diamond geezer

 Saturday, September 23, 2023

I have no idea if this'll work but let's give it a try.

20 questions hide and seek

This morning I'm going to go somewhere in London and I invite you to find me.
You have 20 questions to narrow me down.

I'll be there from 10am to 11am.
I've never been there before.
It's somewhere public, outdoors.
It's not in a street or station.

I shall have Squeezy Pig with me.
I haven't left the house yet.

Your questions go in this comments box. comments
Just one Yes/No question each, thanks.
I'm ignoring all questions asked before 10am.

You'll either be collectively brilliant or collectively useless.
And if it goes well I'll do it again from 2pm to 3pm.

Yes: east of the A23, south of the A232, within 3 miles of Shirley windmill, within 2 miles of Lloyd Park tram stop, in a park, within a mile of a golf course
No: north of the Thames, postcode begins with W, in Southwark or Lambeth, near a body of water, inside the South Circular, in a Labour-controlled borough, within 5 miles of Biggin Hill, near the sea

It's now 11am and you didn't find me.
I was at Purley Beeches.

• It's 18 acres of woodland and grassy lawn near Purley Oaks station.
• Technically it's in Sanderstead but it was once part of Purley Downs.
• The ratepayers of Sanderstead purchased it in 1907.
• The coat or arms for Coulsdon and Purley Urban District Council included two trees, an oak for the Purley Oaks and a beech for Purley Beeches.
• The wood was thinned out by the 1987 hurricane.
• It has a better website than your average woodland.
• It's very beechmasty underfoot at the moment (and very popular with dogs).

I was sitting in the the Wettern Tree Garden.

• This was created by Eric Wettern between 1918 and 1965, then given in trust to Croydon Council.
• It's a lovely hideaway with multiple arboreal specimens, 30 of which are labelled.
• Ever since Croydon council got into financial difficulties, the Friends of Wettern Tree Garden have taken on a lot more of the upkeep.
• I was particularly intrigued by the bobbly green fruit fallen under the Osage Orange, a very rare tree in the UK, grown from a seed Eric planted in 1925.

OK, let's go again.
I'll be somewhere else from 2pm to 3pm.
Again I've never been before.
Again it's somewhere public, outdoors.
It's not in a street or station.

Your questions go in this comments box. comments
Just one Yes/No question each, thanks.
I'm ignoring any questions before 2pm.

Yes: north of the Thames, west of the River Lea, west of the A10, west of 0.1°W, west of the Watford Overground line, south of the A40, east of Hillingdon Hospital
No: inside the North Circular, nearer a tube station than a rail station, in Harrow, in Barnet, within 3 miles of Heathrow, within 500m of a river or body of water, south of the A4

It's now past 3pm and again you didn't find me.
I was in Cuckoo Park.

• It's a park in Ealing between Greenford and Hanwell.
• It's on a slight hilltop east of the River Brent.
• It was the site of a battle between the Saxons and the Romano-British in the sixth century.
• In 1857 the Central London District Poor Law School was built here.
Charlie Chaplin was a pupil at this school!

• The school closed in 1933 and a housing estate was built around it.
• The drive to the school survives as a long leafy strip up the centre of Cuckoo Avenue.
• The school buildings became Hanwell Community Centre (and are also occupied by the London Welsh School).
• The park surrounds the school and is well frequented by unaccompanied youth.
• If you need conkers, Cuckoo Park and Cuckoo Avenue are currently super-abundant.

I'm not convinced that was a great success.
But maybe some other time.

 Friday, September 22, 2023

A lot has been added to the tube map in recent years. Accessibility blobs, walking connections, cablecars, trams, river piers and most recently Thameslink, all have been shoehorned into an increasingly cluttered diagram. But whatever ridiculous woke nonsense have they added now?


That's right, the latest incarnation of the tube map includes snowflake symbols and uses them to show lines with air-conditioned trains.

The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines all have air-conditioned trains, indeed every train on these lines has been air-cooled since 2017. In hot weather these are the tube lines that'll offer you a more comfortable temperate journey, the other tube lines less so, mainly because they have older rolling stock and it's more difficult to apply aircon technology in narrow deep tube tunnels. Meanwhile the DLR doesn't yet offer aircon (but will start doing so next year when new trains arrive) and Crossrail's had it baked in since the start.

You may be thinking 'yes I know all this' but not everybody does, hence TfL's decision to add snowflakes to the tube map. Selecting the coolest trains is not necessarily a practical way to make decisions when route planning, but better to know than not know would be the designers' rationale. Also the snowflake symbol isn't littering the actual diagram, only the key, because aircon is a feature which applies only to lines not individual stations. In terms of clutter it has a minimal effect.

Things get a little sillier further down the key. Yes the Overground has aircon and so does Thameslink, that's great. But the need to be consistent means a snowflake also has to be used on the piddly Olympia branch with its intermittent weekend services and paltry half dozen weekday trains, and no sane traveller is ever going change their journey based on this information. Splitting the Overground into six separate lines will also require six separate snowflakes so steel yourself for that. Also note that the snowflake symbol has to be explained at the bottom of the list, indeed what we have here is a sub-key to explain the meaning of a symbol used only in the key.

You won't have seen these snowflakes if you've picked up a paper map or checked a poster in a tube station, because these were last produced in May 2023 and aircon wasn't a thing then. The change has only happened on the online map, as you can see if you visit the scrollable version or download the latest pdf. This is clever because it means TfL could add the snowflakes in summer and take them away again in winter, indeed by the time the next printed tube map comes out in December aircon won't be of any general interest whatsoever.

Technically this is the 'August 2023' tube map, it says so in the filename, so it must have appeared on the TfL website last month. What's odd is that nobody noticed, and even more odd that TfL didn't mention it themselves. Their press office is normally well on top of these kinds of things, or at the very least one of their social media channels would have tweeted it excitedly along with an avalanche of snowflake emojis. Instead there was absolutely zero fanfare, the updated map just slipped silently out.

The earliest evidence I can find that anybody noticed the snowflakes was an Instagram account called thetubemap which posted a cutaway of the frozen key on 6th September. This reached the attention of Geoff Marshall on 9th September, at which point online scavengers MyLondon wrote a so-called news article compiled from responses to his tweet and other circumstantial banter. As far as I can tell the only other news medium to have written about the snowflakes is LBC on 11th September, and since then there's been nothing. If TfL's press office hasn't spoonfed it, most transport news never happens.

