diamond geezer

 Monday, February 28, 2022

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. It's changed a heck of a lot, not just because of the pandemic but also because my circumstances have evolved considerably over the last two decades. Below are my ten counts for February 2022, each compared to the corresponding count for February 2021. And because this is the twentieth time I've blogged The Count, expect a bit more retrospective quantitative introspection than usual.
Part one yesterday, part two today.


Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count my definition of alcohol had always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. This year I've had to admit defeat because it's become increasingly hard to source in pubs and even my local supermarket has stopped stocking it, so now any bottle will now do. This has however proved immaterial because I haven't been to a pub to drink any. Instead I'm sitting here typing and have just remembered I still have a bottle chilling in my fridge so have chosen to open it rather than leave my total at zero, and this is how counting things can seriously distort your data.
Total number of bottles of lager I drank in February 2021: 3
Total number of bottles of lager I drank in February 2022: 1 (↓67%)

20 years: This count is heavily dependent on my social life, which as you can see has had it its ups and downs in Februaries past. 2003 easily wins with an average of two bottles a day, most years scrape along at more like one a week, and 2018 is the last time I spotted Becks stocked behind the bar. Please note that this data is not always representative of my entire monthly alcohol consumption, indeed were I counting bottles of wine then 2022's total would be four halves.
(2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20) (2012: 14) (2013: 2) (2014: 4) (2015: 0) (2016: 1) (2017: 10) (2018: 5) (2019: 0) (2020: 0)

Count 7 (Tea intake): I might have expected to be drinking more this year and last, given that more of my day has been spent adjacent to my kettle, but instead I've remained within my normal 120-140 window. One cuppa after I wake up, one slotted in before lunch, two in the afternoon and maybe another in the early evening helps to bring structure to my day. And so I remain a four-and-a-half cups-a-day man.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2021: 128
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2022: 132 (↑3%)

20 years: The only blip in my sequence is the year kettles were banned in the office and I absolutely refused to risk a substandard brew from the vending machine or pay over the odds in the canteen. Other than 2005 my tea consumption has always been impressively consistent, whether at work, in lockdown or on the loose. A quick calculation suggests I must have drunk over 30000 cups of tea over the last two decades, which feels like a lot, and I can also confirm that the majority of these have been Earl Grey.
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008: 134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135) (2012: 133) (2013: 127) (2014: 129) (2015: 128) (2016: 133) (2017: 122) (2018: 123) (2019: 121) (2020: 122)


Count 8 (Trains used): After last February's rock bottom zero (courtesy of Lockdown Three) this February has seen a mild rebound. But that rebound is only recent. Prior to this weekend I'd only been on three trains but then I took the plunge and bought myself an annual Travelcard again and since then I've been on several. It's about time I got back out there, and more pertinently I thought I'd better buy one before the cost rises by £68 tomorrow. It means a lot more zipping around the capital again (plus you can expect a wider range of blogging topics so it's good news for you too). Observations so far: a) it's quite busy already b) they still haven't opened up the front seats on the DLR c) it's so much faster than walking.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2021: 0
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2022: 17 (↑17)

20 years: My monthly train total has also been pretty consistent, pandemic notwithstanding, and is equivalent to about four trains a day. Initially that was very much a reflection of my daily commute, but it's grown to become a leisure expectation because you can't beat the freedom of the city.
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007: 100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109) (2012: 118) (2013: 139) (2014: 101) (2015: 124) (2016: 132) (2017: 108) (2018: 110) (2019: 135) (2020: 136)

Count 9 (Steps walked): This has been my second February of extreme walking, which is what happens when you still want to get about but don't use public transport. I make sure I go out for a walk every day and that walk tends to be quite long, unless it's very wet or very windy in which I case I rein things back a bit. a few adverse days have nudged my total down from last year's record, but my daily average is still a whopping 22,000 steps and I'm very pleased with that. I also can't believe I've notched up 290 miles this month, which is the equivalent of walking to Hull and back, and makes for a daily average in excess of ten miles. I don't expect to maintain this level of footslogging in future Februaries because I'll have other things to do, but it has been doing wonders for my waistline.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2021: 671000
Total number of steps I walked in February 2022: 627000 (↓7%)

10 years: I only started counting steps after I bought a clever phone in 2012, but back then I was averaging 10,000 steps a day and now it's double that. Never underestimate the spur to exercise that a digital pedometer in your pocket provides.
(2013: 273300) (2014: 254600) (2015: 282300) (2016: 238200) (2017: 328100) (2018: 342000) (2019: 464000) (2020: 405000)

Count 10 (Mystery count): This'll surprise nobody under the circumstances, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I can't tell you how exciting it would have been had things gone otherwise, but that's because it's a Mystery Count and I literally cannot tell you.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2021: 0
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2022: 0

20 years: Yes, sorry, that's 20 consecutive zeroes. You may remember there was one year when the count potentially hit 0.3, but I decided a fractional occurrence wasn't a true Mystery Event so rounded it back down to zero. My favourite statistical anecdote from 20 years of Mystery is that had The Count occurred in any month other than February there'd have been at least one occurrence by now. Alas I picked February and so the wait goes on. My ongoing apologies.
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0) (2012: 0) (2013: 0) (2014: 0) (2015: 0) (2016: 0) (2017: 0) (2018: 0) (2019: 0) (2020: 0)

I've also been counting a couple of extra things for 2022, as promised, so here are those results.

Count 11 (BBC content consumed): I don't have Netflix, Disney+ or Sky, nor can I tolerate the interruptions of commercial radio, so I consume a considerable amount of BBC content. To give you some idea how much, February only lasts for 672 hours so to have spent over 400 of those with the BBC is phenomenal. Most of that was radio programmes conveniently timeshifted via BBC Sounds, especially while out walking, but also as cheery background during the day. Watching TV only accounted for 67 hours so was outnumbered by radio by five to one - a much greater disparity than I was expecting. I'm pleased to confirm that my TV licence is exceptional value for money, working out at 1p for every 18 minutes of BBC content consumed. Long may the nation's greatest cultural bargain continue.
Total number of hours of BBC content I consumed in February 2021: 378
Total number of hours of BBC content I consumed in February 2022: 405 (↑7%)

Count 12 (People spoken to): When you live alone you don't always speak to a lot of people face to face. Those of you who share a house would have reached 28 on this count purely by default, so the fact I didn't quite reach that low bar speaks volumes. Take out the people I've only spoken to because they were selling me something and my total drops to a miserly 16. Going round to BestMate's house deals with six of these, which leaves just 10 random social interactions across an entire month. This includes exchanging 'hello's with someone I passed on the stairs, commiserating briefly with two photographers about the state of the Dome and failing to tell a couple in Chingford where the nearest dog-friendly cafe was. My longest outdoor conversation was with a gravedigger in Edmonton, which isn't necessarily a fact to be proud of. At least 27 is better than my total last year, even if it's likely way below what yours would have been.
Total number of people I spoke to face to face in February 2021: 20
Total number of people I spoke to face to face in February 2022: 27 (↑35%)

I did suggest that you might count something specific during February 2022, so do let us know if you did. Life's more interesting when you count it.

