a delivery slot from a major supermarket, you want the ingredients for a meal now.
In part it's price. If groceries cost much the same as they do in the supermarket, why leave the house and visit one?
In part it's laziness. A frictionless solution means you can carry on gaming on your sofa rather than changing into proper clothes and going out.

It all works by having a network of small, local fulfilment centres stocking a narrow range of popular and premium goods, then sending out riders on mopeds who can reach your door fast. The speed of delivery is designed to impress, but companies are very selective where they deliver so anyone living too far away from a dark store won't be able to sign up. If you live in the countryside don't even bother checking, densely-populated urban areas are where it's at.

I noticed how competitive it's getting while walking around central Hackney yesterday, an area of close-packed cycle-friendly streets with a dearth of large supermarkets nearby. Adverts for these rapid grocery services were everywhere, from phone boxes to bus shelters to the sides of taxis. Within a small area of Dalston I spotted adverts for four different services, which just goes to show how cut-throat this is getting. Winner on the streets was getir, five of whose mopeds I saw zipping past, although it's possible the other services are using unbranded bikes so I missed those.

I thought I'd try and do some research to compare the various companies, although without actually ordering anything because that could have been expensive, and anyway I've just been to Tesco and my fridge is full.
getir - a Turkish company backed by $170m of investor capital which launched in London in February.
when do they deliver: 8am-midnight
minimum spend: £10
delivery fee: £1.99 (but currently free, because they really want to hook you)
delivery time: "around 10 minutes"
first five categories listed in the app: confectionery, crisps & snacks, drinks, alcohol, fruit & veg
where do they deliver: from Clapham to Highgate and Hackney (map), with Notting Hill and Leyton recent additions.
will they deliver to me: no, I live 200m outside their delivery zone, so I've had to delete the app.

Jiffy - its owner ran a similar start-up in Moscow before launching in London in April.
minimum spend: no minimum
delivery fee: £1.99
introductory offer: free delivery for the first month
delivery time: 15 minutes
first five categories listed in the app: milk, bananas, crisps, Jamie Oliver, water
where do they deliver: rapidly expanding across a lot of London, from Wembley to Waterloo and Hounslow to Hackney
will they deliver to me: yes (but if I lived on the other side of the Bow Roundabout, no)

Dija - a UK-based startup founded by senior former Deliveroo employees which launched in London in March.
minimum spend: no minimum
delivery fee: £1.79
introductory offer: £10 off your first order
delivery time: 10 minutes (and 3 months free delivery if they miss the target!)
where do they deliver: South Kensington, Fulham, Battersea, Hackney and Islington (so not me again)

Gorillas - Berlin-based with $290m investor capital behind it, it also launched here in March.
when do they deliver: 9am-11pm
minimum spend: no minimum
delivery fee: £1.80
delivery time: aims for 10 minutes, but no promises
first five categories listed in the app: fruit & veggies, bakery, dairy, meat & poultry, ready to eat
where do they deliver: Acton to Stoke Newington and Balham to Holloway, within discrete blobs (maps)
will they deliver to me: yes (from their new Limehouse dark store)

Weezy - first out of the starting blocks last year, targeting the Waitrose end of the market.
minimum spend: no minimum
delivery fee: £2.95 (so the expensive one)
delivery time: as quick as 15 mins (before the 'Delivery Weezard' arrives)
where do they deliver: the Shepherd's Bush/Lambeth/Mitcham triangle plus Islington/Hackney (map)
will they deliver to me: no, I'm quarter of a mile out

Zapp - launched last summer by a team including former Amazon managers and the Nigerian online grocer Jumia.
when do they deliver: 24/7
minimum spend: no minimum
delivery fee: £1.99 (waived for orders over £30)
delivery time: less than 20 minutes
first five categories listed in the app: groceries, drinks, wine beer & cider, spirits, snacks & ice cream
where do they deliver: from Hammersmith to Angel and Balham to Shoreditch
will they deliver to me: not a chance
The biggest threat to the established order is to small convenience grocery stores - your local corner shop - although several of these are getting in on the act too. Londis has paired with Uber Eats and the Co-Op with Deliveroo, for example, but as yet without the emphasis on ultra-fast delivery.