What isn't clear is what happens next. Will the snowflakes disappear from the map once autumn settles in and the chance of a heatwave drops to zero or is this a permanent addition, clogging up the key all year round? Many's the extra symbol that looked temporary but is somehow still with us. I can see TfL keeping them as a marker of how up-to-date their trains are, although no additional lines will merit a symbol for 100% aircon any time soon. We'll have a much better idea of their permanence when the December tube map appears - are snowflakes just for summer or does some idiot think they're also for Christmas?

 Thursday, September 21, 2023

40 years ago this week I bought my first television.

We had a television in the house already, indeed we had two, so my brother and I could watch The Great Egg Race in one room while my Mum watched Angels in the other. But I didn't have a TV of my own until that special day I went into Watford and handed over £129 of my summer job money for a Philips 9TC 2100.

It was only black and white and only had a nine inch screen, hence the model name, but it showed all the same channels as a normal television and most importantly it was mine. Back in 1983 there were only four channels to watch, one of which wasn't yet a year old, but my 9TC 2100 was seriously forward-looking and had room for ten. You had to push the sliders on the top to change channels - remote controls weren't yet a thing - but that didn't matter because it was about to be positioned in pride of place on my bedside table. All I had to do was reach out and I could flick repeatedly between Butterflies and the Nine O'Clock News, something I wouldn't dare to try downstairs.

Not only was it inordinately convenient but it also meant I suddenly had control over what I watched, which when you're 18 can be both useful and important. It meant when The Omen popped up on ITV that Saturday night I could lie in bed and watch it all, whereas otherwise that classic film might have gone unwatched. Another advantage of my new TV is that it had a headphone socket so I could plug in my single plastic earphone and listen without anyone else hearing. That was great for everyone else in the house if the time ticked past midnight, and also great for me if I didn't want anyone to know precisely what I was watching, or even that I was watching anything at all.

And it wasn't just a TV, it was a multifunction cube, so as well as a screen it also had a radio. This could do medium wave, long wave and VHF, but mostly the former because Radio 1 didn't venture off 275/285 very often. Even better it had a cassette recorder down one side because cassettes were the height of recording technology in those days. It couldn't compete with my proper music centre but it did have the enormous bonus that I could record sound perfectly off the telly. Previously when I'd tried taping the Tomorrow's World theme I'd had to use a string of cables but now I could grab it direct. I didn't often trust my expensive pre-recorded cassettes in the side of the TV, though, because I worried what the magnets in the cathode ray tube might be doing.

My TV/radio/cassette also had a red LED clock on the front and this allowed my new gizmo to function as an alarm. I could set it for 7am and wake up to BBC Breakfast Time, indeed by the end of the first week I'd learned how to print stamps and how airline food was cooked, all before getting out of bed and heading off to work. I messed up on day two by setting the volume to zero but thankfully still woke up anyway, perhaps distracted by Selina Scott flickering in black and white. And that wasn't even the best bit. If you set the alarm and pushed down the play/record buttons on the cassette recorder, when the TV switched on it started recording and it was like having my own personal VCR. I only got the sound, not the picture, but many's the episode of Top of the Pops I'd have completely missed had it not been captured on C90.

The day I bought the TV I'd also bought lots of things I might need at university - bath towels, tea towels, cutlery, salt and pepper pots, plus a tray my foresighted Mum knew would be useful and so it proved. I think they came from Clements, the big department store on the high street, or perhaps from Littlewoods or Timothy Whites. She also got me to buy a dark blue suit from M&S, rather than the regulation black, and insisted on taking a photo of me wearing it when I got home. But my 9TC 2100 was the most expensive purchase of the day, a true investment in the future, and would help to make me a centre of social interest in my freshers year.

I had to ask permission to have the set in my room, because this was 40 years ago and students didn't generally bring a TV with them when they came to university. The general expectation was that you'd watch programmes in the Common Room, whichever channel the majority of the masses preferred, which was total anathema to an independent viewer like me. But with my own set I could keep on top of the news (Cecil Parkinson did what?), laugh at Who Dares Wins and enjoy The Five Doctors without a running commentary. The two best requests from fellow students in that first year were "can I come round and watch Treasure Hunt fly over our farm?" and "can I come round and watch myself on Blockbusters?" I happily obliged.

One downside to the TV was that all the channels were set mechanically using a bank of swirly sliders under the lid. That was fine if you kept the set in one place but I was taking it to university and back every term so ended up doing a lot of awkward twiddling. It then accompanied me on my year living out (Roland Rat, The Tripods), then on my year living back in (Masterteam, Maradona's hand of god), then to Job 1 where I was lodging in someone's spare room (The Brittas Empire, Sticky Moments). Without my 9TC 2100 I could easily have missed out on eight years of shared national television culture but instead I kept on top of it all. There's not I think a single episode of Dallas that I didn't see.

By the set's 10th birthday I had my own home and a proper colour set, so my black and white cube retired to my bedside table. Here it allowed me to watch Newsnight before I nodded off to sleep and Grange Hill repeats before getting up on a Sunday morning. I was now renting a separate, somewhat clunky VCR so no longer needed to rely on sound-only tape recordings if I went out. But my 9TC 2100 was still an integral part of everyday life, even if only as a spare radio, and when I moved to London I packed it into its original box and brought it with me.

Alas reception in my flat proved so poor that the TV only served up pixels of fuzz, whichever direction I pointed the aerial, and then in 2012 analogue transmissions were switched off meaning it'd never work again. The cassette player has failed too, which seems to be a common problem with cassette players decades after they were manufactured, in this case because the eject button no longer opens the deck so you can't get a tape in. The radio still functions, so if I'm ever in the spare room and want Radio 4 it'd be great, but because it can't get digital-only 6 Music I hardly ever switch it on. It is essentially now redundant and I should take it down the tip for recycling.

But the clock still works and still gets used every day because I've set it up to be visible at the end of the hallway. The red LED is particularly good at showing up in gloom and darkness, which you just don't get with modern LCD displays, and I regularly use the clock to help me time my meals correctly. I love my futuristic lump of black plastic, which almost looks as if the 1980s are yet to come, and so it survives as a cool and chunky timepiece on my chest of drawers. I'll bin my 9TC 2100 one day, but given everything it's contributed to my cultural experience it remains one of the best £129s I've ever spent.

 Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Let's finish this for another year.

