Tuesday, February 28, 2023
During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again every, single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Twenty years later I can confirm it's changed quite a lot and I have the data to prove it. The figures should also now be back to normal, whatever normal is, after two years of pandemic disruption. Below are my counts for February 2023 accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
n.b. The month hasn't finished yet so all this year's totals are best guess estimates, but I'll come back and update/rewrite the post as February draws to a close.
Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been the best February yet for people turning up to read what I've written, which is nice. What's more the previous record total was exceeded on Sunday morning so I'm going to beat that by some margin. I'm now averaging about 2700 visitors a day so I can't complain, and that's just people who turn up in person rather than reading via the magic of RSS. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about cafes in Acton, litterbins on the tube or outlying villages in Havering, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average person in the street. But I do try to provide you with a varied diet where possible, rather than endless recycled press releases, because I believe there's still demand for original subject matter. As one of my regular twenty-seven hundred, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2023: 77244
(2003: 2141)...(2008: 32006)...(2013: 55369)...(2018: 68993) (2019: 69102) (2020: 66682) (2021: 65701) (2022: 69714)
Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. This month we've been averaging about 30 a day, which is a tad below last year's total but still well above numbers in my first decade. For a blog in the 2020s I'd say it's also damned impressive. Most blogs either no longer allow feedback or have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking, nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic correction, a nostalgic nod, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, particularly if the topic is transport-related, and some days the gradient between sparkling and tedious can be steep. But one amazing statistic is that 300 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. I also note that only five people have left more than 15 comments, and that 10% of my commenters are called Andrew, David or Michael. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2023: 830
(2003: 166)...(2008: 504)...(2013: 546)...(2018: 810) (2019: 706) (2020: 702) (2021: 946) (2022: 850)
Count 3 (Blog content): The number of words in my posts is still creeping up and now averages 1200 a day. That's not to be sniffed at, indeed it's the equivalent of writing six novels a year and I wonder how many of you write that much on a regular basis? I often start out thinking "I doubt this'll be a long one" and then by the end have written loads because I've uncovered more along the way. Equally I fear I often write too concisely, packing all my facts and observations into a single sentence when I could have written an entire paragraph. It's always a balance between adding detail and avoiding burnout, between making sure you have enough to read and making sure I get enough sleep. At least London remains a broad enough canvas that there's always plenty more to write about, which remains an excellent way to keep myself occupied.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2023: 34291
(2003: 14392)...(2008: 17606)...(2013: 29410)...(2018: 30680) (2019: 33361) (2020: 29099) (2021: 32122) (2022: 33056)
Count 4 (Hours out): I thought I'd count something different this February, not how many hours I sleep but how many hours I spend out of the house. It turns to be about a quarter of my time, that's six hours a day, which isn't bad when you don't have an office to go to. It's also much higher than during lockdown, effectively by definition. I normally only make one big trip a day but it all adds up, not least because places like Ruislip and Sidcup take a while to get to and get back from. With regard to my former count I see I slept 186 hours this month, meaning I sleep more than I leave the house, and that may or may not be the right way round.
Total number of hours spent out of the house in February 2023: 164
(2021: 96) (2022: 113)
Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, as you can tell by the fact that this count only once surged into double figures. This February's trips have been no further than BestMate's sofa (where we watched Thursday night telly and put the world to rights), with no additional jaunts to pubs, restaurants, cinemas or the like. I'm more likely to meet up with someone during the daytime but because this is a 'Nights out' count, these bursts of sociability don't count. Don't worry it's all fine, and you'd never get a blog to read if I went out as often as I did in that heady February twenty years ago.
The number of nights in February 2023 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 4
(2003: 21)...(2008: 7)...(2013: 4)...(2018: 3) (2019: 4) (2020: 4) (2021: 0) (2022: 4)
Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count my definition of alcohol had always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. I clung to Becks for familiarity and ease of ordering, plus the fact it doesn't give me hiccups, but it's become increasingly hard to source in recent years so now any bottle of lager will do. This month's three bottles have all come chilled from my fridge rather than uncapped in a pub, saving me approximately £20 in the process, all thanks to a rare stash of proper Becks I found in my local Tesco last month. As you can see I'm not downing them overly fast.
Total number of bottles of lager I drank in February 2023: 3
(2003: 58)...(2008: 28)...(2013: 2)...(2018: 5) (2019: 0) (2020: 0) (2021: 3) (2022: 1)
Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption had remained impressively consistent within a narrow range of 120-140 teas. It dropped a little after I left work because I was no longer desk-bound and kettle-proximate, and rose again during the pandemic for approximately the reverse reason. It's therefore come as a surprise this year to see my mug total drop below the 120 threshold for the first time since 2005. I think I've worked out why which is that before the pandemic I sometimes stayed in all day and now I always make a point of going out somewhere, having learned from forced incarceration to 'seize the day'. That means I'm not usually around for a mid-morning cuppa, and that means I've slipped from being a four-and-a-half cups a day man to just four. But still milk no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2023: 116
(2003: 135)...(2008:134)...(2013: 127)...(2018: 123) (2019: 121) (2020: 122) (2021: 128) (2022: 132)
Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally been pretty consistent too... always just over a hundred a month (unless the government decreed otherwise). I don't have to travel by train any more but I choose to do so to explore the capital, hence the number's crept up this year to what's narrowly an all-time record. I like to get value for money for my annual Travelcard because it would be foolish to fork out that much and not use it. To that end I've also travelled on 237 buses this month, an average of nine per day, and don't look at me like that because you already know that's what I'm like.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2023: 141
(2003: 103)...(2008: 117)...(2013: 139)...(2018: 110) (2019: 135) (2020: 136) (2021: 0) (2022: 17)
Count 9 (Steps walked): I'm back to normal amounts of walking after two years of turbocharged lockdown roaming. When I didn't have a Travelcard I walked everywhere, averaging a ridiculous ten miles daily, but now it's a much more typical seven. Quite a few of those miles have been interchanging on Crossrail. I still reckon fourteen thousand steps a day is a half-decent total, and thus far it does seem to have kept my waistline below 2019 levels, but on the downside another pair of trainers is now ready for the bin.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2023: 434000
(2013: 273300)...(2018: 342000) (2019: 464000) (2020: 405000) (2021: 671000) (2022: 627000)
Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I know, I'm as unimpressed about the outcome as you are. In one way 2023 should have brought greater opportunities than 2022 for a non-zero score, but also when you stop and think about it a lower probability too so I can't say I'm surprised how it's played out. Apologies.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2023: 0
n.b. I'm also undertaking some annual counts this year, entirely additional to my normal stats-packed February, so let's see how they're going...