These new businesses also hope to tap new spending, flogging treats that would never otherwise have been bought, as the emphasis on snacks and drinks confirms. But it's going to be a ruthless fight as several competitors fight to be one of the last few standing. As with many start-ups the gamble is to invest heavily now in the hope of turning a (massive) profit later.

You may not be interested in signing up, just as I'm not interested in signing up, but our indifference is irrelevant. A substantial pool of potential users exists, for whom convenience and speed are the alluring factor, and it's a massive market. Groceries that arrive faster than you could shop for them yourself could be transformational. Mind that moped.

 Thursday, May 27, 2021

I see ridiculous posters on the tube are still a thing.

TfL normally launch a campaign in the summer to get passengers to carry water, because one dehydrated disruption can cause a chaotic domino effect along the rest of the line. I query who these people are who can't last thirty minutes without liquids, and have long considered the advice that we all carry a bottle with us on every journey an insane over-reaction. However, the pandemic version of the poster is really something else.

Firstly, face coverings and drinking water don't go well together. Sure you're allowed to take your mask off for refreshment purposes, but TfL's advice to drink water is in direct contradiction to the official government advice which remains "avoid consuming food and drink on public transport where possible". Which is the bigger risk here, removing a face covering or feeling faint and delaying a train?

Secondly, the poster doesn't just tell you to have a drink, it has to dress that up with hygiene theatre. If you're taking off your mask you'll need to touch it and for that you'll need to have clean hands, or at least you do in the perfect world in which this guidance is drafted. Sanitiser first, then mask, then bottle. Whoever sneaked in the additional instruction about being "aware of others around you" as you prepare for a sip has all the practical common sense of a tediously risk-averse fusspot.

Thirdly, the poster reminds you to put your face covering back on again afterwards. I doubt anyone is stupid enough not to realise this, but otherwise the poster would only be telling you to take it off and subliminally that's the wrong message. This has led to the absurd phrasing at the end of the instruction which reads "and putting on your face covering to have a drink", and blimey they've worded this badly.

And finally, I have no idea what this poster was doing outside a station yesterday on a day with a maximum temperature of 16°C. It often feels like TfL wheel out these posters by looking at the calendar, not the weather forecast. Put the bloody thing away until the sun comes out, and reword it so it's less patronisingly nannying, and maybe this summer give the campaign a rest and focus on the real health issues instead.

The tube station that scores the most in Scrabble

39 Shepherd's Bush Market

...except in Scrabble you're not allowed apostrophes, so that's not acceptable.

The tube stations that score the most in Scrabble (2nd attempt)

35 Dagenham Heathway
32 Chiswick Park
32 High Street Kensington
31 Fulham Broadway
31 Northwick Park
31 Walthamstow Central

...except in Scrabble there are only 2 Hs and 1 K, so you'd need to play blanks.

The tube stations that score the most in Scrabble (3rd attempt)

32 High Street Kensington
31 Dagenham Heat?way
31 Fulham Broadway
31 Walthamstow Central
30 Willesden Junction

...except a Scrabble board is only 15 tiles wide, so most of those wouldn't fit.

The tube stations that score the most in Scrabble (4th attempt)

31 Fulham Broadway
29 Hyde Park Corner
28 Belsize Park
28 Finchley Central
28 Warwick Avenue

...except in Scrabble you can only play single words, so none of those are acceptable.

The tube station that scores the most in Scrabble (5th attempt)

26 Bromley-By-?ow

...except in Scrabble you're not allowed hyphenated words, so that isn't acceptable.

The tube stations that score the most in Scrabble (6th attempt)

25 Knightsbridge
24 Queensbury
24 Queensway
24 Whitechapel
22 Blackfriars
22 Cockfosters

...except in Scrabble you're not allowed words that need capital letters, so none of those are acceptable.

The tube stations that score the most in Scrabble (7th attempt)

20 embankment
18 archway
14 barbican
14 barking
13 borough

...except they wouldn't actually score that because of the special squares on the board, so embankment would score a minimum of 24 (with the A and second E on double letter scores), whereas monument could score as much as 45 (if it was laid across two triple word scores with the second M on a double letter score), and even arsenal could beat that (if you laid all seven tiles at the same time and scored the 50 point bonus), so the entire concept of Scrabble scores for tube stations is entirely ambiguous.

