Monday, January 31, 2022
31 unblogged things I did in January
Sat 1: The prolonged New Year cacophony outside my window could have been averted had local firestarters taken the Mayor's lead and switched to coloured drones instead.
Sun 2: I have already learned that people don't especially want to see what your Wordle score is.
Mon 3: This is as late as the New Year bank holiday can fall, but it'll be over 100 days until we get another. We then get five bank holidays in the space of less than 50 days.
Tue 4: Bugger, not again.
Wed 5: I may never get the hang of electric cooking. One splash of water under the pan and it burns, but you can't easily wipe it off because the cloth burns too. Life was so much easier with gas when I could turn down the heat before it bubbled over and easily mop it up if it did.
Thu 6: I may use this delightful shot of discarded trees and a bin overflowing with dogpoo bags for my next Christmas card.
Fri 7: I've now packed away my cuddly snowman, cheeky elf, stuffed penguin and embroidered tree, but my 'winter lights' will stay trailed along my hallway until the clocks go forward.
Sat 8: If you walk past a ParkRun at 8.50am and keep going, you first pass participants walking towards the start point, then those cutting it fine jogging towards the start point, then latecomers running desperately to reach the start point, then nobody.
Sun 9: Thanks to the 1921 census we've managed to uncover the Willesden house in which my grandmother was working as a domestic servant and identify the Marylebone optician which employed my grandfather as an apprentice lens edger.
Mon 10: This morning my local Tesco was out of hot cross buns and semi-skimmed milk, as well as desperately low on potatoes and crisps. (I should have bought more sultanas because the price went up 10% the next time I visited)
Tue 11: Walk past the right health centre at the right time and someone'll thrust a box of 20 lateral flow tests into your hand. I doubt I'll get to the end of the packet.
Wed 12: Here's another of the photos from today's walk that never made it onto the blog, only onto Flickr and Twitter. It shows the vacated Iron Mountain warehouse on Bow Creek which was previously Poplar Tram Depot and is about to become 530 flats. Within a few years the view won't look anywhere near as good as this.
Thu 13: My BBC Sounds recommendations for January include The Train at Platform 4 (a Punt & Dennis comedy set aboard a fictional North East franchise), Past Forward (a social dig into a centenary of BBC archives) and Aberfan Tip No 7 (a forensic analysis of an avoidable catastrophe and its aftermath).
Fri 14: Stayed in all day because pollution levels outside were supposed to be dangerously high. Living near the A12 I have to assume they're dangerously high anyway, so I was taking no chances.
Sat 15: An absolute treasure I watched on iPlayer: Meet You At The Hippos, in which actor Mark Bonnar explores street sculpture and public art in Scottish new towns (some of which was commissioned by his dad). Hurrah for BBC Scotland.
Sun 16: Putting a cultural vandal like Nadine Dorries in charge of broadcasting, and hence the funding of the BBC, pisses me off just as much as Operation Red Meat hoped it would.
Mon 17: The Skypool in Nine Elms looked to be steaming hot and entirely empty of residents, who I assume are paying way over the odds in service charges for this seasonal white elephant.
Tue 18: Finally spotted a green numberplate stripe with a national identifier (although because it says GB instead of UK it isn't valid overseas).
Wed 19: In the Royal Docks I was approached by a lost GLA employee making her first visit to the newly opened City Hall. Thankfully I was able to confirm the identity of the building in front of her and point out where the entrance was... and off she skateboarded.
Thu 20: Somehow bodged the temperature of my bath, which was just about warm enough to clamber into but didn't improve after submerging so I had to exit after half as long as usual.
Fri 21: My first-footer this year forgot to bring a piece of coal, but at least they were dark-haired. While visiting they also bashed on the wall to see how thin it was, and I sincerely hope my neighbours were out because I've spent 20 years deliberately not doing that.
Sat 22: Walking round Limehouse Basin I was surprised to see a man in the cabin of his boat watching porn on a laptop, seemingly oblivious that the plump thrusting woman he was enjoying was plainly visible to anyone walking along the dockside.
Sun 23: A new exit has opened at Old Street station where one of the subways no longer is.
Mon 24: Today I finished off my last mince pie, which means it must be just under eight months until my next one.
Tue 25: A statutory notice blu-tacked to the front door of City Hall confirms that most committee meetings will continue to be held elsewhere until the last week of February.
Wed 26: Climbed my first hill of the year, if 30m in Springfield Park, Upper Clapton, counts as a hill.
Thu 27: On today's visit to the library I finally found Richard Osman's first novel on the shelf (but I'm not holding my breath for finding the second).
Fri 28: I've decided to count my Popmaster scores this year, and can confirm that my average so far is 20½ (with a low of 9 and a high of 36).
Sat 29: It's all go behind Mile End station at eight in the morning. Two young lads, still fizzing after last night, stopped me and asked the way to the local pub. They then changed their minds and asked for directions to the local cemetery and headed there instead, beers in hand.
Sun 30: I had a go at the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch but nothing visited during the hour, not even my intermittent magpie. Admittedly the rules say you're supposed to "watch from your balcony", not watch the balcony, but it was a bit cold for that.
Mon 31: There was a time this month when I thought the Prime Minister would have gone by now, but on he rolls.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 30, 2022I don't normally do appeals for lost cats, but a cat I've blogged about before is missing.
This is Jess, a black and white cat.
I showed you a photo of her in a 2020 as part of a post called The News from Maryland under the title Cat spotted on top of bin in Albert Square. This is Albert Square the genuine street in E15, not Albert Square in fictional E20. I just happened to see a cat in an interesting position in an interesting location, which made for a fun end to the day's post.
A highly unexpected thing happened, which is that the owner of the cat turned out to be a reader of this blog.
Blimey. That's my cat! Her name is Jess (because she's a black and white cat). As a resident of Albert Square I'm always up for Maryland-based micro-local journalism. Also impressed that the best was saved til last. She spends a lot of time sitting on bins... just generally not our bins.Alas Jess has now gone missing. She slipped out through the catflap at 10am on Sunday 16th January and hasn't been seen since, despite much subsequent checking. So this is just to say that anyone who's in the area should keep a look out for her because it's been a fortnight now and she's much missed.
