diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 31, 2021

20 things that happened this week #climatechange

COP 26 is "going to be very, very tough” (PM)
global temperature set to rise 2.7°C by 2100 (UN)
warming gases rose to record levels in 2020 (WMO)
50 Insulate Britain protesters arrested in London
"Act now or it'll be too late" (Sir David Attenborough)
domestic flight duty cut in Budget
Boaty McBoatface debuts in Greenwich
Australia pledges net zero by 2050
"A real chance for change" (Pope)
"Let's terminate pollution" (Schwarzenegger)
world leaders meet at G20 summit in Rome
"Banks must stop funding our destruction" (Thunberg)
church bells ring out for climate change action
thousands of activists converge on Glasgow
extreme weather events are 'the new norm' (WMO)
Extinction Rebellion activists march through Glasgow
G20 summit commits to net zero 'by or around 2050'
COP 26 summit opens in Glasgow
"If Glasgow fails, the whole thing fails" (PM)
world leaders fly into Glasgow...

Carbon dioxide: 414ppm (↑100 since 1960)
Global temperature: ↑1.18°C since 1880
Antarctica: ↓148bn tons of ice per year
Sea level: ↑3mm per year

When the clocks go back our mornings get lighter and our evenings get darker, but the overall amount of daylight barely changes. Yesterday London had 9 hours 46 minutes, today 9 hours 42 minutes, and yet suddenly it feels much gloomier.

 Oct 3040% 
 Oct 3140% 

In each case the yellow bar is 40% of the overall length, i.e. the amount of daylight at this time of year is 40% of a day. The percentage is a lot higher in the summer and a lot lower in the winter, but around now we experience 40% day and 60% night.

n.b. Daylight is a measure of the time between sunrise and sunset. It is not the same as sunlight, which is a meteorological variable.
n.b. Daylight hits exactly 40% on Tuesday when a day lasts 9 hours and 36 minutes.

At the start of October the proportion of daylight was 48% (because we were just past the equinox). If it's now 40%, it won't surprise you to hear that the overall proportion for the month is 44%.

The maths: There are 744 hours in October and 328½ hours of daylight, which is 44%.


October is 44% daylight and 56% dark.

Unfortunately where we're going next is November and that's a 37%/63% split.


I thought it'd be interesting to do the calculations for every month of the year.
How much of each month is daylight and how much is dark?


Overall a year is 50% day and 50% night, because that's how living on a spherical planet works. But the only months with a 50/50 split are March and September, near enough, because that's where the equinoxes are.

The two solstice months of June and December are very much the outliers. In June we get twice as much day as night, and in December twice as much night as day.

Given it's the end of October we're now set for three months with less than 40% daylight, sorry, and it's a long wait until we get three months over 60% again next summer.

My calculations work for London and anywhere else around 51½°N. But head closer to the equator and the difference between summer and winter becomes a lot smaller. Here are the proportions of daylight for June and December.

   London (51½°) 67%33%
Rome (42°) 62%38%
Cairo (30°) 57%43%
Manila (15°) 53%47%
equator (0°) 50%50%

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

 London (51½°) 67%33%
 Newcastle (55°) 71%29%
Shetland (60°) 77%23%
Reyjkavik (64°) 86%14%
Svalbard (78°) 100%0%

Those living in the north of Scotland enjoy three times as much day as night in high summer, but the payback is three times as much night as day in midwinter. Daylight is always a zero-sum game.

It's hard to say where the sweet spot is, where the benefits of long summer evenings aren't outweighed by the gloom of premature winter sunset. I guess we get used to what we have... which for the next few months is mostly dark.

n.b. My usual apologies to those of you in the southern hemisphere for whom this is all backwards. You win... for now.

 Saturday, October 30, 2021

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• Ed Sheeran tests positive
• daily death rate highest since March
• campaign to increase booster take-up
• Keir Starmer tests positive (on Budget Day)
• economic impact of Brexit 'worse than Covid' (OBR)
• all remaining countries removed from red list
• 1 in 50 had virus last week
• virus origins may never be known (US)
• UK donates 20m vaccines to developing countries
• first recorded infection in Tonga

Worldwide deaths: 4,940,000 → 4,990,000
Worldwide cases: 243,000,000 → 246,000,000
UK deaths: 139,461 → 140,558
UK cases: 8,734,934 → 9,019,962
1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 49.9m/45.7m/7.6m
FTSE: up ½% (7204 → 7237)

The RRS Sir David Attenborough, better known as Boaty McBoatface, has dropped anchor off Greenwich for a few days before undertaking its maiden Antarctic voyage.

The UK has a long history of polar research, for which it needs polar research ships. The most recent, RRS James Clark Ross, was retired a couple of months ago after 30 years of service and sold to the National Antarctic Scientific Center of Ukraine. Construction of a larger replacement began in Birkenhead in 2016, with handover to the British Antarctic Survey in 2020 and several sea trials undertaken since. The new ship is 129m long, has a thicker hull and is packed with modern gadgetry. Up to 60 scientists can be accommodated on board. The plan is to spend the summer in the Arctic and the summer in the Antarctic, hemispherically-speaking, to keep ice-breaking at a minimum.

The ship gained cultural notoriety in 2016 when the Natural Environment Research Council held a public vote to choose its name without specifying a shortlist. Over 7000 different options were suggested, by far the most popular of which was Boaty McBoatface, a throwaway idea originated by a radio presenter in the Channel Islands. But NERC had cunningly retained the final say so skipped Boaty, the sick toddler in second place and the drowned soldier in third, alighting instead on the naturalist in fourth. The announcement that the ship would be called RRS Sir David Attenborough was made two days before the great man's 90th birthday, coupled with the assuaging news that one of its long range submersibles would be called Boaty McBoatface instead.

Walking round the edge of the Isle of Dogs I wasn't quite sure when RRS Sir David Attenborough would come into view, nor prepared for just how big it was. The ship was moored just upstream of the Cutty Sark beside some flats it almost dwarfed, at least in its central section. It was also redder than I'd been anticipating, which'll no doubt help it stand out as it carves through polar seascapes. Up front is an open deck large enough for a couple of helicopters and up top are all the radars, dishes and masts you'd expect on a vessel designed for lonely waters. A chain of coloured flags had been strung from bow to stern, but as I wasn't carrying either binoculars or my Usborne Book of Secret Codes I'm not sure what message they might have been spelling out.

