Thursday, March 31, 2022
31 unblogged things I did in March
Tue 1: Went to Norfolk to see my Dad (and to pick up my Christmas presents). I'm pleased to report that the snowdrops were out and the village pub does a stonking pie now it's reopened. Also he made pancakes with sugar and lemon, so it was almost like being eleven again.
Wed 2: Popped round to see my brother and thank him for my Christmas presents. I wasn't much help with the 4000 piece jigsaw. Also he made pancakes with sugar and lemon, so it was almost like being yesterday again.
Thu 3: Continuing the retro-in-Norfolk theme, today's lunch was defrosted Christmas turkey so it turns out I didn't miss out after all.
Fri 4: Awesome Chips in Wood Green was getting a very large pallet of potatoes delivered. All they sell is chips (served frites-like in a cone), their USP being it comes with a choice of 50 sauces and powders because modern palates don't want value-for-money-with-vinegar, they want a tangy kick.
Sat 5: I think the bloke who passed me near the Royal Albert Hall was Ian Hislop, semi-disguised by a navy blue baseball cap, but obviously I didn't stop him to check.
Sun 6: A lifesize bronze statue of Leonard Hugh Bentall (1873-1942) used to have in pride of place on the top deck of Kingston's premier shopping mall, but these days he's hidden down a passage on the second floor leading to the multi-storey car park.
Mon 7: Running for the bus my phone leapt out of my pocket and skidded down the Uxbridge Road, and I was even more worried when I saw the case had come off, but somehow I couldn't spot any nasty scratches or damage. I never have this problem in the summer when my phone's in my trouser pocket instead.
Tue 8: Previously when I bought my Annual Travelcard a Gold Card would arrive in the post a couple of days later. This time it hadn't arrived after 10 days so they said they'd send another. It arrived the next day... or rather the original did, and the replacement took another 10 days.
Wed 9: While back in Croxley I was shocked to see the house I grew up in with boarded up windows, rubble in the front garden, a breezeblock extension and a big hole in our dining room wall. Never go back mid-renovations. I also checked out our second house and all they'd done is repaint the garage.
Thu 10: Greenwich Observatory was closed and alongside were a lot a heck of a lot of horseboxes and men in tricorn hats hanging around, likely in gaps between filming something... aha, Ridley Scott's new biopic about Napoleon.
Fri 11: The pub by Roding Valley station had a poster outside promoting an unlikely special Mother's Day breakfast ("sausage, bacon and fried eggs in a brioche bun ring, and crispy hash browns and beans on the side"), and first I thought God no, but on reflection I suspect many Essex Mums would prefer a fatty brunch with drippy egg to a petrol station bouquet.
Sat 12: I had hoped New Addington would still have a proper old school bakery with buns and stuff but no, just a Greggs, which didn't quite hit the spot.
Sun 13: Got thoroughly drenched by an unscheduled downpour (and I'm still trying to get the Saharan dust off my jacket two weeks later).
Mon 14: Since I started travelling all over London again I've also regained the habit of devouring library books, and Richard Osman's latest only lasted two journeys. Again, witty and satisfyingly plotted.
Tue 15: The surface of Hammersmith Bridge still looks a patchy wreck, three years after they closed it to traffic. It may also be the first place in London where they painted Keep 2M Apart.
Wed 16: Nextdoor are ripping out their floorboards and replacing their carpet with wood-effect laminate, so good for them but I'm glad I don't live directly underneath.
Thu 17: I only had five minutes to wait at Clapham Junction, but when they announced "the next train at this platform does not stop here" I wasn't expecting it to be the actual Flying Scotsman.
Fri 18: I managed to walk around Waterloo station taking several photos unobstructed by officialdom until the minute I went outside and grabbed one of the exterior and then immediately... "Are you taking photos?" That got the reply it deserved.
Sat 19: Exactly two years ago I was queueing in Tesco stocking up on rations in case lockdown went badly, and threw an extra pack of chocolate digestives into my basket just in case. Today I finally opened my emergency biscuits and OK they'd gone a little soft but I'm glad I didn't need them earlier.
Sun 20: I walked through Morden Cemetery for the first time today, which was impressive, and I nearly showed you a photo of that for yesterday's "Where am I?" but I thought you'd guess it too quickly. As it turned out neighbouring Mayflower Park only lasted 18 minutes.
Mon 21: National Rail has launched a 'livestream' YouTube channel showing driver's eye views of scenic rail journeys, so this afternoon I sat back and enjoyed a showery autumnal ride from Norwich to Cromer, and then that cracking bit through Dawlish.
Tue 22: Supermarket update: Last week I got the last cucumber, this week there weren't any. So that saved me 45p.
Wed 23: I happened to be walking past the Olympic pool at the same time as its nasty chlorine incident, but on the opposite side of the river so all I saw was a lot of people walking slowly wearing silver foil cloaks, which I assumed was a queue in fancy dress. I never deduced that a minor disaster was unfolding until I checked the news later.
Thu 24: I rode the recently extended 324 bus to Centennial Park in Elstree, just to say I had, and you'll be glad to hear I won't be blogging about it.
Fri 25: The bluebells by the river in St Mary Cray were prematurely impressive.
Sat 26: That was the most crowded tube train I've crammed inside in two years, almost as if TfL no longer run enough trains at the weekend.
Sun 27: I went back to check on Outernet, the imminent brand theatre by Tottenham Court Road station, and spotted that the 'Now Arcade' was open so took a photo. A man emerged from the shadows and told me firmly I couldn't take photos "for copyright reasons" because they were just testing the display, and I told him that was ridiculous but he was quite persistent. This building exists solely in the hope that visitors will share images for years to come, but it seems not yet and only on their terms, so it's easy to despise them more.
Mon 28: Left my first comment on Reddit. Only one person noticed.
Tue 29: When I was at school we never nipped out at break to buy a can of drink, or headed to Sainsbury's at lunchtime for a meal deal, or stopped by the chicken shop on the way home to gorge on a box of saucy chips, although now I think back properly I was allowed to buy sweet cigarettes after a long day in top infants so maybe nothing much has changed.
Wed 30: The heritage Next Train lightboxes at Earls Court have been covered over by signs that say "Please Use Alternative Platform Information Screens" (which now include bogstandard dot matrix displays). It's all part of the 4LM signalling upgrade, which as of this week covers the entire Circle line... but don't worry, the lightboxes will be plugged back into the new system later.
