diamond geezer

 Friday, May 31, 2024

31 unblogged things I did in May

Wed 1: The latest exhibition at The Curve gallery at the Barbican is dark and almost empty apart from 20 scant full-frontal paintings. I completely missed the subtext ("The exhibition highlights how The Curve’s shape reflects the Arabic letter Zayin (ز), the first letter of the word ‘zamel’, a derogatory term for gay men, whose buzzing sound is used to insinuate the slur without voicing it in Morocco"), exiting at the far end thinking all I'd seen was a lot of todgers. Always read the blurb.
Thu 2: I've now watched Baby Reindeer, courtesy of BestMate's Netflix account, so suddenly understand the cultural zeitgeist a lot better. It was certainly dramatic but never felt believable, especially the bus shelter scene where the routes hadn't even been listed in numerical order.
Fri 3: The local magpie has taken to landing on my balcony. I thought initially this was in a nosey territorial way but it turns out he just likes drinking the water out of the rim of the tray underneath my rosebush.

Sat 4: We have brand new electric buses round our way on route 276 and they look unusually squared off, I think because the electrics are in the roof. Every time I see one it feels like Bow Road has jumped 10 years into the future, such is the transformative visual power of new technology on the streetscape.
Sun 5: I still haven't got used to Radio 4's Round Britain Quiz being on a Sunday rather than a Monday. I can't be the only person who lies there in the bath shouting "Oh for goodness sake that was never a four - three at best".
Mon 6: You may have seen the British Transport Police's advert at tube stations which says "Beware the Gadget Grabbers" and invites you download the Railway Guardian app. Unfortunately it presents you with a QR code to scan which means you have to get your gadget out and thereby risk getting it grabbed, which seems somewhat counter-productive.
Tue 7: I stepped onto the DLR at Bow Church and thought I recognised the man settling down opposite as, erm, ah, ooh, the topless scything bloke from Poldark. I checked later and it turns out it almost certainly was Aidan Turner because he lives on Bow Road, in one of the nicer houses, so he's almost my neighbour.
Wed 8: It's that time of year when people wear less and thus reveal all the extra tattoos they've had done over the winter. Evidently the needlers have been very busy again. Some of you are going to run out of space by the end of the decade.
Thu 9: The latest graffiti under the Bow Flyover has a poetic millennial flair.

Fri 10: I was up late enough to catch all the "OMG, the actual aurora actually visible from everywhere, stupendous!" notifications on social media, but when I looked out at the sky I saw bugger all. I even walked down to the River Lea to get darker skies and tried waving my phone camera to enhance the image but sadly this once in a lifetime experience passed me by.
Sat 11: Stayed up until midnight to watch Ncuti's first proper Doctor Who episode drop on the iPlayer, then watched the second in its proper teatime slot. He was great, and Russell T Davies certainly knows how to deliver a rollicking story (even if it's full of holes the more you dissect it).
Sun 12: Yes, but two dedications for the same anniversary is just greedy.
Mon 13: I watched the first episode of The Fortune Hotel on ITV, and swiftly decided that "swapping briefcases occasionally according to wilfully subjective rules" is a poor excuse for a format and I never watched again.
Tue 14: I tried opening that jar of raspberry jam I've had since 2008 and the lid resolutely refused to shift. So I put it back in the cupboard and a few days later found it had leaked everywhere making all the adjacent jars sticky, then I ended up with dark red stains all over my shirt, then I threw it in the bin.
Wed 15: Walked the full length of Harringay Passage for the first time. It's about a mile long and crosses eighteen sideroads on the way, which is properly unusual, and all because a sewer pipe runs underneath.

Thu 16: I finally caught a DLR train with the fake buttons at the front, designed to keep small kids happy as they punch away to sound the Woolwich Ferry horn, ring the Bow Bells or pick the Turbo charge option. Unfortunately this particular carriage-front had found itself in the middle of a train so the intended effect was instantly shattered.
Fri 17: The Science Museum still insists on everyone booking a free ticket, but their ridiculously bureaucratic onboarding experience will let you enter any old rubbish as your name and email address. I called myself piggywoo from numpty@numpty.com and they happily issued me with a QR code and in I sailed. They're the numpties here I think.
Sat 18: Little tiny conkers are appearing in horse chestnut trees amid the candleblossom, and before you know it they'll be all over the ground, we'll be putting the clocks back and it'll be Christmas again.
Sun 19: I always rewatch Betjeman's Metro-land when they repeat it, mainly because it's excellent but also to scan the crowd in the Croxley Revels scene in the hope of identifying more schoolmates, or even myself.
Mon 20: On my alphabetical journey through classic authors at my local library, I ploughed through a lot of Hemingway, embraced the wistfulness of Isherwood, thoroughly enjoyed a dystopian James and preferred Kureishi when he wasn't being relationshippy. If I can find a good L I might just get through to Z by Christmas.