Appeals for lost cats don't always have much chance of success because who's to say where an independent creature might be, but we've hit the jackpot with Jess before so it'd be great to help track her down again.
posted 10:00 :
I went for a walk yesterday to enjoy taking my place at the top of the transport hierarchy.
Those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others. This principle applies most strongly to drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles, vans/minibuses, cars/taxis and motorcycles. Cyclists, horse riders and drivers of horse drawn vehicles likewise have a responsibility to reduce danger to pedestrians.Changes to the Highway Code which came into effect yesterday now place pedestrians above drivers, cyclists and even horse riders, at least when it comes to not inflicting unnecessary damage. I felt extra-safe as I strode purposefully across every road.
At a junction you should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross a road into which or from which you are turning.These new rules tell drivers and cyclists to give way in far more circumstances than ever before. If they're turning out of a road and I want to cross in front of them, I win. That's excellent. And if they're turning into a road and I want to cross in front of them, I win again. That's bloody brilliant.
Admittedly it's only 'should give way' not 'must give way', but I'm confident drivers will already have internalised the new rules and be ready to submit to my superior presence. I'm almost tempted to start crossing roads for no good reason.
You MUST give way to pedestrians on a zebra crossing. You should give way to pedestrians waiting to cross a zebra crossing.Once my foot's on the black and white stripes you have to stop, you have no choice, because my feet have been granted magic powers. But the Highway Code now says you should also stop when you see me waiting to cross, so it's no good pretending you didn't see me or hoping you can zip past. This includes the bus driver who failed to stop for me at a zebra crossing on Friday, I assume because they were taking advantage of their last day of legal freedom.
Pedestrians have priority when on a zebra crossing or at light controlled crossings when they have a green signal.I'm less thrilled by the green signal thing at light controlled crossings because most of the time they're red. I'm also confused by what happens at a light controlled crossing if traffic is turning into or out of the road and whether it has to stop for me or not, because an earlier rule said it should and this rule seems to suggest it shouldn't. I thought I was king of the road! Now you're saying I still have to obey the signals at crossings and let the traffic dominate me?
rules for cyclists because I'm not one, only the new rules which apply to how pedestrians and cyclists interact. That first one seems fair enough.
Pedestrians may use any part of the road and use cycle tracks as well as the pavement, unless there are signs prohibiting pedestrians.Wow it gets better and better. There are hardly any signs prohibiting pedestrians so I can basically walk wherever I like. If I want to amble along the gutter or take a cheeky shortcut or cross the road inbetween crossings that's fine, so long as I have regard for my own and other road users' safety. I particularly like the bit about being allowed to walk along cycle lanes because sometimes cyclists get the most direct routes.
I celebrate the pedestrian's rightful ascent to the top of the tree, and the fact that the government has ceaselessly advertised the new Highway Code to ensure every road user understands all the implications. Next time I want to step out at a road junction or cross a zebra crossing I can launch myself with total confidence, certain that all other road users will recognise my priority.
I'm already looking forward to going out and ruling the roads on Day Two, and hope to return alive to tell the tale.
posted 07:00 :
10 things that happened this week #coronavirus
• NZ PM cancels wedding following new restrictions
• travel tests to be axed for the double-vaccinated
• PM held birthday party at No 10 during lockdown
• 1 in 8 pupils absent from school
• Scotland relaxes work from home guidance
• two-thirds of omicron cases are reinfections
• mask rules end / Covid passes withdrawn
• no limit on care home visitors
• Met Police to investigate No 10 gatherings
• 10 billionth vaccine dose delivered
Worldwide deaths: 5,590,000 → 5,650,000
Worldwide cases: 347,000,000 → 371,000,000
UK deaths: 153,787 → 155,317
UK cases: 15,784,488 → 16,406,123
1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 52.3m/48.3m/37.2m
FTSE: down ½% (7494 → 7466)
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, January 29, 2022Walking Britain's B Roads: the B122
Calvert Avenue/Arnold Circus/Club Row
[Hackney/Tower Hamlets] [0.3 miles]
And now the short one. The B122 is ridiculously brief for a B road, a cut-through less than half a kilometre long linking Shoreditch High Street to Bethnal Green Road. It's also undriveable, having been severed by chunky planters at the end of 2020, so by rights shouldn't be a B Road at all. But once again the National Street Gazetteer thinks it is so it is, so I'm walking it anyway. In good news it's brimming with interest, including a famous church, a pioneering council estate and a Grade II listed roundabout.
Calvert Avenue is wide enough to once have been an important thoroughfare. It kicks off with a large Victorian building that I know used to be a bank because it has the word Bank emblazoned in the stonework, and wouldn't look out of place on a film set. This being Shoreditch the first parking space is occupied by a silver Airstream caravan offering Caribbean refreshment options. This pitch used to belong to Syd's Coffee Cart, a wheeled wooden cabin bedecked in flags from which rolls and hot beverages were sold for an astonishing 100 years. The last owner retired at the end of 2019 - good timing! - and donated the stall to the Museum of London (so expect to see it there when the new building opens). I doubt the current incumbent Jerk & Grind will be so blessed.
The churchyard on the left belongs to St Leonard's Shoreditch, a church reputedly of Saxon origin, although the current Palladian building dates to 1740. Its steeple is home to another bell from the rhyme Oranges and Lemons, the one that says "when I grow rich" (and gets a response from the bells of Stepney which I've just visited on the B121). For those who like to know which bus route we're following there isn't one, although the 78 used to terminate here before its stand was moved to the High Street in 2011. Nevertheless the bus stop remains in situ as does the accompanying turdis, a bleak-looking grey box in which drivers relieved themselves, there being no cash to move it somewhere more useful.
Boundary Road is so named because it marked the dividing line between the former boroughs of Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. Sorry, that's the last of Hackney you'll be seeing in this B road reportage, the previous two paragraphs proving to be an isolated interlude in a run of ten consecutive posts about Tower Hamlets. This is also where we enter the Boundary Estate, a major slum clearance project undertaken in the 1890s by the newly-formed London County Council. At the behest of the local vicar they erased the Old Nichol rookery and in its place created a new street pattern lined with 16 handsome Arts-and-Crafts-inspired mansion blocks. Arguably this was Britain's first council estate, and even now remains somewhere tenants are keen to live.
