diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A Nice Walk: Hammersmith to Chiswick (1 mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, plenty of history, a good all-weather surface, close to public transport, won't take long. So here's a nice walk along a mile of the Thames, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.

Let's start at Hammersmith Bridge, it's a bit of a mess at the moment but walking's no problem, and head for the riverside. The Thames Path's always good no matter where you start, but let's start here on Lower Mall. That's the HQ of British Rowing at number 6 because of course it is, where else would they be located? There are also two pubs, the Blue Anchor and The Rutland Arms, you're never far from a hostelry along this stretch. Each is a jolly riverside pub but don't stop for beer and a nice meal yet, unless you're walking this in the opposite direction in which case nachos or steak?

Furnivall Gardens are nice, not stupidly nice but a large bit of grass on the outside of a Boat-Race-sized bend with sweeping views. This used to be a wharf at the mouth of the Stamford Brook but WW2 put paid to that - read the information board, it's all there. You probably won't have to negotiate a class of schoolkids having cycling proficiency lessons, but even if you do they won't be able to follow you down the narrow alley past The Dove because that's 'no cycling'. The Dove's another really old pub, but best not stop here either.

William Morris used to live in Kelmscott House which is coming up on your right, you can poke round his coach house for free on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. It's all blue plaques along Upper Mall, even Eric Ravilious lived further down, and the current owner of his house gave me such a stare. But they look down on everyone here because these are properly expensive houses - at least two have currently got the scaffolders in. Good news for walkers, you're not at risk of paying the fine for unauthorised driving, which is Forty Shillings according to the notice on the river wall. The lookout tower is for a yachting club, obviously.

Linden House isn't a pub, more a heritage celebrations venue, but The Old Ship is an old pub and possibly the most popular hereabouts. Nice though the waterfront is the river's the best bit, and make the most of it because it's just about to disappear behind a terrace of houses, which it does just past The Black Lion which is yet another pub. Don't come on Boat Race Day because everything's packed. And here come the blue plaques again, it's the actual home of typeface king Edward Johnston and also designer Emery Walker whose house is open for tours, thankfully on Thursdays and Saturdays to save you coming twice.

They're even posher along here, as you can tell because somehow they can afford a Georgian waterfront villa, plus there's a self-proclaimed high-end Italian deli on the corner dispensing gourmet pastries beneath an awning. Houses generally have two front gardens, an ordinary one and a private strip of riverfront, so know your place and keep walking inbetween. This street's called Chiswick Mall, we're in Hounslow now, with signs warning of flooding so be careful where you park your car, except you're walking so you'll be fine. Yes those are beehives, those are upmarket picnic chairs and I hate to think how much that sculpture cost.

The island to your left is Chiswick Eyot, a three acre nature reserve planted long ago with willow trees. It's normally inaccessible but come at low tide and the intervening channel drains away leaving a bed of connecting mud. Sure it's possible (and tempting) to cross over from the slipway, but the school party I saw mudlarking halfway were all wearing mucky wellies so the sensible option is not to risk it. This is also just around the back of Fuller's Chiswick brewery, as you'll be easily able to tell from the smell. And yes you could now continue upstream to Corney Reach and Barnes Bridge, but why not end it here because don't push it, it's been a nice walk.

Downstream of Chiswick Eyot the next islands are in the Thames estuary.

Chiswick Eyot

Canvey Island

Two Tree Island

Isle of Sheppey

But what other Thames islands lie within Greater London?
Here's a list working downstream.

Artificial islands, locks and weirs are not included.
Islands with a footbridge are shown thus: |—|
(Islands with an area less than 1 acre are in small text)

Platts Eyot |—|
Benn's Island
Garrick's Ait (Surrey)
Tagg's Island |—|
Ash Island |—|
Hampton Court Bridge
Thames Ditton Island |—| (Surrey)
Boyle Farm Island (Surrey)
Raven's Ait
Kingston Bridge
Steven's Eyot
Trowlock Island
Swan Island |—|
Eel Pie Island |—|
Glover's Island
Richmond Bridge
Corporation Island
Isleworth Ait
Lot's Ait |—|
Brentford Ait
Kew Bridge
Oliver's Island
Chiswick Bridge
Chiswick Eyot
Hammersmith Bridge

 Monday, September 26, 2022

Thank you for your many suggestions of tickylists I might want to tackle. To test their suitability I went exploring in Tower Hamlets yesterday, and am pleased to bring you part one of what might be a lengthy series...

Every Green Space In London Officially Designated As A ‘Park’
1) St John's Park
Welcome to St John's Park on Manchester Road in the Isle of Dogs. It's irregularly-shaped and almost exactly one hectare in area, roughly half of which is taken up by a play enclosure with slides and humpy bits. Another corner is taken up by two porous macadam tennis courts, leaving a relatively small area for general exercising and picnicking. I can confirm that the park hosts a Man In An Orange Hoodie who visits, possibly regularly, to throw bread at innumerable pigeons. It also has some very nice metalwork, be that the gates at each of the four entrances or the pergola in the flower bed which is bedecked with iron birds. Tower Hamlets has over 120 parks and green spaces, of which 17 are specifically called Something Park, and that's just one boroughsworth so expect this feature to last for ages. Next up, Shandy Park.

Every Crescent in London
1) Jubilee Crescent, E14
Welcome to Manchester Road again. This is Jubilee Crescent, the jubilee in question being the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935. A company called R&H Green & Silley Weir Ltd wanted to create a set of retirement homes for former shipbuilders and this elegant curve of 28 flats is the result. They built larger flats downstairs and smaller flats upstairs, with access to the top lot very much not step-free so they'd never get built today. The rent was initially 2s 6d per week, the central balcony includes oval reliefs of the King George and Queen Mary and out front is quite a nice private lawn. It's remarkably difficult to tot up quite how many Crescents Tower Hamlets has, let alone the whole of London, but I know there are 20 crescents simply called The Crescent so probably hundreds altogether. Next up, Ordnance Crescent.

Every ‘Locally Listed’ Non-Designated Heritage Asset in Tower Hamlets
1) Bollards at Brokesley Street
Welcome to Hamlets Way, a footpath which hugs the northern edge of Tower Hamlets Cemetery. It used to be called Cemetery Row and has never been open to vehicular traffic, only those on foot, riding bikes or pushing carts. Within the cluster of bollards at the end of Brokesley Street one is modern concrete, three are smooth metal of indeterminate age and one is properly unusual. It's lower than the others with an octagonal tip, a subsidiary ring of recessed grooves and a ribbed body. It looks like a Gothic drill bit has poked through the pavement cracking the slabs as it emerged - very cyberpunk! It's marvellous but alas uncatalogued online other than as Tower Hamlets asset LS186. My borough currently has 210 locally listed buildings, including the road surface in Garford Street and a lamp column on Hermitage Wall. Next up, Morpeth Lodge.

