Thursday, November 30, 2023
The cost of travelling by train between London and Southend is changing.
It's quite a sudden change - announced three days ago and being introduced in three days time. It's being described as "a new and simplified fares and ticketing model" and is part of the upcoming rollout of contactless payment beyond the existing suburban boundary. That rollout has recently been delayed, kicked back from December to next spring, so c2c's move is somewhat premature. But as of Sunday 3rd December the fare changes are being implemented anyway and there will, as you might expect, be both winners and losers.
In today's post I'm going to focus on fares between Southend Central and Fenchurch Street to keep things simple but similar changes apply to other journeys. Also this kind of model is rolling out on other railways too, both this weekend and in the future, marking a significant shift to the way fares are structured in the London hinterland. Essentially things are being set up so passengers can tap and go, and this means setting peak and off-peak fares more in line with the way TfL operates.
A page on the c2c website explains what's going on but without giving specific details. A leaflet available at c2c stations additionally gives examples of fare changes, but deviously avoids showcasing any increases. National Rail have also introduced a summary page on their website, but you may feel your head explode as you work your way through it because their attempt at simplification necessarily isn't simple.
There are three main changes.
1) Single tickets will cost half of a Return ticket
(n.b. the official statement is "...cost around half of a Return ticket", but I'm trying to keep it simple)
Here's how that'll play out at peak times between Southend Central and Fenchurch Street.
Peak Until 2 Dec From 3 Dec
Single: £14.60 £11.30
Return: £22.60 £22.60
At present a single fare is more than half of a return fare - about two-thirds in this case. This is bad value for people who make single journeys (although they're the minority because most people obviously come back). From next week the single fare will be exactly half the return fare. This looks like common sense and also has the added benefit in the contactless world that the system doesn't need to remember whether you're coming or going - all legs cost the same.
At off-peak times tickets look like they're getting cheaper.
Off-Peak Until 2 Dec From 3 Dec
Single: £14.60 £9.60
Return: £21.60 £19.20
Again a single journey will cost exactly half of a return. And these are decent savings, one-third less for an off-peak single and 11% less for an off-peak return. But train companies aren't made of money so there's got to be a catch, and here it is...
2) Evening peak times will apply 16:00 to 19:00, Monday to Friday, from or via a London station.
At present there isn't an evening peak on c2c but as of next week bad luck, there is. Anyone catching a train out of Fenchurch Street between 4pm and 7pm will be affected (ditto West Ham, Barking, Upminster etc). This introduces the anomaly that the last train before 4pm and the first train after 7pm will suddenly get busier as people try to avoid the higher fare, something previously only seen on other lines. So that's a disappointing change.
It won't annoy commuters who travel in from Southend during the morning rush because they're already paying for a peak return. But it may annoy those whose journey into the capital avoids the morning peak because they now face financial restrictions on the return trip. In fact they'll still be saving money compared to this week, whenever they travel, but it may not feel like they are.
Returns Until 2 Dec From 3 Dec
Peak+Peak: £22.60 £11.30+£11.30 = £22.60
Peak+OffP: £22.60 £9.60+£11.30 = £20.90
OffP+Peak: £21.60 £11.30+£9.60 = £20.90
OffP+OffP: £21.60 £9.60+£9.60 = £19.20
Importantly the new evening peak only applies to journeys heading east towards Essex. Anyone heading back into London in the evening faces no such restrictions, so if you're planning a trip to the seaside you don't have to worry when to come back. This is similar to the way that TfL don't charge Oyster users peak fares in the evenings if they're travelling into zone 1, a rule now being applied more widely elsewhere.
Also importantly you don't have to use contactless, you can still buy a paper ticket. But you will have to buy the right paper ticket, so for example if you plump for an off-peak return you won't be able to leave the capital between four and seven (something which was never an issue before).
Railcard users, for example, should continue to buy paper returns rather than electronic singles. That's partly because the technology doesn't yet exist to link railcards to contactless cards, but also because many railcards set a minimum fare limit of £12. Previously all Southend to London fares exceeded £12 but now both kinds of single fall underneath so a discount won't apply.
For weekday passengers this is all sounding mostly positive so there must be another catch, and here it is.
3) There will no longer be Super Off-Peak tickets available on these routes
Super Off-Peak returns currently apply all day at weekends. They are all being scrapped, indeed this Saturday is your very last chance to buy one. And they're much cheaper, so bad luck weekend travellers because you're the ones being shafted.
Weekends Until 2 Dec From 3 Dec
Return: £16.20 £9.60+£9.60 = £19.20
That is a massive 16% fare increase overnight between Saturday and Sunday, and that's on top of any inflation-related increase to be introduced next spring. In a world where leisure travel continues to thrive, this is a nice little earner for the rail companies and will help to balance out any cheaper single and return weekday fares.
There is a way round these weekend hikes and that's to book in advance.
"Following the introduction of fare and ticketing changes on 3 December, customers can continue to access great value weekend travel – offering 40% off the standard Off-Peak Return fare – by buying Online advance tickets direct from c2c three or more days before travel."An Advance return from Southend to London will cost just £11.50 at the weekend, which is 40% lower than the usual £19.20. That is a proper bargain, and can be used on any train not just a specific booked service. But it of course relies on you knowing you intend to travel on a particular date, so an impromptu dash to the seaside will always be full price. Also you can only buy these from the c2c website, not from stations or a competitor's app.
c2c is not the only train company introducing revised fares this weekend - SWR, Chiltern and London Northwestern are also tweaking fares to a first tranche of near-London stations. Again this is premature, they're reacting to a contactless implementation date which keeps being kicked further into the future, but the fare changes are real and they're happening now.
Project Oval, as the expansion of contactless is called, is all about introducing TfL-style tap and go convenience across a much wider range of stations. For many people the ability to turn up for a train without the faff of buying a ticket in advance will be transformative. But moving to a fare model where you simply swipe and trust the system to charge the right amount is also dangerous because, as many are about to find out, you might well end up paying more.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, November 29, 2023I went to see the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum yesterday.
They were all broken, so I don't see why Greece can't have them back.
They're the wrong shape and made of the wrong material to be proper marbles, they should be small round and glassy, you could never play a game with these. Send them back!
This whole controversy thing is just a ploy by the British Museum to drum up more visitors. It worked with me anyway, I went yesterday, and their devious marketing strategy deserves to be thwarted so send them back.
The museum's got loads of these marbles, an entire roomful, and quite frankly a lot of them look the same (oh look more horsemen, ho hum another headless god), so if we kept a handful to represent the main tropes we could certainly send all the others back.
Most of the people looking at the marbles are tourists, foreign tourists, so it wouldn't matter if we sent them back, everyone could just fly to Greece rather than London and look at them there instead.
