diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 30, 2024

30 unblogged things I did in April

Mon 1: Three highlights of a day spent at my Dad's in Norfolk: i) going to the local art exhibition and having tea and cake with a sheep farmer. ii) watching a wren repeatedly bringing nest material into the birdbox beside my bedroom window. iii) eating the roast lamb ready meal my Dad inherited from the freezer of a recently deceased villager.
Tue 2: Passed a colourful reader of this blog while exiting a DLR station, but I didn't stop to say hello because I've only met them once and they looked like they'd had a tough day at the office.
Wed 3: Supermarket update: My local Tesco has introduced video screens at the self-checkouts to confirm they're filming you for security purposes. It's very uncomfortable watching yourself failing to scan a pack of crumpets. According to the nice ladies who no longer operate the tills, a bigger problem is undesirables running straight out.

Thu 4: At the Grand Union development in Alperton they've attempted 'placemaking' by berthing a narrowboat and turning it into a cafe that sells coffee and crepes, but the dock is entirely sealed off from the canal so more like a small pond, and it looks mighty stupid.
Fri 5: I had a dream in which it felt very convincingly like one of my teeth had come loose. I woke up very startled and frantically checked and thankfully nothing was amiss, but sheesh my subconscious is evil sometimes.
Sat 6: The young ticket seller at the station was very willing but had obviously never heard of a Gold Card before and I had to show him on my phone browser that he really could issue me a ticket for £8.60. Once on the train I noticed he'd actually sold me a Network Card discount, but thankfully no ticket inspectors intervened.
Sun 7: This afternoon the walkway by the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was being washed by high spring tides, with tourists blithely setting off down the path then having to jump up onto the railings as the Thames soaked their shoes. All the fun of an urban assault course, but best watched from a safe distance.

Mon 8: Arrived at Tottenham Hale station to find a dozen emergency vehicles in the bus station watching a barely-clad woman dancing and gesturing from the top of the adjacent lift shaft. Officers tried climbing through a skylight but she ran away to the other side of the station and dodged them all. An impressively useless deployment of resources.
Tue 9: Hammersmith Bridge is finally getting a proper cycle lane restored, for which read a temporary grey stripe across the unrepaired surface of the bridge, which feels like a tiny advance after five years of severance but also a positive step forward.
Wed 10: You can tell it's Eid round my way because many people are dressed in their finest clothes, not necessarily appropriate for the weather, and heading off to celebrations at the mosque. Eid will be retreating through March and February over the next few years so thermal underwear may become more appropriate.

Thu 11: Walking through Sewardstone, which is famously the only place outside London to lie within the London postal district, I spotted an E4 street sign on a newbuild close and took a quick photo. Ten seconds later a man walked up his garden path and asked why I'd taken his photo. Some people don't like having their photo taken, he said, it's not polite, what did I think I was doing? I explained I was taking a photo of the streetsign and his house just happened to be in the background, but this didn't appease him and his arguing got more intense. It's not right, it's a privacy thing, it's his house, how dare I? I apologised and said I'd go back and take the photo again, but this just annoyed him more, to the point where his furious rant now included several swear words and references to parts of the female body. I checked my original photo later and his face had filled barely 100 pixels of the image so was entirely unidentifiable, but let me assure you that the photo above is my second attempt which he's definitely not in.

Fri 12: Went for a highly unusual bus ride on the 466 which is being diverted because of sewage repairs in Coulsdon. We headed south all the way to the start of the M23, then turned off up a blossomy country lane with views across the North Downs, eventually reaching the proper terminus at Caterham-on-the-Hill. First time the village of Chaldon has seen a red bus in yonks. Thanks for the tip-off Keith.
Sat 13: While I was waiting for a hail and ride bus in Monken Hadley I unpeeled a transphobic sticker from the timetable panel, because nobody deserves to read that bolx.
Sun 14: In previous years I've walked through the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park either a couple of weeks before the azaleas peak or a couple of weeks after, but this year I think I got it spot on and my word they were ubiquitously stunning.
Mon 15: Even my Dad's succumbed and bought an air fryer. I'm unconvinced, mainly because I don't have the kitchen worktop space but also because Jamie Oliver's new series tonight left me cold.
Tue 16: Only in the outer suburbs of Havering would you find a house with a chequerboard garden, fake half-timbering, the statues of two chained dogs either side of the porch and Elvis strumming on a guitar in front of the living room window.

Wed 17: If you don't have photo ID you only have a week left to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate (and I don't know why I'm telling you this now a week after the deadline, other than to shake a fist at the bastards in the government for introducing it).
Thu 18: The Apprentice final ticked all the right boxes, but they really ought to filter out the candidates with the rubbish business plans at the beginning rather than keeping them in the process until almost the end.
Fri 19: Published almost-posthumously, Bryant and May's Peculiar London by Christopher Fowler is a quirky and surprisingly in-depth ramble through the history and folklore of the capital, as narrated by the offbeat characters of his excellent series of detective novels. If you're not familiar it might grate but I learned loads from reading it.
Sat 20: The wisteria at Strand-on-the-Green is very lovely at the moment (other prime pink locations are available).
Sun 21: I walked the last couple of miles of the London Marathon from the Tower to Westminster, but while they were tying the banners to the railings and setting up the charity hubs and piling up pallets of the sponsor's bottled drink and testing the DJ truck and parking the ice cream vans so all a bit premature, although David Weir did eventually wheel by.

Mon 22: Susan Hall's manifesto has finally appeared, ten days before the election. She lost me straight away by claiming to be "the candidate who listens" because she certainly hasn't been listening to me, but this kind of populism always resonates with the core vote.
Tue 23: Failed to spot in advance that today was the 100th anniversary of the opening of the British Empire Exhibition, otherwise you'd probably have read a blogpost looking back nostalgically at how cultured Wembley used to be and comparing that to the depressing stackyflats neighbourhood that's taken its place. Boxpark is a poor replacement for the Palace of Industry. "Play. Shop. Savour. Relax." Sheesh.
Wed 24: Spotted the lovely Su Pollard at Angel station. So did the gateline staff and she happily stopped for a chat and a photo. You couldn't really miss her in that coat and head-dress.
Thu 25: Over 1400 people have watched my Big London Airports Race video on YouTube, apparently for an average of one minute and two seconds each. I'd like to apologise to the 41 people who were shown my video as part of the recommendations algorithm, as opposed to clicking on it knowingly.

Fri 26: The Barbican has been wrapped up in hibiscus purple sheeting for artistic reasons, and is definitely best viewed when the sun comes out.
Sat 27: Anne Ward has a new book out, I❤️EK, which features 60 colour photos taken over the last 20 years in East Kilbride, Scotland's first new town. If understated urban excellence and throwback retail detail are your thing, you should at least be following her on Instagram.
Sun 28: If you write to the nice man on the radio often enough, eventually he'll do a dedication for your special day.
Mon 29: A neighbour who's moved out keeps getting subscription books delivered, so I thought I'd send the envelopes back with a 'return to sender' sticker, only to find most pillarbox slots are far too narrow to cope with hardback A4. Eventually found a wider EIIR box and off they went.
Tue 30: Blimey, I just travelled three stops on the Central line with Doctor Who. She wasn't as obvious as Su Pollard, the only splashes of colour being a pink blouse and a Sainsbury's bag, but the Fugitive Doctor was always about hiding in plain sight.