Open House: The Rowe (Aldgate) The Unoccupied One

Architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris have been busy along Whitechapel Road recently because not only is Tower Hamlets Town Hall one of theirs, so is this. It's located immediately opposite the Whitechapel Gallery and is a repurposing of the former Cass School of Art and Architecture into a modern office block. The overall idea behind the rebuild was to imagine inverting the original six-storey building and plonking it on top as a kind of structural reflection, and then adding an unusual banded artwork around the middle. I didn't get a decent photo of the exterior because of awkwardly placed sunshine so you might want to look at the project page for that, but stay with me for a tour of the interior guided by the actual architect. "I wouldn't have called it The Rowe", he said.

The enormous loopy sculpture hanging in reception reflects the textile businesses over there in Spitalfields, you can actually sit in this one, no really lots of people have, we made sure it was strong enough. The lifts are all colour co-ordinated, it adds some visual character to each floor. Look at these surfaces, everything's quite pared back in here. The building used to have a central atrium but we had to fill that in with a supportive core to make sure our 6th floor intervention worked. I hope this door opens, yes, come out and take a look at it. This terrace goes all round the building, it's a kind of dividing line. We're particularly proud of the enamel artwork that snakes round the entire ceiling, it was designed by Yinka Ilori and created on the Isle of Wight by the same company that makes tube roundels.

This outside terrace on the 11th floor has great views, I hope it's unlocked, yes come and take a look across Spitalfields and the East End. Tower Hamlets wouldn't let us build too high, we had to be a stepping stone from the Aldgate cluster down to the conservation area round Altab Ali Park. The roof terrace is amazing and everyone in the building will have access to it. This side has a greenish pergola, that side has a long green wall and the rear has a gathering space where you could come and do yoga first thing in the morning. We tried to make the glass as unobtrusive as we could. That circular skylight above the lift lobby is called an oculus. And although it's been on the market for months no company's yet agreed to hire it out, but yes a client is in talks so you picked a really good moment to enjoy a look inside.

Open House: Vanbrugh Park Estate (Greenwich) The Pre-Barbican One

At the top of Vanbrugh Hill, just east of Greenwich Park, the trio of architects brought in to create a postwar council estate had an impeccable pedigree. They were Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the practice who also designed the Golden Lane Estate (before) and the Barbican complex (after). What they came up with here was a unique mix of houses, maisonettes and flats which ultimately appealed so sufficiently that some of the original residents are still in situ. For Open House four residents welcomed visitors into their homes, or at least I think it was four because it was more a game of 'spot the green bunting' which across a seven acre site soon got a bit tiresome. I managed two.

Garages were still important in the 1950s so they built three rows and then dropped a chain of two-bedroom maisonettes along the top. These are really airy and light, like living off a conservatory, thanks to some well-positioned skylights. The second bedroom wasn't especially enormous, or maybe that's because in the 'show flat' I saw it was kitted out as an office. The owner clearly loved living here because he had assorted historical paraphernalia lying around (you can see similar and better on the estate's website, and maybe get a little jealous).

Over in the single tower block, called Westcombe Court, it was a very different affair. The flat's owners were midway through a total refit which appeared to involve ripping out everything that wasn't a load-bearing pillar and repurposing the (fairly minimal) space to their own preferred floorplan. Sheets and cables were everywhere, the tabletop was covered in potential tile samples and the only area that was even approximately finished was the bathroom (because priorities). They also recommended we go see the view from the seventh floor before we left, which I'm not sure the uppermost residents appreciated but wow, Kidbrooke poked up one way and Docklands shone the other. While the lifts still work, what a place to live.

Open House: Lakeside Centre (Thamesmead) The Misfits One

Thamesmead's iconic Southmere Lake - the 'Flatblock Marina' - has been the setting for such cinematographic delights as A Clockwork Orange, Beautiful Thing and the C4 series Misfits. Much of the surrounding housing has since been demolished and replaced with something any location scout would ignore, but the community centre/bar/social club on the northern bank survives intact. It has however been repurposed as creative studios under the Bow Arts umbrella, because my local arts hub insists on spreading its regenerative fingers almost everywhere. And on Saturday they held their annual Open Studios event so I finally got to go inside the concrete bunker where Sandra pulled pints and Curtis rewound time, and stood properly on top of it too.

It's a very Bow Arts kind of building, in that the interior is a bewildering warren of small studios where artists of all types create tapestries, paintings, carnival costumes, collages, sculptures, whatever. My favourite was Gary Drostle's mosaic studio on the ground floor, one of the larger spaces, where several beautiful mini-tiled commissions were mid-creation. If you live near North Walsham look out for a multi-coloured swooshy number coming to the marketplace before the end of the year. Elsewhere Amanda Eatwell was thrilled to get an audience for her photos, the cafe was being used as a sparse exhibition space and several artists had bunked off early for a beer and/or hot dog in the courtyard.

The architects who enabled the transformation also accented the building with a series of structural interventions in a signature bright orange colour, very much the shade of a Misfits jumpsuit. These add a visual frisson to Lakeside's lakeside terraces, and seem to have generally avoided the goose droppings that plague much of the water's edge. Yes it's a bit sad that it isn't a community centre any more, more somewhere that only some of the community use, especially given the new Peabody replacement is a soulless pile on the opposite site of the water. But it is still here and no longer derelictly empty, so hurrah for open spaces, Open Studios and Open House.

Sorry, I've finished all three of my write-ups today, so if you've got used to coming back during the day and finding something extra to read that won't be happening, plus that's my Open House reportage finished for another year so if you wanted to hear more about the nine locations I never wrote up that won't be happening either, they weren't interesting enough, plus my album on Flickr has somehow reached a full complement of 90 photos, and tomorrow I have to find something else to write about again.

 Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Over the years I've been round ten London borough town halls as part of Open House but never my own. That's because Tower Hamlets' was a hired fortress close to the mouth of the Blackwall Tunnel and no great architectural shakes. But the council's just moved into a new base in the heart of the borough on Whitechapel Road inside the original incarnation of the Royal London Hospital, and the borough was therefore very keen to show the place off. Hourly tours of a landmark building led by the chief architect is almost as good as Open House gets.

Open House: Tower Hamlets Town Hall (Whitechapel)

It was Lutfur Rahman's idea to repurpose a vacated Georgian hospital into a civic centre, snaffling it off the NHS for a knockdown £9m. All the nitty gritty planning and construction got carried out under his successor John Biggs and then, after his seven year enforced removal from politics was complete, Lutfur swanned back in time to get his feet under the Mayoral desk. We didn't see his office, which apparently is in the former hospital chapel, but we did get to see the amazing transformation wrought during an efficiently brisk circuit of the building laced with plenty of inside detail.