I don't know if you know the history but in 1687 war came to Athens and the Ottomans stored their gunpowder in the Parthenon, and then the Venetians fired a cannon at it and the subsequent explosion seriously damaged most of the marbles so it's entirely the Greeks' fault they're in such a mess. The rubble lay around for decades so when the British turned up in 1801 it was hardly cultural appropriation, we were almost doing them a favour. OK maybe hacking them off the ruins made the damage worse but at least Elgin didn't sell them to Napoleon, and Lord Elgin definitely asked the Sultan for permission first even though no paperwork exists, and certainly a Parliamentary committee absolved him of all blame. Essentially it's complicated but we totally have permission to own them, no court would argue otherwise, but we should probably send them back anyway as an act of faith.
It's not even a busy room, look at this photo there's hardly anybody in it. It seems Britons simply don't appreciate what they've got so they'd never notice if they were all sent back.
The West Frieze is almost entirely in Athens anyway, we've only got the majority of the North, South and East Friezes, so if Greece has some of the marbles already there's no philosophical argument against them having the lot.
Absolutely nothing in the gallery refers to our ownership of the sculptures being problematic, there's no mention at all. Apart that is from a hole labelled 'Please take a leaflet to find out more about the controversy surrounding the Parthenon sculptures', except the slot is empty, there are no leaflets, therefore there is no controversy QED so we could send them back guilt-free.
The way things are going some visitor is eventually going to vandalise them, indeed two schoolboys knocked off a centaur's leg in 1961, so the ideal way to protect them permanently would be to send them to the only country where Greek protestors wouldn't be inherently angry, i.e. back.
Most of the figures have no heads, indeed when you do see one with a head it's quite a rarity. A lot of limbs are missing too, indeed the number of limbless torsos is unnervingly high, so this is a fundamentally flawed sculptural collection and it should go back.
If you read the labels under the headless statues they say things like this one's perhaps Persephone and this one's probably Dionysus, because nobody actually knows, and what's the point of art if you don't know what it is, send them back.
Hardly any of the marbles include females, they're totally male-biased, which isn't the gender balance we should be presenting in a British museum so we should totally send them back.
The British Museum Act 1963 forbids the British Museum from disposing of its holdings, but it wouldn't be impossible to pass a new law allowing the government to flog things off, thereby permitting us to sell them back.
Rishi is determined to keep them but the opinion polls show most people wouldn't vote for him so he should instead try courting popularity by sending them back.
The worst thing about the British Museum on a weekday is the number of school parties, they're everywhere, running through the Etruscans, kneeling round the Sutton Hoo helmet, surrounding the mummies while they fill in worksheets, gulping down sandwiches in the Great Court and generally getting in the way of all the adults. How much better if there was a giant empty room on the edge of the museum where they could all go for lunch and lectures, and the best way to achieve that aim would be to empty the Parthenon Gallery and send them all back.
The curators have had to install two industrial sized heaters in the gallery to keep the marbles in tiptop condition, and how much easier it would be to relocate them to a warmer country, for example Greece.
Yesterday I queued outside the museum for ten minutes only to be told when I reached the front of the queue that I didn't need to go through the bag check because I didn't have a bag, just go straight through, and I have zero respect for an institution that still can't sort out its entrance procedures even after five years of pointless bloody queueing, and by the time I got to the front door I despised the management so much that I wanted to send their marbles back out of pure vengeance because if they can't organise a queue they don't deserve to be looking after some other country's treasures.
Greece is in the EU and the whole point of Brexit was not to give things back to the EU, so it would really piss off the Leavers if we did so let's do it.
The rest of the Greek galleries are a bit further away and the peculiar thing is they all smell of pizza. That's because the British Museum includes an actual pizzeria at the end of Minoan corridor and the odour of doughy baking leaches out into the Greek rooms. It's totally culturally inappropriate, indeed if the pizzeria has to exist it should obviously be nearer the Roman remains. The best thing would be to clear out the Parthenon Gallery and relocate the restaurant there, and we can only do that by sending the contents home.
I also walked round the whole of the rest of the museum and it's both huge and amazing, so very full of treasures. It took me hours, indeed I even stumbled upon a gallery I'd never spotted before, that's how huge it is. And because the marbles only fill one room people would hardly notice if they weren't there, there's plenty to see elsewhere, so we could definitely send them back.
The British Museum should be a repository of Britishness, the things that made Britain great. We don't need all these foreign exhibits, we could fill the place ten times over with King Henry VIII's armour, Churchill's cigar, spinning jennies, red pillar boxes, teapots, hats from Ascot, stripy beach huts, copies of the Beano and woad. Don't just send the marbles back, repatriate everything.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, November 28, 2023A Nice Walk: Almost Oxford Street (1½ miles)
Crowds throng the length of Oxford Street, especially at this time of year, in search of gifts and for a gander at the sparkly lights. But sometimes you just want to go for a nicer walk, nothing too busy, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, multiple refreshment opportunities, very close by, won't take long. So here's a quieter mile and a half following the backstreets one road back from Oxford Street, a parallel hike through a retail hinterland most shoppers never see.
The normal route from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road is along Oxford Street, but if you're walking one street back you start by following Bryanston Street. It's round the rear of the former Odeon Marble Arch if you need to get your bearings. This end of the road's not what it used to be, having recently been reformulated as an office block on one side and a luxury residential tower on the other, of the kind where a bowler-hatted footman and a concierge greet you on the way in. The first cafes are a Pret and some hipster joint serving Well-being Tea, whereas the first restaurant is a reassuringly throwback Spaghetti House so perhaps a better bet. On-street parking is permitted in specified bays at £5.80 an hour, or £8.70 if your vehicle's a diesel.
Seen here: van drivers making circumspect deliveries, banks of bins.
A lot of this walk is 'behind something', here passing behind the massive Cumberland Hotel (which regained its original name this spring after many years under the Hard Rock umbrella). Much more intriguing is the church on the left, The Annunciation, now somewhat hemmed in but keen to welcome passers-by to step inside. The interior looks nigh medieval but is really Edwardian Gothic, as befits 'High' C of E verging on the Catholic. Don't expect to get further than the caged porch unless there's a mass on. The road wiggles slightly at Old Quebec Street, now with a casino on one side and a proper Georgian terrace on the other, as yet undevoured. Two more hotels, a gym and an underground car park are a reminder that not everyone is here for the shopping.
Seen here: a traffic warden using an app to check invisible parking tickets.
Crossing Portman Street brings us to Portman Mews South, both reminders that we're on the Portman Estate, a Tudor landgrab covering 110 acres of prime real estate. This isn't the nicest end, to be honest, more of a service road, including the designated entrance to M&S Collect By Car. Your dine-in food options are either modern Indian street food or The Three Tuns, a pub whose menu is so traditional you could safely bring your provincial in-laws. Know where to look, however, and a blank door on the corner leads to a luxury club oft frequented by celebs and wannabes, just not on a wet Monday lunchtime.
Seen here: a BMW with the registration number AB 2, glum office workers tapping at double screens.