Thu 31: Made the mistake of submitting an electricty meter reading in advance of tomorrow's outrageous price hike, because in their last estimated bill they assumed I'd used more than I actually had, so now I'm going to have to pay the proper difference.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, March 30, 2022Recently people have tried guessing what I'm writing about, or where, even though that wasn't the point of the post. So today I thought we'd do it properly.
Here are five photos I took during the last fortnight.
They were taken in five different mystery locations somewhere in London.
I've written 200 words about each photo.
But I'll only show you the text once someone's guessed correctly where they are.
n.b. They're spread out across Outer London.
n.b. I'd never visited any of these places before.
n.b. The places aren't necessarily very interesting.
n.b. If nobody guesses correctly, my text remains unread.
...and they've now all been guessed, well done!
Barnehurst (Bexley): For those of us who are used to our local parks being flat, Martens Grove Park comes as a bit of a shock because it has a deep woody groove down the middle. It's all thanks to the South London Pebbly Sands geological formation, and because a couple of rich Victorians built mansions here to take advantage of the landscaped setting. Some of the lusher trees wouldn't currently be here if the estate's gardener hadn't planted them. In these more municipal times there are restful benches and steep steps to climb and long ridgeside paths threading down towards Watling Street and several dogmess bins in vibrant Bexley red. The park once had a large open air swimming pool at the foot of the chasm, then just some underused tennis courts which over the last couple of years have been transformed into BMX-friendly Bexley Bike Park. One half has multiple lunar humps and bumps for two-wheeled thrills and spills, the other a more sedate road layout for teaching cycle sense to wobblier kids. It looks like the bluebells are going to be pretty spectacular but I only saw two, both runty and premature, so give it a few weeks.
Dormers Wells (Ealing): You'd know 205 North Road if you lived nearby, it's the brightly decorated house nextdoor to the solicitors. It has shields on the gable and contrasting coloured bricks and yellow windowframes and painted owls and a glittery front wall decorated with wading birds and a car's rear reflector and a horned helmet and a nice bit of privet and a sign on the gatepost that says Peace and a sign on the wall that says Warning CCTV and an Egyptian mummy halfway down the garden path and a little cow with a white rose on its back and creative use of silver laughing gas capsules and all-year-round baubles and colourful discs surrounding the front door and a big stone painted with the phrase Angels Wings Surround You Always and several embedded bottletops and a frog beside the doorstep and a satellite dish because it's also someone's home. I'd say there a south Asian influence, this being borderline Southall - a fresh take on more typical west London suburban design. The Beehive pub across the road screams 1930s, right down to the multiply-pitched roof and plaster scrapings, but has since been converted into Sarin Superstore and now sells lottery tickets, Polish beer and Portable Japanese BBQs so nothing's sacred, but number 205 gets close.
Edmonton (Enfield): It's not common in London for three roads to cross each other. This is where Dunholme Road and South Eastern Avenue cross Chalfont Road, with the latter coming out on top rights-of-way-wise. We're in the sweeping streets of Edmonton, not so far from the station but far enough to be off piste. Follow Dunholme Road north and you reach the medieval parish church, or follow it south and you hit the dull end of Pymmes Park. But here there's just a sprawling six-way junction surrounded by unadventurous semis, dusty pavement and bare trees. The odd building out is an electricity substation disguised as a little cottage, though not with any windows, just a lot of yellow warning signs. On my visit two of the street corners were being dug up for Cadent gas works, although it wouldn't surprise me if they've packed up and left by now. I also suspect someone's cleared away the pink Minnie Mouse sunglasses discarded on the northern prong. I can also confirm that when Royal Mail delivery staff turn up they lock their red trolley to the lamppost outside number 42, which has a very nice blooming camellia, and that the yellow lines outside haven't been repainted since the road was last resurfaced. I did say these places weren't necessarily very interesting, but I did hope someone might spot the unusual six-way junction, and someone did.
Stanmore (Harrow): Yes, it's a knitted pillar box on top of a pillar box, indeed it's one of the Postbox Toppers that've sprung up around Stanmore to raise money for cancer care at Mount Vernon Hospital. You'll find it on the bend in Old Church Lane opposite Stanmore Baptist Church, which very much isn't the old church the road is named after. It was put here by members of the Stanmore Arts and Crafts Facebook group as a follow up to their successful Christmas campaign across nine HA7 locations. This one's a spring special, as you can tell by the daffodil on the far side and the knitted envelope that says "To MUM". I don't think the 5p stamp is going to get it very far. This being 2022 they've had to stick a notice to the box saying "Please leave this here for others to enjoy" and also "This topper and its ornaments are not intended as toys and could be dangerous for toys and animals." I was sorry to have missed the crocheted hood with four gnomes on it (which is in Vernon Drive), the one where a dog is staring at a snail (in Woodlands Drive) and the one with the erect lobster (in Lady Aylesford Avenue). But whereas the Christmas set raised over £1000 the latest bunch have so far only reached £65, so if you did fancy showing some appreciation they've got a Just Giving page here. We have nothing like this in Bow.
Worcester Park (Sutton): Once upon a time this was a Sewage Treatment Works but Thames Water decided they could do without and sold out to a property developer who built 650 homes instead. They called the estate The Hamptons and went for a New England vibe with substantial Dutch-Colonial-style buildings and picket fences, so it feels a bit like stepping into a Stephen King filmset only with hatchbacks and pylons. In 2011 the Evening Standard described The Hamptons as "a beauty among the beasts of endless interwar terraces", which was a slight on the actual residents of Worcester Park but very much target audience. Only one of the timber blocks has subsequently burnt to the ground due to entirely inadequate firestopping, which is the block you can no longer see in this photo because it isn't there. The estate surrounds a large area of severely landscaped parkland complete with viewing mound and amphitheatre, plus an extensive wetland area consisting of five heron-infested ponds. Follow the curving boardwalk out of Mayflower Park and you enter Pig Farm Alley - a reminder that not everything round here has been upwardly rebranded - and beyond that a cemetery and Merton's council tip. Personally I prefer the neighbouring "monotonous" semis, but there's nowhere else in London quite like it.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 29, 2022If something goes a bit wrong, or breaks, or stops working efficiently, I don't usually rush to fix it. Instead I make do, or try to cope, or put up with second best, rather than act, make a change or replace something. It might be procrastination, might be inertia, might be thrift, but I'm not convinced it's the best way to run my life. Here are ten things I've left, indeed am currently leaving be, rather than acting to improve how things are.