Every Santander Cycle Hire Docking Station
1) Lindfield Road
Welcome to Lindfield Road, a street in Poplar where you can hire bikes. As you can see not many people have done this because almost all the docks are full, but this is not a particularly cycly part of town. Lindfield Road's docking station opened on 31st July 2010 and has 44 spaces. It's ideally located for anyone who intends to walk their dog in Bartlett Dog Park across the road, or who wants to visit the site of The Sussex Arms, a former pub on this very street corner. The closest residence is the recently built Mellor Court, which is not named after the currently Strictly contestant. London has 788 Cycle Hire docking stations so you can look forward to two more years of these reports, or just one year if I decide to cycle between docking stations to speed things up. Next up, Stainsby Road.

Every ‘Site of Importance for Nature Conservation’ in London
1) Elf Green
Welcome to Elf Green, a patch of grass roughly halfway between Shadwell and Limehouse. It's just off Elf Row, a cul-de-sac near Cable Street, but you undoubtedly knew that. Rarely have I been so underwhelmed by a green space, a half-mown arena surrounded by flats with bins in one corner and a ring of commemorative trees in the middle. What might have been a wildflower meadow is instead populated with nettles, and the only evidence of wildlife is a large curl of unbagged dogmess decaying on the lawn. Even the Elf Green community noticeboard is entirely empty, suggesting nobody really gives a damn. Tower Hamlets has 35 Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation so I hate to think how many of these there are capitalwide. Next up, Saffron Avenue Pond.

Every Council Waste Tip in London
1) Yabsley Street
Welcome to the Thames foreshore on the outside of the bend round Blackwall Reach. The northbound bore of the Blackwall Tunnel passes directly underneath which is why there's a mushroom-shaped vent in the corner of the site. Officially this is Tower Hamlets' Re-use & Recycling Centre because calling it a tip is passé, you're not so much throwing stuff away as giving it fresh life. Come inside and you can wave goodbye to white goods, furniture, gas bottles, books, CDs, engine oil, printer cartridges and old copies of the Yellow Pages. I've lobbed more than one microwave into its bottomless skips. That whiff is coming from the Waste Transport Station nextdoor where the dustcarts unload, so what a pleasant quest this is turning out to be. Next up, Kimpton Park Way (although I don't have Sutton ID so all I'll be able to do is stand outside).

Every Public Library and Seeing If They Stock A Particular Book
1) Canary Wharf Idea Store
Welcome to the Churchill Place shopping mall at Canary Wharf, a bolthole for bankers seeking a mid-morning Starbucks or a Barclays cashpoint. Tower Hamlets may call its libraries 'Idea Stores' which is a bit up itself, but hell yes, the majority are still open on Sundays. I decided to see if they stocked Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, because that felt appropriate, but upon reaching the shelves I was left disappointed. I also checked the Large Print shelves, the Audio Books and the Core Collection but no joy there either. I could have walked away with Bring Up The Bodies, but I know never to start with the middle book in a trilogy so walked away empty handed. By my calculations London still has about 240 public libraries, so this literary quest could continue daily until next May. Next up, do they have Moby Dick at Botwell Green?

Every UK Cheese Made With UK-Sourced Milk
1) Cornish Yarg
Welcome to the cheese counter at the big Waitrose in Canary Wharf. Tower Hamlets doesn't have hipster delis like many other parts of London so this'll have to do. I could have selected a hunk of Cropwell Bishop White Stilton or Wensleydale with Cranberries, alternatively Daredevil Chilli Organic Cheddar, Thelma's Caerphilly, Snowdonia Pickle Power or No. 1 Vintage Red Leicester. Instead I thought perhaps a wedge of Cornish Yarg - no doubt with a milky taste, somewhat sharp, simultaneously crumbly with mushroomy undertones. And then I thought hang on, there is no well-defined inventory of British cheeses, this isn't a tickylist it's merely a quantitative challenge, so I don't have to go ahead with this ridiculous idea. Seriously, what were some of you thinking?

Every Ex-Airfield in London: (mostly housing estates these days)
Every County Hall across the UK: (not worth going to Carlisle for)
Every Grade I Listed Building in London: (Waltham Forest is the only borough with zero)
Every High Street/High Road in London: (this might bore you silly)
Every Heritage Railway in the UK: (not during a cost of living crisis, thanks)
Every Crossing of the Thames: (even Wikipedia can't manage a definitive list)
Every Bus Station in London: (of seriously minority interest)
Every Historic Drinking Fountain in London: ("and oh look this one doesn't work either")
Every Platform at Every London Mainline Terminus: (a properly anal challenge)
Every Telephone Exchange in London: (if you're that interested, do it yourself)

So maybe not.

 Sunday, September 25, 2022

Route 241: Stratford City to Royal Wharf
Location: London east, outer
Length of bus journey: 5 miles, 27 minutes

Crossrail may have opened four months ago but only yesterday did the last tweak to the bus network take place. Route 241 was finally extended across the Royal Docks from Prince Regent to Royal Wharf, giving residents of the new Thameside estate a link to Crossrail at Custom House. The delay has been while TfL waited for the developers to provide appropriate access and facilities, and given how little they've actually done I'm not sure why it took so long. I went for a first day ride to see how well the extension had been introduced (spoilers - 6 out of 10), and ended up down a dystopian tunnel in a fake flat.

The 241 starts round the back of Westfield, as it has since 2011, its job to whisk shoppers back to Plaistow and estates south of the A13. Weary souls with bulging bags wait alongside budget fliers assembling for a coach ride to Stansted. The Men Who Tweak Bus Stops have done a good job of notifying passengers that route 241 has been extended, with a big poster in the shelter and another on the bus stop promising fresh links at existing frequencies, even if there isn't yet a new timetable. Admittedly you'd have to be mad to take the bus from here to Royal Wharf because the DLR gets there in half the time and is 5p cheaper, but I jump aboard anyway.

We launch off into a 21st century landscape of towers and concealed cuttings, because crossing the railway hereabouts isn't easy. New flats are erupting in the last remaining gaps, other than the awkwardly-shaped coach park reserved for the threatened MSG Sphere which thankfully remains empty. The 241 tackles Stratford's two-way system in the direction you didn't used to be able to go, so is the only route to serve the lonely stop opposite the bus station. We pick up a couple of passengers, plainly heading against the flow, and spin round the gyratory towards West Ham Lane. I note that negotiating Stratford has required two enormous loops to travel what's barely quarter of a mile as the pigeon flies, and has been made more tortuous by 80% of the traffic lights being against us.

Beyond Stratford it gets a lot less snazzy, a lot more Newham. We pass Victorian terraces and lacklustre postwar flats, and parades of shops that sell non-Westfield staples like kitchen roll, flavoured vapes and halal ribs. Only the area immediately around Plaistow station bucks the trend, thrusting upwards with as-yet unoccupied towers, before reassuringly the laundrettes and kebab shops reappear. The 241's role is to peel off down Balaam Street, which I blogged about in January because it's the B116 so won't drone on about again (save to say the fountain in Plaistow Park is no longer frozen over).