 Sunday, February 27, 2022

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. It's changed a heck of a lot, not just because of the pandemic but also because my circumstances have evolved considerably over the last two decades. Below are my ten counts for February 2022, each compared to the corresponding count for February 2021. And because this is the twentieth time I've blogged The Count, expect a bit more retrospective quantitative introspection than usual.

n.b. The month hasn't finished yet so all this year's totals are best guess estimates, but I'll come back and update/rewrite the post as February draws to a close.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's the best February ever for people turning up to read what I've written, which is nice, even if it's only by a small margin. This is reassuring given I haven't been venturing far from home so my content's been geographically limited, plus I've subjected you to five verbose walks down minor B Roads. But before I get too smug at least 2000 of those extra visits were down to a single post reporting on Crossrail trial operations, and almost as many came from running a liveblog while it was windy which is an easy way to hike the figures. Whatever, 2500 visitors a day is not to be sniffed at (and is probably an underestimate because a lot of you prefer to read the blog without visiting it). I'm glad my ongoing quest for London-centric bloggage continues to engage.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2021: 65701
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2022: 69714 (↑6%)

20 years: In my first February I had fewer visitors in a month than I now get in a day, but the blogosphere was smaller then. Numbers climbed steadily over the next decade, with a boost in 2006 for the Bloggies and 2012 for the Olympics, and have plateaued in the high sixty thousands for the last five years. On a Londonwide scale these are still insignificant figures, but at least I'm not yet on the decline.
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012: 40018) (2013: 55369) (2014: 51727) (2015: 58380) (2016: 60609) (2017: 63770) (2018: 68993) (2019: 69102) (2020: 66682)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. This month we've been averaging about 30 a day, which is down on last year's record total but still well above numbers in my first decade. What got you talking most this month was changing postage stamps, disconnecting landlines and ending the pandemic, not to mention numbered pubs, stormy weather and what colour the background of this blog should be. It's generally the case that discussing something that affects us all generates a lot more feedback than writing about a restricted part of London. I'm particularly pleased to note that the conversation's not been dominated by the same few regulars droning on. An amazing statistic is that 300 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. Somehow a community has evolved here where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2021: 946
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2022: 850 (↓11%)

20 years: The comments have always been a strongpoint of diamond geezer, indeed I suspect a number of you come back each day for a second read. They've averaged over 10 a day pretty much ever since I started and over 20 a day since 2015, which for a blog in the 2020s I'd say is damned impressive. Most blogs either no longer allow feedback or have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking... nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic query, a nostalgic nod, a ridiculous aside, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, particularly if the topic is transport-related, and some days the gradient between sparkling and cringeworthy can be steep. But thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440) (2013: 546) (2014: 477) (2015: 625) (2016: 687) (2017: 752) (2018: 810) (2019: 706) (2020: 702)

Count 3 (Blog content): You might expect me to be writing less, given I've spent two years in a mostly-local bubble and there can't be many fresh angles left. When Woolwich is as exotic as it gets, writer's block could easily set in. But instead I'm writing as much as ever, mainly because I've not been interrupted by having a social life, leaving me nothing else to do of an evening but type. It's been a challenge to keep finding stuff to cover but the wider situation's always blogworthy, and if all else fails there's always nostalgia, snippetry and data analysis to fall back on. I confess I always try a tad harder in February because I know I'll be tallying my output (so there are never any "ah stuff it, that'll do" days), but hopefully that doesn't skew things too much. And it means I'm still averaging about 1100 words a day, the equivalent of writing five novels a year, which remains an excellent way to keep myself occupied.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2021: 32122
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2022: 33056 (↑3%)

20 years: There have been three eras of diamond geezer, word-count-wise. For the first six years this was a 600 words a day blog, then came five years when the total ticked up inexorably and since 2013 I've been churning out more than 1000. But it never seems worth going beyond that, partly because it'd bore you but mainly because it would burn me out, so I suspect I've reached a natural limit.
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698) (2013: 29410) (2014: 32283) (2015: 30362) (2016: 31192) (2017: 33094) (2018: 30680) (2019: 33361) (2020: 29099)

Count 4 (Sleep): I'm sleeping about the same as last February, although I expected it to be a tad more. That's because when I lie in bed listening to the midnight news summary I sometimes nod off early whereas last year I invariably made it to the weather forecast at the end. It's not like the news is any less interesting, so I guess I must be waking up fractionally earlier instead. Seven hours a night isn't a bad average under the circumstances.
Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2021: 190
Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2022: 188 (↓1%)

20 years: This pattern's pretty clear. I used to sleep about six hours a night when I went to work and needed an alarm clock to wake me up. Now I wake of my own accord it's more like seven, and I think I should be pleased it isn't eight.
(2009: 173) (2010: 164) (2011: 172) (2012: 167) (2013: 163) (2014: 165) (2015: 169) (2016: 174) (2017: 183) (2018: 197) (2019: 198) (2020: 199)

Count 5 (Nights out): February last year fell during Lockdown Three when indoor socialising was banned so 2022 could only be an improvement. It's not been a massive increase but it is a return to my usual equilibrium which is a weekly trip to BestMate's sofa. I last had a February night out in a restaurant in 2019 and it's 2018 since I last had one in a pub. But I'm pleased to say March 2022 already has three additional nights out booked, so some degree of convivial normality must be returning.
The number of nights in February 2021 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 0
The number of nights in February 2022 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4 (↑4)

20 years: I'm not an especially social person of an evening, indeed this count has only once surged into double figures. That'll be the manic month in 2002 I blogged about a few weeks ago, so hopefully you now understand why the following list has one massive outlier. Other than that it's been once or twice a week, max. You'd never get a blog to read if it was much more than that.
(2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9) (2012: 6) (2013: 4) (2014: 6) (2015: 8) (2016: 8) (2017: 6) (2018: 3) (2019: 4) (2020: 4)

Which leaves five more counts to rake over tomorrow as the month draws to an end, including the important news on how much bottled lager I've been drinking and whether the Mystery Count has mysteriously scraped above zero. Don't hold your breath.

