diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 31, 2023

The last day of the year is an excellent time to tot up what you've been doing all year... assuming you've been counting, which obviously I have. Cue my Counts of 2023.

(If you don't count these kinds of thing, look at all the fun you're missing out on)

My most important count this year, it turns out, is the number of London stations I've been to. And by 'been to' I mean entering or exiting the station, not just passing through.
stations in zones 1-3: all
stations in zones 4-6: three
There are approximately 350 stations in zones 1-3 and I've been to all of them.
There are approximately 240 stations in zones 4-6 and I've been to three of them.
This is because I have a z1-3 Travelcard and I am a cheapskate.

Two of the three outer London stations I went to were at Heathrow because travelling between these costs nothing. The other was Colindale, which I was trying not to use but I was out with BestMate and it was pouring with rain and such is social pressure. All three of these were visited in a single week in March and I haven't toyed with zones 4-6 since. Ludicrous, I know.

Another thing I've been counting this year is the number of times I visited each London borough.

• Technically I counted the number of days I visited each borough.
• If I set foot in a borough on a particular day, that counted as 1.
• Standing on a station platform or riding through on a bus didn't count.

Here's the annual spread of my 2023 travels.


And yes, these are extraordinary totals.

During the past year I have been to every London borough over thirty times, which is both ridiculous and extreme. I've even been to Bexley, Sutton and Hillingdon, on average, once every twelve days. I confess this is no accident, it required a deliberate roaming focus, aided and abetted by knowing exactly where all the borough boundaries actually are. If you're not ticking off six different boroughs every day, on average, you're never going to get anywhere near my totals. I'm willing to bet that nobody else in London has made over thirty visits to every London borough in 2023.

You can tell I live in Tower Hamlets because that scored a near-maximum total of 357 days. Newham came a very strong second, mainly because I live less than 200m from the boundary. Central London boroughs are next, with the City marginally ahead of Westminster marginally ahead of Camden. The numbers generally drop off towards the outer suburbs, but note Ealing's elevated total which is essentially because it's now so easy to get there on Crossrail.

And the truly extraordinary thing, as you may have twigged, is that I achieved all of this without venturing by train into zones 4, 5 and 6. Instead I hopped aboard multiple buses, plus the odd tram, because these are included for free with a z1-3 Travelcard. Admittedly things took a lot longer by bus but that's fine if you have the time, plus I got to enjoy the sights along the way. My greatest challenges were the ten London boroughs which lie outside zones 1-3, i.e. the nine lightest-coloured squares on the map (plus Redbridge), but yay I still managed to reach each of these more than 30 times.

I will not be attempting to beat this in 2024.

As for number of visits to counties outside London, this year's tally is poorer than it might first appear.
Eighteen times: Essex, Surrey
Sixteen times: Herts, Norfolk
Eight times: Kent
Six times: Bucks
Three times: Berks, East Sussex
Once: Glos, Northants, Notts, Oxon, Suffolk, West Midlands, West Sussex
Never: everywhere else
A lot of the visits to the Home Counties were just minor boundary incursions. Norfolk does well because I have family there. I only visited counties other than those on eight occasions, which is pitiful. This is why the 'Beyond London' list in yesterday's index was rather short, and I need to do better than this next year.
Furthest north: Hucknall  (53.0°N)
Furthest west: Gloucester  (2.3°W)
Furthest south: Beachy Head  (50.7°S)
Furthest east: Norwich  (1.4°E)
These are very similar compass point extremities to last year, latitude- and longitude-wise. But have you seen the cost of rail tickets these days, not to mention how unreliable long-distance trains can be?

Let's check up on how else I've been travelling, starting with the average number of steps taken and miles walked each day.

2019132506 miles
2020164007 miles
20212270010 miles
2022161007 miles
2023146006½ miles

My perambulations peaked during the pandemic, with an amazing average of 10 miles a day in 2021. I'm now down to a more reasonable 6½ miles a day, or almost 15000 steps daily, which I'm pleased to see is still better than I was doing before lockdown. I do however weigh about four pounds more at the end of 2023 than I did at the start, which is about 1½kg, so I'd better go easy on the Creme Eggs this spring.

Next let's check up on how many London bus routes I've ridden.
Buses: all of them
I've again ridden on every single TfL bus route this year (schoolbuses and mobility route excepted). It may only have been a few stops but hell yes, that's every single route from 1 to W19. I'd actually achieved this accolade by the end of March, and since then all I've had to do is nip out and ride any new routes (all of which have been Superloop related).

I've also checked which bus routes I rode most often (because if TfL insist on sending me a weekly spreadsheet I am darned well going to make use of it).
31 times: 108
19 times: 66, 132, 425, 487
17 times: 93, 607/SL8
16 times: 287
15 times: 173, 265
The 108 wins easily because a) it stops at Bus Stop M, and b) it goes to some unique places. The other Bus Stop M-er is the 425, which I like to catch in preference to the 25 because it's always emptier. The other buses in this list are key radial links in outer London, and are precisely the buses you would over-use if you had a z1-3 Travelcard and were determined not to ride any trains.

For the avoidance of doubt, yes I went to every tram stop this year and no, I did not ride the Dangleway.