The shops along Calvert Avenue are quite something, a mix of low key amenities and screamingly hip fluff. The communal highlight is the Boundary Estate Community Laundrette, a fixture which has been washing the estate's laundry since 1992. It's hard to see the machines past the layer of printed notices affixed to the window, but the pot plants and book trolley hint at a friendly, supportive service. Check out the laundrette's blog for in-depth local history and further evidence of charitable loveliness. Other joyful throwbacks include the cluttered workshop of A. Broughton, traditional upholsterer, but these have increasingly been replaced by sparse boutiques selling tailored clothes and luxury unnecessaries. If it's £185 cookie jars, £300 clogs or a £440 hoodie you want then I question your taste but they're all here.
Arnold Circus is the centrepiece of the Boundary Estate, focused around a circular mound comprising rubble from the demolished slums. Climb the steps to the summit to discover a bandstand surrounded by an open public space, a recreational resource revolutionary in the Victorian inner city. Halfway up is a separate circular promenade with assorted benches dedicated to Michael, Bessie and Joseph ("who loved East London and who drank tea with five sugars"). The gardens between levels are a riot of shrubbery, including huge plane trees and a patch of the first snowdrops I've seen this winter. This artificial hillock also offers a fine view down each of the seven roads which meet here, and oversight of the five-storey blocks which fill the gaps like wedges of redbrick cake.
Things are less tidy at street level where an army of horticultural obstructions has been introduced. When Tower Hamlets proposed blocking orbital circulation in 2020 local uproar ensued because of potential damage to underfoot heritage. These planters are a temporary compromise, but their gappy scattering has required a number of additional 'Road closed' signs and metal barriers to try to make things clear. It doesn't help that lampposts still have Buses on diversion and Kill Your Speed Not A Child signs which no vehicle needs to see. More whimsical is an additional yellow fingerpost which says Be careful on one side and Be curious on the other, installed last year by the Friends of Arnold Circus.
We leave this spectacular oasis via the fourth turn-off which is Club Row. Initially this passes through more of the Boundary Estate which means a massive long apartment block down one side and a defunct secondary school on the other. The school's bike shed has unexpectedly been converted into an acclaimed restaurant called Rochelle Canteen, which yesterday was serving up Ox Tongue, Tropea & Green Sauce for starters and Braised Rabbit, Fennel, Guanciale & Aioli for main. Even when you cross Old Nichol Street into the less cohesive streetscape beyond, what looks like a warehouse with a graffitied door turns out to be an upmarket fashion outlet migrated from Mayfair. That laundrette could be an entire world away.
For most of the 20th century the southern end of Club Row was notorious as London's one and only live animal market, the place to come every Sunday to buy dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, monkeys and other potential pets. Animal rights legislation led to its closure in 1983 and Sundays now see young couples queueing for caffeine and pastries outside Jolene or wandering over to the main action on Brick Lane instead. The road ends with a couple of rare 250 year-old weavers' cottages, recently saved from demolition by the Georgian Group, and a corner pub that's evolved into an American-style cocktail bar. Those driving along Bethnal Green Road would no longer think to turn off here, and wouldn't get very far if they tried, but the brief B122 definitely merits closer inspection from anyone on foot.
To give you some idea how short these low-numbered B roads are, this is the 17th I've blogged and yet I've only walked a total of 16 miles. The B184 is twice as long as all of these put together, or will be if I ever get that far.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, January 28, 2022This peeved me.
It can't possibly be true that customer care at this branch of Tesco increases incrementally every day. There must, at some point, be a day on which the servers' attitudes aren't quite as good as the day before. The slogan also hints that all the customer experience you've received here in the past has somewhow been substandard because today it'll be better. It'd be OK as a target for staff to encourage them to go the extra mile, but it's an entirely unrealistic expectation to plaster outside a shop.
This peeved me more.
posted 10:00 :
London's 50 longest rail tunnels
(based on data here) (does not include tube tunnels)
1) Crossrail [main tunnel] 15.4km Royal Oak → Custom House (2022)
2) High Speed 1 [London 2] 10.1km Stratford International → Dagenham (2007)
3) High Speed 1 [London 1] 7.5km St Pancras International → Stratford International (2007)
4) Crossrail [Heathrow] 6.6km Hayes & Harlington → Heathrow (1998)
5) Moorgate 3.7km Moorgate → Drayton Park (1904)
6) Crossrail [Thames] 2.9km North Woolwich → Plumstead (2022)
7) Crossrail [Pudding Mill] 2.7km Stepney → Stratford (2022)
8) Penge 1.96km Sydenham Hill → Penge East (1863)
9) Belsize 1.71km Kentish Town → West Hampstead (1884)
10) St John's Wood 1.57km Marylebone → Finchley Road (1899)
11) Kings Cross 1.55km Kings Cross Thameslink → Kentish Town (1868)
12) Blackheath 1.54km Blackheath → Charlton (1849)
13) South Hampstead 1.49km Primrose Hill → South Hampstead (1922)
14) Kings Cross 1.33km Kings Cross → Kentish Town (1868)
15) Primrose Hill 1.08km Euston → South Hampstead (1879)
16) Hampstead Heath 1.06km Hampstead Heath → Finchley Rd & Frognal (1860)
17) Elstree 967m Mill Hill Broadway → Elstree (1890)
18) Wapping 768m Shadwell → Wapping (1876)
19) Riddlesdown 765m Riddlesdown → Upper Warlingham (1884)
20) Canal 763m St Pancras International Low Level → Finsbury Park (2018)
21) Crystal Palace 682m Gipsy Hill → Crystal Palace (1856)
22) Clerkenwell 668m Kings Cross → Farringdon (1868)
23) Rotherhithe 658m Rotherhithe → Surrey Quays (1876)
24) Wood Green 645m Alexandra Palace → New Southgate (1898)
25) Hampstead 635m Marylebone → Finchley Road (1899)
26) Chislehurst 593m Grove Park → Elmstead Woods (1865)
27) Thames 576m Rotherhithe → Wapping (1876)
28) Bishopsgate 573m Liverpool Street → Bethnal Green (1874)
29) Crossrail [Connaught] 572m Custom House → Woolwich (1876)
30) Barnet 553m New Southgate → Oakleigh Park (1898))
31) Copenhagen 543m Kings Cross → Finsbury Park (1850)
32) Chelsfield 518m Chelsfield → Knockholt (1868)
33) Gasworks 483m Kings Cross → Finsbury Park (1852)
34) Drayton Green 463m Drayton Green → Castle Bar (1970s)
35) Maze Hill 411m Greenwich → Maze Hill (1878)
36) Queens Road 407m Hackney Downs → Clapton (1872)
37) Leigham Court 406m Tulse Hill → Streatham Hill (1856)
38) Kidbrooke 400m Blackheath → Kidbrooke (1895)
39) Hadley Wood South 351m New Barnet → Hadley Wood (1850)
40) Knight's Hill 303m North Dulwich → Tulse Hill (1868)
41) Temple Mills Depot Link 300m Stratford International → Lea Bridge (2007)
42) Shoreditch 297m Shoreditch High Street → Whitechapel (1876)
43) Kensal Green 293m Queens Park → Willesden (1851)
44) Camden Road 282m St Pancras → Camden Road (1867)
45) Leigham 276m Tulse Hill → Streatham (1868)
46) Clapton 260m Hackney Downs → Clapton (1872)
47) George IV 218m Woolwich Dockyard → Woolwich Arsenal (1849)
48) Hadley Wood North 212m Hadley Wood → Potters Bar (1850)
49) Streatham 201m Tulse Hill → Streatham (1868)
50) Earl's Court 201m Kensington Olympia → West Brompton (1991)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, January 27, 2022I am uncomfortable around dogs.
