Sunday, July 31, 2022
TQ4866: Cockmannings (Bromley)
File this one under ridiculously rural, at least by London standards. We're in deep country to the east of Orpington, somehow a mile before the boundary of Kent kicks in, far from anything that might be described as a major road. This nomansland contains two 1km×1km grid squares I'd never visited before, and as I meandered down two miles of remote country lanes I could easily see why.
The northwestern corner of TQ4866 narrowly clips the bungalowed edge of an interwar housing estate, a bolthole for pensioners with tiny terriers and bronzed blokes who overwash their cars. It also has a regular bus service, but you'd have to be a local resident or an end-to-end fetishist to have made it out this far. The R4 is one of TfL's more charitable public service routes, here on a contorted peripheral loop before wending back round the Ramsden Estate into Orpington town centre. Originally the R8 terminated here, which I mention only because the blinds used to say Cockmannings and that's almost as funny as Cockfosters if you're a Man Who Likes Buses.
The bungalows stop dead as the Green Belt kicks in, and so does the pavement so best take care from here on. Within a minute the hedgerows start, the speed limit increases to 40 and the city is far behind. Another minute takes us to Cockmannings Farm, a flinty homestead at a T-junction of narrow lanes. Over the years its barns have been converted to housing and its farmyard to a luxury enclave called Lime Tree Place, but these half dozen homes don't officially form a hamlet called Cockmannings because they arrived too late.
The telegraph pole here has one of the most bittersweet cat posters I've ever seen in the capital. When I saw the hand-drawn tabby and child's handwriting I was prepared for the worst, but not prepared for this.
Dear neighbour is this your cat?A short way down Cockmannings Lane is Cockmannings Lane, the home ground of Orpington Rovers Football Club. Alas there's not much to see unless you like dry grass and a distant changing block, and for good reason. Signs on the gate proudly state Founded 1979, but fail to add Folded 2021 because the club sadly threw in the towel last season after a middling year in the Supreme Trophies & Engraving Premier Division. I had intended to follow the public footpath across the road into Griff's Wood, but round here they like to make access dubious and unfriendly so I thought better of it, returning to the grid square's main artery which is East Hall Road.
If yes can make shure that she or he dusnot bully are cat plese?
from merilouisebarn Cockmannigs Lane
East Hall was a large red-brick Georgian building set back from the lane, which in autumn 1939 was taken over by the Southern Divisional Centre of the Sun Life Assurance Society in wartime flight from the City. They set up departmental offices in the stables and outbuildings, cycled in each morning from digs in Derry Downs and endured a stink from the surrounding chicken sheds and rotting cauliflowers. Alas on the evening of 18th September 1940 a land mine hit the main house killing all seven workers inside, and destroying a substantial amount of important paperwork to boot. And I mention this not because there's anything to see but because Sun Life's year at East Hall is the only scrap of history I've uncovered within either of these two grid squares, and all in enormous unnecessary detail.
The road climbs and bends between a mix of paddocks and golden fields. Occasionally there are tractors to step aside for and car drivers wondering what the hell anyone's doing on foot out here. Occasionally the hedgerows break and you can see across acres of some of London's finest arable land. Occasionally there are buildings that were once piggeries, but don't smell like they still are. And occasionally there are houses, some fortified to the teeth and others with welcoming wide-open gates because we're so far out of town that security can be lowered. Remote rural properties with no gates are my least favourite housing type because they could own a dog and it could be out loose because nobody ever walks by. But somehow nothing burst out of anywhere along East Hall Road, thank god, not even the shabby house (shudder) with the kennel by the front door.
The next road junction is called Lone Barn on an Ordnance Survey map, which gives you some idea how far away from anything this is. Here we find Lone Barn Farm, which today has more than a few sheds, and also Lone Barn Cottages and also what must be one of London's least used postboxes. Residents live right on the edge of the LEZ, and maybe the ULEZ if Sadiq succeeds in enlarging it, because they get to vote for him too. OK, time to switch grid squares...
TQ4865: Cookham Hill (Bromley)
This square's even emptier than the previous one, essentially two country lanes and a heck of a lot of fields. I followed Skibbs Lane which runs north-south, and here's the sole crossroads where it intersects (mostly silently) with Skeet Hill Lane.
Along the first section are multiple dilapidated greenhouses, a paddock with a rusty oildrum in the middle and the obligatory line of telephone poles, but mostly it's all fields. The weird bit isn't that the woods on one horizon are in Greater London, it's that the woods on the other horizon are too. Again a handful of people have chosen to live here, some in converted farm buildings, some in modern monstrosities and some in both. One prime plot currently has several supertanned workmen standing kneedeep in fresh foundations, and a view of just the top of the skyscrapers in Docklands because their lower half is obscured beneath the brow of the hill.
And then the houses stop, indeed the next mile down to Chelsfield is entirely front-gate-free. This helps make it feel even more like deep countryside, although in reality the edge of suburbia isn't so very far down the hill. The only feature beyond the crossroads is a coal tax post, positioned just before Skibbs Lane emerges from woodland and funnels straight ahead between high hedges. I only had to dodge out of the way of one car, an Audi whose young driver paused to ask if I knew where the Five Bells pub was. I did, because it was at the end of the lane in TQ4864 and I'd already been there. It pays to explore the outer limits.
🟨=1421, 🟩=30, 🟦=4, 🟥=8
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, July 30, 2022
PrimeMinisterWatch #newToryleader Liz
create an aspiration nation
reverse NI increase
halt corporation tax rise
introduce low tax zones
bold supply-side reform
rip up red tape for farmers
embrace free trade
police must solve more crimes
curb China's malign influence
more Border Force staff
more Rwanda-style schemes
scrap housing targets
limit trade unions
lift ban on grammar schools
suspend green levy
raise defence spending
turbocharge private sector
protect British freedoms
don't borrow more
rebuild the economy
cut VAT on fuel bills
prioritise cutting inflation
back British farmers
elite vocational colleges
crack down on crime
face down China
tackle illegal immigration
more Rwanda-style schemes
revise the Equalities Act
protect the Green Belt
an end to woke nonsense
lift ban on grammar schools
ban on onshore wind farms
maintain defence spending
remake modern Britain
reunite the country
posted 17:00 :
Did you see the Mayor said he was interested in London hosting the Olympics again in 2036? What a bloody stupid idea.
It's not new news, the possibility was mentioned in the Evening Standard in 2019, then expressed more clearly just before the Mayoral elections in 2021, but what is new is that Sadiq says he has a team working on maybe putting in a bid, or at least a few people sending each other a few emails occasionally, so basically just a pie in the sky idea at the moment, but still a bloody stupid idea.