 Monday, April 29, 2024

20 things we learned from TfL FoI requests in April 2024

1) The annual operating cost for the Woolwich Ferry is £8.9 million.
2) In 2021 there were 305km of bus lanes in London, up from 293km in 2011.
3) TfL spent £282,945.43 advertising this year's Fares Freeze on posters, in the press and on paid social.
4) On bus routes 366, 462, 488, 499 and U9, where one terminus is on a loop, passengers are allowed to stay aboard at no extra charge to complete their journey.
5) There are no plans to reopen the Pentonville Road entrance to King's Cross station as "the huge cost of bringing it up to standard and the additional staffing costs would not make this a viable option to consider".
6) London's most crowded bus route is the SL9, specifically around Yeading northbound between 7am and 8am on weekdays. London's most uncrowded bus routes are the 389 and 399 in Barnet.
7) Night Tube pocket Tube maps were discontinued in 2018 as part of a drive to reduce printing production costs. TfL assessed their entire suite of products and those that had the least customer value and least pick up rate were stopped.
8) The green tiles and yellow tiles at Regents and Stratford stations were not made using uranium salts, so REDACTED's autistic daughter need not worry when travelling to her hospital appointments.
9) The numbers of branded vehicles on each Superloop route are as follows: SL1 13, SL2 18, SL3 17, SL5 12, SL6 12, SL7 24, SL8 24, SL9 13, SL10 14.
10) 71,480 'Baby on Board' badges were issued in 2023. Of these 6781 were issued to someone who made a request more than once.
11) Peak demand on the Lewisham branch of the DLR is around 70% higher than on the Woolwich branch, a difference which has increased since Crossrail opened.
12) In the six weeks since the completion of the Superloop's orbital circuit, 230 contactless/Oyster cards have been used on all seven Superloop buses in the same day. Some cardholders have done this more than once.
13) 90,072 TfL staff are entitled to free travel on TfL services (28% of whom have retired).
14) The TfL station with the most accidents on escalators is London Bridge (111 accidents over the last twelve months). Paddington is the Crossrail escalator blackspot with 98.
15) TfL's most-stolen defibrillator is at Bow Road station, which was nicked on 4th April 2016, 5th September 2019 and 6th December 2019.
16) The new iBus2 On-bus system will not be implemented on TfL buses for another two years as it requires thorough testing. The main improvement for passengers will be the availability of information during disruption (e.g. diversions and curtailments).
17) At the end of last month, 1098 people were doing 'The Knowledge' training to become cabbies.
18) 214,350 Bus Saver tickets were issued in 2023 (down from a peak of 33m in 2004). Tickets come in books of six tickets and there is a minimum order of 25 books.
19) Outline plans exist to install gatelines at Cambridge Heath, London Fields, Stoke Newington, Bruce Grove and Silver Street on the Weaver Line (but these schemes are currently unfunded and not yet programmed).
20) As at 2nd March 2024, the total number of permanent staff at TfL was 25,662. All are eligible to join the TfL Pension Fund.

In January 2020 I wrote a post listing all the places I'd bought a new Pet Shop Boys album. It started with me buying Please on cassette from Our Price in Watford High Street on 24th March 1986, and ended as follows.

Hotspot (24th January 2020)
Bought from: Sister Ray, Berwick Street, Soho. London has a dearth of record shops these days - my closest HMV is in Bromley, for heaven's sake. But having traipsed around some survivors, hurrah, Soho's long-standing independent had the new CD at the cheapest price (and were super-friendly with it). Fopp and HMV were a penny dearer at £10, while Rough Trade East wanted one pound more. Next time the Pet Shop Boys release an album, I wonder how many options will be left.
Favourite non-single: Wedding in Berlin [We're getting married because the time feels right, We're doing it without delay]

A new PSB album has just been released, amid a flood of extremely well-targeted publicity, with the actually very super title of nonetheless. I thus faced the problem I mentioned four years ago, i.e. where to buy it from, given that I still wanted a physical format rather than the ability to stream the individual tracks. I also intended to buy it in a shop, partly because I'm old school but mainly because I had no intention of paying postage and packing for something I could pick up for myself.

On the day of release I went to Rough Trade East in Shoreditch, the excellent record shop which still takes new music seriously. I'd checked online that they were selling it (yup, CD £11.99) so was confident of purchasing success. The shop looked much the same as last time I was there, except that I couldn't actually find a CD section, only racks and racks and racks of vinyl. A few of the best-selling best-promoted albums had CDs on sale below the vinyl version, including dozens of copies of the new Taylor Swift smasheroo, but nonetheless was nowhere to be seen. I could have bought the LP but I haven't had a record deck since the 1980s plus no way was I forking out £30.99 for a vinyl disc even if I had. I walked round three times, gave up and went home.

The next day I tried again, picking HMV for my purchase. I could have gone to Oxford Street, even Uxbridge, Watford, Staines or Bexleyheath, such is the marginal renaissance of this once dead business. But instead I targeted Bromley, specifically upstairs in The Glades where a proper Aladdin's cave of legacy formats lingers on. I skipped the DVD half, the vinyl bit, the book shelf, the cuddly toy wall and the t-shirt bazaar, and was reassured to find a lengthy double-sided aisle devoted to CDs. But almost all of these were back catalogue stuff, i.e. seminal classics and former favourites, many at bargain friendly prices. The 'New releases' section wasn't even a full rack, merely the very first column of a display unit, with the PSBs tucked away in the third stack down amid the M-Ps. But they did at least have a copy and it was only £10.99, so the physical purchase CD horizon hasn't yet been crossed.
UK music sales 2023
Streaming: £1,866m (↑10% on 2022)
Vinyl: £177m (↑18%)
CD: £126m (↑2%)
Cassette: 136,000 units (↓30%)
I wanted a CD in a plastic cover, mainly so it sits better with the rest of my collection, but the new album only seems to come in a minimalist card sleeve - a proper compact disc. Hurrah for not wasting environmental resources and all that, but I'll have to stack it more carefully on my shelf so it doesn't get lost. I now have almost four decadesworth of PSB albums, indeed their first release of West End Girls came out 40 years ago this month (and promptly flopped). To think that when Please came out I bought it on cassette with my very first withdrawal from a cashpoint, and now even buying a CD by tapping a card is desperately behind the times. I'm very pleased that owning music remains an option, nonetheless.

nonetheless (27th April 2024)
Bought from: HMV Bromley. A bit of a treasure hunt this year, ending in the outer suburbs, but at least it was £3 cheaper than I was paying 25 years ago. A very traditional PSB album, all melodies and clever lyrics rather than ballads or bangers, and sufficiently crafted to merit multiple plays. Neil'll be 70 in a few months time and Chris somehow 65, so I wonder how many more albums they have in them.
Favourite non-single: A new bohemia [I wish I lived my life freer and easier, I need to find a new bohemia]

 Sunday, April 28, 2024

The DLR's youngest station is ten years old today.

Pudding Mill Lane opened on 28th April 2014 and remains unnecessarily enormous.