Tue 21: New DLR trains will start to enter service soon and the seats will have a moquette called Poplar. There's also a variant for priority seating.
Wed 22: Ooh a surprise general election! This is my 16th, which means I've spent approximately 3% of my life during a general election campaign. This is just behind the amount of time I've spent during an Olympics (4%) but ahead of World Cups (2%), bank holidays (2%) and birthdays (0.3%).
Thu 23: I worried back in February that's I'd pruned my rosebush too much, even though I'd been told you can't. I now have one thriving stem with three gorgeous ruby roses, one muted stem where nothing's budded or bloomed, and one sturdy woody stem where all the action used to be but which didn't grow back any leaves so remains entirely bare. Mixed results.
Fri 24: Time to go through the annual charade of updating my ISA before it reverts to a low-rate account. Ridiculously the Bank of England have raised interest rates by 0.75% over the last twelve months but my bank's best savings rate is now 2% lower than it was last year. It's not just mortgage-payers being screwed.

Sat 25: When I reached Shoreham at the end of my 13 mile coastal walk I hoped for a look round the Marlipins Museum, a small maritime collection housed in Britain's oldest secular building. Last time I was in town I missed out because I was four months too early, whereas this time it turned out I was thirty minutes too late. Maybe next time.
Sun 26: Spotted my former boss in a London park wearing a ridiculous hat, and decided this probably wasn't the optimum moment to go over and say hello again.
Mon 27: It's been a while since I went to the John Soane Museum and it remains bizarre and brilliant, even if the upselling of the guidebook at the entrance is a bit strong. Also the official one-way system is very difficult to follow if you haven't bought the guidebook.
Tue 28: After walking the muddy Yeading Brook on the edge of Ealing I just missed a bus so had time to visit my favourite London eaterie, the Kingshill Bakery on Kingshill Avenue in Hayes. I bought a lush chelsea bun, huge by chainbrand standards, and am pleased to report they haven't raised the price since last year, it's still just £1.

Wed 29: Today I walked through Parsloes Park in Dagenham for the first time, and I suspect it may have been the largest London park I'd never walked through before. I'm now wondering what the new recordholder is. Also it may have been huge but it wasn't very interesting, sorry Dagenham.
Thu 30: In my quest to spot all the numberplate letter pairs, I've seen another two this month bringing my total to 509 out of 519. Today I finally saw OF on a Porsche in Highgate, meaning it's taken exactly six months to get the O's done. FYI the pairs I've yet to see are NR, RL, UE/UT/UV, VH/VJ/VL and XG/XY.
Fri 31: I had a missed call from my niece, an event so rare I concluded that either a) someone was very ill or b) she'd got engaged. Thankfully it was the latter, hurrah 🎉, so our family now has two weddings in the offing.

 Thursday, May 30, 2024



London's Monopoly Streets


Colour group: orange
Purchase price: £180
Rent: £14
Length: 200m
Borough: Westminster
Postcode: WC2

We've reached the oranges, the awkward group on the Monopoly board where the streets are less famous, in one case ridiculously brief and in one case doesn't exist. When Victor and Marjory from Waddingtons were selecting names in 1935 they decided some of the groups should have themes, and the oranges are therefore all underlyingly connected to law and order. On Bow Street we're talking Magistrates, Police and Street Runners, augmented by one other ridiculously famous building which is just as well because a blogpost about a 200m street might otherwise have been really dull.

n.b. This is Bow Street in Covent Garden which is nowhere near Bow Road in Bow, nor close to the church of St-Mary-le-Bow which Cockneys are supposed to be born within earshot of.

Bow Street was laid out in the 1630s, built at the behest of the 4th Earl of Bedford (who's also responsible for the piazza and the church at Covent Garden). The name comes from the street being bow-shaped rather than arrow-straight, a curve it still posesses although you can easily see one end from the other. Initially it was a prestigious address, hence early residents include the actual Oliver Cromwell and the sculptor Grinling Gibbons. But as theatreland grew up nearby the prostitutes and pornographers moved in, the tide only turning when one resident unintentionally invented the precursor of our modern police force. Let's work backwards.