The ship's side doors were open revealing a Thunderbirds-sized collection of additional craft. These included a lifeboat, a rescue boat and a mini supply vessel, not to mention the legendary Boaty McBoatface... although I'm not sure which of these were on the side facing Greenwich and which were on the side facing Tower Hamlets. The big yellow crane at the back of the ship can be used to lower the required gizmo into the icy water or yank it out afterwards. Sir David may be at sea for up to 60 days - a big improvement on its predecessor - hence the scale and complexity of the facilities. I thought the snarkiest thing about the ship was the name of its home port - STANLEY, FALKLAND ISLANDS - proudly emblazoned by the stern. [51 photos]

While RRS Sir David Attenborough is moored in Greenwich the National Maritime Museum is hosting an Ice Worlds festival, "a dazzling showcase of environmental science, engineering and technology" revealing "what it's really like to live and work in the Arctic and Antarctic today". You're too late to book free tickets because they sold out a while back, but you can watch all the lectures on a bespoke YouTube channel or explore a lot of the key ideas online. Alas no members of the public are being allowed aboard the hallowed ship but everyone's welcome to view it from the riverbank, with the Greenwich side a lot closer than squinting from Tower Hamlets. Just be sure to come before 8am on Sunday morning when RRS Sir David Attenborough heads off down the Thames to make the most of an Antarctic summer.

A short walk from my vantage point on the Isle of Dogs is the birthplace of another iconic ship, the SS Great Eastern. Brunel's enormous passenger liner slipped down this launch ramp in 1858 (on its 14th attempt) and smashed all records for the world's largest, longest, steamiest ship. It's exemplary of the industrial revolution that kickstarted Britain's place in the world, but also of the coal-burning CO₂-belching attitude that got us into this climate mess in the first place. It's hoped that Boaty McBoatface's polar research will help us face the future, for example by measuring how fast glaciers are collapsing before the world's coastal communities inexorably flood. Come down to the riverside and wave off the ship while you still can.

 Friday, October 29, 2021

Two dozen London attractions that were open in 1986 but aren't now

I own a 1986 copy of The New Penguin Guide to London, then in its ninth edition, a fact-packed paperback written to inform visitors to the capital. It includes a comprehensive list entitled 'Admission to Places of Interest', most of which are well known but a few had me scratching my head because they no longer exist. Here are two dozen that were open to the public then but aren't now, indeed they may no longer exist. The list is clickable for additional background information (where I've managed to find it). It doesn't include attractions that have been swallowed up or renamed. Some sound like fabulous places to visit, others less so, and some you may have been to yourself.

Bear Gardens Museum: The precursor of Bankside's Globe Theatre, a Georgian warehouse with displays and scale models illustrating the history of 16th and 17th-century playhouses.
Broadcasting Gallery: A permanent exhibition covering all aspects of the history and techniques of television (and TV advertising), at the HQ of the Independent Broadcasting Authority on Brompton Road (opposite Harrods). Free guided tours were offered.
Central Criminal Court: That's the Old Bailey to you, squire. These days you only get in to observe a trial, but in 1986 the building was open to visitors on Saturday mornings at 11.
Ceylon Tea Centre: Promoting tea manufacture and leafy imports at 22 Lower Regent Street. Subsequently became the Sri Lanka Trade Centre. Most recently inhabited by Jigsaw womenswear.

Commonwealth Institute: Iconic copper-roofed building on Kensington High Street, opening the eyes of 60s, 70s and 80s schoolkids to overseas ways. Reopened in 2016 as the new site of the Design Museum.
Crosby Hall: Medieval merchant's house on Cheyne Walk, or at least the Great Hall thereof, sold into private hands in 1986 when the GLC was disbanded.
Cuming Museum: Eclectic collection of global ephemera displayed above Newington library from in 1906 to 2006. Then moved to Walworth Town Hall but was gutted by fire in 2013. What's left is due to be displayed at a new Southwark Heritage Centre under construction in Elephant Park.
Design Centre: Opened in Haymarket in 1956 to officially promote Britain's design expertise. Fell prey to economic cuts at the Design Council and closed in 1994.
Gipsy Moth IV: Berthed on the Greenwich waterfront, Sir Francis Chichester's yacht in which he made the fastest single-handed voyage round the world in 1966/7. Moved to Hampshire in 2004 (and has just been sold on to Guernsey).
Guinness World of Records: Part of the Trocadero complex, opened when Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter were still doing Record Breakers. Proved an underperforming tourist draw until it closed in the mid 1990s. Also on the upper floor was the London Experience, a 40 minute audio-visual presentation.
Home House: Georgian townhouse on Portman Square where Samuel Courtauld housed his art collection in 1931, supposedly temporarily, but it stayed until 1989 when the Courtauld Gallery opened at Somerset House.
Imperial Collection: At the back of Westminster Central Hall (opposite the Abbey), "a glittering display of copies of the crown jewels and regalia, past and present... as well as copies of famous diamonds."
Kodak Gallery: The story of photography, if focused on one particular brand. Originally on High Holborn but it's now in Bradford.
Lancaster House: Glittering mansion in St James's, home to the London Museum between the wars. By the 80s it was open to the public at weekends, now very private and managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Livesey Museum: Children's museum on the Old Kent Road with a fresh exhibition annually, opened 1974 (hurrah), closed by Southwark council in 2008 (boo).

London Planetarium: Most target-audience of all the closed museums, indeed you probably remember going more than once. The audience reclined and looked at the stars inside the dome until Madame Tussauds bastardised it into a shallow celeb-fest. Opened 1958, criminally commercialised 2006.
London Taxi Museum: At 1-3 Brixton Road, formerly the London General Cab Company Museum, with exhibits showing the history and development of the London taxi cab.
London Toy and Model Museum: Near Paddington, a fine collection of model locomotives, planes, cars and boats, plus dolls' houses, plus a miniature railway in the garden. Opened 1982, contents auctioned off 1999.
Museum of Mankind: Housed the exhibitions, offices and Anthropology Library of the British Museum's Department of Ethnography from 1970 to 1997, located at Burlington Gardens in Mayfair.
National Museum of Labour History: A small collection in a single room at Limehouse Town Hall, including Thomas Paine's writing table. Opened 1975, closed 1986, transferred to Manchester in the 1990s.
Prince Henry's Room: On Fleet Street a rare (for London) pre-1666 building with highly decorated Jacobean plaster ceiling. Opened as a small museum from 1975, no longer visitable.
Rotunda Museum: Large wooden rotunda on Woolwich Common, designed by John Nash, opened in 1820 as a Royal Artillery museum. Survived almost two centuries before relocating to Firepower at the Royal Arsenal, which limped to an unfortunate close in 2016.
Stock Exchange: Between 1972 and 2004 this was located in the Stock Exchange Tower on Old Broad Street. Its 142ft-long public gallery was open until 1992 when it was closed for security reasons following the detonation of a powerful IRA bomb here in 1990.
Telecom Technology Showcase: British Telecom's museum at Baynard House, Blackfriars, was open between 1982 (Information Technology Year) and 1997 (by which time it was losing £½m a year). From pioneering experiments to phonecards, it was all here.

