Saturday, April 30, 2022
30 unblogged things I did in April
Fri 1: The fan in my oven has broken so I'm living off hob- and microwave-friendly food. I'm sure they'll get it fixed soon.
Sat 2: I'm pleased to report that bus passengers still give up their seat when a Chelsea Pensioner boards.
Sun 3: Went for a 16 mile walk from Eynsford to Orpington, which would have been a 16½ mile walk but the Swanley New Barn miniature railway helped out in the middle.
Mon 4: In Leather Lane streetfood market the nearest I found to 'traditional' was a stall called Yorkshire Burrito (if filling Yorkshire puddings with beef, adding stuff and rolling them up like a wrap counts as traditional).
Tue 5: The latest incarnation of the Woolwich Ferry still takes significantly longer to dock than it does to cross the river (because the old boat allowed you to be approximate and the new technology insists you're spot on). With a One Boat service in operation it's an increasingly inefficient way to cross the river.
Wed 6: Somewhere In London I'd Never Been Before But Decided Not To Blog About - Clayhall Avenue: A long broad spine road at the heart of the Hainault Loop, resolutely interwar, with sweeping views of the Roding Valley and somehow still its original copper-roofed pub - The Unicorn.
Thu 7: I recommend you stop sending me nominee-touting emails, Victoria, otherwise you'll find yourself on the blog very much not in the manner you're hoping for.
Fri 8: Silinbbbdntba - Ruislip Gardens: Unpretty loop of an estate, Thirties-style, squished inbetween the railway and the Yeading Brook, backing onto seriously unwelcoming scrub and uncomfortably close to RAF Northolt.
Sat 9: Silinbbbdntba - Woodcote Green: Liminal Sutton, sufficiently far south of Wallington, where cottagey detacheds look out over greenhouses on earthy plotlands (but not as smugly middle class as actual Woodcote).
Sun 10: I tried to buy a ticket to Southend at Fenchurch Street and I have still not forgiven the c2c staff member for failing to add my Gold Card discount. On the plus side I caught a train that went over the Bow Road bridge that hardly any passenger trains ever use, so got a unique perspective on the road I live on.
Mon 11: The last business in Cooks Road - some kind of warehouse - has finally closed and is being primed for demolition, so within a few years this former industrial street will be all flats (and a Crossrail sub-station).
Tue 12: Silinbbbdntba - Holders Hill: Arterial outpost north of Hendon, just before the A1 merges with the M1, ideal for those who want to live near traffic cones but not any kind of shop, a prime example of unmemorable Middlesex.
Wed 13: Traffic along Chiswick High Road is at a crawl, either due to the construction of a segregated cycle lane or because that's how it's going to be now they've added a segregated cycle lane.
Thu 14: Silinbbbdntba - Ardleigh Green: Sweeping suburb beyond Romford pocked with sports grounds rather than parks, a twin-gabled pub that can't be as 1930s as it looks, front gardens big enough for two BMWs and quite convenient for Crossrail.
Fri 15: Box Hill Rambling Update - I felt jolly smug passing bank holiday ramblers on the precipitous steps down to Juniper Bottom, and precisely the reverse puffing up the precipitous steps to Mickleham Down.
Sat 16: Off to Norfolk for Easter weekend, and the heartstopping prospect of sharing the house with a two year-old German Shepherd I've not previously met. That is a very slobbery fanged jaw you have there.
Sun 17: I'm not quite sure how I managed 30 hours under the same roof, but I think it's because on the 'Interested in sniffing humans?' scale this dog's somehow only a 2 out of 10. I'd have preferred 1 though, or ideally 0.
Mon 18: Popped over to Chalet Wood for the best bluebell spread I've seen so far this year, as it seems did half of Wanstead for their bank holiday constitutional.
Tue 19: Silinbbbdntba - Sundridge: Bolt-on to Bromley with a shopping street Time Out would rate if it was in zone 2 not 4, unless that's technically in Plaistow, and acres of greenspace you can't enter unless you're a member of the golf club or have an apartment in the mansion.
Wed 20: The rubbish truck arrived ten minutes early to take away my recycling, indeed I handed my bags straight to the refuse operative, so I finally believe they take it away properly rather than bunging it in the back an ordinary dustcart.
Thu 21: Fewer than 100,000 Britons are older than the Queen, and by her 97th birthday next year she should be in the oldest 0.1% of the population.
Fri 22: Collected my Great British Rail Sale tickets from a machine in Stratford, and it took ten minutes because there were seven of them and I had to insert my debit card and type in a code each time, and got it wrong twice, and I apologise to everyone behind me.
Sat 23: Silinbbbdntba - Richmond Park (South): I thought I'd been everywhere in Richmond Park but no, I'd never followed Queens Road from Kingston Gate past Gallow Pond, through deer droppings and over squelchy ditches, past Thatched House Lodge (and wow-y wisteria) to Ham Cross... there's always a new bit.
Sun 24: I was in Dagenham and the tube was down, and a man with a poor grasp of English asked me how to get to Barking. I had to try to convince him that the bus which looked direct wasn't direct so he'd have to get off halfway, and politely drilled into him the changeover point and the second route. But he ignored me and stayed on to the end of the route instead, still miles away, where he got off and promptly asked me how to get to Barking. I tried.
Mon 25: They have indeed replaced the old 'Crossrail' signage at Tottenham Court Road station with new 'Elizabeth Line' vinyls. I'm not sure this is the most effective way of displaying directional information, however...
Tue 26: The worst bit of the extra-long train journey home from Southampton was at Gatwick when a couple with suitcases slunk into the seats opposite, opened two discounted packs of M&S salmon sushi, shovelled wasabi-soaked forkfuls into their greedy mouths, placed the empty cartons on the floor and then snogged briefly.
Wed 27: Sigh, not again. And overnight this time.
Thu 28: At both Dangleway terminals the posters that normally tell punters how much a ride costs are still covered over by vinyls saying "Pricing is currently being updated. Please speak to a member of staff". This is two months after fares rose by 25%. Staff have however been able to print and display a souvenir price list (fridge magnet £5) and a list of Ramadan sunset times.
Fri 29: Inflationwatch: Price of a 400g block of bogstandard Tesco cheddar... February £2, March £2.10, April £2.50.
Sat 30: The fan in my oven is still broken so I'm still living off hob- and microwave-friendly food. I'm sure they'll get it fixed soon.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, April 29, 2022London's cable car has a new name.
It doesn't have it yet because Emirates' sponsorship still has two months left to run. But when their ten year deal runs out on 29th June 2022, a nominal rebranding is required.
The original intention was that a new sponsor would be found and the cablecar would be renamed after them - officially the <Sponsor's Name> Cable Car. Unfortunately nobody was interested. Even the offer of a one year deal (your name here, your choice of colour, see you on the tube map) failed to attract a single interested partner, which was unfortunate given TfL's current financial situation.