He says it'd be a Green Games because it could use the same venues as last time, but West Ham aren't going to give up their stadium for a summer and the Basketball Arena is now flats and the Hockey Arena is going to be flats and the Water Polo Arena is going to be the V&A and most of the backroom areas are already flats and basically there isn't room for a full-on Olympic experience because 2012's legacy is flats so it's a bloody stupid idea.
Also it's not our turn, it'd only be 12 years since Europe last hosted the Games whereas it'd be 16 for Asia, they deserve it more, and Africa's never hosted it, also London only hosted it ten years ago ffs so that'd only be a 24 year gap, no other city's ever had it back so soon, Paris 1900/1924 excepted, but seriously, how dare we have the smug audacity to demand it back when other parts of the world ought to have their turn, it really is a bloody stupid idea.
Europe: 1992 2004 2012 2024Cairo's expressed an interest in 2036 which'd be Africa's first, and in Asia there's interest from India, 12 Chinese cities, Jakarta, Vladivostok and greedy Qatar, then in the Americas there's the likelihood of a joint Toronto/Montreal bid or a quartet of Mexican cities, and other European cities are literally queueing up, notably Turin, Florence/Bologna, Istanbul, St Petersburg, Sochi, Copenhagen, Odessa and the showstopping suggestion of Berlin pairing up with Tel Aviv 100 years after Hitler's Olympics, London's potential bid doesn't look quite so amazing in that company does it, indeed it's a bloody stupid idea.
Americas: 1984 1996 2016 2028
Asia: 1988 2008 2020
Oceania: 2000 2032
Also do you seriously think the current government would sanction a London bid for the Olympics, that's London for heaven's sake, they have a capital-bashing levelling-up agenda, they'd undoubtedly go for somewhere northern instead, Birmingham at the very least, more likely Manchester, or even Glasgow if it looked like the Scots might be thinking of voting for independence again, even Middlesbrough is more likely than fatcat thriving stuck-up London, especially under whatever populist PM the shire Tories end up electing, so it's not just a bloody stupid idea, it's bloody unlikely too.
Also the IOC is all about awarding Games to "multiple cities, regions, or countries" these days, it's part of their new Olympic Agenda 2020+5 strategic roadmap, even Brisbane in 2032 is going to be spread across the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, it's very much the way of the future, even the World Cup's going to be a Canada/Mexico/USA event in 2026, the UK'd better off going with a Northern Powerhouse option, even a joint bid with Ireland, because London won't win by inviting the world back to a patch of grass near Stratford, it's a dated and bloody stupid idea.
We've got ideas above our station, it's not our turn, we need to learn humility and patience and give the rest of the world a chance, you'd never recreate 2012 anyway, it's just the Mayor playing politics, he should drop this ball and go administer something less stupid instead.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, July 29, 2022The Olympic Park is really two parks with a massive great road in the middle.
This central road was already under construction before London won its bid, because planners assumed people would one day want to drive to Stratford International station. But it does form an annoying barrier, like the neck of an hourglass, with pedestrians and cyclists pretty much forced to cross the central traffic lights every time. The planners did what they could given the underlying Overground line couldn't be moved, nor ducked under. But with the long-term plan being to build flats either side of this constriction, the Olympic Park is really two parks with a dysfunctional gap in the middle.
But at least you can get across. There are still several genuine disconnects around the edge of the park where, even ten years on, nobody's yet managed to stitch inside and outside together.
• Northwall Road: They needed this kilometre-long cut-through as a northern distributor road for back-of-house services during the Olympics. But they massively overengineered it, have subsequently blocked off both ends and it now exists as an unused concrete chasm behind the Velodrome as the archetypal road to nowhere. It doesn't help that only one footpath connects onto it from the Park, linking to a central point nowhere near any convenient exit. And it really doesn't help that there should be a second connection by the A12 junction but the perimeter fence has no pedestrian access, only a gate for vehicles that's always* locked. Several footpaths in the park lead to this deadzone, and a pedestrian crossing with ramps has been deliberately added on the other side, but it's all wasted infrastructure for the want of a simple gap in the fence.
* At the moment, thanks to the Commonwealth Games, this gate is wide open. Vehicles need to be able to get through to a festival site in the north of the park, plus Northwall Road itself has been requisitioned for secure access to the Velodrome so is brimming with police vans and a private security presence. I do not recommend dropping by what's currently an unfriendly authoritarian enclave. But in normal times, very much locked.
• Leyton: There isn't an easy way into the Park from Leyton. You either divert past New Spitalfields Market or walk down to Temple Mills, two points peripherally one mile apart, because there's absolutely no access inbetween. A path alongside the A12 would solve it, or a footbridge over the railway from the back of the Asda car park, but neither of these are practical future options. It's why Leyton was never a decent bridgehead to the Games 10 years ago, and is still unnecessarily cut off today.
• Westfield: Stratford's mega-shopping centre was destined to be built even had the Games not gone ahead. Alas it was never designed to be easy to get out of, because that's how retail circulation works, so revelled in being the gateway through which befuddled Games-goers would have to percolate. Passing through from Stratford town centre still requires at least one change of level, and even then there's only one direct route into the Park past shops and all the restaurants and the Aquatics Centre. Boundary stitching might improve once the cultural treats along East Bank finally open to the public, but Westfield is always going to be an accessibility blot.
• City Mill River: The northbound path alongside the City Mill River was sealed in July 2007 and has never reopened. That's probably because it used to pass through a manky tunnel under the Greenway sewer which it'd be hard to tempt anyone back into, even with lighting. But it means the riverside path from Stratford High Street suddenly stops dead at a locked grille, down a ramp currently liberally scattered with open suitcases, empty capsules and lager cans, which benefits nobody.
They closed the southbound path alongside the City Mill River in September 2012 and it has never reopened. I suspect I was one of the last people down it after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. But for the last ten years it's been permanently fenced off, despite being the obvious intended continuation of the riverside promenade through the Olympic Park, with two paths and a set of steps all leading down to a pair of 'temporary' metal barriers. This being East London someone's ripped a hole in the first and pushed aside the second, so you can in fact walk on through the mossy railway arch beyond, but ultimately there's no escape from the overgrown ramp on the far side. This is the Bridgewater Triangle, last used for security friskdowns during the Games and since pencilled in for 600 homes as part of the Pudding Mill neighbourhood. But as yet no flats have been built, and even when they are plans suggest no reconnection is intended which would be a ghastly unstitched error.