Caveat: The station which opened 10 years ago was a rebuild paid for by Crossrail, because the original sat on the precise site where purple trains needed to burst out of the earth on their way to Shenfield.
Update: Purple trains on their way to Shenfield now burst out of the earth on the site of the original station.
Clarification: The original Pudding Mill Lane station, which was piddly small, opened on 15th January 1996 and closed on 18th April 2014. [blogged] [photos]
Observation: Pudding Mill Lane was the closest station to the Olympic Park but was closed throughout the 2012 Games because it was piddly small. Its enormous replacement, which would have been exceptionally useful, opened two years afterwards. [blogged] [photos]
Backstory: This DLR line actually opened on 31st August 1987 but with no station between Bow Church and Stratford, only passive provision for a new station at Pudding Mill Lane pending future development.
Historical note: Pudding Mill Lane station is named after the windmill which stood just south of here beside the Pudding Mill River until the 1830s. The mill apparently resembled an upturned pudding, hence the name. [blogged]
Pre-historical note: The mill's actual name was St Thomas's Mill, and was first recorded in the 12th century as Fotes Mill.

Annual passenger numbers (2019): 860,000 (2nd least used DLR station)
Annual passenger numbers (2022): 2,640,000 (middling in the DLR usage list)

Architecture: The station is a large sleek glass box astride a viaduct. Nothing else on the DLR looks like it, or is as capacious as it. Its architects described it as "a simple legible building with integrated public realm which delivers a minimalist, crisply detailed architectural solution".
Platforms: Long and broad, doubling up as a viewing platform over the Olympic Park if anyone's still interested in that. Much too long for the two carriage shuttles that generally stop here.
Stairs: Massive, three flights wide, sufficient to cope with an onslaught of West Ham fans heading home after a depressing defeat. Seemingly requires multiple small red signs saying 'No skateboarding' because it's much too tempting a location for downward wheeled stuntsmanship.
Undercroft: Two ticket machines, both of which say 'This ticket machine is no longer available' on the back even though they both seem to be working again. Next train indicator which hides trains when they're a minute away. Enormous expanse of hardstanding which occasionally floods. Lifts so far from the main staircases that they have their own separate Oyster reader.

A typical Wednesday: Very quiet. Slight rush of commuters walking up from Stratford High Street. Brief onslaught of schoolkids from Bobby Moore Academy. Very quiet again. Occasional tourists pulling suitcases. Hoodied figure doing wheelies under the viaduct. Fare dodgers who intend to walk the last bit into Stratford. After-school after-work 'rush'. Return to tumbleweed existence. General feeling that the station is unnecessarily enormous.

Tumbleweed: The station was supposed to be at the heart of a significant new residential neighbourhood. Most of the industry hereabouts was demolished after we won the Olympics, and they named the new neighbourhood as long ago as 2011. And yet 12 years after the Games not a single flat has been built within the Olympic footprint, not one, and vast areas of hardstanding remain. Some flats have been built on non-Olympic land, notably by the Marshgate Lane bridge and at the far end of Cooks Lane, but even here most of the demolished zone is unapartmented. The hoardings at East Quay say 'completions from Q4 2024' although no construction has yet begun. Two liftshafts at Legacy Wharf have only just reached the second floor.

The miracle: And then Abba turned up. Producers Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson needed a large accessible site for their secret Swedish light show and were thrilled to find Pudding Mill Lane met their requirements (although some of their investors apparently took more convincing). The auditorium took a year to build, initially without revealing its purpose, but in May 2022 the world turned up to watch four incredibly convincing 'abbatars' performing the ultimate back catalogue amid a dazzling lightshow. They've not stopped coming since. Apparently it earns over £1½m a week. [blogged] [review]

A typical Saturday: Very quiet. A few more bored teenaged stunt cyclists than usual. Sudden arrival of provincial 60-somethings in glittery tops and swishy slacks, thinking there was some genuine need to get here early. Increasing onslaught of giggly families, spangled friends and overdressed ladies spilling across the street. Sudden quiet bit during the performance. Leery invasion by beery West Ham fans on occasional weekends. Repeated onslaught for evening performance. A few last strays hanging around outside the bar in the 'Snoozebox' container hotel.

Abbafication: The retail unit under the station, which for many years had looked absurdly optimistic, is now used by a shop selling Abba Voyage merchandise before and after shows, including £35 glam t-shirts and chequered pink and blue cardigans. The markerpen poets at @allontheboard have positioned one of their song-heavy odes between the ticket machines. The adverts on the platform are for Mamma Mia, Frozen and The Book of Mormon, because know your audience.

Looking forward: Plans for the future Pudding Mill neighbourhood were submitted in 2022, promising 948 mostly affordable homes and including at least one rather lofty landmark tower. They're not arriving any time soon, indeed completion isn't pencilled in until 2032. But the station's architects were planning ahead ten years ago because the staircases already have space inbuilt underneath in readiness for the installation of escalators. Also, and this is very clever forward thinking, "the precast brick panels that form the exterior of the station undercroft can be peeled back and replaced with an active street frontage and 1,000m2 of retail space." When thousands of people finally live here, perhaps a drycleaners, nail salon and bespoke fancy cafe will finally be needed.

And yet: The elephant in the room at Pudding Mill Lane is the Abba Arena which has been far more successful than ever imagined. When it opened it only had planning permission until 31st March 2025 meaning the building would have started to be dismantled at the end of this year. That deadline's since been extended to 2026 but the intention remains that it must disappear because the underlying plan for housing takes precedence. This prime spot by the station is needed for shops, a health centre, employment space and a community focus, even if that means sacrificing a world class tourist attraction for a pigeon-y piazza and few stacks of flats.

The future: The promoters would love Abba Voyage "to stay forever", because although the arena's technically reusable it's not economically viable to move it elsewhere, but it'd take a strategic change of heart for that to happen. The golden goose which put Pudding Mill Lane on the world map may yet fly away, replaced by an identikit neighbourhood of densely-packed housing with a station that's still unnecessarily enormous. Come back in ten more years and see how it all turns out.

 Saturday, April 27, 2024

I said I wasn't going to make a habit of this, and I'm not, but I've ticked off nine more.

This is the northwest corner of London, from South Harefield round to South Oxhey, annotated with all the places you can cross the boundary by car, train or public footpath. Away from Northwood it's surprisingly impermeable.

The black ticks are all the crossings I've crossed and my latest tranche are on the eastern side of the map between Batchworth Heath and Oxhey Woods, i.e. this bit.

What's really unusual about this stretch of the Greater London boundary is that it's defined by a two-mile long footpath threading through suburbia, and a footpath so quiet that I met absolutely nobody else along the way. Let's walk that path.

All the exits from London : Rickmansworth Road, Batchworth Heath
This is the busiest road across the boundary on my map and it's still not ridiculously busy, just the A404 winding its way to Rickmansworth past Mount Vernon Hospital and Moor Park Golf Club. Not only are there signs welcoming you to Three Rivers and Hillingdon there's a also a coal tax post, which is always a fine portent of a borderline space. I've crossed here several times before, and if you've walked London Loop section 13 you've crossed too. The footpath we seek is numbered R1 and bears off into woodland just south of the blacked-out Prince of Wales, where the exotic dancers performing yesterday afternoon were Sabrina, Sara, Nicole, Virginia and Larisa. The boundary path is forget-me-not-fringed and scattered with celandines, but also required me to dodge a decaying fox and a toppled tree so it wasn't all lovely.