Theatre Museum: Between 1974 and 2007 the national museum of the performing arts, based in Covent Garden, with a particular focus on luvvies and the West End. Since subsumed into the V&A.
Woodlands Art Gallery: Georgian villa in Westcombe Park which served as a library and art museum from 1972 to 2003. Woodlands House was the former home of John Julius Angerstein whose collection formed the basis of the early National Gallery, but in its modern incarnation was used for displays of contemporary art.

 Thursday, October 28, 2021

I went out for beers last night. I haven't been out for beers much lately, because you know, indeed this is only my second trip to a pub this year. It's also my first time out drinking with more than one person since 2019, although it was only one person more than one person, i.e. there were three of us.

We found a pub that most of us hadn't been to (on the South Bank almost in sight of the Thames) and found a seat in the quiet bit of the pub. Conversation ensued, and there were also beers.

I would have drunk a bottle of Beck's but it seems London crossed the Beck's horizon some time ago and nowhere* sells it any more. The alcohol-free version still makes an appearance sometimes, usually out of sight on a lower shelf, but no longer the proper stuff. Even my local Tesco superstore has completely stopped selling it. For years a 20 pack was a staple of the beer aisle, ideal for lugging home and having on tap, but sadly it was unstocked earlier this year and has now completely disappeared.

* Wetherspoons still sell Beck's, but Wetherspoons is not often the venue of choice when drinking with a discerning or morally-cognisant audience.

This has required me to find an alternative go-to drink when in a pubgoing situation. I'm aware that you might have lots of suggestions for what that alternative should be, but it's important to remember I am not you so may not have the same taste for Old Scriveners Logdropper or Extra Strong Hoppy Mulch that you have. In particular my new go-to drink needs to be bottled rather than draught otherwise I'd just fill up with gas and hiccup all the way home.

I'm not really in the pub for the alcohol so I'm happy with almost any bottled beer. It can't be that crappy one Americans like because it tastes like acidic squash, and it needn't be the poncey premium one because I'm never going to appreciate the extra quid it cost. Something safe and middle-range will do me fine, and then it can sit in front of me while we chat and I'll down it slowly because that's what you're supposed to do in a pub.

Reassuringly my drinking partners preferred proper drinks, otherwise there'd have been no need to be in the pub at all.

When it was my round I went to the bar to get the requisite three drinks and wondered how much I'd be charged. We were in a central London pub so it wasn't going to be cheap, but equally it wasn't such an uber-touristy pub that they'd be fleecing everyone. I wielded a banknote I thought should cover it, mainly because I enjoy using cash in situations where staff totally aren't expecting it, and waited for the froth to settle.

Oh so three drinks cost £18.65 now do they? That's not just a six pound pint, that's smashed the six pound barrier. It hardly seems any time since hitting five pounds seemed unnecessarily extortionate, so how could we be at six already? I know pubs have overheads and you're essentially paying for somewhere clean and warm to sit plus friendly bar staff, but it was hard to see my industrially produced sub-pint* as being worth six quid of anyone's money.

* Tesco still sell Beck's online where the price is currently £12.99 for a pack of 20, which is 65p a bottle, and it's hard to reconcile the price in a pub being roughly ten times as much.

At least our beers were better value than buying a mineral water or a Coke, because soft drink prices really are taking the piss. And I know I could have improved the situation by ordering something a tad more tasteful or esoteric, even memorable, rather than my uninspiring brew. But six quid* for what's essentially a glass of cleverly-adulterated water did seem steep, especially given we'd be buying several of them.

* Wetherspoons sell bottles of Beck's really cheaply, and will be selling them for £1 throughout November, but if you're not in a Wetherspoons and it's not yet November this information isn't especially helpful.

There was a time when if the Chancellor announced something in the Budget, especially if it was bad, it'd be enacted before the end of the day. Tuppence on petrol, a penny on cider, 10p on spirits... all these price rises would be coming out of your pocket later that evening. This time he announced 3p off a pint instead, subject to certain terms and conditions, but it seems this 'good news' won't be coming into effect until February 2023 and by then inflation will have turbo-charged the underlying price to a far greater extent.

The seven pound pint is coming, or at least it is for Londoners attempting to enjoy a beer in the centre of town. Best enjoy the six pound pint while you can.

One of the ways you can tell you've crossed from one London borough to another is because the bins change. And it's not just a different logo, it's a completely different set of receptacles.

In Hackney, for example, you might find a grey wheelie bin, a brown wheelie bin, a blue food caddy and a stack of plastic sacks. One street away in Islington suddenly it's a squat black dustbin, a green recycling box and a brown food caddy.

This is because there isn't a pan-London waste disposal service - every council organises its refuse and recycling in a different way, and some are very different indeed.

You can see a summary of all the different waste disposal services at the London Recycles website. Simply click on the map to see a summary of what each borough collects, in what and how often. It's better than the summary I posted yesterday because it includes communal recycling and flats above shops, as well as how to dispose of bulky waste, the borough's recycling rate and where the local reuse and recycling centre is.

I'm guessing you'll find it really interesting because, as we discovered yesterday, people really like talking about bins.

 Wednesday, October 27, 2021

One of the ways you can tell you've crossed from one London borough to another is because the bins change. And it's not just a different logo, it's a completely different set of receptacles.

In Hackney, for example, you might find a grey wheelie bin, a brown wheelie bin, a blue food caddy and a stack of plastic sacks. One street away in Islington suddenly it's a squat black dustbin, a green recycling box and a brown food caddy.

This is because there isn't a pan-London waste disposal service - every council organises its refuse and recycling in a different way, and some are very different indeed.

I wondered which borough insists you have the most bins, which the fewest, and where in London the most anomalous refuse service might be. And then I tried to knock up a table.

n.b. My data assumes you live in a house, not in a flat or somewhere communally awkward.
n.b. This is why I've omitted the City of London.

Fortnightly collections are underlined.
All other collections are weekly.

n.b. I've had to use council websites to source the information.
n.b. Some of these are really unhelpful, fixating on how to cope with anomalies rather that what the local system actually is.
n.b. Because of this sorry, my table will contain errors.
n.b. Residents can point out errors in this special comments box. comments

Barking & Dag2binbin£
Bexley4bin2 binsbin£
Brent3binbin & bagbin£
Bromley12 boxesbin£
Croydon4bin2 binsbin£
Ham & Fulham3binbinbinfree
Hounslow2bin3 boxesbin£
Ken & Chelsea0bags(trial)£
Kingston3binbin & boxbin£
Merton3binbin & boxbin£
Redbridge1bin2 boxesfree
Richmond4bin2 boxesbin£
Sutton3binbin & boxbin£
Tower Hamlets1bagsbinfree
Waltham Forest3binbinbin

I confess, that is a lot more diverse than I expected it to be.

Two London boroughs (Bexley and Croydon) expect you to have four bins. In each case this is one bin for non-recyclable waste, one for food waste and two for recycling. The recycling split is so there can be one bin for mixed paper and cardboard and one bin for plastics, cans, jars and bottles. If you additionally subscribe to these boroughs' garden waste services that'd be five bins, but I'm not counting garden waste so it's four. Whatever, that's a crowded cluster to have to find space for.