Hotel: NoMad
By the end of the 20th century the big Victorian building halfway down the street was no longer suitable for use as a police station or a magistrates court, so the former moved out in 1992 and the latter in 2004. Perhaps inevitably the empty property was sold to a hotel chain and became a luxury boutique hideaway where the rooms start at gold taps and marble tiles and work up to chaise longues and freestanding clawfoot bathtubs. Non-guests are welcome at their bar or restaurant, but expect a side of chips to set you back £9 and your burger to come with gruyere, shallot and black truffle. The bar is called Side Hustle and is accessed through the original Police Station entrance, which must unnerve some international guests with shady backgrounds, whereas the main doors to the former Magistrates Court generally remain locked.

The dock here welcomed such varied defendants as Dr Crippen, General Pinochet, the Kray twins, Oscar Wilde and a couple of Pankhursts. The building started out in 1881 with just three magistrates, two days a week, and built up its reputation from there. There were magistrates in Bow Street before there were police until one begat the other, the instigator being Henry Fielding who moved into number 4 in 1748 and became concerned by the amount of gin-based disorder in the locality. He hired eight constables to pursue criminals in a more civil manner than the usual street-based violence, these becoming known as the Bow Street Runners, and when his brother succeeded him as magistrate the patrol was refined into London's first effective police force. The NoMad Hotel now offers gin to local alcoholics without any Met interference.

The place to discover the Covent Garden justice backstory is the Bow Street Police Museum. This is housed in the station's former lockup and was opened in conjunction with the hotel's owners to bring a bit of heritage provenance to their venture. It's not big - more a room, a corridor and eight cells - but this is reflected in the £6 admission price. It's also not full of objects, more multiple information boards and the recollections of former officers, although they did keep the original court dock and shifted it to somewhere you can stand behind. I haven't actually been inside because the museum only opens three days a week and the first of those is tomorrow, but Ian visited when it opened in 2021 and the good news is that face coverings are no longer required.

House: Royal Opera House
Bow Street's true world class attraction is home to two cultural institutions, the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. It started out in 1732 as the Theatre Royal, then mainly a playhouse, although Handel often dropped by to give a musical performance. In 1808 a devastating fire forced a rebuild, with actors on the replacement main stage including icons like Sarah Siddons and Joseph Grimaldi. In 1856 a devastating fire forced a rebuild, this the auditorium we see today, with the ROH moniker first being applied in 1892. The 1997 rebuild thankfully wasn't instigated by fire but instead by lottery cash, and greatly expanded the facilities for ballet-adjacent activities. I've only been inside the main building once, this for a works-based motivational event, and I remember being far more impressed by the decor than the buffet.

The large iron and glass structure visible from Bow Street started out as the Floral Hall, a completely separate flower market, which makes sense when you remember what Covent Garden used to be before the tourists took over. The Opera House acquired it in 1977, and during the 90s rebuild elevated the facade above ground level to give the champagne bar a better view and to allow more circulation space underneath. Normally you can walk through to the piazza past the ticket desks, but when I turned up all the doors were locked and a lot of well-turned-out late-middle-aged visitors were pushing helplessly on the glass.

I didn't miss out on the ballet, though. A male dancer in tutu and ballet shoes suddenly emerged from beneath the columns and started to do an arabesque on the pavement accompanied by the strains of appropriate music. I initially assumed his accomplice was filming him but the device she was carrying turned out to be a mobile loudspeaker and the only video being recorded was by a surprised passer-by. If you're not fortunate enough to get a personal performance of your own then be aware that all the seats for this month's Swan Lake have sold out, but the ROH's upcoming programme includes other crowd favourites including Così Fan Tutte, Carmen, Madame Butterfly and six months of Tosca.