I bought it to replace something that had broken - several things really - to ensure I still had capability going forward. But I didn't go for the quality option, I went cheap, and it turned out my replacement wasn't quite as good as what had gone before. It still works with most of what I feed in but not with everything, not as much as previously, which annoyingly restricts the selections I can make. I could probably fix the issue by buying a more expensive version, indeed I probably should before the day comes when I can't, but having invested in the lesser model it'd be a lot of additional outlay to go a fairly small extra step. I ought to act but I'm making do.
It broke last year so I got it checked and was told it was fine, which was excellent, but six months later it broke again, and then it broke a third time. I decided it didn't need checking again and carried on, like you do, because it still seemed to be fine so I assumed it probably was. It didn't work quite as well as before but a few sensible adaptations mean it hasn't really made a difference, or so I tell myself in those moments when my subconscious tries to argue otherwise. It'd be pretty obvious if it wasn't fine and then there'd be consequences to deal with, but I reckon that could be a long time off so I'll hold off thanks. I ought to act but I'm making do.
It never sounded quite right after they fixed it, although it continued to do its job perfectly fine. Then a week or two ago it sounded differently wrong, then rather more obviously wrong, then blatantly wrong in a highly audible way. I should have dealt with it then but because it still worked, other than the noise, I carried on as before. I told myself I'd deal with it today, because that would cause least fuss, then last night the bad thing unexpectedly stopped. I have a feeling it stopped because it's much more broken now, not less, so it would be wise to act anyway while this window remains, and technically it's not my problem anyway. I ought to act but I'm making do.
It broke years ago if I'm honest, I've just been stringing it out. Had I behaved sensibly I'd have realised it was long past its best and invested in a replacement but I didn't, then lockdown made the act of replacing really difficult and I soldiered on. It had never been designed to last this long and I probably hadn't helped by repeatedly doing something I now try to avoid. I did eventually stump up but I kept the old version and I still maintain it on a regular basis despite almost certainly never needing it again. I worry that if I let it slip it'll fade away forever but basically I'm fooling myself, I should have properly retired it. I ought to act but I'm making do.
This wasn't so much a breakage as a steady decline, a sequence of tiny steps that imperceptibly made things worse. Compare now and then and it's obvious, but there was never one day when I thought damn, that's gone beyond the point of no return, I must get that fixed. It's ridiculous because it could be swiftly fixed and would have a positive effect on several other things, but there'd be a substantial outlay so I can save a shedload if I continue with my suboptimal ways. Also the way I'd fix it has changed, and I'm not always a fan of finding new ways of doing things, but equally I know one day I'll look back and wonder why it took me so long. I ought to act but I'm making do.
It's going to break, sure as eggs is eggs, the only question is when. It always happens eventually and it's much easier to replace if you start your preparations before it does. It definitely doesn't work as well as it used to, which is either a sign of age or else it's my unwillingness to change engrained behaviours that's helping to grind it down. What I'm fighting against is the perceived aftermath of sourcing a new one, which always seems briefly painful, even though it'll be followed by a far lengthier nirvana when I won't believe I didn't do it sooner. But it hasn't broken yet, and one day I suspect I'll regret thinking that. I ought to act but I'm making do.
It's the battery more than anything. It still works but the battery wears down much faster than it used to, so much so that I can't rely on it any more. It means I have to rely on my backup, which admittedly is phenomenal but sadly lacking in certain situations where the original was brilliant. It still surprises me when I check back on past output and see how good it was, indeed how good it could be again, but I'm just not willing to fork out for a replacement. I've done that in the past and ended up with something I wasn't entirely happy with, which would be frustrating, and the easiest thing is always to carry on without and basically miss out. I ought to act but I'm making do.
I hate it when this breaks so I've gone to extremes to try to make sure it doesn't. I now only use it once a day in an attempt to extend its life, and on all intermediate occasions use a frankly substandard alternative that might not even be 100% safe. This works in that I haven't had to buy a replacement for years, but it's also made every day during those years less good than it ought to be. A simple solution would be to buy a replacement in advance - it wouldn't even be expensive - rather than always faffing around in a panic after it breaks. I could even buy several, which would also solve the problem of remembering where they come from. I ought to act but I'm making do.
Sometimes it's hard to judge the fine line between 'really quite damaged' and 'broken'. If I'm honest they should have gone in the bin some time ago, given the state of them, but functionally they still perform so long as you don't look at them too closely. Nobody gets hurt by this, except potentially me in very specific circumstances which as yet have not occurred. If I lived with someone I'm sure I'd have replaced them by now, long before being told to, but when nobody judges your life to your face it's much easier to hold out. I don't want to become that man who never replaces things, because eventually it gets obvious, but I'm not there yet. I ought to act but I'm making do.
Personally I don't think it's broken but others do not share this view. They have a point. I've left things far too long because what was OK then is not what's OK now, but so long as it still works I prefer to leave it alone. It'd be a lot of work to change, indeed a mighty upheaval, and I also know lots and lots of smaller things would probably go wrong. The end result might be broader approval, even wider acceptability from those that make things happen, but that's not the way I choose to judge my life. I remain happy in my backward bubble because if it's not completely broke then don't fix it. I embrace inertia. I ought to act but I'm making do.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, March 28, 2022As you'll know if you've been to Oxford Street recently it has a heck of a lot of sweet shops these days, specifically selling imported American candy.
It had at least six before the pandemic and somehow they survived the lack of tourists and multiplied and now there are eleven. I thought I'd visit them all, starting at the Marble Arch end.
Candy Surprise: This is located slap bang on the corner facing Marble Arch and used to be a Crest of London souvenir shop. It also sells luggage, vapeware and tins of English Breakfast Tea, but mostly it's sweets.
If you've not been inside one of these candy stores they're essentially an Aladdin's cave of sugary treats, most (but not all) originating on the other side of the Atlantic. That means shelves of Oreos, Hersheys and funky flavoured Pop Tarts as well as racks of Cheetos, Milk Duds and assorted Nerds. There's often a entire wall of sugary cereals like Apple Jacks, Cocoa Pebbles and French Toast Crunch, plus all sorts of chewy options like Hubba Bubba, Millions and Dots. Expect to face flavours like blueberry, bubblegum and watermelon which are less familiar in the UK, and if there's a chiller unit the likes of Kool-Aid, Mountain Dew and Fanta Berry. You might even grab yourself a packet of Sour Jawbreakers, a bag of Chile Limón Lay's Potato Chips, a selection of Mike & Ikes or a box of Nabisco Grahams. But what you won't see anywhere is a price.