About half of London's boroughs expect you to have three bins - one for non-recyclable waste, one for food waste and one for recycling. Four of these (Brent, Merton, Kingston and Sutton) also want you to split your recycling but the additional receptacle is a box or a bag, not a bin.

At the other end of the scale, four boroughs provide no bins whatsoever. Havering does everything with plastic sacks - black for refuse and orange for recycling. Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster provide plastic sacks for recycling but nothing for refuse. Wandsworth expects your general rubbish to be bagged inside a bin you've provided yourself. According to Wandsworth's website "All rubbish in dustbins must also be contained in refuse sacks" and "We do not supply dustbins or rubbish sacks", because that's the consequence of living in a borough with a rock bottom council tax.

Bromley doesn't mind if your non-recyclable waste is in a bin or in bags, but no longer provides either. Hillingdon and Tower Hamlets expect you to provide your own bags for general waste but issue free bags for recycling. The only bin provided in these three boroughs is a food caddy. Islington is similarly blunt - "Please note, we do not provide residents with free wheelie bins or dustbins". A lot of residents still have the old bin the council once provided, as seen in the photo at the top of the post, but it's not exactly capacious. Islington's only designated bin is its brown food caddy. All recyclables go into an unbranded green open-topped box.

Several boroughs provide recycling boxes rather than recycling bins, this to enable residents to split their waste. Hounslow are the keenest box providers, requiring households to have a red one for plastic and metal cans, a blue one for card and paper and a green one for glass bottles and jars. Throw in bins for rubbish, food waste and (optionally) garden waste and Hounslow is London's receptacliest borough with six.

Only five London boroughs don't yet recycle food waste - Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Havering, Newham and Redbridge. Outer East London fares very badly in that list. As for Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster, these have small trials in certain parts of the borough but the vast majority of residents currently have no doorstep food waste collection.

When it comes to garden waste, two-thirds of boroughs charge for this service whereas one-third provide it for free. Most of the lucky boroughs are in Inner London where gardens are generally small or non-existent. The only Outer London boroughs with free garden waste collections are Hillingdon, Redbridge and Waltham Forest. In Greenwich and Waltham Forest all garden waste is to be chucked in with the food waste, whereas in the other boroughs it goes in a separate bin.

Just over half of London boroughs still provide weekly collections for rubbish, recycling and food waste, but many have switched to 'more efficient' timetables. Bexley, Brent, Hackney, Haringey and Lewisham recycle weekly but only collect rubbish every fortnight. Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Kingston, Merton, Southwark and Sutton have gone full-on frugal and now collect everything (except food waste) in alternate weeks. Kensington & Chelsea, by contrast, collect twice weekly.

Refuse collection systems often change, especially when there are savings to be made. For example Hackney residents have only had their grey refuse bin since the start of the year, and Redbridge is currently in the process of switching from sacks to wheelie bins. There'd be a lot more savings to be made if councils clubbed together, either in small groups or across London as a whole. But perhaps it's for the best that refuse collection remains a local service decided locally... even if sometimes it means doorsteps look completely different on opposite sides of the street.

 Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Yesterday I went to the Olympic Park and bumped into the Mayor. He wasn't there initially, but it was obvious he was coming because you don't gather a selection of environmentally friendly public service vehicles and park them up in a line in front of the Olympic Stadium otherwise.

Also the press don't normally turn up to take photos of a hydrogen-fuelled bus and an electric taxi unless there'll be somebody interesting to talk to. Half a dozen media bubbles had already arrived and were milling around the officially designated viewpoint near a couple of hastily erected gazebos. I watched two locally-based bicycle couriers wheel over to their correct place in the line-up. It was hard to tell which police were on security duty and which were merely here to stand next to a non-polluting vehicle. I recognised the BBC's Tom Edwards who was pacing around, chatting to his crew and occasionally interviewing attendees on a bench.

Aha, I thought, this must be the press event for the launch of the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone. But it wasn't 10am yet and I bet myself that the Mayor wouldn't be turning up until then, so I went off for a quick walk and admired the not-yet impressive autumn foliage down Tessa Jowell Boulevard.

At ten o'clock hey presto the Mayor turned up. I didn't see how he arrived but I expect it was either by public transport or in an electric vehicle because any other option would have been political suicide. He had a small entourage with him, and what with all those standing by their vehicles and the media scrum I counted at least 50 people present, because that's how many it takes to deliver a gobbet of news to the wider populace.

After holding court for a few minutes the Mayor walked over to the line of vehicles, starting with the Royal Mail van, and started chatting. You have to do these things when you want the TV cameras to go away with footage of cheery eco-friendly engagement. While I was watching all this a casually dressed thirty-something man came and sat behind me on a bench for no readily obvious reason. I assumed he was a plain clothes police officer keeping an eye on things because you can't be too careful when the Mayor's on public walkabout, and also because that's exactly where I'd have sat if I was a plain clothes police officer keeping an eye on things.

The mayor's progress down the line was glacial, suggesting he'd be ages getting to the Dial-A-Ride minibus let alone the ambulance, so I went off for another walk. This time I headed to the top of the park, dodging the mud where the riverside paths flooded in last week's downpour and wondering where all the waterfowl had gone because you hardly see any birds on this stretch of the Lea any more.

At eleven o'clock the Mayor looked like he'd just finished with the final vehicle and was now standing to one side at the heart of a huddle. It could have been with his own team or it could have been with journalists from the national press, I'm guessing the latter, but the conversation was again taking ages. Indeed my biggest takeaway from the entire event is just how long he took talking to every individual group of attendees. Boris would have gabbled through in minutes, but Sadiq seemed much keener to hang around.

Meanwhile the TV crews were looking increasingly underused. They'd already got their footage of the line-up and interviewed all the potential minor interviewees, but they couldn't finish the job until they'd had a proper chat with the Mayor. I bet he chats to the BBC first, I thought, but instead he walked over to another camera and spoke earnestly to a completely different channel. Rather than hang around I headed off on yet another walk and noted that the Dutch barge has closed its outdoor seating area for the season.

At quarter to twelve Sadiq finally got round to talking to the BBC. Normally London's regional news teams get first dibs with the Mayor but the introduction of the ULEZ counts as a national story so this time they'd had to wait for Sky News and other national channels first. Tom Edwards now got his long-awaited interview and it was of a decent length, but by this point he'd been standing around for at least two hours having long finished all his spiels to camera. Even the vehicles in the backdrop had started to peel off and drive away. I followed the hydrogen bus to the traffic lights and walked to the top of the mound with the rings.