This is my ninth Monopoly street, and the first where I've been able to list all the businesses along both sides as succinctly as this:
West side: Greek restaurant, Italian restaurant, Italian restaurant, opera house
East side: (former Ryman), Italian restaurant, luxury hotel, Italian restaurant, pub, pub

It's thin gruel other than the House and the hotel, unless you're a fan of pizza and pasta in which case you're spoiled for choice. Of these I've only been inside Zizzi's, this for a works-based team dinner, and I remember being wholly underwhelmed by the long wait and stiflingly poor conversation. I'd probably have been more at home in one of the pubs, the Marquess of Anglesey or the Bow Street Tavern (where doing my usual price check the fish and chips sells for £17.50). The only other significant building is the Covent Garden telephone exchange, a concrete hunk so ugly they sometimes cover it with drapes when a red carpet event takes place at the ROH opposite (although the wire mesh covering the frontage isn't a key part of this disguise, it's a solar control measure installed in 2000). Best look elsewhere, because not all the oranges are this grey.

 Wednesday, May 29, 2024

North Ealing

...by which I mean the northernmost point in the borough of Ealing. Which is here in the corner of Roxeth Recreation Ground. North Ealing station is 4 miles away.

You're never going to come here by mistake. Roxeth Rec may be large but it's tucked into a dead end wedge between two railway lines, hidden behind a rack of terraced houses round the back of South Harrow station. It's also in the London borough of Harrow, not in Ealing, because the boundary runs along the railway embankment and you can only approach from it from the north. To find the spot you have to pass the cricket pitch, the bowling green and the outdoor gym, which is about as far as most residents get. Dogwalkers doing a circuit probably reach the ditch that drains the area, quite visibly at present, but you also need to cross that and enter the unmown buttercuppy meadow beyond. Between the farthest pair of benches a minor footpath heads off into the undergrowth, as it turns out not very far at all, stopping dead in the corner where the Piccadilly line crosses the Chiltern mainline. North Ealing is the junction of two fences, useless for trainspotting thanks to greenery and contours, more likely somewhere a few youngfolk might come for a beer, a smoke or a fumble. I put my arm through the railings to say I'd been, and never will again. To actually stand in the borough requires crossing the railway and walking the streets of Wood End, a backwater of quintessentially low-key suburbia whose avenues are all pebbledash and porches and patched-up tarmac, but you can't get closer to the tip than the far corner of a Harrow park. That's North Ealing.

West Ealing

...by which I mean the westernmost point in the borough of Ealing. Which is here on a meander in Yeading Brook Fields. West Ealing station is 5 miles away.

A faintly ridiculous tongue of Ealing pokes out to the west of Northolt, most of it covered by fields and a Shooting School. The farthest dividing line is a short section of meandering river, the Yeading Brook, which threads through woodland between Charville Lane and Kingshill Avenue. On the Hillingdon side is an open space called Michael Frost Park, described on its information board as "a mosaic of damp meadows", so what I very quickly discovered is that the best time to visit is not at the end of an exceptionally wet spring during a heavy downpour. Its footpaths were muddy throughout, not helped by clay soil and occasional hoof churn, occasionally lapping up against the edge of an overflowing pond. I only just made it across the single intermediate footbridge without slipping over, and gave the stream-hugging path a miss because I didn't fancy wading through damp nettles at knee height. The occidental meadow on the Ealing side instead dripped with marshy plants and long grass, and I thought how pleasant all this must be if you come at the right time, which this wasn't.

This meander is very nearly the westernmost point in Ealing. It falls just two metres short but is much easier to see because you can stand on a solid path beside a humpback concrete bridge. This is called the Golden Bridge, despite being austere and grey, and has been the westernmost structure in Ealing since being opened by Lord Bernard Miles in 1986. I note that Ealing council are far worse at replacing their signage than Hillingdon, the panels for their nature reserve being either faded beyond legibility or entirely missing and never replaced. My apologies to the gas engineer whose lunchtime sandwich I interrupted while he was parked up in a back-of-beyond car park surrounded by muddy meadows, dripping woodland and scrappy fields. That's West Ealing.

South Ealing

...by which I mean the southernmost point in the borough of Ealing. Which is here on a bend in the road in Norwood Green. South Ealing station is 3 miles away.

Norwood Green is a minor suburb south of Southall, wedged inbetween the Grand Union Canal and the M4. That it's not well-known is partly down to not being near a railway line but mainly because the local motorway service station was gifted to Heston instead. Norwood Green has a triangular village green and an old flint church, and appears to be the kind of place you move to from Southall once you've made some money and need somewhere to park three cars. The edge of Ealing lies just beyond the nicest bit, just before the bus stop just before the motorway viaduct. The final building before Hounslow begins is a postwar bungalow bolted onto a 1930s detached house with an awkwardly shaped garden and a telltale blue bin out front. A fading poster on the southernmost lamppost offers a £50 reward if you find Tiger, a tabby cat who answers to his name, although he went missing on the evening of Fireworks Night so I fear the worst. If you're ever here and ever wondering, the doctors' surgery is in Ealing but the garish phonebox and the Costcutter on Crosslands Parade aren't quite. That's South Ealing.