10 things that happened this week #coronavirus

the Queen has tested positive
• Australia reopens international borders
England to end ALL restrictions
• ...and self-isolation and free testing

• Hong Kong to test all 7.5m citizens
• Scotland to end restrictions next month
• TfL ends insistence on face coverings
• 4% of vaccine doses were unused/wasted
• UK now 'living with Covid'
• invasion of Ukraine dominates news cycle

Worldwide deaths: 5,880,000 → 5,940,000
Worldwide cases: 422,000,000 → 434,000,000
UK deaths: 160,521 → 161,224
UK cases: 18,585,423 → 18,804,765
1st/2nd/3rd vaccinations: 52.6m/49.0m/38.1m
FTSE: down 4% & up 4% (7513 → 7489)

 Saturday, February 26, 2022

Walking Britain's B Roads: the B135
Sclater Street/Cheshire Street/Dunbridge Street/Three Colts Lane
[Tower Hamlets]
[1.0 miles]

This B Road is a minor mishmash running approximately alongside the Great Eastern railway viaduct between Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. It has wildly trendy bits, mundane municipal bits, reclaimed green bits and a huge number of taxis. It's partly one-way, in alternate directions, so is yet another B Road you can't drive all the way. And it crosses a couple of B Roads I've already blogged, including the previous one...



The B135 starts in peak Hipsterville outside Shoreditch High Street station. It bears off from Bethnal Green Road (aka the A1209) and follows the quieter downtrodden road on the right (aka Sclater Street). One side is almost fully demolished bar a long brick wall and an old weaver's house, which is heavily graffitied and in a parlous state. Powerleague football is played in the derelict railway yards beyond, at least until the much-contested Bishopsgate Goodsyard development finally gets the go-ahead and its towers block out all the sunlight. Most of the other side of the road has already been replaced by mixed-use brick, its ground floor providing spaces for cocktails, a cinema and charred belly pork. Come on a Sunday and you can see the remnants of the famous street market, which these days means a couple of food stalls and maybe a cloth laid out with eBay rejects, but was once brimming with proper bric a brac and before that live animals. In the 18th century this was Slaughter Street, for reasons best not delved into, although a classical stone plaque at the end of the road confirms it's been Sclater Street since at least 1798.



This brings us to Brick Lane, the aforeblogged B134, and swiftly across it into Cheshire Street. Its multiplicity of shops would once have been pleasingly ordinary but have been recruited en masse to the bohemian cause, this being a sideroad that exists to nudge weekend tourists out of Brick Lane. Its clothes shops are all 'Vintage', its barbers is a 'tonsorialist' and its plant-based cheesemonger is called 'La Fauxmagerie'. I hadn't expected the B135 to rankle quite so much, but oh for goodness sake, nobody needs an oneironautic incense shop in their life. Walk a bit further and thankfully the legendary Blackmans shoe shop breaks the spell with its cluttered Aladdin's cave of canvas-soled footwear, because they know what real people really want and it's £5 plimsoles. That's the one-way section over and done with (and the up-itself section too).



You can't miss the headquarters of Design and Art Direction, better known as D&AD, because its initials are painted in yellow across their frontage in such a way that the logo only looks right from one particular angle. This is exactly the sort of idea that might have won a coveted Pencil in their annual awards for excellence in advertising and design. Watch out for the alleyway that leads to a claustrophobic footbridge across the mainline, especially if you haven't seen enough graffiti yet, or stay on the B135 and wonder what made Tower Hamlets constrict the road with jutting crescent parklets. The B135 is briefly in residential territory here, although it's also possible to buy a ukulele (or ukulele sheet music or ukulele accessories) from the UK's very first specialist ukulele store, which naturally they named Duke of Uke.



The only pub on the B135 is the Carpenters Arms - innocuous today but in 1967 the Kray Brothers bought it so their mother Violet could be the landlady and many a shady deal played out across the bar. Reggie and Ronnie also attended the five-storey primary school behind the pub, hung out at the Repton Boys Boxing Club (where bouts continue in the Victorian gym) and more to the point lived a few yards away on Vallance Road (which is the B108 so we've beenthere donethat). I'm not aware of a connection with the disused dairy opposite, now the flagship store for Beyond Retro, nor the gloomy warehouse with a dummy in unflattering blue workwear propped up out front. This is Coppermill Ltd, seemingly a lowly repository of boiler suits, bath mats, towelling robes and duvet covers but which since 1984 has proudly displayed a Royal Warrant - "By Royal Appointment to HM Queen Manufacturers of Industrial Cleaning Cloths".



From here onwards the southern side of the B135 is essentially railway viaduct, which means a heck of a lot of small businesses squished into the arches underneath the tracks. One of the first is occupied by a bakery whose "hand-crafted" loaves are on display artfully wrapped inside individual sheets of brown paper, but this is not in any way indicative of what's to come. Instead it's all about London taxis, because Dunbridge Street is where you come to get your black cab repaired, insured or its exterior advertising tweaked. What little space there is outside each arch is rammed with taxis, inelegantly parked, and occasionally East End geezer types emerge and chat and point at things before wiping their overalls and heading back inside. I don't recommend stopping and taking too many photos.



The large park on the other side of the street is Weavers Fields, which sounds like it ought to have a long history but is actually a postwar creation replacing half a dozen streets. It also explains the B135's upcoming dogleg wiggle into Three Colts Lane which made a lot more sense under the previous street pattern. A further throwback is a souped-up Christian youth club called the Good Shepherd Mission, formerly the King Edward Institute, formerly a Sunday School if you rewind 150 years. The repair shop on the bend is under attack from unkempt shrubbery and will take any old vehicle, not just taxis. All are well served by Bethnal Green station, Overground edition, whose orange portal slots in where two viaducts diverge. For those who like to know which bus route we're following it's absolutely none at all, which is one reason why interchanging at Bethnal Green is a right pain.



The next curve of arches provides further space for taxi repairs and also a proper greasy spoon caff with plenty of local clientele. Further evidence of workingclassness hereabouts is provided by Neil's Sports Trophies & Darts Stockists (who have 40 years of engraving experience) and also by the presence of an extra cafe to provide Full English overflow. As the viaduct bends north Three Colts Lane is forced underneath, providing an excellent opportunity to stare up at indented Victorian brickwork. There's then your last chance to grab an MOT, in this case from a garage with a large mural that inexplicably depicts a sabre-tooth tiger snarling at a burning windfarm. And finally the B135 enters a drab canyon between student housing and budget hotels before grinding to a halt on Cambridge Heath Road. If you've ever wanted to play shuffleboard in a fake motel, start your exploration at this end.