• Bow: There isn't an easy way into the Park from Bow. You either divert past Pudding Mill Lane station or walk up the River Lea to Old Ford, two points peripherally one mile apart, because there's absolutely no access inbetween. Barriers include the A12 dual carriageway, a railway viaduct, an aggregates depot and a Victorian mega-sewer, four impenetrables it's basically impossible to do anything about. But it always niggles me that I'm ten minutes from the Olympic Stadium as the crow flies yet it's impossible to get there in less than twenty.
On the positive side, the western side of the Olympic Park is impressively well connected to local neighbourhoods. There's always been a crossing at Old Ford Lock, then sequentially north of that are a 2019 footbridge and 2021 road bridge, the old bridge at White Post Lane, a 2014 footbridge to Hackney Wick and a recently-opened footbridge opposite Here East. As yet there's no evidence that the Fish Island road bridge will ever be opened to buses because the last 10 metres of tarmac remains unlaid, but for cyclists and pedestrians the western boundary is encouragingly permeable.
Also, sometimes it gets unexpectedly better. There's an awkward chasm between Westfield and the Aquatics Centre, thanks to the Overground and other railways, where one loop road descends and another ascends immediately alongside. Alas nobody had the forethought to add a pedestrian connection between the two so shortcutters learned to squeeze through a narrow gap in the railings, which planners then vengefully fenced off. Now they've thought again and are busy making a proper connection even cyclists will be able to use, making it much easier to get from the new university campus to Carpenters Road or from Sidings Street to Westfield. Ten years late, but better late than never.
It's good to see someone somewhere is still thinking of ways to make access to the Park better. There are a few other places they could look next...
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, July 28, 2022Ten years ago I went to the opening day of competition in the Olympic Park but never blogged about it. I would have done but there wasn't time. My brother and his three teenagers came down from Norfolk for the day and we spent 13 hours in the Park, then they stayed overnight and the next morning we hurled ourselves straight into Day Two. I did manage to upload 40 photos and copy ten tweets before I went to bed on the floor of the spare room, but that's all you got at the time. So today I'm going to make good and tell you all about the day we went to the basketball and got to be amongst the first-footers to the London 2012 experience.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
I hadn't slept much. It'd been well past midnight when the amazing Opening Ceremony finished with a burst of fireworks I'd heard but couldn't quite see from my balcony. Now I had to grab breakfast, tidy the flat and await the early arrival of my family who had bags to drop off. Then we headed up to Stratford using the free travel that'd come with our Olympic tickets and met Dad off the train because we'd planned this opening salvo well. Ticket totals for Day One were deliberately much lower than subsequent days to help the Park bed in, with only swimming, handball and basketball underway, but we'd correctly targeted some minor heats which allowed us in through the gates just after 9am.
They'd warned us security might be time-consuming but we sailed through and found ourselves alongside the Aquatics Centre being welcomed by a Games Maker. Beaming smiles, purple uniforms and magenta signage were the order of the day. A Games Maker called Wendy took a photo of our family group in front of the Orbit - thanks Wendy - and then we admired the vibrant wild flower meadows in a stripe along the river. My family needed breakfast after their long journeys so we walked up to the biggest McDonalds in the world and were amongst its very first customers. The interior was cavernous and empty, the staff pleased to finally have someone to serve and the lift up to the roof terrace incredibly slow. I cadged a hash brown off someone while I admired the view.
Our event wasn't until the afternoon so we had plenty of time to wander up the park and have a look around. We passed the BBC studio on the central bridge, where I'm not sure much was happening yet, and several hopeful youngsters hoping to flog souvenir programmes from a freshly-printed pile. We walked round the London 2012 Megastore and shuddered at the cost of t-shirts. We decided not to go inside the startling red and white Coca-Cola pavilion for a photo with the torch, and rightly judged that the Panasonic sponsored box would be even duller. We found burnt fragments of the previous night's firework displays on pristine lawns, so I decided it would be a good idea to keep a canister for posterity. And then we sat down on the wooden terraces by the Lea and watched the cycling road race on a big screen in the middle of the river. "I remember when all this was allotments," I said, and I think they ignored me.
Rather than take root I managed to persuade everyone to explore further so we walked to the top of the park past makeshift and permanent arenas. The flowers around the bandstand were looking gorgeous, even if it was too early in the day for Wenlock to be performing. We peered over the edge of the Eton Manor bridge at the double deckers whisking staff and officials around, or more likely running empty. We explored some dead ends, dodged out of the way of passing street theatre and then returned to the riverside lawns at Park Live. It was warm and sunny now, and nearer to the start time of our event so the lawns were packed. The verdant landscape of the northern park seemed thrillingly new, although I didn't realise quite how many times I'd be seeing it again over the next decade.
We took LOCOG's advice and headed into the Basketball Arena 75 minutes before our session started, which turned out to be pessimistically unnecessary. I sat in a corner seat with my Dad and wished the announcer trying to keep the crowd hyped and occupied would calm down. It was a relief not to appear on the fancam. Eventually we got to stand for the anthems of Turkey and Angola, which isn't something I'd done before, and finally some sport began. It went on a bit. What's more we had two matches to watch, plus a burst of urban streetdance as edgy 'half time' entertainment, so were sat on those plastic seats for almost four hours. At least being basketball it was high-scoring end-to-end stuff, and at least in the second match we got to watch the eventual gold medal winners, predictably the USA. How thoughtful of Batman and Spiderman to come and cheer them on.
By the time we emerged it was already early evening so a lot of the crowd flooded away towards the exit. Youngest Nephew was keen to follow suit but we reminded him that this was a once in a lifetime event so we'd be staying. We chose to head down to the southern end of the Park, past half-telephone-boxes and security boats patrolling the waterways, to select something to eat from the stalls at Orbit Circus. I'd already done some reconnaissance to check menus and prices, so plumped for the MSC Fish and Chips over a roast beef roll or something spicier. The Cadbury-only Treat Kiosks were doing a less roaring trade. We watched the blimp fly over, we reflected on the day's events and we threw our rubbish into the correctly-coloured litter bins.
Despite teenage protestations we were determined to spend even more time inside the security perimeter so returned to the bowl by the mid-river screen. The Park took on a whole new atmosphere as the skies darkened and a range of previously-unseen illuminations switched on. The tops of the signage towers glowed pink, the spotlights around the stadium lit the wrap in dazzling white and even the Coca-Cola pavilion revealed a brighter silhouette. As we lay on the Leaside lawns we laughed at the fools who'd chosen to go home early, at least until we noticed there was a nip in the air and we left too. "Seriously," I said, "we can walk home from here, it won't take long." And so we headed out through the Greenway Gate, and once back in the flat sat down and watched the Olympics on TV because we had no idea what had been going on because we were actually there.