I came back nearer half past twelve and Tom had gone but the Mayor was still talking to one final group of non-TV journalists. He'd now been here for two and a half hours, engaging with all sorts and no doubt trotting out the same carefully-chosen phrases time after time to get his message across. The job of Mayor is not the glamorous role you might assume it to be, unless you're the kind of Mayor who prefers brief jokey chats and a smile to the camera.

And all this, as it turned out, was for one minute of footage on the BBC and ITV lunchtime regional news and another one minute burst in the evening. The ULEZ led the local news for several minutes, as befits the big story of the day, but including affected drivers and campaigning mothers for balance meant the Olympic Park line-up played only a minor role in the overall coverage. The effort that goes into providing a backdrop for the news is considerable, and needs to be otherwise those 45 seconds would have been zero. And the effort that goes into holding politicians to account shouldn't be underrated either, because standing around in the Olympic Park for three hours is hardly the best use of anybody's time.

 Monday, October 25, 2021

The date's been a long time coming (proposed 2017, confirmed 2018) but Monday 25th October 2021 is finally here - the day the Ultra Low Emission Zone gets extended. Yesterday it only affected the Congestion Charge zone, which most drivers can readily avoid, but today it extends all the way out to the North and South Circular Roads.

I wrote a big ULEZ post one year ago so won't retread old ground, save to remind you of a few important statistics.

» Today's extension takes the ULEZ from 1.3% of the capital by area to 24%.
» The new zone encompasses 40% of London's population.
» Ten London boroughs are entirely inside the new ULEZ and ten entirely outside.
» Most households inside the new ULEZ don't have a car whereas most outside do.
» Over 80% of cars in London already meet the ULEZ emissions standards so won't incur a charge.

Also I'd best repeat this.
Roughly speaking, you have to pay £12.50 a day if your vehicle was registered...
   • before 2005: cars with petrol engines (Euro 4)
   • before 2006: vans with petrol engines (Euro 4)
   • before 2007: motorbikes (Euro 3)
   • before September 2015: cars with diesel engines (Euro 6)
   • before September 2016: vans with diesel engines (Euro 6)
What I thought I'd do yesterday was see how the eastern edge of the new zone is shaping up.

Here's the approach to the ULEZ boundary in Barking.

This is the junction where Barking Road crosses the North Circular Road. Importantly the North Circular isn't part of the ULEZ so you can drive your vehicle around the edge of the zone for free. It's only vehicles taking the exit into Newham that have to pay, as indicated on the roundabout sign by a green circular logo. A heck of a lot of junction signs have had to be updated or replaced over the last few weeks to get them ready for this morning.

A green sign at the appropriate exit off the roundabout warns drivers they're about to enter the new zone. These are the same signs which used to appear around the edge of the Congestion Charge zone (and I guess no longer do because that's no longer the edge of the ULEZ). A short distance beyond is a smaller blue sign on a lamppost with the ULEZ logo and a camera icon confirming you've now passed the point of no return. I couldn't see a camera observing the traffic in this location but I bet there is one, and anyway it's not so much crossing the boundary that triggers the £12.50 charge but being spotted driving anywhere within the zone.

In east London the North Circular has ridiculously few crossing points, which for ULEZ purposes is highly convenient. In the four miles between the Redbridge Roundabout and the A13 there are only two points where vehicles can enter the new charging zone, one in Ilford and one in Barking.

This photo was taken on the A13 at Beckton, a massive arterial junction with a big roundabout slung above an underpass. Traffic taking the slip road isn't charged but vehicles sticking to the A13 might be, hence two large ULEZ signs have been erected at the entrance to the underpass. The electronic display on the gantry also displays a message warning that the ULEZ comes into effect today. Nowhere is the practical significance of the ULEZ explained, nor that you might be charged for driving further. Londoners really ought to be aware of the consequences after all these years, but I do wonder how many one-off visitors to the capital are about to be stung with a one-off fine.

South of the A13 the next ULEZ sign is at the entrance to Beckton Triangle Retail Park. This means visits to B&Q, Carpetright and the enormous Sainsbury's are now subject to a potential £12.50 surcharge, whereas the Gallions Reach Retail Park on the other side of the road can still be visited for free. It's then almost a mile to the next ULEZ entrance at Gallions Reach where traffic bound for the Royal Docks and City Airport faces crossing the ULEZ threshold. Visitors to UEL's dockside campus are also subject to the charge even though the site has a single access road connecting only to the North Circular.

Where things get interesting is the final stretch of the North Circular threading down to the Woolwich Ferry. Almost all of North Woolwich lies within the ULEZ except for a few fortunate residents who live on the south side of the North Circular between the road and the river. Live on Woolwich Manor Way and you can always drive away from home without being charged. Live opposite on Milk Street and your car could be hit by a £12.50 charge every time you leave your garden.

This is the entrance to Milk Street, which now has a pesky camera installed on top of one of the ULEZ signs.

I thought it'd be interesting to determine how serious a problem the ULEZ might be for local residents so I made a note of all the registration numbers of the cars parked in Milk Street, then put them into TfL's vehicle checker when I got home. Just two of the fifteen cars - a Range Rover and a Renault Sport - triggered a warning that the ULEZ charge would be payable. I bet their owners are mighty pissed off this morning. One of Milk Street's residents also has an old car under a tarpaulin which would incur a charge were it ever moved, which thankfully it looks like it never is.

I also checked the 15 cars across the road on Woolwich Manor Way...

...and all 15 were recent enough to pass emission thresholds. That's ironic because everyone on this street lives outside the North Circular so even an ancient petrol belcher wouldn't have been charged anyway. Overall of the 30 vehicles I checked only two were non-ULEZ-compliant and that's less than 10%. Admittedly it's a very small sample in a single location but it does suggest that the vast majority of London's drivers won't be troubled by this morning's zone extension.

The North Circular draws to a close at the Woolwich Ferry, where any polluting vehicles can cross the Thames without entering the ULEZ and drive freely away on the Woolwich side too. Other roads leading into North Woolwich now have warning signs... but at the entrance to Pier Road one sign has been rotated through almost ninety degrees making it look like Albert Road is in the ULEZ instead. This means traffic driving off the ferry and aiming for Beckton might think it's about to enter the ULEZ when in fact it's not, and if anyone from TfL is reading this perhaps you could send someone down to twist it back into position.

At least the North Circular is generally a clear dividing line, being a massive arterial road almost everywhere except here in North Woolwich and through Ealing where it gets more suburban. But the South Circular is another matter altogether, weaving through a sequence of streets your average driver wouldn't normally register, so staying out of the ULEZ might be more of an issue down there.

As of today I find myself living within the extended ULEZ but as I don't drive, only breathe, I'm more than happy to see this groundbreaking scheme rolled out further. What's more I've been living on a main road for years, long before vehicle emission standards improved, so must have been doing my lungs no favours every single time I went out. The price of limiting this invisible killer will be very high for some, but undoubtedly worthwhile for the health of Londoners of all ages.