Thank you for bearing with me through ten consecutive B Road write-ups from Tower Hamlets. Thankfully the chain breaks here. I don't have to bring you the B136, which was in Newham, because its 400m shortcut across the Carpenters Estate was declassified in the 1960s. Instead hang on in there for the B137 which is in Enfield and the furthest-flung I've yet had to walk.

 Friday, February 25, 2022

I'm always intrigued by a press release which goes against the evidence of my own eyes. And so it was with yesterday's TfL press release on Green Person Authority.
New TfL data shows success of innovative ‘pedestrian priority’ traffic signals
This is a follow-up to a trial announced in a press release in September 2020, but delayed until May 2021 because the pandemic muted traffic levels.
Transport for London has published new data that shows how innovative Green Person Authority traffic signals could be used to make walking in the capital safer and easier.
(Back in 2020 this was a Green Man Authority project but someone's had second thoughts and now it's Green Person Authority instead. This may be a wise move in an era of gender equality but it was only last year that TfL proudly launched 23 sets of traffic lights with Green Women to try to improve diversity, and I don't think you can have it both ways. Sorry, I digress...)
In May 2021, TfL installed the new technology at 18 crossings across London. These priority signals show a continuous green signal to pedestrians until a vehicle is detected approaching the crossing. The signal then changes to red for pedestrians, allowing the vehicle to cross the junction before returning to a green signal for pedestrians.
I was excited because one of these 18 trial sites was very near me, on Devons Road outside the DLR station, so I'd be able to see what all the fuss was about.
In effect, this switches the need to ‘demand’ a crossing from pedestrians to vehicles, giving priority to pedestrians at all times other than when a vehicle is detected approaching the crossing.
As I reported last May I was surprised because the Devons Road signals weren't behaving the way they should have done. Under Green Man Authority the traffic lights are supposed to stay red until there are no pedestrians and some traffic. But at Devons Road the lights only ever stayed red for the normal length of time, then switched back to red again when they spotted no traffic was coming.



I've crossed this crossing dozens of times during the trial, and observed it dozens more, and never once did the green man show for longer than normal. It was always six seconds and then the countdown started and traffic was allowed to pass again, even when there wasn't any.
As part of the switch on process, each site was monitored in person by one of TfL’s Network Managers to ensure the technology was operating correctly.
It may be that TfL’s Network Manager signed off on the correct behaviour at Devons Road and I am systematically mistaken, but I cannot reconcile what should be happening with what I've actually seen.
New data from the trial suggests that the pedestrian priority signals reduced journey times for people walking and made it easier and safer for them to cross.
It's no surprise that if you tweak crossing signals to prioritise pedestrians, pedestrians will find it easier and safer to cross. The numbers are much more interesting (or were when I managed to find the trial report TfL had failed to link to in the press release).
The average location involved in the trial displayed a green pedestrian signal for an extra 56 minutes a day.
It's not actually 56 minutes extra green time per day, it's 56 minutes extra during the 12 hour period 7am-7pm. This works out at almost six minutes extra per hour, which isn't much, and supports the conclusion that buses and other vehicles weren't adversely affected.



But this was not what I observed at Devons Road. During one particular five minute period only one pedestrian turned up wanting to cross the road, but during that time the lights changed from green to red and back again an astonishing nine times. That's approximately one minute (out of five) of extra green... enough to hit the "56 minutes extra green time" target in a single hour, not across a day.
By reducing the waiting time for a green signal, the total time saved by all pedestrians at the average crossing in the trial was 1.3 hours a day.
As a collective total, 1.3 hours doesn't sound much. If I assume the Devons Road crossing sees 1000 pedestrians a day, it's the equivalent of saving 5 seconds each - nice to have but not life changing. The trial report suggests the key factor is the number of vehicles passing, and that sites with over 7000 vehicles were likely to generate a measly 10-35 minutes additional pedestrian green time.
Compliance with traffic signals by people walking increased by 13 per cent, reducing the risk of a collision with a vehicle, while compliance by people driving stayed the same.
This is hardly rocket science either. If pedestrian signals are green for longer then the percentage of pedestrians crossing on green should increase. What's encouraging is that signals were only green for an extra 8% of the time, so the 13% increase in compliance is a decent improvement.
At one location, Bishopsgate with St Helen Street, a significant increase in pedal cycle red light violations per traffic signal cycle was observed. This increase is above the trend experienced at other sites and is likely to be a result of large cycle numbers, which is around 600-1000 more pedal cycles per period than other sites.
It seems bikes and GPA don't mix, perhaps because cyclists are impatient but more likely because approaching cyclists fail to trigger the lights. Whatever, there are so many bikes on Bishopsgate they turned the trial off.

The trial report provides three important conclusions (none of which are picked up in the press release).
Future deployment...
• ...should focus on locations with fewer than 7000 vehicles in a 12-hour period (particularly crossings on one-way streets or part of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods)
• ...can only be implemented at locations with fewer than 150 pedal cycles per hour over all time periods
• ...cannot be implemented on any site with an 85th percentile speed of above 35mph
I'd add that Green Person Authority needs to be implemented properly, so not the incorrect switching I've seen on Devons Road (and whose data has presumably contributed to these conclusions).
Following the results of the trial, TfL is assessing how the technology could be further improved and used at other locations across London in the future.
So you might see Green Person Authority in action at your local standalone pedestrian crossing.
Funding for further sites across the capital would be dependent on agreeing a long-term funding deal with the Government.
Or you may not.

 Thursday, February 24, 2022

It's the usual portmanteau post where I show you half a dozen disparate photos.



This is the ABBA Arena in the Olympic Park*. It opens in just three months' time so they'd better be getting on with building it, and indeed they are. A veritable army of hardhatters is busy outside knocking up an entrance lobby topped with tessellating hexagons. It's all a bit plywood-looking at the moment but that'll be because this is a building with a limited lifespan and it'll look a lot snazzier once they've painted/covered/decorated it. I've also watched the temporary flooring being manoeuvred into place over the last few weeks, which is about 50cm off the ground so visitors won't be walking on the old car park when they gather inside in the spring. I haven't been able to see inside the building since the walls were completed in October but I trust they're proceeding speedily with the holographic encounter space because time is ticking. The big news this week is that the sign on the front now lights up with rippling rainbow colours, which seems very ABBA-esque, although the strips aren't always lit so don't come specially.
* I wouldn't have said the hardstanding outside Pudding Mill Lane station was part of the Olympic Park, being on the wrong side of the railway, but it does belong to the LLDC and last week they erected a pink QEOP map outside the container hotel perhaps to make the point that it is.