Tales are told of people who went in for a bar of chocolate, a bag of sweets and a packet of cereal, waved their contactless card and discovered later they'd been charged over £20. I can't confirm this because, as I said, all the goods are unpriced and I had no intention of buying any. What I did do in Candy Surprise is ask if they had any Cinnamon Tic Tacs because I know they've been discontinued, and all they did was direct me to some Lime and Orange by the till which I could have bought in my local corner shop. Tremendously polite, but no thanks.
American Sweet Dreams: This one used to be Holland and Barrett. It's quite lightly stocked, being mostly wallspace and a few free-standing units.
American Lolli & Pops: This one seems to be a partner to the one a few doors up the road and if anything is emptier. One of the shopworkers was standing just outside the entrance, less to welcome visitors but more as if he was acting as a lookout.
Candylicious: This one's bright and welcoming so long as you're not frightened off by M&M's characters in party hats. It used to be a shoe shop. Have you noticed how every one of these has either the word 'Candy' or the word 'American' in its title?
American Candy Shop: This one has both. It used to be Boots the Chemist but during the pandemic there wasn't much call for that so now it sells sweets. In its defence this is the only shop that actually puts price labels on some of its stock, so well done to them, even if the inevitable effect is "£6.99 for a box of Pop Tarts! No thanks."
That's five of these shops in the short section between Marble Arch and Bond Street stations. There's no way Oxford Street needs this level of candy competition, you'd think, and yet all of these stores had customers so maybe it is what people want to browse. If you're up from the provinces with the family or on a trip abroad with your mates, a quirky sweet shop might be a lot more fun to dip into than the surrounding alternatives. Half the department stores have gone and most of the clothes shops too, so checking out Jolly Ranger candies and Jelly Belly beans does at least pass the time.
Candy World: This is the big one, both in terms of floor space and in terms of who it replaced. That's because this is the former HMV flagship store at 363 Oxford Street, now emptied out and replaced with racks of empty calories. Head to the rear and you can see the mothballed escalators, the lowest access point now hemmed in behind a selection of generic suitcases and other luggage. If this is where you came to buy your classical LPs or new wave CDs, it's sad to see walls of Hostess Twinkies, Cookie Dough and Goldfish Crackers instead.
A shop where you could buy long-forgotten British sweets would be excellent, a nostalgic treasure trove of Spangles, Toffos, Pacers, Pyramints, Fuse bars and the like. But you'd never interest the young consumer, which is where Oxford Street's audience is, plus some company would actually have to manufacture them again, whereas these American treats can simply be imported and everyone goes ooh how exotic, I'll buy two bags.
Americandy: This wins the prize for the best name, but is also one of the smallest shops. It used to be an Accessorize but is now emblazoned with candy canes and Wonka bars.
Kingdom Of Sweets: This is the odd one out, as the use of 'sweets' instead of 'candy' in the name suggests. It's been here 10 years now, the business having originally evolved from a pick ’n’ mix stand in a Barnsley shopping centre, and its selection isn't as American as elsewhere. It's also the only store where I saw a woman employed, the only store with a basement and the only store with a selfie screen for customers to use as an Insta background. Marshmallow fluff, Swedish Fish and six kinds of Snickers remain available, however.
Candy Shop: Easily the dullest name of the bunch, inside a large unit where JD Sports used to be. I was part surprised and part impressed to see an employee dusting the rack of crisps just inside the entrance.
(Candy Corner): ...but this one's closed. It had everything going for it - a location close to Oxford Circus, the usual stock of transatlantic goodies and the Stars and Stripes on full display - but instead a sign in the window says 'Everything Must Go' and the shutters are down.
There are those who say these shops are a front for dubious trading, maybe even money laundering, and that some overlord is repeatedly opening and closing a selection of outlets to keep on the right side of business legislation. It does seem unlikely that a dozen half-empty sweet shops could support the exorbitant rents that the heart of the West End demands, however overpriced the Twinkies, Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids might be. All I'll say is that in certain stores the stooge by the door did seem more interested in watching the street than any potential shoplifting within, and I never quite felt comfortable enough inside to take photos of the colourful displays up close.
American Candy Shop: This is the first repeat, indeed a matching shop to the one near Bond Street station. There are considerably fewer candy outlets on the run-up to Tottenham Court Road, indeed just these two.
American Sweets & Souvenirs: This final shop had a poor selection of candy, as you might expect when half the store is about flogging hoodies, key rings and plastic Big Bens. But a box of Pop Tarts was only £5.99 here, i.e. a full pound cheaper than at American Candy Shop, so it pays to shop around.
It's no good tutting, these candy stores aren't aimed at you, neither are they occupying units that'd be selling something you were interested in either. But you do have to wonder why what used to be the most prestigious shopping street in the country is now infested with tacky outlets fleecing visitors with unlabelled racks of foreign confectionery. Priceless? Sadly yes.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, March 27, 2022Gadabout: GERRARDS CROSS
Gerrards Cross is a commuter town in south Buckinghamshire, although last time I went it was a commuter village in South Bucks, which just goes to show how much can happen in six years. It's comfortably wedged between the M40 and the M25, conveniently linked to Marylebone by train and regularly tops lists of Most Desirable Places For Broadsheet Readers To Live. Before the railway arrived there wasn't much here, just a hamlet round the common and a few houses on the Oxford Road, but after 1906 came a sprawl of private housing estates aimed at London’s upper-middle class. It's no tourist trap, more an extensive dormitory with nice shops, but this never stops me going gadabout.
The jewel of Gerrards Cross is the Common, a 60 acre triangle that early property developers sensibly left alone. Wander down the high street and a grassy fringe suddenly opens up, then beyond that a deep expanse of thick beechy woodland. This is criss-crossed by desire line footpaths that over the years have become well-trodden tracks, so is never especially wild but ideal for a good long dog-walk. Stumble the right way and you might find a small pond, but more likely Jasper on his bike or Lady on her lead. I stumbled out by the Lutyens war memorial.
A very GX sight: The owners of several convertibles absolutely loving getting the opportunity to drive round with their tops down in March.
Sir Edwin Lutyens designed 40 war memorials, the most famous of which is the Cenotaph, but only here in Gerrards Cross did his structure have a dual purpose. The vicar donated his stable block and Lutyens duly transformed it into a community centre for the new village, fronted by a pillared portico where the names of the local dead are inscribed and wreaths are laid. Today the building houses the offices of the local branch of the Royal British Legion and/or a gym, it was hard to tell, and the surrounding buildings form the town's social hub. Today they're putting on eco-puppetry for children, whereas yesterday an arch of Friesian-coloured balloons welcomed little princesses bearing gifts to Riya's farm-based birthday party.
