diamond geezer

 Thursday, August 31, 2023

Bus Route Of The Day
318: Stamford Hill to North Middlesex Hospital

Location: London north
Length of journey: 6 miles, 45 minutes

Because it's 31st August I've been out exploring the 318, because that's the Bus Route Of The Day.

n.b. Rest assured I didn't ride the route, I only walked it, because nobody wants to read tedious travelogue about a bus journey. Also you get much better photos on foot. So come with me on a twisty walking journey across the Tottenham Event Day Controlled Parking Zone, and not even the vaguely well-trodden bit near the stadium.

If you want to walk the route of the 31st August you need to head to the north end of Clapton Common and aim for what used to be Stamford Hill bus garage. Routes 6th July, 7th March and 25th March were once based here until it closed in 2020. The ostentatious gothic spire alongside belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Cathedral Church of the Nativity of Our Lord, but the New Synagogue across the road is much more characteristic of the local area. Stamford Hill is home to Europe's largest population of Hasidic Jews, indeed we're about to meander round many of the backstreets where this Orthodox community live. But the 31st August first has to head to the local shops to pick up passengers, otherwise there'd be nobody aboard to lug their kosher groceries home.

The route veers off the A10 pretty quickly, past a marvellous collection of remnant signs painted for a long-defunct drapers (Mackintoshes, Furs, Tailor Made Skirts, Mourning Orders Promptly Executed). It's hail and ride round here so you could hop on outside the Victorian school with the gendered entrances, outside the Orthodox takeaway or outside another synagogue labelled only in Hebrew. The streets aren't entirely monocultural, but most adults you pass are wearing either bonnets and pleated black dresses or tall hats and long black frock coats, while girls have their hair centre-parted and boys theirs in curls in preparation for adulthood.

The further you get from the main road and the closer you get to the River Lea, the poorer the state of local housing. The Imperial Wharf estate, for example, is light years away from its Chelsea namesake. We're on the Hackney/Haringey borders here, and if you check out the bins in certain front gardens you can observe the full evolution of Haringey's logo over the years. Only one corner of Markfield Park intrudes, deflecting us back towards the main road via a densely-fronted one-way street. The motto at Gladesmore Primary is 'Dream It, Reach For It, Achieve it' and all I can say is that after many of the dreams I have that really wouldn't be wise.

Its slow deviation complete, the 31st August then goes all mainstream and climbs the High Road for just over a mile. In doing so it becomes just another bus punters might choose to ride, perhaps instead of the 7th June or 14th September, and the next swathe of sidestreets can jolly well fend for themselves. Sights to enjoy include The Station House (an Irish pub near South Tottenham Overground), the massive residential upthrust of Apex Gardens (a jarring presence) and (hang on, really?) a Nigerian Tapas restaurant. The Latin Market at Seven Sisters is finally up and operational again, though only in reticent temporary format. If The High Cross pub looks like a block of public conveniences that's because that's what it used to be.

Holcombe Market is a 100 year-old anomaly, allegedly "a thriving hub of authentic food and culture" but more a modernised alleyway with almost half-a-dozen traders. One of these has the slogan "If it swims, we sell it", which I have to tell you is a lie, and another is supposedly Tottenham's first cheese shop (because gentrification is exceptionally slow to hit N17). Bruce Grove is the third Overground station we've passed and the 31st August's last attempt to interchange with a train. That's because it turns off at Poundland for another convoluted wander round a grid of narrow streets you'd never ever see unless a) you lived here, or b) you were following a bus route.

Past squished terraces. Past streetnames with a Boer War connection. Past corner shops with the holy trinity of convenience goods piled outside - bottled water, watermelons and barbecue charcoal. Past whitewashed gables emblazoned with satellite dishes. Past bus stops squeezed in wherever front gardens briefly fade. Past the industrial estate that's home to Mr Yoghurt ("specialising in yoghurt for over 20 years"). Past the path to the marshes someone decided to call Carbuncle Passage. Past a property with 15 bins. Past the very 1930s 'Patricia Villas'. Even past the occasional 31st August bus, assuming the timetable hasn't gone to pot and spaced out the service all over the place.

That's quite enough twiddling. Just before Northumberland Park we hit a road of decent width again, although neither of the two other bus routes which go this way can be written in calendar notation so no wonder the 31st August is popular. It gets quite social housing up ahead, which you can tell because the bin stores are all painted the same colour but haven't been recently. At the huge Sports Direct we finally return to the High Road but instead head straight across into Lordship Lane, where we're the sole bus route because only a single decker can duck under the railway bridge. On the corner with Pembury Road you can see excellent examples of four different eras of house building - elegant Georgian villas, two Victorian cottages, a row of 1930s semis and a stark chunk of postwar flats. Fish and Chips at the Sea Captain costs a very ballpark £10.40. Guiniess's Jamaican Cuisine is not a spelling mistake.

The only tourist attraction along the route is Bruce Castle Museum, Haringey's fine borough museum, but the big house only opens four hours a day five days a week so you probably won't get inside. Perhaps drown your post-match sorrows at The Elmhurst, or drop in at Neza Cafe with its probably illegal claim "All drinks available here". We're finally back to following the A10 again along a broad leafy crescent called The Roundway. It was built as an integral connection through Tower Gardens, Tottenham's garden suburb, back in the 1920s when motor vehicles were new and to be encouraged rather than choking harbingers of death. The yellow sign warning "Delays expected on 16th September", supposedly Spurs-related, is clearly talking rubbish because everyone knows the 169 goes to Ilford.

The 31st August only serves the briefest section of the Great Cambridge Road dual carriageway (change here for 14th April, 21st July, 23rd January and the impossible 44th April). Takeaway options hereabouts include haddock, kebabs and Ghanaian ga kenkey dumplings. But whoever devised this route clearly despised straight lines because it turns off almost immediately into White Hart Lane, which is itself implausibly kinked by dint of once having been a country lane. Opposite Tottenham Cemetery I spied a council operative measuring the length of a double yellow line with a trundle wheel, confirming that not all his maths lessons were wasted. One more northbound turn should finish it.

Queen Street at least has houses but on crossing the border into Enfield it becomes Bull Lane and that's low-level old-school light-industrial. One unit hosts a bridalwear manufacturer, another makes patties and another used to make bathroom tiles before they folded. Poor spelling is a common thread - at Guney Design they want to employ a MACHINEST, while the owners of Queen's Cafe are convinced they serve OMELLETE. The road is supposedly blocked by a newly-installed bus gate, which is so poorly signed that I watched three cars drive merrily through, while an HGV driver had actually parked their lorry straight through it. Come on councils, a 'bus gate' should be more than just a small sign and a camera.

If it wasn't for the 31st August they could block the road properly but no, the bus has to continue a short distance to terminate at the cramped stand outside North Middlesex Hospital. It shares this with the equally meandering 491, a twiddly route I can reassure you will never ever be the Bus Of The Day.

 Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A post about the Devil's Dyke

What is it?
Very pretty.

What is it really?
The UK's deepest dry valley, cut into the chalk by sludgy permafrost meltwater. Also the longest, depending on where you start measuring. Effectively it's a grassy notch 100m deep and about a kilometre long. It's been here for about 14,000 years. It's very pretty.

Where is it?
Amid the South Downs a couple of miles beyond the edge of Brighton. About five miles northwest of Brighton station. Quite near Fulking. Not an easy walk from anywhere.