This is Hackney Wick station where ticket barriers* have recently been installed. They haven't been activated yet because at present you can just walk round them, or you could last time I looked, so everyone's still using the validators. This smart new station opened in 2018 after substantial rebuilding works and ever since then it's been possible to wander straight in (or out) while a member of staff maybe watches from the ticket office. The subway only opened in November, however, so the appearance of ticket barriers may be connected to some sort of completion phase.
* I wondered how many other Overground stations still don't have ticket barriers, and the list below is the product of two minutes idle thought so is undoubtedly both incorrect and incomplete. comments
Overground stations without ticket barriers: Anerley, Brondesbury Park, Bruce Grove, Bushey, Bush Hill Park, Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, Cambridge Heath, Clapham High Street, Clapton, Crouch Hill, Emerson Park, Finchley Road & Frognal, Hackney Wick, Harringay Green Lanes, Kensal Rise, Kentish Town West, London Fields, Penge West, Rectory Road, Silver Street, South Acton, South Hampstead, South Kenton, Stamford Hill, Upper Holloway, Walthamstow Queens Road, Wandsworth Road




This is the American Carwash in Shoreditch, or rather the NCP car park* above it, which in recent weeks has been emblazoned with multi-storey graffiti. It's very text-based, very neat and very colourful, but that's the tagger Helch for you. I'm aware of his oeuvre but not especially informed, so I'm grateful to the youngfolk on Reddit for pointing out that this is just beautiful, sick and awesome. They also confirm that the fade on No Half Measures is amazing because they must have been using rollers and that the gradients on Measures are totally insane (and even more beautiful irl).
* Apparently the NCP car park closed since January 2021, which helps explain how a team of sprayers gained access and had the time to finish.



This is 1 Trusedale Road* which is not your normal London house, but then Beckton is not your normal London estate. It was laid out in the 1980s across drained marshes, part of the London Docklands Development Corporation's mission to build new houses for private sale across an unloved corner of Newham (and you can read a full backstory here). Today the backstreets of Beckton are a throwback hotchpotch of low-density architectural styles tucked away up meandering cul-de-sacs with ample parking - a lot more Milton Keynes than Manor Park. You won't find many houses like this particular high-pitched monster, which is perhaps just as well given the amount of wasted roof space, but it's fared better than many of the better-hidden timber-fronted terraced ensembles.
* You'll have passed this house if you've walked section 15 of the Capital Ring. It faces New Beckton Park on the corner with Savage Gardens, which is an excellent name for a road although it predates the pop group by several decades.



This is an empty* shop unit on Roman Road (at the Mile End end of the Bow half). According to the sign in the window it's going to reopen as a 'Dog Shop, Hub and Bakery', and that is the most bonkers retail trio I've seen in yonks. I assume a Dog Shop sells food and accessories rather than actual dogs, but goodness knows what a Hub is in this context, and the idea of adding a bakery seems both perverse and unwise. All I know is that Dogbliss is currently a dogcare service based in Bethnal Green, and on one level I wish them well with their diversification but mainly I worry that Bow is heading completely up itself.
* It used to be Spencer Hair where Janet styled Afro-Caribbean locks for over 20 years, but then the rent went up and she was sadly forced out.



This is a footbridge over the A12 in Leytonstone*, and I liked the combination of garish colours and menacing spikes. Come this way, it beckons, but don't you dare drop anything or try scrambling over the edge.
* David Beckham's first house is a few doors down on Norman Road, but he moved out long before this replacement bridge appeared.

 Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Anyone can send a Freedom of Information request to a public body and sometimes they get an answer. TfL probably get more requests than most and publish responses on their website for everyone to see. These can prove illuminating regarding the intricacies of the transport network, or they can make you wonder why on earth anybody thought they needed to ask.
The following (clickable) examples are all from 2022.

Sometimes TfL refuse to answer the question because the information's private.

We won't tell you that
1) How many cyber attacks have been launched on TfL public WiFi between 2016-2022?
2) I would like to request the transport safety videos that were shown in the safety and citizenship presentations in primary schools before 2015.
3) Please provide me with a map of cameras for the ULEZ extension zone. You are withholding this information which I am legally allowed to have, therefore please forward by return email.
4) How many secret spy cameras have been found in TfL owned toilets between 2012-2022?
5) What are TFL’s plans are surrounding “Operation London Bridge”? We have some information from our venue stakeholders on what will take place over the period of national mourning, but there is limited information out there on the infrastructure that will be in place in and around London, including transport. Do you have a document or any information that you can share with me?

Sometimes TfL refuse to answer the question because they don't have the information.

We can't tell you that
1) Have you a copy of the 1969 London Underground rule book Appendix S11 duties of guards?
2) I would like to know the following; The number of reported dog thefts in London from 2015 to 2021. The number of dog thefts in each London borough in 2021. The top breeds of reported stolen dogs in London in 2021. The number of prosecutions for dog theft in London in 2021.
3) I am requesting if you can please attach an MP3 sound file of the horn jingle sound that plays on the platforms at Norwood Junction station every time that a fast train passes through without stopping.
4) Please could you share the expense and (expected) income to TfL as a result of the collaboration with Adidas and Arsenal FC.
5) Coming from Vauxhall bridge towards lambeth bridge when was the milbank camera set at 20mph? Can you kindly tell me how much this camera has taken set at 20mph?

Sometimes TfL refuse to answer the question because the information is already freely available.

We don't need to tell you that
1) I was wondering if you had a document or data that shows the gradient information for Crossrail please? Ideally It would show the gradient value and the length.
2) Please include the following information: TfL’s annual income from advertising, by financial year, from 2015-16, until 2020-21.
3) Average Number of entries and exits to London Underground and Overground Stations. And available food pitches for hire outside stations in zones 1 & 2 that lie on TFL land.
4) I am looking for route maps for the following routes E1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,10 120 282 140 207 607 427 X140 N140 N7
5) I am looking at opening a restaurant and have the above locations as potential sites. I would be grateful if you could provide me with passenger info over the last 5 years for the number of people that pass through both Piccadilly underground V Leicester Square. As soon as you can please. Many thanks!!

Sometimes TfL refuse to answer the question because it would cost too much to collect the information.