 Sunday, October 24, 2021

This looks like a good idea.

It's a hands-free pedestrian crossing - technically a 'Touch-free Crossing Point' - installed at Canary Wharf.

There's no need to press the button, you just wave your hand close to the sensor to register your presence and the box lights up. No touching is required hence no transfer of germs, either from you to others or from others to you. It's very much the healthy way to cross the road.

You won't set it off by mistake, you have to get quite close. I apologise to passengers on the bus which came round the corner just after I triggered the sensor, but it's important to do these experiments to find out how things work.

The boffins have even thought about blind pedestrians because there's still a button for those who are expecting one and can't read the sign which says they don't need to press it.

These Touch-free Crossing Points have appeared on several different roads through the heart of Canary Wharf including North Colonnade, South Colonnade and Bank Street. They're not part of TfL's pedestrian priority trial, they're independently funded as befits a commercial private estate.

Changing from the DLR to the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf? Now you can do so without violating the sanctity of your fingertips or dashing willy-nilly through the traffic. It sounds very much like the Covid-safe pedestrian future has arrived.

BUT it's a bit late isn't it? We've been through the worst of the pandemic and then these touch-free crossings turn up the year after. Where were they when we really needed them?

BUT Covid isn't spread by touch even though we've all been hardwired to recoil from touching things. All the scientific evidence now suggests that surface transfer is relatively insignificant compared to airborne transmission, so button-less crossings aren't really going to help.

BUT other diseases like colds and flu are spread by touch, which is the main reason the government jumped on the "sanitise! sanitise!" bandwagon so early in the pandemic, so these crossings aren't just baseless hygiene theatre.

BUT the Canary Wharf estate is riddled with doors, especially if you're trying to walk north-south, so all the benefits of not touching a button are likely to be cancelled out by grasping a handle, pushing a bar or touching a pad.

BUT the crossings don't all seem to work in an identical manner. One set of lights favours traffic even when there isn't any, showing red only when the sensor is triggered, while another shows the green man continuously until a vehicle actually turns up.

BUT I'm basing this apparent behaviour on walking across the estate once, so I may have jumped to incorrect conclusions about signal programming based on insufficient evidence.

BUT even though they've gone to all the effort of installing touch-free crossings this doesn't mean people are using them. For example on South Colonnade neither of the two crossings are on the direct desire line route between the DLR and Jubilee line so people are merrily strolling across the uncontrolled part of the road inbetween. Having to add a sign saying "← Use the appropriate crossing →" is a sure sign that your expensive touch-free solution is a practical failure.

BUT these signals aren't brand new, I'm just depressingly unobservant. I've uncovered a seven-month-old thread on Reddit discussing Touch-free Crossing Points at Canary Wharf so they've been around since at least March. I must have walked past umpteen times but have only just spotted them.

BUT they were being used in other countries like Australia long before 2021. They've cropped up in Pontypridd and Glasgow too. They look like just the sort of thing Singapore would have introduced years ago. I imagine they could be extremely useful on the Sabbath in areas with a devout Jewish population.

BUT they weren't much use yesterday morning because there wasn't much traffic and it was easy to walk across the road anyway. This is often the case on weekdays too. Jaywalking has always been touch-free so this isn't necessarily the amazing innovation it appears to be.

BUT Touch-free Crossing Points are a gamechanger if you're mobility restricted and hygiene-obsessed, and to be frank an excellent idea we could do with seeing more of.

BUT they're also expensive so unlikely to be replacing your local pushbutton box any time soon, so you'll probably need to come down to Canary Wharf if you want to stop the traffic with a wave of your hand.

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

• Scottish vaccine passports now enforceable
• PM hosted a visitor on Christmas Day
• variant of δ variant spreading in UK
• We need to go to Plan B+ (NHS)
• Plan A is enough for now (PM)
• Tory MPs don't need masks (Rees-Mogg)
• daily cases top 50000
• Australia and Singapore to share travel bubble
• take up of booster shots remains low
• Melbourne ends 260-day lockdown

Worldwide deaths: 4,890,000 → 4,940,000
Worldwide cases: 240,000,000 → 243,000,000
UK deaths: 138,527 → 139,461
UK cases: 8,404,469 → 8,734,934
1st vaccinations: 49,374,505 → 49,606,419
2nd vaccinations: 45,325,489 → 45,489,980
FTSE: down ½% (7234 → 7204)

 Saturday, October 23, 2021

Yesterday I visited an immersive art experience in the Royal Docks. They should have called it Flyover Shower. Instead they called it Flavour Rainbow.

It's part of an events-packed fortnight at the Royal Docks, a business enterprise zone attempting to boost its economic credibility by rebranding as a Cultural Quarter.
Royal Docks Originals is part of the Royal Docks Cultural Placemaking Strategy, an ambitious vision to make the Royal Docks ‘the cultural engine’ of London - a major new cultural quarter.
In reality the Royal Docks is a vast post-industrial development area which remains some way off meeting its full potential so has a lot of large empty spaces available for temporary projects. But let's not get hung up on that, let's talk art.
Multisensory wizards Bompas and Parr are creating the world’s first rainbow you can interact with, with flavours inspired by the Royal Docks' past. And as if that wasn’t enough colour for you, they'll be making a huge rainbow shine over Royal Victoria Dock twice a day (when the sun’s out).
Bompas & Parr are two jellymakers who've diversified into experiential design because that's where the money is. They like dark spaces with lights, smells and probably something food related. A flavour rainbow would be just their kind of thing.
Harry Parr of Bompas & Parr Studio says "Flavour and meteorology have always fascinated us; to see them both collide in the Royal Docks is a dream come true."
This is the kind of bolx that Bompas & Parr often utter. But I went along anyway.

The location is inbetween the Silvertown Tunnel building site and the new City Hall (also a building site), specifically underneath the Silvertown Viaduct. Meet by the coffee shop next to the Thai restaurant, they said. You're supposed to book in advance but walk-up tickets are often available so I walked up and they let me in. The multi-coloured portal is the only rainbow I ended up seeing.
The two-part installation will introduce Londoners to the world’s first Flavour Rainbow beneath Silvertown Way. Guests will be invited to experience flavours of the rainbow inspired by Royal Docks' commercial history and the imagination of its residents, such as spices from across the world, coffee, flour and sugar.
A temporary ramp leads down into the void below the viaduct past a couple of display boards, then under a temporary arch onto a temporary platform. The supposed rainbow is over to the left through a black waterproof curtain. Plastic see-through umbrellas are available unless you prefer to get wet.

Scented water falls from a single line of scaffolding on the far side of the space. Only the central section has jets - six in total - so you may have to wait your turn. The water drains away through a metal grating under your feet. The overall ambience has something of the swimming pool changing room about it.
The installation uses white light refracted through falling moisture that appears multicoloured in the eyes of its viewer, as part of a multisensory experience.
Two problems. The water is only vaguely perfumed, so that if you extend your arm into the shower and then hold it to your nose it doesn't smell of anything. I only knew I was supposed to be experiencing blueberry, watermelon and lemon because I'd read to the end of one of the information boards. All I got was a very brief vague whiff of Parma Violets.