Many people adore them, pamper them, exercise them, accompany them, tolerate them, even simply ignore them, but I generally try to keep my distance. I'm told I had an uncomfortable encounter with a dog when I was in a pushchair so my unease may have started right there, but it's continued to bedevil me throughout my life. I like a dog to stay on the ground and ideally stay away from me, but very occasionally they don't and this happens just often enough to keep me on edge.
One consequence of this is that I take a particular interest in canine behaviour. If a dog is padding patiently or focused elsewhere then I'm usually happy to walk on by. If instead it's loose and excitable then I'll approach more carefully, ideally at a distance, or even adjust my plans and walk via an entirely different route.
Here are some of the behaviours I've observed and assimilated, ordered from 'greatest feeling of unease' to 'really not bothered'.
Canine Interaction Indices
in other dogs
in its surroundings
not especially interested in anything too old to
Some dogs are pathologically interested in humans and they're the ones I dislike most. Thankfully it's a tiny minority, or at least it is when you're an unwelcoming unfriendly soul like me. A lot of other dogs are really only interested in other dogs - meeting, greeting, sniffing, etc - and that's great because it keeps them away from me. The threat from a lone dog can often be neutralised by the sudden appearance of another dog, and hey presto my presence is completely forgotten.
Other dogs are so focused on exploring their surroundings that they ignore any passing human, which is great because I'm a lot less interesting than a canvas of exciting smells. Then there are the dogs who pad patiently ahead whatever, and the dogs who might once have been excitable but are now too old to do anything, and these are never any trouble at all. It's only dogs in the very first category that bother me, so I spend a lot of time scanning canine behaviour attempting to discount that possibility.
focused solely on you
cocks an eye considers you
Some dogs are definitely coming over to see you, possibly at speed, unless some external force holds them back. These are the dogs I most fear, unstoppable forces nobody can reason with, and I'll go out of my way to avoid them. Thankfully they're very rare but they still emerge with just enough frequency to remind me they exist, keeping alive the fear that one day one will do me damage. The pitbull I encountered in Buckhurst Hill last month did my long-term subconscious no favours.
Dogs who only want a sniff sometimes make me tense because it takes a finite amount of time to confirm that's all they're after. Thankfully the overwhelming majority of London's dog population are perfectly content to either look at me or ignore me and I'm OK with that - it's only when their behaviour nudges into a higher category that I start to worry. I'm not that bad, I'd never leave the house otherwise.
off leash and out of control
off the leash
off leash on leash
Even the rowdiest dog is no problem to me when it's on a lead. When I spot a dog in the distance the first thing I try to do is work out if it's on a lead, and if it is I breathe and carry on as normal. The moment of maximum jeopardy is when the owner unclips the collar to give a dog its freedom because I never know if they've released a firework or a sane rational creature with no interest in me whatsoever. If your dog isn't fully under your control, perhaps you shouldn't have released it.
Don't tell me size is not important. My unease is in proportion to the size of the beast, and thereby my chances of fending off an assault should one take place. Giants like mastiffs and German shepherds make me most nervous, just in case, whereas medium-sized dogs only make me uneasy if they demonstrate overexcitedness. As for small dogs they can essentially do what they like because I know they're no threat, indeed one crept up behind me in Victoria Park yesterday and I didn't even blink.
the dog off
keeping dog occupied
dog has some
Fundamentally my beef isn't with the dog, it's with the owner. If you've trained your dog well it's going to be no trouble, because it's only thoughtless and unsuccessful owners who inflict hellhounds upon the world. I generally feel safe if a dog is being kept busy with sticks or balls or if it exhibits all the signs of being well-disciplined. I shudder instead at owners who yell their dog's name repeatedly to no behavioural effect, and I despair at those whose dogs are allowed to do whatever the hell they like... assuming I haven't already fled.
"I see you've met Satan"
only being friendly"
call him off"
"Good morning" (silence)
I don't normally need to engage in conversation with a dog owner, so if I do something's probably gone wrong. Never assume I'll have the same upbeat opinion of your creature that you do, or that I want to make friends with your dog as much as they want to make friends with me. A bit of empathy goes a long way.
This is obvious but important - distance matters. A dog nearby and heading my way is more of a potential risk than a dog crossing my path further away. Even a frisky dog is easily dealt with if I can stay out of its sphere of interest, which might mean slowing down or taking a subtly different line across the park. Living with canine uncomfortableness means sizing up every dog that comes into sight, identifying any potential belligerence and deviating as necessary.
In all the other lists I've assumed I'm outdoors, but indoors is by far my least favourite place to encounter a dog. Being within the same walls greatly increases the chances it'll want to interact with me, indeed it's almost unavoidable, and I'm never able to settle if there's a sniffy inquisitive dog under the same roof. I well remember that time a friend kindly shut their Alsatian in the kitchen for me but then their husband came home and opened the kitchen door and within five seconds that dog was on my lap, and it still makes me shudder.