We can't afford to tell you that
1) Can you please confirm how many of your staff have been referred to your own Occupational Health to prove they have a valid reason to be exempt from wearing a face covering?
2) How many British Muslim employees have you recruited? Please provide figures for every year since 2010. What is the average length of service? How many British Muslims have you employed in communications/media roles since 2010?
3) I have noticed that several crossing have had their push button/green man lights removed for pedestrians and not replaced. Please can you provide a list of all the places where this has happened in Enfield over the last 3 years. Also please can you explain why these have been removed and then not replaced.
4) Can you please list the number of devices deployed by your organisation for the following? Desktop PCs and Laptops Mobile Phones (Smartphones, PDAs handheld devices) Printers Tablets Servers Storage Devices Networking Infrastructure (E.g., Switches, Routers, etc) Security Infrastructure. Does your organisation have any plans for refreshing or replacing the above devices?
5) I would like a full list of all Boris Bikes that were missing and were then found outside of the Greater London county border.

Sometimes TfL provide some but not all of the information requested.

We can tell you some of you that
1) I would like to ask for the costing for installation of the social distancing stickers on the entire tube train network. I would also like the total cost for the entire network including stations. Can you tell me the time taken to install the entire operation?
2) How many miles (or kilometres) of bus lane have been removed from TfL travel zones in London since 2010? Also, how many bus routes have been shortened or abolished in part of in whole over the same period?
3) Who is responsible for the repair of the passenger information boards at Edgware station? Are there subcontractors or outside engineers involved, and if so what are there names? Please send me copies of emails between the staff at Edgware and the engineering department concerned sent since 1/11/2021. How many complaints have been received about this matter since it first occurred?
4) As I understand it, TfL are planning to make significant changes to the number 14 and number 170 Bus Services. To help me better understand why this decision has been made, please can you provide me with all of the different data points that have been used to make this decision?
5) How are your drivers trained? I have regular issues with metroline who you sub contact the route too. Only this week I have had to go and turn engines of myself and get abuse for doing so! Nearly 2 years I've had to put up with this and a driver has been arrested for threatening me at my own doorstep! What training classes do you provide, I would love to sit one. please let me know as half the drivers here seems to be picked up from the street and just given a uniform.

Sometimes TfL do answer the question and it's quite interesting.

We can tell you that (useful)
1) Can you please tell me how many Poster Tube Maps & Poster Night Tube Maps have been released between 2017 & 2022? Please also provide PDF copies of these Tube Maps.
2) Can you list the London Bus routes which cross the Greater London Boundary? Do TfL receive revenue from non-London Local and Country Councils for accepting non-TfL bus tickets on cross-boundary London Bus routes?
3) If possible could I please be provided the platform diagrams for the end of each tube and TFL rail line.
4) How many times per month in 2019, 2020, 2021 has Blackwall tunnel closed for any amount of time?
5) What is TfL’s routine system for and periodicity of inspecting its bus stop and bus shelter estate for faults?

Sometimes TfL answer the question and you think blimey, seriously?

We can tell you that (cheeky)
1) Please state if the London Transport Museum or any of its exhibits contain asbestos and so please list where it is located.
2) Please can you tell me the annual wage of every single Tube driver on the London Underground in the last financial year. Please include their job title and salary.
3) I would like to know the maximum decibel level between Chalk Farm and Euston. Appears to be unacceptably high.
4) I travel on the underground Monday to Friday and see a lot of underground staff not wearing masks I know that certain people will be exempt from wearing masks due to medical conditions Can you tell me what are the criteria for the staff exemption as they all appear to be front line and healthy?
5) What is the name and artist for the background audio used in the video “Station Progress: Bond Street (July 2019)” uploaded to the Crossrail YouTube channel?

Sometimes TfL answer the question and you wonder why on earth someone wants the information.

We can tell you that (specific)
1) Please can you provide information about who owns the boundary fence along the London Overground rail line between Kensal Rise and Brondesbury Park stations where private gardens along Chevening Road back on to this.
2) May I request the name or supplier of the hold music used when calling TfL Customer Service?
3) Could I please have a copy of the scaffolding licence for 3 Camberwell Church Street, SE5. I understand that this is a public document, this scaffolding has now been up for many months now and there is no work taking place.
4) The speeds of buses travelling between Wood Green Stop BU and Stop BV are of interest to a story I'm working on and I'd like to collect the data of the busses that travel between these two stops for one day, January 24, 2022.
5) I wanted to know what the cleaning protocols are at the stations network and trains as I cannot see anything but filth on the buses and tubes I know its not easy to clean these things but more money needs to be invested to ensure these are cleaned everyday and I do not believe that is the case.

Sometimes TfL answer the question and you can almost hear them sigh as yet another person asks for the same thing.

87) To whom it may concern, I would to request access to announcements, that are used on all tube lines, London Overground, TfL Rail/Elizabeth Line, train and tube stations, Trams and the announcements used on the iBus system. I would love to use them personally for purely enthusiastic purposes. Thank you in advance.

And sometimes TfL answer the question politely and fully even though the person asking has issues and should probably learn to calm down.

1) In February last year the 184 bus route became fully electric. However the U/W of the single decker bus is 12.491 tons (ie excluding battery and passengers) whereas the weight limit for Alexandra Park Road N22 is 7.5 tons. For this reason the double decker bus is restricted to twice a day. I want to request the impact assessment for introduction of the electric bus as cannot believe the bus exceeds the legal limit. Above all the impact on the underlying infrastructure must be taken into account before gas mains pipes/ utilities are damaged. The issue has national implications given the increasing emphasis on the switch to electric notwithstanding the well known disadvantage of excess weight. My MP Catherine West requested this months ago. I will not be fobbed off any longer.

I've never submitted an FoI request myself because lots of other people do and they often sound a bit needy.

I do sometimes wonder if TfL would receive fewer requests if they made more of their information available in a more obvious place, or if they had a general email address where you could just ask them things and some poor employee didn't have to spend hours constructing a pitch-perfect legally watertight response, but I guess the cranks would only abuse the system. Anyway the responses are always worth a dig, even if only to roll your eyes.

 Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Rejoice, the pandemic is over!

All legal restrictions are to be ended and all state support withdrawn, which is excellent news because it confirms that the virus is no longer a danger. After two years of having our liberty restricted, our freedoms curtailed and our civil rights crushed, today we cast off our shackles and return to living our best lives.

I for one am proud to be English because we've successfully scrapped our restrictions faster than everyone else. Other countries are still faffing around with face coverings, social distancing and taxpayer support but not us, we're better than that. We've defeated the virus with characteristic pluck, canny knowhow and sheer common sense. This is what we left the EU for, the ability to abandon bureaucracy and take appropriate risks safe in the knowledge that only the weakest will suffer.