Having deposited several passengers in Plaistow proper we continue down New Barn Street, where the boarded-up pub at the foot of Stubbs Point has been demolished since lockdown. Then we swoosh underneath the A13, thanks to the foresight of engineers who built a double-decker-friendly underpass, and find ourselves in the socially lowly environs of Freemasons Road. Crossrail appears at the far end like a visitor from the future, where a horde of gamers is streaming off the upper concourse for a day of button-pressing inside ExCeL. It's barely been 20 minutes but here we are at what used to be the end of the route, which is Prince Regent bus station, which is where every other passenger gets off.

Just me for the extension, then. This is not unusual on Day One, but TfL will be hoping numbers pick up soon. Past allotments growing pylons, past bland hotels for ExCeL delegates staying overnight and across the Connaught Bridge. The views from the top deck are outstanding, specifically the full length of the Royal Docks in both directions, overlooking City Airport at one end and with Canary Wharf rising at the other. To hit the jackpot try to cross as a mini jet roars off overhead. On the opposite side of the docks are the other branch of the DLR, a heck of a lot of flats and the Thames Barrier, not that you can see it, only a bus stop named after it. And then finally we turn into Royal Wharf.

I've been writing about this mega-estate since 2017, a densely-packed upthrust of 3000 modern homes only 17% of which are affordable because screw the locals. It got its Starbucks early, then a Sainsbury's, later a river pier and eventually a pub. But only this weekend has it got its bus route, a double decker looping one-way round the full half-mile of Royal Crest Avenue. We get some startled looks, including one resident whipping out his phone to snap the alien phenomenon and another eyeing up the bus with a leery 'phwoar' as if he's spotted a big-bosomed woman. Life aboard the bus is less fun thanks to innumerable speed humps and also wondering whether we'll ever reach a bus stop.

Because they've only erected the one stop, it seems, not quite anywhere near the shops. Everyone who needs the bus instead has to walk over to the edge of the pocket park, opposite the coffee shop and overlooked by a windowful of puffing gymgoers, which is one of the few bits of roadside that isn't also a car parking space. Here buses terminate before returning round the loop so there should be a big yellow-edged rectangle saying Bus Stand but instead it says Bus Stop and has room for just one vehicle. There's no bench and no shelter either, despite the fact the driver won't let you aboard until he's finished his snacks and is ready to depart.

And most self-destroyingly, no timetable. Various residents come over to stare at the amazing new bus stop - it wasn't here last week - but nothing has been posted behind the glass to tell them where services might be going. All that effort in extending a bus route to pastures new but The Men Who Tweak Bus Stops have failed to provide the most basic of information. Even the yellow 'route extension' poster they've added at stops along the original route would have been wildly helpful but nobody thought to add it here, and that was a clientele lost. Hey folks you can now get to Crossrail in six stops, they should have screamed, but hopefully residents will work that out later.

I've arrived on the day of the Royal Wharf Summer Fete, a somewhat upbeat claim given it's now autumn. On the adjacent lawn a ring of stalls displays artsy craftsy things, the local fitness crew seek new members and entertainers are over-exciting a handful of small children with party games. Nearer the river a cluster of food trucks offer vegan pizza for 9.5, presumably pounds, and an excess of specially-hired litter pickers wander the promenade brandishing empty binbags. It's just like any other local community fete except it's been funded by housing developers so visitors are being handed branded plastic water bottles and free glasses of prosecco.

The latest development they're trying to flog is called Riverscape and fills a thin sliver alongside Lyle Park. To reach the show flat you enter a mysterious black tunnel on the waterfront, more reminiscent of a theme park than a housing estate, and keep walking into the symmetrical gloom towards a distant light. Then at the far end you step to one side and through a door into a gorgeously laid-out interior with stunning views across the Thames towards Docklands. "Are you looking to buy?" asks the saleswoman, and I confess I'm not but it does look very nice and she just smiles.

Afterwards I walk down the pier and see the deception for what it is. The show flat isn't one of the apartments they're building here, it's a single-storey box dropped on the promenade much closer to the river than anyone one will actually live, so an evil sham. The tunnel is just a cunning way to disorient visitors because by the time you reach the end you have no idea where you are, or that you're standing in a prefab on the waterfront, you just think 'wow'. They've even built a wall around the entrance to the tunnel so you can't see past or over, and in summary what I'm saying is that a bunch of sly bastards have now got a regular bus service, and that's the only 241 offer you'll find round here.

 Saturday, September 24, 2022

I love a good tickylist.

A finite list, generally geographical in nature, which I can tick off until eventually complete.

My challenge to visit every 1km×1km grid square in Greater London is a good example, even if technically it was more of a tickygrid than a tickylist.

A good tickylist is well-defined and finite.
A good tickylist is challenging but doable.
And a good tickylist can be a lot of fun.

A good tickylist would be "visiting all the London boroughs".
There are 33 London boroughs and all you have to do is set foot in each of them.

In reality a little further definition is required.
What counts as "setting foot in"? (I say vehicles and trains don't count)
Are we including the City of London? (I always say yes, pedants say no)
And what timescale are we talking about? (any time ever, or since a certain date?)

If you're a diamond geezer reader living in London I'd hope you have indeed been to all 33.
But I suspect a lot of Londoners haven't, maybe even a majority.
» Hillingdon's easy because it contains Heathrow, but Harrow's much harder.
» Newham's probably a dead cert, but Havering's much more easily missed.
» Bromley's huge, but who ever makes a special effort to go to Bexley?
» Croydon has a certain magnetism, but Sutton's very easily skipped.

Personally I've been to all 33 boroughs in the last three weeks, but I'm not normal.

A bad tickylist would be "visiting all the pubs in London".
Sure it'd be fun to do, but also expensive, over-abundant and utterly imprecise.
What exactly is a pub anyway, where's the dividing line with 'bar' and 'restaurant'?
Even if you take Camra's definition and use their database, at last count it contained over 4000 pubs and by the time you got to the end of the list it would be horribly out of date.

A better tickylist would be "drinking in a pub in every London borough", or "drinking in every Fullers pub in London", because they're much better defined. You could just try "how many different London pubs can I drink in?" but that's not a tickylist, that's a quantitative challenge.

Here are some tickylists I've completed:
✔ Ride the whole of the tube network (n.b. not necessarily every scrap of track)
✔ Ride every London bus route for at least one stop (I've done this twice, in 2018 and 2022)
✔ Enter or exit every London station in zones 1, 2 and 3
✔ Stand at the highest point in each London borough
✔ Cross every bridge across the Thames in London
✔ Set foot in every (ceremonial) county in England
✔ Set foot in every (preserved) county in Wales

Here are two tickylists I've not completed:
✘ Enter or exit every London tube station (I'm pretty sure I've never been to North Wembley)
✘ Ride the full length of every London bus route (The Ladies Who Bus achieved this awesome target)

These two failures might surprise you. Both tickylists are very much on brand for me, but my long-term record-keeping is insufficient to tally the former and I can't afford the ridiculous amount of time needed to complete the latter.