Please allow me to slip in my usual analysis of Archers episodes. These are the characters to have made the most appearances in Ambridge this year.
1) Helen (100 episodes)
2) Stella (59)
3) Brian (57)
4) Susan (55)
5) Alice (54)
50-something episodes: Adam, George
40-something episodes: Tom, Emma, Lee, Pat, Pip, Ruth, Tony, Tracy
30-something episodes: Lynda, Lillian, David, Jim, Eddie, Justin, Jazzer, Brad, Ian, Oliver, Freddie, Kirsty
Helen is way out in front thanks to the resuscitation of the Rob Titchener storyline (and his subsequent demise). Stella looks set to be in Ambridge for the long-term. Alice is spending her third consecutive year in the top 5, and Susan her third in the top 10. Notable non-speakers this year include Phoebe, Johnny (again), Robert (RIP) and Vince's daughters.

Here's this year's pet project - how many London postcode districts did I go to?
postcode districts: all 249 of them
I still reckon nobody else has ever done this, either in a single year or across a lifetime, because some of the locations were so damned remote.

Other things I've been counting this year include...
Number of photos taken: 19,000   (↑400 on 2022)
Number of photos uploaded to Flickr: 715   (↑25)
Number of visitors to the blog: 970,000   (↓34000)
Number of comments on the blog: 10,300   (↓400)
The decrease in visitors to the blog is entirely due to a Reddit thread about the History Trees in the Olympic Park, because it happened last year and wasn't repeated this. The decrease in comments is approximately one a day (i.e. the equivalent of one absent sycophant). It's still an amazing total, thanks.

If you've been counting something interesting this year do share it with the rest of us. And if not then do consider starting to count something in 2024 because I'm likely to ask you again next year.

n.b. Proper counts only, thanks. If your count is zero or one then you're not a proper counter, more a raconteur.

 Saturday, December 30, 2023

dg 2023 index

Beyond London
Nottingham: Not just Robin Hood and cricket, but also caves, Boots and a complete traverse of the tram network [photos]
West Midlands Metro: Another day of faffing about on the trams, especially the latest extensions
Cheltenham and Gloucester: Spas, racing and GCHQ versus cloisters, docks and the Severn [photos]
Banbury: Cock horses, frozen canals and spicy cakes [photos]
Lavenham: A country walk to Suffolk's chocolate box Tudor village [photos]
Wivenhoe: Creeky shenanigans up an Essex estuary (including a ferry ride) [photos]
South Woodham Ferrers: Essex's creeky New Country Town [photos]
The Gibberd Garden: Harlow's architect's delightful home and hideaway
Beachy Head: My biennial chalk workout via the Seven Sisters [photos]
...and also: Croxley Green, Windsor Great Park, county towns, piers, Rochester Bridge, Chess Valley Walk, The Cuckoo Trail, South Ockendon, Devil's Dyke, Clandon Park, Hatchlands Park

Major series
Peripheral Postcodes: UB11, RM4, TW15, TW19, EN6, EN8, EN9, EN7, WD6, WD23, KT17, KT18, KT19, KT22, WD3, IG9, RM15, SM7, CR3, CR6, CM13, CM14, roundup 1, TW16, roundup 2, KT10, RM19, SL0, SL3, WD19
A Nice Walk: Crossness, West Heath, Rotherhithe, Paddington Arm, North Bank, Wimbledon Common, Chingford, Fæsten Dic, Old Oak Common to Euston, Putney Sculpture Trail, almost Oxford Street

E3: Dream Bean, next trains at Bow Road, 20mph speed limit, parking, Pulp - Mile End, fish and chips, along Bow Road
E15/E20: misplaced Street Hub, Newham Heritage Month; QEOP+10, after dark
Tower Hamlets: The Gilbert and George Centre, Museum of London Docklands, Tower Hamlets Road, Young V&A, Tower of London

Wider London
London: Thames bridges, apostrophes, mispronounced, London something, inner/outer, 100 things I've done, football training grounds, Eurovision, Mayoral candidates, everybody's been, nobody's been, Open House, county triple points, London in 1, Big Brother houses, Thames Water
London superlatives: faffiest museum, densest grid square, closest beach, close to the centre, largest clockfaces, highest lettered house, first and last Post Offices
Central: Hunterian Museum, severed pedway, National Portrait Gallery, St Barts, Freddie Mercury, gun salute, The Lookout, Horizon 22, Turbine Hall, St Paul's Cathedral, two marches, around London Zoo, Elgin Marbles
East: Sutton House, Hackney Walk, Silvertown Shuttle, Barking & Dagenham, Whalebones
North: the Totteridge yew, Bush Hill Gardens, Betstyle Circus, Enfield Museum, Thornhill Square
Northwest: Gladstone Park, Pinner Fair, Brookside Close, Wealdstone and Whetstone, Stephens House
West: Chiswick footbridge, the Apprentice cafes, Boat Race, Heathrow Biodiversity Site, Fulham Palace, Uxbridge by-election, Acton central, Kingshill Bakery, Boston Manor House, Set To Stun, Thames flooding
Southwest: the triple points of Sutton, Richmond bridges, The Way, Hampton Court, Merton's new logo
South: Waddon Ponds, Croydon - borough of culture, Lambeth extremes, Burgess Park bridge
Southeast: SE23, Famous People of Sidcup, the Spock plaque, the Knoll, Pleasaunces, Bexleyheath-ish, Chalk Wood
Rivers: The Roxbourne, 'the Quaggy', The Ravensbourne, Wyncham Stream, Wembley Brook
Geology: Muswell Hill, Elephant & Castle, Charlton, Blackheath, Pinner, Lesnes Abbey Woods, Happy Valley, Riddlesdown