• Number of London boroughs visited: all of them (at least six times each)
• Number of London postcode areas visited: 221 (which is 91% of the total)
• Number of London bus routes ridden: 357 (65%)
• Number of Z1-3 stations used: 209 (53%)
• Number of Z4-6 stations used: 0
I did suggest that you might count something specific during February 2023, so do let us know if you did. Life's more interesting when you count it.
posted 08:00 :
Monday, February 27, 2023In 2011 TfL announced plans to increase the capacity of Bank station.
In 2016 they started work.
This morning they finished.
This is the brand new entrance to Bank station on Cannon Street.
It's quite monolithic - a long slab above a broad sheltered ticket hall surrounded by a protective ring of bollards. A nice touch is that the words BANK STATION have been chiselled into the blocks of Portland stone at the centre of the span. Plans obviously exist to build an eight-storey office block on top, but for now St Mary Abchurch shines out unobstructed.
A few things to note
» There are only three ticket machines because that's all a ticket hall at one of London's busiest stations needs these days.
» The fares poster alongside will need to be replaced on Sunday.
» The tube map on the wall says that step-free Northern line access is "coming soon" because nobody's yet produced a map saying it just has.
» Trains disappear from the Next Train display when they're two minutes away, which seems fair enough given the hike down to the platforms.
» There are thirteen ticket gates, the idea being to funnel passengers in and out as swiftly as possible.
Behind the gateline is a bank of three escalators and also a long mezzanine passageway leading to the lifts. There are two lifts, one of which just goes down to the Northern line and the other to the Northern line and DLR. Above the escalators is a ribbed bronze artwork which probably represents something meaningful but there are no immediate clues. The escalator/mezzanine/lifts/artwork set-up will look familiar to users of central Crossrail stations.
A few things to note
» This brings step-free access to the Northern line for the first time, which is excellent.
» It also brings simple step-free access to the DLR, rather than having to use the shonky 'please ring this number' lift on King William Street.
» The Northern line is Level -8, the DLR is level -9.
The first set of escalators whisks you down past a sequence of digital adverts to a mid-level concourse. The overarching theme here is 'grey' (with a sub-theme, if you look up, of 'long thin triangles'). Here the route changes direction because threading passenger access under the heart of the financial district is technically complex. There are no adverts on the second set of escalators so you can stare at your phone without distraction.
A few things to note
» The lower escalators are numbered 26, 27 and 28, and the upper escalators 29, 30 and 31.
» No other tube station has more than 30 escalators.
» The sign on the mid-level concourse points down to the Central, Northern and Waterloo & City lines and DLR only, on the basis that if you really wanted the District or Circle lines you should have entered the station via Monument instead.
The escalators land between the Northern line platforms in a bright blue corridor. Southbound on the left, northbound (and everywhere else) on the right. Way out signs on the platform already point towards the new exit, without any hint that it might bring you to the surface in Cannon Street and nowhere near the Bank of England. Passengers are already using the exit either out of curiosity or as if it's been here forever and is the most normal thing in the world.
A few things to note
» If you remember the old southbound platform before it got turned into a passageway last year, all of this escalator/exit kerfuffle has been excavated behind what used to be the far wall.
» The lifts to the surface are in a separate crosspassage immediately behind the escalators, closer to Monument station.
» From here you can be out of the station in a couple of minutes with none of the tedious labyrinthine weaving this used to entail.
It's an excellent addition to what had been a ridiculously congested station, concluding all the hard work and expense that's gone into making the Northern line at Bank fit for the 21st century. Queues, delays and alternative routes should all now be a thing of the past, although arguably TfL could have done nothing and post-pandemic commuting patterns would mostly have taken care of that.
A few more things to note
This increases the number of entrances into Bank/Monument station to 16.
» It used to be 15, of which one alongside Cornhill is permanently closed.
» In 2018 they opened a new entrance on Walbrook providing direct access to the Waterloo & City line.
» And today they've opened a 16th, which is more entrances than any other tube station.
Bank station is increasingly badly named.
I've timed walking distances from the new exit and...
• ...it's 1 minute to Monument station
• ...it's 1½ minutes to Cannon Street station
• ...it's 2 minutes to The Monument
• ...it's 2½ minutes to the 'Bank' road junction
• ...it's 3 minutes to the Bank of England
If you've not been down here in the last year then you totally won't recognise the place. [8 different photos]
posted 12:00 :
Sunday, February 26, 2023Peripheral Postcodes: RM4 (Havering-atte-Bower/Noak Hill)
As part of my quest to visit all the postcode districts in London, let's hit the northeasternmost edge of the capital. Here we find RM4, a rural slice of minor Essex villages, two of which happen to find themselves the 'wrong' side of the Greater London boundary. I didn't need to go to Abridge, Navestock, Stapleford Abbotts or Stapleford Tawney but I did drop in on the delights of Havering-atte-Bower and Noak Hill. Both are over two miles from a railway station so not exactly easy to get to, but RM4 does at least get a bus every 90 minutes so is more accessible than some of the other postcode districts on my list.
I missed the 375 bus so walked up to Havering-atte-Bower from Chase Cross. Initial busyness included a block of flats, a Christian school and the Havering Gymnastics Centre of Excellence, but all that was in RM1 so could be disregarded. The dividing line is Kilnwood Lane, a pavementless cul-de-sac with a wonky signpost, which thankfully doesn't set the tone. Instead a sweep of detached pads follows the curve of the hill, rising past a few properly old buildings including The Orange Tree, a roasts'n'wine kind of pub. Keep climbing and you eventually reach the village green with views across towards, blimey, Kent, and a genuine sense of what-the-hell-is-this-place-doing-in-London.
As the village sign makes clear Havering-atte-Bower predates the Norman conquest, having been chosen by Edward the Confessor as the site for a hunting lodge. The surrounding districts became the Royal Liberty of Havering, after which the modern borough is named, and the current village grew from that seed. St John's church is however Victorian, the previous chapel having been demolished in 1876 in a fit of modernisation. Wander through the churchyard and you emerge by a busy set of riding stables and the track down to the country park where the giant redwoods are, and you'll know all this if you've walked the London Loop because it traipses straight through.
If you've got your 'village' bingo card to hand, as well as parish church, pub and stables you can also tick off duckpond, weatherboarded cottages, tiny primary school, manor house, cricket ground, smell of manure and set of stocks. They are alas facsimile stocks added in the 1960s, but few other London settlements boast the ability to lock their miscreants on public view. I additionally managed to tick off Barbour jacket and kids in green wellies, but not cockle stall because Harry's truck hasn't returned since the Royal Oak closed. Also untickable are thatched roof, phone box and village shop (although you can get milk and crisps at Tysea Stores if you walk across the border into Stapleford Abbotts).
Havering-atte-Bower is a linear village which in brief sections looks almost typically suburban. But in amongst the semis are boxy Essexy piles with ornate security gates and room to park ten cars out front and these become more common the closer to the boundary you get. The last house before Essex has the kitchen fitters in at present, and the last building is the lodge to a former grand Victorian villa on the site of a Tudor manor, now a livery stables. Romford this very much ain't. I'd never walked quite this far north before, and quite frankly you needn't, but there is a school of thought which says you can't claim to be a London psychogeographer unless you've been to H-a-B and I very much subscribe to that.
The other road out of the village heads east from the stocks towards a turrety white pepperpot. This is the Round House, or rather the Round House is a three-storey elliptical Georgian villa and this is its water tower. The pavement gives out here, there being no need to walk further than the cricket ground, so attempting the next mile on foot is unwise. That's a shame because the main entrance to Bedfords Park is halfway and that's a lovely recreational expanse, but if you do have a car then set your satnav for RM4 1QL. An erratic string of detached houses stretches out beyond until the road draws to a close past a summit called Broxhill. One of the houses here has its name emblazoned across its gates and fence seven times, suggesting 'School House' perhaps has a problem with disoriented couriers.
The southernmost RM4 postcode, and the closest to ordinary suburbia, nudges against the edge of the Harold Hill estate. Everything else around the roundabout is in RM3, including the really-quite-recent Noak Hill Sports Complex. But the caravan park at the hillfoot is in RM4, that's Sunset Drive Park which is perhaps not the best name for a retirement development. Its chalets are tightly packed and often highly personalised, including a Tudorbethan one, a chicken-coated one and a hut called Toad Hall watched over by a gnome on a miniature throne. If you want to live out your days in an unpricy enclave watched over by ancient streetlamps, like a cross between Switzerland and Butlins, then RM4 1QL may be for you.
London's final chunk of RM4 is disjoint and a mile to the northeast in Noak Hill. When TfL buses say 'Noak Hill' they actually terminate a good way short of the actual village which requires an additional uphill walk. Watch out for roaming deer (and should you spot any sick or injured a bespoke Facebook group awaits your call). RM4 only begins once you turn left up Church Road, the church in question being St Thomas's - a fine example of redbrick Victoriana accessed up a flint path and shielded by trees. Across the road is a Hare Krishna temple claiming to be a Community Centre, in what used to be the village school, while the actual Noak Hill village hall is a squat cream box oozing postwar austerity.
This is functional rather than attractive countryside, with multiple small businesses, laybys for lorries and afterthought walkways. Turn left for hardy bedding plants, aquariums and pond pumps, turn right for bathroom tiles, onion suppliers, potato merchants and pigeon lofts. One of the few houses hereabouts has a black Jaguar parked outside with the numberplate 1 VEG because there's money to be made in bulbs and tubers. The overriding atmosphere isn't quite lawless, more wayward, indeed I gave the last sideroad a miss because someone was buzzing a bike up and down it. Given the choice of a London RM4 postcode I'd pick Havering-atte-Bower over Noak Hill every time, although given the choice they'd probably both prefer to be in Essex, and geography suggests that might have been the better decision.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, February 25, 2023These willow-washed pools with ducks and swans
Are not central Croydon's but just beyond's
An oasis of calm surrounded by protective semis
At Waddon Ponds
The Wandle emerges from gravelly springs
Before towards Beddington it absconds
They say Lord Nelson once fished by the mill
At Waddon Ponds
You'll find rippling water and drooping trees
Roosting gulls and a cycad with fronds
Plus bamboo hedges and two padlocked loos
At Waddon Ponds
Take a spin round the weaving lakeside path
Too close and the Canada goose responds
Two tiny bridges complete the circuit
At Waddon Ponds
A residents association oversees affairs
Installing memorials to many local icons
Look out for Reg's tree and Nathanael's bench
At Waddon Ponds
Daffodils nod and pink cherries blossom
Catkins droop as winter loosens its bonds
The signs of early spring are already strong
At Waddon Ponds
Please don't play ball games or feed the ducks
It seems there are always pros and cons
And always check the grass before you sit down
At Waddon Ponds
posted 10:00 :
It's now a year since all coronavirus restrictions were lifted. It seems much longer.
The era of self-isolation, face coverings, regular testing, daily death counts, earnest press conferences, social distancing, vaccination appointments, new variants and working from home lasted almost two years. It had ramped down somewhat by February 2022 but there were still plenty of restrictions left for Boris to bin as he tried to bring down the curtain on two extraordinarily strange years.
Of course Covid hasn't gone away, as you'll know if you caught it recently or are still suffering long-term symptoms or lost someone dear during the pandemic or still have a chip on your shoulder about having your freedoms restricted despite not feeling ill.
And it still lingers today in signage nobody's ever got round to taking down, as these extant examples demonstrate.
It'll be a long time before all this collateral fades away, especially where pavements got sprayed or stickers proved resilient to peeling off. Even by 2030 we'll probably still be finding the occasional reminder in the corner of a shop window or stuck to a lamppost, and by then there'll be a whole new generation of children who won't remember that strange time when you couldn't go out and play with your friends.
This is the Blossom Garden in the Olympic Park, the quiet space planted with flowering trees that was supposed to become a place of remembrance for those bereaved by the virus.
It's never properly taken off as a place to visit despite the Mayor and the National Trust trying their hardest, perhaps because the anniversary blossom's hardly ever out or perhaps because we don't really want to remember.
Or perhaps we cast Covid aside so swiftly because another crisis came along immediately to replace it. The gap between the lifting of all legal restrictions and Russia's invasion of Ukraine was just three hours long, a calm period you probably slept through, and now we have global instability, raging inflation, energy price hikes and food shortages to worry about instead.
How quickly we forget. Should you want to remember, three of the trees in the Blossom Garden are already in flower because climate change means spring is accelerating. And don't worry about staying two metres apart, you're unlikely to meet anyone else down there anyway.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, February 24, 2023Today's post is about three perplexing purple signs - one on the platforms, one on the trains and one outside a station.
I was waiting at Bond Street when a train came through the station without stopping. And this flashed up on the doors.
But there was no need to 'stand clear' because there's a whopping great glass wall between the train and the platform. The doors weren't going to open, the train couldn't possibly come into contact with anyone and there was nothing to stand clear of. There was also an announcement to the same effect.
Obviously some kind of wording is needed to tell passengers that the next train doesn't stop here, and 'passing train - please stand clear' is shorter than most. But that doesn't stop the message being fundamentally unnecessary, and perhaps you too might have rolled your eyes when you saw it.
You've probably seen this blue sign stuck to certain doors on Crossrail trains. It's there because at some stations the train is longer than the platform so selective door opening has to be used. It's plainly a good idea to advise passengers of this, especially at the precise moment they're manically pressing the button wondering why the door won't open.
What I hadn't realised was quite how many doors have these blue stickers, indeed it's most of them, indeed only 6 of the 27 doors don't.
front → 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 stickers
This seems potentially OTT, but let's investigate why it is that 78% of the doors on a purple train might not open.
12 Crossrail stations have short platforms as depicted on this helpful poster.
The Crossrail station with the shortest platforms is Hanwell. Here the rear 8 doors don't open - that's the entire 9th and 8th carriage plus the rear two doors of the 7th carriage. And of course trains operate in both directions so these stickers also have to appear on the 1st and 2nd carriages as well as the first two doors of the 3rd carriage. Hanwell explains most of the door stickers.
front → 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 stickers Hanwell
But it doesn't explain five of the stickers in the middle. The central stickers seem odd because the middle carriages always end up beside the platform at whatever Crossrail station it is.
Well, an additional issue occurs at Paddington High Level station where some of the platforms are quite curved... more curved than Crossrail trains were designed to deal with. To mitigate this the middle doors of the rear six carriages don't open, just in case the train pulls in at one of the affected platforms with a gaping chasm in just the wrong place. Again trains go both ways and might conceivably change direction, so the stickers have to go on every single middle door not just the rear six.
You might think that purple trains no longer use Paddington High Level station, not since through-running started in November, but on Sunday mornings, late at night and during engineering works they still do and so the middle door stickers are still needed.
front → 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 stickers Hanwell Pad'n HL
What I can't work out is why the rear door of carriage 3 and the front door of carriage 7 have stickers saying the doors might not open, when I think they always do. Passengers waiting by these doors are being warned about something that never happens, which doesn't seem a particularly good idea.
Also all the stickers are the same. I can see the point of a generic sticker in the 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th carriages. At least five stations have platforms too short to accommodate the rear two carriages, so a generic "These doors will not open at certain stations" sticker makes sense.
But in carriages 3 to 7 it might make more sense if the stickers said "These doors may not open at Hanwell" or "These doors may not open at Paddington High Level" or "These doors may not open at Hanwell or Paddington High Level" rather than worrying passengers entirely unnecessarily. Just a thought.
In summary, here's how many of Crossrail's 41 stations I think these stickers apply to.
front → 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 stickers 12 12 11 8 7 5 1 2 0 1 1 1 0 2 1 5 7 8 11 12 12
...and generally only at one end of the train, not both.
These blue stickers are so ubiquitous, so vague and many so infrequently relevant that they probably end up as superfluous background noise. And two needn't even be there at all.
This bright yellow sign is positioned prominently outside several stations, for example here at Canary Wharf.
Planned Elizabeth line closures - Check before you travel this weekend... fair enough.
But what you really want to know is whether the line is closed this weekend and where, and this poster doesn't tell you that. Annoyingly nor does the link the QR code directs you to, which is TfL's Journey Planner webpage. Sure you can take time to enter your starting point and destination and date and time of travel and see what the algorithm suggests, but that still won't specifically tell you which bits of the Elizabeth line might be closed.
What you want is a link to line closures on the Elizabeth line this weekend, which can be found quickly on the Status updates webpage here, or even a pdf of all the closures over the next six months which can be found here. Better still would be a simple list of closures over the next few weeks, which TfL always produce as a poster but never provide online where it could be very useful.
What's more you'll find that very poster at the bottom of the Canary Wharf escalator, so if you have been battling with the QR code and the Journey Planner website on the way down you've been wasting your time.
There are no trains this weekend between Stratford and Shenfield, it turns out, and trains won't be stopping at Acton Main Line, West Ealing, Hanwell and Heathrow T5. So passengers at Canary Wharf probably needn't worry this weekend, but the big yellow sign raises doubts and worries anyway. Perhaps hide it away when it isn't necessary, or at least add a useful QR code rather than expecting passengers to do all the hard work themselves.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, February 23, 2023After Lord Sugar's initial boardroom grilling, and just before the next Apprentice candidate gets fired, the losing team are banished to a cafe to discuss where things went wrong. Until 2018 that was the Bridge Cafe in West Acton and since then it's mostly been La Cabaña at Park Royal. They're both located very near to where the boardroom scenes are filmed, which isn't in a real office building but at Black Island Studios on Alliance Road. And they're both proper cafes so anyone can go inside for a cuppa or a fryup, so that's what I did yesterday (bacon and eggs excepted).
The Bridge Cafe, W3
Now there's an iconic exterior. The bridge in question is a minor crossing of the Central line between West Acton and North Acton stations, the cafe sitting alone on the dividing line between suburban respectability and grey trading estates. With its barred windows and solid blue door there's a defensive feel to the building, plus no indication outside of what the opening hours are. But if the bright orange 'Pukka - Quality to Takeaway' sign has been placed by the pavement, or if the owner is helpfully standing out front in an apron, then the cafe is open for business. That's 6am-2.30pm on weekdays only, as it happens.
It's a lot friendlier inside... rows of tables on the right and counter and kitchen on the left. The counter reminded me a bit of a cab office, but with KitKats. The centrepiece of the menu is the Bridge set breakfast which naturally includes all the usual suspects (beans or tomatoes, excludes premium coffee, no swaps). Crusty rolls, baguettes and tuna melts are very reasonably priced, especially for anyone used to being fleeced for less hearty snacks elsewhere in town. On the tables upturned bottles of brown and red sauce await those ordering the classic lunch of pie, chips and beans, which beats £10 fancy salad any day. And from out back comes the crackle of the hotplates and the hiss of the urn that's dispensed mugs of failure to so many wannabe candidates.
The cafe is owned by brothers Gerry and Frank who, unbelievably, have been serving up here for over 60 years. The tables and chairs are a lot more recent but the whitewashed decor nods to decades gone by, including a prized frame with the signatures of the 1966 World Cup squad and a faded newspaper article headlined Serial Killer Link To Apprentice Cafe. They're not ashamed of their TV connection here, even down to having Bridge Cafe 'You're Fired' mugs available for £9.99 (and carefully wrapped before you're allowed to take them home).
If it's not peak dishing-up time then expect a good natter at the till. Gerry (or was it Frank?) likes to know where you're from and delights in recalling how far some overseas fans have come just to be here. He also says that with major TV and recording studios just up the road you never know who's going to walk through the door. Even Paul Weller's been in, also the cast of Z Cars (which shows how long the brothers have been here), plus no doubt several more recent celebs a septuagenarian might not recognise. There's a real sense of authenticity here without ever being stuck in the past so, if you can stomach sitting where Katie Hopkins has been, a hot mug is waiting for you.
La Cabaña, NW10
The latest Apprentice cafe is a somewhat different set-up and equally welcoming, but only if you can find it. La Cabaña lurks on a large trading estate the other side of the A40, not far as the crow flies but a definite cab ride for the candidates. It serves the hard-working population of Park Royal, specifically those on the Cumberland Business Park, a loop of warehouse units off a sideroad near the John Lewis distribution centre. Signs by the gate warn that this is a private road, but there's also a well-worn sign for the cafe (announcing Breakfast's And Lunches, 6am-4pm) so it must be OK to wander in. Just dodge any lorries that might be squeezing through and have faith, La Cabaña really is hiding at the far end.
It's housed within a single double-storey unit adjacent to candle suppliers, worktop manufacturers and assorted wholesalers. It also has a very different feel once you step inside - rather darker, much airier and with timber panelling reminiscent of a Scandi sauna. The glass-fronted counter shields homemade meals and packaged treats, topped off with a wicker trugful of Walkers crisps, loose fruit and a dash of gingham. The menu is a little tangier and more veggie friendly than the Bridge Cafe, hence smoked salmon rather than scampi and saucy escalope rather than burger with salad garnish. But all the basics are still absolutely present so as not to frighten away the basic clientele, and this time the set breakfast includes beans and tomatoes, or black pudding if you prefer.
The cheery soul with the headscarf is Fernanda who's originally from Asturias (which probably explained the Spanish slant to some of the lunchtime specials). I don't think her beaming chat was just down to a customer attempting to converse in her native language, I suspect she's just as friendly with first-time customers as her Cumberland regulars. Meanwhile expect her silent kitchen ballet to continue, switching from the counter to the oven to the chopping board as necessary, perhaps nipping out to clear a plate or grab a bottle, until your steaming mug is ready. At just one pound for a proper brew it's a tasty bargain.
There's only room for four tables downstairs, these ideal for a solo lunch with the paper or catching up with something on your phone. But La Cabaña's little secret is a mezzanine upstairs, a brighter space for squeezing in several more customers when necessary, because that's one advantage of hosting your cafe inside a flexible industrial slice. The Apprentice candidates always sit downstairs because that way the camera crew get a backdrop of cutlery, snacks and behind-the-counter activity. Take your pick, you're not being told where to sit, merely enjoying a classic cafe that deserves its moment in the spotlight.
There is a school of thought which thinks The Apprentice switched to La Cabaña because it's open later in the afternoon, and because those boardroom scenes take a while to film. It's fortunate for the producers that this part of West London is well served by small independent cafes much lowlier than the candidates think they deserve but more than half-decent all the same. And now I too have had a mug of tea at the Apprentice cafe, and chatted over what went wrong and what went right, I can confirm that if it is the last place you go before you get fired at least it's a great way to go.
posted 07:50 :
Carbohydrates word search
This word search contains the names of two dozen carb-heavy foods.
How many can you find? Look horizontally, vertically and diagonally.
(Answers in the comments box, and just one guess each, thanks)
S U G A R M A J E
L T H N E N Z B R
I O U C A C Z E B
T B O N R P I E I
N O A T S A P R F
E B R E A D T L B
L E G A B T A S E
E M A Y E N O H A
T E U S Y R U P N
...and now you've found 20, that's unlocked today's main post.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, February 22, 2023Here's some transport news for you.
Which tube stations have the most litter bins? Hell yes, the FoI gods have blessed us with more scintillatingly pointless data solely because someone asked.
Stratford: 10 general waste + 12 recycling = 22 binsAnd the winner is Stratford, which given its enormous acreage perhaps isn't a surprise. The station has 10 general waste bins and 12 recycling bins making an unsurpassable total of 22. Upminster has more general waste bins - the most of any tube station - but fewer recycling bins so comes in lower overall. Stanmore is the best resourced tube-only station (with no rail platforms to muddy the statistical waters), whereas at least 70 tube stations have no bins whatsoever. So now we know the best place to chuck away an empty bag of crisps.
Upminster: 13 general waste + 7 recycling = 20 bins
Stanmore: 11 general waste + 8 recycling = 19 bins
Canada Water: 10 general waste + 8 recycling = 18 bins
Hainault: 11 general waste + 7 recycling = 18 bins
Except always do your research before believing any of this. Stratford is hardly a standard tube station having over a dozen platforms for other types of rail service, so I nipped round and did some counting of my own. The Jubilee line platforms have just four litter bins, two of which are on the hardly-ever-used Platform 13 so essentially useless. The Central line has two dedicated bins plus four more shared with Crossrail services on adjacent platforms. That makes the requisite total of 10 general waste bins except I didn't see any recycling bins, and OK I didn't check every non-tube nook and cranny but even so I'm unconvinced by the total of 22.
I got particularly suspicious with the data when it came to Bow Road station. According to the database it has two litter bins except I don't ever remember seeing any bins anywhere, at least not since the cursed Metronet upgrade of 2004. I even went back to Bow Road to check I wasn't visually ignorant but no, not a single non-existent plastic bag dangles from a single non-existent plastic hoop anywhere - not on the platforms, in the passageways, in the ticket hall or even immediately outside. However and whenever TfL counted their data, the figure for Bow Road isn't true and hasn't been for years.
Still, give the punter a spreadsheet claiming there are 1231 bins across the London Underground network and at least it shuts them up.
At the end of next week TfL are halving the length of one of London's most used bus routes. Not that you'd recognise that from the upbeat description on the Bus changes webpage.
Route 427 rerouted - 4 March 2023This is the current situation down the Uxbridge Road, a key west London corridor.
From Saturday 4 March we will be making a big change to route 427 to improve local connections to the Elizabeth line in the Southall area.
607 e x p r e s s Uxbridge Hayes S'thall Ealing Acton W City 207 427
The 427 runs from Uxbridge to Acton every 8 minutes. It overlaps substantially with the 207 which runs from the Hayes bypass to White City every 6 minutes. Meanwhile the express 607 runs the full 13 miles every 12 minutes, which is great if you're in a hurry and no use if you need one of the stops it misses out. Several other bus routes run along parts of the Uxbridge Road, but if you're going any significant distance you need the 207, 427 or 607.
But that changes at the end of next week.
Route 427 will now run between Uxbridge Station and Southall, Merrick Road. Route 427 will no longer run between Southall Town Hall and Acton, High Street. Please use bus routes 207 or 607 instead.Like so.
607 e x p r e s s Uxbridge Hayes S'thall Ealing Acton W City 207 427
The idea is to connect to Crossrail at Southall station because currently no buses head in from the northwest. This change was part of a Crossrail consultation TfL held back in 2017 so has been on the drawing board for over five years. It's good news for anyone who wants a purple train to speed them faster to Ealing or Acton, although that's a more expensive option than sticking with a slower bus.
But it's a significant chop. The 427's deleted section is 24 stops long whereas the extension to Southall station is only five extra stops, the last two of which are mostly useless. It also means there'll be 30% fewer buses running the five miles between Southall and Acton. That's deliberate because reducing capacity east of Southall was always the post-Crossrail plan, but it remains to be seen whether the 207 and 607 can cope with demand.
In quietly-announced news, the Woolwich Ferry has been withdrawn for three weeks because it still doesn't work properly.
The Ferry will close to customers at 1000 on Friday 17 February 2023 and reopen at 0600 on Thursday 9 March 2023Since the start of the year it's only been operating a one-boat service on weekdays (rather than the intended two) and no service at all at weekends, so unreliable is the current set-up. A lot of the problem is how long it takes the new ferries to dock because lining up with magnetic tabs on a tidal river isn't easy. The old ferries bumped their way in but did it quickly whereas the 2019 replacements are unguided but require more accuracy. Technology giveth and technology taketh away.
This lengthy hiatus will enable the installation of a new pontoon guiderail and other works on the docking areas to support long-term reliability. They're also widening the area where traffic waits before boarding to improve flow and access, which'll hopefully reduce waiting times and allow the service to operate more efficiently.
East London river crossings are few and very far between, so anything that improves the resilience of the Woolwich Ferry is to be welcomed. But if only someone had thought more carefully about the original specification for the new ferries perhaps we wouldn't still be trying to fix them all these years later.
What's the new big thing at the cablecar? It's a Teddy Workshop! For just £20 you can build, dress and hand-stuff your own teddy in a room beside the south terminal, picking from a range of outfits and adding a bespoke backpack. The stuffing process involves vacuum-sealed fibre packs and the themed clothes include the option of making your bear a London Cable Car team member or mascot. The experience is suitable for children aged three and above. 15 minute slots are available daily any time between 9am and 8pm, even on weekdays. Crossing the river costs extra.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, February 21, 2023After I left Sutton House I walked round the corner and noticed that the Nike outlet store on Morning Lane had closed. I blogged about the house and tweeted about the shops. I may have got these the wrong way round.
diamond geezer @diamondgeezer · Feb 19
Now Nike's gone, every single outlet at
Hackney Walk (the doomed fashion hub paid
for with £1.5m of public money) is now empty
🗨️68 🔁354 ❤️1749
This has become my third most popular tweet of all time, which is going some in 24 hours.
I'm not sure if that's because it was edgy urban commentary, because people despair about wasted public money or just because the photo was good. It may also be because I didn't add any wider context so people were free to add their own or perhaps jump to all sorts of conclusions.
For the record I've written about Hackney Walk twice before, once in 2017 when it was new and quiet and once in 2020 when it was failed and moribund. Also, as pointed out in certain replies, other parties have written about the scandal of Hackney Walk in far more accurate detail.
So today I thought I'd crowdsource a post out of responses to my tweet, because that's probably more illuminating than me writing all the same stuff again.
This is the reply that got the most likes.
• It’s been empty 70% since 2013, the money was given to help restore hackney after the riots but went to waste. So many locals in that area could’ve used that space but it was sat dormant for the last 7 years. Pathetic. ❤️235Hackney Walk wasn't open in 2013, indeed I'd say the "70% empty" threshold was probably only reached in 2019. But the riot funding bit is true.
Here are three other tweets based on incorrect information.
• Other side of the road is well-occupied. Why can’t they put together a use for the empty space?In contrast, these tweets offered excellent background information.
• There is just no footfall, great pre existing infrastructure, terrible location.
• Hackney Walk was supposed to be a blended outlet, maker centre and hang out spot. Now it's likely to be replaced with new homes, with locals very unhappy about how this unfolded and concerned about future plans.
• Council used three quarters of the funding given by Mayor of London to build an overpriced "global fashion hub" but tried to make the commercial rent so high that brands couldn't/didn't want to pay. A complete & utter balls up.See also these exchanges...
• We pitched to do their advertising years ago and they were totally confused by everything. Aiming at the kinds of tourists that go to Bicester, but not with the brands that would bring them or the parking for them.
• I used to work near here and would often go for a mooch round at lunch. Often I'd go into Aquascutum and be the only customer in there and the streets were almost deserted. I have no idea why but the footfall was woeful. This place was always baffling
• I worked at that Nike. The space opposite has been empty since it opened in 2016… it’s now 2023
• Not only is it all empty, but they employ security guards with angry dogs to sit about all day and night near here so nobody breaks in to the empty unused space.
• I grew up in Hackney lived there for 30 years but haven’t been back for a while. Is this where all the old car repair garages used to be?Some people were surprised Hackney Walk had imploded.
• Yes. They were kicked out for this development which has been an epic fail.
• Burberry, the seed for the whole idea, are still around the corner.
• Agreed. Burberry has been there for ever & we young ‘uns back in the day got tons of bargains from there when it was just a factory shop with sample clothes all over the floor stacked in big brown boxes!
• rah they got rid of Nike wowBut most weren't.
• no way they closed hackney nike outlet?????
• Not even a vape shop, or a phone covers trader? Sheeesh
• It’s got cycle infrastructure. No more than 15 minutes active travel for >0.5 million people. How on Earth has it failed?
• I never understood the architecture and the cheap ass gold and the whole thing really - it looks lame and no-one ever went thereSome people were keen to point out they'd never have allowed this to happen.
• What happens when you frame regeneration and placemaking around the property sector rather than people.
• These sides were in desperate need of youth clubs and community projects esp after the riots but noooOooOOo let's do up bicester village under the railway, pricks
• It was always empty, think they were only marketing it to visitors going to Burberry? Mostly Chinese or Japanese etc. locals were not the target and it was unsustainable
• Have you tried to drive and park in Hackney? Businesses are doomed due to the ridiculous traffic schemes
• With Westfield Stratford not too far Hackney Walk had no chance.
• An instructive omnishambles for just how bad "regeneration" can get.
• Its what they deserve for catering to yuppies
• I thought that this was going to be an utter disaster when it was built 10 years ago and I’ve been proven correct. So typical of a totally discredited approach to regeneration.Several people applied their business acumen to propose businesses that would have done better in this location.
• Every time I walk past this failed gentrification project it confirms everything I thought about it at the start. A colossal waste of money
• An absolute waste. When they were building this I remember those of us actually from the area were very vocal about how much of a bad idea this was. Gentrification sucks.
• This was an utter waste of money from the start. Locals told them it'd flop but they wouldn't listen. This is what happens when you disregard the community and try force something without doing any proper leg work
• The tragic Bronze Elephant. I remember the petition requesting the GLA money to go to youth clubs and to businesses damaged by the riots instead. So then its a given that this is what happens; when regeneration is done *to* the community rather than *for*.
• Put the right thing there and they will come. I used to work in the area and remember Dark Arts coffee roasters, just around the corner, being packed every weekend. It seems a stretch to expect a cluster of shops alone to be a strong enough draw to an area with low footfall.A few people were tediously snarky.
• Just a bit further up from there are a bunch of great brewery taprooms and a vegan market. So much potential to make this a food/drinks space as well. Outlet stores always seemed so weird there.
• Local councils should start offering 6 month free rent to start ups or community organisations. Invest in the local community to see if they can make a success.
• Perfect example of underutilised, well located + connected space that could be offered at low-rent to cargo bike firms.
• My votes on turning it into a community hub with free arts programmes, cheap hot good food, reading spaces etc.
• So many amazing small British clothes makers that would probably love a space there if the rent was cheap!
• Maybe @hackneycouncil should give free rent to local marginalised businesses
• How about letting @vagina_museum into one? Much better use than no use
• open some decent queer late-night venues there for the love of god
• They should turn these spaces into youth clubs
• Time for an American candy store
• We should squat it
• Browsing boutique clothing shops while inhaling idling car fumes always makes for an enjoyable shopping experience. I’ve no idea how this could have ever failedSome people are always over-happy to sneer at politicians.
• I wonder what the fancy bike stands cost compared to normal ones
• Put an LTN in, that will drive business back.
• Labour party stronghold Hackney a bit like Newham. I am not surprised at all that it is Empty.Some people paraded their prejudices.
• Another of Boris Johnson’s vanity projects alongside that eyesore outside West Hams ground.
• Wonder if it got a mention at the shindig the Council hosted on urban regeneration!
• Hackney Council gave us fruit statues rather than actually helping our community
• Councils shouldn’t run shops
• I hate our council jesus
• Labour cllrs to blame
• more govvy fraud?
• #ActiveTravel cycle lane anti-trade anti-bus user devastation by @tfl cycle Bloomberg puppet @MayorofLondon funded by @transportgovuk and backed by @RishiSunak and central government. Dystopia and destruction of cities at thw behest of lycra clad lunatics. Bravo.This being Twitter there were some short sharp responses.
• from 2012 onwards Hackney has just been violently sacrificing its Working Class to appease the whyte middle class residents flooding in. The amount of working class families that got shifted for this is unsettling but this is where Ldns famously working class towns are heading
• “You’ll see no-one…, doing the Hackney Walk.”And ultimately the Mayor of Hackney chipped in with some truth.
• Those plants in the foreground tell a story.
• Can’t polish a turd
• These are all really gd ideas, but sadly the Council don't own the Arches nor manage them, @thearchcompany are in process of resolving ownership, & through @hackneycouncil's successful Levelling Up bid we're exploring how we can bring them back into use in an inclusive way.It's just a shame hardly anyone who left a comment will have seen it.
Whatever the underlying reasons and potential mitigations, Hackney Walk is plainly a regeneration disaster area. Let's hope the council can ultimately sort the mess out.
And I'd like to apologise to the 150 people who followed me on Twitter yesterday because they will not be enjoying an exclusive stream of #Hackney-based content.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, February 20, 2023All the National Trust properties I've visited
(n.b. this is just NT buildings and/or gardens, not countryside)
(this is because my 2023 Handbook just dropped through the letterbox)
(if I've blogged it there's a link to it)
Hill Top, Quarry Bank
North East (& Yorks & East Midlands)
Cragside, Dunstanburgh Castle, Farne Islands, Lindisfarne Castle
Birmingham Back to Backs, Greyfriars, Wightwick Manor
Anglesey Abbey, Ashridge, Bourne Mill, Flatford, Horsey Windpump, Ickworth, Melford Hall, Oxburgh, Shaw's Corner, Sutton Hoo, Wimpole Estate
Claydon, Cliveden, Hughenden, West Wycombe
Carlyle's House, Eastbury Manor House, Fenton House, George Inn, Ham House, Morden Hall Park, Osterley Park, Rainham Hall, Red House, Sutton House, 2 Willow Road
Cothele, Lanyhdrock, St Michael's Mount, Trerice; Brownsea Island, Castle Drogo, Corfe Castle, Hardy's Cottage, Saltram; Winchester City Mill
Bodiam Castle, Chartwell, Claremont Landscape Garden, Emmetts Garden, Ightham Mote, Knole, Leith Hill, Leith Hill Place, Polesden Lacey, Quebec House, St John's Jerusalem, Sheffield Park, Smallhythe Place, South Foreland Lighthouse, Standen, Wakehurst
(I have some way to go)
posted 21:00 :
NATIONAL TRUST: Sutton House
Official name: Sutton House and Breaker's Yard
Location: Homerton High Street, Hackney E9 6JQ [map]
n.b. not in Sutton
Open: 11-3pm Wed, Fri; 11-4.30pm Sun
Tours: 11am & 2pm Wed, Fri; 1pm & 3.30pm Sun
Socials: [Facebook] [Twitter] [Instagram]
Four word summary: East London's oldest home
Time to allow: no more than an hour
Some of us are lucky enough to have a National Trust property within walking distance, perhaps in the most unlikely part of town. But Hackney wasn't always edgy and urban, in Tudor times it was a sweet country village just close enough to London for courtiers and the well-to-do to make it their home. One such aristo was Ralph Sadleir, a knight in the court of Henry VIII, who built a three storey brick house in meadows by the Hackney Brook. The river's gone, traffic clogs the bend in the road out front and a massive late-Blair academy looms opposite. But the mini-manor is somehow still there, now five centuries adrift, and opens three days a week for interior scrutiny.
You no longer enter Sutton House through the front door, which just shows how long it's been since I last went. Instead you enter through the yard up the side, of which more later, supposedly attracted by a chalkboard on the terrace. I tried the unsigned door on the rear porch which appeared to be locked, so was about to give up and leave when a volunteer emerged and told me I'd been turning the handle the wrong way. I mention this in case you too are unduly discouraged, and also in case someone at the NT is reading in which case your exterior wayfinding isn't as good as you think it is.
Visitors can either roam round independently or go on a tour, which isn't as strict as the arrangements on page 197 of this year's National Trust Handbook would have you believe. I suspect the pre-booked tours are the better experience because the guides have many layers of history to explain, but I opted for the solo wander.
There are two 'blimey' rooms, one downstairs and one up (although that's blimey on a Hackney scale, this is hardly Hampton Court). The downstairs blinder is the Linenfold Parlour, a fully-wood-panelled room with a roarable stone hearth. All the timber panels have been rippled to resemble hanging cloth, which in those days was a proper luxury statement, and some can be removed enabling you to see the painted version underneath. Elsewhere on the ground floor is a Tudor kitchen which smells like every other National Trust kitchen - a fake tang of musty spice - and a cosier Georgian Parlour. A number of the rooms here represent just one period in the house's complex history so walking around is a bit like time travel.
The upstairs blimey is the Great Chamber, another woody-walled blinder. The panels here are original even if the furniture isn't, with the light switches and the war memorial falling in the latter category. That's because for 40 years the building was used by St John's church as somewhere they called The Institute... and in its time it's also been a spinster's hideaway, a solicitors, a boarding school and two separate houses. The room nextdoor is naturally the Little Chamber and boasts the house's most Instagrammable panel/hearth combo, again amazingly mid 16th century.
The anachronism in the Victorian Study is a garderobe with possibly the house's most dubious claim, that Henry VIII maybe used the toilet here. It would have to have been during his less portly phase else he'd never have squeezed in. Elsewhere is a larger Gallery, an odd airy space whose original function still isn't understood. At present they're making a big fuss of a few scraps of restored wallpaper, which at first glance looked faded, floral and distinctly unimpressive but were actually painstaking restored by a conservator over several weeks last summer, such is the Trust's devotion to minutiae.
You can also explore further down and further up. The cellar is usually on-limits and so is a basement chapel where parishioners from St-John-at-Hackney sometimes worshipped. The attic is more of a surprise, kitted out as a Squatters bedroom to reflect the period in the 1980s when the National Trust took their eye off the ball and a group of agitators moved in. As well as graffiti and a scrappy bed on pallets, the joy is eyeballing such period props as a one-bar electric fire, a ghetto blaster and a pair of chunky headphones with a DIN plug. Without their plucky local campaign Sutton House could all too easily have become luxury flats.
There is a central courtyard with fabulous brickwork. There is a tearoom although I think it was closed, either that or terribly badly advertised. There is a Wenlock Barn, which I think is where events happens and weddings are celebrated. And there is a slave trade backstory, because that would be hard to avoid when one of the house's owners was a 17th century silk merchant working for the East India Company. The National Trust addresses the issue via a fabric artwork by the fireplace and an 8-page colour booklet you can pick up on the adjacent table. This is packed with background detail and reassuringly non-judgmental, because you can't just rip out the trompe l'oeil staircase if you don't like how it was paid for.
Which brings us back to Breakers Yard, the chief way in and out, which was part of the original Tudor garden and more recently a scrapyard. Last year it was reimagined as a Jarmanesque garden, admittedly with smaller pebbles than Dungeness but with a greater number of upcycled vans. One of the key influences here is the concept of Queer Botany, "an ecocritical project that studies and affirms connections between queerness and nature", hence the beds include sapphic violets, sea pinks, asters ("arguably queer and non-binary") and the inevitable lavender. The concept's either inspired or sheer bolx, but at least it makes for a pleasant place to linger (and anyone can get this far without paying).
Sutton House has just reopened after its winter break and is an excellent reminder that sometimes the extraordinary hides in plain sight. If you're lucky enough to have a local National Trust property it deserves a second look, or maybe even a first.
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