More importantly, there was no rainbow. I looked up, I looked down, I even stood back and looked from a distance, but at no point did I see anything resembling prismatic colour. I wondered afterwards if the six nozzles were each lit with a different colour of the rainbow but all I spotted at the time was maybe a yellow one.

What I did enjoy was the opportunity to do something properly unusual in a space you can't normally access. The Silvertown Viaduct is Britain's first flyover, constructed in 1934, so going underneath is pretty special indeed. A forest of thin concrete pillars supports the road above, some illuminated by the artists to add a bit of pizazz. The discarded pipes, triangular 'men at work' signs and toppled wheelbarrow weren't part of the art but they certainly added to the unique ambience.
The second half of the commission will feature a Giant Rainbow built over the Royal Docks, and made visible when the sun shines inspiring its audience to reflect on the pandemic. The installation, like rainbows seen many times before, will be synonymous with hope, prosperity and a sense of community.

Further up the dock I spotted a small boat with a multi-coloured hull and a hose firing a short jet of water. Although I wandered round the waterfront and viewed the boat from several angles I never saw a rainbow of any kind. According to the blurb the rainbow is only visible at 10am and 4pm when the sun's out, which it very much was, but the jet of water generated no special colours whatsoever.
Sam Bompas, Co-Founder of Bompas & Parr studio said: "The Royal Docks is the obvious place to showcase the world's first Flavour Rainbow as we share its history and celebrate its vibrant future as the new cultural engine of London. It’s a joy to be able to create a sense of wonder particularly within the grandeur of Europe’s very first flyover.”
I have long suspected that jellymongers Bompas & Parr might be overrated. I saw nothing at the Royal Docks to make me change my mind.

Flavour Rainbow is open Wed, Thur and Sun 10am-6pm; Fri and Sat 11am-9pm until 31st October

 Friday, October 22, 2021

Over the last few months TfL have been quietly reducing the frequency of numerous bus routes in the central London area. If we're not travelling so much, why run buses quite so often?

Cutting frequencies is a lot easier than cutting routes because TfL don't need to run a lengthy consultation, they can simply pick a date and remove vehicles from the street.

For example back in August route 2 went from every 7-8 minutes to every 8-9 minutes, route 7 went from every 8 minutes to every 12 minutes and route 9 went from every 7-8 minutes to every 10 minutes.

But the cuts aren't just on three routes, as many as 37 different routes have been affected since August (and we're only partway through announcements for November).

Bus frequency cuts since August 2021
Aug: 2, 7, 9, 16, 27, 30, 43, 113, 148, 507, 521, N9
Sep: 11, 22, 29, 49, 59, 253, 254, 277, 436, D7
Oct: 17, 19, 38, 42, 68, 88, 133, 149, 245, A10
Nov: 13, 21, 40, 63, 76, 87, 91, 92, 168, 188, 242

Ten cuts a month is a significant long-term reduction of capacity. It means a longer wait for passengers, imperceptibly on certain routes but much more noticeably on others. It also saves a good few millions from a beleaguered budget.

TfL don't make it easy to keep track of these reductions, announcing them silently on a webpage that regularly overwrites, so I thought I'd try to document them here for posterity's sake. Your next bus may be further away than you think.

Here's a crossword I devised forty years ago.

Fit the eleven words into the grid.
One has been done for you.

Don't reveal the solution, but do tell us how you got on.

 Thursday, October 21, 2021

I have come up to Norfolk for my Dad's birthday which was yesterday. I came up the day before yesterday so that I would be here yesterday and I am still here today.

I came up on the train which is when the sun finally came out and I met my Dad near the car park they've recently closed. We went to the garden centre where we bought some peat because the bags are heavy and then we went to the supermarket. It took a while to find a jar of sweet and sour sauce but we had more luck with tins of soup and the queues at the till were very long.

The house hadn't changed much since I was last here but the two big trees in the front garden had been cut down so there's now a lot more light in the corner by the gas tank. Round the back the tortoise had come out of her house and was doing circuits because the weather was quite mild. It has been a good autumn for the rudbeckias.

In the afternoon we drove to Norwich to see my brother and on the way my Dad saw a kestrel hovering beside the road and he said "have you seen the kestrel?" and I confirmed that I had seen the kestrel. Later we had lasagne and birthday cake. On the way home it was a lot darker and we saw a barn owl with its huge wings outstretched swooping low above the car because it had been disturbed by our headlights.

We stayed up really late so that we were awake at midnight and I said "Happy birthday" and Dad opened one of his cards. It had been accidentally ripped by the Royal Mail in transit so they had put the two largest pieces in a plastic wrapper with an apology on the front but the smallest piece was missing and we're still not quite sure what the joke on the front of the card said.

The weather yesterday was stormy with wild winds and torrential showers so we decided not to go on a big day out to the coast because we would have got wet. Also we had to meet a journalist for tea. My Dad received 19 birthday cards altogether which is a lot less than his age but more than I normally get. One of the stamps hadn't been franked so that's totally going to get reused sometime.

We took the opportunity to do some clearing out and in one cupboard we found a lot of bobbins. In another was my grandfather's wallet and inside that he'd saved a birthday greeting from my grandmother postmarked August 1931 when she lived in Golders Green and he lived in Edgware. She wanted to come over so she wrote "wait for me if you get home before I am there" which was like the equivalent of a text message in those days. We think the card is from while they were courting which is sweet plus my Dad and I wouldn't be here if they hadn't done that.

We had sausages for lunch from the proper butchers and potatoes from the garden and we opened a can of beans using Dad's new second hand electric tin opener. We found the instruction manual online because the internet is excellent and the tin just hung from the magnet and swivelled round and it's going to be so much easier to use than the old one.

Then we went to the village hall to meet a journalist from a New York magazine who's been researching a story in Buckinghamshire and Norfolk so needed some local background. During the informal meeting she got plenty of leads and a couple of shortbread biscuits and I tagged along because that's what you do when your Dad has a meeting with a journalist on his birthday. Some villages are more interesting than others.

On the way home we went to the country park where there were ducks and empty caravans and half a rainbow and a bush loaded with ripe raspberries. Later we had tea and my aunties rang up by which I mean my Dad's sisters rang up because it was his special day and that's why they rang up.

We didn't have a big party but we did stay in and eat sandwiches and watch The Repair Shop. We also went to the window to look at the full moon rising before the heavy rain arrived again. It may not have been the most exciting of his 83 birthdays but it was still memorable and it was a lot more normal than his 82nd birthday so that was excellent.