When outdoors the safest place to encounter dogs is on the street because they're invariably under better control, whereas in a park or open space they have more freedom to roam and play. The most unnerving place to meet them is in more remote locations, because this is precisely where owners take excitable dogs because they assume they won't encounter anyone. Bumping into Mr Frisky while alone on a narrow path with zero escape routes is about as bad as it gets for me. I don't let these fears prevent me from walking in deep countryside, not all the time, but I am always on heightened alert just in case.
Despite these eight indices I've managed to compile, rest assured I do know hardly any dogs are any trouble whatsoever. But if there's any suggestion one might be up the red end rather than down the pink end, I do my best to keep well away.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, January 26, 2022Wordle is the daily online word game in which you try to guess today's five-letter word in a few guesses as possible. Coloured clues are given for correct letters in the right or wrong positions.
T H I N G G U E S S S U G A R
Everyone in the world gets the same word on the same day. It's a delightfully simple low-fi ad-free game which millions are playing. And the pressure is always there to guess correctly in as few rows as possible... in which case a few Wordle tips might just be useful.
There are 2315 possible Wordle solutions.
The 2315 words were selected by the game's inventor Josh Wardle, then shuffled into a random order. That random order is now fixed and each day's word is the next on the list. It'll take just over six years to work through the entire sequence before it repeats. Wordle 0 was on June 19th 2021. Wordle 2314 will be on October 20th 2027. Today is day 221.
The first ten words, had anyone been playing other than Josh's partner, were CIGAR, REBUT, SISSY, HUMPH, AWAKE, BLUSH. FOCAL, EVADE, NAVAL and SERVE.
The list is part of the code which powers the webpage so can be extracted and analysed. Potentially this is a massive spoiler because you can work out what's coming next, but that would be entirely self-defeating. Instead let's concentrate on what the overall bank of 2315 words can tell us because that might help us to make better guesses.
Two-thirds of Wordle words consist of five different letters.
This means repeated letters crop up quite a lot.
30% of words have one repeated letter.
1.6% of words have two repeated letters (that's about 6 words a year)
0.8% of words have a letter repeated three times (that's about 3 words a year)
Only one word consists of just two different letters (and it's not due to appear until 2027, so don't worry about it).
The most common letter, unsurprisingly, is E.
E appears in 46% of Wordle words, i.e. just under half.
A is next (39%), then R (36%), then O and T (29%), then L and I (28%) then S (27%), then N (24%).
This is not the same as letter frequency in wider English, which is ETAONRISH.
For Wordle the letter order is EAROTLISN, because five-letter words have a structure all of their own.
The least common letters are J, Q, X and Z, which you should only see once every two or three months.
Next come V, W, K and F, each of which might appear two or three times a month.
Full frequency order is EAROTLISNUCYHDPGMBVWKFJQXZ.
This suggests a good starting word might be ORATE.
(or LATER, if you want a word that's actually in the list of solutions)
But if you want green tiles, not just coloured tiles, it might be more useful to know whereabouts in the word the letters usually are.
E, for example, is much more likely to be the last letter than the first letter.
A, by contrast, more normally appears in second or third position.
S, meanwhile, is more likely to be the first letter than anything else.
Because I've bashed the statistics I can do you a full (ordered, coloured) spreadsheet.
E is the final letter in 424 of Wordle's answers, that's 18%.
It's the fourth letter in 13%, second in 10%, third in 8% but first in only 3%.
The two most striking outliers are S and Y.
1 in every 6 words starts with S, and 1 in every 6 words ends in Y.
Wordle's list doesn't include plurals, so S is the final letter only about once every two months.
Other letters most likely to come first are C, P, M, G, B, F, W, Q and J.
Other letters most likely to come last are T, N, D and K.
The most predictable position is last place, which is E, R, T or Y 54% of the time.
As for the second letter, that's one of AEHILORU 80% of the time.
Vowels turn out to be quite position-specific.
The second letter is a vowel just over half the time.
The third letter is a vowel almost exactly half the time.
Meanwhile the first letter is a consonant 86% of the time, i.e. six days a week.
Wordle uses American spellings, which can be awkward for UK players.
A few weeks ago the answer was FAVOR, which caused quite a FUROR.
By my calculations there are about 20 US-specific spellings in the word bank, including ARMOR, SAVOR and TUMOR.
That trio are lined up for 2026, don't worry, but expect about three US blips a year.
I fear the internet may melt down on the day FANNY emerges.
Also the list contains a tiny number of really unfamiliar words.
Overwhelmingly Josh chose well-known ones...
(of the 12972 words allowed as guesses, only 2315 are used as solutions)
...but words like DROIT, FICUS and HAUTE are in there too.
Again that trio are a very long way in the future - all in 2027 - but be prepared for the occasional vocabulary bomb to wipe out your winning streak.
Whatever, Wordle's just a bit of fun so let's not ruin it.
Instead consider these a few tips that might help you guess more quickly more often in future.
For a more forensic analysis see Bertrand Fan's blogpost The Best Starting Word in WORDLE, which he published in November way before the rest of the world caught on. He reckons the best starting word is SOARE, an obsolete word that means “a young hawk”, because that has the really popular letters in really popular positions. Kick off with SOARE and you should get at least one green letter 50.4% of the time.
S O A R E P O I N T Y O U T H
But it won't always help.
posted 08:00 :
Tuesday, January 25, 20222022 marks ten years since London hosted the Olympics, so it's about time I brought you an Update On Things That Have Recently Changed In The Olympic Park. Here are ten things that aren't what I told you they were last time.
••••• This is how the East Bank is shaping up, the new cultural quarter slotting in between Westfield and the Park. The building on the left is V&A East, a new museum space. Its skeleton is complete and some of the armadillo-like cladding has been added, but it's not due to open until 2025. The second building is the UAL London College of Fashion. It's the tallest of the four, the most substantially complete and due to open in autumn 2023. The third building is the new BBC Music studios, essentially a stack of floors at present. Auntie won't be moving in before 2025. The fourth and final building is Sadler's Wells East, a jaunty theatre/academy combo. It's hard to see from this viewpoint, sorry, and not much more advanced than the BBC, but still pencilled in to premiere at the end of 2023.
••••• I haven't seen a kingfisher in the Olympic Park in the last nine months, although I saw one fifteen times in the six months before that, so either I'm getting unobservant or they've gone.