 Wednesday, May 26, 2021

33 facts about the London Blossom Garden

1) That's one fact per tree.
2) There are 33 trees because each represents a London borough, including the City of London. Every time this fact is mentioned in Blossom Garden collateral the City of London has to be mentioned to silence whiny borough-counting pedants.

3) The London Blossom Garden is located in the northern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, between the central footbridge and the Timber Lodge cafe.
4) The garden is "a living memorial to commemorate the city's shared experience of the Coronavirus pandemic. The garden offers a place of reflection for Londoners to remember those who have lost their lives, and pays tribute to London’s key workers who risked their own lives to help others and keep our city moving."
5) It features blossoming trees because the pandemic first emerged in spring 2020 during the blossom season.
6) The garden's in Newham because it was one of the boroughs worst hit by the pandemic and home to the NHS Nightingale Hospital at ExCeL.
7) The London Blossom Garden has been created in partnership with the Mayor of London with support from Bloomberg, working with Rosetta Arts and landscape architects The Edible Bus Stop and Davies White Landscape Architects. Nobody delivers projects by themselves these days.
8) The garden was designed in conjunction with the National Trust who plan to create blossom gardens across the country - this is the first. If you're interested in doing this locally they've created a 57 page Blossom Together toolkit.
9) Some of the next blossom gardens will be in Newcastle, Nottingham and Plymouth, but this is a five year project and there'll be many more.

10) The garden features eight different species of tree - four varieties of cherry, one cherry plum, two crab apples and a hawthorn - which should help space out the blossom over a couple of months rather than it only looking fabulous for a fortnight.
11) The trees are arranged in three rings, one of 7 trees, one of 17 trees and one of 9 trees. The largest ring crosses the central path, the others are on one side or the other.
12) The landscape's not new - this double-banked grassy glade was created for the Park following the Olympics - so all that's really new are the path, the trees and the benches.
13) The wheelchair-accessible path up the centre of the garden contains 33 pieces of recycled concrete alternating with 33 pieces of reclaimed timber.
14) The three curvaceous benches are made from a) concrete batons which feature a petal-like marble content b) reclaimed tropical timber from various sites across London including Woolwich Ferry Terminal and fenders from an old canal lock in the Olympic Park.
15) Each ring has its own bench, for contemplation purposes.

16) The original planned date for the opening of the Blossom Garden was Monday 10th May but that slipped to Monday 24th May, I suspect because the spadework took longer than expected.
17) Work began in the first week of February and finished in the first week of May. I've watched it regularly through the railings.
18) Even when the garden was complete they still closed it off for an additional three weeks to give the trees and grass a chance to establish themselves.
19) The dazzling annual display of daffodils on the steepest bank went unadmired this year, except by builders and gardeners.
20) The dazzling display of blossom on the newly-planted trees also went unadmired this year because the whole garden took so long to create, so you'll have to wait another ten months to get the full effect.
21) Looking closely I think I saw a minor sprinkling of pink on one of the trees, but it'll wow nobody and it won't last.

22) I happened to be in the park on Monday, not knowing it was opening day, when I spotted rows of white chairs outside the entrance to the garden, a marquee and a crew of security staff milling around. The London Mayoral Roadshow had come to town, complete with a large bucket of brollies because the weather forecast was intermittently torrential. I knew I was too early for the ceremony because the red ribbon at the top of the slope was still intact. But the garden has two entrances and aha!... the other one was suddenly open after four months and untroubled by a security presence. I wandered into the lower half of the garden for a nose around - nice - while a bunch of gardeners eyed me suspiciously from further up the slope. They were giving the garden a good water before the bigwigs turned up, despite the fact it had rained heavily during the last ten minutes and would do so again before the grand ceremony. I didn't hang around to see the Mayor and the Director General of the National Trust do the honours (and showcase bereavement charities in front of media cameras), but I did spot one of the presenters of Gardeners World dashing up from the station under an enormous umbrella trying to keep her dress dry.
23) I went back yesterday and the garden was already being well-frequented, as if it had always been here. Previously hardly anyone wandered off this way, but the new path appears to have boosted footfall considerably.