Here are some tickylists I'm doing well with;
✔✘ Visit all the nations of the UK (like many Britons, I've never been to Northern Ireland)
✔✘ Visit every English city (just Carlisle, Lancaster, Sunderland and Ripon to go)
✔✘ Visit every 100km×100km grid square in England & Wales (just NW, OV, SM, SR and SV to go)
✔✘ Visit the 50 largest English towns and cities (Sunderland, Warrington, Huddersfield, Oldham and Blackburn remain)
✔✘ Visit the 22 principal areas of Wales (I'm just over halfway)

And here are some tickylists I'm never going to complete:
✘ Visit all 92 football league grounds (I'm stuck on 3)
✘ Visit every European country (I've only managed 12 out of 44)
✘ Have sex in every London borough (still 22 unbonked, it turns out)
✘ Walk the length of every British B Road (I stopped after the first 26)
✘ Buy a coffee in every London Starbucks (sorry, you may have mistaken me for someone else there)

Now that I've completed my London grid square tickylist I could really do with another tickylist to keep me occupied. Something plausible, doable, affordable, enjoyable, even mildly formidable, and not just a never-ending quantifiable challenge.

And you might consider tackling a tickylist too. All you need is a good idea within your scope of capabilities and a list on a sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet. If you've not yet been to all 33 London boroughs, seriously, start there.

 Friday, September 23, 2022

TQ0875: Heathrow Airport

Last time we spoke I'd resigned myself to never stepping inside grid square TQ0875. It lay behind the security perimeter at Heathrow Airport and alas I'd never taken a flight from Terminal 2B. You had other ideas.

"Have you considered and excluded what appears to be a dead-end lane in the north-east corner of TQ0875?" asked Colly.
"It looks like the Google car got to the end of that if it's Exeter Road," said MKIan.
"I'll try to walk there tomorrow to see if it is accessible," said Sophie, following up with "Here's an Imgur link to my visit to the grid square".

So it was doable.
So I gave it a go.

The eastern end of Heathrow Airport is a forbidding zone of hangars, backroom services and securely fenced-off apron. But there have to be access roads, and there are, and it wasn't clear from maps how public these might be.

Eastchurch Road bears off from the Hatton Cross roundabout, just north of the tube station, signposted towards 'BA East & West Bases'. It's mainly accessed by airport vehicles, but twin pavements and a blue sign saying Pedestrians convinced me it wasn't off-limits to those on foot. One side of the road's mostly bus depot and car parking but the other is full-on airport, with half a dozen big British Airways planes parked up inbetween flights. Expect the whiff of jet fuel in the air. As you follow the road BA's enormous technical blocks grow ever closer, twin temples to the gods of maintenance, plus a concrete multi-storey and a mega-hangar formerly owned by British Midland. Still pavement, still no signs saying "don't", so let's continue.

Exeter Road is the second turning off the first turning on the left, past an aircraft maintenance company's yard designed for messy practicality. And then things start funnelling down, the pavement now questionable and with high security fences on both sides. The ugly grey hulk on the right is the Virgin Atlantic Engineering Hangar, from which serviced jets head out onto the taxiway, and beyond that a large blastable space where fire practices can be held. Behind the barrier is a scorched green fuselage which gets used by safety crews togged up in full gear when practising how to rescue passengers should a plane catch fire. And if you get as far as seeing that you've entered TQ0875. Yippee!

There is a certain geographical ridiculousness that getting this far into Heathrow is even possible. The tip of Exeter Road is very nearly in line with the ends of the runways, and almost halfway inbetween, and exists only to serve a security checkpoint and two barriers into the airport proper. Thankfully I didn't need to go quite that far - simply stepping into TQ0875 had been uncomfortable enough - so I grabbed a few souvenir photos and started to head back. This was when the police turned up.

Heathrow's byelaws are impressively vague regarding behaviour on their land, perhaps because they apply equally to travellers in the terminals and miscreants intent on trespass. "No person shall loiter, frequent or remain on the Airport without reasonable cause", they say, and also "No person shall remain on the Airport after having been requested by a Constable or an Airport Official to leave." I was all ready to explain that at no point had I seen a sign telling me not to be here, and also praying I wouldn't end up confessing I was only here on a map-ticking challenge, when to my relief they drove straight past. They drove straight past me on the way back too, suggesting that venturing this far was fine after all, but I was still very relieved when I finally reached the tube station and slunk away unchallenged.

So yes, I have now stood in every 1km×1km grid square in Greater London. I think this may be a genuinely unique achievement.

🟨=1463, 🟩=0, 🟦=0, 🟥=0

I'd like to apologise for sometimes publishing two posts in a day.

Normally it's one, and a lot of you are used to it being one so when it's two it can confuse.

It's particularly peeving if you turn up early when there's only one post and then I sneak in a second and you don't see it until later, probably the next day. Sorry about that.

Yesterday was a case in point. "I don't find your Open House stuff compelling, sorry", said a friend, having completely missed that I'd posted something much more up his street shortly after he'd looked.

This issue only inconveniences those of you who arrive early. Over the years I've trained you to expect content at 7am and hundreds of you turn up shortly afterwards, fairly certain of having something new to read. But if I publish another post later you won't see it unless you think to check back, whereas anyone who arrives afterwards will see both so nothing amiss.

It all comes down to the timings of the first post (X) and the second post (Y), and whether you turn up in the gap (X→Y) or not.

When I have two daily posts X is normally 7am and Y can be 8am, 9am, 10am or (less likely) later. I don't want to delay Y too much or the second post won't get much feedback. But if I make Y too early then the first post gets demoted too soon and any momentum there swiftly dies a death.

Sometimes I make X 1am and Y 7am because very few people turn up overnight, and then everyone who turns up for 7am sees both straight away. Another solution is to make X 6:59am and Y 7am because both then appear virtually simultaneously, and then I don't get my Dad telling me "oh, you posted another one did you?"

The whole thing's been complicated by my RSS feed getting lethargic recently, sometimes taking up to three hours to trigger, so a late post often ends up with an even later notification. This is also delaying tweets to @diamondgzrblog which is supposed to alert 2500 Twitter followers to a new post within minutes but can now take hours. Again, apologies.

Anyway, I will continue to sometimes publish two posts in a day, even if it means you miss one unless you come back later. I also reserve the right to play around with the precise values of X and Y, in ways which may or may not suit you, although either X or Y will usually be 7am.

But as a rule of thumb, if you turn up at 7am and the day's post looks a bit short then I may well have a second post up my sleeve so it should be worth coming back to check. I'm just playing with you by posting more, sorry.