From Whitechapel Road you'd almost not know anything had changed, bar some gold lettering announcing this as the Town Hall. That's because the retrofit retained the shell of the 1757 hospital as well as the facades of the later wings added to either side. One of these, the Grocer's Wing, is now the chief public space within the building, although I confess that as a local resident I hadn't realised it was OK to just wander in. Nor was I prepared for the size of the void beyond the sliding doors, it's absolutely massive and it continues up some steps and along the rear of the building too.

This J-shaped area is also lined with bookshelves because the architect said she was tasked with creating a library space here, despite there being an award winning 20 year-old Idea Store immediately across the street. It'd be ridiculous to close that - what were they thinking? - hence all the shelves are empty and the public space is something of a damp squib. Apparently a cafe is due to open at the far end later in the year and they're looking into alternative temporary uses, but in the meantime there's not much to do here bar attend an event, inspect the ship's badges or pass straight through to the hospital beyond.

Oh, and stare in admiration at those original 18th century walls which have been retained on all sides and now find themselves inside the new building. This edifice is a seriously striking feature, all heritage brick and geometric windows, plus an arched doorway the architects only discovered after ripping off all the NHS fascias. If you're one of the 2400 council employees assembled here you might find yourself working in the old bit or the new bit, so at the upper levels overbridges now connect the two. Tower Hamlets saved a lot of money by closing its five former council hubs, in case you're wondering how a local authority ever afforded something that looks like this.

At the focal point, where the main entranceway feeds through from the high street, a security guard keeps watch from behind an unnecessarily high desk. That entranceway used to be the hospital's reception and is now a broad passageway, pleasingly busy the architect said, enlivened by pillars painted "unexpected red". We also got taken into the Residents Hub where I might expect to end up if I were ever made unexpectedly homeless, hence the surfaces in there are particularly resilient to citizen fury. Given the need to cram in office space it's impressive how much of the ground floor remains publicly accessible.

Crucially the council chamber is accessible too, or at least its windows are, to create a deliberate feeling of permissible citizen scrutiny. Architects AHMM are particularly proud of the coffered ceiling, a waffle-shaped chunk set in situ which helped get the building shortlisted for the 2023 Concrete Society Awards, and their ribbed timber walls also impress. But the lack of fixed furniture - a deliberate decision to use moveable tables and chairs instead - gives the interior an oddly bland feel like a sixth form college classroom. Only the Chair's bench and public gallery can't be wheeled away.

The lifts, for those with passes, were deliberately positioned by the stairs to give people a simple chance to take the healthy option. Both of the main hospital staircases have been retained, one at each end of the building, with the asbestos-free flight glowing up particularly well. We were led up to the 3rd floor because that's where most of the quirky stuff is, bypassing a heck of a lot of mundane meeting rooms, seminar spaces and hotdesk warrens. Somewhere in here are the team that coordinate the bins, the department that oversees highrise development and the individual who rubberstamps the Mayor's expenses.

Two of the original 1906 operating theatres, operational right up to the last day in 2012, have been dramatically transformed. One is now a cosy breakout space with matching sofas, terrazzo flooring and an abundance of natural light (because early surgeons needed as much illumination as possible). The other has become an extraordinary meeting room whose table is overlooked by two rather scary 50s-style spotlights, plus a leftover panel on the wall which would once have been used to inspect x-rays, plus a stepped alcove decked out with John Lewis cushions in complementary shades. They've even kept the sign outside that used to be illuminated only when the laser was on, and now glows permanently yellow.

The East London Mosque isn't far down the road but it does get very busy so the council wanted an internal prayer space to efficiently support the devout. This has been fitted into the prime attic space behind the pediment, indeed immediately behind the building's clockface which additionally doubles up as a circular window. The room's multi-faith, not just for Muslims, but you do have to take your shoes off and pass a shower area for "male ablutions" before you reach the soft blue carpet.

The architect got a little round of applause at the end of our tour, in part for her enthusiastic delivery with barely a moment wasted but also I suspect for the building itself. It's much better than it ought to be, perhaps even inspirational, such that even if your job's miserable it's not the working environment that's primarily to blame. It's also almost unrecognisable from the inside, so much so that I couldn't tell you which passageway a porter once pushed me along to get a scan, nor locate the room where I once watched Bargain Hunt while waiting to be discharged. But from the outside it's so coherent I can now point out where the operating theatres used to be, and I will no longer be so reticent to go back through the main doors and gawp again.

Sorry I'm still not done, I have three more reports to bring you, but you really ought to be used to me rabbiting on about buildings every September by now, and somehow my album on Flickr now has 80 photos in it, many from Tower Hamlets Town Hall, and deep breath because we're nearly there.

 Monday, September 18, 2023

Yesterday's Open House tally was eight.
Here's a quick summary.

• The pricey building where I carried on climbing past the last public room and accidentally ended up in an attic space where a private group were celebrating something, so retreated rapidly.
• The terraced house transformed by its architect owners into a colour-supplement-friendly void, even down to the Ottolenghi cookbook, although apparently it took them five years most of which they spent lodging with the mother-in-law, and while I was putting my shoes back on their nextdoor neighbour arrived home and unlocked his door revealing bog-standard plasterboard which is the ungentrified house-share reality hereabouts.
• The landmark building where I was convinced there might be a queue so arrived early, unnecessarily because at that stage I was the entire queue, and in the end we set off late waiting for sufficient people to turn up.
• The much-loved building where everyone else was arriving for a tour and dashed through to hear a volunteer read a prepared speech, while I stayed in reception and enjoyed a one-on-one chat with the managing director.
• The bombed building where the first sign that a deluge was approaching was that a Health and Safety poster started flapping, and by the time I got outside summer had precipitously ended.
• The cosy building where one of the other people on the tour asked a question about external access, so the volunteer said "well why don't I show you?" and opened a small door and led us down a narrow staircase lit only by our smartphones, and eventually we stepped out into what used to be the car park and that answered her question, and only on the way back in did we discover that the stairs had a light switch after all.
• The boozy building where Open House signage was non-existent, but it was in fact fine to walk past the beers and Sunday roasts to a dingy space screening a powerpoint presentation where the slide changed five times slower than my reading speed, watched over by a cliquey in-crowd gossiping behind me, and I decided I might not come back to watch them perform.
• The historic building where the volunteer dragged out the tour for so long that by the time we reached the final plaque the kettle had been unplugged and the refreshment-making paraphernalia locked away in the cupboard and I'm still not sure if there were biscuits or not.