And so an unbranded name is needed to fill in the gap between the end of the Emirates era and the dawn of a new deal, should that ever happen.
That new name hasn't yet been announced because we haven't reached the appointed day in the TfL Press Office Publicity Calendar. But it's already out there in the wild if you know where to look, because it's not the only TfL service being imminently renamed.
A lot of enamel route diagrams need updating before Crossrail begins, which means adding little purple stickers labelled 'Elizabeth line' alongside interchange stations. This is currently happening all over the network in readiness for the new railway finally opening to passengers next month. And while you're adding stickers for Crossrail it makes sense to add stickers for the cablecar too, because why send someone out twice?
Nothing's changed at Royal Victoria, the DLR station closest to the northern terminal, which remains as resolutely Emirates-branded as ever. Nothing's changed at Custom House either because that's the actual interchange so doesn't need a sticker. But at every DLR station beyond that - i.e. Prince Regent to Beckton - the route diagrams on the platforms and concourses now have stickers for Crossrail and the cablecar... and here the new name is revealed.
It's not an especially exciting name, but it'll do.
Yes, from 29th June London's cablecar will be known as the London Cable Car.
Arguably that's what it should have been called in the first place rather than a gimmicky title dreamt up by a marketing department. Emirates Air Line was always a bit too forced, a bit too clever, and despite a £36m sponsorship deal never quite took off. It suffered from not obviously being the name of a cablecar, and from being almost indistinguishable from the parent company's aviation business, so if anyone ever used the name it often wasn't clear what they meant.
In fact I'd argue that the Emirates Air Line brand was so poor and so ambiguous that it allowed an alternative to slip through and become better known. That'd be Dangleway, the name I suggested as a laugh in 2011 and which is currently the seventh word (emboldened) in the cablecar's Wikipedia entry. Dangleway raises a smile and has some character, is uniquely associated with this river crossing and if you use it in conversation people generally know what you mean. I fear that was £36m wasted, folks.
London Cable Car is much better, indeed if they'd called it that in 2012 my alternative name might never have broken through. But it's still a bit bland, a bit generic, what with London only having one cablecar and this being it. It's the sort of name that smacks of trying to engage an international tourist rather than appealing to a home audience or sparking the imagination. And you're going to be seeing a lot of it.
It'll appear on the tube map and on status boards and in apps, not to mention marketing collateral, signs on platforms and excitable press releases. Promotional vinyls smothering stations like Tower Gateway will need to be replaced, the 'Things to do on the Jubilee line' wall at Waterloo will need updating and TikTok users getting excited by an aerial sunset will need to use a different hashtag. The two terminals will need different names too, presumably Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks with the 'Emirates' prefix missing, and about time too. As someone who's long despised the use of naming rights because it forcibly cheapens and blurs reality, this is a very welcome retreat.
It may not last. A new sponsor may eventually turn up, keen to place their name in front of millions, and then we'd have to go through this entire rebranding exercise for a second time. But that'd then be the third name the cablecar's had, which might start to get confusing, so this unbranding probably makes an eventual rebranding less likely.
It'd be great if the new name was officially Dangleway, oh how we'd laugh, but that was obviously never going to happen. Instead the London Cable Car takes off in two months' time, I suspect to general indifference given that most Londoners who fancied a £5 ride have already been.
And remember, sometimes you don't have to wait for the official announcement to confirm what's happening, sometimes all you have to do is journey to the end of the line and the answer's in plain sight.
posted 08:00 :
Thursday, April 28, 2022Gadabout: SOUTHAMPTON
Southampton is a populous port city on the south coast where the Rivers Test and Itchen meet. Its deep water harbour proved ideal for medieval trade, military embarkation, liner launches, ferry terminals and most recently cruise ships, yet it's more somewhere tourists depart from than deliberately visit. What heritage remains is dotted amid a modern waterside conurbation, particularly along the mile from the civic centre to the docks, taking in shopping malls, parkland and a lot of flats along the way. I filled half a day. I could not have filled a weekend. [Visit Southampton] [14 photos]
The docks bit
Southampton is still a busy port but in a functional rather than an attractive way. The Old Docks stick out in a giant triangle at the tip of the town and are generally inaccessible unless you work there or are sailing aboard something large. There were alas no huge cruise ships in port on Tuesday so I wasn't wowed, but sometimes the Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria all turn up at once. The public pier at Town Quay provides access to the Isle of Wight - vehicles one side, foot passengers the other - and is also the embarkation point for the Hythe Ferry (no I didn't, I didn't have time, the ickle pierhead train will have to wait).
For other ships with something heavier to unload, especially containers, a much longer dock sprawls for miles along the Test. This was created by filling in the West Bay in the 1920s, a reclamation so large that the railway station suddenly found itself half a mile inland. The official best vantage point for watching comings and goings is Mayflower Park, a forgettable patch of grass beyond the ring road with a scrappy promenade and an optimistic ice cream van. I was blessed by the sight of a highly-stacked orange cargo ship sailing by against a backdrop of refinery chimneys, huge cranes and the silver dome of the Southampton Energy Recovery Facility. There'd probably be a better view from the former Royal Pier except that's now a highly-rated Indian restaurant, and even then only if you get a window seat.
The River Itchen's a bit more accessible, assuming you can find a gap in the boatyards, and tends to attract smaller masted bobbing craft. A particularly fine vantage point is the centre of the Itchen Bridge, a 1970s toll road that connects precipitously to the southwestern corner of the city. Its pavements are probably a less appealing walk on a blustery day, and seemingly only some of the emergency Help Points still work, but I did appreciate the Mr Men mosaic (Mr Calm) at the highest point. Downstream the Ocean Dock has been transformed into Ocean Village, a marina development brimming with premium dining and liner-shaped apartment blocks ideal for those who prefer to live within promenading distance of their motor yacht.
The old bit
Southampton supposedly has the longest surviving stretch of medieval walls in England (although technically not city walls because Southampton remained a town until the 1960s). Feel free to walk immediately alongside them, although not generally on them except in a couple of unrestricted places. The southwest corner by the Westgate (bending past a rowing boat embedded in the roadway) is probably the prettiest, and the eastern stub (wending between blocks of flats towards a friars' privy) the least alluring. The Arundel Tower has the best views, so long as your preferred architecture is giant shopping malls, and leads via a footbridge to a pensive mayoral statue that appears to be staring into Poundland.