 Thursday, September 22, 2022

Yesterday I arrived on the DLR platform at Stratford just in time to see my train back to Bow Church depart so had to wait for the next one. Before the pandemic the wait was no more than five minutes but since 2020 that's doubled, annoyingly, so I had nine minutes to hang around. And the announcements almost never stopped.
1st minute
Docklands Light Railway customer information. CCTV is in operation at this station and on all DLR services. Customers are also reminded to keep their personal belongings with them at all times when travelling on the railway. If you see something that doesn't look right speak to a member of staff or text British Transport Police on 61016. See It Say It We'll Sort It.
Customer information. All folded and unfolded e-scooters and e-unicycles are prohibited on all TfL premises and services.
2nd minute
Welcome to Stratford station. Please remember to keep priority seats free for people who need them and to look up to see if someone needs your seat more than you. It can make a huge difference if someone doesn't have to ask.
3rd minute
Please continue wearing a face covering on TfL trains and at TfL stations if this helps you to travel with confidence.
4th minute
Docklands Light Railway customer information. CCTV is in operation at this station and on all DLR services. Customers are also reminded to keep their personal belongings with them at all times when travelling on the railway. If you see something that doesn't look right speak to a member of staff or text British Transport Police on 61016. See It Say It We'll Sort It.
5th minute
Customer Information. We're doing our bit to keep you safe by using an industrial grade hospital cleaner on our trains and stations. Please do your bit by using the hand sanitiser provided and washing your hands before and after travelling.
6th minute
Please continue wearing a face covering on TfL trains and at TfL stations if this helps you to travel with confidence.
7th minute
Docklands Light Railway customer information. From Monday 26 September a new DLR timetable will bring customers quicker and easier journeys. For more information visit tfl.gov.uk
Docklands Light Railway customer information. CCTV is in operation at this station and on all DLR services. Customers are also reminded to keep their personal belongings with them at all times when travelling on the railway. If you see something that doesn't look right speak to a member of staff or text British Transport Police on 61016. See It Say It We'll Sort It.
8th minute
Welcome to Stratford station. We know that travelling may not be the same as it was so feel free to ask staff for help but please keep your distance for everyone's safety and remember that some people may find it more difficult to social distance than others.
train arrives
I won't have got the wording of all these announcements 100% correct, sorry, because if you sit on a platform taking notes you risk one of your fellow passengers texting 61016. But ten announcements in nine minutes is ridiculous, indeed total overkill.

» One of the announcements was played three times - the bloody See it Say It Sorted message - voiced by two different people.
» Four of the announcements were about Covid, so would have been relevant six months ago but really should have been switched off by now. To still be playing the one about observing social distancing suggests that staff at Stratford station are utterly tone deaf.
» The message about looking up to see if someone needs your seat might be appropriate during busy times but this was in the middle of the day when multiple spare seats were available on every train. Also this campaign's been promoted regularly for months, maybe even years, because Stratford never knows when to retire its announcements, only how to stack them up.

I went back later to check how often the messages repeat...
Every 5 minutes (plus extra inserts): See It Say It Sorted
Every 5 minutes: face coverings
Every 10 minutes: e-scooters & e-unicycles/new DLR timetable
Every 15 minutes: priority seats/hand sanitiser/social distancing
I suspect platform 4 at Stratford suffers particularly because it gets DLR announcements as well as station announcements - things are nowhere near as bad at Bow Church. Also Stratford station has past form on verbal diarrhoea - you may remember back in 2019 they were announcing the closure of platform 13 twenty-four times an hour.

Anyway the good news is that the new DLR timetable being introduced on Monday will double off-peak services on the Stratford branch from every ten minutes back to every five minutes. Not only won't I have to wait so long, I should hear only half as much babble before I escape. Give it a rest guys.

Four final Open House reports, not because you should visit but as further examples of just how much you can see if you embrace the opportunities.

Open House: 6 Moretown (Gensler London Studio) (Wapping/St Katharine's)
80s office developments look a bit passé today, so what they've done beside Wapping's Waitrose is rename it Moretown and refurbish one of the blocks. Architects like to work in a signature building they've designed themselves, and so it is with international firm Gensler's London HQ. On our tour of the building they pointed out the extra heft they've added on the front, the sample library on the ground floor, the teapoints where everyone mingles and the flashier top deck with views of the Gherkin. Essentially it's just a lot of hotdesks arranged so employees don't mind coming into work, but that's the modern office for you.
Best bit: the hipster 80s playlist echoing up from the cafe

Open House: Pennington Street Warehouse (Wapping/Shadwell)
Another Wapping street, another architectural practice. This lot are JTP and they've carved out a chunk of former spice warehouse near Tobacco Dock to create their bespoke hotdesking space. Thanks to Open House I'd been here in 2015 when the vaults were empty so could confirm they'd transformed the brickwork with sensitivity. It proved quite a challenge to bring light into a listed building with no windows. We got a 30 minute tour here too, definitely friendlier than the last place, although the architect did have a tendency to mansplain what the new starter had just told us.
Best bit: discovering they filmed The Apprentice 2021 final here

Open House: Darbishire Place (Wapping/Whitechapel)
Sometimes you turn up at an Open House building and are sucked into a lengthy tour, other times you get to meet a volunteer outside and they let you take a brief look in the stairwell. It was, admittedly, an attractive stairwell with a jaunty wiggle, but maybe not worth the walk. Still, a nice example of affordable housing shoehorned into an awkwardly thin footprint on an 1880s Peabody estate, and all in characteristically vernacular style.
Best bit: my only Open House photo to get double-figure likes on Instagram

Open House: Cromwell Place (South Kensington)
Five Georgian terraces near the Natural History Museum have been joined at the rear by a modern 'link bridge', their individual rooms forming galleries for the temporary showing-off of art and products. If you have the money for that designer sofa, that gourd-topped ceramic or that painting of a washing-up rack, good luck to you. The highlight, overlapping with the London Design Festival, was a dynamic reflective light tunnel with infinite gifworthy perspectives. It was also interactive but only the techies who'd made it knew that, so the rest of us just stood still snapping.
Best bit: conquering my imposter syndrome in this parallel trendster universe

And for comparison, here's full bloggage from my first Open House weekend 20 years ago...

 Saturday, September 21, 2002

Westminster Hall: Now that the Queen Mother has moved on, there were hardly any queues. I stood on the spot where her artificial hip had lain in state, just out of respect you understand.
Portcullis House: The new office block for MPs, famous for its fig trees imported at a cost of £150,000. If you're a UK taxpayer, you'll be glad to know none of them look as if they need replacing yet.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Magnificent and opulent courtyards and staircases. I suspect we bled the Empire dry to pay for it all.
Cabinet Office: Had to queue for one and a half hours, but well worth it just to see the door that Sir Humphrey couldn't get through when his key was confiscated in Yes Prime Minister. It has a card swipe now, by the way.
Midland Hotel, St Pancras: Glorious old hotel, now fallen into serious disrepair. I suspect it never recovered after the Spice Girls recorded the video for Wannabe there. Zig-a-zig-ah.

 Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Here are two Open House buildings that are open all year round, but which I didn't realise were open all year round until they appeared in the Open House listings. So you could go today.

Open House: The Post Building (Holborn)

A lot of new buildings smooth the acquisition of planning permission by promising public access to their uppermost storeys. The Post Building is one such, its 9th floor roof terrace open to everyone seven days a week but only if you know it's there, and prior to Open House they hadn't exactly been screaming about it. In good news the 9th floor is high enough to get some stunning views and in better news there's unlikely ever to be a queue.

The Post Building used to be the Post Office's West Central District Office, a concrete bulwark with a Mail Rail station in the basement. That closed around 20 years ago, was demolished six years ago and in its place has arisen a generic office block slotted between High Holborn and New Oxford Street. The marketing team claim it's "sitting at the junction of London’s five most vibrant and historically rich neighbourhoods", pure bolx which can only mean they haven't filled all the floors yet. But all you have to do is turn up between 10am and 7pm (or dusk if earlier) and find the door halfway down the north side.