24) It's acceptable to sit on the benches or the grass, but frowned upon to picnic because this is a memorial garden.
25) It's also acceptable to leave floral tributes, so long as they go in the designated spaces next to the two information boards. Ribbons attached to trees will not be tolerated.
26) It's not acceptable to leave photographs, candles or other tributes such as soft toys - these will be removed and disposed of.
27) QEOP management have gone to the effort of producing Guidance for visitors, including what you can and can't leave as tributes, but this is only available as a pdf on their website and not visible in the garden, so that's a fat lot of use.
28) I didn't get a feeling of peaceful memorial garden, more a pretty place to walk through, but it's early days yet and a few bouquets left by the entrance could change the mood.

29) The garden isn't properly finished yet - two lengthy strips of turf are plainly struggling and the public are asked to keep off.
30) Park management are keen to emphasise the garden's eco-credentials so have plonked two signs in the central ditch telling us that "this sunken channel is a swale. It provides wet, marshy habitat for wildlife and directs rainwater away from the path and into the soil", but the signs do nothing for the overall aesthetic of the site which'd look nicer if they were removed.
31) Nobody's got round to putting the London Blossom Garden on the official QEOP map yet.
32) It's odd opening a memorial to a health emergency that hasn't finished yet, although it's uncertain whether London faces a handful more deaths or a full-on rolling wave.
33) It's a lovely idea, well executed, but you'll have to come back next April to see it at its best.

 Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Random City of London ward (17): Aldersgate

For my 17th random ward we finally hit the Barbican - not the eastern half with the arts centre but the western half that's mostly flats. The ward boundary includes a few other sights so I'll start with those, but after that it's going to be mostly concrete. [pdf map][15 photos]

Aldersgate was a post-Roman entrance into the walled City of London, not one of the originals. It spanned what's now the A1 between St Paul's Cathedral and the Museum of London roundabout, but was removed to improve traffic flow in 1761. A decent chunk of Roman wall survives along one side of Noble Street, overlooked by a sequence of plaques with excellent historical maps and a couple of etched viewing windows. The ruined wall is safely isolated in the sunken garden of Plaisterer's Hall, a livery company's lair stashed beneath a 70s office block, whose members and guests have exclusive access via a tiny bridge. It's an incongruous look, but that's Foster + Partners for you.

The ward was originally split into Aldersgate Within and Aldersgate Without, referencing the line of the City wall, but recent boundary changes mean it's now almost all Without. St Anne and St Agnes is a rare Within exception, and also the only church in the City with a double dedication. Three famous Johns were once parishioners, that's Bunyan, Milton and Wesley. As a Wren rebuild with a superb acoustic the building's now used an "international centre for vocal excellence", or rather not used at present while singing's off the indoor activity list.

Worshippers still attend St Botolph's without Aldersgate, which used to be the first building beyond the City wall and is one of several City churches named after the patron saint of travellers. It's probably best known for its churchyard, nicknamed Postman's Park because it was once the favoured breakout zone for workers at the General Post Office nextdoor. The park contains one of London's Top 10 Quirkiest Delights, the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice - a wall of glazed commemorations to extraordinary but ultimately fatal acts. Most citations involve burning, drowning or being hit by a train, but runaway horses and poison gas also feature. Only one new plaque has been added since 1931, courtesy of a canal rescue in Thamesmead, but discussions are underway for recent bridge-jumper Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole to maybe join them.

The adjacent street, delightfully named Little Britain, was the site of Charles Wesley's religious conversion in 1738. His brother John took three days longer, finding his 'heart strangely warmed' at a Moravian Religious Society meeting on Aldersgate Street. This is therefore the spiritual epicentre of Methodism, an event still marked annually as Aldersgate Day on the Sunday closest to 24th May (which fortuitously this year coincides with Whitsun). The largest memorial is the inscribed bronze on the highwalk outside the Museum of London, known as the Aldersgate Flame, which vaguely approximates to the site of John Wesley's heartwarming moment.