Edwards Mews really is a service road and for one of the most famous shops on the planet, which'd be Selfridges. This is the side shoppers don't see, thereby missing out on a fine Fifties mosaic on the facade, although there is a direct connection through to Beauty & Fragrance so they might accidentally stumble out this way. Delivery drivers linger in doorways while they finish a fag, whereas true Selfridges staff use escalators to pass underneath the road and have their smokes on Wigmore Street. My great grandparents were married here in 1900, amid what's now the loading bay, but alas St Thomas's was demolished on the whim of Harry Gordon Selfridge to accommodate his store's rearward expansion.
Seen here: a caravan that sells coffee and profiteroles, because that's Selfridges for you.
You can thread onwards via either Picton Place or Barrett Street. One does vegan doughnuts and truffle burgers, the other crepes, waffles and pancakes, so take your pick. This is all to access St Christopher's Place, the bijou Time-Out-friendly alleyway which mixes outdoor dining and independent boutiques. Gas-fired heaters ensure alfresco take-up even in November, although as I watched a pigeon swoop between the diners I wondered why they'd risked it. Much of the foliage is plastic and the dangling Christmas decorations don't illuminate, but if you want a designer hat or Lebanese artisan ice cream you're in the right place.
Seen here: shops where very little stock is widely spaced out, but one sale is all they need.
No suitable cut-through to Marylebone Lane exists, a road pattern I blame on the long-buried River Tyburn. This means a brief diversion to Wigmore Street is required, but only long enough to pass from a Costa to an exclusive furniture showroom. Heavens they've eviscerated this end of Marylebone Lane since I first blogged it, notably replacing the brutalist lattice of the Welbeck Street Car Park with a boutique hotel. Humble haberdashery stalwarts Button Queen have also since fled to Wales, but you can now buy a Steinway piano from a glitzy showroom so there's progress. One further block has recently been razed so steel yourself for more.
Seen here: vents beneath a hotel pumping out gale force aircon through a flowerbox.
The chief tenant at the start of Henrietta Place is CBRE, and you can tell they're commercial whizzkids rather than civil service because the centrepiece of their lift foyer is a video arch screening a waterfall. Across the street is 300 year-old St Peter's church, otherwise known as Marylebone Chapel, which has been preserved as the HQ of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Our next 'round the back of's are the former House of Fraser, currently retrofitting into a restaurant-topped office block, and the still-viable John Lewis. The cheapest place to eat hereabouts is the cafe at the Royal College of Nursing which is open to all.
Seen here: a taxi-run, a row of parked motorbikes, a Members' Entrance.
The most pleasant spot on this walk is Cavendish Square, the Georgian centrepiece of the Marylebone estate, which for the last 50 years has concealed a car park beneath its leafy lawns. No, the building on the corner isn't the actual Belgian embassy, it's a satellite occupied by the Diplomatic Representation of Flanders. We're now ever so close to Oxford Circus, but one street back is Great Castle Street which crosses Regent Street behind H&M and Nike. On one side you can eat Italian and party into the small hours, on the other side you can eat Uyghur and withdraw money from a bank not quite important enough to have a branch on the main road.
Seen here: bouncers outside a club called Swingers (but it's crazy golf, not sleaze).
Oxford Market was once the main shopping hub hereabouts, a wooden arcade roughly hexagonal in shape dispensing "flesh, fish and fowl". It was established in 1731 as local competition for Carnaby Market but didn't thrive and was replaced by flats as early as 1881, because that's not solely a modern premise. These days it's a branch of Reiss selling designer clothing topped off by a stack of Barratt homes. Around its rim are hospitality spaces with optimistic outdoor seating, including one where everything is pink, whose seats are backed by Insta-friendly fake roses and whose entire clientele appeared to be female tourists. Keep going.
Seen here: stacks of unpacked cardboard boxes destined to become homeless bedding.
Eastcastle Street is what's 'round the back of' Uniqlo, Sports Direct and Next. It's nothing special, although it does boast Eglwys Gymraeg Canol Llundain, a pert Baptist chapel built to serve a Welsh congregation comprising workers displaced to the capital. Bilingual services are held every Sunday. Elsewhere you can buy a lottery ticket, throw axes for fun and get your lips plumped, but not all at the same time. On the last street corner is one of at least three London pubs called The Blue Posts, although this one's been trying hard to lose its definite article and the 'The' survives only in gold paint on the doors.
Seen here: pigeons tucking into a discarded kebab (and leaving the lettuce).
The most modern part of this walk is through Rathbone Square, which is where the Royal Mail's West End Delivery Office once stood. Today's it's where Facebook's London offices are based (it says Meta in the window), and is watched over by a security guard outside the boxing club. Access is via two arched passageways, jade-glazed, with discreet signs warning you're on CCTV and do not climb on the gates. Other 'do nots' include dogs on the grass and misuse of the water feature, because this is the kind of joyless beauty you get when public realm is private space.
Seen here: a knobbly water fountain with bowls for thirsty souls of varying heights.
For the final leg you could meander past the Bricklayers Arms and the BFI to Tottenham Court Road, but that's two roads back from Oxford Street. One road back is Hanway Street, a narrow rundown curve that lingers in a timewarp bubble, with particular echoes of the swinging 60s. Bradley’s Spanish Bar survives, as do a handful of salons and bureaux de changes, but the famous record shops have ebbed away and it feels like only Conservation Area Status is protecting the street from full-on mixed-use reimagining. Emerging at the far end between Boots and EE is somewhat of a jolt, and that's 'one road back' complete.
Seen here: binbags, bollards, a shop that sells gear to DJs, enough to fill an entire post to be honest.
I hope I've shown how much unfamiliarity lurks close by even the most famous of streets, one most of you will have walked multiple times. If you fancy a similarly unexpected adventure, I walked one street north so how about one street south?
posted 07:00 :
Monday, November 27, 2023Yesterday Google sent me an email.
Congratulations! Your site reached 10K clicks from Google Search in the past 28 days.
Blimey, over ten thousand Googlers have arrived here in just four weeks. Apparently this is the first time that's happened, having passed the 7000 clicks threshold in May 2020, 8000 in October 2022 and 9000 in November 2022.
This is because several people still turn up at diamond geezer via search engines rather than visiting deliberately - apparently over 300 people daily. They tend to arrive on a specific page in the archive, which may or may not be relevant, and after they've read it the vast majority of them never come back. A special hello to you if you stayed.
Google's report also lists the most-visited posts and the most-searched-for queries that led people here.
(Yes, this is a post about "search queries which led people here", very much a staple of the blogosphere circa 2003, but alas not humorous search queries because privacy concerns have long since hidden those)
The Google search query which brings the most people here is "diamond geezer blog". This makes up over a third of those 10,000 clicks. I suspect most of these are people who don't have favourites, blogrolls or autocompleting URLs, but instead prefer to find this blog every morning by typing three words into Google. You could argue this is lazy or you could argue it's efficient, but hello if you're one of the 50 or so people who arrive here daily by Googling "diamond geezer blog".