Let's do five of those in more detail (not necessarily in the above order).
(I'm saving one, and the other two I'll spare you)

Open House: The Mildmay Club (Stoke Newington) The Authentic One

London's not well-blessed with working men's clubs but sometimes a pub just won't do, what you want is a social safe space where activities and friends are more important than overpriced beer. Here on the north side of Newington Green the Mildmay Radical Club has been delivering since 1900, although it officially dropped the radical tag a while back and opposition to the Boer War is no longer committee policy. Open House is essentially an opportunity to recruit new members, yes we have four bars here let me show you. Out back is a cavernous room with nine snooker tables watched over by a four-faced clock from Woolworths, up top a large hall and their pride and joy is a sprung dancefloor in front of a glittery stage where you could still imagine Double Diamond being brought to the table in dimpled glasses. Film crews, unsurprisingly, drop in a lot when making gritty period dramas. Around 1400 men and women are currently members and they're actively looking for more, young and old alike, so if you're approximately local this might be the social breakaway your life is missing.

Open House: Hackney Empire (Hackney) The Plush One

This independent jewel has been bringing joy to East London since 1901, initially as a music hall, later a bingo hall and since the 1980s as a proper theatre. It's particularly well known for its panto but comedians, opera companies and beardymen recording podcasts can also fill the seats. Some idea of the sumptuous space within comes from the fussily over-decorated lobby, where a plaque remembers the wad of dosh Lord Sugar gave to help fund a much needed millennial upgrade. But only when you step through to the stalls or dress circle does glitzy gold and red decor really hit, not to mention the swooping scale of the auditorium. Several so-called West End theatres can't hold a candle to Hackney. For Open House we got to wander freely into unlocked boxes, scrutinise the lager selection at the bar and even walk through the private door into the wings and out onto the stage. You don't normally get the chance to stand where Charlie Chaplin, Julie Andrews, Lenny Henry and (just a couple of weeks ago) the Rolling Stones have wowed the crowds, but that's the joy of Open House for you.

Open House: Little Angel Theatre (Islington) The Puppety One

In 1961 a disused temperance hall off Upper Street was transformed into a mini theatre for mini people, specifically a marionette theatre targeted at children. The Little Angel's branched out into other types of puppetry since but is still thriving 60 years later and they still put on eight different shows a year, some here and some at the satellite space just up the road. For Open House there was a chance to walk between the raked seats and up onto the stage, past the friendly wolf on Red Ridinghood's bed and into the backstage area. The Little Angel is one of only three UK theatres equipped for dangle-stringed puppets and the only one with a double marionette bridge ("here, come up the steps and take a look"), although most puppetry these days tends to be rod-controlled. Along the side of the building is a workshop where the puppets are made, and it was a real treat at the far end to meet Lyndie who's been here bringing wood to life here since the theatre opened. She showed us her latest mid-carved figure and then whipped out a past character who suddenly sprung to life on the floor, a few deft tugs creating a personality full of grace and charm. I imagine every middle class Islington family with young children knows this theatre exists and treasures it, and the rest of us could so easily overlook it entirely.

Open House: The Hospital Chapel of St Mary & St Thomas (Ilford) The Not Actually A Hospital One

Near the top of Ilford Hill, just across the road from the station, is Redbridge's oldest surviving building. Only one of its walls actually dates back to 1145, after the Victorians got a bit too gung-ho upgrading it, but you don't find many religious buildings in outer London which were founded by Norman nuns. In this case that's nuns from Barking Abbey, a mile down the Roding, who established almhouses for 13 penniless men and threw in a chapel for good measure. One original window also survives, unceremoniously filled-in. These days a tour of the interior includes a lot of features of mysterious provenance ("we're not sure where these stained glass windows came from") ("we're not sure what these tablets are") ("we're not sure if the two stone fish are contemporary") but the two glowing saints at the west end are definitely by Edward Burne-Jones. Ian visited in 2019 and has a much fuller report, but you really want to hear the story from one of the Friends of the Hospital Chapel who can recount all of the ecclesiastical detail in situ. As well as Open House the chapel's supposedly open to visitors on the second Saturday of the month and also for communion on Thursdays, although you risk doubling the congregation if you turn up for that.

Open House: The Estorick Collection (Canonbury) The Italian One

The American writer Erik Estorick became interested in Italian modern art while on honeymoon, as you do. He bought a lot of it quite cheaply, because paintings with fascist associations weren't much in demand in the 1950s, and started hiring out his artworks to public galleries. After his death in 1993 his collection ended up at Northumberland Lodge in Canonbury with a selection spread across galleries on three floors. Normally it's £7.50 to get in but for Open House they waived it, and I'm a firm believer that every paid-for attraction will eventually let you in for free so off I went. The upper floors feature drawings, paintings and sculptures, many by Eric's favourite artists, who if you read further might now be considered to be of dubious political persuasion. I confess to walking past the drawings faster than the colourful stuff. And yes it's interesting, and yes the background detail is fascinating, and yes normally the two ground floor galleries aren't between exhibitions, and yes there's a classy little cafe, but unless you're a connoisseur I doubt you'd think you got your £7.50-worth.

Sorry it was a long day and meteorologically sometimes quite taxing, and after I got home I did what I could but I haven't managed to completely finish writing this, I need some sleep, but I will come back and add the last building honest, quite possibly in a day or two's time when nobody's reading it any more, and sorry there aren't many additions to my album on Flickr this time because I'm saving the Photoshop-heavy venues for further posts because I'm not done yet.

 Sunday, September 17, 2023

Yesterday's Open House tally was seven.
Here's a quick summary.

• The repurposed building indelibly associated with a star architect where everyone had to wear a name badge in case the over-excitable staff wanted to make conversation, but there was in fact hardly anything to see and I was out of there ripping off my sticker within minutes.
• The collection of buildings where it wasn't at all clear which spaces were open or, in one case, how to get past the entryphone up the cracking staircase, but all the inhabitants raved about the place.
• The pioneering building where you had to go on a tour but they didn't know when it might start and didn't say how long it might be, and it was in fact a substantial circuit including three trips in a lift and a chance to spot Wembley's arch while standing beside an office shredder.
• The unoccupied building where the tour group was quite serious and kept asking pertinent questions about load-bearing pillars and cubicle finishes, then sidling off to take photos of the building with flashy cameras, which I suspect the architect was thrilled by.
• The potential building with a map to follow around a not-yet building site, where one of the activities was to tell the volunteer what you thought their pictograms meant.
• The iconic building which was going to be open anyway so hitched onto Open House's coat-tails, and I have wanted to get inside for over 20 years and hey presto, achievement unlocked, even if they no longer have a bar and the view's been demolished somewhat.
• The cultural building where I ought to have hung around for the tour because it would have been fascinating, but instead I free-flowed round the main spaces, the huge benefit of which was getting multiple photos of the glorious space without any pesky human beings in.