The 'old town' is mostly postwar infill but does contain a few very old buildings you can go inside. The Tudor House with its jutting timberwork and knot garden has become a period museum, plus a cafe they're very keen to tell you can be accessed for free. The Medieval Merchant's House is owned by English Heritage and is insubstantial enough that entry is spring and summer weekends only. The seamen's church at Holy Cross was bombed in WW2 but was retained as roofless remains with buttons to press for memorial reminiscence. And as for the Bargate this magnificent gateway survives in squandered isolation partway down the high street, complete with guard lions out front and middle-of-the-road busker lurking within.
The shopping bit
Southampton has the best shops in Hampshire, not that you'd guess from the high street which is mostly tatty commercial leftovers. It gets a bit better north of Bargate in a part of town called Above Bar, and used to spread further east until the behemoth Debenhams was mothballed and sidelined the whole area. The focus is now the WestQuay shopping centre, a millennial monster heated by geothermal power on the site of the Pirelli Cable Works, and seemingly designed to be hard to find your way out of. It's recently been joined by a swooshy annexe for chain dining, cinemagoing and ten pin bowling, not to mention endless sheds for Dunelm, Asda and Matalan stretching back to the station. And all of this is here because extensive acres of former dock hinterland proved ripe for development, which means Southampton is fortunate enough to have its chief out-of-town shopping complex bang in the middle.
The civic bit
A cultural quarter has grown up around the Civic Centre, a 1930s admin block with long classical wings surmounted by a single thin clocktower. The east wing is now the O2 Guildhall hosting middling concerts and tribute acts, while the north wing hosts an art gallery above the library. This gallery hits well above its weight thanks to a century of carefully curated acquisitions, including a Gainsborough, a Monet and a Lowry, a roomful of gouaches by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and several contemporary pieces. I especially enjoyed Julian Perry's current exhibition based on rising sea levels and his eroding coastline triptych. What with the new John Hansard Gallery across the square, this month boasting diverse clay sculptures and debauched woodland animation, the city's cultural offering is strong.
Meanwhile the west wing houses the premier SeaCity Museum which is celebrating its tenth birthday this month. Its chief attraction is Southampton's Titanic Story, not just because the ship set off from here but because most of its (drowned) crew came from the city. Within the galleries are a sort-of mocked-up street, a double-sided 2D model, some pretend boilers to stoke and a wall of newspaper front pages. I suspect I did better than most by steering a simulated liner successfully out of Southampton Water, but (sigh) at the moment of confirmation the program flipped straight back to the start so I can't be certain. The actual sinking is represented by witness accounts from three survivors, i.e. audibly not visually, and the aftermath mainly reimagines the city's historic court rooms as the site of a public enquiry. It can't be easy to create an attraction when most of the relevant artefacts are at the bottom of the ocean, but what's here merely satisfies, not wows.
Part two is Gateway to the World, essentially a history of the port via merchants' and migrant's tales, and is much more the standard kind of municipal museum fare. Ditto Southampton Stories downstairs where broader themes are covered, including an impressively recent pandemic collection celebrating service and community. But both sections feel more like a bolt-on to Titanic than a draw in themselves, and probably don't get the local patronage they deserve thanks to a £9.50 pricetag. It's also not the most welcoming of buildings. A sign on the front door still inexplicably insists you pre-book before you enter, taking my money involved an agonisingly slow procedure and before I left they'd stuck up a ridiculous sign claiming to be Fully Booked when there were only five of us inside. The echoing midweek emptiness had all the hallmarks of an attraction the council thought would do better, and don't seem to be trying too hard to rescue.
Some other bits
• The main street from the Civic Centre to the docks has been branded The QE2 Mile and, although it leads to where the grand old lady once berthed, at no point lives up to any luxury expectations.
• Central Southampton is over-blessed with parks - essentially one large green flank subdivided into five separately-named quadrilaterals. Ideal for lounging, strolling, hanging, kickabouting, wisteria-watching and for scattering statues.
• Southampton's other big museum is Solent Sky which contains all sorts of aeroplanes, especially Spitfires because they were built in the city, but when closed it just looks like a giant corrugated shed with a lightship outside.
• Southampton is inordinately proud that Jane Austen lived here for a couple of years, and celebrates this with several plaques in underwhelming places where she once promenaded, went to the theatre, celebrated her birthday or set off on a boat trip. If you're interested, grab the trail leaflet before you arrive.
• Fans of listed 1960s reinforced concrete social housing resembling ocean liners will appreciate Wyndham Court being immediately outside the station.
• For my first Great British Rail Sale jaunt the tickets cost just £2.70 each way, the downside being I had to go indirect via Gatwick and it took two and a half hours.
• There are fourteen photos on Flickr - ancient, modern and maritime.
• Portsmouth's better, just saying.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, April 27, 2022Half price train tickets? Yes please.
This is the Great British Rail Sale, a government-inspired campaign to get leisure travellers back onto the railway, but only to certain destinations off-peak during a specific five week period until the tickets run out. You'll already know about this, it launched with a major fanfare last week, indeed you may already have snapped up some bargains. I have.
This is I think the first outing of the Great British Railways brand, or at least the 'Great' bit, other than the launch of a competition to locate the organisation's new HQ. Previously separate operators ran their own occasional promotions but this is one unified campaign under a single 50% umbrella, which may or may not be an improvement. Also it's more a Great English Rail Sale because the main operators for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland aren't taking part.
The big deal is the release of over 1 million discounted tickets, and not as it says on the website 'over 1 million discounted moments' because that's meaningless copywriting codswallop of the highest order. Which routes are included can only be discovered by entering a starting station and seeing what crops up, which is a bit annoying if you're in London because you have to try each of its dozen termini separately.
for example, London to...
Luton £2, Hastings £2.70, Portsmouth £2.70, Milton Keynes £3, Kidderminster £3.20, Wolverhampton £3.70, Cambridge £4, Crewe £4.70, Winchester £6, Berney Arms £6, Dover £7, Halifax £10, Exeter £11, Nottingham £12, Liverpool £17, Bristol £18, Blackpool £22, Edinburgh £22
The website doesn't let you buy tickets direct, it merely suggests other operators who'll sell you them, including most of the main train companies but also digital dealers like Trip, Omio, Redspottedhanky, Railsmartr and Trainhugger. If you want to pay 45% extra for your ticket to Luton Airport Parkway by all means get yours from Trainline, but the canny traveller knows to stick with standard companies that don't charge a booking fee.
The requisite travel period runs from 25th April to 27th May, a five week period that cunningly contains only four weekends. Restricting the sale to off-peak advance tickets also means you'll probably have to set off after 9.30am, making long distance day trips less effective, plus there's the usual risk that the weather on your chosen day will turn out to be terrible. But you can still book tickets until next Monday, and some are absolute bargains, so it might be worth having a look.
I set myself an overall budget of £50 and dived in.