All the exits from London +1: Farm Road
Farm Road is less a road and more a shabby track, once driveable, and crosses the boundary a few steps uphill on the way to Batchworth Lane. Here the footpath number increases to R2, indeed it'll be rising incrementally for the next two miles eventually peaking at R8. The next stretch is the nicest part of the walk, opening out into a clearing with bluebells and butterflies, although the line of pylons doesn't help and I fail to understand why someone had scattered 13 tube maps across one small area of undergrowth.

All the exits from London: Kewferry Road, Northwood
This is as far as London Loop 13 follows the boundary, next veering off towards hoity toity Moor Park, so I'd crossed this one before too. Check the bins to either side of the footpath to confirm that one side is in Three Rivers and the other is in Hillingdon. Kewferry Road, incidentally, is where they filmed the exterior shots for The Good Life in the 1970s with Margot & Jerry's house, then Tom & Barbara's, a few doors down on the London side. To follow the boundary proceed onto footpath R3 which runs round the back of St Martin's Junior school. Unusually the school and playing field are in London but their all-weather sports pitch is through a gate fractionally into Hertfordshire, and double unusually their nature area contains a coal tax post.

All the exits from London +1: Sandy Lodge Way
The next suburban avenue to cross the boundary is Sandy Lodge Way, a backroad linking Northwood town centre to the much bigger houses in Moor Park. Ahead we enter footpath R4 which has been made entirely inaccessible to motorcycles by the cunning method of planting a tree in the middle of the path 100 years ago.

All the exits from London: Metropolitan line
I've exited London here by train hundreds of times, but never walked this shady footbridge over the top.

All the exits from London +1: Footpath 53
On the other side of the railway is a quiet crossroads of four footpaths. Only the Hillingdon paths are fingerposted, specifically R4 (west), R5 (east) and R9 (south). To exit London take the unmarked path into the woods - a couple of steps ought to do it - which is footpath 53 to St Mary's Avenue.

All the exits from London +1: Eastbury Road
Another street of Metro-land detached houses divided by a footpath, an unseen boundary and entirely different council tax bills.

All the exits from London +1: Little Stream Close
This is an administrative curiosity, a cul-de-sac less than 100m long which starts in London and switches to Hertfordshire halfway down. The dividing line is again an age-old footpath following a former field boundary (now numbered R6). Fortunately for the binmen all the houses are at the Hertfordshire end.

All the exits from London +1: Eastbury Avenue
The suburban streets are coming thick and fast so I've been racking up the boundary crossings here. But the next stretch of footpath (R7) is a lengthier divide, squeezing between a sequence of back fences in various states of disrepair. Nobody has a back gate onto this godforsaken cut-through but several could sneak out through a tumbledown gap if required. Also this path includes the very closest point in Greater London to Northwood Headquarters, home to NATO Allied Maritime Command, so anyone standing here at the start of WW3 is likely to be the first Londoner to be vaporised.

All the exits from London +1: Mountview
Another administrative curiosity, a cul-de-sac less than 200m long which starts in London and switches to Hertfordshire halfway down with the dividing line again this age-old footpath. Its luxury houses were squeezed into a back field after the war, hence the necessary disregard for boundaries, and this time some residents live on one side and some on the other. Everyone avoids ULEZ, thankfully, but bin day for the first six houses is Monday (weekly) and for the other ten it's Tuesday (fortnightly).

All the exits from London: Watford Road
This is another main-ish road, this time connecting Northwood to South Oxhey, Bushey and Watford. It's the first time since Batchworth that Hertfordshire have bothered to erect a welcome sign, but Hillingdon never seem to miss an opportunity to remind drivers they were once the Large City Winner of Britain in Bloom. What follows is footpath R8, another weaving walk between fence panels and wire netting with occasional glimpses of inaccessible cul-de-sacs. Just as a reminder, I haven't seen a single other person on this path over the last two miles because this boundary is not a desire line.

All the exits from London: Potter Street Hill
The sequential footpath finally ends at the lofty meeting point of three very private roads, one of which leads to Pinner Hill golf course. Only the emergency services can unlock the bollards and drive across the divide. This summit is the highest point in the borough of Hillingdon, 134m above sea level, which means I've been here previously for blogging purposes otherwise you really wouldn't.

All the exits from London +2: Oxhey Woods
I decided to carry on briefly down South View Road because two footpaths bear off into Oxhey Woods (and into Hertfordshire) and I couldn't remember which one I'd done before. Now I've done them both and the bluebells were magnificent. For good measure I also crept back into London via the contractors car park at the golf club while nobody was looking, making a grand total of nine fresh crossings since today's post started.

I think my next uncrossed boundary is at Hive Road in Bushey Heath, three miles further on, then another two miles to Centennial Park. But let me reassure you I am absolutely definitely not trying to tick off every single crossing of the Greater London boundary because there are far too many of them and they're not always well defined, not to mention extraordinarily tedious for you lot.

 Friday, April 26, 2024

April 1974 wasn't all about ABBA, it was also about the Wombles.
Top 5 singles, week ending 27 April 1974
1) Seasons In The Sun (Terry Jacks)
2) Waterloo (Abba)
3) The Cat Crept In (Mud)
4) Remember You're A Womble (Wombles)
5) Angel Face (Glitter Band)
As a nine year-old I was absolutely target market for the pointy-nosed Wimbledon litterpickers and contributed considerably to their collective royalties. I had all the records and most of the books and two cuddly toys and a miniature keyring and a plastic carrier bag with Orinoco on the front which I pretended was a Tidy Bag and lots of other merch. This is my Wombles table mat which came out at most mealtimes in 1974, depicting Wellington who predictably was the Womble I most identified with. My brother had an Orinoco table mat and I never ever sat in that seat.

Wombles novels
1968: The Wombles
1970: The Wandering Wombles
1973: The Wombles at Work
1974: The Wombles to the Rescue
1976: The Wombles Go Round the World
The Wombles were the brainchild of Elisabeth Beresford, a struggling children's author until her six year-old daughter mispronounced Wimbledon Common as Wombledon Common while out for a walk, inspiring the idea of little conscientious creatures keeping the heathland tidy. In the first books, which predated the TV series, they appear on the front cover as small bearlike creatures with slightly rodentlike noses. I remember buying The Wombles as a Puffin paperback and being somewhat disappointed they didn't look proper, not like they were on the telly. Later covers went full-on for the new design.
Core: Great Uncle Bulgaria, Tobermory, Orinoco, Bungo, Tomsk, Wellington, Madame Cholet
Also: Alderney, Miss Adelaide, Cairngorm McWomble the Terrible, Shansi, Stepney, Obidos
Occasionally: Cousin Yellowstone Boston, Cousin Botany, Great-Great-Great Uncle Hapsburg, Great Aunt Thessaly
The Wombles are all named after geographical locations, the idea being that they picked a name from an atlas as a child. Tobermory's a town on Mull, Orinoco's a river in Venezuela, Bungo's a province in Japan, Tomsk's a city in Russia, Cholet's a commune in France and I'll not insult your intelligence by telling you where Bulgaria is. In the books Wellington is supposed to be the New Zealand city but it was really the school that Elisabeth's nephew went to. Only one of the core Wombles was female and even she was consigned to the kitchen, because this was over 50 years ago (and because feisty young Alderney was never lifted from the page to the screen). The Beresfords moved to Alderney in the mid 1970s, quite possibly off the royalties, and Elisabeth lived in on the tiny Channel Island until her death in 2010.
Wombles TV series
1973: Series 1 (5th Feb - 2nd Mar, 18th Jun - 6th Jul) BBC1
1975: Series 2 (15th Sep - 24th Oct) BBC1
also 1997/1998/1998 ITV
The Wombles march to fame started in the last week of 1969 when the first book was selected to be read on Jackanory and proved very popular. The BBC then commissioned FilmFair to make a 30 part series for the five minute slot before the Evening News with Ivor Wood doing the animation (after he did The Herbs and before he did Paddington). I was seven when the first episode was shown, with its iconic blowy umbrella, and was immediately hooked. I was so besotted that for Christmas that year, or maybe the year after, my auntie made me a cuddly Great Uncle Bulgaria which I still have and here it is. I bet she won't have been expecting to see her masterful creation here again this morning.