Before bed I uploaded 40 photos to Flickr and cobbled together a few words for Blogger, and then the next day I went back and did it all over again but with handball. What I wouldn't give to be going back and doing that tomorrow.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, July 27, 2022Today, blimey, is ten years since the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
You can't have missed the anniversary, it's been everywhere. TV news platforms have published a multitude of features as have most of the serious newspapers, umpteen Twitter feeds and any media presence with a sporting or community bias. Even the IOC released an upbeat anniversary press release praising 2012's legacy, and Radio 4 broadcast a one-hour retrospective documentary the other week which is extremely good, assuming you can stomach any more post-Olympic blowout.
I couldn't skip the occasion, sorry, because the 2012 Games have been at the heart of so much of what this blog's been about over the last two decades. Little did I know when I moved to Bow that an Olympic Stadium would soon be built half a mile from my front door, serendipitously making me the blogger-on-the-spot for the biggest regeneration project on the planet. The Lower Lea Valley started out as a forgotten industrial backwater, was transformed into a spectacular global sporting arena, is still transforming today and I've been on the spot to watch it all happening.
It's ridiculous that anyone ever looked at some grubby rivers near Stratford and thought an Olympic Games could be hosted here. It's astonishing that the IOC took the suggestion seriously and incredible that they ended up voting for it. It's amazing that London duly delivered while keeping the country generally onside. It's phenomenal that the event succeeded in elevating the Paralympics to almost equal status. And it's brilliant that ten years later the physical legacy is a thriving neighbourhood - not perfect, but so much better than it could have been.
As a local, the Park really came into its own during lockdown when I had a world class waterside environment at my disposal and you probably didn't, sorry. The very soul of the place is deeply engrained in me, mainly thanks to a combined epidemiological disaster and geographical accident. I'm one of the few people who remembers what various parts of the site looked like before the Games, immersed myself in the Olympic experience while it was taking place and hung around to watch the ongoing evolution pan out. I walked past the Fridge Mountain before it was a Water Polo Arena and will be back soon when it's part of the V&A.
During the run up to the Games one of the biggest issues related to the destruction of a network of unsung community facilities and unsexy local businesses. Some took the money and fled, turning a decent profit in the process, while others folded because their grubby trades were no longer welcome hereabouts. I still have a copy of the 261-page eviction order, spiral bound and sealed by the LDA, which was hung anonymously on a multitude of parcels of land to confirm extinction of livelihood in November 2005. If the past history of the site interests you a phenomenal website called Ground Breakers tells "the back story of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from the Bronze Age to the Digital Age", including the option to download the whole lot as a 100+ page pdf.
Ostensibly this mass erasure was for sport but ultimately a lot of it was really for housing, turbocharging what would otherwise have been the slow residentialisation of the Lower Lea Valley. Tens of thousands now live on former railway sidings, ex-industrial estates and evacuated bus depots. Even so, of the five proposed Olympic neighbourhoods only Chobham Manor is now substantially complete, and that only topped off its final block in the last few months. Stratford Wharf has been mostly reappropriated by a university campus and the cultural cluster of East Bank, neither yet unveiled. East Wick so far boasts just one small flat-packed quarter, and only this month has a long strip of the northern park been fenced off for further enabling works. Meanwhile Sweetwater and Pudding Mill have yet to see the construction of a single flat even ten years after the Games, and still won't be finished by 2030.
What's become increasingly clear since 2012 is that economic destruction has continued to swallow up small businesses as the consequences of this regeneration event continue to ripple outwards. The Games themselves never touched Hackney Wick but the developers moved in all the same and are busy converting it into a stack of concierge-friendly brick boxes. Ditto Fish Island which is inexorably having its character sucked out in favour of leaseholds, service charges and top notch fitted kitchens. Meanwhile the City's fruit and veg markets are relocating to Barking because the site's more valuable as flats, the fringes of Maryland and Bow are powerless to resist and every last gap along Stratford High Street has either been upwardly redeveloped or is about to be. And still it comes.
2012's recreational legacy is seemingly strong with all the main venues still in use. The stadium is a premiership football ground, the Aquatics Centre is the local swimming pool and the Velodrome is about to become an unlikely outpost of Birmingham's Commonwealth Games. But the stadium still haemorrhaged public money, the pool is inherently defensive rather than welcoming, the hockey pitches are empty 99% of the time and the mountain bike course never has anyone on it because its custodians insist on pay-before-you play. As a local resident the best bit of QEOP is undeniably the open space between the venues, not the impenetrable bastions of commercial engagement.
Only a minority of visitors to QEOP come for the sport, most are here to walk, cycle, play or simply graze. It's great to see so many here, the park's a total social success, but the temptation is always to pile on more calories rather than wear them off. The first two post-Games cafes have been augmented by additional riverside tables, a parade of hipster options near Here East, a showy restaurant pavilion, a streetfood canteen at Hackney Bridge and infilled coffee shops as appropriate. Throw in the hospitality-based gentrification of Hackney Wick and the cavalcade of corporate dining options at Westfield and it seems you can't just tempt people with a pretty park, you have to tempt their stomach too.
I reckon I've written over 300 blogposts about the Olympics and its local impact during the last 20 years. You may have arrived here as the result of one. I intend to post another tomorrow, and I haven't yet decided whether or not to run with this 10th anniversary for the rest of the week. I think it's important to document how things are now because all too soon it changes, and it's easy to forget how once it was entirely different and will soon be entirely different again. For example here's what I wrote on the blog on 27th July 2012 at the tipping point between before and after.
And if you're hoping I might finally shut up about the Games once the last athletes have gone home, no such luck. We local residents still have to live with the aftermath, and that's a story with at least another ten years to tell. Will the Olympic Park become a tumbleweed white elephant, surrounded by unsaleable shoebox flats, visited by nobody? Or will we gain a rich legacy, blessed by incomparable sporting facilities, with a fresh inclusive community starting to grow? East London's Olympic story still has a long way yet to run, and tonight's Opening Ceremony is merely the end of the beginning.You mainly saw a fortnight or two of sport. Those of us who live nearby have been living with the Games for the last 17 years, and still its impact fizzes on.
» Nov 2003/July 2005/July 2007
» 2012: week 0/week 1/week 2/Paralympics
» over fifteen hundred photos
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, July 26, 2022Please choose your preferred introductory paragraph as appropriate.
1) As an educated member of society, you don't need me to remind you about the Kent Coalfield.