A very GX sight: The party caterers firing up their burger grill in the back of a horsebox.
Stumble off the common another way and you're met by the fine sight of the Church of St James with its octagonal dome and campanile tower. It was built by two sisters in 1859, long before it had a parish worth serving, in memory of their brother who died while serving as a non-local MP. Had you been here in 1969 you might have witnessed the wedding of Lulu to Maurice Gibb - somewhat of a drunken whirlwind I understand - or in 1972 the burial of screen great Margaret Rutherford. I found her pink granite headstone round the back, almost in pride of place, amid a whirl of primroses and daffodils.
A very GX sight: A red kite circling in the sky, like it was the most normal bird to be flying above a Home Counties town.
Beyond the church is Buckinghamshire's largest hillfort, Bulstrode Camp. It's thought to have been built between 500BC and 50AD and consists of a double rampart earthwork surrounding a large oval space up to 300m in diameter (which thus far has delivered little of archaeological substance). The middle's quite featureless (and mostly full of exercising dogs), while the encircling ditch proved much harder to walk round than I assumed it would be. This being Gerrards Cross the camp has subsequently been surrounded on all sides by private housing, so must be quite the feature to have at the bottom of your garden.
A very GX sight: A poster campaign decrying Network Rail's proposal to replace the high level Edwardian footbridge because "half of the adult female population will not be able to see over the bridge parapets."
The most infamous shop in the high street is the Tesco superstore built on top of the railway cutting in 2005. During construction the tunnel collapsed and dropped thousands of tonnes of backfill onto the tracks below, thankfully missing an approaching train, and halted all traffic on the line for several weeks. Locals pledged never to use the store, but were busy flooding into it yesterday afternoon for groceries and Mothers Day treats. That said there is a Waitrose round the corner for true refuseniks... but no longer an M&S Simply Food because that's being transformed into a pub.
A very GX sight: The owner of a 1949 open-topped Bentley parking by the trolleys and disappearing into Waitrose.
The high street is partly coffee shops, partly interior design boutiques and partly in flux. The town's longstanding jewellers is currently morphing into a barbershop, Lisa's ladies clothes shop is pivoting to dog grooming and the Post Office appears to be housed in a former Thorntons. Gerrards Cross's children are fortunate enough to have somewhere they can buy Lego, and their parents spoiled for choice regarding silver and grey objets d'art to decorate their homes. As for Lighting Matters, purveyors of Total Lighting Solutions, its owner was inexplicably standing in his shop doorway wearing a bowler hat with a lightbulb on it and playing Molly Malone on the accordion... attracting nobody.
A very GX sight: A one-man band sporting a top hat, drumkit, purple vuvuzela, plastic chicken and bucket of champagne, walking across Packhorse Road bridge.
But Gerrards Cross is mostly houses, great big lovely ones up leafy avenues. They don't all have high laurel hedges and entrance gates, many are just four-bedroomed detached piles with a magnolia and multiple parking spaces out front, but they do all scream 'comfortably off' from their gabled rooftops. If you live in a semi in Gerrards Cross you've done very badly for yourself, relatively speaking. Gardens are often extensive, and homes generally named (Beechwood, Silver Birches, The Dells) rather than numbered. It all means housing density is remarkably low - barely 8000 people live here - and the encircling Green Belt means hardly any new homes are being added anywhere.
A very GX sight: A delivery driver with a luxury bouquet buzzing on the intercom at the top of the drive while being yapped at by a chocolate labrador.
If you keep walking north and keep your eyes open, it doesn't take long before the bins change. The boundary between South Bucks and Chiltern districts cuts across several residential streets, being a leftover from when all this was fields and it didn't matter, but then the village of Chalfont St Peter spread south towards the railway and merged to create a suburban megaplex. Administratively it's a ridiculous state of affairs, or was until April 2020 when all the former local councils were subsumed into a new Buckinghamshire unitary council, and if you keep your eyes open you can see their bins starting to appear too.
Gadabout: CHALFONT ST PETER
This is the ancient one, the Chalfont that's neither Little nor St Giles, and now a similarly desirable suburban bolthole. The heart of the village must have been charming in its day, as the parish church and a couple of very old pubs suggest, and the parade of shops rising up towards Goldhill Common has full Metroland charm. But check out the plaques on the heritage trail and a lot of them show prettier views along with the caption "...demolished in the 1960s to make way for the bypass", which'd be Amersham Way. This wiped out a significant chunk of the high street and has also despoiled the river valley all the way down to Gerrards Cross, so has been a wider success and a local disaster. Whoever plonked a row of flats on stilts beside the old coaching inn didn't help either.
On Saturday afternoon the shops were busy, every outside table was taken and the counter staff at Mr Crusty were winding down after the lunchtime rush. In the Market Place a group from the Rotary Club wearing yellow jackets and blue trousers were waving to traffic and collecting for Ukraine. The sorriest sight was the River Misbourne because it wasn't there, just a dry shallow channel weaving across the park and disappearing under the high street. I checked it out again a bit further downstream and found a few disjoint puddles but nothing more, which might be because this is what chalk streams do in dry weather or might be evil water companies draining the aquifers. All in all CSP felt a tad more affordable than GX, but the longer trek to the station probably cancels that out.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, March 26, 2022I know some of you turn up at 7am each morning to see if I've written about something that interests you. Well, you can go off and enjoy your Saturday because today's post is for committed omnivores (and MWLB) only.
My journey yesterday
Train 1: So long as I leave the house early enough I can just turn up without needing to check departure times, whereas if I leave it any later I might be waiting around for up to 10 minutes like it was still the bad old days. The guard said they should be opening up the front seats again soon.
Train 2: Please remember to stand on the right hand side of the escalator. I got past eventually and hit the second escalator just as the train was pulling in, but I still caught it.
Bus 1: I forgot they'd changed the stop this bus leaves from - I still don't understand why - so walked the wrong way and nearly missed it. The Next Bus Indicator Screen was disconnected so provided no useful information. I need to write a post called "Revealed - all the buses that travel over a mile between stops" before Callum beats me to it.
Bus 2: I didn't need to catch this bus, it was an entirely gratuitous changeover. My bad, the next bus I wanted pulled out in front of us at the station and we never caught up. I was surprised nobody else got off by the cafe with the clocks that isn't there any more.
Bus 3: There were three buses to my next destination but no more than two of them left from the same stop, so that was a pain. I almost picked correctly.