Let's do three of those in more detail (not necessarily in the above order).
(I was going to prioritise writing about the buildings that were open again today, but alas none of them are)

Open House: Institut français du Royaume-Uni (South Kensington) The Gallic One

What Kensington needs, thought 19 year-old Marie d'Orliac in 1910, is an institute to introduce the populace to French culture. Her government agreed and the Institut français du Royaume-Uni was created, doubling up as somewhere for the French-speaking to find learning and literature in their own language. Eventually it needed premises of its own and two townhouses in Queensberry Place were duly transformed into an Art Deco palace of the arts. With appalling timing it opened in March 1939, but survived all that and today is a thriving hub where you might go to borrow a French book, see a French film or eat in a French cafe. It's also gorgeous, of which there is a bit of a hint on the latticed brick exterior but the real 'Mon dieu' is inside, most notably in the library.

It used to be the main reception room, hence the architecturally showy pinky-mauve windows. You enter up an ostentatious marble staircase with the main cinema on the left (originally a theatre) and the library along the landing to your right. It dazzles, or at least it does when the sun's shining, almost like you've entered an Islamic temple in a chateau (although French culture tends to be secular so it can't be that). A huge tapestry covers the back wall, the parquet flooring is no-expense spared and the overhead lighting looks like the Olympic rings coming together during the 2012 opening ceremony (but obviously it can't be that either). And amid all this are French-speakers selecting French library books - history by the far wall, sci-fi in a single case on the balcony - or doing their French homework in the less showy room nextdoor while papa picks out a good novel.

There's a full French flavour to this quarter of Kensington, which lies just south of the Natural History Museum, including the French embassy, a large lyceé and a separate children's bibliothèque named after Quentin Blake. The institiute also houses a proper brasserie on the ground floor where beef tartare is the signature dish, because cuisine is also one of the French arts. If you don't get to Paris enough, and particularly if French cinema floats your boat, you might consider getting your dose of culture here.

Open House: National Audit Office (Victoria) The Flighty One

The problem with the original London Airport is that it wasn't in London, it was in Croydon, so Imperial Airways built a check-in terminal beside Victoria station and whisked travellers down there by train. It was a sleek moderne terminal with direct access onto platform 19, which was also used to speed passengers to Southampton Water to board their flying boat. With appalling timing it opened in June 1939, but survived all that, and when Heathrow opened after the war BOAC switched to luxury door-to-door buses instead. What finally killed it off was the Piccadilly line extension, so the very last passenger check-in came in 1980, and after that the National Audit Office moved in instead. The interior design downfall from sophisticated elegance to civil service austerity was steep.

The NAO undertook another refresh in 2008, which included ripping out the strip lights and restoring the wood-look pillars in reception, also transforming the bay where the coaches used to park into a brightly lit canteen. But once you get beyond the security gates and the terrazzo staircase it's all hotdesks, breakout spaces, swipe-through doors and banks of grey recycling bins. Numerous posters from the golden age of air travel adorn the walls because the NAO relishes its history, but also exhortations to pre-book a desk before you arrive and scrappy notices explaining how to unclog the photocopier. Even the former boardroom on the 7th floor of the tower has been transformed into a bland workspace, as we saw on the tour, but the walnut veneer has been retained and if you look out of the windows the view spreads from Victoria Coach Station to the suburbs.

On one side there's a fantastic view down the railway tracks out of Victoria, a surprisingly broad ribbon that weaves off towards the Thames. This would have been the path of all those BOAC travellers preparing to jet off to the Empire, departing the building through a special gateway which (as we were shown in the gloomy basement) no longer exists. Further along a utility corridor (signed "Do not enter under any circumstances") is a wooden hatch through which airmail letters and packages were passed, because the world's first passenger air terminal didn't just transfer people. You never quite know where these tours are going to take you, nor how massively the building may have changed by the time you see it.

Open House: Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration - New River Head (Finsbury) The Illustrative One

The New River has been aqueducting drinking water into the city since 1613 and terminated at New River Head, a waterworks off Rosebery Avenue in Finsbury. Most of the site is now luxury gated flats, alas, but the coal-fired heritage corner has become increasingly derelict while Islington council searched for a better use for it. Meanwhile the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration had been looking for a permanent home... and hey presto, the disused Engine House and Boiler House will make an excellent set of galleries and learning studios. For Open House we were only allowed to roam the exterior (beware uneven surface), inspect some drawings inside the windmill base (caution low lighting) and enjoy Chenyue Yuan's 25m-long historical mural in the coal stores ("The stream ran gallantly into the cistrene"). They have a lot of work to do so the intended opening date is 2025, but expect this space to draw you in.

I probably won't write a paragraph 2.

Sorry it was another long day, not to mention increasingly warm, and I have to go out and do all this again today so I haven't managed to completely finish writing this, I need some sleep, but I will come back and fill in the gaps honest, just like I eventually did with last weekend's reports, you probably haven't noticed but I did finally get round to it even though hardly anyone's reading that far down the page any more, and in the meantime I've put even more photos into my album on Flickr, putting the new ones at the start for a change, so you can see some of what I haven't written about yet.

 Saturday, September 16, 2023

25% of the 13 minute journey from Whitechapel to Paddington is spent not moving.

I tweeted this on Thursday, and it currently has 616 likes.

It also has a lot of comments, a dozen of which are reproduced below.

» Glad it’s not just me that’s noticed abnormally long dwell times. Very annoying!
» The padding is incredible
» God forbid a public transport system lets people on and off at its stations
» It's amazing how much quicker it feels when the driver cuts dwell times to try to get a train back on schedule
» Elizabeth line trains spend way too long just hanging around in stations
» Is it noteworthy? Is it materially different to other lines? Folks do have to get on and off...
» I understand the long waits during rush hour but not so much at other times
» I've never felt like the time spent waiting at the station was notably long so I'm just taking this as evidence that it's very fast between stations
» Honestly it feels like an AGE is spent waiting at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street sometimes. They need to cut that down to 30 seconds or something.
» Probably wiser to start cautiously, and reduce the dwell times a bit at a time as experience/confidence grows; than start out all gung-ho, fast scheduled journey times, then find it's inoperable and have to do an immediate timetable recast. But yes, maybe a bit too cautious.
» If you were mobility impaired in some way, you’d be well pleased with those down times. One day, you might be old enough to not be able to walk as fast as now and be grateful for the doors waiting for you.
» I think the Elizabeth line is so excited about itself it just has to keep stopping to get its breath back before it can set off again.