Top of my list was a trip to Cardiff, because that's the discount journey I was supposed to be making the weekend after lockdown and so obviously never happened. But a discounted single from London to Cardiff would have cost £25, i.e. £50 for a return journey, and that'd be my entire budget blown in one go. Also the discount ticket I bought in 2020 only cost £30 because GWR were much more generous then than the government is being now, so £50 doesn't sound that great. For these reasons I did not book a trip to Cardiff (and I fear 'nationalisation' means it'll never be that cheap again).
Next I checked out my list of "the largest English towns I haven't been to". This suggested I needed to go to Sunderland, and hurrah Sunderland was in the sale supposedly for £13. I couldn't find any £13 tickets, though, either because they'd sold out or because they were only available via a minor train operator at times designed to suit residents of the North East, not Southerners. Ditto Huddersfield, alas, not to mention Hartlepool, Warrington and Shrewsbury. Not this time, dammit.
Also certain train operators' tickets are so expensive that even 50% off is extortionate. Services on the West and East Coast main lines are the worst offenders, closely followed by GWR, EMR and SWR. In some cases slower non-express services provide better value but at the expense of extended journey time, so I'm sorry to Liverpool, Manchester and points north but now is not your time. Last autumn I managed to buy very cheap LNER tickets to Newark, Grantham and York but there's nothing so generous here so I didn't bite.
Whatever, I managed to book myself six separate days out without getting close to breaking the bank. That's one a week, which'll be excellent, plus an extra bonus trip this weekend. I've booked one trip to a city I really should have visited by now and haven't, one to a county town I've somehow thus far avoided, one to an old favourite I fancied going back to, one to a jumping-off point from which I can explore further, one to a town no sane tourist would ever visit and at least one to the seaside. So that'll do nicely.
I went on my first day trip yesterday, but spent almost as long on trains as I spent at my destination so won't be blogging about it today. Have patience.
And lovely though it was to travel a long way for almost nothing, a month-long off-peak ticket sale is no way to attract customers back onto the railways long term. Come June all the expensive tickets to mid-range destinations are back again, and cross country leisure travel returns to being an occasional luxury, not an everyday treat.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, April 26, 2022If you're counting, and I am, Crossrail is now 1234 days late.
1 Abbey Wood due 2018 expected 2022 2 Abbey Wood due 2018 expected 2022 3 Abbey Wood due 2018 expected 2022 Services are currently running 1776960 minutes late
It's still all about software issues because umpteen updates still haven't quite fixed everything, so the question has now become how many imperfections management can live with. The functionality needed for opening day works fine but not the extras needed later on, specifically with regard to turning back at Paddington and connecting into Stratford, so better to keep running trials while trains are empty. Eventually either things'll be fixed or someone'll decree "ah stuff it, open anyway", and finally purple will be go. That's the brief version anyway - for the detailed nuanced version check out the latest post from London Reconnections.
In good news Crossrail's not going to get to two million minutes late because we've been promised it'll open before the end of June. But that still leaves a nine week window and as yet no specific announcement has been made, apparently for the good reason that even internally no specific opening date has been confirmed. So let's have a go at predicting the date ourselves.
To enter the Great Crossrail Sweepstake, pick an opening date between May 7th and June 30th. It can't be before that because of the council elections and also because they'd have to have announced it by now. Also I'm talking about the first date the general public is allowed aboard the service, not the day the Mayor turns up to cut the ribbon.
Just pick the appropriate comments box and tell us the opening date you predict. That's a specific date within the given week.
- 3 Jun
July or later comments (5)
The first date in each box is a Saturday. If you're feeling particularly pessimistic use the July or later box. I don't mind if you pick the same date as somebody else - we can have more than one winner. Keep your comment short, and if you've got a lot more to say use the ordinary comments box at the bottom of this post.
Oh and if anyone important from TfL wants to take part under a pseudonym, go ahead...
posted 07:00 :
Yesterday this blog received the third highest number of visitors it's ever had in one day when 8269 people turned up. They weren't all fascinated by the sale of council houses in Havering, strange as it may seem, nor were they keen to check out blue plaques on the former Teddington Studios. Instead the post I wrote last month about All The Candy Stores On Oxford Street got picked up by two behemoth American syndicators - Hacker News and Boing Boing.
The majority of visitors arrived from Hacker News (at news.ycombinator.com), particularly during the few hours when the link climbed into the top 30 on the front page. Over 200 comments were left - that's over there rather than over here - and it was fascinating to watch the debate running increasingly out of control. The top comment started "The real story here is that over the last 12 years of UK government, austerity policies have cut back all public services to the point where they don't actually exist" and tumbled rapidly into politically-based irrelevance. Most other commenters were keen to dissect the murky world of shop-based money laundering, with one taking me to task for not doing this myself (which I hadn't done because I didn't have any proof).
As for Boing Boing they sent fewer folk my way and garnered fewer comments, mostly from Americans who thought candy shops were normal and who'd never been to Oxford Street, so not as interesting. But I wouldn't have hit my third highest daily visitor total without them, and they very nearly tipped it up to second.
You'll probably be wanting to know what my highest number of daily visitors was, so here's the Top 10.13/5/2015: 10265 visitors: The General Election was swung by just 901 votersSome of these were because I'd spotted something genuinely newsworthy, some were repackagings, some were independent research and some were just serendipitous good luck. Twitter was responsible for blowing some of them up, also Reddit, also Time Out, also the QI Elves, even BBC London. For comparison's sake this blog normally gets just over 2000 visitors a day, and on only two dozen occasions have I ever topped 4000. It's amazing that sometimes things just take off, and probably reassuring that you can never quite predict what, where and when.
06/07/2011: 8363 visitors: All the tube journeys where it's quicker to walk
25/04/2022: 8269 visitors: All the candy stores on Oxford Street
18/01/2017: 7064 visitors: Bob Dylan painted my photo of Blackpool Pier
01/06/2016: 7043 visitors: 7 amazing things to do in South London
15/07/2015: 7037 visitors: Where in London is more than 1 mile from a station?
03/09/2011: 6220 visitors: This new TfL bus countdown technology looks excellent
18/08/2018: 5683 visitors: Plans for big changes to central London bus routes
13/12/2016: 5640 visitors: The Croxley rail link has been cancelled
12/02/2006: 5614 visitors: Congratulations you are the Blogger blog of the day
posted 06:00 :
Monday, April 25, 2022Some say this is where the housing crisis started.
This is 39 Amersham Road, Harold Hill, an end-of-terrace house on the almost-edge of London. It was built in the 1950s on former farmland as part of a huge low-density London County Council overspill estate. And on 11th August 1980 it was here that Margaret Thatcher came for tea, for a photo opportunity and to hand James and Maureen Patterson the deeds to their council house.
The Housing Act 1980 transformed social housing in Britain by enabling council tenants to buy their properties at an enormous discount. It was seen as a quick way to increase the number of property owners, raise aspirations and nudge former Labour voters into becoming Conservatives. Anyone who'd lived in their council house for at least three years received a 33% discount on the market price and for tenants of 20 years standing that increased to 50%. With house prices relatively affordable at the time this was a very generous and accessible offer, and within a decade 1½ million council houses had been sold off.
It wasn't necessarily the best option for low-paid workers, who suddenly found themselves paying mortgages higher than their former rents and responsible for the upkeep of properties that weren't terribly well built in the first place. It was also a one-way ticket. Councils were forbidden from investing monies gained on building further social housing - it all went to the Treasury - and so the national stock of council housing inexorably ebbed away.
Amersham Road is a pleasant residential meander just far enough from the A12 to be peaceful and quiet. It has freshly-mown verges and a decent patch of riverside meadow where deer are sometimes seen. Its houses are bedecked with satellite dishes, solar panels, ornamental lanterns, catflaps and motion sensors, plus enough variation in front door styles to confirm that the council is no longer in charge of decor. Pensioners are not afraid to doze in their front gardens. Gnomes and England flags are present but not commonplace. Cars get washed on Sunday mornings. Ocado delivers. Parking is not a problem.
Number 39 now has replacement windows and a porch with diamond lights, plus a white van parked outside and a burglar alarm just in case. I thought it had an extension bolted onto one side but it turned out that's a small bungalow separately numbered 41. It still has that council house vibe but that's down to its lowbrow brick construction, and it did at least avoid the pebbledash some of its neighbours received to introduce some architectural variation. And because this particular property has become iconic in the story of Right to Buy, a number of journalists have kept tracks on comings and goings over the years and it turns out the first homeowner wished she'd never bought it.
1962: The Pattersons move in, paying rent to the Municipal Borough of RomfordHeaven knows how much it's worth now, given that Crossrail is just about to open nearby, but the 2-bed terrace immediately across the road is currently on the market for £350,000. That'd be 42 times more than the Pattersons paid 42 years ago, confirming there's no investment better than bricks and mortar, especially when the government hands it to you at a hefty discount.
1980: After 18 years they qualify for a 40% discount. They put down a deposit of £5 and buy the house for £8,315.
1996: Problems meeting soaring mortgage payments lead the couple to divorce. Unable to meet her bills, Mrs Patterson is forced to sell up. The house sells for £55,995, technically a massive profit but after paying off the mortgage she only has enough left to move into a caravan.
2001: The Bradys relocate to Leigh-on-Sea and sell the house for £101,500 (an 81% profit in five years).
2004: The Bacons sell the house for £145,000 (a 43% profit in just over two years).
2007: The Shinglers sell the house for £183,000 (a 26% profit in three years).
2013: The Masters sell the house for £180,000 (the first owners to make a loss).
2016: The latest owner sells the house for £290,000 (a 61% profit in three years).
But the story's not quite as simple as that. 39 Amersham Road wasn't the first council house to be sold off, it was the 12,000th. The policy had been around a lot longer than that, indeed the first council house the GLC sold off was a few streets away in Sheffield Drive way back in 1967. What was new was that the policy was now mandatory for all councils whether they wanted to sell or not, and of course those massive discounts for existing residents. Margaret Thatcher came to Harold Hill purely to launch her seismic changes, which days earlier had passed into law, because you can't beat a photo opportunity with a super-grateful family.
Councils have been hobbled on housing ever since, financially unable to fund significant schemes of their own and mostly reliant on twisting the arms of private developers to incorporate something 'affordable' or for social rent. We can't go back to 1980 and preserve the social housing stream, but maybe if we could our current hyperinflated property bubble might never have happened... and the Pattersons might be a lot happier too.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, April 24, 2022This is an incredibly impressive set of blue plaques to find along a single wall.
It reads like a who's who of comedy and light entertainment, so long as you're of a certain age, and appears in a highly appropriate location in southwest London facing the Thames. It's a somewhat skewed selection, more ITV than BBC and with Irene Handl the sole female representative, so fails to fully reflect the history of the site. But I hadn't been expecting to stumble upon this cacklesome dozen, and now all I have to do is try to persuade you not to bother coming to look for yourselves.
I found the plaques in Teddington facing the whitewater cascade of Teddington Weir, the Thames's upper tidal limit. Close by is Teddington Lock and also the only footbridge between Richmond and Kingston, a convenient link to the fine dogwalking territory of Ham Lands. Boatowners at Teddington Harbour have a chandlery to sell them ropes and lubrication, plus two characterful pubs which take full advantage of their riverside location. I turned up during the fortnightly traders market at The Anglers which was selling nut butters, vegan doughnuts and hand-printed dinosaur t-shirts, so very much ticking all TW11 boxes.
And yes, if we're in Teddington then the iconic location with the plaques must be Teddington Studios which for the best part of a century churned out a memorable range of classics from silent films to much-loved TV series, for example The Avengers. The studios began small after a stockbroker hired out his riverfront property to a minor film company, and rapidly expanded after Warner Brothers took the lease in 1931. And Edward and Mrs Simpson. Production was halted for four years when a V1 flying bomb scored a direct hit on two stages, and went on hiatus again when the Hawker Aircraft Company briefly took over. And Goodnight Sweetheart. But things really took off in 1958 when ABC adapted the studios for television and started making programmes for the fledgling ITV. And The World At War.
From 1968 this was the main production base for Thames Television, the capital's weekday ITV franchise. And Van der Valk. This was when the drama-entertainment conveyor belt really stepped up, with stars easily tempted to this compact set-up on the outskirts of London. And Rainbow. Benny Hill lived a couple of streets downriver so the location suited him perfectly. And The Sooty Show. Teddington boasted eight studios of various sizes, the largest of which could seat an audience of 500. And This Is Your Life. Programmes were also made for other channels, indeed that's why Monty Python's famous fish-slapping dance was filmed beside Teddington Lock. And Bless This House. Just imagine the light entertainment highfliers who must have brushed shoulders over meat and two veg in the studio's restaurant block overlooking the river. And Minder.
Everything changed in 1993 when Thames lost their ITV franchise to Carlton forcing Teddington Studios to go independent. And Birds of a Feather. Investment became more hit and miss and some of the smaller studios were hired out to new digital channels. And The Shopping Channel. Then in 2005 the Pinewood Studios Group took over, but didn't do very much with it, until it was finally decided the entire operation should be closed down. And The IT Crowd. On 21st November 2014 the very last programme to be filmed here, ironically, was an episode of Still Open All Hours. And My Family. And yes, you've probably guessed by now that the site was promptly sold off for housing, and if you visit today all you find are some upscale blocks of flats named Teddington Riverside. And Magpie.
They're quite bland, both inside and out, with unremarkable brick exteriors and muted slate grey kitchens. And Kilroy. Car parking is hidden away underneath, a concierge keeps an eye on things and not everything's sold yet so the marketing suite remains operational. And Pop Idol. But on the bright side there's no huge security gate to bar access so anyone can step off Broom Road and walk past the apartments (and a cut-out of Ricky Gervais) to explore the pristine lawns beyond. And The Office. Admittedly there are signs warning visitors off the grass - those benches are for residents only - but it's perfectly fine to head through to the riverside terrace where the plaques are. And Today With Des and Mel.
I was quite impressed by the information board here, which it turns out is because all the text is taken (with credit) from the Twickenham Museum website. And Harry Hill’s TV Burp. I was less impressed by the presentation of the plaques, equally spaced along a low brick wall between a lifebuoy and a glass lift. And Men Behaving Badly. I doubt the dead end path is much used by residents, indeed having seen a few I don't believe they're the type who enjoy light entertainment offerings so probably get no kick out of living on the site of some of ITV's greatest triumphs. And the Morecambe & Wise Show. Like BBC Television Centre and now LWT's South Bank Studios the future of our broadcasting heritage is increasingly as somewhere the average viewer will never live.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, April 23, 2022Stuff going on in and around the Olympic Park
10 years on - Olympic and Paralympic Exhibition
(13 April - 30 September 2022, Velodrome, free)
It's ten years since London hosted the Olympics so the good folk at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are celebrating with, amongst other things, a small exhibition. They haven't made it easy to stumble upon, having tucked it away on the upper concourse of the Velodrome and entirely forgetting to erect a sign outside "hey, there's an exhibition inside". But if you think to walk in and head confidently past the ladies on reception and find the stairwell and climb two flights and walk to the far end of the arena there it is, indeed you may never have realised it's fine to go in and watch whoever's biking round the track at any time.
The exhibition is more words than it is objects. Thankfully they are quite evocative objects, the largest being a full-sized Wenlock, the quirky Olympic mascot. This particular Wenlock has been borrowed from West Ham's stadium where it normally forms part of the collateral on a guided tour so you're saving £19 by seeing it here. Other objects in cases include Olympic and Paralympic torches and medals, should you not have one of your own, a gold-trimmed opening ceremony outfit and a scrap of running track. That's not quite a full list but it nearly is.
Half the exhibition focuses on the Paralympics and the other half on 2012 and legacy. There's too much on legacy, given this is supposed to be celebrating ten years ago, but QEOP's copywriting team are always obsessed by shoehorning their current commercial activities into everything they write. Enjoy the parklands, they say, and maybe try a new sport or watch an international clash or enjoy a boat ride or hop on a swan pedalo or slide down the big tower or grab after-work drinks or buy coffee and cake and for goodness sake this is not "a hotspot for foodies", only in your marketing dreams.
You have the rest of the summer to see the exhibition but don't come a long distance specially because it's basically a couple of alcoves decked out with information boards.
The New London Model
(21 April - 31 October 2022, Westfield, free)
It's fabulous this, a 1:2000 scale model of central London and covered with tiny sticky-up plastic buildings all the way from Park Royal to Woolwich. If they're very new buildings or not-yet-built buildings they're white and if they're older than that they're off-white, the idea being to help architects and planners visualise the London cityscape and see how new developments fit into the whole. Most of west London is off-white with tiny pockets of white, whereas East London has a lot more of the white stuff clustered around E20, E14, E16, SE10 and anywhere there used to be industry. The level of detail is such that if you live in a Victorian terrace you'll likely be able to pick out your backyard, an honour not appointed to residents of the highrise white bits.
Of course you've likely seen the model before, it having spent most of the last two decades at NLA off Tottenham Court Road, even if it wasn't quite as big as this to start with. More recently it's become a travelling attraction used to fill empty spaces in retail developments, hence until recently it was stashed in Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross and now here it is at the quieter end of The Street at Westfield Stratford. It's an odd place to put it, given that passing footfall is much more interested in shopping than architecture, so I wouldn't expect it to get particularly busy.
Quite the weirdest thing about the set-up is that someone thought it was a good idea to hide a cafe at the back, almost entirely obscured by a sparse bookshelf, and to hire two lackeys to make frothy coffee for non-existent clientele. There are tables somewhere in the vicinity of Uxbridge if you're interested in spending ten minutes sitting just out of sight of the model's impeccable detail. Better to scrutinise close-up and latte-free, I'd say, especially if you happen to be going shopping in E20 anytime during the next six months anyway.
Blossom Watch Day
Saturday 23 April 2022
Ooh that'll be today. Blossom Watch Day is the National Trust's annual celebration of arboreal colour, which resonates strongly in the Olympic Park because it's the site of London's first Blossom Garden. 2022 is the first spring its 33 trees have been publicly accessible, although because they deliberately planted several different varieties the trees haven't all blossomed simultaneously and the overall impact has been let's say underwhelming. At present one tree is in full pink pomp and another partly so, with maybe half a dozen showing straggly petal remains and the rest peaked some time back, assuming they peaked at all. Come for a nice sit down in peaceful surroundings but don't worry if you don't have a camera to hand.
I was surprised to see the National Trust promoting Blossom Watch Day in Westfield yesterday with the aid of one of those chalk drawings that only looks 3D from one particular angle. It wasn't even an especially exciting image, just a bird flying over some blotchy trees, because it turns out Mother Nature is a heck of a lot better at making blossom photogenic than a mere pavement artist. I hope it wasn't my annual subscription they used to pay two stewards to chaperone the artwork and attempt to encourage passers-by to upload it with the designated hashtag.
• I popped into QEOP's perfectly camouflaged Information Point, once located in a portakabin where everyone passed it, now hidden away in one tiny corner of an Alpine deli. The staff were charming and informative and I suspect not overworked, and offered me a map and urged me to go and see the 2012 exhibition in the Velodrome which I didn't tell them I already had.
• A 'legacy trail' has been created around the park, the idea being that you look through 12 magenta frames at key locations and take a photo/selfie/whatever. I couldn't find a map online, only a paper copy at the Information Point, and you'll never follow it without one.
• Abba's avatar theatre has almost finished taking shape, which is just as well given it's due to open to paying visitors in five weeks time. The hospitality corral out front is now externally complete and we're currently at the "laying new tarmac to cope with massive footfall" stage. A clock on a post outside counts down the days.
• Just before lockdown they started renovating the mirrored RUN sculpture outside the Copper Box, then entered a two year hiatus, and only now have they removed the black plastic sheets revealing drab mirrorlessness.
• It's now more than a year since I last saw a kingfisher in the Olympic Park (despite over a dozen sightings in the year before that), and that's a shame.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, April 22, 2022All the TfL stations in the London borough of Kingston
None. Nil. Nada. Not the tube, tram, Overground, Crossrail, DLR... nothing.
All the TfL stations in the London borough of Sutton
This is Beddington Lane tram stop which is in Sutton. It's only just in Sutton, indeed if you walk out of the tram stop and turn left and step onto Mitcham Common you're now in Merton. What's more it doesn't serve a useful part of Sutton, merely a vast industrial hinterland of trading estates, depots, warehouses, energy facilities and sewage works. Other than the 80 houses clustered near the tram stop, no other Sutton resident lives within a kilometre of the place. It might as well not be in Sutton for all the use it is, but it is and it's operated by TfL so it counts towards our total.
This is Therapia Lane tram stop which is in Sutton. The platforms are only just in Sutton, indeed if you cross the tracks at the eastern end of the tram stop you've stumbled into Croydon (which is where I took my photo). What's more even fewer Sutton residents live near this tram stop than the paltry number at Beddington Lane because once again we're on the industrial/logistics/tradepark/tramdepot fringe. It's much more useful for residents of Broad Green in Croydon, so might as well not be in Sutton for all the use it is, but once again it counts towards our total of two.
That is if you're willing to accept a tram stop as a station. Some would argue that a pair of light rail platforms don't constitute anything as substantial as a station, in which case the bad news is that Sutton has no TfL stations whatsoever either and you can chalk that up as our second borough with zero.
All the TfL stations in the London borough of Richmond
This is Kew Gardens station which is in Richmond. It's comfortably in Richmond on the Richmond spur of the District line, and close enough to Kew Gardens to be brimming with botanical tourists daily. It's a somewhat disjoint station comprising two entirely distinct platforms joined only by a confined subway and a narrow footbridge, and countless geriatric botanical tourists would very much prefer it to be somehow step-free but it isn't. Kew Gardens is well known as the only tube station with a pub on its platform, The Tap On The Line, although the need to secure ticketing validity means there's no longer any access between pub and platform so all you can now do with your pint is peer through the window. Just outside the station are some lovely shops like a proper butchers, a proper bookshop, a proper florist and all sorts of bohemian eateries, but I also noticed several posters urging residents to support the Richmond Food Bank because not everyone in Kew can afford to throw money away in lovely shops.
And Kew Gardens is the only TfL station in the London borough of Richmond. One other Richmond station is on the tube network and that's Richmond, but Richmond is a National Rail station managed by South Western Railway so lies outside TfL's operational domain. You might consider this a technicality in which case you could argue the number of TfL stations in Richmond is two, but by my technical definition the total is a measly one.
All the TfL stations in the London borough of Bexley
This is Abbey Wood station which is in Bexley. It's only just in Bexley, indeed the full length of the platforms is in Greenwich, as are the steps up to the ticket hall, as is most of the operational side of the ticket hall. The Bexley/Greenwich boundary cuts north-south through the ticket hall just before the gateline, approximately bisecting the broadest part of the main station building (i.e. across the foreground of my photo). The Bexley/Greenwich boundary was drawn as a straight line across marshland long before Thamesmead existed, when Harrow Manor Way was just a track to the Thames rather than a throbbing residential artery, so the modern division of the estate (and the station) may look perverse. Whatever, you can't catch a train without being in Greenwich and you can't exit the station without being in Bexley, so Abbey Wood bats for both boroughs.
But Abbey Wood is the only TfL station in Bexley, even if partially so. It's only a TfL station because of Crossrail, and it's already a TfL station because they took it over way back when Crossrail was supposed to open even though it hasn't yet. Technically you could argue that only 10% of Abbey Wood is in Bexley so Bexley only has 0.1 TfL stations, but because it's a crucial 10% I'm happy to round that up to one.
Kingston: definitely 0 stations
Sutton: 2 tram stops, no genuine stations
Richmond: 1 TfL station, 1 other tube station
Bexley: 1 station entrance
So that's four London boroughs with no more than five TfL stations between them (and arguably fewer than that). Between them they have a population of 820,000, or just under 10% of the entire population of London, and yet the number of TfL stations they contain can be counted on one hand.
And this matters because fares between non-TfL stations tend to be higher than fares on the tube. Here are four sample journeys within these four boroughs and how much they currently cost, off-peak, compared to how much they would cost under standard TfL tariffs.
Sutton: Sutton → Carshalton £2.40 (z5→z5 £1.60)
Bexley: Erith → Bexleyheath £2.60 (z5→z6 £1.70)
Kingston: New Malden → Kingston £2.80 (z4→z6 £1.80)
Richmond: Barnes → Hampton Wick £3.10 (z3→z6 £1.90)
Approximately speaking that's a 50% fare surcharge for living in a 'non-TfL' borough, which is a shockingly large disparity. It's all a legacy thing and just how things happen to have evolved, and also would be terribly difficult to equalise because of economic expectations, but it's still jarringly unfair. And yes these boroughs all have other railway stations, plus they all get a comprehensive bus service so they're not missing out entirely, but Transport for London does serve certain parts of London far far better than others.
Other boroughs with fewer than 10 TfL stations
4: Barking & Dagenham
6: Greenwich (imminently 7)
8: Bromley (of which 5 are tram stops), Hounslow, Lewisham
n.b. As for the borough with the most TfL stations that's Westminster with over 30, probably because that's where the densest part of the tube network is. Tower Hamlets and Newham are close behind (thanks to the DLR), and also in the 20-somethings are Croydon (thanks to the tram), Ealing and Brent.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, April 21, 2022
O Northwood Hills, late-flowering child of Metro-Land,
Whose pastoral slopes were divvied by the planner,
Where bank clerks found the bungalow of their dreams
And Reg Dwight played piano.
O Northwood Hills, aglow with suburban undulation,
Dainty avenues climb from Pinner Road to golf clubbery,
Each garden an asphalt space for a car or three
Or flawless lawn with shrubbery.
O Northwood Hills, your gables Mock Tudor white,
Where turquoise wheelie bins line the dandelioned verge
And a golden labrador frolics on the Hog's Back
As rainbow aspirations converge.
O Northwood Hills, in matters outstanding
The traffic report for Joel Street is long overdue,
The Road Steward Thank You Supper has been re-postponed
And the bins in the rec need review.
O Northwood Hills, assembled from brick and tile,
Where Middlesex ticks over in muted tranquillity,
And Mrs Sunita Jazdav hoicks her basket off the bus
And totters slowly home for tea.
Come to Hatch End for a lunch that is noteworthy,
Take out from Sea Pebbles, dine in at Ask,
Order mixed grill from the Turks at Izgara
If mezze from Zufa's not up to the task.
Cream cakes and sticky treats sadly departed when
Hatch End's sole bakery gave up the ghost.
No longer do ladies drop buns into paper bags
Or spread loaves with butter because sandwiches are toast.
Curry is possible and pizzas are commonplace,
Chingón is Mexican and BK's salt beef,
There's even a Wetherspoons if palates are faltering
Though foodies will judge you with some disbelief.
Instead try a Lebanese meal at Lattakia
And before going inside do check out the plaque,
For here Mrs Beeton wrote her famed cookery column
(though her house was destroyed by a German attack).
Come to Hatch End for a lunch that is noteworthy,
Pick up a menu and pull up a chair,
The parade is substantially restaurants and bars so
You're sure to find what you're looking for there.
When brazen renaissance comes to Wembley
And pedestrian walkways are floodlit after games,
The old Empire exhibition faced disassembly
And was reborn as a boulevard of shame.
Gone is the character absorbed by modernity
With temples to Industry replaced by stacked flats,
Now artisan coffee kiosks provide punctuation
And Boxpark's as edgy as Wembley Park gets.
The flagpoles now flap with invites to renters,
A branded bollard army forms a permeable wall,
One astroturf playground intrudes on the vacuum
And box cameras on high posts watch over all,
The ramp to the stadium has morphed to a staircase,
A sterile pub lurks in the arch's shadow,
A handful of cherry trees erupt from the hardstanding,
The boulevard's wide but the offering's narrow.
This way to designer goods, always up to 70% off,
Or take in a gig at the sponsored arena.
The Wembley way is more footfall than football these days,
Some see progress, I see only misdemeanour.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, April 20, 2022London's councils are up for grabs in the local elections next month, including Tower Hamlets where I live. Sometimes things can go off the rails here so I've had a go at researching who's standing for what, just in case there's a risk they do again.
There are 45 of these and at the last election 42 of them were Labour. That's not quite as one-sided as certain other boroughs but near enough. Were Tower Hamlets a normal council I could stop there, winning party guaranteed, but it is not. Instead Tower Hamlets is run by an elected mayor - a dubious democratic honour - and the mayor trumps the council no matter how large its majority.
Also a Tower-Hamlets-specific party is waiting on the sidelines having gained two seats in recent by-elections, and might pick up a number of the 45 seats in 2022. This is Aspire, the latest party devised by discredited former mayor Lutfur Rahman. In 2014 he managed to get 18 councillors elected for its previous incarnation Tower Hamlets First, and now here he is back again with a party the Electoral Commission hasn't banned yet. You'd think people wouldn't vote for a man found personally guilty of 'corrupt or illegal practices' in a previous election, but whether it's charisma, further dubiousness or an unerring ability to get the vote out, it wouldn't be a surprise to see several Aspire councillors returned.
Whatever, the real battle isn't for councillors, it's for the Mayor.
Seven candidates are standing, two of whom have been Mayor before, one of whom has been runner-up twice and four of whom are wasting their time. [Mayoral booklet]
John Biggs - Labour
John has been Mayor since 2015, taking over in a by-election after Lutfur was kicked out, and was previously a long-standing councillor. He's a fairly safe pair of hands, and needed to be to wrest control of the council back from government-appointed commissioners after the Lutfur debacle. He's been in sole charge since 2017. Two of his key policies are to continue to build affordable homes - some would say he hasn't delivered enough - and to continue to fund free school meals. When your taxpayers include rich financial types around Canary Wharf you can afford to subsidise some of the poverty-stricken residents at the other end of the scale. John will probably win - the latest betting gives him a 60% chance - but this is Tower Hamlets and the murkily unexpected is always a possibility.
Lutfur Rahman - Aspire
Lutfur's ban from holding office only lasted five years so here he is back again attempting to regain the top prize. Fraud doesn't get a mention in his manifesto, but he does promise to freeze council tax for four years while continuing to build homes, open 40 youth clubs and not close libraries. Interestingly his first priority is to end the 'Liveable Streets' road closure program, something which the minority of residents with cars feel very strongly about, and he also aims to arrest 'a dealer a day'. On the surface it's the usual list of council priorities, but implicitly tainted by having thrown the entire council under a bus last time round. In his manifesto he says "I promise that if you will give me your trust for a third time I shall once more be a People’s Mayor", which is shameless given that his second win was declared null and void, but he could still pile up votes despite his past record.
Rabina Khan - Liberal Democrats
Every time Rabina's stood for mayor it's been with a different allegiance. In 2015 she intended to stand for Tower Hamlets First - Lutfur's grouping - but when that was banned stood as an Independent and came second. In 2018 she stood for the People's Alliance of Tower Hamlets - a similar grouping under a different name - and came second. But within three months of that defeat she scrapped PATH and joined the Liberal Democrats instead, almost as if she'll stand for anyone who'll have her, and will not be coming second this time.
Elliott Weaver - Conservative
Elliott's not a councillor, he's a software developer, but has been chair of the local party and is a lot younger than your average Conservative candidate. His top priority is to "get rubbish collected" because he knows that always goes down well in a local election, and of course to end Labour's road closures because they impinge on personal freedom. He also holds Wandsworth council in high regard and intends not just to freeze council tax but to cut it "by getting the basics right", which may or may not mean reducing services. Pockets of the electorate nearer the Thames will likely vote for him, but overall his electoral assault will fall well short.
Andrew Wood - Independent
Andrew's intriguing because he used to be one of Tower Hamlets' two Conservative councillors until 2020 when he resigned over Housing Minister Robert Jenrick's decision to approve the controversial development of Westferry Printworks. His electoral communication makes no mention of his party background, although when the 'basics' include picking up rubbish, punishing bad behaviour and keeping costs down it's not rocket science to spot a rightward lean. He has a creditably detailed personal website at woodformayor.com, confirming he's thought a lot of this through, but has made the rookie error of leaving the "Why vote for me" page completely blank.
Hugo Pierre - Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Hugo thinks the ruling Labour group is too right wing and wants to fight government cuts on behalf of the working class. He'd bring in rent controls, end gentrification, reverse academy conversions and restore youth services, as well as take a cut in salary were he elected. But a lot of his manifesto reads as an intention to change society rather than actions a local council could control, for example raising the minimum wage or making public transport free, so budding socialists shouldn't hold their breath. Came last last time, and likely will again unless Pamela beats him to it.
Pamela Holmes - Independent
Pamela's not giving much away. She describes herself only as an Independent and failed to provide any information for the Mayoral election booklet being sent to all homes. She's probably standing for the Communist League, given all the available evidence, because even the left-of-Labour vote is split in Tower Hamlets. There's no sign of a Green candidate this year.
An interesting battle for Mayor of Tower Hamlets lies ahead, with the end result always in doubt until the final votes are counted, although sometimes it would be nice to live in a borough that didn't have an ongoing reputation for interesting battles.
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