In second place is "diamond geezer", plain and simple. I'm particularly chuffed to have search engine heft on this one, a longstanding phrase of Cockney slang, but that's what 22 years of relentless blogging gives you. The online jewellers diamondgeezer.com may not be quite so chuffed because without me they'd be top of the listings instead (and perhaps this contributed to them changing their brand to ComparetheDiamond.com in 2019).
In 4th and 5th place are "diamondgeezer" and "diamond geezer blogspot", which also look like people deliberately trying to surf here. But the rest of the Top 10 searched-for queries has a very London-transport-related bent...
1) diamond geezer blog
2) diamond geezer
3) london tube map 2023
5) diamond geezer blogspot
6) map 2023
7) tube map london 2023
8) top 10 longest bus routes in london
9) top 10 deepest tube stations
10) london underground map 2023
... i.e. bus routes, tube stations and most especially this year's tube map.
It turns out that my post entitled "May 2023 tube map" is currently the most-visited on this blog, the subpage where a Google search is most likely to end up. And that's ridiculous because my May 2023 tube map post is a brief throwaway delivering very little in the way of analysis or depth. "Hardly anything's changed since the last map," I wrote, "there is nothing new to moan about." And yet this combination of 200 words, a single unenlargeable image and a few weblinks attracts hundreds of searchers every month. I guess most of them leave disappointed. SEO is a strange science.
Here's the full list of my Top 10 most-visited posts:
My Solar Elevation post is a Google marvel and has been delivering a steady stream of people here since 2017. I wrote it because I couldn't find anything simple online which explained how the elevation of the sun changes throughout the year. I still think it's a good summary, and because I posted it on 1st December it's particularly relevant to the levels of gloom we'll be enduring this week. Somehow it's become the default offering when you search Google for "sun angle uk", "angle of the sun by month uk", "angle of sun in winter uk" or "sun height by month uk", and I am rather chuffed with that.
Where To Sit On A Crossrail Train is another zinger, a summary I composed soon after the line opened. It shows clearly, in both graphical and tabular form, that the best place to sit is generally at one end or the other and not in the middle. This ought never to be general knowledge else the trains would get differentially rammed, but for those who seek to get ahead of the crowds my post delivers. This post is so popular that I regularly get emails from complete strangers asking if I'm going to extend it to cover the rest of the line (and no, sorry, I'm not). But what I have done is gone back and sneaked Bond Street into the line-up, because that wasn't open when I first wrote it.
My Longest Shortest Fastest Slowest post is particularly attractive to people searching for the "top 10 longest bus routes in London", because I'm the one who's bothered to work out exactly what they are. Meanwhile my Abba Voyage post is particularly susceptible to people Googling "Abba voyage cloakroom", because fans turning up in silver lamé really want to know how much faff getting rid of their coat will be. Most of these top 10 posts are because I've done some original research (where are the capital's helipads? where are its steepest hills?) and no better summary exists.
My Google Analytics summary page also identifies search queries for which this blog is the number 1 result (or normally first, occasionally second). Here then are some of the searches I've sewn up, searches where diamond geezer is top of the list...
• top 10 longest bus routes in london
• top 10 deepest tube stations
• greater london postcode map
• elizabeth line exits
• hainault shuttle
• wealdstone brook
• dave gahan house
• free mazes in london
• big brother house bow
• larry grayson house nuneaton
How amazing to be the go-to website for Depeche Mode origins, Big Brother's dawn and a West Midlands comedian.
I've not been so fortunate with the majority of my posts, so for example my missives on Coal Drops Yard and Mortlake Crematorium have yet to excite the search engines. Google doesn't like my blog much any more, not since it decided I deliver a poor mobile experience, so it's a wonder any of my posts ever get the thumbs up. Most of the time, searchenginewise, I am totally wasting my time.
But people do still power through to some of the choice sections of my archive, which is perhaps not surprising given how much of an archive there is, indeed the answers to some pretty esoteric queries are hidden throughout. I shall keep on adding to the search.
n.b. Also, according to Google's email the day I passed the 10,000 clicks threshold was 24th November 2023, which I am particularly thrilled to see is also the day of my 10,000th post, and seriously what are the chances?
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, November 26, 2023Route SL10: Harrow - North Finchley
Length of journey: 9 miles, 50 minutes
London gained a new outer orbital bus route yesterday, a peripheral dash connecting the boroughs of Harrow, Brent and Barnet.
It's the first new Superloop service, the previous four merely being existing routes renumbered. The SL10 mostly follows the route of the 183 but stops less often, and has been introduced so the Mayor has something to point at when car drivers rage about his clean air policies. It's also been introduced in a competent manner - all the right tiles, new timetables, updated spider maps and members of staff at every stop to help ease passengers into the new routine. But don't worry, I still found plenty to tell you about when I rode the entire route, quite quickly, all the way from Harrow to North Finchley.
Loopfax: SL6-SL10 are now all up and running but none of SL1-SL5 have been introduced yet.
Loopfax: Three-sevenths of the Superloop 'loop' is now operational (SL7 → SL9 → SL10)
Loopfax: The SL10 is the only daytime bus route whose number is four characters long (several nightbuses are)
Harrow Bus Station is somewhat choked, being the terminus of at least ten different routes and pulled into by several others. The SL10 has been squeezed in at Stop E, but parks up over by the shopping centre so as not to get in the way. Eastbound travellers now have the option of a speedybus or an allstopper, and on Day One three members of staff in pink hi-vis were on hand in an attempt to cajole passengers onto the correct service. 'First stop Kenton,' they cried when a bus turned up, either gleamingly new in its branded red and white livery or not yet smothered.
Staff had hundreds of maps to hand out... but not useful ones, just a glossy promotional schematic of the entire loop. TfL must have printed a job lot because they were identical to those previously distributed in July, even down to the typo at North Woolwich. One of the staff at the bus station was delimiting the SL10 in fibre tip before he dished them out so it didn't look like all the oranges merged into each other. Particularly fortunate first day passengers were also given little shiny Superloop badges (I didn't get one here but I did pick one up later).
Leaving Harrow the buses weren't especially busy because it takes time for the travelling public to get used to a new route, so I found found myself upstairs surrounded almost entirely by empty seats. But the front seat had already been taken by a Boy Who Likes Buses, cameraphone poised, because the need to ride the full route on Day One spans the generations. When another BWLB climbed the stairs and recognised a fellow traveller their somewhat excitable conversation went like this... "SL10!" "SL10!" "Do you have a YouTube channel?" (the answer alas was "No").
Kenton in four minutes is pretty good going, ditto Kingsbury in fifteen. But it's only achieved by sailing past stops where multiple passengers are waiting to go the same way, so they still have to wait for the 183 instead. What's more the 183's frequency has just been reduced from eight buses an hour to six, so if you're not lucky enough to live near one of the express stops you'll now be waiting longer. I observed a collective sadness on the faces of the passengers at some of the bypassed stops, not to mention a few anguished waves that melted into a flounce of disappointment.