Just before the evening news on BBC1 in 1974
Jan: Crystal Tipps and Alistair
Feb: Magic Roundabout
May: The Wombles
Jul: Adventures of Parsley
Aug: Hector's House
Sep: Captain Pugwash
Oct: Roobarb
Dec: Magic Roundabout
These were golden years for children's TV. I know most people think that about their childhood viewing but those are bona fide classics, each shining out from our screens in five minutes flat. Trippy Crystal Tipps, overdubbed Zebedee and Co, a herbidacious lion, silly old Hector, life aboard The Black Pig and bouncy Roobarb and Custard. The Wombles' first series was getting its second outing in 1974 because when you're little you don't mind repeats because familiar is good. We moved house in April 1974 and for the first time I had a bedroom of my own, so posters of Wellington and Madame Cholet went straight up on the wall alongside my giant map depicting all the UK's new administrative districts. All the clues were there even then.
Wombles singles
Jan 1973: The Wombling Song (peaked at 4)
Mar 1974: Remember You're A Womble (3)
Jun 1974: Banana Rock (9)
Oct 1974: Minuetto Allegretto (16)
Nov 1974: Wombling Merry Christmas (2)
Apr 1975: Wombling White Tie And Tails (22)
Jul 1975: Superwomble (20)
Nov 1975: Let's Womble To The Party Tonight (34)
The Wombles became a musical act when Mike Batt was invited to perform the show's theme on Cilla Black's Saturday night show, and became a rock band after the single subsequently made it onto Top of the Pops. Shaggy grey costumes were hastily sewn. Mike performed as Orinoco, Chris Spedding (who'd later produce the Sex Pistols) was guitarist Wellington and Clem Cattini (ex of the Tornados) was Bungo the drummer. Now that these furry-suited personas existed the Wombles could give personal appearances and suddenly they were everywhere, indeed they somehow became the best selling artists of 1974 beating all the classic glam rock acts. The last of their four Top 10 singles was Wombling Merry Christmas, the runner-up to Mud for the festive charttopper, and Mike Batt kept 'em coming but within a year the musical bubble had burst.
Wombles albums
Nov 1973: Wombling Songs (peaked at number 19)
Jul 1974: Remember You're a Womble (18)
Dec 1974: Keep On Wombling (17)
Sep 1975: Superwombling (did not chart)
I had all the Wombles albums, even Superwombling which was probably pushing the envelope a bit too far. The best of the four was Remember You're a Womble where Mike started experimenting with all sorts of musical styles including rock, calypso, country, boogie woogie and classical (specifically Minuetto Allegretto which I once played in front of my entire school on the violin). And these musical purchases proved important because they directly inspired my brother and I to get our own record player, a small black number which proved the entry level drug to a world of popular music. The first non-Wombles single I bought was Billy Don't Be a Hero by Paper Lace, I suspect solely because it was on Bus Stop records, which was also in the charts exactly 50 years ago. Thank you Wombles for opening my eyes to a lot more than litter.

Today I have been telling you about the Wombles, which is exactly what I would have been doing had we met fifty years ago because nothing changes.

 Thursday, April 25, 2024

Nobody wants to read boring old text any more, the moving image is where it's at.
So today I'm pivoting to video and bringing you my first thrilling dynamic transport content.
Like and subscribe!

For those of you without playback capability, I've included a transcript below.
Warning, spoilers!

Train versus plane - City to Heathrow

Scene - outside City Airport
DEEJ: Hi there. Welcome back to the channel and we've got a wild one for you today. What's the fastest way to get from London City Airport to Heathrow Airport. Is it the train? Or could it be flying? I know, mad right?
(cut to shot of plane taking off)
DEEJ: And to help us answer this big question I have with me the YouTube queen of all things aviation, MsJinx! Hey MJ, love your channel!
MSJINX: Yo Deej. Love your channel, love your t-shirt. Let's do this!
DEEJ: So as you can see we're both standing here outside London City Airport, one of only two commercial airports within Greater London, and what we're going to do is travel to the other one which is London Heathrow.
MSJINX: LCY to LHR! The kind of journey every AV geek and big business highflier is always making!
DEEJ: But which way is fastest? We're going to answer this question properly and forever with a RACE! I'm the trains expert so I'm going to fly between the two.
MSJINX: ...and I'm the frequent flyer so I'm taking the train. I know, mad right? And to make it fair we're not going to start the clock until his flight takes off. See you on the other side!!!

Scene - on the plane
DEEJ: I'm on the plane! It's always nice and quick at London City! But I know what you're thinking, you're thinking there aren't any direct flights from here to Heathrow and you'd be right. I can't do this in one hop. So here's the clever thing. I'm actually going to take TWO planes, one out from City and one back to Heathrow, and I'm STILL planning to get there before MsJinx.
(opens map)
DEEJ: So look, the BIG question is where do I have to fly to to get back to Heathrow in the quickest possible time? It could be Birmingham, that's only 100 miles away, but there are no flights from City Airport to Birmingham. It could be Guernsey, that's only 120 miles away, but there are no flights from Guernsey back to Heathrow. It could be Amsterdam, that's only 200 miles away, but the faff with customs and passports would slow me down so much I'd lose the race. So I'm actually flying 330 miles to Edinburgh because that's Britain's premier air connection so there are loads of planes which gives me the best chance of a quick turnaround. Wow, all the way to Scotland for the LOLs, but that's the kind of top video content which really reels in the viewers. Look, Milton Keynes!

Scene - on the DLR
MSJINX: This is going to be easy. Look, I'm at the front driving the train! Woo woo!

Scene - on the plane
DEEJ: I'm still on the plane! Turns out Edinburgh is further away than I thought and the time's really ticking away. Look, Kielder Forest!

Scene - on the Thames Clipper
MSJINX: I couldn't come all this way to London and not ride the big Uber boat so I hopped off the DLR after one stop and ran down to the pier at Royal Wharf. Only 7 minutes to wait, result! Loving the great views of the grey river!
(phone rings)
DEEJ: Yo MJ! Wow, you can ring people from the sky these days! I'm on BA1457 heading to Edinburgh and I am so going to beat you!
MSJINX: Yo Deej! Heathrow here I come!

Scene - at Edinburgh Airport
DEEJ: Well that took almost an hour and a half and there wasn't even any in-flight catering! But we're here now and I sat at the front of the plane for a quick getaway - OUT OF MY WAY! - straight out up the boarding ramp and into arrivals. HELLO SCOTLAND! My flight back leaves in forty minutes but I'm going to keep running for maximum effect.