The entrance lobby is very small, as befits somewhere not built for the benefit of paying clients. The architects retained a bit of one of the parcel slides, that's the painted spiral on your left, although I can confirm it looked a lot more impressive in situ. You'll need to wave some ID (I got away with a bank card) and have your bags checked, then walk through a beepy arch because security is key. And then it's into the lift, which because you're a pleb only has buttons for the 9th and ground floors so you can't accidentally wander into the Nationwide Building Society's tech hub inbetween. The lift's not fast. Also you probably won't meet anyone at the top, let alone a surprised nextdoor neighbour which was my unexpected exit experience.

A considerable roof terrace is available to explore, along three sides of the building and set across two levels, so if your initial reaction is "oooh!" it gets even better once you step up. The western half of the terrace is reserved for employees only so the best views are in all the other directions, but that won't stop you from seeing vistas you won't have enjoyed before. I hate to mention Midtown, the failed branding experiment for this immediate area, but it's precisely because you're in a lowrise zone midway between the West End and the City that the skyline has space to breathe.

North is the big surprise because the British Museum is only a few streets away and entirely unobscured, other than the steeple of St George's Bloomsbury (which isn't exactly a negative). In the centre is the glass roof added by Foster + Partners for the millennium, undulating like a giant (lime-flavoured) blancmange. This surrounds the nipply dome of the Round Reading Room and behind that is the side of Senate House. Throw in the full stalk of the BT Tower, some nearer Georgian terraces and a Hampstead backdrop, and this is a whole new perspective to enjoy.

The City rises to the east in a proper cluster, alas behind some of Holborn's uglier derivative offices. You can see how the Walkie Talkie stands alone, which is good because this allows the heart of Docklands to poke through in the gap, just behind the dome of St Paul's. The Gherkin is entirely obscured, alas, indeed this isn't the City's prettiest flank. But you can also tick off the Barbican, Broadgate and the Orbit way off in the Olympic Park, and if you spin round the other way there's Wembley's arch, an obligatory staple of the rooftop experience.

South is a bit more generic, enlivened only by Freemason's Hall, and beyond that the Shard of course, the South Bank's towers and an eruption at Elephant and Castle. The turrety tops of the Palace of Westminster are sandwiched between the roof of Charing Cross station and the pustules at Vauxhall, although you'll need a better camera than mine to do that justice. As for the chimneys at Battersea Power Station they're a lot further to the right than you might expect, behind the trees in St James's Park, indeed this is a great vantage point from which to reconsider your mental map of London.

More practically, yes they've provided toilets. Also look out for the anemometers because roof access closes if wind speeds exceed 25mph. No, it's not as amazing as a free trip up the Walkie Talkie but you can go any time rather than pre-booking and finding yourself in a long line of savvy tourists. Also it must be good because Ian Visits and M@ from Londonist have also just been, also nudged by Open House, as if everyone's discovered the Post Building at the same time. Discover it yourself.

Open House: The Fitzrovia Chapel (Pearson Square, Fitzrovia)

I've been a lot slower to this one, Ian visited in 2015 and Londonist made a video in 2020. It's a proper dazzler, a Gothic chapel built to serve the Middlesex Hospital, the rest of which was demolished in 2008. The chapel then sat alone on a levelled site while a surrounding redevelopment project came and went (NoHo? no thanks) so is now the centrepiece of a different millionaires' hideaway (ideal for those who want to live in a flat within walking distance of Oxford Street). From outside in Pearson Square it's no great shakes. Once inside it's amazing.

No hospital needs a chapel this glitzy, but all the funding came from benefactors so they could be as lavish as they wished. The walls are sheathed in coloured marble, the ceiling covered with golden mosaics, the lectern carved in alabaster and the font carved from a solid block of verd antique. Throw in plenty of decorative Latin text, an organ loft and several stained glass windows, and it's a surprise to discover the chapel was never officially consecrated as a place of worship. I was also intrigued to see that Mr Kipling's coffin laid in rest here, but it was only Rudyard, not the purveyor of cakes.

A building like this isn't cheap to maintain so they're very happy to see donations, or perhaps you'd fancy something from the bookstall table. Inevitably it's available for weddings but also exhibitions, fashion shoots, product launches, concerts, filming, corporate hire and (if you're a wealthy narcissist) proposing to your beloved. I confess it did look exquisite lit by flickering candles. But every Wednesday they open up to the general public between 11 and 4, so you could go today and see what's essentially a nave dressed up beyond the limits of excess.

 Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Open House: Temple Bar (St Paul's)

Sometimes your eye skates past a name on the Open House list because you've seen it before. The gate that once marked the entrance to the City? Seen it in Hertfordshire, seen it back by St Paul's. But closer scrutiny suggested something more special - hang on, they're inviting us inside? - and so I returned.

Temple Bar spans the gap between Paternoster Square and the cathedral, alongside a squat redbrick building that's better known as the location of basement public conveniences. Several American tourists initially mistook the Open House queue for the line for the loo. The entrance, it turned out, was via an anonymous door between the ladies and the gents and then up 30 winding steps to a room on the first floor. Unexpectedly this small chamber is the new livery hall of The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects, even though only a small fraction of them could fit inside. Open House managed seats for 20, plus a short talk from the beadle before being called to the Bar.

Grant ran us through a history of Temple Bar on his iPad, alas unable to connect to the huge screen in the wall behind. He showed us the arch in its original location propped over Fleet Street, its dilapidated state at Theobalds and Lady Meux being pulled by zebras. He ran us round the commemorative plates on the wall designed annually by architects. He mentioned it's the 300th anniversary of Christopher Wren's death next year so expect several commemorative events. He harvested our email addresses for his mailing list and tried to flog us £12 bags of his son's specially ground coffee, because in the City the mercantile instinct runs deep. And then were allowed up a further short flight of stairs to a footbridge hidden behind heraldic beasts and into the main chamber.

The upper room's not big although it does contain a lot of wasted height. In its original location above Fleet Street it used to be used to store the records of a neighbouring bank. Today it's an empty space with a tiled floor, grey walls, orange curtains and a minimum of windows. Plaques give thanks to the other livery companies who contributed to the rebuild, including the Fishmongers, the Wyre Drawers and the Makers of Playing Cards. A paperweight containing lead from the original roof hangs by the door. We were told by the Chair of Trustees that a grand gate-opening ceremony had been planned for last Friday, attended by the Lord Mayor, but the Queen's death the day before had caused that to be postponed. He also reminded us that the room can be hired out for dinners (16 seated) or buffets (35 standing), there being a super little oven installed over in the main building. Open House visitors have been the first lucky members of the public to get inside.