The Museum of London dominates the southern end of the ward. Escalators and walkways feed up to a circular promenade above the roundabout, which resembles a brick fortress and contains a tiny garden at ground level. The Museum's excellent but its days are numbered, potentially about 1000, thanks to advanced plans to move to a new site within Smithfield Market, whereas the current site's future is uncertain now that the prestigious Centre for Music concert hall has been deemed an unnecessary extravagance. Behind the museum is Ironmongers Hall, an endearing Tudor-medieval hybrid which looks old but in fact dates to the 1920s. And beyond that it's concrete all the way.

The Barbican Estate was the City's response to the largest bombsite in London, conceived in the 50s, begun in the 60s and completed in the 70s. Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon had an almost clean slate so replaced the original street pattern with a dense complex of 2000 flats (and an arts complex I'll return to when I get to Cripplegate). It's uncompromisingly brutalist, famed for its labyrinthine split level walkways and very much divides opinion, although if you don't adore it you're plainly wrong. I've visited umpteen times, but what I really got a sense of on this occasion is how there are two Barbicans, one for residents and one for everyone else.

The core of the residential sector is given over to recreation, and the rest of us can only peer down intermittently from outside. Thomas More Gardens form one of the largest greenspaces in the City, sandwiched between and below Defoe House and Thomas More House (whose residents are blessed with the best view). It's basically a manicured lawn with the occasional bench, above which rises a rich canopy of leaves and blossom, and it's all matured beautifully. A separate large courtyard houses a set of tennis courts where I watched a couple of residents knocking up, plus a basketball court and a children's playground, and absolutely none of this is for you.

The interfaces between their world and ours are many, and either firmly secured or labelled Residents Only. Narrow glass-fronted staircases rise from the highwalks at equally spaced intervals. Stairwells spiral down towards somewhere that might be the car park. The well-scrubbed occasionally emerge from behind a shared door. Friends and visitors get to press grubby buttons in brushed steel panels to summon the entryphone. The enforced separation of people and vehicles makes it surprisingly difficult for Ocado to deliver. For an in-depth look at what it's like to live here, from how to register your bike to the ins and outs of the waste disposal system, I can highly recommend the Barbican Living website.

The Aldersgate side of the estate contains two of the three tall triangular towers - Lauderdale and Shakespeare - half the Beech Street Tunnel and the architectural anomaly of Murray House. This limestone-clad office block was built in 1956 before the City decided the Barbican would extend north of Beech Street, so somewhat wrecks the aesthetic on the upper level, but at least it gives the phone companies somewhere to attach all their masts. Follow the ramp down towards Fann Street and you'll also find the Barbican Launderette, a proper throwback with rows of duck-egg blue machines below a roof with a curved concrete lip.

My new favourite spot for photos is the elevated quadrangle facing Bunyan Court. Its lush borders are pierced by rotunda fire exits from what used to be the Barbican Trade Centre underneath, but my eye is invariably taken by the ornamental pool half-hidden below Bryer Court. Thick concrete pillars thrust up from unfeasibly blue water, one edge is implausibly grassed and a brief tiled causeway permits asymmetrical passage across the centre. It works from every angle, and because it's not on the way to anything you might easily miss it while struggling disorientatedly to find your somewhere else.

I could go on and on about the Barbican but I like to keep these ward reports concise. You'll have to make do with five paragraphs for now, and 15 photos, and the promise that I'll be back to do the other half later.

 Monday, May 24, 2021

Six more photos from recent walks, none of which were interesting enough for a full post of their own.

1) This is all that's left of London's first Swedish church, which is nothing at all. It was built in 1728 in the centre of Prince's Square, Shadwell, which no longer exists. A Danish-Norwegian church had already been built in nearby Wellclose Square, which also no longer exists. The Swedish congregation abandoned the building in 1911 and moved to Marylebone, and their Lutheran chapel was demolished ten years later. The site is now part of Swedenborg Gardens, a nondescript park on the St George's Estate. The church's footprint is raised and railinged, the interior is pebbly with mature trees, and a few famous local Swedes are commemorated on planks. One of these is Emanuel Swedenborg, the scientist and theologian, whose bones were transferred from here to Uppsala Cathedral in 1913. Other than a font added for the sesquicentenary there is very little to see. Look for it behind the Texaco garage.