Scene - on the cablecar
MSJINX: I couldn't come all this way to London and not ride the world famous Dangleway so I hopped off the Clipper after one pier and ran down to the terminal at North Greenwich. No queue at all, result! Loving the great views of the grey river!

Scene - at Edinburgh Airport
(running past Starbucks/flicking through the boxes of shortbread in World Duty Free/running past Brewdog/checking out the plaids in the Tartan Weaving Mill/running past Boots/downing a Becks in Wetherspoons/running past Krispy Kreme)

Scene - on the DLR
MSJINX: I've finally reached the other side of the Royal Docks and I'm back on the little automated railway. Just one stop should do it. I'm at the front driving the train again! Woo woo!

Scene - on the plane
DEEJ: Wow, look, I'm on my second plane! I haven't got a window seat this time but if I squint between that woman's laptop and that man's headphones I can see the tops of the clouds. Look, cirrocumulus!

Scene - on Crossrail
MSJINX: I switched to the purple train at Custom House, it was so easy. Now I'm whizzing under central London and wow look, there's a 4G signal down here.
(phone rings)
DEEJ: Yo MJ! How's it going? (waves stopwatch)
MSJINX: Storming it! (waves stopwatch)

Scene - on the plane
DEEJ: Well that took almost an hour and a half and there wasn't even an in-flight movie! But we're here now and I sat at the front of the plane for a quick getaway - OUT OF MY WAY! - straight out up the boarding ramp and into Heathrow proper. HELLO LONDON! All I need to do is reach Arrivals so I'm going to run for maximum effect. I need to be the winner here!

Scene - at Heathrow Airport
MSJINX: Well hello what kept you?
DEEJ: Dammit, how on earth did you get here first?
MSJINX: I've been here for two hours. Sorry but you were never going to win by taking a plane to another country and back, that's a ridiculous idea we conjured up for the purposes of a clickbait video. The quickest way from London City Airport to Heathrow is obviously by train.
DEEJ: But great content, eh?
MSJINX: Great content! Love your work Deej!
DEEJ: Love your work MsJinx! Like and subscribe!

 Wednesday, April 24, 2024

 Freshwater fish quiz
Here are clues to 21 freshwater fish.
The first column are definitions, the rest are cryptic.
How many can you catch?
(quiz complete... all answers now in the comments box)

1) roost
2) plump
3) long spear
4) below tenor
5) director Ken
6) former Sussex MP
7) Surrey MP
    8) vehicle (quiet)
  9) phone company (large)
10) 10 swiss
11) 60 secs at present
12) 500 + 1
13) 1000 in hairdressers
14) elkcits
  15) time thrashing
16) undo egg whisk
17) cockless insect
18) I didn't eat initially
19) rung at closing time?
20) sounds like light beam
21) bowled stack of paper

I don't wear my mourning clothes very often, thank goodness. A freshly laundered white shirt, a black jacket unwrapped from the dry cleaners (not actually a suit but the forecast was for showers), suitably shiny shoes and a tie in my pocket in case sartorial standards require. "Don't worry on my account," he'd have said.

The crematorium is busy, but in a streamlined way which helps prevent you noticing. The day is cold but the trees are bright and the wisteria is fortuitously at its peak. At the appointed time the family arrives, one down, and the chapel fills up from the rear. The deceased beams out from the back of the order of service holding a large carp.

Sarah Brightman is faded out halfway, having already wrung out maximum emotion. The celebrant inserts all the correct names, places and dates into her meticulous eulogy. Eldest grandson's tribute is a tour de force, a very personal homage to the joy, the love and the laughs. The spaghetti bolognaise anecdote raises multiple smiles.

The video screen bursts into life to display a carefully compiled selection of family photos. Cheeky kid, young husband, busy father, proud grandparent, family man. And at the end of the sequence, with visceral impact, a brief video clip of the deceased raising a glass to the congregation as his body lies in a box a few feet to the left.

Leaving a rose on top of the coffin proves awkward for some of the shorter members of the immediate family. No rollers roll, no curtains close, not until we're all safely outside emoting amidst the floral tributes. That is a great photo, but when it was taken nobody would ever have guessed it'd be the one chosen to sum up his life.

The wake is a short drive away, although it takes a while because the black limo has to slow down to negotiate every set of speed bumps. Turn left past the bottles of ketchup to the farthest room where subsections of family and friends will assemble at atomised tables. A sea of black and white, of brooches and ties, of raised glasses.

The food arrives slowly and runs out prematurely. Stories are shared, memories are raked, the brioche burgers disappear with gusto and the mood has subtly lifted. In a way it's like any other family gathering but with one notable exception, the reality being that the composition of a family gathering has irrevocably changed.

Slowly the commemoration ebbs away, each departing party offering thanks and words of comfort before slipping out to the car park. I wasn't intending to linger with the hangers-on but they don't let you take the bus home in these parts, they offer you a lift. The tie stayed in my pocket. I don't wear my mourning clothes very often, thank goodness.

 Tuesday, April 23, 2024

30 unblogged things I did in April 1984

They didn't have blogs or the internet forty years ago, indeed my Sinclair ZX81 wasn't capable of much, but here are 30 things I didn't digitally publish at the time. To help you get your bearings I was 19 and most of this is the Easter break from university. The best bit's in the middle of the month. Sorry there are no photos.

Sun 1: It's both Mothers Day and April Fools Day which is a recipe for potential disaster. Give Mum her card, watch her face, then give her her real card. I have a box of Thornton's truffles ready as a back-up. Lunch is early because Dad is heading off to Broadcasting House to be interviewed about football.
Mon 2: I'm mildly obsessed by the Cadbury's Creme Egg Mystery, a nationwide treasure hunt for 12 buried gold eggs with clues in the book Conundrum (which I still have). Try ringing the helpline (Freephone Gold Eggs) while my parents are out but it's only operational from 6pm to 8am.
Tue 3: Hugely disappointed that Dr Mabuse by Propaganda has failed to make the Top 40, but at least Captain Sensible is the highest climber.
Wed 4: It's Song For Europe night and Belle and the Devotions romp home.
Thu 5: Discover that WH Smith in Rickmansworth has closed its record department. Buy some Berol pens instead. Also BBC1 is off air all day because its technicians are on strike.
Fri 6: Help Mum make some scones for the Mothers Union meeting this afternoon (admittedly only the kneading bit, nothing technical). My brother has a more interesting day - Ken Livingstone comes to school to give a lecture.
Sat 7: On TV today 1) Saturday Superstore (with Nick Kershaw) 2) The Price is Right (with Leslie Crowther) 3) Zoltan Hound of Dracula (with a litter of vampiric puppies).
Sun 8: While I'm sat in my bedroom writing up lecture notes, my brother is up Cader Idris on his geography field trip. Spitting Image debut their puppet of the Queen.
Mon 9: Lunch is a tin of new Heinz Invaders (spaghetti shapes in tomato sauce resembling little spaceships), whereas tea is a traditional steak and kidney pudding.
Tue 10: Off to the Post Office to get a First Day Cover with the new Urban Renewal stamps. The 20½p stamp features Milburngate Shopping Centre in Durham while the 16p depicts the Liverpool Garden Festival (which'll be opening next month).
Wed 11: Excitement as someone we know from church appears on This is Your Life and gives the bookholder a big kiss. Ring up friends in Cheshire to help ensure that the university holidays won't entirely be a mundane waste of time.
Thu 12: Get some photos taken in one of those passport machines (oh dear, not great) and use one to buy a £12 student railcard. Watford Junction station is mostly portakabins because it's in the process of being redeveloped.