And this works both ways. A number of passengers on the SL10 expected to alight where they normally do, dinging the bell long before the driver was ever going to stop, but were then left standing by the doors and carried far out of their way. Between Kenton and Kingsbury I heard an unfulfilled ding before every single unserved stop. People will eventually learn, but at the moment the only way to tell where the bus actually stops is to check the timetables at bus stops. A simple list or map would be extremely helpful, but at present the sole physical manifestation of a stylised line diagram is on the outside of the bus facing away from boarding passengers.
The BWLB in the front seat kept filming chunks of the journey, occasionally thwarted by tedious waits at traffic lights or roundabouts. Two excitable children later filled in beside him, their Mum pleased that the family now had a quicker way to get to auntie's house in Finchley. I watched to see who was in the front seat on SL10s coming in the opposite direction and its occupants included a man taking photos, two hoodied teens, a bus company employee and a lady in a red coat wearing a Santa hat. "Too early," I thought, "too early."
The SL10's handful of stops have generally been well chosen to ensure decent overlap with other routes, so for example 'Hendon Magistrates Court' permits a swift switcheroo to or from buses down the Edgware Road. The SL10 is also extremely good at linking disjoint railway lines... Metropolitan, Bakerloo, Jubilee, Thameslink, Northern... bringing orbital connectivity to corridors normally served radially. That's why in Hendon it finally deviates from the slower 183 so that it can tick off the Underground, even if that means a marginally longer end-to-end journey.
I stopped off at Hendon station to see how things were going mid-route and was pleased to find the tiles and timetables were fully up to date. On closer inspection, however, the timings on the little strips across the top of the timetables were insane. The SL10 timings claimed that a journey from Hendon back to Kingsbury was 15 minutes and the time to Harrow Bus station was 33. The corresponding times for route 183 were however 14 and 31 minutes respectively, suggesting that the express bus is slower than the all-stopper, and which ludicrous database spewed this out?
Back aboard an eastbound bus a fresh YouTuber was in pole position and busy filming frontwards for his channel. He got ever so animated every time another Superloop vehicle went past, indeed any bus, and at one point apologised to nearby passengers for his excitability. The nadir of his commentary came when he asked his very tolerant neighbours, a local couple, whether it was their first time aboard the SL10. I realise my bus travelogues aren't everybody's cup of tea either, but at least you don't have to sit through 50 minutes of video to find out.
At Hendon Central the dreaded message "The driver has been told to wait at this stop to even out the service" was played. This seemed particularly ridiculous three stops from the end of the route, disbenefitting everyone already aboard in favour of potentially non-existent latecomers. What's more I checked on an app and the next SL10 was 12 minutes away which is precisely the timetabled interval. It's supposed to be an express, for heaven's sake, so why deliberately dawdle?
With a handful of exceptions, all the relevant bus shelters had Superloop roundels on top. At two of those stops the roundels were actually illuminated, indeed I hadn't realised they did that, with power provided via a cable draped off the roof. A recent FoI request has unearthed the cost of branding the stops and shelters along the previous four Superloop routes, which turns out to be £120,000, and I wonder how much of that is getting the signs to light up.
The leap between The Quadrant and Finchley Central is the longest on the journey at over a mile and a half and skips eight intermediate bus stops. This is excellent news for anyone intending to whizz straight through because it really speeds things up, but bad news for anyone who lives inbetween because this transport initiative is literally passing them by. A more typical number of stops to skip is three, four or five, and perhaps that would have been more appropriate here. Routes 125 and 143 mop up the unfortunates.
Passengers were even keen to board at the penultimate stop because a one-off whizz to North Finchley is worth the effort. Our bus had made good time, although looking at the Saturday traffic queueing the other way I suspect not all the SL10's passengers will be so lucky. We drew up outside the gloomy bus station, thankfully not inside it, and then our driver headed off to the stand on Woodhouse Road for a rest break.
I was intrigued to see that the shelter across the road had a Superloop roundel on top despite our bus not stopping there, and then I remembered that this is due to be the start of route SL1 and that's due to enter service imminently, indeed you might even find me back here next month. Geekbloggers and nerdvloggers assemble.
posted 08:00 :
Saturday, November 25, 2023#10005 ✅ Observations
Well that was fun..., The Star Beast, the return of David Tennant as Doctor Who in the 60th anniversary special. It did the traditional thing and plonked an alien spaceship in the middle of London, and it also did all sorts of untraditional things because the series always has, that's how it reinvents itself. It was great to have the old team back together, the chemistry was still there, and the slow release of the inevitable reunion was carried out with humour and panache. Catherine Tate always brings impeccable comic timimg, and Russell T Davies again managed to conjure up a script full of surprises, technobabble and nods to the fandom. The pronouns will have infuriated some but proved to be an essential part of the plot, and even the wheelchair saved the day partway through. The Meep was a cracking alien too, ripped from the pages of a 1980s comic and violently despatched in roughly half the running time, leaving plenty of space for essential Doctor/Donna character development. As usual the plot was resolved with an improbable reverse, because that spaceship launch really ought to have left destructive magma fissures across the capital, but it never pays to think about the logic of the situation too carefully. How great to have the show back, not to mention this classic acting/directing partnership, because Saturday nights are suddenly how they ought to be once again.
posted 20:00 :
#10004 ✅ Oddities
I spotted this sign in the Olympic Park on the approach to Stadium Island, and it's one of the most unnerving signs I've ever seen.
What the hell is wanding? Why does it need to be done to juniors? Who is the creepy character on the left? Is that a grinning CCTV camera? And why does that teddy bear look so pleased? This is our surveillance society gone mad!
Well, Junior Hammers are of course young supporters of West Ham football club, generally under 16 years of age. Wanding is a security procedure using a magnetic bat to check for undesirable items, as referenced in item 5 of the London Stadium Venue Regulations.
All customers must pass through these magnetic arches unless they have a medical reason and they must then pass through the accessible lanes and be subject to either a magnetic wand search or personal `pat down’ search.The purple sign thus appears to be a reminder to children that they too will be searched... or more likely a reminder to Dads that their little poppet is going to be checked in case they're packing a knife... or indeed just in case Dad has tried to conceal a weapon in their seven year-old's trouser pocket.
The teddy bear is called Bubbles, as in "I'm forever blowing", and he's one of West Ham's mascots. And his fellow mascot isn't a security camera he's a hammer, indeed his given name is Hammerhead, not that this makes him any less creepy. I blame the yellow eyes which, in this context, very much engender an evil CCTV vibe.
So a logical explanation exists for it all, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most unnerving signs I've ever seen.
posted 13:00 :
#10003 ✅ Analysis
How many 2p coins do you have in your pocket, your purse or even your house? It may not be many, given that cash is in retreat, plus coppers are increasingly irrelevant as inflation bites. I counted my stash and discovered I have 32. I used to have 650 more but in 2018 I bagged them up and took them to the bank, earning £13 for my trouble. What I wondered was what years my remaining 2p coins were minted in and how many years are missing.