What I didn't tweet was any context or any actual data, so let's put that right.

My journey from Whitechapel to Paddington actually took 13 minutes 15 seconds.
Here are the dwell times at each station.
Liverpool Street: 52 secs
Farringdon: 53 secs
Tottenham Court Road: 56 secs
Bond Street: 35 secs
These are much longer dwell times than you would normally expect, even given how busy central London stations can get at peak times. I did not travel at peak times, it's always like this.

And 196 seconds of not moving in a total journey of 795 seconds equates to 24.6%. That is a lot of hanging around.

Whitechapel to Paddington is five miles, so it's pretty amazing that a train can that travel that distance across central London in just 13 minutes and still spend 25% of that time stationary. But it could do the journey in 12 minutes, knocking the percentage down below 20%, if only those dwell times were a bit closer to normal.

There are reasons why they're not, the most important of which is to introduce some resilience to the central section, otherwise the slightest delay on the outer branches would totally mess the service up. Better to waste a minute of everyone's time than to risk the entire service falling over every time a train near Southall hiccups.

Also rest assured I didn't base all this on just one journey from Whitechapel to Paddington, I did it three times.
Journey 1 (13m 15s): 52s 53s 56s 35s = 196s = 25%
Journey 2 (12m 59s): 53s 59s 53s 36s = 201s = 26%
Journey 3 (13m 13s): 60s 53s 59s 43s = 215s = 27%
The journey always took about 13 minutes and the dwell time at each station was always just under a minute, except at Bond Street where it was rather shorter. 25% was probably an underestimate.

Also yes, the time spent 'not moving' includes time with the platform doors shut when nobody can get on or off. My stopwatch tells me that door-opening normally takes about 3 seconds and door-closing about 7 seconds, meaning 10 seconds of every station stop are written-off.

Also yes, I tried the journey in the opposite direction too, and Paddington to Whitechapel was considerably hang-aroundier.
Bond Street: 61 secs
Tottenham Court Road: 65 secs
Farringdon: 61 secs
Liverpool Street: 74 secs

Journey 4 (13m 22s): 61s 65s 61s 74s = 261s = 33%
Every single wait here was just over a minute - proper peeving slowness - and yet the overall journey still only took about 13 minutes.

What I should have tweeted, it turns out, is...

33% of the 13 minute journey from Paddington to Whitechapel is spent not moving.

What I haven't yet done is calculate how much of a Hammersmith & City line journey from Paddington to Whitechapel is spent not moving, but given this takes 26 minutes we probably shouldn't complain that Crossrail does it 50% quicker.

 Friday, September 15, 2023

London's Soap Streets

I've already been to Albert Square E15 and Albert Square SW8.
I would have gone to Coronation Street but the capital doesn't have one.
Today I'd like to take you to another soap street, in yet another example of me going to a road simply because it has an interesting name and then trying to find something vaguely interesting to say about it.

Come with me to the borderlands between South Ruislip and South Harrow...

Brookside Close HA2

This namesake cul-de-sac can be found beside the big roundabout on Field End Road, which is very much the dividing line round here. To the east is the London borough of Harrow and a swathe of housing built just before the war, and to the west the London borough of Hillingdon and a swathe of housing built just after. Brookside Close is on the Harrow side but younger than its surroundings, having been squeezed onto an irregular plot of residual land in the late Fifties. If anyone had planned ahead it'd be well connected to its surroundings, at least by footpath, but the wall of surrounding semis has made Brookside Close a labyrinthine dead end which nobody bar residents and delivery drivers need ever visit.

At first sight it looks like it's all going to be flats. An impenetrable three-storey buttress curves round one side of the roundabout, making it a lot more awkward for residents to nip across the road for a takeaway from Greggs or Eastcote Kebab and Burger. The oldest blocks face inwardly around a daisy-clustered lawn, part-occupied by fruit trees, shrubbery and an austere rotary drier. Most of the communal entrances have signs affixed addressing 'Residents Brookside Close Estate', seemingly printed and laminated by a community-minded jobsworth imploring action against litter, flytipping and vermin. In the Scouse soap I suspect that would have been Paul Collins, but in wider TV-land Martin from Ever Decreasing Circles.

The innermost blocks contain maisonettes with shady stairwells and balcony access. Some of their residents are houseproud enough to have created colourful floral shields out front, comprised either of sunflowers or geraniums depending on storey. Others have simply bunged a couple of chairs into their porch, or perhaps all their unwanted electrical goods, with levels of communal pride decaying the further you venture towards the extremities. The scope for long-running soap storylines pitting neighbour against neighbour ("This was an upstanding estate until you moved in") is strong.

Where Brookside Close goes marvellously off-piste is at the far end of the longest tarmac finger. This suddenly fades out to a grassy track bordering half a dozen skew bungalows, each rotated to fit this slender strip of land while still providing a sliver of garden front and back. These are the best-tended homes, individually dressed up with a low picket fence, a jungle of potted shrubs or an excess of garden centre ornaments, perhaps the whole shebang. It's very much the Harry Cross end of the close, although Edna would have done all the work.

The reason the track goes no further, and what stopped the surrounding estate encroaching in the first place, is the presence of the lowly River Roxbourne. This minor brook is just about to disappear through the Field End Screen and enter a culvert under Victoria Road, but for the last mile it's been trickling down from Rayners Lane resolutely unburied. I blogged about the Roxbourne back in January when I walked its full length, and have therefore found myself awkwardly trapped in Brookside Close before. But on this visit the ambience was very different because something of genuine consequence has happened - all the garages have been demolished.

They weren't nice garages, more short banks of car-sized lockups of the kind that would have been provided as standard for original residents. Including copious amounts of parking space was once the done thing, the default. But land is much more valuable now, which is why when Harrow council was scanning its estates for potential building sites they alighted on Brookside Close's 'surplus' garages. Two sites were targeted, one near the entrance and the other a longer strip where a pair of large parking spaces and a 'community room' could also be snaffled. Demolition started in May and both sites are now razed flat.