TfL: Twitter, safety campaign, 'brighter'
Anorak corner: tube, bus, rail
Tube: Tube 160, Jubilee gaps, Central gaps, how underground is it, inside the Circle line, poppies, Victoria vents
Tube stations: the first seven, consecutive words, Grange Hill, Bank, Gloucester Road, furthest from a non-tube station, rebuilding Stratford, highest stations, one stop each
Tube map: cumulative additions, May 2023, snowflakes, TOX23 map
Tube fares: fares 2023, One Day Travelcards, platform tickets
Overground: ticket offices, Lincoln Road level crossing, renaming the lines
Crossrail: purple signs, joining up, joined up, excessive dwell time
Rail: hourly or less, closing ticket offices, closest stations, revised fares, Brent Cross West, prospective stations
Bus: busiest bus stop, least Londony bus, diamond stickers, weekly roundup, two decades of changes
Superloop: launch, routes, 607, Superloop Nomenclature Committee, SL8, on the tube map, SL6, SL10, SL1, furthest from
Bus routes: 23, 271, 497, 58, 275, 11, 16, 507, 521, 549, X68, X26, X140, 728, 1-9, 318, 168, 339
Dangleway: Dangleway Week
Tram: 23rd birthday
Streets: A2023, Purley Way, Black Boy Lane, flyovers, up the A1, lowest A road by borough, Alpha and Omega, ULEZ winners and losers, Christmas streets

Quizzes: carbohydrates, Cabinet, East Sussex, seaside, organs, first and last, borough words
Time and space: the brightest hour, 31sts, over 30°C
Maps & geography: natural hazards, Historic County Flag Day, postcode areas
the Coronation: preparations, four Kings, three streets, the big day, clocktowers
The blog: drafts, searches, 10000th post
Unblogged: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

And... the day before you came, myGeezer, The Count, 100 incontrovertible opinions, hide and seek, crisp packet colours, grumpytutters, Dr Who 60

» My ten favourite photos of the year

 Friday, December 29, 2023

the dg weather review of the year

I used to do this with big colourful monthly tables but that's too much effort for too little reward so here's a breezier summary. All data is for Hampstead, as per usual.

Janmild then coldaveragedull
Febmildexceptionally dry
Maraveragerelentlessly wetvery dull
Mayaveragevery dry
Jun2-week heatwavemostly drynice and sunny
Sepvery warm startone wet weeka sunny start
Decmild after cold startwetextremely dull

Also no snow, for the first time since 2014.
Not the most extreme of years, but still warmer than you'd expect.

On bus shelters across London TfL are keenly advertising the Superloop. The poster shows a bus, a rainbow burst of pastel colours and the legend The Superloop Is Coming. The given date is Spring 2024 and it's described as a commitment by the Mayor to improve public transport in outer London. Fair enough.

It's just that these posters are appearing willy-nilly across the capital regardless of whether or not the Superloop is coming anywhere nearby. I've seen them all over. I've seen them on shelters in Finchley, which was fine, but also in Alperton, Wandsworth, Enfield and Orpington, none of which are especially close to a Superloop route. The most ridiculous location I've seen one is in this bus shelter on the outskirts of Hornchurch.

Hornchurch is in Havering, which is infamously the only London borough the Superloop's going nowhere near. "All this bloody ULEZ," say its vehicle-owning residents, "and you can't even give us one of your express buses." This particular poster is located over five miles from the nearest Superloop bus stop, and that'll be in Thamesmead which is on entirely the wrong side of the Thames. The nearest practical Superloop stop will be at Barking station, six miles distant, requiring a ride on two slowcoach buses (or the District line). Whoever chose to put this poster on a Hornchurch bus stop had no common sense, nor any political nous.

So I wondered where in London will be the furthest from any Superloop route. For this I needed a map, only of course there isn't a proper Superloop map, only a crappy circular diagram of minimal practical use. So I had to make my own.

This is only approximate but you get the idea. The actual loop of seven consecutive bus routes is the red line, which as you can see isn't quite a loop. The other three routes, which have been branded Superloop despite being radial, are in a less prominent orange colour. Of this trio only one is properly super, the SL8 out to Uxbridge, while the SL6 to Croydon is one-way/peak hours/weekdays only and the SL4 can't start its questionable stubby trek until the Silvertown Tunnel is open.

If you only consider the red circuit, the furthest spot from the Superloop loop is somewhere around Vauxhall bus station - eight miles distant.
If you add in the SL8 as being genuinely useful, the central cold spot shifts east to the Tower of London - six miles from the Superloop.
And if you consider all ten routes... hang on, we're going to need a better map.

So I've made a better map (using Google Maps) and my Superloop map is here. It shows all ten routes in different colours, though not the individual stops because I only cobbled it together in half an hour. It won't be 100% correct because I might have followed the wrong roads in some places, plus some of the roads are different in different directions, plus some of the routes vary according to traffic conditions. But it is quite possibly the best map of the Superloop network you'll yet have seen, highlighting how astonishingly blasé and lazy TfL are about producing useful bus maps.

In inner London, north of the river, the point furthest from the Superloop is near Archway station (3 miles)
In inner London, south of the river, the point furthest from the Superloop is near Southfields station (4 miles)

In north London the suburb furthest from the Superloop is Bullsmoor, just south of Waltham Cross (5 miles)
In west London the suburb furthest from the Superloop is Northwood, near Mount Vernon Hospital (5 miles)
In south London the suburb furthest from the Superloop is Biggin Hill (6 miles)
In east London the suburb furthest from the Superloop is Upminster (7½ miles) or maybe Cranham (8½ miles)

Technically the furthest bus stop from the Superloop is in the easternmost village of North Ockendon, a full nine miles from the Superloop at Barking station. But that stop doesn't have a bus shelter, so at least The Thoughtless Team That Assigns TfL Posters can't paste a pointless Superloop advert there. As the Superloop hype escalates in 2024, remember that some parts of the capital really are a very long way away, indeed far from Super.

 Thursday, December 28, 2023

28 unblogged things I did in December

Fri 1: My monthly electricity bill arrived and it was an estimate, except that after several months of them assuming I'd used 40 kWh they'd suddenly decided I'd used 192 kWh. The bloke on the helpline couldn't explain the massive hike ("no, I don't have electric central heating"), but when I gave him an actual reading he cut the bill in half.
Sat 2: Blimey it's cold outside, that raw arctic cold which chills your hands to the bone, and so early in the winter too.
Sun 3: Way out in borderline Harrow, far from any infestation of chain coffee, the Eat Well Cafe was packed with pensioners enjoying a Sunday morning fry-up, and the wafting smell of bacon was divine.
Mon 4: On my trips to the library I thought I'd start making an alphabetical selection of acclaimed authors I've never read before. Last month I picked Margaret Attwood and this time I picked Iain Banks. She's winning so far. Next time I get to pick a C (and it won't be Catherine Cookson).
Tue 5: While I was in Hanwell I went round the Millennium Maze because I'd never found it empty of people before. It's a satisfying challenge without being overly difficult - three minutes to the tower in the middle and three minutes back out again.

Wed 6: The escalators at Hyde Park Corner station have been given a full-on advertising makeover - Pepsi this, Pepsi that, Pepsi everything - to catch the Winter Wonderland crowds, and I find it hard to believe any family has changed its fizzy habits as a result.
Thu 7: Ten silver Rolls Royces sporting Irish flags, along with numerous other mourners vehicles', descended on Bow Road for a showy funeral and parked two abreast. The local traffic wardens were having an absolute field day.
Fri 8: The new number 1 is Last Christmas by Wham, just ahead of that ubiquitous song by Mariah Carey. Three quarters of the Top 40 is Christmas records! But this is for the period 1st-7th December so either people have gone mad, no decent new music exists or the chart ranking system is intrinsically broken.
Sat 9: Loved the last of the three Doctor Who specials which ticked all sorts of throwback boxes, peeved the blinkered sticklers and then spun wildly into a completely new future... in its pants.
Sun 10: Today I've been on Twitter for 17 years, which means if they ever introduce age verification I logically shouldn't need it. I did not appreciate getting a notification saying "Do you remember when you joined X?" because that brand abomination isn't yet six months old.
Mon 11: You don't expect to suddenly bump into a vlogger and a blogger in a zone 4 park, but we duly interrupted our schedules to put the world to rights in the local cafe, and only on the way out did I worry that the bloke with a laptop on the adjacent table was smiling too much.
Tue 12: If you collect tube maps, it turns out the new one (with Brent Cross West) comes in two different versions - one with a TfL Go app ad on the back and one with a Santander bikes ad on the back.

Wed 13: The newsagent at Canary Wharf expressed genuine surprise when I offered to pay for my Christmas Double Issue Radio Times in cash. It's gone up 25p to £5.50 this year.
Thu 14: I went drinking in north London for five hours and only hiccuped twice. If I were rating the four pubs I'd put the food-botherers at the bottom, the top hat and whiskers clientele at the top, and the horns and the bookshelves in the middle.
Fri 15: Today the Mayor revealed the new Central line moquette and announced its name - Tuppeny - and I just wanted to point out that I told you this three weeks ago.
Sat 16: I've become absorbed by a Wordle variant called Victordle which is essentially a battle against a player somewhere else in the world. I'm significantly better at the Duel option where you race against your opponent than the turn-by-turn version where I'm only winning half my games.
Sun 17: Uh oh, that's the first time I've ever seen parakeets from my window, and I fear it won't be the last. I heard them before I saw them.

Mon 18: Normally I walk through Nunhead Cemetery but on this occasion I followed Brockley Footpath, a long securely-fenced alley up the side of allotments and a reservoir. Blimey it goes on a bit, over five minutes with no exit routes, and it felt oddly oppressive for zone 2.
Tue 19: I am rubbish at wrapping Christmas presents, although admittedly circular tins of official Coronation shortbread are a tough shape to get right.
Wed 20: I used to get three months-worth of tablets in one prescription, but at a check-up in 2017 a doctor I'd never seen before suddenly said "oh we should only be giving you two". I've been stumping up six times a year rather than four ever since. Now suddenly, without seeing anybody, the allocation is back up to three months again. Hurrah, I reckon that should save me £30.
Thu 21: Counting my Christmas card tally it looks like I've received one for each two I sent out (although knowing the Royal Mail it'd be reasonable to expect late deliveries). Several senders report a less healthy year than last year.
Fri 22: The iconic Army & Navy Stores in Manor Park, purveyors of hi-vis and donkey jackets to the masses, closed down exactly three months ago. It has already reopened as the SS Superstore, a ubiquitous groceries/off licence/tobacco dispensary, and that's a little more diversity quashed.

Sat 23: Chatting in the hallway, the insider Big Brother gossip is that the new production team don't sufficiently respect the previous non-ITV series.
Sun 24: I've finished yesterday's special prize crossword. The high jinks left me in good spirits.
Mon 25: Ten two-word Christmas TV reviews: The King: blandly formulaic. Strictly: oh, them. Doctor Who: jolly soap. Masked Singer: for fastforwarding. Pottery Throw Down: pointless celebbing. Ghosts: fitting finale. The Piano: empty filler. The 1% Club: nicely constructed. EastEnders: convoluted rug-pull. Caroline Aherne documentary: tragic comedy.
Tue 26: I beat my nephew at Monopoly, and admittedly it was a special variant of Monopoly which had been heavily discounted in the run-up to Christmas, and admittedly it was mainly thanks to lucky dice throws, but this never normally happens and hurrah, nobody asked for a second game.
Wed 27: Worse than a rail replacement bus - a rail replacement bus overflowing with post-Christmas luggage which ends up stuck in a slow-moving queue of traffic halfway round a rainswept bypass so misses the over-generous connection at the destination station.
Thu 28: On Christmas Eve Fred pointed out that London does in fact have a Bethlehem Close, so today I went out to Perivale during a cloudburst and paced the joint. I have therefore removed dull old Bethlehem House from my 24th December post and replaced it with three considerably more interesting paragraphs.

 Wednesday, December 27, 2023

I wish it could be Christmas Eve every day

Shopping would always be madness.
No more Countdown on C4, just endless reruns of The Snowman.
You'd forever be wrapping presents but not opening them.
You'd soon run out of sellotape.
Christmas jumpers would no longer be a novelty.
It'd always be early closing day.
You'd leave a mince pie out for Santa but he'd never come.
Midnight Mass would suddenly end at midnight.

I wish it could be Christmas every day

Wham would be at number 1 forever.
Cases of alcoholism would soar.
You'd never have to go back to the office.
Sunset would always be before 4pm.
You'd soon discover 4000 calories a day is not a sustainable lifestyle.
Politics would cease.
Vernon Kay would never have to pretend Ten To The Top was fun - instead it'd always be Anneka Rice playing Puff The Magic Dragon.
A dog is just for Christmas.
You'd be permanently stuffed and drunk.
I'd spend my life in Norfolk.
There'd always be giblets.
The King's Speech would get increasingly poor viewing figures.
No football, no Eurovision.
A significant proportion of UK housing stock would be permanently empty.
That bottle of sherry'd eventually get finished.
There'd be no trains, ever, so car drivers would rule the roost.
You'd never be able to get your hair cut.
Pigs in blankets would stop being a special treat.
At some point, eventually, it would be a white Christmas.
All supermarkets would be permanently closed, which would make subsequent Christmas dinners very hard to source.
Hang on, if the shops are shut and the Royal Mail and couriers are all off work how does anyone get any presents?
Russell T Davies would have to write a heck of a lot of new Doctor Who episodes.
Your local surgery's always closed so you'll likely die sooner.
The newspaper industry would fold.
Eventually we'd all be Capricorns.
This blog would be all photos.

I wish it could be Boxing Day every day

Mince pies would always be half price.
The only TV adverts would be for holidays and sales.
You'd never have Christmas to look forward to.
Your life would be mostly inert.
Life with the parents/in-laws/relatives would soon grate.
Nobody'd ever see you in swimwear so you need never go to the gym.
You'd end up throwing away the Monopoly set so it could never be played again.
There still wouldn't be any trains, ever, so car drivers (and Londoners) would rule the roost.
Local news would be mostly shopping and fox hunting-related.
I'd spend a third of my life on my brother's camp bed.

I wish it could be December 27th every day

You could spend every day on your sofa in your onesie watching boxsets.
Tubs of Celebrations would only contain Bountys.
A lifetime of eating leftover turkey.
Creme Eggs would always be in season.
An eternity of rail replacement buses.

 Tuesday, December 26, 2023

 Monday, December 25, 2023

 Sunday, December 24, 2023

To conclude this year's selection of festive streets, here are both ends of the donkey's journey.

Nazareth Gardens SE15

Sometimes I research an interestingly-named street in advance but sometimes I just turn up, and in this case I did the latter. According to my London A-Z no other thoroughfare is named after Mary and Joseph's hometown so I simply located it, planned a route there and blundered in. It's in Peckham, not far from Peckham Rye station, and is tucked into the V-shaped notch where the two eastbound railway tracks diverge. Hop aboard a train heading towards Nunhead and you can see it out of the window, and perhaps you can already identify something institutional about Nazareth Gardens. I realised none of this when I turned up.

The only access is from Gordon Road, because we have yet another cul-de-sac on our hands here. The site looks fairly incongruous from the front, dominated by a substantial block of potential council housing, though with a larger than necessary arched entrance in the centre. Nazareth Gardens wends round the right hand side past wheelie bins, private parking notices, communal doors with buzzers and a tabby cat sitting defensively in front of an empty cardboard carton. I cannot guarantee that the cat will be there if you visit, nor indeed the carton. Appropriately some wag has scribbled 'Jesus of' on the street sign.

Round the corner is a large space given over to parking surrounded by old flats and two terraces of postwar townhouses. If you've ever wanted to live above your garage in the shadow of a tall railway viaduct, the latter are for you. But it's the back of the older flats that's most intriguing, now seen to be linked together to form three sides of a square. On the crosslink a covered palisade crosses at first floor level, and at the focal point is a small ornamental garden with four scattered benches. It felt like there really ought to be a plaque or information board somewhere but I didn't find one, and only when I got home did I discover that what this place really used to be.

It's another workhouse, and also a nunnery, and it turns out you'd need a cluster of information boards to properly cover the backstory of this backwater. The nuns came first, 175 years ago this month, from a French order called The Sisters of the Christian Retreat. They liked the peace and quiet of rural Peckham, at least until the arrival of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway shattered the peace so they sold their chapel and moved out. In 1867 Camberwell's Board of Guardians took over and instead used the site to house elderly and infirm male paupers. Over 100 poor men worked as farmhands cultivating pigs, poultry and vegetables - a relatively cushy life "involving no severe physical toil" - at least until Victorian society demanded something tougher.

In 1878 the Guardians constructed a new workhouse on Gordon Road, morphing the old convent into a central administrative block and connecting it via covered walkways to two pavilion dormitory blocks. Inmates were now expected to perform hard manual tasks like stone-breaking and wood-chopping, or heavy laundry for the ladies, and over 700 able-bodied inmates were crammed inside the institution's walls. Life was relentlessly grim. Workhouses were officially abolished in the UK in 1930 but Peckham's continued as Camberwell Reception Centre, one of the largest homeless hostels in the country. George Orwell is thought to have checked in incognito while researching Down And Out In Paris and London. Ownership passed to the National Assistance Board in 1948.

If you were homeless in London in the 1950s or 60s then Gordon Road, or 'the Spike', was likely where you'd end up. Doors opened at 4pm each afternoon and inmates were expected to queue up to follow official admission procedures even if they'd stayed here the previous night. Those deemed suitably destitute were allowed in, initially to the bathhouse for an obligatory disinfection, then to an 'interview' where promising to knuckle down and look for a job would be rewarded with tickets for a meal and a bed. The 8 dormitories each housed 140 inmates, many in a fractious mental state so a good night's sleep would have been a rarity. In the morning residents had to present cleanshaven to be granted breakfast, which merely encouraged a black market in razor blades, and after doing chores would be sent out to the labour exchange to fail to get a job. Victor's published an illuminating account of life at the Spike in 1965 here.
"The food was fairly substantial, partly because some of the dossers were too ill to eat theirs and passed it on to those, like me, with better appetites. Some dossers had been offered permanent residence in exchange for working as cooks or 'waiters'. These waiters grabbed sausages, fried eggs and boiled potatoes with their bare hands and dumped them on tin plates, which they then skated along the rows of trestle tables. In the mornings, the 'full English breakfast' was the same as the evening meal plus porridge, which was ladled out of metal buckets, as in prison."
Camberwell Reception Centre finally closed in 1985 and good riddance. A housing association then took over the site, their plans slowed by a mysterious fire in 1991 which destroyed the roof and top floor of the original convent building. Then in 1999 an old doss house at the rear of the triangular site was squatted by locals who ultimately created a flourishing creative community. They called it The Spike Surplus and it offered studio space, rehearsal facilities, craft options and a community garden. Southwark council initially turned a blind eye, then charged a peppercorn rent, then got stroppy and sent the bailiffs in, bolting the gates shut after 10 years. One of The Spike Surplus's final projects was to summarise 160 years of history in a 15 minute video which you can watch here, and if you listen carefully you'll even hear performer Kae Tempest before they got famous.

Their squat has since become Holdron Street, a vernacular newbuild corridor, which I only photographed on my visit because it included a festively-appropriate sign saying 'Stable Yard'. As for the buildings of the old Camberwell Reception Centre proper, the pissy dormitories became 40 housing association flats and the old convent building turned into 17 more. And it's that original convent which first took the name Nazareth House in 1848, a title which has somehow carried through the years and is the ultimate reason why this extraordinary backroad is called Nazareth Gardens. You knew we'd get there in the end.

Bethlehem Close UB6

London also has just one street named after Bethlehem, out Perivale way, and it's only seven years old. The tale of its origin is unsurprisingly religious in nature and turns out to involve four different church buildings. The first is St Mary's, a delightful 13th century flint church beside the River Brent, whose congregation dwindled after it found itself the wrong side of the Western Avenue dual carriageway. The second is its 1935 replacement, St Nicholas, which first occupied a community-built hall on the other side of the A40 in Federal Road. A permanent church was needed and this finally appeared immediately in front of the old church/hall in 1965. Architect Lawrence King designed a classic postwar church with a glass lantern rising to a shallow point, all topped off by a copper roof. It looked great but proved a nightmare to maintain, especially as the congregation slowly dwindled. So between 2014 and 2016 they knocked it down and built this.

The new St Nicholas Church is on the right, a double height space doubling up as the footing of a block of flats. Its parishioners once again worship in what looks like a church hall, this being considerably more sustainable, and come together every Thursday for an exercise class followed by Bible study followed by lunch. They also have a full immersion pool for baptism, which the Reverend Natasha will no doubt be putting to good use when she becomes the new vicar in at the end of February. There are ten flats upstairs, hopefully suitably soundproofed in both directions. These form part of the portfolio which helped fund the new church to the tune of £3.5m, all either for affordable rent or shared ownership. The others wend down the cul-de-sac to the left and this, at last, is Bethlehem Close.

It's essentially the road to the car park, because even here in Perivale it's more essential to have somewhere for ten vehicles than to squeeze in a couple more houses. Numbers 1-3 Bethlehem Close form a modern terrace with integral solar panels and front gardens barely one bin wide. Number 4 is separate and looks more like a church hall, but they don't need one of those any more, remember, so it's actually because it's been designed as a wheelchair accessible flat. And yes the street is much less interesting than the church, but remember this street is effectively two of the old churches reborn, oh little townhouses of Bethlehem.

That'll do for Christmas 2023, but don't think I've run out of festive streetnames yet, and who knows what's lying in wait to be discovered there...

 Saturday, December 23, 2023

To continue this year's Christmas perambulations, three little donkeys.

Donkey Lane EN1

This is the best known of the three, or would be if only the football team at the far end had named their stadium after the road rather than the Queen. We're a long way north, almost as far as Turkey Street, just off the Great Cambridge Road in the London borough of Enfield. Locally the local area is known as Carterhatch, and might be known more widely had the potential Overground station not closed in 1919. If driving up the A10 look out for the Toby Carvery (previously the Halfway House pub) because Donkey Lane begins just round the back behind the bins.

The lane existed long before the main road triggered ribbon development, a brief track off a country lane between a field and an orchard. It's now somewhat longer and rather more hemmed in, but only in this initial stage before it opens out onto Enfield's massive recreational savannah. The first evidence that Donkey Lane is a leisure nexus is a banner promoting post-pandemic 6-a-side football and the second is a vast shed owned by David Lloyd. This is where folk who prefer 'health centres' to gyms come to exercise, perhaps tempted by the full complement of pools, spas, tennis courts and the obligatory crèche. But these people stay on their side of the railings because Donkey Lane is not for them.

At 1 Donkey Lane is a car repairs shack equipped with a 'low bake oven' for optimum spraying, and the remaining four addresses form a lacklustre terrace of staggered townhouses. In the battle of the front gardens Number 5's rosebush is still flowering pink, Number 7's white picket fence is criminally twee and Number 7a's owner merely runs a mower up and down occasionally. Walk a tad further to the point where the dogleg starts, by the alleyway to Cambridge Gardens, and you'll reach the entrance to an enormous yet featureless car park. It's of a size sufficient to cope with the simultaneous parking needs of all the players in 24 Sunday morning matches, which is indeed a possibility because it sits at the top of the utterly vast Enfield Playing Fields.

At 120 acres this is the largest recreational space in the borough, and almost entirely grass apart from an avenue of horse chestnuts down the centre. It'd be easy to trim off some of the edges for housing but thankfully that's never happened because it was designated a King George V Field in 1939 so is rightly protected. In December the main midweek use appears to be the mass exercising of dogs, so if you were turning up for a weekend fixture I'd not recommend throwing yourself to the ground for a tackle. Meanwhile for the chief attraction hereabouts continue to the end of Donkey Lane, taking care over the speed bumps, and blimey that is quite a building.

This is the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, which opened in Coronation year but wasn't given its current name until the Silver Jubilee. For most of its life it's been an athletics stadium but in 2011 lost its two inside lanes so it could double up as a football ground. It peaked on the world stage when the ConIFA World Football Cup Final (for territories not affiliated to FIFA) was hosted here in 2018. Kárpátalja beat Northern Cyprus 3-2 on penalties. But most of the time it acts as the home ground for Enfield Town FC, highfliers of the Isthmian League Premier Division, whose supporters broke away from Enfield FC in 2001 in a fierce row over club debts. The Art Deco cafe on the first floor is now the clubhouse, and even on a non-matchday the upstairs crew looked pretty cosy with some kind of beverage in hand. For football on many levels, Donkey Lane is a kick ass location.

Donkey Lane UB7

To West Drayton, which thankfully I did in the summer because I have no burning desire to go back to this wilfully peripheral backwater. It's very close to the point where the M4 leaves London, but if driving can only be accessed by negotiating a rickety Bailey Bridge over the river Colne. Pedestrians get the additional option of a glum footpath beneath the access roads to junction 4A, but like I said maybe don't.

In pre-motorway times Donkey Lane was a brief track providing access to four fields alongside the Bigley Ditch, the minor stream marking the edge of Middlesex, but today it feeds a backwoods industrial estate where cars are fixed, timber is sawn and bifold doors are manufactured. Employees park their cars down the side of Donkey Lane that isn't a spiked metal fence, and it's no longer possible to walk down to the stream because the kennels are securely gated. Give this borderline Donkey a miss.

Donkey Alley SE22

London's briefest Donkey is a short tarmac ascent in East Dulwich. It climbs the northern flank of Dawsons Hill, a ridgebacked uplift with an iconic council estate perched on top, and earnt its name because it once led to a paddock on the upper slopes. Here a small number of donkeys remained until the early 1990s, by which time nine houses had been squeezed in lower down and that's where you'll find the new residents of Donkey Alley.

As a street it still feels more of a residential afterthought, indeed you have to go up on the pavement to drive a car in. Ignore the nicer houses on the left because they're a lingering aftertaste of Hillcourt Road. The true Donkey properties are brickier townhouses and are recent enough that the front gardens never had any grass, they've always been optimised for parking. Ignore the scrappy row of garages on the right because they're another outpost of Hillcourt Road. The decrepit lock-up on the left was scheduled to become the backyard of an even more squeezed house, but this recently failed to get planning permission on a financial technicality (which will have made adjacent complainants very happy).

Continue past the mighty lime tree, the turnaround space and two bollards and a view slowly becomes apparent. It is an excellent view, far better than you might've have guessed lower down, boasting an almost unbroken skyline from Elephant & Castle round to the City. Residents of Donkey Alley with upper windows pointing in the right direction must be visually blessed. The undeveloped end of the alley then curves uphill, just broad enough for former donkey owners to have driven a truck up, before opening out into the sloping delights of Dawson's Hill Park. The view here is considerably better, but if you want the optimum spot best bring decent footwear to climb the last claggy metres above the bench.

I could write a full post about the extraordinariness of the Dawson's Heights estate but I'll save that for another time because today is all about donkeys. And tomorrow it's Christmas geography.

 Friday, December 22, 2023

At this time of year I like to blog about a festively-named London street, however mundane it might be. In the past I've taken you to Noel Street, Noel Square, three Noel Roads, Noel Park Road, Turkey Street, Christmas Street, Yuletide Close, Shepherds Hill, Angel Road, Stables Way, Manger Road, Gift Lane, Carol Street, North Pole Road, Rudolph Road, Holly Street, Ivy Street and Winter Avenue. Can there be any more left? Oh yes, and these two both proved more interesting than they initially looked.