It's only right that we start living with Covid. It's going to be around forever so we might as well get used to it, indeed we should have embraced this strategy from the very start. Life has to go on.

It's only right that testing is being wound down. We don't need to keep swabbing ourselves to see if we have a virus that isn't going to kill us anyway. Far better not to know we've got it, especially if there are no symptoms. That sniffle you've got is probably just a cold so what's to gain from confirming that it isn't? You only have to look at the data to see than the number of cases is falling, which is exactly what you'd expect if nobody's testing any more, thereby confirming that the pandemic has almost blown itself out.

It's only right that self-isolation comes to an end. All it did was cut you off from society when you needed help most, and it couldn't prevent infection because you were infected anyway. Instead we all should be free to get on a bus and sit next to anyone we like or go down the pub and breathe over our closest friends or cough through a film at the cinema in the company of strangers. Most importantly we must be allowed to struggle into the office even when we're feeling under the weather, just like we did in the good old days, because nobody's going to pay us if we don't.

It's only right that free testing is withdrawn. Keeping track of who's infected has cost us billions over the last two years and we cannot afford this charade to continue. Providing free health services on demand is a ridiculously outdated concept and the general public needs to learn to live without it. Anyone who still wants a test can always buy one, or indeed lots of tests over a lengthy period of time if they're at particular risk, because I assume everyone can afford this. The chronically ill really should have been stocking up on free tests throughout the period they've been available, and can always resort to eBay if they haven't.

It's only right that self-isolation payments come to an end. The government's already spent billions on furlough and fraud, supporting businesses that might not even have been profitable anyway. It cannot possibly support individual employees as well without wasting the hard-earned taxes of healthier members of the workforce. Thankfully anyone poor enough to require sick pay should also be unable to afford a test in the first place so that problem basically solves itself.

It's only right that some preventative measures remain. We should continue to carry out a limited national survey of random citizens so that any resurgence can be detected after it's happened. Older citizens must be offered a fourth vaccine because the over-75s remain the most likely to vote Conservative. The government is sure to maintain a therapeutics taskforce so that its friends in the biomedical industries can continue to receive a flow of public money. We need to manage future risks via more routine methods because the country's already bankrupted itself several times over so best not do it again.

It's only right that scientists once again take a back seat. The pandemic is essentially a political issue, not a health crisis, so we need politicians to stand up and take the big decisions. Say what you like about Boris Johnson but he's been the perfect leader to have in a crisis, an instinctive libertarian keen to impose restrictions for as short a period as possible (or doing whatever keeps his pack of swivel-eyed backbenchers happy in a desperate attempt to stay in his job).

It's only right that all legal restrictions are withdrawn. It was a sad day for liberty when the first legislation was imposed because that's not the way a proud society like Britain's should operate. We didn't fight for Magna Carta just so that our leaders could tell us what to do and when. Instead we need to rely on common sense because everyone intrinsically understands the behaviour that's required of us. Our leaders would not have found themselves vilified in the press had their behaviour only gone against common sense rather than laws they themselves had introduced.

It's only right that Britain finally gets back to normal. This means commuting to the office, buying lunch on the high street, dining out in Wetherspoons, booking holidays abroad, cramming back into theatres and generally spending lots of money again because otherwise our economy's going to collapse. The cost of living crisis can only be solved if the general public pays its way rather than expecting taxpayers to prop businesses up.

It's only right to force workers back to their desks where their productivity can be properly monitored. Key workers managed to attend their workplaces throughout the worst months of the pandemic, except when they were sick, so there's no longer any reason for those more fortunate to stay at home. It's also true that most offices have been nigh empty anyway so if everyone comes back the threat of overcrowding is entirely unfounded.

It's only right that face coverings are consigned to the dustbin of history. Nobody ever proved they bestow significant benefits to the wearer and I don't see why I should inconvenience myself for the benefit of others. Indeed I shall be burning mine tonight, not that I've ever worn one, and even when I did I always tucked it under my chin.

It's only right that everything ends now. Technically the withdrawal is in stages between Thursday and the start of April, but now that the genie's out of the bottle everything essentially stops today. Nobody pays any attention to the details, they only hear the headlines, so by rights the pandemic ended on Sunday when the Prime Minister leaked his announcement to the papers. Even the Queen could come out of self-isolation now if she wanted, nobody'd blame her.

It's only right that everyone gets their confidence back. We have to regain pre-pandemic levels of citizen engagement and this is best done by crowding back into confined spaces as we used to do before. The end of public health measures can only nudge the unwilling back into circulation because the alternative is now eternal isolation, and basically everyone's going to catch the virus eventually so they might as well succumb to it sooner than later.

It's only right for England to go it alone. Weak-willed countries like Wales and Scotland might flinch from brave decisions like these but history will show that living joylessly only ends up delivering a death toll that's just as severe. We also need to break down borders by welcoming a flood of rich tourists from abroad, vaccination status irrelevant, as well as sending our own infected citizens on much needed foreign holidays.

It's only right to think of the economy. Share prices and house prices are much higher than before the pandemic began but that's no reason to get complacent and risk losing these hard-earned gains. Our mental wellbeing and the life chances of our children will be much stronger is businesses are more confident, and those with Long Covid will just have to pull themselves together and help pay their way.

It's only right to rely on personal responsibility. We'd all have followed the rules even if they weren't there, just as our leaders did, so will undoubtedly continue to do so now they've gone. Let's hope it won't be long before all other public health matters become an issue of personal responsibility too, so that drink driving regulations, smoking bans and compulsory seatbelts can be consigned to the bonfire of red tape where they belong.

It's only right to draw a line in the sand and move on. Covid was never a danger because it hasn't killed you, you're still here, so it's only the lives of those sadly lost that needed to be protected. What's more Omicron is so weak it's hardly killing anybody, only ten thousand so far this year, so the efforts we've made as a country mustn't be put at risk. With no way of avoiding the virus and no way to know if you have it, you have to agree that's the problem solved.

It's time that we got our confidence back. We don't need laws to compel people to be considerate to others. We can rely on our sense of responsibility towards one another, providing practical advice in the knowledge that people will follow it to avoid infecting loved ones and others. So let's learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves without restricting our freedoms.

 Monday, February 21, 2022

Walking Britain's B Roads: the B134
Alie Street/Goodman's Stile/White Church Lane/Osborn Street/Brick Lane
[Tower Hamlets]
[0.9 miles]

Whereas my last B Road was a non-entity this one's a full-on tourist attraction. It's also not much use as a B Road because it's almost entirely one-way and one end is closed to vehicles at weekends. I'll be walking it in the driveable direction which is south to north. Also there's no way I can cram in everything of interest, especially along Brick Lane, so what you're getting here is essentially a taste... but a spicy one.