••••• Last February a planning application was submitted to add 50m of fence to the edge of Stadium Island so that West Ham could shut out members of the public on matchdays. That fence has now appeared, along with one lockable gate on the towpath and another at the foot of the steps. This simple act allows the footpath alongside the Old River Lea to remain open at all times, even when claret and blue hordes are marauding up top. It's also ended the need for monthly closure dates to be pinned to surrounding bridges, reducing clutter and faff, so a bit of a win all round.
••••• Last September I told you the story of the Pudding Mill Allotments and disappearing daylight. Plotholders were concerned that a new development of 600 new homes immediately to the south would block out sunlight for most of the day and significantly impair conditions for growth. They were particularly annoyed because the developers had been told to slope their buildings away from the allotments but instead submitted a plan with four towers against the northern perimeter. It's fine, said the developers, almost all of your site will still get more than 2 hours direct sunlight on 21st March and that's the legally accepted threshold. It's not fine, said the plotholders, two-thirds of our site will get less than 8 hours direct sunlight on 21st March and that'll wreck our vegetables.
Last week the developers resubmitted their planning application with an additional 45 page document packed with considerably more information on daylight/sunlight/overshadowing. They've recalculated figures based on a more accurate building silhouette and tabulated data for each of the 50 allotment plots in December, March and June. On these maps yellow means 8+ hours of sunlight and the two shades of blue mean less than 2 hours.
In June there's no problem because the sun's high in the sky and everyone still gets lots of light. In the key month of March the north remains sunny but the southern end only gets 2-4 hours. In December hardly anywhere gets 2 hours, whereas currently most of the site gets more than 4. The report also calculates the average reduction in light availability season by season... down 49% in winter, down 31% in spring and down 24% in summer. These are reductions from a very high base, given the adjacent land is currently empty, but it's not good news for owners of certain cursed southern plots.
This is a significant intervention and so, unusually, the entire development is subject to another 30 days of public consultation. I hope everyone complains again, until the architects finally do the honest thing and shift the tall towers back where they always should have been.
••••• Last July I reported that Bridge H14 had finally opened, the new road connection between Fish Island and the southern Park. Six months later it has yet to see a single vehicle. Only the bridge and one connecting road were completed, and as yet no attempt has been made to complete the last few metres on the eastern side. This'll require more tarmac and an extra road junction, of which there is currently no sign. Even when the bridge does finally open the only vehicle allowed across will be the 339 bus, whose diversion has been rubberstamped since 2019, but for now it's pedestrians and bikes only.
••••• If you walked round the park during the Olympics, or have done since, you probably spotted a number of circular metal plaques embedded in the paths. They celebrate wildlife, plant life, sustainability and the like, and were designed to live on into legacy. Alas this month a couple of them have disappeared, one on either side of the river. They were most probably stolen, indeed a series of grooves in the tarmac make it look like both plaques were forcibly prized out. Of course it may be that they've been deliberately removed, perhaps for maintenance, but I fear resale greed has struck instead.
••••• Last July I updated you on the state of the five new Olympic residential neighbourhoods. I can now confirm that the first stage of East Wick, south of Here East, is complete. Remaining stages are totally not started. Meanwhile the entirety of Chobham Manor edges closer and closer to full completion, with the last mostly-incomplete block located where the sales office used to be.
••••• Last August I told you about the ridiculously unnecessary cycle lane junction that's been created on Northwall Road. Not only is this road closed to traffic but immediately beyond the junction one of the cycle paths has been blocked by two large concrete blocks. Now 17 more concrete blocks have joined them, scattered further down Northwall Road, additionally blocking vehicles that shouldn't be able to drive down here anyway.
••••• At Hackney Bridge the poncey perfumier Gallivant ("Fragrance for Urban Explorers") has moved out and their cubbyhole is now occupied by Cake Cult, a vegan bakery operated by pink-headscarfed staff flogging small expensive sugary treats, and I'm not sure that's an improvement.
••••• Yes, they're still building the Abba Arena. Dozens are, some on the roof, some finishing off the exterior and the majority I hope inside because it's supposed to be opening in four months time.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, January 24, 2022Walking Britain's B Roads: the B121
Stepney Green/Stepney High Street/Belgrave Street/White Horse Road
[Tower Hamlets] [0.8 miles]
After the nondescript B120, the B121 is absolutely rammed with interest. It's medieval in origin and was once the sole link across the fields from Mile End to the docks (by way of the East End's first parish church). Along its oblique path I can promise you a revolting encampment, several sheep, a Crossrail shaft, a famous nursery rhyme, ten almshouses and a children's theatre, which isn't bad for less than a mile. Also it's impossible to drive the full length in a car because this is yet another B road that shouldn't still be a B road, and yet it is, so let's walk it.
The B121 starts on Mile End Road opposite the big Currys. There's been a turn-off here for centuries, originally known as Mile End Green, this being a nicer place to live than on the main drag. Today it's called Stepney Green instead but echoes of an older time abound. The road kicks off with a full-on Georgian terrace - essentially a long brick cuboid with sash windows and arched doorways - faced by half a dozen three-storey villas, one of which has just sold for one point one million. Most striking is the former bakery with a faded advert for DAREN Bread - Best for Health painted across its facade, although the sign can't be original because Hovis would have been the brown loaf of choice when the shop closed in the 1980s.
Just round the bend the road opens out to reveal a row of very old houses beyond a long stripe of grass. This is Stepney Green Gardens, a chain of four long lawns created in 1872 and all that's left of rural Mile End Green. The separate road which runs just behind is narrow, blue-cobbled, well-worn and far more characterful than Stepney deserves to be. The finest house is the Queen Anne beauty at number 37, built in 1694 for a rich merchant who wanted access to the docks without living on top of them. And tucked amid this residential splendour is The Rosalind Green Hall, formerly home to Arbour Youth Amateur Boxing Club but currently boarded up waiting for Barnardo's to turn it into a Live, Learn & Work Centre.
Not everything on Stepney Green is old. Several massive mansion blocks have been added including the decorated redbrick Stepney Green Court (1896) and the open-stairwelled Dunstan Court (1899). More jarring is the low-fi block of postwar flats on the southern side, broken only by The Ship On the Green - one of those architect-led developments which likes to pretend it's still a pub. Essentially if your house number is odd you've done very well and if your house number is even you probably have the council to thank.