East Ealing

...by which I mean the easternmost point in the borough of Ealing. It's very nearly in the spaghetti tangle of railways beside Willesden Junction station but the actual winner is a few metres east, some way to the south, here at a crossroads on the Uxbridge Road. There is no East Ealing station so I can't give you a distance, and the nearest station is actually East Acton.

Welcome to Acton Vale, a wellish-to-do suburb to the west of Shepherd's Bush. This is a busy crossroads crisscrossed by multiple bus routes and also boasts a tall green stinkpipe, this because the Stamford Brook once passed this way. The presence of a lost river at a borough boundary is not a coincidence. But only one of the quadrants is actually in Ealing, not the one with the pipe or the pub but the northwest wedge with the somewhat lacklustre parade of shops. The shop on the corner has been closed for so long that the final word on the Poster Stickers Will Be poster has completely faded away. Ealing's easternmost shop is instead PK News, a bazaar which these days sells far more soft drinks than newsprint, then comes a Balkan foodstore, then an ex-off licence which advertises a Video Club on its awning. My favourite shop is the bright orange launderette which still dispenses soap suds from a machine, and your favourite might well be West London Bikes & Scooters which sells everything from vibrant sports bikes to vintage rides with sidecars. As for Ealing's easternmost streetsign this still says Borough of Acton because nobody's replaced it since the 1960s, and hurrah for that. That's East Ealing.

And while none of these four compass points is in itself intrinsically interesting, as a quartet they showcase the sheer diversity of this outer London borough. From throbbing bustle to lowkey suburbs to silent squelchy riverbanks you probably shouldn't risk in trainers, that's the full extent of Ealing.

 Tuesday, May 28, 2024

New campaign to make your Tube journey cheaper

For the last three months Transport for London (TfL) has lowered fares on Fridays to help support Londoners in their battle against the cost of living crisis.

The Off Peak Fridays trial ends this Friday, after which pay as you go single fares will return to their original peak values every weekday. But cheaper travel for deserving Londoners remains one of the key mission goals of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, so a new campaign is being launched to counteract this upcoming disbenefit imbalance and reduce your Tube fare full time.
"You've probably seen customers barging through our ticket gates without paying," said Danielle Harman, TfL's Head of Interface Technology. "Well go ahead London, nobody's stopping you."
Under the new campaign, which is called Push Your Luck, customers at Tube stations will be encouraged to squeeze through ticket gates without swiping their card or contactless device at both ends of their journey. This will ensure that no fare is paid, thereby reducing the cost of existing journeys by 100%.
"Do not barge through the gates at only one end of your journey because this will incur a maximum fare," said Adam Parsons, TfL's Head of Finance Presentation. "Go large or go home."