Fri 13: University Friend 1 (whose Dad runs a multinational company) drives me to Abingdon to meet UF2 and UF3, then we all drive up to the Wirral to stay over at the house of UF4. Her house is eye-opening because a) it has infra-red beams across the drive b) we have wine with our meal c) they have Ceefax! After dinner head out for beers at the Glegg Arms (which wasn't a Beefeater back then).
Sat 14: Proper brilliant day of sightseeing: i) drive to Chester and walk round the city walls (anticlockwise), ii) pub lunch (my fourth steak and kidney of the week), iii) drive into Wales and climb "a windy hill", iv) walk down World's End ("an isolated craggy limestone valley"), v) look round Valle Crucis Abbey (it's at this point that Watford win their semifinal against Plymouth and make it to the final of the FA Cup), vi) WALK ACROSS THE ACTUAL PONTCYSYLLTE VIADUCT (my diary merely says "nice" but what I was really thinking was "oh god this is narrow and high up and wow look at the view down there and oh god I suppose we're going to have to walk back again").
Sun 15: For our final day hereabouts we go out to vii) Wirral Country Park (for a walk along an ex railway) viii) Thurstaston Common (to climb the red sandstone outcrop) ix) West Kirby (get very wet walking round the Marine Lake) x) some Heswall pub (where I have too much cider and get drunk for the first time).

Mon 16: Time to switch friendship groups and spend a few days youth hostelling in the Peak District. Four trains get me to Edale, where the hostel isn't open yet so the nine of us climb up to see the Druid's Stone (except we're not sure which rock it is). At dinner Jan and Vicki sing Happy Birthday to me, even though it isn't.
Tue 17: Today's hike is a geological treat. First to Castleton via Hollins Cross and Mam Tor, then down the Blue John Cavern which is amazing. Eat lunch on Treak Cliff, decide against visiting Speedwell Cavern and fail to reach the castle because there's a 300 foot chasm in the way. At dinner we all sing Happy Birthday to Jan, even though it isn't.
Wed 18: Today's hike is all dales, starting with Cave Dale and continuing via Hay Dale, Peter Dale and (my favourite) Monk's Dale. Topics of conversation include lambs, the situation in Libya, lateral thinking puzzles and the Wombles. Our target is Ravenstor hostel where at dinner we all sing Happy Birthday to Vicki, even though it isn't. One of the groups at a neighbouring table, who were also in Castleton yesterday, shoots us a dodgy look.
Thu 19: Today's hike mostly follows the Monsal Trail, although we have to divert via the gorge at Chee Dale because the tunnel's closed. The cement works isn't the most scenic welcome to Buxton. And that's quite enough hostelling, so it's back to Chief Friend's house in Cuddington to slum it on her sofa instead.
Fri 20: Get roped into helping the family at the local sailing club beause they're on duty today. After lunch I get taken out on Winsford Flash in a Mirror and get to learn about beating, tacking, jibing and booms. Never done it before, never done it since. Then it's time to go home (one stop from Crewe to Watford Junction) where I very definitely need a bath. Enjoy tonight's programme celebrating BBC2's 20th anniversary.

Sat 21: Back to normal, which means Coco Pops for breakfast and a lot of sitting around at home, although Mum does take me clothes shopping in Watford and strongly guides me towards her choice of jumpers.
Sun 22: Easter's late this year. My grandmother comes round to partake of roast turkey, then spends the entire afternoon watching The Sound of Music. At Evensong the vicar cuts the sermon short so that the congregation can rush home to watch the premiere of Chariots Of Fire on BBC1. (We haven't bought a video recorder yet, that's still six months away).
Mon 23: It's been the warmest Easter since 1949, topping 20°C. Leftover turkey for lunch. Nextdoor have erected a Vote Conservative sign in their front garden.
Tue 24: I need a haircut so walk to Headhunters in Watford but it turns out they're closed on Tuesdays so I have to risk the old bloke on New Road. The tortoise is out of hibernation and chomping cucumber with gusto.

Wed 25: Back to university, which seems a bit soon after a bank holiday but Easter was very late this year. Aghast to discover that our rooms got used by a conference over the break and not everything I left behind is still there. There are black lumps in my sugar. I'm particularly annoyed to have lost my zodiac mug, which OK yes was a freebie from a petrol station but I loved it. On the positive side I appear to have gained two new mugs (one of which I later gave to my Dad and he still uses it for his black coffee almost every day).
Thu 26: Some fairly desperate last minute cramming because there are exams tomorrow. Used my postal vote to vote for my former music teacher.
Fri 27: I revised some dead cert questions yesterday but only three of them came up. Could have done better. Afterwards went clothes shopping without parental supervision, and blimey I really want that black and white check shirt from Burton. Skip the offer of spending Friday night at a pub in Marston and instead end up reading a selection of Asterix books. (I really should go back and try being a student again, I'd make such a better job of it).
Sat 28: That's better. Jazz and cocktails in the college garden, a pint at the King's Arms with the SDP contingent, more beers at the Turf and finally all round to Derek's for records and a little wine. Derek has his own Wikipedia page these days.
Sun 29: Watch our team get beaten on University Challenge, then go punting. I'm more than happy to let everyone else do the propelling, and when I do finally have a go we end up going round in circles before my turn is mercifully cut short by two alsatians on the riverbank.
Mon 30: Lectures restart and this term's grant cheque arrives. It's for £349, £238 of which will be going on food and accommodation. Go for a burger at Huckleberry's because the government are slapping 15% VAT on it tomorrow. Tomorrow is also May Morning so this is the night everyone stays up late, and I fill the intervening hours playing Snapper on Andy's BBC Micro, drinking beers down the pub with Gerry, playing Offshore Oilstrike with Felicity and watching Airplane in the common room with Patrick. May'll be better...

 Monday, April 22, 2024

The centre of London is generally taken to be the statue of Charles I on the south side of Trafalgar Square. It sits on the site of the original Charing Cross and is also the point from which mileages are measured, as a plaque at its foot attests.

But the geographical centre of London is harder to define. Based purely on maps and boundaries, not historical precedent, where might the centre of the capital be? In today's post I'm going to visit some of the candidates, laugh at a suggestion made for marketing reasons and throw in a potential candidate myself. Without offering too many spoilers, the answer is probably in south London not far from Waterloo.

1) The centroid

In geometry a centroid is the average position of all the points within a figure, i.e. the centre of gravity. Possibly the best way to picture this is to imagine a flat sheet of metal in the shape of Greater London and then to identify the point where it would balance. The is what Londonist did in 2010, although they stuck a map to a packet of M&S cheese crackers, trimmed it with scissors and attempted to balance it on a knitting needle. This rough and ready method ended up poking a hole in the vicinity of Lambeth North tube station, and this it turns out is a pretty good estimate.