A separate grass island offers the unlikely combination of palm trees and a clock tower. The tower dates from 1913, features two stone relief panels depicting Education and Benevolence and commemorates Stepney councillor Stanley Atkinson. It used to be possible to inspect it at close quarters but the council then erected a ring of protective railings - impenetrable unless you're the gardener or have minimal athletic ability. Close by is a red granite water fountain dedicated to temperance campaigner Leonard Montefiore (pillar of the local Jewish community and friend of Oscar Wilde who died at the age of 27).
The large park on the right wasn't there 60 years ago, it was created by clearing several terraced streets. Likewise those streets weren't there 640 years ago when the Essex arm of the Peasants' Revolt turned up and encamped here, shortly before Richard II turned up on horseback to address them. The most recent marauding force is Crossrail who filled one end of the park with a major worksite and have left behind a long sinuous silver ventilation shaft, this being the very spot where the tunnels from Stratford and Canary Wharf merge. Alongside is Stepney City Farm, an agricultural oasis packed with pigs, goats, donkeys, chickens and a cafe. The easiest animals to see from the B121 are the Hebridean sheep, and also the beehives which are stashed inside the demolished entrance to a 200 year-old Baptist College.
I could have written a week's posts on everything I've mercilessly abridged in that single paragraph, sorry, such are the narrative riches of this historic B road.
The upcoming mini-roundabout is where the B140 starts so we'll be back here later, but the B121 instead turns right down what's left of Stepney High Street. I've blogged previously about how it's become a runty shadow of its former self so won't repeat myself, apart from reusing a leafy photo because my midwinter attempt was bedevilled by low solar dazzle. Here we see the pride of Stepney, St Dunstan's church, which incredibly was founded here in AD 952. The current building is fundamentally 15th century but includes a 10th century rood cross, a 13th century chancel and much 20th century stained glass. It also currently has a fully illuminated Christmas tree and a large nativity scene in front of the altar because some vicars don't believe in taking down the decorations before Candlemas.
Belgrave Street cuts diagonally along the edge of St Dunstan's churchyard segregated by a long line of black spiky railings. With its double avenue of plane trees the road looks almost rural, although the open space opposite again used to be terraced streets and the churchyard is rammed with plague victims. What the B121 should now do is continue straight ahead because Belgrave Street is broad and two-way, but instead it follows historical precedent and turns left in front of Mercers Cottages. This is White Horse Road, the original route to Commercial Road and the docks, except a modal filter was added a few years back banning all vehicles so now it's bikes and pedestrians only. The splendid almshouses facing the church are for the exclusive benefit of widows and result from a will made by Lady Jane Mico in 1670. They were rebuilt in the current style in 1856 but retain the original cartouche on one end.
Just around the corner is a small open space where a tarmac path weaves between a few well-worn gravestones. This used to be the burial ground for a group of Puritan non-conformists who went by the name of Stepney Meeting and was last used in 1853. A map on the information board allows you to track down the graves of their two longest-serving pastors, assuming that's of interest and you're not simply here so your dog can relieve itself.
White Horse Street is a mix of highly desirable terraces and utilitarian council flat replacements. Look out for the Tower Project which supports the borough's disabled, the somewhat dilapidated remains of the White Horse pub and a sparkling white building with the letters of its name arrayed across the roof. This is the Half Moon Theatre, a youth-focused venue which runs a successful programme of performances for children, and is still embedded in the community 50 years after its adult heyday. It's the last significant building before the Nisa supermarket on the corner of Commercial Road, which means I've just completed my short walk from the A11 to the A13.
...and the nursery rhyme link was to St Dunstan's which features as the penultimate church in Oranges and Lemons. By a ridiculous coincidence another church from the same rhyme adjoins the B122 so you'll be hearing about that next time. When will that be, say the bells of Stepney?
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 23, 2022Here are half a dozen ideas that weren't really worth a post of their own so didn't get one.
1) Crossrail Central Operating Section Rule Book
What should you do if you're a Crossrail driver and you see flooding, heavy snow or a cow on the line between Paddington and Abbey Wood? The answers are included in a 987 page rule book hosted on the TfL website, which if nothing else proves that learning to be a driver, shunter or signaller is a tough call.
i) Flooding: You may allow trains to continue normally if the water is up to the bottom of the rail head, run at a maximum speed of 5 mph if the water is no deeper than the top of the rail head and should suspend the normal running of trains if the water is deeper than the top of the rail head.2) Where is London's nearest waterfall?
ii) Snow: Normal running can take place unless you are told that snow is deeper than 200 mm (8 inches) above the top of the rail head in which case you must suspend the normal running of trains.
iii) Cows: If you see a cow, a bull or other large animal within the boundary fence, even if it is not an immediate danger to trains, you must use the emergency call facility on the train radio equipment, warn the driver of any approaching train by sounding the horn and showing a red light, and tell the signaller in the quickest way possible.
There are lots of artificial waterfalls in Greater London, including in Holland Park, Beddington Park, Grove Park (Carshalton), Kelsey Park (Beckenham), Foots Cray Meadows and Kew Gardens, but they don't really count.
Wikipedia has a list of 150 English waterfalls but they're almost all in the Lake District or the Pennines. The nearest to London is Kinder Downfall in the Peak District which is 150 miles away.
So I reckon the nearest to London is Tillingbourne waterfall. It's Surrey's tallest and tumbles from the north slopes of Leith Hill. It's on private land near the village of Friday Street but visible from a nearby public footpath [map]. It falls in five cascades and was quite pretty the last time I walked by.
3) How short-lived a Prime Minister could Boris Johnson be?
Having been in power for precisely 2½ years (technically 2 years, 183 days) Boris is the 38th longest-serving of our 55 Prime Ministers. He's already outpaced such heavyweights as Sir Anthony Eden (1 year, 279 days), Sir Alec Douglas-Home (363 days) and Andrew Bonar Law (211 days). He has to survive another 20 weeks to overtake Gordon Brown, 24 weeks to overtake Neville Chamberlain, 28 weeks to overtake Theresa May and until February 2031 to overtake Margaret Thatcher.
4) What's the most unusual set of maps on the TfL website?