1971 1980 1990 1991 1993 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2003 2004 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2013 2015
I have only eight absences from 1990 to 2015, but it looks like almost all of the 1970s and 1980s are missing. However it turns out no 2ps were minted in 1972, 1973 or 1974, nor 1982, 1983 or 1984, so it's not quite as bad as it looks. Also no 2ps have been minted since 2017, apart from a one-off burst in 2021, so the actual years I'm missing are...
1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1981 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1992 1994 1995 2002 2005 2012 2014 2016 2017 2021
I appear to own exactly half of the possible tup'penny collection. I fear my chances of acquiring the rest are quite low.
posted 11:00 :
#10002 ✅ Journeys
Way back in January 2020 TfL started withdrawing rolling stock from the Central line as part of an ongoing programme of refurbishment. All the motors need replacing, plus this offered the additional opportunity to add wheelchair spaces, LED lighting, CCTV and improved on-board audio-visual information. Yesterday the first of those refurbished trains finally entered public service... but only on a single journey from Hainault to Woodford and back, after which it returned to the depot. It was the busiest journey the Hainault shuttle has seen for many a year.
One of the big changes is that the announcements are now made by a man called Adrian rather than a woman called Emma. This may take some getting used to. And the most obvious change is that the seats have a brand new moquette. I quite like it.
It's very different to recent tube moquettes in which the pattern incorporates nods to famous London landmarks (for example the new Piccadilly moquette which debuted abroad last week). This one's more geometric, all circles, stripes and diamonds, presenting a very different visual feel throughout the carriage. The main colours are grey and red, while the priority seats are instead grey and blue to create a readily-identified contrast. Don't expect to see this rolling out more widely until next year, and don't expect to see the moquette in the media until the Mayor's officially sat on it. But one day we'll all be sitting on it, whatever its new name is, because refurbishing Central line trains is a lot cheaper than buying new ones.
posted 09:00 :
#10001 ✅ Places
I've always loved Footpath 47, the desolate estuarine footpath at Barking Riverside. In good news it's still there and ten thousand flats haven't yet encroached close enough to wreck it. But that day draws closer, and a couple of recent changes are a hint that local developers are starting to include it in their placemaking remit. For a start the path's been extended 200m west along the waterfront to link up with the pier, so there's now more than one way out. The new link's hemmed in and emblazoned with safety notices, not open to the river, but along the way you can peer through the mesh and see the Stockpile Garden, an eco-friendly soil restoration project being overseen by UCL's Department of Bio-Chemical Engineering. And then there's the nature trail.
Four sculptural information points have been created using reclaimed materials, each themed around a different animal. 'Bird' has been plonked on the pierhead, and if you keep walking east into the desolate bit you eventually reach Dragonfly (pictured), Seal and Snake. They're intriguing, they're informative, and a couple of them come with associated audioscapes (Mud and Marsh) linked by QR code. But it's still a bit of a jolt to find something commercially-produced amid the nothingness, as the developers of Barking Riverside make their first landgrab for the tidal periphery.
Footpath 47 has also been rebranded as the 'Wildlife & Wellbeing Trail', part of a 3 mile circuit to encourage new residents in their hutchlike stacks to go out walking or jogging. There are only two other sculptures, both on the far side of the development near the coffee shop and sales suite, specifically amid a small wetland park. That's all well and good, but to link things up they've had to direct the trail along a godforsaken pylon-infested access road and through a sanitised canyon of flats. It means the majority of the 'Wildlife & Wellbeing Trail' offers neither wildlife nor wellbeing, but needs must when there's a loop to connect and a placemaking concept to deliver.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, November 24, 2023Over at Spitalfields Life, The Gentle Author kicked off his excellent blog with the following promise...
"Over the coming days, weeks, months and years, I am going to write every day and tell you about life here in Spitalfields at the heart of London. How can I ever describe the exuberant richness and multiplicity of culture in this place to you? This is both my task and my delight.That is a ridiculously ambitious target which he's not destined to meet until 2037.
Let me disclose to you the hare-brained ambition I am pursuing, which is to write at least ten thousand stories about Spitalfields life."
And yet it can be done because I've hit that very same target with today's post.
Because This is the 10,000th post on diamond geezer.
That is one heck of a lot of posts.
Ten thousand mini-essays, ten thousand times I've pressed 'Publish', ten thousand times I've had an idea and decided to tell the world about it.
You could have done the same, the software's free, all you need is a heck of a lot of spare time and the ability to look at the world around you in a vaguely interesting way.
It helps to have an audience, thanks, and it helps to have feedback, ditto. But I suspect I'd still be producing this stuff even if I wasn't getting <checks> a million visitors a year and 10,000 comments too. Thanks again.
That said, some of my ten thousand posts haven't required a lot of effort. Some are just photos, some are barely a couple of sentences, and several of the early ones are only a few words. They've got much longer since the early days, as you'll have seen this week, but today's milestone is solely about quantity not quality.
Also in my case ten thousand posts doesn't equate to ten thousand days. If I'd only written one post per day it would've been at least 2030 before I reached today's milestone because 10,000 days is a massive 27½ years. Instead I've often doubled up, even trebled and quadrupled, so I've got there a lot quicker.
Here's how the average number of posts per week has evolved over the years.
Back at the start in 2002 I was churning out 12 posts a week, generally quite brief, the numbers topped up by lists of weblinks and themed daily series. That weekly total gradually decreased as I got used to writing longer, more substantial posts. In 2009 it dropped to 8 posts a week, i.e. typically one daily post and an extra post slipped in. And that's where it's stayed, really quite consistently, apart from a slight uplift during the pandemic when I threw in that weekly summary of Covid-related news.
That'll be why my first 5000 posts took just under ten years and my second 5000 posts took over just eleven.
And what have I been writing about for the past 10,000 posts? I don't mean what are the longest running series I've blogged, because I made a list of those last year. I mean what are the typical characteristics of a diamond geezer post? When faced with another blank online template to fill in, what tropes do I fall back on?
Here's my first attempt at a list.
• I went for a walkThese are all very geezeresque themes.
• I went on a journey
• I went sightseeing
• I went somewhere seemingly mundane
• I visited disjoint linked locations
• I spotted something unusual
• I invented a silly challenge
• I went to see something new
• I see TfL have done something
• I wouldn't have done it like that
• I disapproved of some marketing
• I considered the human condition
• I dug into some data
• I made some lists
• I scoured a map
• I made a quiz
• I looked back in my diary
• I was inspired by today's date
• I reacted to the news
• I am being sarcastic
A lot of blogs tend to be more "this is my life", "let me tell you what I've been doing" or "here is my obsession", whereas I tend to be more observational and diverse.
A lot of blog-based media tends to be "here's something we've been sent" and "here's how you could spend time and money", whereas I try to be more analytical and eclectic.
I'm not saying my way is the best way, but you wouldn't still be here if all I did was moan about events or regurgitate press releases.
I then tried to slim those 20 themes down to 10.