Not Bus 4: I don't know about you but if there's a long gap until the next bus I always like to walk ahead along the route until just before it eventually catches up. In this case there was supposedly a 12 minute gap, so I set off (down a road I'd never walked before) and traipsed for over a mile before it eventually caught up, by which time I didn't need to catch it any more.
Bus 4: Blimey this one rattled a lot. It was also quite busy, so much so that the ginger bloke with the sports kit signalled to me to nudge over on the back seat. I travelled two stops more than almost all the other passengers. Because the bus only had one door I hadn't quite reached the front before the first young passenger came leaping aboard, but they were very polite about it.
(interlude with bluebells...
...seriously bluebells, I wondered if I might see one or two but this was a veritable carpet under the trees by the river downstream from the waterfall, and it's March for heaven's sake, what is up with the weather?)
Bus 5: I caught this one just as it was arriving thanks to Citymapper (which I still prefer to the TfL Go app, mainly because it's not obsessed by only showing buses nearby). We rode past the bus stop that still makes me smile because over here it's a street name not a place name. Then a road closure sent us off on diversion which was mostly traffic jam, dammit, so I missed my onward connection.
Not Bus 6: I can never remember if you're allowed to ding to alight while a bus is on diversion... but it wouldn't have helped. This bus sailed past in the opposite direction and then there was a 27 minute gap before the next one - much worse than normal - so I gave up and went a different way.
Bus 6: Being at a bus stop with a Countdown display is usually very helpful but this bus was '2 min' away for the best part of five minutes. I grabbed the top front seat and enjoyed the unfamiliar ride and the blossom and eventually the topiary. Then I forgot to get off and ended up too near the shops.
(interlude with just the two bluebells, both runty and premature, which was more like it)
Bus 7: This was rammed and I actually had to sit next to someone on the upper deck. They weren't happy. Almost immediately we got stuck in traffic - this town always seems to be Jam Central - so I gave up and hopped off after two stops (and of course the bus then sped up and got there first).
Bus 8: This was mostly empty - I never understand why it needs to be a double decker. I admired the driver's patience in negotiating past parked cars on a not quite wide enough residential road. Blimey, I'd not been here for over 10 years.
Bus 9: OK, I'd had enough by now so it was time to catch the long distance bus halfway home. I need to write a post called "Revealed - all the buses that travel along the same road twice" before Callum beats me to it. The driver enjoyed the speedy roads with hardly anyone to pick up, and so did I until he suddenly stopped by the common and waited for five minutes 'to even out the service'.
Not Bus 10: I spotted this bus just behind us as we approached the terminus so hopped off one stop early and flagged it down. The damned bus driver drove straight past, despite my very obvious signal, and I had to wait 7 minutes for an alternative.
Bus 10: One last top front seat, but the view round here was so dull that I whipped my book out and read that instead. If you're counting, all today's bus routes were different and their numbers added up to 2152.
Train 3: I could have gone either way but chose this way because there'd be a more frequent service on Train 4. I should have read the disruptions board before plunging underground.
Not Train 4: Hang on, what, no trains? The announcer was being borderline sarcastic and telling all those waiting for an eastbound train to find alternative routes or be stuck here for hours, but I stayed put because the Next Train indicator showed a westbound train in 7 minutes. Unfortunately this turned out to be an eastbound train coming in on the 'wrong' track, so those who'd ignored the announcer caught that and I had to find an alternative route. FFS announce things better, sarky staff.
Train 4: I don't normally catch this one. Still, all the stair climbing had been keeping me fit.
Train 5: Bored now. I could have been at home with a cup of tea if I'd caught the alternative Train 3. I wish someone would fix the beep on the Oyster pad, you always have to look to check it's registered. If you're counting, I was last here seven hours ago.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, March 25, 2022This is where the MSG Sphere might now be built.
I hope it isn't, it'd be much too intrusive.
These flowerpots have been on the disused platform for many years.
Golders Green won't actually be part of Crossrail.
Lots of these pink windows have appeared across the Olympic Park.
This one's positioned at an over-jaunty angle.
After its upgrade Camley Street Natural Park feels somewhat sanitised.
More like a cafe with a segregated walkway beyond it.
This is not the friendly face of policing the Met thinks it is.
And it's only open six hours a week anyway.
This is a footpath in Hertfordshire.
The weather has certainly been lovely this week.
posted 09:00 :
Here are clues to 30 five-letter words beginning with B.
Half of each clue defines the whole word, and the other half defines the word with the 'B' missing.
How many can you name?
For example, BROAD could be 'wide street', and BLAST could be 'final explosion'.
1) idle fire
2) loan mix
3) slow hoe
4) bold gush
5) carry loop
6) empty limp
7) peruse loaf
8) every shore
9) fast chance
10) glorify fewer
11) extra burden
12) attack pigtail
13) castle stream
14) cocky disease
15) chase support
16) hobble airship
17) cross children
18) boring country
19) pedigree grass
20) succulent glow
21) fussy everyday
22) barren seepage
23) accuse crippled
24) dominate flower
25) shower intellect
26) flash connection
27) oriental creature
28) without darkness
29) newlywed journey
30) fasten obstruction
All answers now in the comments box, thanks.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, March 24, 2022And that's where I'm going to end my B Road safari.
I've walked all of Britain's lowest-numbered B Roads over the last five months, in sequence, from the B100 in the City to the B142 in Bow. I've also forced you to read about them, so if you've enjoyed them that's brilliant and if you haven't the good news is there won't be any more.
B100, B101, B102, B104, B105, B106, B108, B109
B111, B112, B113, B116, B118, B119
B120, B121, B122, B125, B126, B127
B134, B135, B137, B138
But this is the ideal place to stop, and for several reasons.
• B Roads aren't always very interesting. There is a limit to how many times I can write "look, there are flats", and nobody wants to hear ultra-fine-detail about shopfronts and lampposts on a road they've never been to.
• There are a heck of a lot of B Roads, indeed enough to fill every post on this blog for the rest of the decade, and you really wouldn't want that.
• So far all the B Roads have had pavements, and this is very much not the case later on.
• So far the B Roads have been quite short, none longer than three miles, but some of those coming up are considerably longer and I really can't be bothered.
• Indeed so far I've walked a total of 26 miles but the B184 is longer than that all by itself, which'd be entirely impractical.
• The last B Road I walked was the closest to home, so ending here would draw this feature to a natural close.
But the main reason I'm stopping now is because the first 26 B Roads were all in London but the next one is 200 miles away.
Walking Britain's B Roads: the B143There is no way I'm going back to Tyneside to walk a road I've already walked 10% of, particularly when it was the best 10%. But if I'll never walk the other 90% then I'll never walk all of Britain's B Roads, only all of those up to this point, so it's North Shields that sinks the project.