There are many contenders but I'd say it's the collection of Audio maps. If you stop and think about the concept of an 'Audio map' for a second, you might understand how unusual it is. The set of Audio maps consists of 38 sound files which between them list the stations along each of TfL's lines along with their interchange connections and access requirements. For example one file lists all the stations along the Victoria line in order, and another file lists all the TfL stations starting with A, B and C. They're designed to be listened to by people with sight impairment who can't extract information from a map presented visually.
You may find them slow and cumbersome, for example when listening to the Northern line described branch by branch in both directions, but the target audience needs them to be comprehensive and precise. They are quite old though, being of 2016 vintage, and sound like they were designed to comprise a set of three CDs. But it's lovely to know they're there, and if you're ever having trouble dropping off to sleep then the alphabetical station list might be just the ticket.
5) When are London's National Trust houses reopening for 2022?
2 Feb: Sutton House
3 Feb: Rainham Hall
28 Feb: Ham House
3 Mar: Red House, 2 Willow Road
4 Mar: Fenton House
9 Mar: Osterley House
7 Apr: 575 Wandsworth Road
no date yet: Carlyle's House, Eastbury Manor House
6) A history of traffic cones in 100 words
Traffic cones were patented in 1943 by Los Angeles roadworker Charles D. Scanlon who believed that rubber cones would be more visible and durable than wooden tripods. Cones were first used in the UK on the M6 Preston bypass in 1958. Plastic cones were introduced in 1961. Traditional orange cones have recently been joined by yellow (for "no stopping"), green ("access to a lane") and blue ("overhead structure"). Cones should generally be placed 9m apart. They should be 450mm tall on roads with a speed limit of 30-40mph, 750mm tall where speed limits are 50-60mph and 1000mm tall on motorways.
posted 07:00 :
12 things that happened this week #coronavirus
• PM was warned about lockdown drinks (Cummings)
• "nobody warned me it was against the rules" (PM)
• Scotland to lift most remaining restrictions
• 1 in 20 in England are infected
• PM announces end to Plan B Covid measures
• workers urged to return to offices
• masks no longer advised in classrooms
• Hong Kong culls pet hamsters to quell outbreak
• NHS in push to vaccinate the final 4m
• easing of regulations in Wales/NI/Ireland
• island of Kiribati enters first lockdown
Worldwide deaths: 5,530,000 → 5,590,000
Worldwide cases: 324,000,000 → 347,000,000
UK deaths: 151,899 → 153,787
UK cases: 15,147,120 → 15,784,488
1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 52.2m/48.1m/36.8m
FTSE: down 1% (7542 → 7494)
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, January 22, 2022The A-Z of how London places got their names
Part 71: Lewisham → Limehouse
Lewisham: From the Saxon, either Levesham (the house among the meadows) or Liofshema (the homestead of a Jute called Leof).
Leyton: Again Saxon, literally Lea-ton, village on the River Lea.
Leytonstone: Originally part of Leyton, the part near a stone.
This is the High Stone after which Leytonstone is named. It's a stone obelisk on an older base, reputedly a Roman milestone, and can be found on Hollybush Hill just north of the Green Man roundabout. Also it's not officially in Leytonstone.
The High Stone started life as a mile post on a road out of London. It probably wasn't a Roman road given that the main road to Colchester went through Ilford, not Leyton, but the legend persists. At a later date a road ran from London towards what's now Woodford and another towards what's now Chigwell and it could have been either of those, or both given that this is where the two diverge. We know the stone definitely existed in 1728 because it appears on a map prepared for the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust, but there must have been a stone here before that otherwise Leytonstone wouldn't have gained its name.
In the Domesday Book it's only Leyton that gets a mention, and although some of the 51 homesteads might have been this far north the main focus of population was much nearer the Lea where the fertile land was. It takes until 1370 until we see the first recorded mention of the hamlet of Leyton-atte-Stone, i.e. the part of Leyton near the milestone, although it was still part of the parish of Leyton St Mary at the time. In Tudor times we know of an inn here called the Rose, a convenient halt for weary travellers, and by the end of the 16th century the road through Leytonstone had become busier than the lanes through Leyton. In the early 19th century Leyton was known as Low Layton and Leytonstone was Layton Stone, then came the railways and suburban expansion and the two inexorably merged into one another.
The High Stone became an obelisk during the 18th century, known locally as the Obelisk, which is further evidence that Leytonstone must have earned its name early else it would have become Leytonobelisk. In 1933 the original obelisk was hit by a vehicle - history does not record what - and was so badly damaged it had to be replaced. They kept the base but the upper shaft was new, as is explained in a now-unreadable inscription on the north face. Inscriptions on the other faces were retained but are now equally unreadable (south), substantially unreadable (east) and partly unreadable (west). This is the west side...
...and these are all the sides including the unreadable ones.
South face West face East face North face To Stones End
6M 0F 24P
6M 5F 21P
10M 0F 31P
The Base Of
Part Of The
Today the road to Epping is called Hollybush Hill and the road to Ongar is called New Wanstead, these being the A1199 and A113 respectively. It seems odd that this fork should be a significant location given that the massive A12 Green Man roundabout is only 200m away but that's the idiosyncrasies of evolving transport networks for you. The High Stone used to have a more prominent location by the roadside but in 2013 the council shifted it back slightly, with the agreement of English Heritage, and surrounded it with a small ring of uplighter spotlights. The need to upgrade the pedestrian crossing with a splash of tactile paving may have kicked all this off.
This photo reveals two important things. Firstly the High Stone is in the London borough of Redbridge, not the London borough of Waltham Forest where Leytonstone is today. It's only marginal - the dividing line between the two boroughs runs along the edge of Leyton Flats just ten metres across the road. Centuries ago it made sense that the High Stone marked the boundary, it being the only significant object in the vicinity, but administrative tweaks have expelled it to the borough nextdoor. Secondly you can see an information board in the background which is so impressively detailed that I've been able to regurgitate its contents to make myself sound learned and well read.
There was a mail coach robbery here in 1757 by a highwayman called Matthew Snatt. Snatt was later convicted of the crime and after his execution his body was hung in chains near the Stone as a warning to others.But nothing is stranger than the stone Leytonstone is named after not being in Leytonstone itself. Even 200 years ago the village lay quarter of a mile to the south, centred on the church and pub rather than the obelisk, and so it continues to this day. That's Leytonstone, originally the part of Leyton near a stone, and today somehow neither of these.
Limehouse: Named after the lime kilns found here in the 14th century.
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