2) The UK's former mining industry, as is commonly known, spread far beyond simply Wales and 'The North'. Coal was discovered in southeast Kent in the 1880s and four collieries opened in a rural hinterland behind Dover and Deal. The pits at Betteshanger, Chislet, Snowdown and Tilmanstone were often flashpoints during the Miners Strike and were of course closed down before their centenary year.
3) When you think of mining you don't normally think of Kent, but the Garden of England has been aglow with black gold ever since Victorian navvies hit a seam of coal while digging the prototype Channel Tunnel. Further test boreholes eventually drew thousands of miners from all over the world to this unassuming corner of the country, unnerving the locals and now generally forgotten.
4) Nobody's ever heard of the secret coalmines of Kent. Yes you heard me right, whoever knew they existed, wow it's almost too much to take in.
There are mining museums across the country, the finest at Blaenafon and in West Yorkshire. But there's never been a dedicated Kent mining museum, only a few glass cases in Dover, an omission which was finally put right in April with the opening of the Kent Mining Museum.
It's at Betteshanger Park, formerly part of Betteshanger colliery, which has been opened up as a recreational plaything for the populace of East Kent. One entrance is half an hour's hike out of Deal, and free, but most people drive so arrive on the far side by car and have to pay for parking. The park covers 365 acres so is enormous, but that's the scale of colliery spoil heaps for you. It originally opened in 2007 as Fowlmead Country Park, which is perhaps not the best name for a former brownfield site, and switched to its more upbeat title in 2018.
They've done a good job of disguising the underlying shale waste, creating a layer of topsoil and planting it with over 100,000 shrubs and trees. The resulting contours are occasionally impenetrable but make for an excellent mountain bike course which threads all over the site with trails for all levels of difficulty. A separate two mile tarmac road circuit allows for time trial action, or more likely as somewhere to tire out young kids on unthreatening roads.
In the centre of the park it's made very clear that the cyclist is king and walkers should stick to a handful of safer paths. They call this young forest Colliers Wood, not in memory of the south London district but because 'Colliers' is the default option for naming anything to do with mining heritage. Elsewhere is a gorgeous blue lake, currently shimmering with dragonflies, and a reedy depression that's normally a pond but has totally dried up in the face of near-drought conditions.
Maps are readily available but occasionally unhelpfully incorrect. I failed to find the Viewing Platform because it's not quite where the map says it is, so missed out on an elevated panorama across golden fields towards Ramsgate and the sea. Also the map by the southern gate has a big black 'You Are Here' blob in completely the wrong location, indeed not on any path at all, and it takes skill to be quite that cartographically incompetent. Given that most visitors probably don't get more than half a mile from the car park, it won't have inconvenienced many.
Other attractions include a hillside assault course made from tyres, ropes and crawl nets, in a fenced-off zone labelled 'Military Fun For Everyone', which feels a very Kentish sales pitch. The Fossil Zone nextdoor looked quite exciting but turned out to be a few picnic tables covered with smashed black rocks and five information boards about dinosaurs, and I still don't know what the point of it was. Perhaps it's no surprise that the busiest part of the site was in and around the Visitor Centre, which is of course where the cafe is and the new Kent Mining Museum too.
A kindly ex-miner guards the entrance, but only to smile, take donations and hand out activity sheets to kids who'd otherwise be quite bored within. Adults merely need to be nudged to look up the see the chandelier of mining tools and reminded to go through the swing door at some point else they'll miss the whole of downstairs. The story is well told across a number of social, technical and geological displays. Expect more words and pictures than actual stuff, but you will find helmets, trucks and a lot of 1980s Coal Not Dole paraphernalia. Kent miners were generally more militant than their northern counterparts, indeed Betteshanger holds the dubious reputation of being the only colliery to go on strike during WW2.
After the single upstairs room it's time for the single downstairs room which is designed to hold temporary themed exhibitions. The first focuses on the broad spectrum of locations Kent's miners arrived from, there being no local pithead workforce when the collieries first opened, and explains why the population in some parts of the coalfield still exhibit hybrid northern accents. It all feels a bit thin, to be honest, with some near-vacuous display cases and an all-too-short projected video, but it gets across the central message well and is a half-decent first attempt.
What's missing at the museum is any kind of leftover colliery building, and for good reason which is that Betteshanger Park only covers the spoil heap and the actual mine was a mile further inland. You can visit the site by following a road that used to be a mineral railway, half of which is car park access and the other half used mostly by learner drivers and truck drivers enjoying a stopover. Alas pretty much everything on the colliery site was demolished other than an office block since requisitioned for small business use, so it's more a rewilded waste than anything to make a pilgrimage to.
Alongside is an isolated loop of cheap semis built for mineworkers - still predominantly working class and totally out of place in the Kent countryside. But they could soon have upmarket company because it turns out the colliery site has been bought by a development company called Quinn Estates who want to fit 210 luxury homes into its footprint, plus a spa and massive 'wave garden' for surfers up at Betteshanger Park. Boss Mark Quinn is a big Tory donor and managed to get Housing Minister Robert Jenrick to overrule local planning inspectors at one of his other Kent-based projects, so isn't particularly popular locally.
Please choose your preferred concluding sentence as appropriate.
A) Good luck to him, the more of Kent that's built over the quicker the housing crisis will be solved.
B) It would be depressingly ironic if a former militant colliery ended up a wheelerdealer's ticket to a fortune, so let's hope the greedy bastard trips up and leaves Betteshanger to the cyclists, the ex-miners and the wildlife.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, July 25, 2022This may be England's most iconic signpost.
It's in east Kent, three miles from Sandwich, but you knew that.
It's the famous Ham Sandwich signpost pointing to the hamlet of Ham and the town of Sandwich. It's been famous for decades, referencing as it does the archetypal British lunchtime snack. These days it'd have to reference Falafel Wrap or Spicy Burrito to attract a millennial's attention, but for those of us who remember unwrapping limp white bread from sweaty clingfilm it's Ham Sandwich that resonates.
I've wanted to visit the sign for ages, and yesterday found myself in the area so made a pilgrimage across a harvested field to the corner of a sleepy country lane. It was just as thrilling to see in person as it had been in print.
This is a really quiet spot, a three-way junction of single track lanes generally untroubled by traffic. Technically it's in the hamlet of West Street, if you think a road called West Street with half a dozen cottages and farmsteads counts as a settlement. None of these houses directly overlook the triangle of grass where the signpost is located so you can faff around with your camera to your heart's content, or even park a car briefly to grab your Insta snap. [map]
What I did next, obviously, was to follow the sign to see what the hamlet of Ham was like. The half mile climbed West Street and then forked off up a quintessential unhedged country lane with lopped wheat stalks to either side of the road. This is full-on arable Kent with rippling fields, the occasional line of trees and the shoreline just out of sight on the horizon.