Nile Street/Railway Terrace/Borough Road
[North Tyneside] [0.4 miles]
For reasons best known to the road planners, the B143 is in North Shields. It was originally part of the A192 but when that got diverted they needed a new B number and 143 was free so they gave it that. No matter that all the neighbouring B Roads were the Thirteen Hundred And Something because it's not about logic, more availability.
What's more the B143 is less than half a mile long, and it would be ridiculous to go all that way to walk such a short road for no sane reason.
But the main reason I'm not going to visit the B143 is because, by an enormous coincidence, I already have.
I holidayed in Newcastle in the summer of 2017 and travelled all over, including one afternoon when I took the Shields Ferry and walked from there to the Metro station. I was only in North Shields for 15 minutes and only walked four roads, but one was Railway Terrace and that turns out to have been part of the B143. I didn't realise it was of numerical significance at the time, I was just trying to find the quickest way uphill. Even better I only took three photos while I was in North Shields but two of them were of the B143. This is one (and you can click to see the other).
Both photos show the bend where Nile Road turns into Railway Terrace, which is just outside North Shields station. It's one way only - the bus stop markings should tell you which. The town's shopping centre is off to the right, which is not on the B143, whereas Charlie's Bar and Chez Hair Boutique are off to the left which is. The ferry terminal is down the hill, but sadly not via the route I walked.
Which is a shame because the B144 is a good one, following the gorgeous Shepherdess Walk in Hoxton, then the B146 is Friday Hill in Chingford. But the B147 turns out to be a distributor road in Basildon, the B149 is the Chadwell bypass near Tilbury and when I said the B142 was a good place to stop I wasn't joking.
My apologies to all those of you who've been sitting there waiting for me to reach your provincial B Road because it isn't going to happen. At a rate of one road a week, even Terry who only wanted me to do the B515 in Islington would have had five years to wait. And if your local B Road is four digits long, as most B Roads are, I was obviously never going to get past the B999 (which is 16 miles into deep countryside north of Aberdeen).
Instead let me summarise what I've learned about B Roads over the last five months.
• They're very easy to overlook, at least here in London, because they're generally unsigned.
• They can be really short, especially in built-up areas (but in the countryside can be up to 61 miles long).
• They're often undriveable because someone has introduced a one-way system, a modal filter or even full-on pedestrianisation along the way - sometimes all three.
• Inner London B Roads are generally backroads of local significance, not critical connectors.
• Inner London has a heck of a lot more B Roads than Outer London. Camden has 19. Harrow has 2.
• Classifying a B Road is a very inexact art, and changes on maps sometimes lag way behind reality.
• It's up to local authorities to reclassify B Roads and often they don't even when it's blindingly obvious they should.
• The place to go to find out if something is a B Road or not is the National Street Gazetteer (although this won't confirm which B Road it is).
• The B116 ought to be the B166, and probably once was, but a likely administrative error means the Ordnance Survey thinks it's the B116 so it is the B116.
• Road classification was first introduced in 1922, which makes the original B Roads 100 years old this year.
• There may have been a geographical rationale to the numbering of B Roads back then but subsequent amendments usually mucked that up.
And let me illustrate that last point by showing you this map.
These are all the B roads in Tower Hamlets - thirteen of them current (in black) and seven of them obsolete (in red). You can sort-of see patterns in consecutively numbered roads if you look, suggesting some kind of initial sense, but the end result is a complex seemingly-random mess. At least they all start with 1, as they should do because Tower Hamlets lies in the road-numbering wedge between the A1 and the Thames.
Best just fire up your satnav and drive, I suspect. And let us never speak of B Roads again.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, March 23, 2022Walking Britain's B Roads: the B142
Parnell Road/Tredegar Road/Fairfield Road
[Tower Hamlets] [0.8 miles]
This, finally, is the last of Tower Hamlets' thirteen B Roads. It's also the closest to where I live and, because I've walked it hundreds of times, not exactly a voyage of discovery. Bear with me as I walk the fine line between parochial and familiarity.
The B142 starts at the end of the B118, indeed if they were trying to save numbers they could merge the two. It runs south (away from Victoria Park) towards the A11, with an extra spur halfway down linking to the A12. It also has that rarest of things for a London B Road, a sign confirming that the B142 exists, because this minor road was once the exit from a motorway.
Originally the B142 followed Lefevre Road until they redeveloped that into greenspace and flats, so now it follows parallel Parnell Road instead. Forgive the squinty photo below but that's spring sunshine for you. You're not missing much, this is an underwhelming start with one lonely street tree, two bus stops and some lampposts that look older than they are. For those who like to know which bus routes we're following it's the 8, 276 and 488 (and later we'll get a dash of 339).
It's not far to the end of the B119, which is Roman Road, which means I've already written about that too. A large black gateway gives the road some municipal oomph. It hasn't taken long for the former Percy Ingle bakery on the corner to become a dessert parlour. The Hand and Flower pub has been a Turkish restaurant for rather longer. The fire station that Boris closed in 2014 has been replaced by a shiny five-storey University Technical College. Even the row of sheltered housing bungalows opposite has recently been knocked down and replaced by flats, because history does not hang heavy on Parnell Road.
It's now time for the B142 to skip across a railway that's no longer there. The North London Railway ran between Bow and Old Ford until 1984 (as previously described) and ducked beneath Tredegar Road at a minor bridge. Today the tracks to either side are covered by housing but the hump remains and that's the only way through so that's the way we're going. A special mention to Pelican Cottage by the mini-roundabout, which is the first house we've passed that's more than 50 years old and is in fact more than 200 years old (and you can read more about it here).
Each of the three roads at the mini-roundabout is the B142, which is unusual, and has been the case since the A102(M) ploughed through in 1973. An extra bit of Tredegar Road was classified to link up with the Old Ford exit, not that it's a very interesting bit and often consists of little more than a traffic jam. The flats on the left are almost 20 years old and the flats on the right more like 10, and pig ugly, like someone stuck scarlet cladding on a warehouse. I did walk all the way across the A12 and then all the way back again, just for completeness sake.
Which just leaves Fairfield Road, and that's (eventually) more interesting. We've first got to get past the hideous orange balconies on Bellasina Court and then the former Caledonian Arms pub, but voila these are the turrets and chimneys of Bow Quarter. This is the former Bryant & May match factory, Bow's most famous employer by half, and venue for the groundbreaking Matchgirls strike of 1888. These days it's a very large gated community, indeed one of the first, so don't expect to get past the security staff in the gatehouse unless you're delivering a takeaway.