Mary Place W11

The smart part of North Kensington is Notting Hill but we're in Notting Dale, its socially challenged counterpart. In the mid 18th century it was known for its piggeries, potteries and brickfields, not to mention the ill-health of its population. One of the bottle kilns unexpectedly survives, but it's not quite in Mary Place otherwise I'd kick off with a photo of that. Instead have this less thrilling shot instead, featuring a somewhat motley collection of buildings stretching all of 200m into the distance.

The building on the left is a former police station, long since vacated, built in 1966 on the site of the Royal Naval Patrol Headquarters. It's a foreboding block with ornately-barred windows, a disconnected public telephone by the entrance and a mothballed letter box labelled 'Letter Box' in the middle of a wall on Mary Place. It's been on the asset disposal list for a few years and will look a lot less creepy once it's eventually flats. Opposite is Avondale Park Primary School, a multistorey Victorian institution which several of the victims of the Grenfell fire attended. The green-hearted tower still rises a couple of streets to the north.

Housing along the remainder of Mary Place is very varied, from original Victorian to Dutch gables to fortified LCC to modern townhouses. All the properly nice terraced stuff is on adjacent streets. And yet this was once the site of the infamous Notting Dale Workhouse, a labour yard which in 1882 evolved into a workhouse for the able-bodied. Men were forced to perform tough tasks like stone-breaking and corn-grinding for up to 60 hours a week and were only allowed an hour's leisure a day... during which they had to attend compulsory lectures. Leaving the premises for any reason was also disallowed, all of which helps explain why some called it the harshest workhouse in London. But the deterrent effect of the regime was such that the number of inmates eventually dwindled away, as no doubt was the plan, and the space was subsequently residentialised for returning WW1 soldiers.

The greenspace which stretches out on the southern side of the street is Avondale Park. These days it's multi-recreational and boasts a Green Flag, but was originally created out of a flooded clay pit so large it was known locally as 'The Ocean'. Alongside is the St George and Dragon, a former mission hall with a faded Arts & Crafts frontage which is now an artist's studio. The street has two retail units, one a Brazilian hairdressing salon of 30 years standing and the other a convenience shop called Mary Place Store. It sells groceries, lottery tickets, bottles of wine and Wall's ice cream, the last of which is an excellent segue into the next street (although it'll be several paragraphs before I explain why).

Joseph Avenue W3

I might previously have struggled to explain where Joseph Avenue is but these days I only need mention it's a two minute walk from Acton Main Line station (just past the cafe with a sausage on the roof). The street in question is a short dog-leg, technically a cul-de-sac leading to a cul-de-sac, sparsely dotted with four-storey blocks of flats. If you catch the 260 bus you can alight at a bus stop called Joseph Avenue immediately outside.

Joseph Avenue forms one third of a housing estate built in the late 1980s, the Friary Park Estate, originally for private sale but then unceremoniously purchased en bloc by Ealing Family Housing Association. It's nothing exciting, indeed at first sight unbloggable, and stands in complete contrast to the top notch villas which spread to the south towards Acton proper. From a modern standpoint what really stands out is the very generous amount of space given over to tarmac and car parking spaces, especially this close to a Crossrail hub, and you might therefore be able to guess what's coming next.

What's coming next is total redevelopment, indeed it's already started. The chunk of the Friary Park Estate closest to the station has already been demolished and replaced, or is in the process of being replaced, by much denser much taller stacks of apartments. Locals kicked up an enormous fuss when the developers proposed a 37 storey tower, and weren't much happier when it was cut to 24 but with an additional tower squeezed alongside. The latest kerfuffle is the Mayor's requirement that all buildings over 30m tall must be built with two staircases for reasons of fire safety, forcing a redesign that's slowed things down somewhat.

The new development has been branded The Verdean because a third of the site will be patches of interconnected green space. The marketing team have spewed considerable weaselfroth across all aspects the project, for example writing bolx like "step into a perfectly connected green haven" on the exterior hoardings. When they say "where the trees rustle in the breeze" they mean landscaped shrubbery and when they say "over the gentle hum of the city" they mean the A40 is very close by. Meanwhile the Verdean's website claims that "west London is where Royal history and refined culture meet village-like shopping and ample greenery", and the more of this tosh I read the more I'd like to forcibly relocate the authors to one of the affordable flats and bar them from the cinema and private rooftop gardens.

But what's much more interesting than Joseph Avenue's anodyne future is its chequered past. A manorhouse with medieval roots, originally owned by the Bishop of London, once stood on this precise site. It was called Friar's Place and by 1850 had evolved into "a beautiful villa with a balustraded terrace looking south over pleasure grounds." But it was demolished in 1902 and ten years later the derelict site was purchased by a west London sausage magnate called Thomas Wall. His staff were under-occupied in the summer, this not being peak season for meat-based snacks, so he'd decided to diversify into ice cream instead. You'll know his company best as Wall's.

The Acton site was named The Friary and its chilled products were dispatched on ‘Stop Me and Buy One’ tricycles selling large bricks, choc ices and tubs. Lollies were a later add-on. It took until 1956 for the sausage aspect to be relocated elsewhere allowing The Friary to focus solely on ice cream. Shortly afterwards Wall's opened a much more modern factory in Gloucester but production continued at Acton to keep up with snowballing demand. It's possible that Cornettos (1976) and Twisters (1982) were made here, but definitely not Soleros (1994) because by then The Friary had been transformed into Joseph Avenue. And even that won't exist in a couple of years' time so I suspect I made my Christmas visit just in time.

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