The plan is for four bungalows to fill the linear site, again skew to match the 60s originals, thereby increasing provision for elderly residents in the borough. The architects have added an attic space allowing visitors (or carers) to live-in, not to mention solar panels and heat pumps because the 2020s are more forward-looking than the 1960s. Meanwhile over by the central green a block of four two-bed flats is planned, plus a replacement community room with much better internal facilities. Modern regulations stipulated no new flats could be provided at ground level because of flood risk, so if the Roxbourne ever overtops only the existing residents will be inundated, but that's living in Brookside Close for you.

Some existing residents hate the idea of their estate being infilled. "My wellbeing will seriously be affected", wrote a 93 year-old anticipating her life becoming "miserable and unbearable" during construction. Others resented the parking needs of new residents, complained that the number of clothes lines was already inadequate, wanted more recycling bins instead of new homes, bemoaned the loss of vitamin D from blocking out the sun and anticipated higher heating bills, in a series of identical letters Julia Brogan might well have penned and Ron Dixon merrily signed.

If these are the objections to just nine new homes in outer suburbia, what hope is there of ever solving the housing crisis? But as Liverpool's finest soap opera once demonstrated even six brand new homes can bring chaos to a cul-de-sac, including armed sieges, incest, heroin overdoses, low level scallying and bodies under the patio. Every Brookside Close has its dramas, and Harrow's is no exception.

 Thursday, September 14, 2023

The City of London looks favourably upon planning applications for very tall buildings which come with a free viewing gallery. Get the public into the Square Mile and they'll spend money here is their very reasonable premise, even if it sometimes results in even-more-towering skyscrapers getting the green light. The latest skyterrace to open is The Lookout on the top floor of 8 Bishopsgate, an oddly-stacked office building near Leadenhall Market in the heart of the City's upthrustiest quarter.

It looks like this from underneath, like some giant's been balancing glass boxes on top of each other and not quite lined them up, hence its (not yet widely adopted) nickname of the Jenga. The main reason its profile steps back as it gets higher is to avoid spoiling a protected view of St Paul's, the same constraint which sculpted its slantier neighbour the Cheesegrater. At 204m it's currently the UK's 10th tallest building, but because it's half-surrounded by the 6th tallest and the 2nd tallest it doesn't stand out as much as it could.

The observation deck is open daily from 10.30am-ish to 5.30pm-ish, but stays open until 9pm on Mondays and Fridays allowing moodier after-dark visits. And it really is free, you just pick a half-hour slot, they send you an email with a QR code and up you go. The only problem is how incredibly booked up it's got already. When Ian Visits wrote his "this has just opened" blogpost on 25th August there was near-full availability. I foolishly left it until after the bank holiday weekend and only managed to get up yesterday. This time last week the whole of September had sold out, not to mention every weekend in October, and today the earliest available slot is in mid-November. Book soon.

Although the public entrance to the building looks potentially glamorous it merely shields a small lift lobby and the obligatory security scanner. The team I found here looked understaffed and, in the absence of any written instructions, had a lot of explaining to do (yes metal objects here, no keep your watch on). I bet they spend a lot of time telling people to go away and book. Also they're not coming up with you, merely directing you round the corner to press the button to call the lift yourself. This isn't huge so, dependent on arrivals, you may end up tightly packed or you may find yourself ascending into the sky in a small metal box entirely solo. 70 seconds of 'best don't think about it' starts here.

But whoa, when you step out onto the 50th floor only the viewing platform at the Shard provides higher public access than this. The main space is an L-shaped gallery with floor to ceiling glass windows and stunning views. Management intend to use it for receptions, yoga classes and other private bookings, hence the early closing time, and have also added four separate function rooms for all-day income generation. Rest assured a toilet is provided, should you fancy one of the highest wees of your life, although unlike at the Shard you won't be able to see out of a window while you're doing it.

Now look down. An extraordinary panorama is laid out beneath you, including the tops of buildings you might previously have thought were tall. Shakespeare Tower at the Barbican - peanuts. The Skygarden at the Walkie Talkie - plainly second best. One of the closest is Tower 42, for many years the City's highest building but only from up here is its bank-logo cross-section self-evident. It was especially amazing to look down onto construction at 1 Leadenhall, the next skyscraper to arise locally, where rooftop workers were assembling what's going to be the 34th floor as each individual panel came swinging in by crane.

The tower's location means that what you'll see most clearly is the western half of the City of London, which is generally quite lowrise, or feels like it from up here. Enjoy the geometrical burst of roads that radiates out from Bank Junction, and yes you can see over the top of the Bank of England into its central courtyard. St Paul's Cathedral is perfectly unobscured, behind which is the green sweep of the Victoria Embankment and beyond that the ribbon of the Thames disappears from view. One of the strangest-looking buildings is a long low stepped terrace which I think is the Google groundscraper at King's Cross. If you don't spend most of your visit standing by the window trying to identify stuff you're probably doing this wrong.

You don't get a 360° view, the east of London is almost entirely obscured. You can just about see Docklands out of one window and Walthamstow out of another but not the sector inbetween. But everything else is up for grabs, dependent on the weather and the angle of the sun. I went up on a day with patchy cloud so bursts of sunlight sequentially illuminated different parts of the panorama... Buckingham Palace, Crystal Palace, Wembley's arch, Harrow's hill. And OK south London was a little indistinct due to glare, but overall the glass was doing a good job of not ruining too many photos with excessive reflection.

The attendant told me they're only releasing 50 tickets for each half-hour session, and given they won't all turn up it should never get too busy to have a really good view without jostling. Some visitors I suspect are mostly here for a selfie, so depart early, and a couple of mothers spent most of their time in this unique location sat at the back merely facing each other. Joyfully at no point did anyone official point out that our time was up, and I'm not sure if that's normal but I stayed on for the best part of an hour, repeatedly going back for one last scan round the far-distant horizon.

By my calculations it'd take over 15 years to get the entire population of London up here once, so The Lookout has the potential to get ridiculously overbooked. But it is about to be outdone by the opening of an even higher viewing platform in the building nextdoor, indeed it did feel somewhat ridiculous yesterday to be so incredibly high and yet still looking up at a glass and steel pinnacle towering alongside. That neighbour is 22 Bishopsgate whose 58th floor gallery, named Horizon 22, will be opening to the public in two weeks' time. If you want to be ahead of the game then pre-booking for that starts next Wednesday, at 10am precisely, but in the meantime get yourself up this mighty beast as soon as you can because once it's on the tourist trail you'll never get in at all.

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the diamond geezer index
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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards