diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 29, 2024

Leap day - 29 leap facts for February 29th

1) Leap years occur quadrennially, that's every four years. They're required because a solar year is almost exactly 365¼ days long, and over a four year period those four quarter-days add up to make one whole extra day.
2) Today is the 516th leap day to be observed since the first in 45BC.
3) The first thirteen leap years were 45BC, 42BC, 39BC, 36BC, 33BC, 30BC, 27BC, 24BC, 21BC, 18BC, 15BC, 12BC and 9BC. At this point Roman priests spotted they'd been adding leap years every three years, rather than every four as Caesar decreed, so all leap years were temporarily suspended. They restarted in 8AD, after which they continued every four years as intended.
4) There are only 24 leap years this century because 2100 won't be a leap year (ditto 2200, 2300, but not 2400). This is because a year isn't precisely 365¼ days long, but eleven minutes short.
5) Algorithmically, a year is a leap year if ((year modulo 4 is 0) and (year modulo 100 is not 0)) or (year modulo 400 is 0).
6) Leap year babies celebrate their birthday only once every four years. Raenell is one, and her website celebrates the joy of being special.
7) You have a 1 in 1461 chance of being born on February 29th. The odds are a lot higher if your parents have sex on May 29th the previous year.
8) Over a 400 year period, the odds of being born on February 29th lengthen to 1 in 1506.
9) About 46000 people in the UK, 225000 people in the USA and 5½ million people worldwide are leap day babies.
10) Leap year babies endured seven consecutive years with no birthdays from 1897 to 1903, and will again from 2097 to 2103. The Queen sent no centenarian birthday telegrams on February 29th 2000 because there was no February 29th 1900.
11) Pope Paul III was born on February 29th 1468, the composer Rossini on February 29th 1792, actor Joss Ackland on February 29th 1928 and rapper Ja Rule on February 29th 1976. Traditionally, Superman's birthday is also February 29th. More leap day birthdays can be found here.
12) In a leap year salaried workers get paid the same for doing one day's extra work. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, get one day's extra holiday.
13) The Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance revolves around a February 29th birthday. Frederic is a pirate's apprentice, free to return to respectable society on his 21st birthday, except that at the age of 21 he realises he still has 63 years to go. A leap child's lot is not a happy one.
14) This is the first February since 1996 to have five Thursdays (the next will be 2052). Leap Day next falls at the weekend in 2032.
15) If you have a leap day birthday you have to decide whether to celebrate it on February 28th or March 1st in non-leap years. In legal situations, for example learning to drive, UK law dictates March 1st. By contrast, New Zealand presumes February 28th. Taiwan goes early, Hong Kong goes late.
16) The origins of the tradition of women being allowed to propose marriage on February 29th are uncertain, and may or may not involve St Bridget and St Patrick. Forfeits for refusal in various parts of Europe include a silk gown, the fabric for a skirt or a pair of gloves.
17) In any 400 year period there are 97 leap years, after which the calendar repeats. The most likely days of the week for February 29th to fall are Monday and Wednesday. The least likely are Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
18) When Julius Caesar introduced leap years the extra day wasn't February 29th, it was February 24th. The Romans repeated the sixth day before March 1st, or "dies bissextus", and leap years are still sometimes called bissextile years.
19) Living through a leap day means one day longer to wait for your birthday and one day longer to wait for Christmas.
20) Sir James Wilson, former Premier of Tasmania, was born on February 29th 1812 and (unbelievably) died on February 29th 1880 - his 17th birthday.
21) Leap Day number 1s of the past six decades would make a fascinating compilation CD: Anthony Newley (Why, 1960), Cilla Black (Anyone Who Had A Heart, 1964), Esther & Abi Ofarim (Cinderella Rockefella, 1968), Chicory Tip (Son Of My Father, 1972), Four Seasons (December '63 (Oh What A Night), 1976), Blondie (Atomic, 1980), Nena (99 Red Balloons, 1984), Kylie Minogue (I Should Be So Lucky, 1988), Shakespear's Sister (Stay, 1992), Oasis (Don't Look Back In Anger, 1996), All Saints (Pure Shores, 2000), Peter Andre (Mysterious Girl, 2004), Duffy (Mercy, 2008), Gotye (Somebody That I Used To Know, 2012), Lukas Graham (7 Years, 2016), The Weeknd (Blinding Lights, 2020) and Beyonce (Texas Hold 'Em, 2024). [twelve years ago I compiled a 54 minute Spotify playlist, but as a free user I can no longer edit it, sorry]
22) Leap day is also St Oswald's Day, named after a 10th century archbishop of York who died during a feet-washing ceremony on February 29th 992. His feast is celebrated on February 28th during non leap years.
23) The Academy Awards have twice been awarded on February 29th - in 1940 (best picture: Gone With The Wind) and 2004 (best picture: Lord of the Rings III).
24) French satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur (The Soldier's Candle) only publishes on February 29th. Today's 12th edition has a cover price of €4.90 and a cover story about artificial intelligence. Its 200,000 print run is expected to sell out.
25) Leap year rules make the Gregorian calendar accurate to 1 day every 3236 years. But better still is the modern Iranian calendar (eight leap days inserted into a 33-year cycle) which is accurate to 1 day every 110,000 years.
26) In the Chinese calendar, a leap month is inserted if there are 13 moons from the start of the 11th month in one year to the start of the 11th month in the next year.
27) Normally on a special date I visit an obscure street with a relevant name but alas there are no Leap Streets in London. There is a Rabbits Road in Manor Park, and I could simply have subjected you to reportage about Bounds Green, but I thought it'd be better to skip it.
28) There has, just once, been a February 30th. It happened in Sweden and it happened in 1712. The Swedes needed to lose 11 days to come in line with the Gregorian calendar, but forgot to miss out February 29th in 1704 and 1708 so had to add an extra leap day in 1712 to get back in sync. Pity the Swedish babies born on February 30th 1712 because they never saw another birthday.
29) Brothers and sister Heidi, Olav and Leif-Martin Henriksen of Stavanger, Norway were all born on February 29th - in 1960, 1964 and 1968 respectively.

 Wednesday, February 28, 2024

During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again every, single February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Twenty-one years later I can confirm it's changed quite a lot and I have the data to prove it. Below are my counts for February 2024 accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.

n.b. The month hasn't finished yet so all this year's totals are best guess estimates, but I'll come back and update/rewrite the post as February draws to a close.
n.b. in leap years, only the first 28 days count.

Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's been the best February yet for people turning up to read what I've written, which is nice. What's more the previous record has been smashed by a margin of over 16000, which is an amazing 20% uplift. I'm now averaging 3300 visitors a day, or about 40 doubledeckerbusfuls, and that's just people who turn up in person rather than reading via the magic of RSS. One reason seems to be that Google have loosened the brakes and are sending a lot more search engine queries this way, i.e. it's a torrent of one-off readers, but hopefully a few of them will decide to stay. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about buses in Bexley, memorial benches in Barking or housing estates in Warwickshire, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average person in the street. But I do try to provide a varied diet where possible, rather than endless recycled press releases, because I believe there's still demand for original subject matter. As one of my regular three thousand, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2024: 93789
(2003: 2141)...(2008: 32006)...(2013: 55369)...(2018: 68993) (2019: 69102) (2020: 66682) (2021: 65701) (2022: 69714) (2023: 77244)

Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. This month we've been averaging about 30 a day, which is par for the course of late but still well above numbers in my first decade. For a blog in the 2020s I'd say it's also damned impressive. Most blogs either no longer allow feedback or have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking, nipping in with a pertinent reference, a pedantic correction, a nostalgic nod, some schoolboy grandstanding or a bit of insider know-how. Admittedly it doesn't take much to set a few of you off, particularly if the topic is transport-related, and some days the gradient between sparkling and tedious can be steep. But one amazing statistic is that 350 different people have commented this month, chipping in when they have something relevant to say, and that variety is truly humbling. I also note that only nine people have left more than 10 comments, and that 10% of my commenters are called Andrew, David or Michael. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2024: 861
(2003: 166)...(2008: 504)...(2013: 546)...(2018: 810) (2019: 706) (2020: 702) (2021: 946) (2022: 850) (2023: 830)

Count 3 (Blog content): The number of words in my posts is still rising and now averages 1350 a day, the highest it's ever been. That's not to be sniffed at, indeed it's the equivalent of writing seven novels a year and I wonder how many of you write that much on a regular basis? I often start out thinking "I doubt this'll be a long one" but by the end have written loads because I've uncovered more along the way. Equally I fear I often write too concisely, packing loads of facts and observations into a single sentence when I could have written an entire paragraph. It's always a balance between adding detail and avoiding burnout, between making sure you have enough to read and making sure I get enough sleep. At least London remains a broad enough canvas that there's always plenty more to write about, which remains an excellent way to keep myself occupied.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2024: 38040
(2003: 14392)...(2008: 17606)...(2013: 29410)...(2018: 30680) (2019: 33361) (2020: 29099) (2021: 32122) (2022: 33056) (2023: 34291)

Count 4 (Hours out): If lockdown taught me anything it's to leave the house every day becuase you never know when that might no longer be possible. I have indeed done that this month, and for what turns to be just over five hours a day. That's about a quarter of my time, which isn't bad when I don't have an office to go to, although it's not as long as I spend each day in bed asleep. I normally only make one big trip a day but it all adds up, not least because places like Purley and Pinner take a while to get to and get back from. My total's a bit lower than last year, however, because I've only been on one super-lengthy excursion.
Total number of hours spent out of the house in February 2024: 150
(2021: 96) (2022: 113) (2023: 164)

Count 5 (Nights out): I'm not an especially social person of an evening, as you can tell by the fact that this count only once surged into double figures. This February's trips have been no further than BestMate's sofa (where we watched Thursday night telly and put the world to rights), with no additional jaunts to pubs, restaurants, cinemas or the like. Admittedly I have been to watch a film and meet up with people during the daytime, but because this is a 'Nights out' count these bursts of sociability don't count. Don't worry it's all fine, and you'd never get a blog to read if I went out as often as I did in that heady February twenty years ago.
The number of nights in February 2024 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 3
(2003: 21)...(2008: 7)...(2013: 4)...(2018: 3) (2019: 4) (2020: 4) (2021: 0) (2022: 4) (2023: 4)

Count 6 (Alcohol intake): For the purposes of this long-term count my definition of alcohol had always been a specific gassy bottle of German lager. I clung to Becks for familiarity and ease of ordering, plus the fact it doesn't give me hiccups, but it's become increasingly hard to source in recent years so now any bottle of lager will do. BestMate surprised me with a genuine Becks in a giant bottle the other week, much to my delight, but unfortunately that was at the end of January so didn't count for the Count, which is a sad fat zero.
Total number of bottles of lager I drank in February 2024: 0
(2003: 58)...(2008: 28)...(2013: 2)...(2018: 5) (2019: 0) (2020: 0) (2021: 3) (2022: 1) (2023: 3)

Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my monthly tea consumption has remained impressively consistent and almost always falls within a narrow range of 120-135. My mug total dropped a little after I left work because I was no longer desk-bound and kettle-proximate, and rose again during the pandemic for approximately the reverse reason. Things have now settled down, brown-liquid-wise, so I'm back to being a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks.
Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2024: 123
(2003: 135)...(2008:134)...(2013: 127)...(2018: 123) (2019: 121) (2020: 122) (2021: 128) (2022: 132) (2023: 116)

Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally been pretty consistent too... always just over a hundred a month (unless the government decreed otherwise). But this month's total is ridiculously high, indeed almost double any previous year, because I've been working on another mini transport challenge behind the scenes. Since the start of the year I've swiped my Travelcard at every single zone 1-3 station (tube, DLR, and National Rail), finishing on Sunday, and it's involved taking a heck of a lot of trains. It's nowhere near as many as the number of buses as I rode last month when I was doing 'all the routes', but even that total's back down to 81 this month so expect normality to be restored soon.
Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2024: 265
(2003: 103)...(2008: 117)...(2013: 139)...(2018: 110) (2019: 135) (2020: 136) (2021: 0) (2022: 17) (2023: 141)

Count 9 (Steps walked): For me a normal amount of walking is just under half a million steps a month, i.e. about seven miles daily. That's lower than the ten miles I managed during turbocharged lockdown roaming, but also higher than the four miles I was averaging when I had an office job. I still reckon fourteen thousand steps a day is a half-decent total, and thus far it does seem to have kept my waistline below 2019 levels, but on the downside another pair of trainers is now ready for the bin.
Total number of steps I walked in February 2024: 452000
(2013: 273300)...(2018: 342000) (2019: 464000) (2020: 405000) (2021: 671000) (2022: 627000) (2023: 434000)

Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I know, I'm as unimpressed about the outcome as you are. I can also confirm that the mystery event has never happened on February 29th, when I wouldn't have to count it, neither do I have anything non-zero scheduled for tomorrow. Apologies.
Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2024: 0
(2003-2023: 0)

I also asked you for an 11th count, so here are the totals I've accumulated for some of your suggestions.
Number of flights of stairs climbed: 1015
Number of escalators walked up: 46
Number of books you read completely: 4
Number of letters versus advertising flyers you receive: 10 versus 6
Number of times you enter a shop and buy something: 10
Number of times that 'TfL' appears in your web posts: 42
Number of hours watching TV: 75
Number of hours listening to radio: 241
Number of hours spent outside Greater London: 7
Number of times you cross the Thames: 32
Number of hours spent on the laptop writing the blog: 170
Number of times you've jumped: 0

I did suggest that you might count something specific during February 2024, so do let us know if you did. Life's more interesting when you count it.

 Tuesday, February 27, 2024

This post is about announcements I’ve heard on TfL services recently.

When I hear one that makes me think "hang on..." I jot it down.
All these are from the last three months.

The announcements split into two groups.
a) Why did they say that?
b) Why did they say that now?

Why did they say that?

Let's get this classic out of the way first.

"Customers using the escalators are advised to carry pets at all times"
[Whitechapel station, on the escalators]

They actually announced that! It's so obviously badly worded it's amazing it ever got approval. You can see there might be a genuine safety issue here - pets on escalators - but this is ridiculously phrased.

The problem is that the announcement addresses the wrong people, i.e. "customers using the escalators", whereas it should address "customers with pets". It would be better to say "Customers with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators." If you want to be really pedantic it should say "Customers travelling with pets are advised to carry them on the escalators", but sometimes being pedantic just makes the announcement longer.

Next, to two stops up the line.

"Please stand behind the yellow line at all times."
[Mile End, on the platforms]

This one's really commonplace, it's not just heard at Mile End, nor just on the tube. The issue here is the "at all times" bit, because if you stood behind the yellow line at all times you'd never be able to get on the train. I always thought that was obvious.

It would be much better, and indeed shorter, to just say "Please stand behind the yellow line". Indeed it's notable that when the member of staff on the platform addresses waiting passengers in the morning peak they do indeed say "Please stand behind the yellow line" and not the silly bit. It's not just being pedantic, it's common sense.

I didn't jot down the whole of the next announcement, just this snippet.

"...and use the handrail if needed."
[Bow Road, stationwide]

We're always being implored to use the handrail. Fair enough, some very nasty trips and falls occur on stairs and holding the handrail could help prevent them. But why add "if needed" on the end? Obviously you would use the handrail "if needed", it's entirely superfluous.

It can be hard to get the balance right between advice and lecturing. "Always use the handrail" is too strong. "We recommend you use the handrail" is too weak. "It might be a good idea to use the handrail" is too wordy. "Thankyou for using the handrail," sounds silly. "If you don't use the handrail don't blame us if you end up breaking something" is more to the point but plainly unacceptable. It's all very well disliking certain wording but you have to have something better to put in its place.

This one took me by surprise.

"Customers wearing hats and scarves are advised to remove them before going onto the platform. This is because train movements can cause them to blow onto the tracks. Please remove them, don't lose them."
[Embankment, on the platforms]

Hang on what?

It's winter, loads of people are wearing hats and scarfs. Are TfL really expecting everyone to take them all off, every last designer wrap and baseball cap, on the off chance they might blow away? I’ve never seen it happen so I guess the probability is very low, individually speaking, plus there's no certainty that a displaced item would end up on the tracks anyway.

And why here? What is it about Embankment that singles it out for flying garments? I’ve stood on escalators with far whooshier downdrafts than this. I'll tell you what this sounds like, it sounds like staff at Embankment are tired of passengers asking them to retrieve lost hats and scarves from the trackbed so have recorded this message to try to make it happen less often. But the end result is a lengthy nannying spiel, broadcast too late and too infrequently to be of any practical use, urging passengers to pointlessly undress.

This is also oddly specific.

"Please do not run or jump on the escalators."
[West Ham, central concourse]

Running on escalators is bad, sure, but is jumping on them really a thing? People don't jump up and down while riding on an escalator, even in a leap year.

I guess it's possible that feral youth passing through West Ham station treat the bank of escalators like a parkour obstacle, but if that's the case the last thing that's going to stop them is an occasional announcement.

Which brings us to...

Why did they say that now?

Sometimes it's right announcement, wrong time.

"Please give your seat to others who might need it more."
[District line train, off-peak, at every stop]

This one was introduced a few years ago as part of a Travel Kind campaign encouraging greater awareness of others. I much prefer this wording to the original "please look up to see if anyone needs your seat more than you do", because that seemed to be encouraging endless eye-raising vigilance.

What niggled this time was the timing, the message being repeatedly played on a quiet train with loads of empty seats. Nobody with special needs would have had any trouble sitting down so why lecture the rest of us, especially at every single stop? Some announcements are only appropriate at certain times, so please find a way of turning them off when they're not.

Here's another on-board announcement.

"Please be aware Oyster is not valid beyond West Drayton."
[Aboard a Crossrail train bound for Heathrow T4]

This is very useful advice to certain passengers heading west on Crossrail. Don't try tapping out using Oyster beyond West Drayton, it won't work and it could be an expensive mistake. But it's not useful if you're on a train heading for Heathrow because that won't be passing West Drayton later in its journey. Nobody on board needs to hear it so why play it?

It may be the case that the software doesn't know if it's a Reading train or a Heathrow train so plays the announcement anyway. It's just the sort of thing the programmers, who got so much else wrong, wouldn't have thought of in advance. But how annoying that the message chips in anyway, potentially worrying anyone using Oyster, even when the train isn't going anywhere near the problem.

Back to the dangers of escalators.

"Please look after your children on the escalators and keep their feet away from the edges."
[At Camden Town, on the spiral staircase]

Fair enough, not everyone realises that the edges of escalators can be dangerous, especially children. But on this occasion the announcement was being pumped into our ears as we headed miserably down a spiral staircase because the downward escalator was out of service. The last thing we need while plodding down 96 steps was advice on something we'd much rather be using but couldn’t.

Again I suspect it's not always possible to target station announcements to specific locations, hence the spiral staircase gets the same message as everywhere else. But if that's the case, rather than playing something which doesn't apply to incoming passengers, why not temporarily turn the safety advice off? Or perhaps it can’t be turned off, it's automated so beyond local control, I don't claim to be an expert.

But what I do know is that multiple badly-phrased and ill-chosen announcements are played every day across the TfL network, often in locations where they are entirely inappropriate. When there are important things to tell us, tell us properly or not at all.

 Monday, February 26, 2024

A Nice Walk: Tottenham Court Road (½ mile)

Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, centrally located, historic buildings, well connected, retail proximity, easy to follow, multiple refreshment opportunities, won't take long. So here's a pleasant half mile treading pavements on the edge of Fitzrovia, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same. Throw in a few stops to enjoy all that today's sponsor has to offer and a couple of hours should cover it.

Our walk today takes us from the foot of the Euston Tower to a point halfway down Tottenham Court Road. Effectively we're walking one stop on the Northern line - that's Warren Street to Goodge Street - but you could also arrive via Euston Square station if you like. It's not a long walk but it's far enough for February.

Our starting point is Triton Square, a fine example of private public realm on the edge of a fully-managed mixed-use campus. To translate, that means it's a mostly-empty space surrounded by multiple modern office blocks overseen by security, CCTV and a long list of behavioural expectations. One of the largest buildings is occupied by Spanish bank Santander as its UK HQ, and edged by more cashpoints than the local working population could possibly need. Another was leased by Facebook, sorry Meta, but it seems they never moved in. Trees and raised beds of shrubbery supposedly provide eco-credentials for the development, each surrounded by slatted wooden benches as somewhere you might sit in nicer weather. The gardeners have done well because one bed is abloom with mini daffodils and hang on, seriously, primroses in mid-February.

The other end of Triton Street is more interesting, it has a moving artwork by Julian Opie called Ruth Walking In Jeans and an indoor bouldering wall, but best focus on Triton Square because there's no point in extending the walk unnecessarily. The most well-known building here, and by far the oldest, is the Euston Tower. Its 30 storeys opened in 1970 and in their time have been occupied by Capital Radio and various civil servants, but currently it's all stripped-out awaiting rebirth as a sustainable workspace paradigm. Thankfully the downstairs units remain open, one a gallery of sorts, another a bar of a kind, plus a ubiquitous Pret A Manger. None of these quite hit the spot for pre-ambulatory refreshment, however, so before we set off best drop into Starbucks for a warming beverage.