The new campaign follows the growing realisation that thousands of passengers walk brazenly up to ticket gates and launch themselves through the gap in the middle every day. They have no intention of paying for their journey because in their eyes the Tube exists solely as a free transportation device.
"If they can get away with it why shouldn't you?" said Rizwana Khan, TfL's Head of Contractual Obligation. "Equalities legislation requires us to offer the same benefits to all, so why should you pay a penny when they patently don't?"
Station staff have been told to turn a blind eye towards anyone barging through the ticket barriers and will not intervene. This is an existing policy based on prioritising staff safety in the face of potentially violent customers, and has been in place for many years.
"You may have seen gate-bargers in action and wondered why ticket hall staff never ever take action," said Cal Tartarek, TfL's Head of Legal Disentanglement. "Rest assured it's not because they're frightened or lazy, it's because the rulebook tells them to sit tight and do nothing."
Now you too can join them and get your daily travel for no cost. Please ignore the loud alarm noise the gates make when somebody barges through as this is mainly for show.
"You may feel uncomfortable the first time you make a journey without paying," said Wendy Malarkey, TfL's Head of Ethical Transport. "Feel free to wear a hoodie with your face half-covered, like many of the current experts do, if this helps. But rest assured we have no intention of coming after you, just like we don't come after them, because we simply don't have the staff."
A frankly pitiful number of Tube journeys are monitored by revenue inspectors, indeed you may never have seen one in many years of travelling. The chance of you being caught and fined is therefore exceptionally tiny, and customers should have confidence in freeloading across the network.
"But whatever you do don't go anywhere near the DLR," said Jackson Westlake, TfL's Head of Light Rail Implementation. "DLR staff are notoriously aggressive on matters of fare avoidance and we often send huge teams of enforcement officers to station exits with frankly excellent results. Simply stick to the Tube, a supposedly gated system, and you'll never see any of them."
Ticket gates are specifically designed to be permeable if sufficient pressure is applied to the paddles. This is an essential safety feature which allows customers to escape through the gate in the event of a crush situation.
"We do all sort of research ruggedising motors and reworking paddle shafts to improve the resilience of our gatelines," said Joan Bevan, TfL's Head of Safety Engineering. "But ultimately people have to be able to escape if they need to, it's just common sense, so travelling without paying is always an unavoidable option."
Customers are recommended to aim for our Wide Aisle Gates (WAG) because these require less force to push them apart.
"The length of a WAG paddle is greater than that for a standard gate, hence less force needs to be applied for a breakthrough to take effect," said Jazwinder McSweeney, TfL's Head of Technical Safeguarding. "So low in fact that the average adolescent or ne'erdowell can force WAGs apart with minimal effort, and by extension so can you."
Vaulting over the gates remains a practical possibility but engineers insist this is an unnecessary complication because a shoulder-nudge is much easier.
"Numerous miscreants make use of this safety loophole to enjoy free travel daily," said Keisha Pizazz, TfL's Head of Opportunity Focus. "So now we're inviting the rest of you to Push Your Luck and join them."
The campaign will be launched at Notting Hill Gate station, which will be renamed Nothing To Pay Gate for the duration. Fewer posters will be displayed at stations in East London because many of its residents understand perfectly well how it works already.
"We're well aware that hardly anyone reads our press releases" said Mitch Pantiles, TfL's Head of Brand Froth. "So what we're really doing here is rewarding our most devoted customers with free travel. The ignorant 99% will carry on paying, ensuring no hole appears in TfL's budget going forward, and will probably tut a lot when they see what other people are up to."
So next time you see someone barging through the ticket gates and wonder why nobody lifts a finger to try to stop them, ask yourself why you're not doing the same. They always get away without paying, and so could you if you simply Push Your Luck.

 Monday, May 27, 2024

Walking the coast of Britain can be a tortuous meandering slog round umpteen bays and inlets or it can be a simple stroll along a gentle curving shoreline. The coast of Sussex is mostly the latter which makes it ideal for a good long coastal walk. At the weekend I headed to the urban shores of the Brighton and Hove Built-up Area, one of England's largest conurbations, and walked over 13 miles of its beachside edge. Very roughly it looks like this.


The major towns and cities are Littlehampton, Worthing, Hove and Brighton, and inbetween are a score of smaller settlements linked together like a string of pearls. Non-residential firebreaks are few and far between. The railway runs about one mile back from the seafront, past a nigh endless stream of houses, and also ticks off inland villages like Angmering and Durrington. The two blue lines are the rivers Arun and Adur, and I walked from one of these to the other because that's the only stretch I hadn't walked before. Would Littlehampton to Shoreham be 13 miles of monotonous shingly suburbia or would there be rather more to it?

LITTLEHAMPTON: I described that yesterday, thanks.

RUSTINGTON: This first transition is the easiest to spot, courtesy of a Welcome to Rustington sign and the fact the first building is the grandly enormous Rustington Convalescent Home. But the beach carries on relentlessly, a ridge of shingle sloping down to the lapping waves, duly protecting a line of well-appointed three-storey blocks of flats. Residents are currently up in arms that the parish council are thinking of adding beach huts to a brief patch of coastal lawn, or at least one resident's furious and has gone to the bother of attaching inkjet posters to local street furniture inside A4 punched plastic pockets. At this very spot a commemorative stone points out that two world air speed records were set just offshore, both on 7th September, one in 1946 (616mph in a Gloster Meteor) and the other in 1953 (728mph in a Hawker Hunter).