» Let me tell you about a placeI then tried to slim those 10 themes down to 5.
» I followed a specific route
» I'll list some observations
» I think this is interesting
» I saw a one-off thing
» I asked myself a question
» I never told you this before
» This could be done better
» They are taking the piss
» I am taking the piss
♦ PlacesI think that's roughly what diamond geezer is, and has been over the last 10,000 posts, and hopefully still will be in the future.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, November 23, 2023On Doctor Who's 60th birthday, here's a post about Doctor Who and birthdays.
During the 1980s a lot of Doctor Who episodes were shown on my birthday. One of them even scored a direct hit on my 18th birthday. I remember being mildly peeved that I'd miss the show because it clashed with a slap-up party my family had organised. The party was obviously excellent, especially the Devil's food cake with its 18 candles, but these were the days when you had to watch the show at the time or you'd never see it.
I checked back recently and was amazed to see that my birthday had coincided with a new episode of Doctor Who in four consecutive years. This seemed somewhat improbable.
9th March 1982: Earthshock [episode 2]One stone cold classic, two rock solid stories and a total dud.
9th March 1983: Enlightenment [episode 4]
9th March 1984: The Caves of Androzani [episode 2]
9th March 1985: Timelash [episode 1]
Two other episodes have debuted on my birthday (both when I was younger).
9th March 1968: The Web of Fear [episode 6]There haven't been any since, alas, but six birthday episodes seemed quite a lot.
9th March 1974: Death to the Daleks [episode 3]
And this got me wondering... Which day of the year has seen the most new Doctor Who episodes?
This is the kind of question for which Wikipedia and spreadsheets were invented.
The answer turned out to be obvious, and it wasn't my birthday. But 9th March turned out to be in the Top 5, and I'll deliver you a proper countdown at the end of today's post.
What's crucial here is the chosen day of the week for transmission, which in the mid-1980s just happened to coincide with my birthday four years running.
Tuesday 9th March 1982: Earthshock [series 19]Prior to series 19 Doctor Who had been a Saturday evening institution, but with the arrival of Peter Davison in 1982 it was suddenly shunted to Mondays and Tuesdays instead. The chosen weekdays drifted later in the week in 1983 and 1984, then reverted to good old Saturday for Colin Baker in 1985.
Wednesday 9th March 1983: Enlightenment [series 20]
Friday 9th March 1984: The Caves of Androzani [series 21]
Saturday 9th March 1985: Timelash [series 22]
Series 1-18: Saturday9th March thus managed to ride the timestream four years running, as did several other dates a whole number of weeks before and after. 10th March, by contrast, totally missed out and to this day has only debuted a single episode back in 1973.
Series 19: Monday/Tuesday
Series 20: Tuesday/Wednesday
Series 21: Thursday/Friday
Series 22 & 23: Saturday
Series 24: Monday
Series 25 & 26: Wednesday
New Who: usually Saturday
If you rely solely on Saturdays, individual dates will only see a new episode every 6 years or so. It's those weekday twiddles that have boosted certain dates above others... that and special episodes outside the normal run of events.
23rd November, for example, has delivered five new episodes - the very first, the 50th anniversary special and three standard episodes in 1968, 1987 and 1988.
Two things which make a significant difference to the ultimate tally are...
• how long each series was
• when in the year it was transmitted
Here's a summary table.
Series have got a lot shorter since the show began. In the 1960s three-quarters of all Saturdays saw the premiere of a new Doctor Who episode. In the 1970s that dropped to half, and since 1982 each series has only contained about a dozen episodes. This means that of the 871 episodes so far screened, 80% were part of the classic series and only 20% are from the new.
The timing of the series has varied greatly too. Classic series tended to debut at the start of September or just after Christmas. Since 1982 the spread of dates has shrunk - sometimes an autumn thing, sometimes winter and sometimes spring.
If you look at the table and check the columns, particularly early on, you'll see the real Who hotspot turns out to be 'Christmas to Easter'. January, February and March have therefore seen the most Doctor Who episodes, so that's where the maximum coincident dates are going to be. July and August, on the other hand, have hardly seen any.
By my calculations, 42 days of the year have never seen the debut of a new episode. You have to scroll all the way through the calendar to 15th June to find the first big zero, followed closely by 22nd and 29th June. During July and August the majority of days are episode-free, but after that only 20th and 27th December are missing. Even 29th February managed an episode during the historical story Marco Polo, way back in the first series in 1964.
It's about time I got round to answering my original question.
In second place, with seven episodes apiece, we have 1st January, 5th January and 12th January.
5th and 12th January are part of the weekly sequence which includes 9th March, because what happened on my birthday happened to them too. But they also got lucky in Jodie Whittaker's second series, elevating them both from six episodes to seven.
n.b. 19th January, 26th January and 2nd February would also be in joint 2nd place if only BBC technicians hadn't gone on strike in 1980 causing the cancellation of Shada.
1st January is a late arrival in the top tier. It had only delivered three episodes during the classic era, but has since been topped up with four New Year Specials between 2010 and 2021.
Behind all of those, with six episodes apiece, are ten different dates. All of them are in January, February or March. One of them is my birthday and here are the others marked on the calendar in yellow.
You can see a very strong weekly pattern which runs through from 5th January to 30th March.
The deviation in February is because Resurrection of the Daleks was shifted from Thursday to Wednesday in 1984 to keep out of the way of the Winter Olympics. The extra blob on 1st March is because the pattern gets nudged by a day during leap years.
For good measure, here are dates with five episodes marked in grey.
A stripe down the calendar is now plainly seen, two days wide, all the way from the start of January to the middle of March.
n.b. 22nd March and 29th March would also have appeared in grey had the 1983 series not ended two weeks early so its production slot could be given to The Five Doctors, the 20th anniversary story, which was screened in November.
Fourteen further dates later in the year have also accumulated five episodes. Eleven of these are the weekly sequence from 6th September to 15th November. One is 23rd November - anniversary day - as previously discussed. One is 25th November, or will become so on Saturday, being the date for the 20th and 60th anniversary specials. And the other is 27th May, boosted by being the day of transmission for the one-off Paul McGann movie, the only official 'episode' between 1990 and 2004.
Finally let me reveal the date with more Doctor Who episodes than any other. Way more, as it turns out. It is of course Christmas Day.
There have been 14 Christmas specials altogether, including every 25th December from 2005 to 2017. They started out under Russell T Davies as a cornerstone of festive viewing, then slowly slipped in the ratings and now New Year's Day is deemed a safer bet for a holiday episode.
The only Christmas Day episode in the original series was 'The Feast of Steven', episode 7 of The Daleks' Master Plan, which was broadcast on 25th December 1965. It was scripted as a pantomime and was supposed to be a crossover with Z Cars but didn't quite turn out that way, and it is perhaps just as well that no film of it survives.
Here's the final countdown...
Which day of the year has seen the most new Doctor Who episodes?