Ham's not big. It has a row of five cottages called, imaginatively Ham Cottages. It has a 'big house' that looks post-agricultural, and a new detached pile with a massive central hallway and room to park five cars. It used to have a church, St George of Ham, but that got transformed into a private residence and then last month mostly burnt down. And it has a signpost, which because it's in Ham rather than pointing to Ham is not iconic.
The strangest name on the sign is Updown, an even hamlettier hamlet to the southwest along Updown Road. The arm that points back towards the Ham Sandwich sign is labelled Northbourne 2. As far as I'm aware there isn't a sign elsewhere that references Updown Ham, which would be marginally funny but not of iconic status.
A little further down the hill on a tiny triangular mound is a slightly more modern signpost. This one doesn't have mileages, only names, but one of the arms may be unique in that it displays three proper English words. Deal Sandwich Worth is two towns and a village but sounds like it should be a special lunchtime offer if only the order were slightly different.
Just to the right is a quaint cluster of thatched cottages, one of which sells Ham Fen honey from a converted hive out front. Because we're technically still in Ham the signpost doesn't mention it, and even if it did the relevant pairing would be Ham Finglesham, which isn't funny.
Finglesham is a lovely little village nearby with a 16th century pub, a main street called The Street and a totally unique village sign. Not only does it depict a Saxon belt buckle unearthed at a dig hereabouts, complete with naked god wearing a horned helmet, but the buckle is coated with genuine gold. The sign was erected to commemorate the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the gilding kindly paid for by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company whose UK HQ used to be three and a half miles away.
Finglesham boasts this lovely signpost, the oldest we've seen so far, at the top of Marley Lane. By rights it ought to mention Ham which is one mile to the north but instead it references Eastry, a much larger village in the same direction, and so the opportunity for a second Ham Sandwich was lost.
I've shown you Ham so I'll end by showing you Sandwich.
This is a fake signpost opposite the Guildhall which is wheeled out every weekend to promote Sandwich Saturday Market. Not only does it point the way to various stalls, the Medieval Centre and the former parish church, it also includes a superfluous recreation of the Ham Sandwich sign. No matter that the geography's all wrong and the typeface off kilter, the sign's so iconic they couldn't miss it out.
But only a few of us have seen the original, three miles distant, half a mile past Ham. [7 photos]
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, July 24, 2022It's hilly round Croydon, and one of the finest is Croham Hurst.
Nearest station: Sanderstead (15 min walk)
Nearest tram stop: Lloyd Park (15 min walk)
Nearest bus route: 412
It's also well hidden thanks to lumpy landscape locally, so you won't have seen it from the tram or train.
I went because it was in a grid square I thought I'd never visited, and that's my thing at the moment. But when I started researching the area it turns out I had passed through aboard the number 64 bus in December 2003 so it didn't count. I went again anyway, and this time got off and walked around. I'm jolly glad I did.
It's a proper hill, rising on all sides to a flattish ridged peak and liberally smothered with trees. Imagine 80 acres of prime woodland and then imagine that a giant's finger once pushed up the centre of the wood from underneath to create additional contoured interest. It's quite a thing to have at the end of your road.
Geologically it's chalk covered by sand covered by a layer of pebbles. The stone cap protected the sand and prevented erosion, hence the hill stands out above its unpebbly surroundings. Also the northern flank is less steep than the southern which has precipitous slopes. Choose your path to the summit with care, which if you come in from Upper Selsdon Road might include a substantial number of primitive wooden steps. They call this Breakneck Hill for good reason.
The sand gives rise to an acid soil which favours oak and silver birch, while the lower chalk is dominated by mighty beech and a wider variety of flora. Only in a couple of places are there clearings, these being home to heather, gorse and (currently very dry) grass. Elsewhere the canopy is so thick that even if it suddenly chucks it down you'll not get too wet, as I thankfully discovered mid-visit.
One of the clearings is at the summit, which is useful because otherwise you'd never be able to enjoy the view. It's a splendid panorama with the slope slipping away to reveal a leafy landscape of gabled roofs and white suburban houses - sequentially Sanderstead, Purley and Coulsdon. Beyond the farthest treeline is the gentle ridge of the North Downs, and I think the one small intermediate highrise cluster must be central Sutton. A convenient bench has been provided, but alas may already be occupied by lager-swilling dubious smokers.
It's so nice up here that prehistoric man moved in around five thousand years ago. The remains of two Mesolithic huts were discovered on the flat peak in 1968, including low turf walls, a hole for a central post which kept the roof up and a scattering of flint tools. Also in situ is a bronze age round barrow, marked today by a ring of trees and an austere council plaque.
There'd be modern houses here today had locals not kicked up a fuss in 1899 when the Whitgift Foundation tried to sell Croham Hurst to the developers. But Croydonians had no intention of losing a valued open space, pleading that "what we have enjoyed for all our lifetime shall not now be taken from us", and were rewarded when Whitgift sold to the council instead. A Friends group now helps coordinate work on site, including clearing invasive vegetation and providing benches, not to mention maintaining a jolly helpful website.
Paths spread out everywhere, some with gnarled roots underneath, others crossing beds of pebbles laid down when all this was a shallow sea. On the northern slope you can wander pretty much anywhere, across what's plainly going to be a stunning beech carpet in a few months time. I cannot comment on mud because the summer's been so dry but I imagine the hurst is proper welly territory in winter.
On my perambulation I spotted a disused gravel pit, a child's den made from fallen branches and two original parish boundary markers. I passed a number of constitutional walkers, including one elderly gentleman fearlessly tackling the summit on two walking sticks. And I met several dogs because this is quintessential walkies country, all of them terribly well behaved apart from a retriever called Alfie (Alfie!) who a lady handler with multiple charges (Alfie!) was totally struggling to control (Alfie!!).
The southern edge of Croham Hurst is all road and the northern edge mostly golf course. It's surprising to see the land suddenly so flat, assuming you can peer through the fringe of private trees and see anything at all. Some marginal trespass allowed me to note that the course was being well used by retired folk, and generally a parched yellow colour throughout apart from the greens which were well named thanks to diligent watering.
As I re-emerged into top notch suburbia I wondered how I'd never made it here before. In part I blame the devisers of the London Loop which gets within a mile but takes in the Addington Hills, Bramley Bank and Selsdon Wood instead. It just goes to show that it pays to try to fill in the gaps on your map because some of them are an elevated woody treat. How wonderful to have all this on your doorstep.