2) Canary Wharf has opened an arty basketball court, designed by British and Nigerian heritage artist Yinka Ilori. The press release describes it as eye-catching and vibrant, which is shorthand for Insta-friendly because it's more about sharing pics than shooting hoops. It's really only half a court, unless you're familiar with playing 3x3 basketball in which case it'll do for a proper game. You'll find it in the far corner of Bank Street Park, a temporary astroturf deadzone half-surrounded by building sites, backed by a multi-coloured strip of outdoor seating. The court's only supposed to be open between noon and 9pm (bring your own ball after six), but I found it unlocked and unstewarded so wandered in anyway. Alas I only got four likes for my photo, so I suspect it's overrated.

3) The unusual thing about this bus stop on East India Dock Road is that the three bus routes consist of only two different digits - 1 and 5. This has been the case since 2018 when the N550 was diverted to serve City Island instead. I wondered if there were any other bus stops in London with three routes and just two digits. I also wondered if there were any with two routes and one digit, or maybe four routes and three digits, but I couldn't be bothered to try to work it out. Obviously there are plenty with the same number of routes as digits, but more routes than digits is a bit special.

4) Tower Hamlets have started putting up new signs at the entrances to their parks. They're black rather than the previous blue. They're quite smart. They tell you not to light a BBQ or litter, and to clean up after your dog. They don't have a lot of other information on them but they do have a QR code. I expected this to link to www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/parks which is the URL given on the sign, but instead it just takes you to the council home page where there's no mention of parks whatsoever, nor any easy way of clicking through to the parks subpages, and I think that's a truly wasted opportunity.

5) This tumbledown building in St George's Gardens used to be the Municipal Borough of Stepney's Nature Study Museum. It opened in 1904 as a branch of the Whitechapel Museum and would have been a favourite place for a school visit. Inside were tanks of live fish and amphibians, butterflies and stuffed birds (including a moth-eaten cockerel), and outside in the wild flower garden were London's first municipal beehive and a small aviary. Sadly it never reopened after WW2 and has been decaying since, and a long-planned restoration project has never come to fruition. The building was originally a mortuary, indeed the post-mortem for Jack the Ripper victim Elizabeth Stride was held inside, but let's not give heritage entrepreneurs any gruesome ideas.

6) I found this plaque in the cobbles near the foot of the Monument, a flame's leap from Pudding Lane. It's rather nice, not least for the fact that the date contains one of each Roman numeral in descending order. You don't often see 1666 on plaques on the fronts of buildings, not in London, because the Great Fire destroyed everything and any replacements would have been completed in a later year. As for 1888 on a building somewhere, which is the longest-to-date sequence of Roman numerals, I'm still looking.

 Sunday, May 23, 2021

Last September TfL announced the rollout of Green Man Authority at 20 pedestrian crossings across the capital. This is radical stuff, essentially switching priority from road users to pedestrians.
Green Man Authority
Traffic signals show a green signal for pedestrians continuously until vehicular traffic is detected, at which time the pedestrians are stopped on a red signal and vehicles are given a green light to proceed.
Normally at a stand-alone crossing the default is to show a green light to traffic with the pedestrian phase only kicking off if a button is pressed. Under Green Man Authority the system is reversed and the lights favour pedestrians until a vehicle turns up. It works best where pedestrian flows are busier than the traffic, or at times of day when traffic flow is light. At busier times you'd not notice any difference compared to normal because GMA only kicks in when there are gaps in traffic.
• A green man is shown to pedestrians for as long as the signals do not detect an approaching vehicle.
• If an approaching vehicle is detected, the signals show a red man to anyone who has not yet begun crossing.
• The vehicle is then shown a green signal.
• Once it has passed, a red light is shown to traffic and a green man to pedestrians.
Green Man Authority has been trialled in a handful of places before, notably on the pedestrian crossing between Westfield and the Olympic Park in Stratford. I was excited to see that one of the new 20 was going to be near me, on Devons Road immediately opposite the DLR station, but back in September absolutely nothing seemed to change. It didn't change for the next eight months either until suddenly, this May, the lights suddenly started favouring pedestrians.