Starbucks Euston Tower (Unit 1A Podium Regents Place NW1 3DP)
The famous wavy-haired logo welcomes customers to the only coffee outlet on the east side of Triton Square. Drop in for the usual array of drinks and fine food, served from the counter by cheery baristas who'll be looking forward to interacting with all your hospitality needs. Perhaps enjoy a Grande Americano for just £3.55, paired with a tasty Spinach & Pea Falafel Wrap to fill a hole before the proper exercise begins. A small poster tucked into a basket urges punters to Keep Hydrated Throughout The Day, so why not pick up a bottle of still water to sustain your thirst going forward. If it's too inclement for a patio chair, best sit in the window and place yourself on full public view.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the first leg of this arduous journey. Head round the foot of the tower to the edge of the underpass and prepare to cross the busy Euston Road. This esteemed thoroughfare will be appearing next month in my sequential reportage of the Monopoly board so best not say too much now, save to urge you to look very carefully if you choose to take advantage of any supposed gap in the traffic. On the far side of the crossing is the entrance to Warren Street tube station, a portal to elsewhere, but instead continue past the small hut that sells all the tourist essentials - vapes, mobile covers and cheap brollies. Most importantly don't be in too much of a hurry to speed ahead along Tottenham Court Road, instead look to your right down the actual Warren Street where a few doors down you can drop into Starbucks for an essential refreshment stop.

(→ 200 metres →)

Starbucks Warren Street (5 Warren Street W1T 5LA)
The famous wavy-haired logo once again beckons to travellers in need of flavoursome sustenance. This is a relatively small outlet but nonetheless attractive with a message of welcome on the chalkboard ably illustrated with sprigs of cherry blossom. Admittedly there's little room for seating, indeed a family of 4 would find it impossible to cluster, but such are the priorities of a branch that mostly serves office workers on the go. Perhaps enjoy an Almond Biscotti Oat Latte, or any other combination of nutritional buzzwords the marketing department have chosen to combine for your sensory pleasure. Rest assured that when it's quiet, which would be most of the weekend, staff are encouraged to keep themselves busy by repeatedly cleaning all visible surfaces.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the second leg of this arduous journey. Head back round the corner into Tottenham Court Road which we'll now be following all the way to our destination. You might be interested to know that the Lidl on the far side of the road used to be a Sainsbury's, whereas the Tesco Express on this side celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. One of the most intriguing shops is a newly-opened M&S/WHS hybrid - food one side and a few books and periodicals on the other - the two halves combining to create as insipid a retail experience as the 21st century can muster. Ignore Santander and Pret because it's ridiculous they both have outlets so soon after the last. Also ignore Spearmint Rhino because it's closed, perhaps for refurbishment, perhaps forever, nobody’s certain. What's more its drinks menu was always vastly inflated, so how fortunate that you can instead drop into another Starbucks on the corner of Capper Street.

(→ 300 metres →)

Starbucks Capper Street (175 Tottenham Court Road, W1T 7NU)
The famous wavy-haired logo once again signals the welcome availability of hospitality in a cup. This is a more substantial outlet with space for proper seating, although you could still sit in the window and people-watch if you choose. Mugs and reusable cups have been made available for the Starbucks connoisseur to add to their collection. Perhaps enjoy a new Golden Caramel Hot White Chocolate, hopefully for a limited season only, and best throw in a Ham and Cheese Panini because you're bound to be ravenous after all that walking. February is not really the time to take your delicious purchases outside to sit on one of Camden council’s woody stumps, but do admire the crocuses now bursting through.

Suitably refreshed, it's time to head off on the third and final leg of this arduous journey. Tottenham Court Road continues unabated, although now without the slew of electrical goods outlets and hi-fi dealers once synonymous with this world-renowned thoroughfare. Instead lower your sights to greetings cards and furniture - so many sofas - or up your game and admire the middle class beacon that is Heal's department store. It's great to know that some classic TCR traditions survive. But prepare to be jolted swiftly back to reality by the tented village outside the Lutheran church - so permanent a fixture that its homeless residents have installed their own shelving units and a dartboard. And if you're flagging fret not, we're virtually done, so you'll be pleased to see another Starbucks in a corner unit offering a perfectly timed final pitstop.

(→ 200 metres →)

Starbucks Tottenham Street (77 Tottenham Court Road W1T 2HQ)
The famous wavy-haired logo shines out like an old friend above the door to this esteemed customer-facing establishment. The exterior has been painted a vibrant matt black, whereas step inside and the digital menus and cheery baristas are as bright and familiar as ever. Perhaps enjoy a Tall Iced Chai Latte for just £4.25, which is certainly a bargain as far as a cup of tea goes, coupled with the indescribable offering that is a Cheese and Marmite Mini Ciabatta. If you'd used the store's mobile pick-up service you could’ve ordered them two paragraphs ago so they'd be ready and waiting to press into your greedy hand straight away, and what a suitable finale to a highly memorable walk that would be!

If it's all been too much, even with four refreshment stops, the good news is that the walk ends two doors down at the entrance to Goodge Street tube station. Before descending into the depths it might be a good idea to pick up a bunch of tulips from the In The Meadow florist as a souvenir of a classic urban ramble. Be aware that there are no public toilets in the vicinity after all that drinking, but cheers Starbucks, your bonhomie is never more than a short walk away.

Longstanding readers may remember I wrote a similar 'You won't believe how close together some Starbucks are' post in the autumn of 2005. In that case I walked from St Paul's Cathedral to Dr Johnson's House - an even shorter journey than above - and managed to clock up a faintly ridiculous six branches of Starbucks along the way.
1 Paternoster Sq → 75m → 30-32 Ludgate Hill → 50m → 57 Ludgate Hill → 150m → 32 Fleet Street → 75m → 90-91 Fleet Street → 125m → 151-152 Fleet Street
Who'd have guessed that Starbucks density in central London is much lower now than it used to be 19 years ago? I really had to scour the Store Finder map hard to find even four stores in such close proximity, suggesting either a thinning out or considerably more competition from other brands. I was also surprised to see that only one of the half dozen Starbucks in my 2005 chain is still trading, the first of the six, and all the others have faded away.

Longstanding readers will also be aware that I stopped for a coffee in absolutely none of the above.

 Sunday, February 25, 2024

Route SL3: Thamesmead - Bromley North
Length of journey: 14 miles, 75 minutes

Location: Thamesmead Town Centre
Date: Saturday 24th February 2024
Time: 10:30am
Purpose: To ride the SL3!!!!!
In attendance: BusTokker09, Ian, Jings, Markie, Rizzo, Tim
Apologies: Colin
It's not every day another Superloop bus launches so the whole gang rendezvoused in Thamesmead to ride the full length to Bromley. Spods assemble! Most of the crew arrived by Lizzie line to Abbey Wood - top training! - so got a sneak preview of the SL3 there. Markie said he'd be coming direct by DLR but that's not been built yet so in the end his Dad had to drive him. It was cool to meet up again because it's been all of three weeks since we rode the Enviro200s on the SL5 to Croydon. Jings was wearing his three Superloop badges he got last time. Tim had his staff pass ready. Tokker's phone was fully charged.