The road drops to pass beneath two low bridges, one for trains to Liverpool Street, the other for the DLR. This is bad positioning because Bow Bus Garage is located on the other side and so all the double deckers which emerge can only turn left. This was formerly a trolley bus depot and before that the site was Grove Hall asylum, and before that the field where London's May Fair was held, hence 'Fairfield Road', and forgive me for rushing through this local stuff but you'll have heard it all before.
In good news for estate agents we finally have some lovely old houses, including an early Victorian terrace and two proper villas, plus infill where the Germans left some gaps. The biggest detached house used to be the rectory of St Mary's church, and that's likely a hearse parked nextdoor because the former Nat West on the corner has been taken over by a proper East End funeral director, indeed you might even spot a feathered horse. The chunky Modernist trapezoid opposite is Poplar Town Hall, or was for three decades before it became superfluous, and hey presto that's the B142 done.
It's only a couple of minutes to walk home for a cup of tea... and that might be a good place to leave it.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, March 22, 2022Today I'm having another go at enlarging my My London clickbait portfolio.
I rode the secret rail replacement bus to the tube's least used station
I'm aware that previously I claimed the tube's least used station was Roding Valley and today I'm claiming it's Kensington Olympia, but that's because I'm picking and choosing my data to fit my headline. I'm aware that officially it's a tube replacement bus, but that's not as alliterative. And I'm aware that normally when journalists say "secret" they mean "something I know but you don't, please click", but in this case I intend to put forward a coherent argument that this is indeed a secret bus, and therein lies the problem.
TfL withdrew weekday District line trains to Kensington (Olympia) in 2011, other than seven outlying services at very unhelpful times. This'll make the rest of the line more reliable, they said, and you can always take the Overground instead. But TfL can occasionally be persuaded to run a weekday service if Olympia's holding a big enough event, a list which these days has thinned down to just the Ideal Home Show. That's been cancelled for the last two years but this March it's back... except the trains aren't, hence the need for a rail replacement bus. Not that they want to tell you about it.
The thing about the Ideal Home Show, especially on weekdays, is that it's attended by a lot of retired couples from the shire counties. Not for nothing did the Daily Mail create the show and sponsor it for several decades. And if there's one thing people from outside London know, it's that if you want to go to Olympia you need to aim for Kensington Olympia station. And so they head to Earl's Court, like they always have, and attempt to catch the special shuttle service... except it isn't running, and there are no signs directing them to the replacement bus.
There is a tannoy announcement, but not terribly often and only on one pair of platforms and barely audible if you're standing anywhere else. There are permanent signs around the station saying "Take the first Wimbledon train and change at West Brompton for the Overground" but that's quite complicated for out-of-towners, plus you don't need to this week because there's a bus. There are also lovely staff who'll tell you about the bus if you ask them, but only up at the ticket gates. One dear old bloke asked the staff at the eastern exit how to get to Olympia and was duly directed all the way across the station to the western exit, which he could have gone to directly if only there were signs, which there were not.
On reaching the Warwick Road exit I noticed a surprisingly high number of people trying to catch a secret bus. They can't all have asked the station staff, I thought, maybe they knew in advance. The Ideal Home Show website knows nothing of buses, I checked, it merely says that the tube runs a limited service at weekends. The Olympia website is similarly tight-lipped, and the TfL website merely says that the District line is running a Good service. It's possible that attendees received travel advice with their tickets, but far more people were heading for Bus Stop C than I was expecting. "Look, it's over there," they said, crossing at the lights and walking up the road.
And at Bus Stop C the secretness continued. "Rail replacement bus service stops here" flag - good. Replacement bus service panel above the timetables - yes. But on the electronic Countdown display there was nothing at all, just the arrival times of the four normal buses ticking down, which were the only services that ever turned up. And this turned out to be because the rail replacement bus didn't actually stop here, it stopped 100m up the road.
There's no room to park a bus at Bus Stop C, especially when it might be hanging around for several minutes, so instead a separate bus stand operates the other side of Philbeach Gardens. All that potential passengers see is the bus sail by and park up the road with its hazard warning lights flashing, then not go anywhere. Do they risk walking up to it, given it could drive off at any time, or do they carry on waiting at the bus stop where they were told to wait? A notice in the shelter might have made it obvious, but of course there wasn't one.
In good news a blue-jacketed steward was waiting at Bus Stop C directing everyone up the road. In less good news the steward also got to dispatch the bus, which he could only do while standing next to it, and this left Bus Stop C unmanned for several minutes at a time. And from my personal experience sometimes there was no steward at all, just an ever-growing crowd by the shelter and a distant bus that nobody knew was theirs. What's in operation here is a sign-free system that only works if helpful people are in the right place, and creates a secret bus whenever they're not.
And then I rode the secret bus to the least used tube station. It was surprisingly full. My fellow passengers weren't used to this kind of thing, they looked like they drove everywhere, and only deigned to use the seats upstairs when those downstairs were full. "I haven't been on a bus in ages," said one silver fox, and I don't think he was looking forward to eventually getting another one back again. The traffic lights were on our side, it only took five minutes.
My word the Olympia exhibition centre is in a mess. They're rebuilding most of it at present, including gaping voids and extensive worksites and flappy sheeting and hi-vis armies and seriously, it's amazing there's any room left inside to host any kind of major exhibition. We were turfed off the bus under some scaffolding and the assembled retirees headed towards the entrance, unfolding their printed out tickets as they went. I checked around the corner and yes, those who'd thought to come by Overground had a much easier time of it.
I also caught the bus back, which surprised the driver because normally nobody's ready to come home until early afternoon. It was a much longer return journey thanks to the vagaries of the local one-way system, first passing West Kensington station, then West Brompton station and finally reaching Earl's Court station after 12 minutes. Any tube traveller with any sense would have got out at West Kensington, but provincial retirees would probably have stuck to what they know and hung on to the end. I bet it takes hugely longer in the rush hour.
It turns out the secret bus is operated by at least four vehicles going round in a big anti-clockwise loop, starting two hours before the exhibition opens and finishing two hours after it closes, and departs eight times an hour. That's a phenomenally good service for a bus route nobody can be bothered to advertise, and which seems to rely on word of mouth to attract its clientele. If you've decided to save money by not running trains to Olympia, maybe spend a tiny fraction of that cash pointing the right way out of the station, directing people to the correct boarding point and essentially telling them the secret bus exists.
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