In 2014 a Londonist reader, Tom Hoban, set his AutoCAD software the task of determining a more accurate location. He traced an electronic map of the Greater London boundary, pressed some buttons and determined that the centre of the capital was at 51.500502N 0.109294W. If you want that in degrees minutes and seconds it's 51°30'1.81"N 0°6'33.46"W, if you want it as a grid reference it's TQ313796, if you'd prefer it as a postcode it's SE1 7RD, if you'd like a clickable map try here/here/here, and if you'd just like a photo here's one.

This is the Tanswell Estate in Lambeth, a horseshoe of council housing lurking just off Waterloo Road near Waterloo station. If you know Waterloo Millennium Green it's just behind that. These are typical LCC blocks erected in the 1930s on the site of demolished slums, indeed I can show you a photo from 1936 of the barrel works and former terraces that used to be here. Today the property in the corner is called Greet House, a five storey redbrick block with external walkways of the kind that coppers in The Bill were always running round. The centre of London lies in the parking spaces outside, perhaps within the blue bin shed or the raised shrubbery, in front of an impressive line of potted plants. One of the vehicles parked here is a black taxi and I'd like to suggest that this cabbie selected his home with rare precision. Perhaps more strategically impressive, the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service are located on the other side of Greet House facing Pearman Road. I have never seen so many ambulances parked up in a residential area, at least in the absence of a medical calamity.

Not everyone agrees with Tom Hoban's calculation. An architect called Michael Jack did a similar centroid calculation with his software and ended up with a slightly different location on Baylis Road, specifically 51°30'1.94"N 0°6'39.67"W. He even went to the effort of sticking a red cross to the pavement and taking a photo so he could show the location on his website, which I hoped would make locating the precise spot much easier. Unfortunately the cycle lane in his photo has been upgraded over the last decade so matching the image to reality took me a while. But by focusing on the trees and lampposts I found the correct spot by a BT inspection hatch over the wall from Johanna primary school, immediately opposite Cut Waterloo barbershop and Waterloo Food & Wine.

Reassuringly it's only a two minute walk from here to the previous centroid location at Greet House, a distance of barely 100m, but this just goes to show how a tiny difference in calculation can shift the intended result. Reassuringly Baylis Road and Pearman Road are essentially neighbours, and both are a short walk north of Lambeth North tube station so Londonist's needle-balancing stunt turned out to be pretty accurate. Weighting the calculation to take account of London's population shifts the centroid a bit, to the Shell Centre on the South Bank, because a lot of Bromley is quite empty. I also once calculated the average location of all the bus stops in London, courtesy of an FoI request, and that ended up outside St Thomas's Hospital a few streets away. Within an appropriate margin of error, therefore, it's a good bet that the geographical centre of London is somewhere in the streets round the back of Waterloo station.

2) An alternative centroid

Ten years ago London's media were agog with the news that the centre of London had shifted to a bench on the Thames Embankment near Temple station at 51°30’37.6”N 0°06’56.3”W. A new centre point for London, said the Independent. London's real centre point, said the Evening Standard. The really boring spot in London next to a park bench that is the exact middle of the city, said MyLondon eight years later, as befits a bunch of shameless scavenging peddlers of unchecked clickbait. I don't have a photo of the bench because the day of the London Marathon is not the time to get up close, plus this location turns out to be utter bolx.

The new data had in fact come from estate agents Knight Frank who had property to sell. "With mapping technology used by the British army we calculated the exact centre of central London," they said, "and this point is the bullseye of the bullseye." It turns out what they'd actually done was find the centroid of the inner London ring road, not the capital itself, because that gave them an answer closer to where they wanted it to be. That's because their research had been commissioned to promote a new report on the Midtown area, central London's most impressively unsuccessful rebranding project, and this blind-copied rubbish is why you should never believe everything you read in the papers.

3) Furthest from the boundary

This one comes courtesy of Ollie O'Brien, a Lead Data Scientist at UCL who's assisted this blog with data queries before. In 2014 he contributed to the ongoing discussion about London's centre by calculating the point furthest from the Greater London boundary as the crow flies (by doing a few negative Buffer operations in QGIS). It turned out the most distant spot was 10.42 miles from Stirling Corner in Borehamwood, 10.42 miles from The Brook pub in Worcester Park and 10.42 miles from the Central line junction near Roding Valley station. And it's to be found at 51°30'47.30"N 0°8'3.37"W, aka TQ295809, aka W1F 0DN, which is just off Wardour Street in Soho.

By chance the equidistant point lies up a narrow alley, namely Tyler's Court, a dingy slot along the side of a fancy dress shop on Berwick Street. This wiggy emporium (called So High Soho) recently moved out for a refurb so the whole place is sheathed in scaffolding and the alleyway is even less welcoming than usual. The walls are scrawled with graffiti, you'd think twice about nipping through to Wardour Street after dark and the inevitable smell of urine hangs in the air (or at least it did after a heavy Saturday night). Facing all this grime is Kemp House, the gentrified replacement for what I remember 20 years ago as a 'proper' row of interesting shops but which now sells prissy facial cleansers, designer beanies and overpriced accessories to brandwhores who wouldn't have been seen dead in Berwick Street Market back in the day... and maybe this dichotomous spot isn't such a bad representation of 'central' London after all.

4) Where the diagonals cross

This is my personal contribution to the ongoing debate. Obviously Greater London doesn't really have diagonals but if I pretend it does and see what happens it turns out to give a very good answer. What I did was draw a line from the northernmost point in London (the M25 near Crews Hill) to the southernmost point (between fields near Chaldon) and join them with a straight line, then do the same with the westernmost point (M25 junction 14) and the easternmost point (a marshy ditch beyond North Ockendon). You can see my working on a Google Map I've knocked up and zoom in to see the precise point where the diagonals cross... which it turns out is here, just beyond the ticket barriers.

Welcome to the new bit of Waterloo station, bolted onto the side, which was of course the original Eurostar terminal before trains were transferred to St Pancras. It's now used for suburban departures, mostly via Wandsworth and Putney, and is a bit of a walk from the remainder of the concourse. If I've counted the ribs in the roof correctly the crossover point is on the grand sweep between platforms 23 and 24, roughly where the front carriage of a train pulls in, beside the little grey cabin where staff hide away. And because we've hit a properly special spot, we can also head down the escalators and experience the crossover point on the floor below.

This is The Sidings, an attempt to create a hospitality destination in the former customs and processing halls of the ex-Eurostar terminal. It was greatly promoted by its developers and scored one big hit when Brewdog moved in at the far end with their enormous craft beer playground. The remainder of the space, however, hasn't attracted many tenants and generally resembles retail tumbleweed. A coffee shop, a salon and a bloke trying to sell designer trainers are still trading but beyond them are hoardings which promise great things but have never been removed, and generally hardly anybody walks past the toilets. Things are even quieter one level further down where most travellers would never think to go. The WH Smith at the crossover point is now closed, its shelves emptied, and the Rosarium restaurant claims to be "taking a short break in the new year". This centre of London is an economic disaster zone, akin to walking around the corridors of a gleaming starship while bored security guards eye you up for target practice.

In all this cartographical juggling we haven't really done any better than in part 1, identifying London's centroid, which appears to be the Tanswell Estate in Lambeth. And don't forget that all these measurements are potentially subject to change, for example if Slough were ever incorporated into the capital or Havering decided to make a run for it. Best I think to stick with the historical definition of London's centre being Charing Cross and leave Waterloo as a middling curiosity.

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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

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

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

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