Thamesmead's an odd place because you can't see the Thames, not from a bus anyway. Instead the route starts near a clocktower, a library and some shops. I noted that something electrical by the shelter had been burnt to a charred stump. A lot of sad families kept turning up with bags from Morrisons, although it turned out they only wanted the slow buses so we never saw them again. I was excited to see a 16-reg Enviro400H on route 177 parked opposite because you don't get much Stagecoach in my neck of the woods. According to the SL3 timetable the full journey to Bromley takes only 46 minutes, but that sounded well fictional.

We were surprised to see so many old men gathered to ride the new route. Bus crewing is normally a young person's thing but they were standing round like they'd all done this 'first day' thing before. Some had big cameras, timetable printouts and actual notebooks to write in - proper old school. One grey-haired bloke spent all his time moaning about the Countdown display in the shelter refreshing too slowly, even though it was operating perfectly normally. If you'd used your phone like a normal person, grandad, you wouldn't have had that problem. According to the official in the tabard, one bus had already broken down this morning and some buses were being turned early due to roadworks. Jings tried to get another badge off him but apparently he didn't have any.

When LT 132 arrived from Bromley - nice wrap! - an opposing crew leapt off and started filming. "I hope you're not camera shy!" said the ringleader as he stepped out in front of the bus. Then he put his phone down on a little tripod in the road and continued the recording. The driver gave a big thumbs up before manoeuvring off, but he had to do this very carefully to avoid running anyone over. Thankfully the other crew held off boarding because they must have realised they weren't going to get the top seat. Instead Tokker ran upstairs and grabbed it, sticking his phone to the front window with blutak. Then Ian attached his GoPro alongside... I can't wait to watch both videos in full later.

Hurrah, we were now off on the big ride! One day this'll be the start of the whole loop via Heathrow and Harrow but until next week you can only get as far as Walthamstow. The crew are deffo going to do the full circuit but not until the school holidays, obvs. It was annoying when an incoming SL3 passed us on a roundabout because we couldn't get a decent photo. I don't know who Harold Wilson was but one of the council blocks in Thamesmead is named after him. It was amazing to see white blossom spreading all along the Southern Outfall Sewer and it's only February. I also loved watching two geese swooping low over Southmere, but I didn't tell Markie because he only sees beauty in buses.

Stop number three, which came pretty damned quick, was on the flyover opposite Abbey Wood station. We'd been here earlier and what's appalling is that neither of the stops up here have SL3 timetables, indeed the southbound stop doesn't have any timetables at all! Also the only spider maps on display are very faded printouts dated 2020, i.e. totally out of date, unless you happen to spot the brand new map up the road facing the station, behind the Jehovah's Witnesses. Three lads rode by on a horse and cart which Rizzo tells me is pretty normal for Thamesmead. There was still frost on the grass below Lesnes Abbey Woods. Colin Whatsapped to apologise for not being here, he got his dates mixed up and went to North Woolwich instead.

The obvious way ahead would be up Knee Hill but TfL have never managed to get a route up there so the SL3 climbs New Road instead. It looked well muddy in those woods. The next stop was over two miles away because this bus does some mighty leaps, but several men with giant lenses were still poised to take photos of us as we passed. This next bit was like a proper residential labyrinth, it went on and on. Tim used the time to record a quick short of the iBus display as it switched to an asterisk and back again. Amazingly nobody wanted to get on or off the bus at Bexleyheath station so we sped straight past. But then we got caught in a long queue trying to turn left out of Avenue Road into the Broadway - five minutes! - which annoyed Tokker because even at double speed that's well tedious.

Not until the third stop in Bexleyheath, outside the library, did we pick up any more passengers. Some of them were clutching paper handouts - a throwback for the non-digital generation. Jings doesn't like the route diagram, he says it fails to show how clustered many of the stops are in real life, but Rizzo says anyone who can't be bothered to download an app deserves to be confused. But the clustering's also clever because it means the driver doesn't have to take any particular route between Bexleyheath and Sidcup, they can go whichever way has the least traffic. Today that freedom proved particularly pertinent...

It's the SL3's bad luck to launch midway through six weeks of roadworks by the Blendon roundabout. Tim said northbound buses were speeding down the A2 to avoid it, but annoyingly we weren't doing that because I'd love to see a NB4L get up to 50. Instead we diverted east to Bexley - actual Bexley village! - just like the slowcoaches on the bogstandard 269s. Tokker was well annoyed because it meant what he was recording wasn't even the normal route, plus our hairpin wiggle took a full 15 minutes. Tim said an excitable roadside granny should put her cameraphone down because the novelty white bus wouldn't be stopping anywhere near where she lived. By the time we reached Sidcup station we'd had our full 46 minute allocation and were only just over halfway. The shelter's Superloop roundel topper was fully illuminated and it wasn't even dark.

A small child bounded up to the top deck telling her Dad "the nice man gave me a badge", so Jings shot her a sideways look. The smell of Lynx Africa heralded the arrival of fellow obsessives Mason and KJ to the top deck. They sat further back and did impressions of door opening sounds on various operators' vehicles. "Do you remember Blue Triangle?" asked KJ. "I love the noise that handbrake release makes," said Mason. "They keep putting Enviros on the 144 but Geminis suit it better," said KJ and Mason agreed. Mason got halfway through explaining why Red Rose drivers were awful - something to do with always having headphones in - before KJ interrupted by exclaiming "That Arriva bus has got the old logo!" We left Mason and KJ well alone.

From Sidcup onwards the SL3 felt more like a proper limited-stop bus and less like being on a suburban safari. Some bits were fast, past old half-timbered pubs Ian's parents would probably like. Other bits were less fast, like queueing to get past Chislehurst war memorial because it's Saturday. One of the elderly passengers - she must have been at least 40 - was incredibly excited to see Superloop badges being given out by Chislehurst station, then felt sad because she wouldn't be getting one. KJ and Mason took the opportunity to alight here and catch a train to Grove Park... and would be hiding in the toilet if the ticket inspector turned up, if their final conversation was anything to go by.

Oh joy, more temporary traffic lights. A water main burst near the station midweek so a tiny patch of roadworks was generating extensive queues. Markie had become much less excited at the prospect of riding the Superloop all the way round than he had been when we started. Thankfully we slipped through the lights much faster than those heading east, and then we were into some suburb called Bickley. Lucky locals now have an express bus to the shops, although given the gap between services there's no guarantee it'll be worth waiting for. Jings bolted early because it looked the pink-haired tabard lady had a stack of badges as yet undistributed.

A very helpful bus lane helped speed us into Bromley. The next two stops were very close together, one either side of the ring road, but most passengers waited for the second outside the shops. One particularly well-fed family waddled swiftly downstairs, straight across the road and in through the doors of Nando's. Only the spods were left for the last run up to Bromley North station because not everyone thinks it's important to be completist. Tokker waited until everyone else had alighted before finally pressing stop on his video, the timestamp now showing a full hour and a quarter. Rizzo followed, returning his GoPro to his Regatta rucksack, and then we all walked down to the bus stand to take another albumful of photos.

"Look," said Ian, "the first stop for the SL3 is right next to the first stop for the SL5... shall we?" We didn't, partly because we were zonked after our long slog on the SL3 and partly because there were some much more interesting Streetlites and single door Enviro200s to investigate instead. But Spod Club will most definitely reassemble in North Woolwich next Saturday when the SL2 launches and the Superloop is complete. We Whatsapped Colin to remind him to be there.

Route SL3: route map
Route SL3: live route map
Route SL3: route consultation
Route SL3: timetable

 Saturday, February 24, 2024

I was on the Central line the other day and there was a 15 minute gap between trains. You might expect this kind of thing at the extremities or late at night, but not at Bethnal Green mid-morning. "Sorry, we're going to be held here for 5 minutes," said the driver. "This is due to the service being completely screwed at the moment." He wasn't wrong.

The issue is motor failure, an increasingly prevalent problem with the Central line's 30-year-old rolling stock. Engineers are doing their best, indeed a rolling repair programme has been underway since 2020, but motors are failing faster than they can be returned to service. This has reduced the number of available trains and made the timetable impossible to deliver... so they're introducing a new one.

On Monday a new weekday timetable kicks into action - call it temporary, call it emergency, whatever - in an attempt to provide the least worst service for Central line passengers. It can be run with just 60 trains whereas the previous version needed 71 (and even that was a reduction from a more normal 77). That's quite a chop so the trains that do run may be rather fuller than normal, but at least the long gaps between trains should be evened out.

My graphic shows typical off-peak intervals between services up and down the line. 'Normal' is the service operating this time last year.

Previously, very roughly speaking, a 5 minute service on each of the branches combined to provide a train every 2½ minutes in the central section between White City and Leytonstone. From Monday the interval on the central section increases to every 3 minutes, on average, with a little extra padding introduced to allow for slower boarding of trains.

It's not as bad as it could be on the outer branches thanks to the cunning way the timetable has been constructed. Previously several trains terminated early, say at Northolt, Newbury Park or Loughton. But in the latest timetable they go all the way to the ends of the line, preserving throughflow on the outer branches. It might even mean a better service beyond Northolt or between Newbury Park and Hainault.
• West Ruislip-Epping (9 trains per hour)
• Ealing Broadway - Hainault (6 trains per hour)
• White City - Hainault (6 trains per hour)
    » (central section 21 trains per hour)
The timetable is also deliberately flexible. If more than 60 trains are available they can add more in, and if the number of trains falls further they can cut it back to 58, 56, 53, even 49. That said, even 49 trains would have been problematic on some days recently, so things may get worse before they get better.

» So far this is only for Mondays to Thursday, although a revised timetable for Friday to Sunday is likely to be introduced later.
» It may be a worse timetable but if TfL can stick to it then they'll no longer have to display 'Severe delays' as a service status because the benchmark has changed.
» Things are so bad at the moment that TfL are running bus shuttles at peak times from Epping to Chingford and Loughton to Chingford, every 15 minutes.
» It's fortunate that Crossrail opened fully before the Central line collapsed, otherwise east-west travellers would have been in serious trouble.

Also, according to Ross Lydall at the Evening Standard the "machine that checks track has broken, meaning speed restrictions are in place and a “special” (ie Boxing Day) timetable will be in place this weekend." Eek! So best keep away if you can, the Central line really is completely screwed at the moment.

It's 2 years today since...

a) all Covid-related legal restrictions were withdrawn
b) Russian invaded Ukraine

The blissful period between these two events lasted approximately three hours.
You likely slept through all of them.

It's also two years since the start of the energy shock that hoicked our gas and electricity bills to unheard-of levels. On the day of the invasion the annual energy cap was £1277. One year later it was £4279, a three-and-a-bit-fold increase. Thankfully it's now down to £1928 and due to fall to £1690 in April, but that's still a 32% increase on two years ago which is still pretty terrible.

Here's a graph of the price cap taken from an excellent research briefing just released by the House of Commons Library - Gas and electricity prices during the ‘energy crisis’ and beyond.

It shows how high bills would have risen in 2022/2023 had the government not introduced the Energy Price Guarantee (minutes before the Queen's ill-health toppled the country into mourning). From October 2022 to June 2023 nobody paid the price cap because the EPG was lower. In July 2023 the EPG became redundant because the price cap fell back.

I wondered how much the energy shock had affected our bills so I've done some rough calculations to work out how much the average household would have paid year on year since 2020. Figures relate to the quarterly price cap where it applies and to the EPG ceiling inbetween. The 2024 figure is a prediction.
2020: £1136
2021: £1149 (1% more than 2020)
2022: £1930 (70% more than 2020)
2023: £2227 (96% more than 2020)
2024: £1650 (45% more than 2020)
Very roughly then, compared to where we would have been, in 2022 we paid two-thirds more than normal, in 2023 twice as much as normal and this year will spend about 50% more than normal. Energy prices may be coming down but we are still forking out way more than might have been the case. Cheers Putin.

 Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday transport news

n.b. London Reconnections, Ian Visits and Raildate do a longer list every Friday

Overground news

Waiting rooms are often miserable places but some are jewels you genuinely don't mind hanging around in. This is the waiting room at Bruce Grove station in Tottenham, recently restored, and it's one of the latter.

It's the original waiting room from 1872 which has been spruced up courtesy of Haringey Council, TfL, Arriva Rail London, Network Rail, ArchCo and the Railway Heritage Trust. It's now got a couple of fireplaces, fresh floorboards, vintage coving and plenty of ivory and green paint - the historic colours of the Great Eastern Railway. The finest features may be the handcrafted reproduction benches, each subdivided with plenty of room to spread out. As a modern nod the room also has a departures screen, because a period clock isn't much good unless you know when the next southbound train is due. The best time for a peek, obviously, is just after that train has left.

I think what I like best, as well as the gorgeous use of materials, is the sense of space. Often in a waiting room you feel uncomfortably close to your fellow passengers but here, even if all the benches are taken, there'd still be room to linger comfortably in the middle. And nextdoor is an even nicer room with an armchair, plants and a bookcase - the Community Room - but that's locked because it's a hireable space and not for mere passengers.

Imagine if all waiting rooms were like this, or even if waiting rooms existed at all stations with potentially windswept platform, but that's Victorian priorities for you. It also shows what a £35000 grant can do if well targeted and beautifully executed within a suitable space. And no this isn't really news, it was widely reported a fortnight ago, all that's happened here is that I've been and seen it for myself. But you lucky folk at Bruce Grove, you might even be disappointed when the train turns up.

Metropolitan line extension news

I know it seems a bit late to mention this but bear with me. The Metropolitan line extension to Watford Junction was given the go-ahead in 2011 - fully planned, supposedly funded - but the groundworks mysteriously never started. In 2016 the new Mayor quietly killed the project dead, citing funding issues, and the old trackbed continues to become more overgrown as various politicians propose alternative pipedream solutions that'll never happen. This is not news either.

TfL's Programmes and Investment Committee is meeting next week and, in accordance with normal procedures, a 210-page infodump of procedural documentation has been released. Scroll down to Item 11 on page 145 and you'll find an update on TfL's Growth Fund, a long-term pot of money earmarked to help unlock housing and regeneration opportunities. Successful projects mentioned include the Barking Riverside extension and the Elephant & Castle roundabout, whereas "other projects have been paused, re-scoped or cancelled".
"An example of a scope change was the cancellation of the MLX project in January 2018. The £16m Fund monies allocated to the project were instead invested in an additional train which was ordered for MLX as part of the Four Lines Modernisation project contract for new trains. That train has been delivered and is in passenger service."
Admittedly the Growth Fund's £16m was nowhere near the full cost of building the Metropolitan line extension, merely a substantial contribution. But it does niggle somewhat to hear that instead of an Underground extension with two brand new stations, instead we got a train. One whole train. I'm therefore adding "re-scoping" - an upbeat term for the quashing of dreams - to my list of weasel words forthwith.

Other paused/cancelled Growth Fund projects: Beam Park Station, Croydon Fiveways, Old Oak Overground Stations, Vauxhall Cross Gyratory Removal, Wandsworth Ram Brewery Transformation, Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf Crossing, Morden Town Centre, Sutton Link, Barking Station, Erith Links, Bow Vision, Elmers End Tram Capacity Upgrade, Upper River Roding Crossing

More Overground news

Most Overground stations now have posters displaying the new name for their line plus a little background history. The posters are nicely done - just enough to educate the wider public - and all six are displayed in a TfL blogpost so you can see them too. The graphics also contain simplified route diagrams, another nice touch, but I wonder if you can see what's wrong with this one for the Mildmay line.

The names at the ends of the line are fine, but the junction in the middle is pointing the wrong way. It mistakenly shows that trains from Clapham Junction go to Richmond but they don't, indeed can't, they only go towards Stratford. And you can now see this error in ticket halls up and down the new Mildmay line, indeed from Stratford to Richmond and from Stratford to Clapham Junction.

Bus news

When I wrote about London's upcoming dead bus, the 455, no further information was yet available on the TfL website. But there's now a dedicated text-heavy webpage, which also includes links to four maps which try to convey the sheer complexity of the changes occurring in a week's time. This map shows mitigation for the 455...

The dashed black line is the expiring 455 bus route and everything else shows what you'll be able to do/catch instead. You can tell it's complicated because the key runs to 11 rows and they've had to add three extra textboxes to explain things. Assuming you can get your head around it it's actually a pretty good summary. Whereas this map, for changes to routes 470, S2, S3 and S4 is verging on mind-blowing...

The new bus, the S2, is the orange line. But it's been drowned out by three other routes which appear in three different colours and each of those in three different styles of line. My brain imploded trying to work out the difference between current sections, new sections, Hail and Ride sections and withdrawn sections, not to mention a superfluous star to show that route S3 doesn't run on Sundays. Up top the visual kerfuffle used to display a simple route-swap around Sutton Common station is a masterclass in bamboozlement.

I shouldn't complain that TfL's design team have produced actual bus maps, and all this in advance of an upcoming route change. They still haven't managed anything for Superloop route SL3, for example, and that launches tomorrow. But the design team's general obsession with showing old and new routes on the same map isn't always helpful - so many colours, so many styles, so many lines, so much brain fog.

What's more these four maps will all be deleted in a couple of weeks once the changeover's complete, whereas what'd be much more useful long-term is a map showing the final network going forward. To understand the bus network in Sutton and Croydon you really need a proper bus map showing all routes, but alas TfL binned those eight years ago and where London's buses actually go has become an ever-deepening mystery.

 Thursday, February 22, 2024

I'm delighted to announce that diamond geezer now has a new non-chronological algorithm.

Previously posts were displayed in reverse chronological order, newest first, an option which is 100% counter-intuitive. This changes.

From today an automated algorithm will determine the order in which posts appear in your feed. This algorithm uses various factors to prioritise content with the goal of showing you the most relevant and engaging posts first.

This non-chronological restructuring will lead to an enhanced readership experience by creating moments of discovery and prolonging audience engagement.


How will my experience change?
From today a new machine learning algorithm will analyse your activity and engagement on the blog by considering factors such as the type of content you engage with, your commenting portfolio and the recency of posts to determine what appears at the top of your feed. Posts that have a higher likelihood of preference may often be prioritised and appear higher in your feed.

How is the algorithm constructed?
Your new personalised timeline has been carefully constructed to follow known interests, engaging content and trending topics. The algorithm is designed to encourage focus with the platform by displaying content optimised for personal characteristics. This realignment to engagement protocols also means that you may not see all recent published content without scrolling down. Rest assured that the most recent post will always appear somewhere within the first three pages.

Why are you doing this?
Research has confirmed that chronological order is an outdated concept and that a majority of new users are perfectly happy to scroll down their feed endlessly, engaging with individual posts as appropriate.

How do I opt out?
Please note that no option to view the feed chronologically is being provided going forward because software developers know what you want better than you do.

When was this announced?
The implementation of this procedure was fully explained in the post of 22nd November, if you can still find it.

How do I complain?
This is the future, grandad, get with the program.

For the avoidance of doubt that wasn't true, the blog does not have a new non-chronological algorithm.

It wouldn't still be a proper blog if it did - reverse chronological is how they work.

Sure, if it's your first time here you might want to discover a spread of past posts you'd never read before - the order isn't relevant. But as soon as you make a commitment to come back regularly the most recent post needs to be at the top, otherwise it's all a mess and the readership ebbs away. Other social media platforms might do well to learn that lesson.

What I did was create one very long post by combining 10 old ones. To try to make it look more convincing I added links to the original comments and hid everything else on the front page. Everybody got the same 10 posts, there was nothing personalised about it.

Also one of the 10 'old' posts was new - it had never appeared before. This was the post about the Post Office Tower, a remarkably prescient post which purported to foreshadow the 'hotel' announcement but was in fact written afterwards. I slapped a fake date on it, kicked off the conversation with three fake comments and hid it four posts down. Well done to those of you who noticed.

I have since expunged the algorithmic feed as if it never happened and returned to normal ordering. If you actually enjoyed the experience, remember that you can always click on one of the 258 monthly archives in the sidebar and uncover all sorts of old stuff you may never have read before.

For posterity's sake here's a list of the 10 chosen posts, followed by that Post Office Tower interloper in full...

1) Hidden Overground Histories (17 Feb 2024)
2) Sutton bus route quiz (17 Oct 2020)
3) Walking With The Snowman (13 Dec 2024)
4) The future of the Post Office Tower (new post)
5) Retracing Terry and June (25 Jan 2024)
6) Postcard from Berlin: The Stasi (11 Jun 2015)
7) New Year Resolution update (4 Jan 2004)
8) 3 things I hate about Travelcards (9 Sep 2002)
9) The Angel, Islington (20 Feb 2024)
10) The Olympic Countdown Clock (15 Mar 2011)

 Friday, February 16, 2024

What is to be done with the Post Office Tower?
Yes I know it's officially called the BT Tower but who calls it that, only lickspittles, it'll always be the Post Office Tower to me.

It was once the epitome of the white heat of technology, a 1960s upthrust in the heart of Fitzrovia connecting the capital to the world and bringing communication to all. You could marvel at its modern form, you could dine at the top while rotating very slowly and famously you couldn’t see it on a map because it was officially top secret. But then the restaurant closed, then the Nat West Tower topped it, then it became some lesser British Telecom emblem, then the microwave aerials came down and now it sticks out pointlessly like a sore thumb.

BT still own it but it must be like an albatross around their neck, a full-on white elephant, being both a listed building and a bloody awkward stack of decaying technology. They can't actually need it any more, not with all those awkwardly shaped floors, plus everything's digital now, plus it covers an entire city block because the base is huge. All it's doing is keeping your phone bills marginally higher, that and providing a lofty billboard for occasional rotating advertising messages. It looks highly impractical and must require a significant amount of upkeep.

I can't believe it'd make a good office block because the floorplates are all wrong. I can't see it as a tourist attraction because they'd have to charge an absolute fortune for entry, nor as a standalone restaurant atop an obsolete metal cylinder. In my opinion the tower's only sensible future is as a luxury hotel - a multi-storey stack of suites and bedrooms offering an iconic experience and a unique view of London. The revolving restaurant would be the top draw - just imagine the premium you could charge for meals up there - and the public would totally lap it up.

There again they'd probably give the job of redesigning it to that bloody Heatherwick and his fancy chums and they'd repurpose it in a jarring way that'd get the public's back up, perhaps even altering the famous silhouette to make a fatuous architectural statement. It'd then become some luxury hideaway for the world's moneyed upper echelons, nowhere you'd ever be able to afford to go yourself. Not that you'd ever have got inside anyway so at least this way somebody gets in, but a super-exclusive hideaway for poshknobs all the same. They'd jump at the opportunity.

Of course I bet BT Group would take a number of years to vacate the premises, due to the scale and complexity of the work to move technical equipment, meaning there would be significant time for design development and engagement with local communities before proposals are revealed. It won't be opening as a hotel any time soon. But if not a hotel, might this fantastic landmark merely crumble away?

 Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hello to all of you who, like me, live by yourself. Not for us the chance of a friendly chat over breakfast, nor a natter in the bedroom, nor an entire evening sitting in front of the TV offering a running commentary on everything you watch. Our inner monologue stays private, remains unleashed, unless we spend time on the phone or make a particular effort to be sociable.

Don’t worry, I've not cast myself out like a hermit. I have a long chat with my dad twice a week and a weekly appointment on BestMate's sofa for gossip and pizza. I even found myself having a three hour conversation in Shake Shack in Westfield last week, have you been to Shake Shack recently, sheesh, it's like Argos do restaurants, they’ve essentially done away with the waiting staff, you type your order onto a screen like it's McDonalds, then go sit at some bleak table, no cutlery, no condiments, nothing, and wait for your order number to come up on a big screen, then you actually go up and collect it yourself, you're doing all the work for them, and it's presented in a cheap paper wrapper rather than on a plate, the size of the burger when it arrived was pitiful for the price it had cost, maybe half a dozen mouthfuls, meanwhile the drink was just flavoured concentrate in water for £3.40, admittedly I didn't have the food myself, I just watched, which financially proved to be a lucky escape, but the whole place seems to run on a skeleton staff of two, there are literally no corners left to cut, this must be what millennials think proper hospitality is, just a bench and a burger. But I digress.

The thing is I have all these internal conversations and barely anyone to share them with, not in real life. As a singleton I just end up talking to myself, metaphorically speaking, millions of people do. But millions more spend their lives in company communicating about every small detail instead, did you see what she was wearing, I can’t believe what's in the news today, mind that kerb, I’ve put the mug in the dishwasher, looks like rain, who actually drives like that, you'll never guess what I dreamt about last night, did you feed the cat, oh I like this song, I'm not sure if this colour suits me, my leg aches, what's in this sauce I like the flavour. I live by myself so I get none of this opportunity to vent. I could just blog about it all I guess but nobody wants to read that, not a mundane stream of consciousness, it'd be tedious as hell.

Look they're retarmacking the road, is retarmacking even a word? That must be disruptive for everyone on Vicars Hill, yes look there's a sign saying vehicles will be towed away for three whole days, on both sides. It looks so freshly-laid, and wow you can actually feel the warmth of it even on a mild day, the heat coming off is amazing, like standing beside a radiator. It's one of my favourite smells, bitumen, I absolutely love it, always have, so maybe this is a job I'd enjoy. I wonder how often they have to do this, or more to the point how often it's actually done. There are a lot of workers here and a lot of trucks, that one's reversing through a narrow gap, oh look it's just run over a traffic sign and broken it off, I'll take a photo. They didn't like that did they?

Look at that cherry blossom, blimey, it's only the middle of February. That is full-on pink bloom like spring is here, those trees have been totally confused by all the mild weather. It's everywhere too, not just this street, all across the capital, such a shame we’ve hardly had any sunshine to go with it because it always looks better brightly illuminated. I even saw a magnolia tree bursting out yesterday, seriously, that was up in Hornsey, the weather's totally buggered at the moment. It might not be 100% the effect of climate change, this seasonal shift, but what are the chances otherwise? Londonist hasn't even got round to republishing its annual "Generally April is cherry blossom month in London" article yet, they'd better hurry. I hope Saturday's frost doesn't kill it all off, yes hadn't you heard, things change quickly. I wonder if the bluebells will be early too.

What's this wizardy advert for, oh it's Trainline. Ticketo spliticus, honestly. But how on earth are they making that claim, "Use SplitSave sorcery to save on average £13 per trip", I can’t believe that's true. Splitting tickets is a rare thing, only for certain longer distance routes, not your typical commuter journey or dash to the coast. No way would you save that much regularly. Oh hang on there's an asterisk, what does it say in the smallprint? Oh it's right at the end, "Subject to SplitSave Fares being available", that's sneaky. So if you can save money you should save an average of £13, but it's very much not a £13 saving every time, nor even most of the time the cheeky bastards.

It's the spacing between the digits that gets me, look, this bus stop has the old style and the new style, the new is on the left. In the new style they're spaced apart, I'd say unnaturally so, but in the old style everything’s closer together. I presume they changed it for reasons of clarity but it always looks so artificial, unnatural even. And it always looks worse when there's a 1 in the number, actually this isn't as bad as it could be because there are two 1s. But normally you get one big gap and one small gap and it looks like the designer was half-drunk when they did it, like someone's applied a blanket rule even in situations where it looks bad. Sorry am I boring you, bit of a bugbear of mine, good to see it so clearly illustrated, I wouldn't have done it like that.

I didn't know Maze Hill had a pottery in the old station house, that's the numberplate I’ve been looking for since January, I see they’ve increased the price of Tesco own brand choc ices again, she shouldn't have brought that bike on the DLR before nine thirty, haha the giant mouse painted on the wall is hiding from the giant cat, I wouldn't do tai chi on a basketball court myself, I really hope the cough stops soon, I think they built it to impress Dome visitors, shop-bought daffodils really do open quickly, oh come on Madame Tussauds of course a better line up is possible, how do homeless people know the banking bus is turning up, which way did you think it went, I never noticed that memorial to a Spitfire pilot before, oh it thinks my bags are collectively too heavy, they can squeeze flats into any gap now, wow the service is properly buggered, thank heavens for library toilets, looks like a nasty accident, the sound of all that water under the escalators always unnerves me, hurrah right on cue, oh they do low sugar apple pies now, I'm not carrying that upstairs, I'm sure it said platform 3, why is this the lead story, well you should have indicated, great book I thought, that's cleaned up well, I will sit down and focus on it soon honest, yeah that'll do, this is what living alone does to you.

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