1st) 14 episodes: 25th DecemberHappy 60th birthday to Doctor Who, the implausibly long-running sci-fi show that's enjoyed many happy returns.
2nd) 7 episodes: 1st January, 5th January, 12th January
5th) 6 episodes: 19th January, 26th January, 2nd February, 8th February, 15th February, 23rd February, 1st March, 2nd March, 9th March, 16th March, 30th March
And if they could possibly manage to schedule a Fifteenth Doctor episode for Saturday 9th March 2024 or Sunday 9th March 2025 that would be brilliant.
posted 06:00 :
Wednesday, November 22, 2023THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Sudbury → Wembley → Tokyngton (2½ miles)
[Wembley Brook → Brent → Thames]
This one's minor enough that I'd never heard of it before squinting more closely at a map of Wembley. This may be because the brook only spends a mile on the surface and spends the rest of its miserable existence flowing through pipes. And yet in August it rose from its culvert causing "an area of around one square mile to be flooded up to a depth of approximately one metre", because you should never underestimate the power of an unlost river after heavy rain. Join me on a meandering walk from Sudbury to Stonebridge Park through the backstreets of Brent, and prepare for a rather more disappointing showing.
The Wembley Brook once started as a trickle across Vale Farm, the largest dairy farm in Sudbury. Its meadows spread northeastwards from the Harrow Road and its milk was sold from a shop on Wembley High Road. But with three railways passing close by its land was inevitably sold off for housing, and in 1932 the environs of the farmhouse were repurposed as a sports ground and an open air lido. The river's source is now surrounded by an indoor pool, a sports centre, a health centre and some playing fields, being one of the few places Brent council can build civic things without significant opposition.
Here too is the home ground of Wembley FC, underachievers of Combined Counties Premier Division North, where access to the scant stands is via the Ron Clarke Memorial Gate. The ground's called Vale Farm in honour of what it replaced, and its claim to fame is that the England team trained here during their World Cup campaign in 1966 (partly because the pitch was in excellent condition but mainly because it was dead close to Wembley Stadium). Tucked alongside is East Lane Theatre, an amateur 75-seater that hopefully looks a lot more plush inside than out. It's a hodgepodge of repurposed workshop and former tennis pavilion and was conjured up by the local amdram society in 1990. They still put on four productions a year, the next of which will of course be a Victorian thriller called Gaslight but I've told you that already.
The stream was banished underground when the fields to the south were turned into housing, and so comprehensively it won't be visible for several more paragraphs. That said there is a gentle but very obvious dip in the road along Eton Avenue, providing semi-convincing evidence of the passage of a former watercourse. All the estate's roads were named after top public schools... Eton, Repton, Rugby, Charterhouse and very sensibly not Harrow because that's just up the road. The housing is motley interwar stock, some gabled, some pebbledashed and rather a lot of it bungalows. Here black cats sit on windowsills, caravans hibernate for winter and estate agents are rarely overenthusiastic.
Following the river means cutting across the grain of the subsequent street pattern, suggesting connectivity wasn't at the top of the agenda when these avenues were built. You can tell you're getting closer to Wembley Stadium when the event day parking restrictions suddenly start at 8am instead of 10. You can tell you're getting closer to Wembley proper when the semis, flats and townhouses are abruptly replaced by narrow Victorian terraces. And you can tell you're getting closer to the West Coast Main Line because the noise of swooshing trains can't possibly be being caused by the tiny Chiltern units rattling over the bridge above.
The High Road really is high, climbing above natural ground level on a humped viaduct to cross multiple tracks at Wembley Central station. The street is often logjammed with traffic and buzzes with independent shops, most of which serve the local south Asian community. It's a mystery why KFC are advertising on the bus shelter when most of the food outlets on this stretch promote themselves as 'pure vegetarian'. Dosa Express, for example, attracts two queues of pancake-seekers spreading back onto the street, and offers punters a long row of help-yourself sauce bottles containing nothing as dull as ketchup and mayo. Wembley's flinty parish church is close by, so it makes sense that a stream once forded the road here even if we still haven't caught sight of it yet.
The Wembley Brook ran behind Ranelagh Road along what's now a feverish service road catering to jewellers, restaurants and sweet shops. It passed close by St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, which 25 years ago morphed into Wembley Central Mosque and has since been repeatedly extended. It then crossed the main road to emerge from hiding round the back of Ealing Road Library, which is one of the half dozen Brent council hasn't closed yet. It's since been screened by houses on Park Road and Lyon Park Avenue, but an alleyway between the two eventually intervenes and here the brook emerges from a moss-topped pipe into a concrete culvert beside an electricity substation. If you look behind the pile of discarded cider cans and energy drink bottles, there it finally is.
Now steel yourself for a crossing of one of London's edgiest railway footbridges. This launches forth beside the gate to the allotments, a graffitied climb up a zigzag of uncaged wooden steps. After the first flight it crosses the Bakerloo line but that's just the hors d'oeuvres, the main span is much higher and is needed to cross the West Coast Main Line which at this point is a staggering 15 tracks wide. Only a few of these are for speeding Pendolinos, the majority are for freight and for empty stock shuttling into Wembley Depot or its multiple sidings. Bakerloo line trains are stabled in the marginally smaller Stonebridge Depot alongside, and essentially what you're looking down on is a massive railway prairie, its northern boundary defined by a runt of a river.
At the foot of the precipitious staircase on the northern side a brief flat footbridge intrudes, and here the Wembley Brook can be seen for only the second time. Peculiarly it appears to dive under the footbridge as a trickle but emerges on the other side as a rush. This headscratching optical illusion is explained by the main flow arriving in a perpendicular pipe halfway underneath - what you saw initially was merely an insignificant tributary. What follows is as close as today's walk gets to a riverside promenade, except the path is rigorously fenced between playing fields and a tube depot and the brook is shielded in a deep concrete culvert, so the overall ambience is somewhat oppressive.
We've just one street to go, but that street is Tokyngton Avenue and the first house is number 328 so a fair distance remains. The brook runs behind the gardens of the houses on the 'evens' side, so you still won't be seeing it, but residents occasionally do because that's where the flooding happened back in the summer. This road is more recognisably Metroland, although at present disfigured by Cadent gas works which have necessitated digging over 50 coned-off holes in the pavement. Adjacent avenues are named after West Hertfordshire villages, and also an unlikely couple called Sylvia and Derek.
At the far end of Tokyngton Avenue is Stonebridge Park station, and also the point where the Wembley Brook flows into the River Brent. The last thing it does is pass underneath a demolition site which is about to erupt as a 24 storey building, and whose construction works are thought to have contributed to August's inundation. The confluence alas is underground, and has been ever since the North Circular carved through because roads take precedence over rivers. But if you walk back to the bus turning circle and look through the wire fence the last gasp of the Wembley Brook is plainly seen, a splash of water tumbling over a weir into a deeper concrete groove.
For river-spotters it turns out the previous 2½ miles were a complete waste of time because the best bit was just outside the final tube station all along.
...or read more in my monthly archives
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