What's the Devil got to do with it?
They say the Devil planned to dig a ditch through the South Downs so the sea would drown the Weald beyond. For perverse devilish reasons he intended to dig it in just one night. But a canny local woman lit a candle which made a cock crow which made the Devil think it was morning so he stopped digging. None of this actually happened, obviously. But Devil's Dyke is a much better name than Solifluction Remnant.

Can you walk down it?
Yes, and above it and around it because the National Trust own the lot. The dyke starts quite steeply. It's a good "wheeee!" on a bike. Before long the valley sides get quite high. It's a smooth descent because there's no river because chalk is permeable. Further down are several brambles and two chalk humps. They say the two humps are where the Devil and his wife are buried. They say if you walk round the 'graves' seven times holding your breath the Devil will appear. They say a lot of things.

Do people walk down it?
Some do. Others prefer to walk round the chalk paths along the top edges. A lot more never make it to the dyke at all, they walk around the hilltop instead. Perhaps they're put off by the cows grazing within the dyke. Perhaps they're put off by the National Trust walks leaflet which only recommends walking down the dyke as part of a 2 hour 'challenging' walk. Or perhaps they prefer to stay in the pub.

Why is there a pub on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere?
This has long been a place of daytripping entertainment. The Victorians flooded in, partly for the scenery but also for the fairground set up by an enterprising entrepreneur. 30000 people visited on Whit Monday 1893. The UK's first cablecar was built here to span the dyke for sightseeing reasons. It linked nowhere to nowhere except for the sheer hell of it, which sounds familiar. The current pub dates back to 1955. It replaced an 1870s hotel which replaced an 1830s hotel which replaced a refreshment hut. I didn't pop in for a drink and a meal on this occasion, but I can confirm the venison suet pudding was very good ten years ago.

Can you get here by car?
Yes, it's at the end of a dead-end road up from Brighton. The car park isn't huge (and is inadequate on a sunny bank holiday).

Can you get here by train?
Don't be silly. But it was once possible. Between 1887 and 1939 a spur ran off the South Coast mainline near Aldrington and climbed slowly towards The Dyke station. It was never profitable. The station is now the site of Devil's Dyke Farm and much of the upper railway is now an all-weather footpath. I walked up it from the edge of Brighton. The views are excellent. The blackberries are currently lush. It's popular with fit cyclists.

Can you get here by funicular?
Don't be silly. But it was once possible. Between 1879 and 1909 a 'Steep Grade Railway' ran down the escarpment towards the village of Poynings so daytrippers could go on an excursion without a knackering climb. You can still see not much of where it used to be.

Can you get here by bus?
Yes, and this is perhaps the best way. Route 77 chugs up from the pier and the station, essentially into the middle of nowhere. It operates daily in the summer (i.e. until the end of this week), but weekends and bank holidays only for the rest of the year. If the weather's good it's quite popular.

What else is there to do up here?
Mainly stare at the view, which is absolutely excellent. To the north the land drops away sharply and you can see for miles across the Sussex Weald. That's the North Downs in the distance. To the west is the adorably knobbly Fulking Escarpment. An information board by the Duke of York's commemorative bench tells you exactly what else to scan the horizon for. You can also buy an ice cream.

Hang on, why is that man in the sky?
That's paragliding, that is. This only happens when the wind's from the north. This is not a common direction so you likely won't see any paragliding, sorry. But if the north wind blows on a bank holiday the air will be teeming full of gravity-defying aerial colour and it'll look magnificent. You can watch the paragliders catching the thermals and drifting with the breeze, each trying to staying aloft for ages until they choose to land back on the hilltop and wrap up their nylon. Even more fun is watching beginners trying to get the hang of jumping forwards and continuing into mid-air, not just slumping back to earth lower down the slope. I watched them for ages.

What else is there to do locally?
A mile to the east is the agricultural hamlet of Saddlescombe. The Knights Templar once owned it. It has an interpretive barn and a sort of National Trust tea room with refreshment served out of a caravan. For an extra thrill you can cross the farmyard to see the Donkey Wheel. Come on 17th September and they're having a proper Open Day when you can see more.

How did you get home?
From Saddlescombe it's only three miles as the crow flies to Hassocks station. I hiked off over West Hill, enjoyed the undulating vista, revelled in the chalk grassland, lost count of the butterflies, dodged the herd of cows on the descent into Pyecombe, crossed the A23 dual carriageway, climbed the outer ridge of Wolstonbury Hill, scrambled over several stiles, met almost nobody and slumped into my seat on the train home. You might be better off getting the bus.

 Tuesday, August 29, 2023

ULEZ expansion liveblog

00:00 ULEZ expands to (almost) the edge of London.
00:01 The first person to pay the charge is a nurse in Sidcup driving home after a tough shift.
02:00 None of the cameras have been switched on yet, but nobody's admitting that.
04:00 Overnight phone-in on LBC filled with anger and fury.
05:00 A dozen cameras in Edmonton mysteriously vandalised overnight.
06:00 A cabbie in Hornchurch spontaneously combusts.
07:00 Barry from Pinner beats the new charge by leaving his car at home and taking the bus to work.
08:00 ULEZ payment website crumbles under the weight of public demand.
09:00 Small child in Ruislip doesn't breathe in fumes from Barry's car so won't die prematurely in 2083.
10:00 The Mayor has already collected enough cash off innocent Londoners to pay for several weeks of woke-policy funding.
11:00 Furious anti-ULEZ campaigner in Penge tries to pay charge only to discover her car is compliant.
12:00 Sadiq Khan gives 25th sanctimonious news interview of the day, and he's not finished yet.
13:00 Used car salesmen run out of cars.
14:00 Market traders in Romford pack up early due to lack of shoppers.
15:00 95% of Londoners going about their day as usual, entirely unaffected.
16:00 Reports of looting and rioting in Bromley.
17:00 Croydon entrepreneur selling 'Map of where the cameras are' for £12.
18:00 Mary in Hounslow skips an evening meal to pay for driving her mother to the hospital.
19:00 The evening rush hour has been a tidy little earner for the Mayoral slush fund.
20:00 Massed hordes gathering in Hertfordshire with chainsaws and blowtorches.
21:00 An estimated 1 million Londoners have now expressed their ULEZ opinions in TV news vox-pops.
22:00 Angry Essex mob erects flaming barricades at every entry point to the capital.
23:00 Mayor announces pay-per-mile road charging starts next Tuesday.
23:59 If you don't get off the road soon you're going to have to pay twice.
00:00 World has not ended. Thousands £12.50 worse off. Air fractionally cleaner.

Last August Bank Holiday, while I was in Brighton, I deviated off my planned route to follow the A2023. That'll be useful next year, I thought, I can write about it when it's "the road of the year". I took photos, I made notes and I stashed them away ready to use in January.

But I didn't actually walk the whole thing, I skipped the last three quarters of a mile because it didn't fit in with where I was going next. So when I came to write it up on 1st January I was able to tell you lots about the Hove seafront, the gastropub Zoe Ball frequents, the Aldrington railway bridge and the Goldstone Ground but not the top bit beyond Old Shoreham Road, and I glossed over that.

Most importantly I never found a road sign with A2023 written on it, because that's the holy grail when it comes to blogging about an A road. Ah but there is one, said reader James who lives nearby, "it's about 200m from the northern end of the road on King George VI Avenue heading southbound". So this August Bank Holiday, while I was in Brighton, I deviated off my planned route to follow the top end of the A2023 and hurrah, there it is.

It's an odd sign, partly because capital letters are normally a no-no, but mainly because it's wrong. The A2023 has never gone straight on towards West Hove and Portslade, that's always been the A2038, ever since the original Brighton bypass was built and all the roads round here were renumbered. The A2023 does head left towards Central Hove and Seafront, indeed this is where it starts, not far from the windmilled heart of West Blatchington.

This upper end of the A2023 begins with a suspicious number of parked-up caravans and motorhomes, then goes all postwar residential. The local pub is a large brick number, and I marked them down one point for looking blandly uninviting, then added a point back on for having the honesty to say they have a Hidden Garden, not a secret one. This being Brighton and Hove several of the sideroads career downwards into a mini suburban valley, but the A2023's descent is fairly gentle in comparison.

On the first big bend a square chimney is clearly visible, this part of the amazing Goldstone Pumping Station, which in 1976 became a repository of steam engines and oily things known as the Brighton Engineerium. In my previous post we learned in the comments that Sarah's dad once worked there, that one of you once spoke to the bloke who ran it and that it was right up my readership's collective alley. Alas it closed in 2006 and last year was bought by a pier boss who wanted to make it into a wellness centre. I see they auctioned off one of the big steam engines in February and hosted a 'Building Happier Communities' workshop day in March, and this may not be the ideal direction of travel.

The next large building on the A2023 is a Waitrose which looks like a cross between a church and a prison, then Brighton and Hove greyhound stadium which has been carefully shielded to ensure no passer-by sees any of the action. Both have large car parks. Then it's more biggish houses, a vehicle repair shop and hey presto we've reached the bit of the road I actually blogged about in January. My A2023 reportage now feels properly complete.

Hurrah, that's another egregious omission plugged.

Also in January one of you commented that the B2023 was in Tunbridge Wells but it probably wasn't worth a special trip. Well, I just happened to be in Tunbridge Wells a couple of weeks ago with 10 minutes to wait before my bus arrived so I filled the time with a quick walk down the High Street... and it turns out the High Street is part of the B2023! I didn't take any photos because I didn't realise at the time but I did think "blimey this is posh for a high street" and "do they really need this many clothes shops and smart eateries?" I won't subject you to a post about it, mainly because I didn't take proper notes, but I'm chuffed to have been to both the A2023 and B2023 this year. Expect just the one next year, sorry.

 Monday, August 28, 2023

Where are the UK's closest railway stations?

Not tube stations, where Bayswater/Queensway and Bank/Cannon Street are very high on the 'ridiculously close' list. But actual railway stations which, for geographical or historical reasons, were built almost adjacent.

I can do you an official list courtesy of maptwiddler extraordinaire Alasdair Rae. Last week he uploaded a spreadsheet of all 2573 National Rail stations and the distances from their nearest station. Corby, for example, is exactly 11.015km from Kettering. St Albans Abbey, meanwhile, is exactly 1.213km from St Albans City.

It doesn't always work out reciprocally. For example Harpenden is nearest to Luton Airport Parkway but Luton Airport Parkway is nearest to Luton, not Harpenden. Highbury & Islington is the closest station to Essex Road, Canonbury, Drayton Park and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, but is itself closest only to the latter. Alasdair's drawn lots of maps to show how all this works, which was the overall point of his excellent blogpost. But you can also use his spreadsheet to confirm the UK's closest railway stations so that's what I've done.

And the majority of these very-close stations, it turns out, are in London. Given the density of the population that's perhaps not a surprise.

Outside London the closest pairs of stations are as follows...
124m St Budeaux Ferry Road ←→ St Budeaux Victoria Road (Devon)
132m Heath High Level ←→ Heath Low Level (Cardiff)
216m Wigan North Western ←→ Wigan Wallgate (Lancs)
243m Dorking Deepdene ←→ Dorking (Surrey)
251m Rice Lane ←→ Walton (Merseyside)
280m Upper Warlingham ←→ Whyteleafe (Surrey)
360m Ebbsfleet International ←→ Northfleet (Kent)
378m Birchgrove ←→ Ty Glas (Cardiff)
379m Liverpool Central ←→ Liverpool Lime Street (Merseyside)
400m Maidstone Barracks ←→ Maidstone East (Kent)
But there are twelve pairs of stations in London which are closer than 400m.

And the closest of all are these two.

93m Catford ←→ Catford Bridge (Lewisham)

The UK's closest railway stations are Catford and Catford Bridge, located just 93m apart on either side of the River Ravensbourne. They were built in separate years by competing railway companies so there was never any incentive to connect them. Also one's on a viaduct and one's at ground level (plus there's a river inbetween) so linking them later was never a sensible option. It takes less than a minute to walk from one to the other, I tried it yesterday, and that is ridiculously close.

If you're standing in the ticket hall at Catford it takes exactly the same amount of time to walk up to platform 1 as it takes to walk across to platform 1 at Catford Bridge. I actually measured the distance as 80m, not 93m, but Alasdair's calculations use the 'official' location of each station which isn't the same as measuring between the closest points. Whatever, 93m is so close that it even beats Bayswater/Queensway and Bank/Cannon Street, making Catford/Catford Bridge genuinely the closest stations in the UK.

A particularly stupid thing to attempt, therefore, is a rail journey from Catford to Catford Bridge. That'll be why if you attempt to buy a ticket from one to the other the system refuses. Even the member of staff in the ticket office can't do it, their machine won't sell one. But it is of course possible to use Oyster or contactless between the two, however contorted the journey, so a fare does indeed exist. That fare is £2.50 off-peak and £2.80 peak, the same as a normal zone 3 single fare, despite the fact you can only make this journey by straying into an additional zone.

I have a travelcard so when I attempted this journey yesterday it didn't charge me anything. I took one train north from Catford to Nunhead, another train east from Nunhead to Lewisham and a third train south to Catford Bridge. If you want to see how all this manoeuvring works and how much it costs, plus what everything actually looks like, you should watch the seminal Geoff Marshall video "You Can't Buy A Ticket from Catford to Catford Bridge". But he took 42 minutes whereas I completed it in 32, because it turns out a special timetable on a Sunday with major engineering works is a particularly efficient way of making all the connections.

The second closest pair of stations is here.

136m West Hampstead ←→ West Hampstead Thameslink (Camden)

There are in fact three separate stations located very close together along West End Lane, two of which (Underground and Overground) are called West Hampstead while the third is called West Hampstead Thameslink. Plans to properly merge all three stumbled due to impracticalities and cost, which does indeed leave two not-quite neighbouring National Rail stations.

Being somewhat perverse I also attempted to make a direct rail journey from one to the other rather than do the easy 90 second walk. I started at West Hampstead and rode the Overground east to the next station with a direct National Rail interchange which was Highbury & Islington. From here I took the Northern City Line to Moorgate, then switched to Crossrail for one stop to Farringdon and finally caught a Thameslink train up to West Hampstead Thameslink. And it took ages, mainly because I just missed my first connection and just missed my third connection so I spent half an hour waiting on platforms.

My total journey time from West Hampstead to West Hampstead Thameslink was 1 hour 21 minutes, which is an average speed of 0.06mph as the crow flies. I could have done it faster by passing through a gateline and I could have done it faster by using the tube, but that would have gone against the spirit of the challenge. I could also have done it faster on a day that wasn't a Sunday with major engineering works, because what helped me in Catford totally hindered me here. But mainly what I learned is that I shouldn't have tried it at all, save to acquire some ridiculously impractical bragging rights.

The third closest pair of stations is these two.

214m London Kings Cross ←→ London St Pancras International (Camden)

It's surprisingly easy to travel between these two rail termini by train, you get a train up to Finsbury Park from one and a train back down from Finsbury Park to the other. I did not bother to try this because I had learned my lesson.

Here for completeness is the full list of closest pairs of railway stations in Greater London.
93m Catford ←→ Catford Bridge (Lewisham)
136m West Hampstead ←→ West Hampstead Thameslink (Camden)
214m London Kings Cross ←→ London St Pancras International (Camden)
244m Dalston Junction ←→ Dalston Kingsland (Hackney)
264m Battersea Park ←→ Queenstown Road (Battersea)
315m Walthamstow Central ←→ Walthamstow Queen's Road (Waltham Forest)
322m Forest Gate ←→ Wanstead Park (Newham)
328m Hackney Central ←→ Hackney Downs (Hackney)
333m Canada Water ←→ Rotherhithe (Southwark)
352m Manor Park ←→ Woodgrange Park (Newham)
375m Seven Sisters ←→ South Tottenham (Haringey)
380m London Waterloo ←→ London Waterloo East (Lambeth)
All best walked.

 Sunday, August 27, 2023

What I did on August Bank Holiday Monday

29th August 1977: Day 1 of a residential course in Windsor to learn how BASIC computer programming worked. Punched cards only.
28th August 1978: My aunt and cousin came round. Played with our Matchbox Hot Wheels on the Superfast track.
27th August 1979: Went up Porlock Hill. Crossed Tarr Steps. Unimpressed by the drum majorettes at Dulverton Festival.
25th August 1980: Packed my collection of old bus timetables into a new box. Watched Captain Beaky's World of Words and Music.

31st August 1981: Walking in the Quantocks again. A lot of heather. Bought postcards in Dunster. Rabbit for dinner!
30th August 1982: Hill climbing in the Lake District. Followed the Fairfield Horseshoe. Chocolate eclairs in Ambleside.
29th August 1983: The first time a bank holiday ever meant a day off work. Wrote an escape room programme for the ZX81.
27th August 1984: Day out on the Severn Valley Railway with my new uni mates. Sampled the real ale at Arley.
26th August 1985: Coco Pops for breakfast. Scored 10 on Bits & Pieces. Chicken for lunch. Edna had a relapse on Brookside.
25th August 1986: The wettest ever Late August Bank Holiday. Rained all day. My uncle's just become a grandfather.

31st August 1987: My last day on the dole. Proper chips for lunch. Taped Girlfriend In a Coma off the radio.
29th August 1988: My brother's last day on the dole. Great Yarmouth was full so we drove to Lowestoft instead.
28th August 1989: Mum had to wash my jeans because there were beetroot splodges on the leg. High score on Mr Ee!
27th August 1990: Listened to the launch of Radio 5. Cut my fingernails. Salad for tea. Played Chuckie Egg.
26th August 1991: Went up the paper shop. Watched the Doctor Who pilot episode. Hoped I'd be buying a flat tomorrow.

31st August 1992: Stung on the elbow by a wasp inside my shirt. 'TV Hell' with Angus Deayton. Pint of Scrumpy Jack at The Ship.
30th August 1993: On a date in Cambridge. My all-black outfit impressed. Fad Gadget and Kraftwerk LPs were bought.
29th August 1994: On a date in Stockwell. Lasted one drink before we both said 'I don't think this is working'.
28th August 1995: Out nightclubbing in Bedford. Dodged the request from the stripper. Spotted a fox. Home by 3.
26th August 1996: Brother and family came to visit. Lunch at Charlie Chalk's. Watched a Barney the Dinosaur video.
25th August 1997: Won a Fawlty Towers video in a packet of Ritz Crackers. Sent new-fangled 'email' to college friend.

31st August 1998: Breakfast on Dartmoor. Lunch in Cornwall. Booked a hotel room for the total eclipse next summer.
30th August 1999: We stayed over at my brother's. Tried not to let on our relationship was irretrievably combusting.
28th August 2000: Dished out presents from Disney World. Pink Minnie Mouse a big hit with niece. T-shirts a bit too big.
27th August 2001: Second day in my new flat. Mopped floor. Filled fridge. TV reception awful. Visited internet cafe on Oxford Street.
26th August 2002: Out nightclubbing in Brixton. It's no fun if you haven't taken anything. Waited too long before leaving early.
25th August 2003: Quiet day to recover from mass-socialising up-country. Failed to complete tax return.

30th August 2004: Bought books and CDs from Borders on Oxford Street. Listened to the FM radio on my new phone.
29th August 2005: Ventured to the Notting Hill Carnival. Summoned away to underwhelming pub by BestMate'sOtherHalf.
28th August 2006: Day out to Quainton Junction, Verney Junction and Claydon. Inevitable conclusion somewhat disappointing.
27th August 2007: One circuit of Snetterton Bank Holiday Market. Avoided burgers in favour of BBQ in brother's back garden.
25th August 2008: Day trip to Isle of Wight. Rode tube train and steam train. Lost £1 coin through slats on Sandown Pier.

31st August 2009: Off to Norfolk. The last time I said 'Hello Mum'. Walked round the stud. Eldest nephew almost my height.
30th August 2010: Walked a lost river. Looked round Chiswick House. Tesco closed early so made do with opening a can of salmon.
29th August 2011: To Gressenhall Workhouse for their wartime theme day. I knew one of the contestants on Only Connect!
27th August 2012: Hastings, St Leonard's, Bexhill, Eastbourne, Newhaven, Brighton, Shoreham, Worthing and Littlehampton.
26th August 2013: Walked to fete in nextdoor village. Silver band played. Rapid retreat from field of bullocks on return trip.
25th August 2014: Tour of Neatishead radar museum. Shuffled round hangars at Flixton. Defrosted lasagne for tea.

31st August 2015: Day trip to Oxford. Looked round college architecture, the Pitt Rivers and a picture gallery.
29th August 2016: Admired the new London Bridge station. Joined the crush at Carnival. Watched the parade. No goat thanks.
28th August 2017: Walked the Seven Sisters east to west. Humpy. Chalky. Glorious. All the way to Seaford for a change.
27th August 2018: Plans to go out in Norfolk met by repeated indecision. Many boardgames played. Eventually hit the craft pub.
26th August 2019: Hottest August Bank Holiday on record. Once round Crystal Palace Park. Opened the emergency ravioli.

31st August 2020: No big plans allowed. Walked to Wanstead flats and back. Managed most of the prize crossword.
30th August 2021: Train (not yet Crossrail) to Abbey Wood. Walked 12 miles home via Thamesmead.
29th August 2022: On Brighton seafront by 9am. Walked up next year's A-road. Super downland views, south and north.
28th August 2023: (repeat of one of the above)

While I was writing yesterday's post I realised there was one London borough museum I'd never been to. This was awkward because it might have been London's least impressive borough museum and I had no definitive evidence to confirm that it wasn't. I ended up passing judgement based solely on photos and descriptions of the interior, which wasn't ideal, and hoped my verdict wasn't wildly off-kilter. So first thing yesterday I nipped down and looked round for myself, finally, and can confirm that my star rating was indeed correct. I have since tweaked the associated text slightly, for accuracy's sake, but not by much so don't feel you have to go back and read the whole post again. Most importantly it was a bit more impressive than the Museum of Enfield, so my assertion that the Museum of Enfield is London's least impressive borough museum remains correct.

Also yesterday I went back to the estate in North Hayes that's two miles from the nearest station. I hadn't taken a screenshot of the app which proved that Hillingdon was 2 miles away, only a screenshot of the rail-only app confirming Hayes & Harlington and South Ruislip. It pays to provide full evidence, so I'm pleased to say I've now done that and replaced my image of a single screenshot with a new image combining both. Also while I was there I popped into my new favourite bakery and bought a slab of bread pudding, again for JUST ONE POUND, and my word it was thick and enormous - I could really feel the weight of it in my hand. Also Richard Morris asked whether the Portuguese cafe on Kingshill Avenue was still there and I'm sorry to report that Café Estrela Do Norte was shuttered, so either they're taking some time off or they've folded.

I think that's all of last week's most egregious omissions sorted.

I hope you're having a nice weekend too.

 Saturday, August 26, 2023

London's least impressive borough museum

Some London boroughs have their own museum devoted to telling the story of the borough's local history. Some of these are very good and a few, quite frankly, aren't.

Before I lay into the borough with the feeblest museum, I should really call out the boroughs who can't be bothered. Yes they have local archives, and yes some host museums the council doesn't pay for, but no borough-funded borough-themed museum exists. Let's name and shame.

Boroughs who can't be bothered to fund a museum
Barnet: No borough museum (since Church Farmhouse closed in 2011)
Camden: No borough museum
Greenwich: No borough museum (since Greenwich Heritage Centre closed in 2018)
Hammersmith & Fulham: No borough museum
Hillingdon: No borough museum
Kensington & Chelsea: No borough museum
Lambeth: No borough museum
Lewisham: No borough museum
Merton: No borough museum
Newham: No borough museum
Tower Hamlets: No borough museum
Wandsworth: No borough museum (closed to save money in 2007)
Westminster: No borough museum
Just under half of boroughs have no museum, which is an unexpectedly high proportion given that the average London borough has a population the same size as Newcastle, Brighton, Derby or Hull. Or it's an unexpectedly low number given that cash-strapped councils are being forced to make savings and culture's an easy non-essential to cut.

There also two boroughs who don't currently have a museum but this should change.
Croydon: Museum of Croydon [Croydon CR9 1ET]
Mildly interactive black vault at Croydon Clocktower, closed for at least two years because the council's in dire financial straits. [review 2009]
Redbridge: Redbridge Museum [Ilford IG1 1EA]
Windowless circuit within Ilford Central Library, due to reopen 'later in 2023' after major revamp. [review 2008]
I'd also like to take Bexley out of the equation, because you can only see "exhibition galleries showcasing objects from the Bexley Museum Collection" if you pay £8 to go on a monthly tour of a historic house, and that's not really how a borough museum ought to work.
Bexley: Hall Place [Bexley DA5 1PQ]
Tudor country house restored in 2008. The splendid grounds remain free to visit. [review 2011]
Which leaves just 16 boroughs with a borough-funded borough-themed museum.

These are the best ones, which definitely wouldn't feature on a 'least impressive' list.
★★★★★ Barking and Dagenham: Valence House Museum [Becontree RM8 3HT, closed Sun, Mon] (free)
15C manor house, refurbished in 2010 and well worth a trip. [review 2012] [report 2017]
★★★★★ Ealing/Hounslow: Gunnersbury Park Museum [Acton W3 8LQ, closed Monday] (free)
Three floors of sleek exhibitry across a lottery-restored mansion. [review 2018]
★★★★★ Harrow: Headstone Manor Museum [Headstone HA2 6PX, closed Monday] (free)
14C manor house, beautifully restored and reopened in 2018, plus two big old barns. [review 2018]
★★★★★ Sutton: Honeywood Museum [Carshalton SM5 3NX, open Thu, Fri, Sat] (free)
Restored and reopened in 2012, opposite Carshalton Ponds, with a lovely friendly atmosphere. [review 2012]
These are nearly as good, so also well worth a visit.
★★★★☆ Haringey: Bruce Castle Museum [Tottenham N17 8NU closed Mon, Tue] (free)
Unscrubbed 16C manor house, with numerous unmodernised displays. [review 2007]
★★★★☆ Havering: Havering Museum [Romford RM1 1JU, open Wed, Thu, Fri] (£3)
Volunteer-led displays within part of the ground floor of the former Romford Brewery. [review 2011]
★★★★☆ Kingston: Kingston Museum [Kingston KT1 2PS, open Thu, Fri, Sat] (free)
Old school Surrey museum, heavily featuring moving picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. [review 2010]
★★★★☆ Richmond: Museum of Richmond [Richmond TW9 1TP, closed Sun, Mon] (free)
Comprehensive historical repository on the second floor of the Old Town Hall.
★★★★☆ Waltham Forest: Vestry House Museum [Walthamstow E17 9NH closed Mon, Tue] (free)
Former workhouse with a focus on transport and the domestic, plus a rather nice small garden.
These three are perfectly decent, it'd just be nice if they were a bit bigger.
★★★☆☆ Brent: Brent Museum [Willesden NW10 2SF] (free)
400 objects housed in an upstairs gallery in the new Willesden Green library.
★★★☆☆ Hackney: Hackney Museum [Hackney E8 1GQ, closed Sun, Mon] (free)
Large ground floor gallery at whatever the library's called these days, with an immigration focus.
★★★☆☆ Islington: Islington Museum Finsbury EC1V 4NB closed Wed, Sun] (free)]
Modern basement under Finsbury Library, with an artefact-led community focus.
If you're counting, there are just three boroughs left.

The runners-ups are what happens when museums shrink to a few disparate displays in a local library. Southwark at least has the excuse that the Cuming Museum suffered a nasty fire in 2013, whereas Bromley deliberately shut their former building in Orpington and very much slimmed down. They offer a few thematic display cases near the scanners, including a Roman brooch from West Wickham, a Cray Wanderers v Beckenham match programme and David Bowie's customised green corduroy jacket. As for Southwark's heritage hub, this opened inside Walworth Library in 2021 and consists of a small permanent cluster, a temporary exhibition space and a few scattered items amid the bookshelves.
★★☆☆☆ Bromley: Bromley Historic Collections [Bromley BR1 1EX] (free)
A scant few cases in Bromley Central Library, 'replacing' the former museum (closed 2015). [review 2017]
★★☆☆☆ Southwark: Southwark Heritage Centre [Walworth SE17 1RW] (free)
Post-pandemic exhibition space, much outnumbered by the books in Walworth Librray.
Neither are worth a special visit, but they are at least better than...

London's least impressive borough museum
★☆☆☆☆ Enfield: Museum of Enfield [Enfield EN2 6DS closed Mon] (free)
Unwelcoming rump tucked away inside the Dugdale Centre.

You'd likely not guess that Enfield's borough museum is stashed away inside an arts centre on the gyratory alongside Iceland. But it is, as a few posters in the window sort-of confirm, and if you step inside you won't immediately see it either. Most of the ground floor space is taken up by a cafe, and a decently popular one at that, because the way you lure punters into a public space isn't with artefacts but with coffee and cake. The museum is over on the right behind a curved white wall with the skeleton of a mammoth drawn on it. It's a very narrow space and not especially long either, indeed this photo shows the museum's full extent.

The blurb by the entrance says "The permanent gallery by the Museum of Enfield gives a brief insight into the borough's rich and diverse history", and they're not kidding when they say brief. Only a piddly handful of the "over 20000 items" from the museum's collection are on display, mostly inside small cases with porthole windows at heights a child might have difficulty viewing. The Nature case features five stuffed animals that every borough has, including a fox, a pigeon and a robin. The Home case is quite generic too, while the People case reflects Enfield's diverse communities and is apparently changed annually. If you want to know what the items are you need to scan a QR code to see a list, which is a miserably lazy way to do things and I doubt many visitors bother.

One wall features famous Enfieldians, but no pictures. The floor features a simple spotty Enfield timeline. One corner has clothes for children to dress up in, plus a wildly optimistic hashtag in case they do. The only items of consequence are two Roman coffins, squished in where nobody can clamber over them. This so-called museum has the "that'll do" feel of a token presence, and I doubt the security guards at the front desk sell much from the 'gift shop' either.

There is thankfully more outside, where a space that could have been used for more cafe tables has instead been reserved for temporary biannual exhibitions. The latest, unveiled at the start of the holidays, is called Festival of Industry. It celebrates Enfield's manufacturing heritage, of which there is a great deal, and it's considerably better than the permanent display. There's lots to read and a fair few extra exhibits including companies like Belling, Thorn EMI Ferguson and JW Spears. It's the second exhibition I've seen this month which features a Travel Scrabble set. To see the whole Festival you also need to visit three other libraries because it seems Enfield has a fixation on artefacts in the community. But you do get the feeling that the issue here isn't Enfield's Museum service, it's the blinkered councillor who confined them to this foyer.

Fifteen years ago Enfield decided to move its museum out of Forty Hall, a peripheral mansion, and relocate it to this new council building in the centre of Enfield instead. Forty Hall thus became a much better heritage attraction, indeed that's Enfield's must-visit, but the vast majority of museum items headed straight into storage. More recently the amount of public space in the Dugdale Centre has been significantly reduced by returning the first floor to office space, and all that's left after a two-year revamp is this downstairs rump. It is, I think unarguably, London's least impressive borough museum. But it's still better than the non-existent museums 13 other boroughs have, so all credit to the curators who are doing what they can with what little they've got.

 Friday, August 25, 2023

London's fourth Borough of Culture has finally woken up.

Waltham Forest opened strongly in 2019 with multiple events.
Brent had 2020 so their intended output was rapidly squashed.
Lewisham's 2022 programme made little broader impact.
And now Croydon's actually doing multiple things, hurrah.

Two of the larger cultural events this summer involve music and giraffes. I've been to experience both, even though this was harder than I expected.

The giraffes are part of an art trail called Croydon Stands Tall. This is your usual "we've decorated giant copies of a beloved animal and spread them across town for you to find and enjoy" immersive quest. It's not exactly original - central London had its first herd of colourful cows in 2002, and there's barely a big town or city in the UK that hasn't tried it at least once with owls, elephants, dragons, hares, bulls or whatever. But they are always a crowdpleaser and no other Borough of Culture has tried this yet so well done Croydon.

There are 30 large giraffes, each decorated by an artist and sponsored by a local business because the money has to come from somewhere. These are generally outdoors in the street, anywhere from Croydon Minster to East Croydon station. Then there are 30 smaller giraffes, this time decorated by schools and other organisations because community engagement is key. These are generally indoors, anywhere from the Fairfield Halls to Marks and Spencer. You could just enjoy them in passing or you could try to track them all down and collect the lot... for which you're going to need a map or an app.

The map's good, turning this into a herbivorous orienteering challenge. It's also easy to find on the website, or at least it was on my laptop. But when I tried to use the website on my phone the links to the map never seemed to appear whichever page I opened. I must have spent five minutes on a damp Croydon pavement endlessly clicking and scrolling round the website in search of a map that never seemed to be mentioned anywhere but which I knew existed, eventually being driven to exclaim "oh ffs just show me the bloody giraffes!" or words to that effect.

So I tried to find a paper copy of the map instead. I knew these existed because an article on Londonist had said Croydon Library had some... but it turns out Croydon's main library is closed all day on Thursdays because a previous incarnation of the council was financially negligent. Eventually I found a glossy copy of the map - well, lots - at the information desk in the Whitgift Centre, and also in the foyer of the Fairfield Halls later on. Apparently they're also available to collect from the main stations and the Tramlink shop, because I found this information really easily on my laptop when I got home but again somehow bugger all on my smartphone.

You might find the app easier to use. This additionally enables you to 'chart your progress' and to 'earn and redeem local rewards' by making note of the 4-digit codes on each giraffe's plinth. Rewards include 10% off children's books at Waterstones and "5% discount off any in-store purchase (bowlswear, nametapes, scouts & guides uniform/badges not included)" at Hewitts school and sportswear specialists. If you have more money to spend then all the large giraffes are being auctioned off at the end of the run to support a local homeless charity, but that's not until the middle of November so you have plenty of time to see them all in situ.

Local website Inside Croydon was serially unimpressed with the trail, calling it "highly derivative, zero imagination, artwashing stuff intended to increase footfall in a shopping mall" with "all the artistic credentials of Les Dennis". But if you enjoy this sort of thing you'll absolutely enjoy it.

And when you're done with giraffes there's the music trail as well. The Croydon Music Heritage Trail celebrates the frankly phenomenal contribution of the borough to all kinds of music, from Kirsty MacColl to Adele and Ralph McTell to Stormzy. A new focal mural in Queen's Gardens includes many famous faces -(yes the bloke in the beret is Captain Sensible) and a couple of walking tours have been organised (only one of which remains). But you're probably going to need to navigate round the trail yourself and this time there is no map, it's app or nothing, so I expect that's a fair few potential visitors excluded already.

There are two trails, one Central (with all the big venues) and one Northern (covering Selhurst, South Norwood and Thornton Heath). I like a good offbeat suburb so I picked the latter and fired up the app to check the map. It offered seven locations to visit, which by dint of history don't form a particularly good linear route so a fair bit of doubling-back is required. The app vibrates as you get close to one of the designated locations, which is useful because I'd have missed at least one otherwise, but also annoying because it triggers just before you get there rather than immediately outside. And perhaps don't pick GCSE results day when the first point on the trail is a secondary school.

[16] The Brit School: Founded in 1991, this springboard to musical fame was funded by the British Government and the British Record Industry Trust. Alumni include Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Kate Nash, Katy Melua, Kae Tempest, Dane Bowers, the co-writer of the UK's 1995 Eurovision entry and several thousand pupils with no chart career whatsoever. Come read some in-app paragraphs while standing by the front fence.
[17] Avril Coleridge-Taylor: Daughter of the better-known Samuel, mixed-race Avril was an accomplished conductor, composer and pianist. The current owners of her house on Dagnall Park Road really don't want anyone seeing the blue plaques out front and have grown fairy-tale-sized conifers to shield themselves, so this stop is not really a must-see.
[18] Ariwa Sounds: This unprepossessing off-white shed is actually the UK's longest black-owned music studio, inaugurated by the Mad Professor 40 years ago. The trail also chooses to commemorate Desmond Dekker's hits The Israelites and 007 (Shanty Town) here, rather than suggesting you trek all the way out to Addiscombe to see where he really lived.
[19] Original Tasty Jerk: From Sqwod to Rooftop, the oeuvre of songwriter Nadia Rose needs little introduction. The trail celebrates her musical magnificence outside her favourite football-adjacent Caribbean takeaway, which were it more than two minutes from the previous site might feel like a complete waste of your time.
[20] RMS Studios: This is where local band St Etienne recorded their second album So Tough which notably included You're in a Bad Way and Hobart Paving. I'm not quite sure which of the empty shopfronts round the back of Selhurst Park I was supposed to be looking at, but it was nice to listen to Bob Stanley talk all things Croydon.
[21] Stanley Arts: This fine Art Nouveau building is a grassroots arts centre and the cultural hub for South Norwood. It looks great but you're not going to learn much about it from the minimal trail info, which is a bit annoying when you've trooped all this way to see it and the final stop is a mile back in the opposite direction.
[22] Stormzy: As the biggest star to emerge from Croydon since Adele you'd hope the trail would take you somewhere significant like his childhood home, his primary school or his youth club. Instead it takes you to his local library in Thornton Heath and quite frankly I didn't bother wasting my time going, I just read the background info on the bus home.

In good news, even if you can't get to Croydon you can read all 45 pages of text-based information in an impressively comprehensive 45-page pdf downloadable here. I'd recommended doing that instead of walking the Northern Trail, whereas I suspect the Central Trail has more to see. Also apparently every stop on the trail has its own plaque set into the pavement, but I never saw one while I was walking round and only learned this from an Inside Croydon review afterwards. They weren't overly impressed either.

So there you go, music and giraffes in Croydon, the former more cultural and the latter more fun, and neither explained quite as well as they could have been.

 Thursday, August 24, 2023

I went in search of the furthest point from a station and found London's cheapest bakery.

n.b. this is not all true, but bear with me.

Very few places in London are more than two miles away from a station. I wrote a post about this in 2015 and identified eight.

1) Harefield (UB9)
2) North Hayes (UB4)
3) Richmond Park (TW10)
4) Barnet Gate (EN5)
5) Havering-atte-Bower, Collier Row, Chase Cross, Noak Hill (RM2, RM3, RM4, RM5)
6) North Ockendon (RM14)
7) Damyns Hall (RM14)
8) Cudham, Biggin Hill, Downe (TN14, TN16)

I got two of them wrong, but never mind that for now.

Two of these eight locations in fact spread more than three miles from a station (namely Havering-atte-Bower and Cudham) and one remote country lane beyond Biggin Hill reaches four miles. But almost all of these are on the edge on London where you might expect accessibility to be poor. The two I find particularly interesting are the two that are a bit more central, namely 2) North Hayes and 3) Richmond Park.

Only the southeast corner of Richmond Park is over two miles from a station. If you know the Robin Hood Gate with the stables by the big junction on the A3, that's where. It's also the point where the boroughs of Kingston, Richmond and Wandsworth meet, so technically there's a scrap of Inner London that's more than two miles from a train. But it's a playing field, and most of the rest is deer park and golf course, indeed not many people live in this rail-distant sector. So what really piqued my interest was the location of the North Hayes nullpoint because that's heavily populated.

The spot I sought lay west of the Yeading Brook and north of the Uxbridge Road amid estates I'm not especially familiar with, not least because they're two miles away from a station. It's a stretch to call this Hayes but then Hayes has always sprawled, ever since the railway came along and dragged the centre of commercial gravity south. Hayes and Harlington station is a long way away, indeed exactly two miles, which ought to be obvious now I've mentioned it.

What I deduced in 2015, by using a ruler on a map, is that the specific rail outpost lay close to the junction of Kingshill Avenue and Lansbury Drive. So that's where I headed, making the last part of the journey by bus because there aren't any trains, obviously. And on arrival I got my phone out and used an app to tell me how far away the nearest stations were. Initially at least one station was still under 2 miles distant. Standing outside St Nicholas church South Ruislip and Hillingdon were 2 miles away but Hayes and Harlington only 1.9. Crossing into Raynton Drive I found Hayes and Harlington and Hillingdon were 2 miles away but South Ruislip now 1.9. Eventually, on a tiny stretch of Lansbury Road barely two houses long, I matched them all.

These two screenshots confirm the 2-mile triple point - one from a rail-only app and one from a tube-only app.

The epicentre of this rail desert may have been tiny but it did have a bus shelter, which was nice because it meant I could look around and take stock. Pebbledash semis in charmless postwar style. Garages up alleyways to the rear. Garden waste awaiting collection. Rough paving. A showy corner property with fortress gates and a 'hedge' dotted with artificial blue flowers. A small tree and a big tree. A rose bush. A traffic island. A bin.

Sorry, it really was a really tiny area where all three stations hit 2.0 miles so there's not much to say.

In good news they have a decent bus service here with three routes calling and about a dozen buses every hour. The 90 will take you to Hayes and Harlington or Northolt stations in about 15 minutes. The 195 will take you to Hayes and Harlington in a similar time. The U7 only serves Uxbridge station but takes over half an hour to get there so is more useful for getting to Sainsbury's. And it's all because nobody's ever built a railway to fill the huge chasm between the Great Western Railway and the Chiltern Main Line which, as you can probably deduce, is four miles wide at this point.

The bus stop is named The Brook House after the local pub, the Brook House. This brick hub is late 1940s vintage, spacious and sports focused, with live music at weekends and some very splendid hanging baskets. It's still very much the local watering hole. It's also the London pub furthest from a station (outer Havering and outer Bromley excepted). And it props up one end of a fairly long shopping parade on Kingshill Avenue where the local community are well catered for. Flowers by Zoe, several takeaways, a launderette, a bookies, a Co-op and a Costcutter, not to mention an electronics shop and a dry cleaners... plus what may be London's cheapest bakery.

I was nervous because the signage at Kingshill Bakery had been revamped since I was here last year, now even with a posh logo stuck to the window. But I needn't have worried because when I stepped inside it was just the same - a pair of counters, some wonky handwritten menus and a clear view into the kitchen/bakery out back. The assistant had her back to me finishing off some cream infusion or lunchtime snack, thereby allowing me extra time to pick from the traditional pastries and iced cakes. The selection could have been from 30 years ago, and I mean that as a compliment. I picked a large Belgian bun and had a handful of coins ready, so was both amazed and delighted when the price charged was JUST ONE POUND.

This was a mighty bun with a light doughy taste, plainly fresh from a proper oven. It had sultanas inside, a decent layer of sweet white icing and a moist glace cherry on top. It was everything my nostalgic palate wanted and an absolute bargain to boot, indeed astonishing value for money. If you regularly buy baked snacks from coffee shops and they come wrapped or mechanically sliced and cost upwards of three pounds, you are being absolutely fleeced when the real thing is available from a proper bakery at near-giveaway prices. I wish I knew somewhere like this near where I live, although my waistline is probably glad I don't. What fools we are to live in inner London when the proper haute cuisine is on the outskirts.

Also, when I checked the fish and chips nextdoor they cost £6.50 + £2.50 = £9.00, much cheaper than anything I reported on last week, so value for money is very much a thing round here.

Alas, when I got home and tried to reproduce my two mile measurements on a map I failed.

I drew 2-mile circles centred on Hillingdon, South Ruislip and Hayes & Harlington stations and they all marginally overlapped, whereas they should have left a small gap in the middle. That means nowhere here is quite 2 miles away from all three stations, even if you tweak the locations slightly because who's to say where a station precisely is.

I think what happened is that when my app changed from 1.9 to 2 what it really meant was that I'd just passed 1.95 miles, i.e. I was closer to 2 than 1.9. So all I'd discovered was a place 1.95 miles from all three stations, not 2, which means North Hayes should never have been on my list in the first place.

I should have realised this back in 2015 because a reader kindly constructed an accurate Google map showing precise 2 mile contours across the whole of London and North Hayes never showed up. Barnet Gate, similarly, is a 2 mile fail.

Always read your own blog carefully before setting out on a quest to uncover a location that doesn't actually exist. But hurrah that I did because as a result I enjoyed a fabulous iced bun from what must be London's best cheapest bakery (unless someone wants to tell me I'm wrong on that as well).

 Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Next Tuesday the Ultra Low Congestion Zone extends from the North and South Circular Roads, where it's been since October 2021, to cover almost the whole of the capital. Not all of it, because roads and administrative boundaries don't perfectly align. But enough to bring 99% of Londoners within the boundary, where those who drive non-compliant vehicles are vastly outnumbered by those who breathe polluted air.

If ULEZ expansion peeves you and you feel the need to vent, or if you think it's brilliant and can't see what the problem is, here are two comments boxes for your views. If alternatively you'd like to engage with the content in today's post, please keep reading.
As we saw yesterday, some outer London drivers have got lucky and their neighbourhood won't be covered. But there are also those who would have escaped had TfL not decided to be really really picky, so I've also been off to visit some of them.

Greenacre Close, Barnet EN4

If you're driving north out of Barnet towards Potters Bar, this is the last cul-de-sac before Hertfordshire begins. It really is on the edge, the bus stop at the top of the road being in the neighbouring county. That road is Barnet Road and it's ULEZ-exempt, allowing vehicles to drive down to the Highstone at Monken Hadley and turn back. There is zero practical need to add Greenacre Close to the ULEZ, it's a total dead end and only eleven families live down it. But they've added it anyway by sticking up a big sign, and what's more they've added a camera on a thin black pole to act as sentinel in case anyone with a non-compliant car drives in or out. It almost looks vindictive.

You could argue that if a road lies within the ULEZ it should be digitally policed. You could argue it would be unfair to exclude this street when others face the full weight of a daily charge. You could argue they're actually protecting residents from breathing excess air pollution. But when there's a huge field over the back fence where the Green Belt starts and a vast expanse of parkland across the road, the exhaust fumes of a few vehicles are entirely irrelevant. This camera is present solely to enforce a rule, not to protect health. And how many £12.50s would they have to detect to pay for the camera in the first place, assuming anyone who lives here ever needs to pay it. These are million-pound houses, not homeowners struggling to buy a new diesel.

Tilney Drive, Buckhust Hill IG9

This is the last turn-off inside London on the road to Epping Forest. Tilney Drive is even more on the edge of the capital than Greenacre Close was - the streetsign's in Redbridge but I was standing in Essex when I took the photo. It's another minor cul-de-sac, this time with just eight houses and a small block of flats. When residents drive out of their home street they cross an invisible boundary and enter Epping New Road, none of which is included in the ULEZ. But TfL have still chosen to make this 60m street part of the charging zone, a brief disconnected segment... at least when travelling by road.

The underlying reason for this is that the new ULEZ is essentially the old LEZ. The Low Emission Zone was introduced by Ken Livingstone, that's how old it is, and its charges only applied to highly polluting HGVs, lorries, vans, buses, coaches and specialist heavy vehicles. But it still needed a boundary so they devised a convoluted one that meant HGVs would never be forced to reverse. It made sense then to include Tilney Drive in the LEZ because you wouldn't want a heavy lorry or double decker bus down here. It makes less sense for cars and the ULEZ, but alas peripheral legacy insists. Also I should mention that most of the 'LEZ' signs around the edge of London have yet to be upgraded to say 'ULEZ' as well, because that's a very long job and they've barely started to tackle it.

Brockley Hill, Stanmore HA7

Various main roads heading into London have been excluded from the extended ULEZ to give drivers a chance to turn round and go back. One such example is Brockley Hill, the shady mile-long lane which connects Elstree to Stanmore, which'll remain free for everyone to drive down. But only as far as Canons Corner, the first roundabout, where a big sign now warns traffic that every exit is in the charging zone other than the one they've just arrived by. That's fair enough, especially given that the top of Brockley Hill has no ULEZ signage whatsoever because it's (just) over the border in Hertfordshire. Live on Brockley Hill, as a handful do, and you have a free pass to drive out of London. But live in a cul-de-sac just off it and nah, they've got you.

This is Julius Caesar Way at the sole entrance to Brockley Park, a private estate on the edge of Stanmore. But that hasn't stopped TfL from erecting a camera on the public approach to the private entrance, and that's 90 "detached executive homes" financially captured. Across the street, in Barnet rather than Harrow, are two more ULEZ-ed cul-de-sacs. Pipers Green Lane is so posh that everyone subscribes to a private security firm and advertises the fact, so they're not going to have trouble coughing up because of a camera at the end of their street. But two-pronged Brockley Avenue is rather more ordinary - somewhere that white van owners live rather than work - and it too has a beady camera keeping a careful eye on comings and goings. Gotcha!

Amanda Close, Hainault IG7

This is a true anomaly, a single London cul-de-sac placed in IG7 because its entrance faces the wrong way. Everything about Amanda Close - architecture, lampposts, bins - suggests it's part of the small Redbridge estate which leads down to Hainault station. But you can't drive out that way, only walk, so the sole exit for 50-or-so cars is directly into Essex instead. You can see the quality of the road surface deteriorate at soon as you cross the boundary at this mini-roundabout, because Epping Forest Council haven't been keeping up with repairs. And you can also see an owl-like camera on a pole because TfL are intent on ensuring even this minor residential blip pays its dues.

The only exit from Amanda Close is onto the loop road of the Limes Farm Estate, which is Chigwell's largest council estate. Birds of a Feather would have been a very different sitcom if they'd set it here amongst these concrete flats rather than up the posh end. I promise to come back and blog about Limes Farm properly one day, given it's very much not what people think Essex looks like. In the meantime just know that Amanda Close might have escaped ULEZ, it being over three-quarters of a mile before their residents can drive into any other part of London, but TfL got them anyway.

Hilltop Road, Kenley CR3

For my final example I'm off to almost-as-far-south-as-London-goes, just up the road from Whyteleafe station. Officially this is Kenley, where a handful of streets have been squeezed onto the slope down from the airfield to the railway, and hemmed in by both. Spacious gabled semis line a trio of leafy avenues layered down the hillside, with Mosslea Road near the bottom, Beverley Road in the middle and Hilltop Road at the top. These three roads all link back to each other with minimal connections to the outside world, but only Hilltop Road will be in the ULEZ because the boundary is cruel, or indeed nonsensical.

I cannot work out why this peculiar boundary exists, other than that whoever drew it was thinking about regions rather than roads. Or perhaps they were looking at the area on a Google map where it appears that two additional connecting roads cross the railway and join up with the A22, whereas in real life these are both undriveable footbridges. The only rational explanation I can think of is that someone wanted to ensure that removal lorries visiting houses on Hornchurch Hill, the last road in Surrey, had a big loop inside London allowing them to turn round. The extended ULEZ should start at the southern end of Valley Road rather than screwing residents of Hilltop Road (and half of Hillcrest Road, and Marlings Close)... but it's too late now.

All five of my examples have been of streets inside London, so the Mayor is perfectly entitled to apply ULEZ rules as he thinks fit. But on the very edges of the capital, where bespoke cameras have been installed to catch out a handful of isolated addresses, it's easy to see why some have assumed this is a cash-raising exercise rather than a genuine attempt to clean up the air.

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