🟨=1410, 🟩=37, 🟦=6, 🟥=10
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, July 23, 2022This question was recently submitted as a Freedom of Information request, and TfL responded last week.
Unfortunately TfL refused to give an answer.
"I can confirm that we hold some of the information you require. However, I am afraid that it is not possible to source the information to respond within the costs limit set out under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act."Too much work, it turns out.
"Under section 12, TfL is not obliged to provide information if it would cost more than £450 to determine if that information is held, and to then locate, retrieve or extract that information from elsewhere. This is calculated at a rate of £25 per hour, equivalent to 18 hours work."18 hours is approximately equivalent to half a working week, and yet TfL claim they can't unearth an answer in that time. This made me wonder how bad their records are... and I decided that they could be very bad indeed. Perhaps everything's stored on paper files, perhaps most of those files are archived, perhaps there was once a spreadsheet but it's out of date, perhaps a software upgrade lost everything, perhaps data was once thrown out as unnecessary or perhaps nobody keeps any kind of history at all. I've worked in a big organisation and observed a cavalier attitude to retaining information from even two years ago, let alone 22.
"In this case the exemption applies because the information has not been collated before and there is no quick or efficient way of doing so."I humbly disagree. I could knock together a list of "all bus routes that were introduced after the year 2000" in well under 18 hours, indeed I have and it took less than three.
87, 129, 135, 148, 205, 218, 228, 254, 272, 301, 304, 306, 323, 324, 332, 333, 335, 343, 347, 349, 350, 360, 363, 370, 372, 375, 377, 378, 382, 385, 388, 390, 393, 394, 395, 405, 406, 414, 415, 418, 423, 424, 425, 427, 430, 432, 433, 434, 435, 436, 440, 452, 453, 456, 460, 470, 476, 481, 482, 483, 486, 488, 491, 493, 497, 498, 533, 549, 705, E11, EL1, EL2, EL3, H9, H19, R6, R10, RV1, U5, X26, X140I started with a list of all the TfL bus routes that operate today and then cross-checked it against all the routes operating at the start of the year 2001.
I have a list of every current bus route because that's the kind of guy I am (and because I once tried riding every bus route in London and you need a list for that). I assume TfL have a similar list because they actually have to pay companies to operate them, and if not then Robert Munster maintains an up-to-date list at londonbusroutes.net/routes
A list of all the routes in operation at the start of 2001 is easy, you just need copies of the quadrant bus maps published in December 2000 which list the whole lot on the back. Obviously I have copies, and I know for certain that TfL have copies because they're listed in the artefacts held by the London Transport Museum at Acton Depot.
If a bus route runs today but didn't run at the end of 2000 then it's been introduced since, QED.
Actually it's a bit trickier than that because some route numbers might have been recycled, some have been used by operators other than TfL and some routes have been both introduced and withdrawn. Rest assured that I did additional quality checks by referring to Mike Harris's Greater London Bus Maps from August 2003 and March 2011 and also the All London bus guide (November 1999), which is one reason why this task took me more than one hour rather than less.
The other reason it took longer is I wanted to confirm that all these new bus routes really had started since 2000. For this I went to Ian Armstrong's outstanding historical record londonbuses.co.uk which lists dates and changes on every London bus route since 1934 and nodded when I saw a 21st century start date.
I could in fact have used Ian's website to generate the entire 'introduced after 2000' list, as could TfL, but slogging through the entire collection would have taken rather longer. Still less than 18 hours though, just saying.
This extra check allows me to create a more detailed list, over and above what the original questioner requested.
A list of all bus routes that were introduced after the year 2000, by year of introduction
2001: 406, 343, 486, 405, 424, 377, 491, 394, R6If you know London bus routes you'll be looking at that list and going "oh, that's interesting". And even if you don't, the spread of dates speaks volumes about the expansion of London's bus network. At the start of the 2000s there was a real push to fill in gaps and increase capacity, peaking in 2003 with 17 new routes. Two-thirds of the new routes were introduced during Ken Livingstone's mayoralty, and none at all during peak Boris between 2011 and 2014. Sadiq's tally is barely a dozen, the majority of which were introduced to link to Crossrail and two of which exist only because Hammersmith Bridge is closed.
2002: 418, RV1, 272, 440, E11, 205, 705, 435, 148, 372, 414, 430, 493
2003: 323, 333, 360, 388, 390, 393, 432, 436, 453, 476, 254, 363, 460, 382, 470, 434, 549
2004: U5, 349, H9, 347
2005: 427, X26, 498
2006: H19, 481, 87, 129, 452
2007: 385, 332, 370
2008: 350, 415, 423, 482, 135, 375, 425, 488, R10
2009: 228, 395
2010: EL1, EL2, 324
2019: 301, 378, 533, 335, 218, 278, 306, X140
2020: 497, 456
Arguably not all of these new routes are new.
Some are renumberings of old routes, e.g. 77A→87, T33→433, 387→EL3
Some are renumberings of old routes tweaked a bit, e.g. 726→X26, 348→347, S2→488, 369→EL1, W10→456
Some are long routes split into two overlapping parts, eg. 10→10+390, 63→63+363
Some are 'country' routes taken over by TfL, e.g. 370, 372, 375, 377
Some are circular routes getting a new number for anticlockwise journeys, i.e. H9, H19, R10
But that's not what the original questioner asked. They just wanted a list of routes introduced since 2000 and that's what I've produced... or have I?
"Any attempt to compile such a list would require a manual check - probably of well over 1000 different records - in order to differentiate permanent changes from other changes including temporary routes, mobility routes, schools variations and night services. Any information held by TfL would also omit non-TfL bus routes - i.e. commercial routes that serve London."OK, so I haven't considered temporary routes. There have been plenty including the 508, 563, 588, 718 and 733, but I assumed we weren't interested in those.
OK, so I haven't considered mobility routes. That's because they've only been withdrawn, not added.
OK, so I haven't considered school buses. That's because keeping track of those is a living nightmare, and also because nobody cares.
OK, so I haven't considered night services. They're a law unto themselves, sometimes sharing the number of a daytime service and sometimes introduced only because their daytime partner has been tweaked.
OK, so I haven't considered non-TfL routes. That's because this was a TfL FoI, so obviously you don't include those.
I assumed the questioner wanted to know about standard daytime TfL buses, but TfL's Case Officer broadened the net somewhat and opened a whole can of worms. Adding temporary routes, school routes and night services into the mix would indeed make the question far harder to answer, quite possibly breaking that 18 hour limit.