And it feels very odd. As if by magic, with nobody pressing any buttons whatsoever, the traffic lights switch from green to red and pedestrians are invited to cross instead. It doesn't matter that there aren't any pedestrians, only that there might be.

Unexpectedly it seems that the Devons Road crossing isn't following proper Green Man Authority rules because it never sticks permanently in the green man phase during a gap in traffic. Instead the green man shows for the normal six seconds, then the countdown starts and then the non-existent traffic gets the green light again. And this cycle repeats, as if an unseen finger keeps on pressing the button, until either a vehicle or a pedestrian turns up.

I watched for five minutes and only one pedestrian turned up wanting to cross the road, but during that time the lights changed from green to red and back again an astonishing nine times. Considerably more cars were disadvantaged by the endless switching of the lights, but that was their bad luck for turning up outside a prolonged line of traffic.

Shortly afterwards a bunch of pedestrians turned up when the traffic was fairly relentless. In this situation pedestrians didn't get priority, they still had to wait while the cars went by and eventually the lights changed in their favour after the usual time interval.

I also watched to see how far away the traffic had to be before it triggered the signals. The Devons Road crossing is awkwardly placed with a bend in the road on one side and a mini-roundabout on the other, and the sensors often missed approaching vehicles until they were almost on top of the crossing. Had the lights changed quicker these vehicles might not have been forced to stop but instead they got to brake for the benefit of nobody crossing whatsoever. Let's just say the system could be further nuanced.

I know how Green Man Authority is supposed to work because I found an official TfL report on it. I discovered that one of GMA's aims is to improve pedestrian compliance with signals, because when there's no traffic they tend to cross the road anyway. I noted that the intent is to be beneficial to pedestrians and of only marginal impact to road users. I learnt the word 'intergreen', which is the period of time between the end of a green light phase for drivers and the beginning of the green light phase for pedestrians. And I found this table which demonstrates the traffic control strategy, i.e. what triggers a switch from Stage 1 (traffic passing) to stage 2 (pedestrians crossing).

It looks complicated because the system has to allow for minimum times so that lights don't change ridiculously frequently. But in essence it says let pedestrians cross unless there aren't any and there is some traffic.

The report also addresses the issue of Audible Functionality. Pedestrian crossings are meant to beep while the green man is showing, and if you prolong that phase it could lead to "potential intolerable noise pollution". I once lived in a bedsit immediately adjacent to a pedestrian crossing and if anyone had ever fixed that to be predominantly green I doubt I'd ever have got any sleep. The solution is to restrict the beeping to the normal six seconds and only turn it back on again if anyone presses the button, which of course a blind user would be expected to do.

In the meantime the Devons Road crossing continues to behave unexpectedly, both compared to the norm and compared to how other GMA signals work. Perhaps the repeated flipping is part of a deliberate trial, or perhaps technicians couldn't refine the sensors properly, but at present pedestrians are only being prioritised some of the time there's no traffic. Whatever, if your local stand-alone pedestrian crossing starts behaving oddly and disregarding drivers, it might be that Green Man Authority has kicked in.

 Saturday, May 22, 2021

12 things that happened this week #coronavirus

Step 3: indoor hospitality & attractions reopen
Step 3: indoor social contact & hugs allowed
• ...except in Glasgow, Moray and Northern Ireland
Step 3: (limited) international travel permitted
• "don't holiday in amber countries" (PM)
• nurse who cared for the PM quits the NHS
• NAO report - govt planning was inadequate
• vaccines work against the Indian variant
• Test & Trace fault helped new variant spread
• vaccination call-up age drops to 32
• Heathrow T3 to open for red list arrivals
• Spain welcomes (but Germany bans) UK travellers

Worldwide deaths: 3,360,000 → 3,450,000
Worldwide cases: 162,000,000 → 166,000,000
UK deaths: 127,675 → 127,716
UK cases: 4,448,851 → 4,460,466
1st vaccinations: 36,320,867 → 37,726,924
2nd vaccinations: 19,712,412 → 22,071,497
FTSE: down ½% (7043 → 7018)

Outer London museums and attractions (unlockdown edition)

As London's indoor museums and attractions reopen, most of the media attention is on the centre of town. So here's a list of what's open (or opening soon) in Outer London (zones 3, 4, 5 and 6).

• Royal Museums Greenwich welcome you back to the National Maritime Museum (free), Queen's House (free), Royal Observatory (£16) and Cutty Sark (£15) [blogged], all pre-book only. Across the road is the restored Painted Hall (£12.50).
Eltham Palace house and gardens are open, bar the smallest rooms, but must be pre-booked (£17.30, EH). [blogged]

• William Morris's Red House is open for pre-booked guided tours, Friday-Sunday only (£10, NT). [blogged]
• The Crossness Engines have an Open Day this Sunday (sales ended) and are steaming on 13th June (£15). [blogged]

• Charles Darwin's historic home at Down House (£16, EH) must be pre-booked. [blogged]
Crofton Roman Villa hopes to reopen in June. [blogged]

• The Horniman Museum (free) must be pre-booked. It's closed on Wednesdays.

• The current exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (£16.50, Wed-Sun) is Unearthed: Photography's Roots. Please pre-book.

• The next open day at the Croydon Airport Visitor Centre is on Sunday 6th June (free). Limited tickets are available. [blogged]

Honeywood Museum in Carshalton (free, Thu-Sat) is open for walk-in visits. [blogged]
Whitehall Historic House in Cheam (free, Thu-Sat) must be pre-booked.

Wandle Industrial Museum has already reopened on Wednesdays and reopens on Sundays from 6th June (50p).

Ham House and Garden are open daily but must be pre-booked (£13, NT).
Richmond Museum also requires pre-booking (free, Tue-Sat)
• Almost all of Kew Gardens (£17.50) is back open but Kew Palace won't reopen until 4th June. [blogged]
• In Twickenham Orleans House Gallery (free) accepts walk-in visitors, but Strawberry Hill House (£12.50, Sun-Thu) must be pre-booked. [blogged]
Hampton Court Palace (£25.30) is open for pre-booked visitors, but the Maze remains closed. [blogged]

Chiswick House reopens on 27th May (£8.50), the Musical Museum on 28th May (£12) and the London Museum of Water & Steam on 29th May (£17). All require pre-booking. [blogged] [blogged] [blogged]
Hogarth's House is open to groups of up to 6 with a free timed ticket.

Harmondsworth Great Barn (2nd & 4th Sunday of the month, free) reopens this weekend. Just turn up.
• One hour tours of Uxbridge's Battle of Britain Bunker (£7) must be pre-booked. [blogged]

Bentley Priory Museum, another Battle of Britain attraction, (£8, Wed, Sat) requires pre-booking. [blogged]
Headstone Manor and Museum (free) are happy to welcome walk-up visitors. [blogged]
• Pinner's Heath Robinson Museum (£6.60, Thu-Sat) reopens from today with an exhibition of John Hassall illustrations and posters. [blogged]

• The capacious RAF Museum in Colindale (free) requires pre-booking. [blogged]

• In Hampstead, Kenwood House (free), Fenton House (£10, NT) and Keats House (£7.50) require pre-booking. [blogged]

• Just north of Enfield, Forty Hall Museum (free) requests pre-booking.

Waltham Forest
• In Walthamstow the William Morris Gallery (free) and Vestry House Museum (free) both recommend pre-booking (but don't insist on it).

Valentines Mansion (free, Sun, Mon), has reopened with an exhibition of dolls from around the world. [blogged]

Rainham Hall (Thu-Sat, NT) is releasing new tickets every Friday. Admission isn't normally free, so make the most of the opportunity. [blogged]

» I derived my list from a four-day feature on this blog in April 2015 where I tried to list all the interesting attractions in Outer London.
» I only checked indoor attractions, so there are lots of fabulous outdoor locations listed there if you're in need of further inspiration.
» Only about half of the indoor attractions on that list are currently open. It's mostly the smaller ones that are closed, or still trying to work out how to open safely.
» For further ideas, try my April 2019 list of Days Out (just) Beyond London.

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