Open House: Ismaili Centre (South Kensington)

This one's been on the Open House list since last century so I thought it was about time I went. The Ismaili are a branch of the Muslim faith on the Shia side, a schism defined by who you believe to be the true successor to the prophet Mohammed, which in their case is the Aga Khan. Their London centre was opened in 1985 by PM Margaret Thatcher and is a 'No Photography' venue, so all you're getting is a shot of the outside. The interior's been designed as a rising spiral, from the heptagonal fountain in the entrance hall, beneath low honeycombed ceilings, up the stairs round the glass chandelier, past the racks where you leave your shoes and finally passing through teak doors into the prayer hall. Every Open House venue has one detail the guides over-repeat and here it's all about how the design on the carpet changes, and becomes less busy, the further up you go.

My guide was nervous but excellent, pointing out the lapis lazuli portrait, the one-way tinted windows and the ahead-of-its time wheelchair ramp. The biggest treat was the roof garden, quartered by streams of running water and overlooked by the domes of the Natural History Museum and the V&A. I was a little less impressed by the prayer hall because its function is to gather rather than to wow, but would never have spotted the Arabic words reflected in the panelling had they not been pointed out. The entire building is a symphony of geometrical design, and quite the visual statement for what's essentially a West London community centre.

Open House: Sands End Arts & Community Centre (Peterborough Road, Fulham)

This is a genuine West London community centre, and a very recent one having been completed in summer 2020 (but delayed in opening due to 'events'). It's comprised of several interconnected pavilions with monopitched roofs clustered around a previously-derelict lodge. Its big tick is sustainability, being comprised of reformulated glulam frames and green-stained timber, and sometimes looks as unfinished as the inside of a loft. One section is a community cafe (sandwiches, paninis, homemade soup), another a shower block for those playing in the adjacent park and another was being hastily cleared away after a young child's birthday party.

Its triumph of form and function has been recognised by reaching the shortlist for 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize: "the architects have met the brief and budget with confidence and inventiveness, delivering a highly sustainable, delightful and flexible asset for the client". We'll see if it wins in mid-October although I suspect it won't, it didn't feel special nor indeed especially memorable, just a building doing what's necessary for the local community with as light a footprint as possible.

Open House: Roca London Gallery (Chelsea Wharf)

Just opposite Imperial Wharf station, and currently sheathed in scaffolding, is one of a small number of UK buildings designed by Zaha Hadid. It's not really a gallery at all, more a shop with additional space for the display of artworks, indeed it's really a jumped-up bathroom showroom. Roca make bathroom fittings for the luxury end of the market, as you can tell because none of their products are priced, so are very much the Bang & Olufsen of sanitary porcelainware. But with Zaha as architect this is no ordinary shop - more like being inside a huge swoosh of splashy water shooting off in all directions - and of course not a straight line in sight.

Various pods erupt from the wall like fisheyes, and may be used to display bowls or metal plughole covers. A complete suite of matching basins lurks behind a wall in an ivory cavern, the showerhead of your dreams hangs from a contoured surface and omg what is that bathtub it looks like the tackiest cascade of twisty ribbed plastic. A retrospective of Hadid's smaller designs fills the exhibition spaces, including furniture, high-heeled shoes and a crystal chess set in the shapes of Emirati towers, which perhaps gives a hint of the intended audience. Photography was not allowed, save surreptitiously through the fire exit door, so it's hard to describe how alien an environment this is. But don't come if you're having trouble paying your energy bill because you may just find the unbridled showmanship offensive.

 Monday, September 19, 2022

The National Hiatus is almost over.

Britain stopped its clocks eleven days ago and things haven't been entirely normal since, be that muted, disrupted or totally on hold.

Newspapers have been full of souvenir tributes and royal retrospectives, initially as if nothing else were happening. Television has slowly flipped from single-channel mourning to reflective scheduling. Advertisers went quiet, then tried too hard to be respectful. Sport blew its whistle, arguably prematurely, lest anyone be seen to have fun. A pre-planned avalanche of choreographed ceremonial has provided touchpoints to fill our days.

We've always known this hiatus was coming, we just didn't know when it would hit. It could have crashlanded on top of the Olympics, or Christmas, or the FA Cup Final, or a general election, or a global pandemic, or your summer holiday, or anywhere. Arguably we've been fortunate that it happened in mid-September with the weather neither too hot nor too cold. The hiatus narrowly missed the Edinburgh Festival, waited long enough for children to have gone back to school and only slightly nudged the new series of Strictly. It even avoided a constitutional headache because the Queen stayed just well enough for just long enough to see the back of Boris Johnson.

What wasn't ever clear was precisely how long the National Hiatus would last. The best-laid plans always assumed the Queen would die on 'D-Day' and the funeral would be on D+9, making a total mourning period of ten days. But because she passed away after 4pm D=0 was knocked ahead by a day, delaying everything, and dying at Balmoral also added additional ceremonial stages north of the border before the coffin finally reached London. Four days of Lying-in-State and Ultimate Queueing were scheduled to begin on D+4 but because of Scotland only started on D+5. Under more typical circumstances everything would have been over by now, but instead we're getting the funeral on D+10, twelve days after her death.

And this extended National Hiatus has been particularly bad luck for our new Prime Minister. A fortnight ago on 5th September Liz Truss was declared leader of the Conservative Party, but not yet PM because Boris Johnson was still in the job. On 6th September she spent most of the day travelling to and from Balmoral, where she got to be the last person ever to be pictured with the Queen. On 7th September she filled her Cabinet, tried to make an impact at PMQs and prepared to loose her economic policies on the nation. On 8th September she stood up in the Commons to announce a career-defining energy price guarantee which'll likely be the largest splurge of public spending in modern history. And just 30 minutes later the first news from Balmoral trickled in, the newsgathering focus shifted elsewhere and her hard-earned momentum hit a constitutional brick wall.

Politics has been effectively silenced for the last week and a half with monarchy taking precedence over state. No announcements have been made, no interventions, no party jousting and no Parliamentary proceedings other than loyal tributes. And this comes straight after an even longer period of political inactivity, an entire two months since Boris Johnson resigned and chose to leave all the tough decisions to his successors. Energy prices? Hang on. Northern Ireland? Not yet. Soaring prices and tumbling pound? Hold that thought. Ukraine? Pakistan? Climate change? Can all wait. In normal times tackling calamity would have been at the top of the agenda for weeks but instead Urgent Action has essentially had 74 days off.

And it doesn't get any better for Liz Truss tomorrow. By an accident of the calendar she has to fly to New York to address the UN and give another of her not yet stateswomanlike speeches. On Wednesday Westminster reopens but only for the retaking of oaths while Liz is still stuck abroad meeting foreign ministers. On Thursday she flies back in time for what's likely to be the largest hike of interest rates in recent years, and only on Friday does the Chancellor stand up in the House to announce an emergency mini-budget that finally reveals to the public what Trussonomics is all about. Prepare for a shift to economic fifth gear with all the seat belts deliberately unbuckled.

And then ridiculously the Commons breaks up for a further two weeks to accommodate the party conference season, which someone somewhere must still deem necessary, and only on Tuesday 11th October does due debate finally start up again.