The B134 starts on the eastern edge of the City as a turnoff from Mansell Street. Alie Street first emerged in the late 17th century as one side of Goodman's Fields, a large square tenterground, and was originally known as Ayliff Street. It looks terribly 21st century today, a canyon of brick and glass including a smug office development called One and the new HQ of the Royal College of Pathologists. Even the White Swan pub isn't as old as it wishes it was, having replaced the up-and-coming Half Moon Theatre (alongside Half Moon Passage) in the 1970s. We'll pass umpteen Indian restaurants later but Halal Restaurant claims to be the oldest in East London, having started out in 1939 as a mess hall for merchant seamen.



Alie Street's oldest building is St George's, the UK's oldest surviving German Lutheran church, which was opened to support a congregation of sugar boilers in 1763. Services ceased in 1995 but the Historic Chapels Trust stepped in and it's well worth a look inside if events (or Open House) allow. That apart this street's got really bland of late, with falafel and bubble tea merchants occupying characterless units under flats and offices, plus a gym that's shoved its boxing ring against the window in an attempt to lure clientele inside. The last few metres of Alie Street are actually called Goodman's Stile - I've not sussed why - and at The Castle pub we swing north and cross Commercial Road.



White Church Lane is only brief and also one-way (as is everything to come). It's named after St Mary's church, the whitewashed medieval building that gave Whitechapel its name and whose footprint lives on in the adjacent park. Most of this scrap of road is old East End, which means a pub called the Bar Locks and a few rag trade businesses with an eye on the wholesale trade rather than the general public. One has a windowful arrayed with dubiously sloganed baseball caps, another a job lot of boxed-up braces. But one end of the road has already morphed into a faceless aparthotel with dine-in options, and the Fresh sandwich bar opposite is now a demolition site that looks like going the same way. The B134 promises better ahead so let's not linger.



Contrary to expectations Brick Lane doesn't stretch as far south as the Whitechapel Road. The first block is actually Osborn Street, a downbeat prelude with none of the flavour of what's to come. One side is mostly substation, because infrastructure's got to go somewhere, and provides a useful canvas for colourful street art. The other side is smothered in sheeting and scaffolding while a four star hotel is upgraded to a much larger Hilton, notionally flagship, whose location may prove a shock to jetsetting travellers. A few Bangla tokens grace the lampposts to encourage onward progress, and finally here we are.



Brick Lane earned its name from medieval brick and tile manufacture because even hereabouts was once fields. It's seen Huguenots and Ashkenazi Jews pass through and today is the heart of Tower Hamlets' Bangladeshi community. Before the curry houses start there are signs that thousands live very close by, including council flats glimpsed up alleyways, an actual primary school and an oddly triangular health centre. Come early in the morning and you may see wives hurling keys down from balconies, shoppers buying fish at Zaman Brothers and the awning being lowered at Butt Textiles... or you may not. The former police station's still empty, more likely from lack of funding than lack of crime.



The Jamme Masjid dominates this end of Brick Lane, or rather its cylindrical minaret does, rising from street level like a silver waste pipe. The building's been used for worship by several minorities that have passed through the area since the 1740s and for the last half century has been a mosque with space for 3200. The street here is so narrow that one-way traffic is the only option, while a trio of classic Spitalfields thoroughfares - Fournier, Princelet and Hanbury Streets - thread across to provide local access. Any unused shopfront soon becomes covered in graffiti and posters, so passers-by will swiftly become familiar with the name of Frank Turner's new album. It feels busy and dense, even before the lunchtime crowds turn up.



Brick Lane's less a curry mile and more a curry cluster, although expect to be properly spoiled for choice. Each vies for trade by means of its name or its reputation, or else by how excitedly its waiters can cajole you from the doorstep. Some hope you'll be lured inside by displaying faded photos of celebrities like Adrian Chiles, Billy Ocean, Dom Littlewood and Brexit minister David Davis, however unlikely that may seem. Not many of their menus are visible when the shutters are down but I see it's possible to get a masala for £10.95, an onion bhajee for £3.95 and individual poppadoms for 40p. And if Bengali's not your thing then multiple alternatives are now available, including a Morley's fried chicken, somewhere that only does pitta bread and a rustic bistroquet.



The Truman Brewery ceased production in 1989 and has since become, it likes to think, "East London's revolutionary arts and media quarter". Its substantial footprint springs to life at weekends, especially for grazing and drinking purposes, for example when the indoor car park transforms into stalls serving spicy street food brunches. I passed through midweek to avoid the crowds so only saw the preparations, including i) broccoli-obsessed artist Adrian Boswell spray-painting plaster brassicas in blue and green, ii) a man dressed like a playing card knave delivering a package to the Backyard Market and iii) the creation of a giant superhero mural funded by a high street pizza chain. My B Road safari has never felt trendier than this.



Beyond Quaker Street the road is sealed off to vehicles at weekends to facilitate full-on street market action. Some of the shops are now a bit boutiquey, but you can still buy a fringed jacket from a traditional leatherseller, a historical treatise at the Brick Lane Bookshop or an E1 postcard at the Post Office. For those who like to know which abandoned tube station we're close to that'd be Shoreditch, its husk of a ticket hall now the target of multiple layers of aerosol paint. The bridge over the tracks into Liverpool Street used to be where thugs would sell your bike back to you but now boasts a long rack of unridden hire bikes. Come back later to queue for egg and sausage baps, Portuguese tarts or thick grilled cheese sandwiches.



Beyond the railway the clothes shops are back, some genuinely wholesale, others merely playing at 'vintage'. This is also where we find Brick Lane's famous beigel duo who compete for sales in two almost-nextdoor shops. One claims to be Britain's first & best Beigel Shop (established 1855) and the other is 1974 interloper Beigel Bake. Judging by the crowds the latter is much more popular, and I'd say rightly so. Both have menus with suspiciously similar prices (plain beigel 40p, smoked salmon £2.60, salt beef £5.50) but anyone wanting to follow up with lemon tart or apple strudel will have to pick one or the other. Blasphemously the intervening unit has now been occupied by Crosstown Doughnuts, purveyors of holey dough that costs £30 more per dozen. And we're done.



The B134 very much hits the narrative jackpot so my apologies for skating over what could have been a full length essay. The B135 can't top it but does start in pretty much the same place, indeed we crossed it during the last paragraph, so I'll see you back here later in the week.


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ten of my favourite posts
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ten sets of lovely photos
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london's lost rivers
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