 Wednesday, October 20, 2021

One of the open datafiles provided by TfL is an Excel database of height restrictions on roads across the capital. They hope that publishing the heights of bridges and tunnels will help developers and fleet operators route vehicles according to their height, reduce collisions and save money in structural repairs.

The data's been available for a couple of years and includes 877 structures within the Greater London boundary. When it was launched they even provided a map.

The database doesn't include precise heights but classifies everything in five bands from "Up to 3.0m" to "Between 4.6m and 5.1m". It also gives a grid reference, borough, road name and (where relevant) road number. I thought I'd go out and visit all the height restrictions in one of the less-challenged boroughs, namely the City of London. While I'm listing them for you pictorially, see if you can guess which borough has the fewest height restrictions (2) and which has the most (88).

All the height restrictions in the City of London (map)

Shoe Lane (4.7m, 15' 5")

Shoe Lane is one of the two roads which passes underneath Holborn Viaduct, the narrower minor one that isn't Farringdon Street. It was here long before the iron span passed overhead in the 1860s simplifying journeys across the Fleet Valley. Not much traffic uses Shoe Lane, especially at the moment because it's blocked with scaffolding for bridge works expected to continue until Christmas. I struggled to get close, and taking a photo of the low bridge sign was nigh impossible, so I was glad I'd accidentally got a decent shot when I blogged the ward of Farringdon Within earlier this year. This is the highest of the height restrictions in the City, just a foot below the maximum the DfT chooses to sign. It's also the only bridge in the list because every subsequent height restriction turns out to be a building.

East Poultry Avenue (4.65m, 15" 3")

The next-highest restriction is nearby in the middle of Smithfield Market. A trio of roads cut through the site, two of which aren't currently drive-through-able, in one case because preliminary building works for the new Museum of London are underway. The one through route is East Poultry Avenue, the most central of the three, which is topped by a high ribbed concrete roof with a lower horizontal bar at each end. Plenty of room is available for refrigerated meat lorries to park underneath, and one or two can often be found here resting up before returning to base. East Poultry Avenue is a one-way street so only has a red triangle at one end, attached alongside a glorious retro DEAD SLOW sign (which is also quite appropriate for somewhere you bring carcasses).

London Wall/Wood Street (between 4.1m and 4.5m)

According to the database this is four separate height restrictions, whereas in real life it's a crossroads with a building on top. That building is a meeting of highwalks on the southern edge of the Barbican Estate, namely Alban Gate, a salmon-coloured postmodern pile which was one of Sir Terry Farrell's first architectural successes. 125 London Wall used to be home to JPMorgan Chase but is now mostly full of Lloyds Bank employees instead. At podium level are two hospitality spaces which fairly recently housed a Pizza Express and a Jamie's restaurant but are currently empty shells with a blank serving counter at the rear. None of the four roads underneath display a low bridge sign, which seems a bit remiss, but the number 76 bus passes easily underneath.

Little Britain (4.11m, 13' 6")

This one threw me because when I got to the precise grid reference there was no low bridge to be seen. What I did eventually spot was a new residential block above a turnoff to one side, part of the Barts Square development, but it was much too high to be restrictive. Only when I got home did I confirm, via Google Streetview, that the previous building above the road was a tad lower. Five years ago a drab concrete floor crossed Bartholomew Close approximately four metres up, as a red triangular sign confirmed. But by the time Google's camera was able to return again last year the luxury apartments of Fenwick House were there instead, and sensibly higher up because nobody wants to pay almost £2m for a flat that could be hit by a lorry. If anyone reading this is responsible for updating TfL's database, this one should no longer appear in it.

Austin Friars (3.7m, 12' 2")

Neither a bridge nor a tunnel but an arch, this is the entrance to the historic double-dogleg of Austin Friars. It's such a constrained cul-de-sac that it boasts four separate entrance restrictions, one for height, one for width, one for parking and one for time of day. I'm not aware if there's also a London-wide database of width restrictions, but at 7' 6" this may be the narrowest vehicular throat in the City of London. It's not the lowest though, we've got two more can beat this.

Gough Square (3.51m, 11' 6")

This is a lovely heritage throwback, a brick arch funnelling a cobbled street beneath a Georgian building. You can almost imagine a coach and horses sweeping through and depositing Dr Johnson outside the first house on the far side, because that's where the great lexicographer lived while he was writing his ground-breaking dictionary. He resided at 17 Gough Square whereas the room above the arch is part of number 1, currently used by the British Arab Centre as part of its mission to promote friendship and good relations with the Arab world. Those on foot can gain access more easily via alleyways from Fleet Street. It's all a lot more characterful than the City's lowest height restriction...

Talbot Court (3.0m, 9' 10")

This one's off Gracechurch Street quite near The Monument and something of a disappointment. A dull postwar office block has a low passage underneath to provide access to a cobbled courtyard and more specifically to a lift entrance for basement parking. The arch doesn't even have a proper red sign, just a couple of generic yellow panels confirming that nothing over 3m should risk it. But its days are numbered because earlier this year the City approved a complete rebuild of 55 Gracechurch Street which will arise as a 36 storey tower rising just to the side of the Walkie Talkie. The 17th century pub on the far side of the cobbles will survive, but the access point with the height restriction is destined to end up as a patch of shrubbery amid a strip of public realm. If there are only six height restrictions in the City today, soon there'll be only five.

Number of height restrictions per borough
Under 10: Barking & Dagenham (2), Islington (7), Kensington & Chelsea (7), Redbridge (7), Harrow (9)
10-19: City of London (10), Havering (10), Merton (10), Hammersmith & Fulham (12), Richmond (13), Enfield (14), Sutton (14), Bexley (15), Greenwich (15), Hounslow (15), Westminster (16), Brent (17), Kingston (19)
20-29: Camden (22), Newham (24), Waltham Forest (24), Croydon (27), Ealing (27), Haringey (27), Bromley (28)
30-39: Hillingdon (31), Lewisham (35), Barnet (38), Wandsworth (38)
40-59: Hackney (45), Southwark (53), Lambeth (54)
Over 60: Tower Hamlets (88)

n.b. These are the number of rows in the database, which is not the same as the number of low bridges. For example the crossroads at London Wall is counted as four when really it's just one.
n.b. I've stripped out all the restrictions which are labelled as "car park access" because those aren't proper low bridges or tunnels. There were 104 of those.

The borough with the fewest height restrictions is Barking & Dagenham. One's beside the old Ford Works and the other's under Ripple Road. Barking & Dagenham is not a railway viaduct kind of borough.

The borough with the most height restrictions, by far, is Tower Hamlets. This is mainly the consequence of railway lines out of Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street crossing a lot of tightly packed streets. A dozen entrances to modern road tunnels boost the total but Tower Hamlets would still be top without them. Second and third places go to the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, again reflecting an extensive network of railway viaducts. The chief barrier to high sided vehicles, it turns out, is generally the train.

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

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

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

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