Also my research has been comprehensive but won't be 100% correct. I'll have missed something or mistyped something making my list 'wrong', whereas an FoI response is supposed to be right. I expect various Men Who Like Buses will chip in and point out some of my mistakes in the comments, because crowd-sourcing is a brilliant editing tool, but that's not a luxury open to the TfL employee saddled with answering this FoI request.
"While it is not possible to give an entirely accurate estimate of how long it would take to compile (and note that we may not hold information covering the entire 22-year span of your request), we believe the time required would be well in excess of the 18 hour limit."I still think it's piss poor that TfL's resources aren't up to answering this question, and that rather than answering a simpler version they've simply thrown up their hands and gone 'too hard'. But that's the game with FoI requests, the organisation will always try to wheedle out of them if you're not precise enough with your initial request.
Q: Could you please provide a list of all London Transport/Transport for London bus routes that were introduced after the year 2000, not including temporary routes, mobility routes, schools variations and night services.I have no idea if the person who asked the original question intends to clarify it further, and I have no way of knowing if they'll ever see my answer here.
A: 87, 129, 135, 148, 205, 218, 228, 254, 272, 301, 304, 306, 323, 324, 332, 333, 335, 343, 347, 349, 350, 360, 363, 370, 372, 375, 377, 378, 382, 385, 388, 390, 393, 394, 395, 405, 406, 414, 415, 418, 423, 424, 425, 427, 430, 432, 433, 434, 435, 436, 440, 452, 453, 456, 460, 470, 476, 481, 482, 483, 486, 488, 491, 493, 497, 498, 533, 549, 705, E11, EL1, EL2, EL3, H9, H19, R6, R10, RV1, U5, X26, X140But I would like to offer my services to TfL in case they ever get any other FoI questions about historic bus routes, because I'd be very happy to take a fee of £25 an hour to answer queries their organisation won't, or more likely can't.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, July 22, 2022It's amazing how often our political future hinges on a binary choice.
And it's worrying how often that choice is between two poor options.
2022: Prime Minister - Sunak v Truss
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. An extremely wealthy free-marketeer who was fined for Partygate versus a stilted Thatcherite with craven ambition. And yet come September one of them will be our Prime Minister, possibly ineptly, probably for two years before the wider population gets to have its say. It's undoubtedly a good thing that the process of picking a new Conservative Party leader starts with a broad range of candidates and whittles away the chaff but it still ends up presenting a suboptimal shortlist of two to the membership and saying 'Pick one'. Best hope they pick the least worst option on behalf of the nation, but what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2019: General Election - Corbyn v Johnson
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A blinkered socialist with unresolved antisemitic issues versus an untrustworthy egotist with no sense of personal responsibility. And yet the nation was expected to vote one of them into 10 Downing Street, there being no practical alternative, despite this being one of the most flawed electoral shortlists of all time. And although most of us gravitated towards one of the pair because when repulsed by one option you pick the other, the gulf between the two sides was the widest it's been in a generation, and what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2019: Prime Minister - Hunt v Johnson
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A grinning fool responsible for dismantling the National Health Service versus a mendacious clown who'd say and do anything for personal gain. And yet this was the shortlist the Conservative membership faced when trying to pick a new Prime Minister, and obviously they picked the charismatic one who'd keep the party in power because he's a laugh isn't he and what harm could he do. History suggests that maybe we'd have been better off with the dull one during the trials and tribulations that followed, but what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2017: General Election - Corbyn v May
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A diehard revolutionary with dubious foreign supporters versus a robotic ice maiden with no workable plan for Brexit. And yet the nation was expected to vote one of them into 10 Downing Street, there being no practical alternative, despite neither having any hope of uniting the country at a uniquely fractious time. It turned out to be the contest nobody needed and neutered Theresa's government whilst simultaneously making Jeremy overconfident about his electability and ultimately led directly to Boris, and what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2016: US Election - Clinton v Trump
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A policy geek hamstrung by her disgraced husband versus the most corrupt narcissist ever to stand for the Presidency. And yet America was expected to vote one of them into the White House, the only alternatives being micro-candidates who shaved just enough off the national vote to let Trump win, and the resultant moral cataclysm is essentially the fault of an enforced choice between a woman Middle America wasn't ready for and the snakeoil charms of a former TV star. Donald should never have got near any shortlist, let alone the Oval Office, and what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2016: Prime Minister - Leadsom v May
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A gaffe prone former financier with all the charisma of a cushion versus a stern disciplinarian with all the charisma of an iceberg. And yet this was the shortlist the Conservative Party membership faced when trying to pick a new Prime Minister, mainly because neither of them were Gove or Johnson, indeed nobody would have plumped for this pair of leadership candidates otherwise. But in this case it turned out one of the candidates had such ghastly unfiltered views that she was forced to withdraw from the contest and the final vote never happened, because it really had been a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2016: Brexit - Leave v Remain
Here's a poor choice of options and no mistake. A vote for the status quo and all its inadequacies or a vote for 'change' and 'better times ahead' without anyone ever specifying quite what leaving the European Union might mean. And yet the nation was expected to vote one way or the other in the referendum, the only alternative being spoiling your paper, in full knowledge that whichever way the result fell it'd divide the nation for a generation. In retrospect it might have been better never to have opened up the question to the public in the first place but instead we forced a choice between two damagingly polarised alternatives, and what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
2015: General Election - Cameron v Miliband
This probably looked like a bad choice at the time, but viewed with hindsight it now looks almost reasonable. A centre right politician versus a centre left politician, or at least far closer in views than any choice the nation's been offered since, the two Britains they offered were very different and yet still reassuringly mainstream compared to where we've ended up. Brexit has flushed the Conservative Party of most of its One Nation wing, and Jeremy's rehung the socialist label around the Labour Party's neck, and things were so much easier when argumentative politics wasn't at the top of the news night after night after night.
2010: General Election - Brown v Cameron v Clegg
And then there was that time when Britain suddenly had three viable choices. We're not used to that, and we certainly weren't used to entering hung parliament territory and stumbling into coalitions either. In the end it meant a moderated Conservative-led government but with Liberal Democrat principles compromised, and median voters never forgave them and they've been essentially dead in the water ever since. The breakdown of the centre has served only to widen the gap between the remaining options, in some sort of race for the bottom between 'woke' and 'fascism', and what a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
probably 2024: General Election - probably Starmer v either Sunak or Truss
This may be a poor choice of options or it may be absolutely obvious which way to jump, given the success or otherwise of our next Prime Minister. But once again it's hard to look at this list and see the optimal choice of national leader, just politicians who've managed to machinate their way into the top job because the alternatives were too repugnant, and that's why all too often we end up with a rotten choice of two to be stuck with.
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