Liz's team spent the summer planning a launch campaign of shock and awe, then were forced to refine it to address the energy crisis, then forced to shut up. But during the last week and a half they'll have had ample opportunity to polish a volley of policy announcements supposedly designed to boost growth, and from tomorrow they'll start launching their policy cannons. We'll get to meet Thérèse Coffey and her targeted plans for the NHS. We'll be told that returning more taxes to the rich will boost growth and should eventually trickle down to the rest of us. We'll hear that bankers need bigger bonuses, that energy companies need more freedom, that hard workers deserve to be rewarded and that regulation has only been holding the country back. We may be in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis but Liz Truss has long wanted to remodel the country on neoliberal lines and she's just about to trigger that evolutionary process no matter what.

You may be peeved that your favourite supermarket is closed today or that the only thing showing at your local cinema is the funeral. You may have had to cancel an important meeting or lost a day's pay or had surgery postponed because a bank holiday was declared at the last minute. You may be utterly tired of the whole deferential royal shebang by now.

But do try to take advantage of today's relative quiet and take time to take stock, because today is the final day of total inactivity and the full stop on the Elizabethan era. Tomorrow the Truss floodgates open, and you may just wish the National Hiatus had gone on a lot longer.

 Sunday, September 18, 2022

A further round-up of disparate Open House visits, this weekend and last.
You never quite know what you're going to get when you approach the front door.

Open House: London Scottish House (Horseferry Road, Westminster) The Military Castoff

Within spitting distance of Channel 4's ex-HQ is an unshowy Victorian brick edifice with a large flagpole poised above the front steps. The surprise when you step inside is that the building is mostly a three-storey empty space surrounded by decorative balconies, because this was originally a drill hall for the military. The London Scottish Regiment has been based in Westminster since 1859, initially for Scots living in the capital and later for anyone who wanted to join up, so always more of a gentlemen's army than a bunch of conscripts. This is a replacement drill hall completed 40 years after the original suffered serious bomb damage, but retains many elements of the old including war memorials and a splendid wrought-iron roof.

It shouldn't still be here because in 2017 the army made a purely financial decision to move the regiment to a cheaper building round the corner, but certain high-ranking members of the royal family helped get the roof listed and the men took it on as a charitable concern. The old soldier who gave me ten minutes of his time proved a fount of knowledge, mainly because his other job is curating the regimental museum which spreads rounds the balconies on the first and second floor. Medals, cap badges, that kind of thing, but also memorabilia from the regiment's proudest boast, that they were the first territorial unit to see action in WW1 at the Battle of Messines.

In a (very) recent fit of unemotional rationalisation the army's top brass effectively killed off the regiment by merging it into the Scots Guards. I could see this was a sore point with my guide whose life was still irrevocably tied up with the regiment with whom he saw active service and which he continues to serve. If you have any fashion shows, exam sessions or private functions in need of a reasonably-priced central London venue they'd be delighted to see you here. Judging by the hatch concealing a small bar in the corner with bottles and glasses stacked up like some retro 80s themed social club, you'd be very welcome.

Open House: Walters Way (Honor Oak, Lewisham) The Self-Build Cul-De-Sac

When Lewisham council had a few scraps of awkward land up for grabs in the 1980s, they offered this site on the slopes of One Tree Hill to 13 people on the housing list who fancied building their own home. Collectively they embraced the philosophies of German architect Walter Segal, whose methods focused on combining timber frames with regular 66cm-wide panels, thereby doing away with all the 'wet trades' like bricklaying and plastering. Anyone could build a Segal house, it was just a case of bolt and screw, and here at Honor Oak it generally only took the first residents 18 months (working mainly weekends and holidays). The flexible nature of the materials allowed for great variation, and most of the owners subsequently rejigged their floor plan or added an extension. And what a unique little hillside hideaway they created. [video]

Yesterday afternoon we were treated to a talk from one of the residents at the foot of the close surrounded by a motley collection of large-ish homes. Some had stacked verandahs, others whopping glass sun-traps, but all bore the tell-tale stripes of panelled construction. One of the reasons it looks 'odd' is that trees grow right next to the properties, in one case a whopping Californian redwood within a couple of feet, because all the houses are anchored to the ground by means of deep vertical piles rather than typical foundations. The assembled crowd asked all sorts of questions (Are they expensive to heat? no) (How many of the original self-builders still live here? three) (What about utilities? they're all plugged in as normal) (Do the flat roofs give you problems? no because they're covered with gravel) (Could anyone build the same today? unlikely because regulations have changed).

The tour ended with a trip across the road to One Tree Hill allotments to see a 'shed' built to the same principles, a cunning ruse which got all the visitors out of the private cul-de-sac leaving its residents in peace. I got a slightly anarchic Eel Pie Island vibe from the place, and maybe something Scandinavian, and even targeted a bit of unfounded jealousy at those living here. Segal's low-fi approach could perhaps have been a model for fixing London's broken market of unaffordable housing. Walters Way is opening up again this afternoon from 12.30pm, this time with several of the houses open to visitors, should you fancy a look at how the future could have looked.

Open House: the Honor Oak Estate (Brockley, Lewisham) The 1930s Council Estate

This is one of the London County Council's largest interwar estates comprising 27 large C-shaped blocks, homogeneous except in orientation. The fronts are sheer brick, the backs layered walkways for access, and the flats sufficient for rehousing over a thousand families. Current facilities include a parade of mostly-shuttered shops, a community orchard in its very earliest stages and a school that's extended itself by adding two extra storeys on top.

All this you can see anytime so what Open House seemingly offered was a history exhibition and a self-guided tour. The exhibition turned out to be three boards and two maps inside the Youth Club, a glum no-expense-wasted facility added in the 1980s, which would probably have been of most interest to local residents. I enjoyed discovering that Ian Wright grew up here, and that he and fellow Arsenal player David Rocastle liked to have a chat up by the railway bridge, but was in and out in five minutes. I filled in the questionnaire politely - you might not have been so charitable.

Open House: Design District (North Greenwich) The Compact Creative Hub

Last year 16 properly weird buildings sprang up between the cablecar and the bus station in an attempt to give the Greenwich Peninsula some creative clout. Architects were gifted a footprint and encouraged to let their imaginations run riot, creating stacks of studio space in a variety of geometric forms. Again you can wander through here any time, they hope pausing for refreshment along the way, but Open House seemed to promise that at least half the buildings in the Design District would be available for a drop-in experience. I trusted the website and turned up.

Only building C2 had an official poster outside - it delivered an airy studio on the top floor and a pair of unnecessary films underneath. I deduced that building C1 was open because its stairs were unlocked, and enjoyed hiking up to the roof for a basketball court with a helluva view. D2 had its door open but nothing welcoming suggesting it was OK to go inside, C3 appeared just to be a cafe, A4 needed a buzz to get in and B2 wasn't open at all. It didn't help that the London Design Festival is currently in situ so the main focus was probably theirs, and it definitely didn't help that the Open House website's atomised approach to listings never gave a practical overview that could have made sense of the whole thing.

Every OH visit remains something of a raffle - sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes it wasn't worth drawing a ticket in the first place.

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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five equations of blog
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chemical attraction
quality & risk
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single life
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ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
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betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
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london's lost rivers
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