EAST PRESTON: The word you soon learn if you walk this stretch of the coast is 'greensward' - a substantial stripe of grass. In this case it's about 10 metres wide and a full mile long, providing a useful barrier between the sea and the suburbs now the coast road's turned inland. The housing offer here comprises large posh rustic mansions with spacious gardens, each occasionally glimpsed over its back wall, and all without even the bonus of a sea view because a separate mile-long gorse thicket shields the shore. And such upmarket presence means this stripe of grass is all private greensward, i.e. ramblers and dogwalkers re merely tolerated and subject to several minor regulations like No Camping, No BBQ's and No Hard Ball Games (whatever a hard ballgame is).

ANGMERING-ON-SEA: My heart sank when I saw the greensward end and the path ahead demoted to the shingle ridge. I'm never going to manage 13 miles if it's relentlessly pebbly like this, I thought. I scrunched past Salt, the shacky kiosk which is the sole beachfront refreshment outlet hereabouts, then a beachfront guest house where a 70th birthday celebration was in muted swing. I then passed a row of utilitarian beach huts, only one of which was unlocked and occupied and Union-Jacked, then thankfully the greensward returned and it was all going to be alright.

KINGSTON: If you look on a map it appears that this is where the conurbation finally takes a breath, but if you're walking the seafront you'll never notice because a single residential road hugs the shore blocking knowledge of the fields behind. These are again large exclusive houses, none in any way identical to a neighbour, and again a bit snooty because the greensward regulations now include No Playing Music. On a quiet day the sea looks benign but a plaque on the back of a bench points out the remains of Kingston's chapel, 250 yards out, which slipped beneath the waves in December 1626 and are occasionally visible at low tide.

FERRING: The private shoreline finally ends with a brief pebble scrunch past the front of the Bluebird Cafe, where the less energetic are to be found tucking into drinks and light lunches. The next set of beachfront residents are much less shy, their pristine mown gardens open to view from the path so everyone can admire their stripes and statuary, or whatever word best describes a treetrunk carved into a sea-scene featuring boats and dolphins. Ferring's residents are particularly proud of their rare Type 26 pillbox, and a little less keen to remind visitors that the greensward was once mined with five tons of high explosives.

GORING GAP: Not to be mistaken for the chalk feature on the Thames in Oxfordshire, this Goring Gap is the one place where seafront development finally pauses. 150 acres of arable farmland have somehow survived untouched, providing a useful roosting spot for seabirds and finally offering a view of distant undulating Downland hills. The other big contrast is that seafront parking is finally allowed and this appears to be a favoured spot for those with campervans to pull up, spill out and unpack a picnic, sunbathe on a lilo or get overexcited by a game of beach cricket. Make the most of it, the next unbroken five miles of housing starts behind the trees.

GORING-BY-SEA: This is now starting to feel more mainstream, a seaside suburb where just one lucky row of detached homes gets a good view of the waves. In front of Marine Crescent is the largest greensward yet, easily big enough to support a kitesurfing launch (for expert fliers only), and behind that a raised coastal path lined by over 250 beach huts. The going rate in Goring is currently just over £30,000 for a teensy enclosed space and a 9 slab patio. In the centre of all this, beneath the pirate flag, the local fisherman sells sea bass, skate and freshly dressed crabs from eight o'clock in the morning. If the sailing club's operational, mind the tractor on the slipway.

WEST WORTHING: Abruptly the beachfront properties stop and three miles of proper promenade begins. This has identikit lamp standards, intermittent beach shelters, plentiful benches, an appropriate number of litter bins, occasional refreshment kiosks and sufficient breadth for a cyclist to overtake a mobility scooter to overtake a dawdling family with toddlers. Inland are flats and houses which need repeated repainting to cope with the salty onslaught, and far offshore is the first row of an extensive swirling windfarm. West Worthing has the feel of utterly generic seafront, and only when the former hotels start to appear do we finally enter Worthing proper.

WORTHING: I didn't divert into the town centre because I had far enough to walk already, but I did absolutely go for a walk down the pier. The current incarnation is from the 1930s and very much what a good pier should be - longish, promenade-friendly and not a tacky dive overrun with amusements. The first building is the Pavilion Theatre, prestigious enough that Jimmy Carr and Rob Beckett are both playing here this week. Halfway down, past the heritage glass panels, is the understated Neptune Arcade and at the far end is the two-storey bar and eaterie, The Perch. On my circuit I got asked to take a photo of a happy family with a toddler stuffing his mouth with ice cream, and also successfully dodged a wedding photographer inviting his happy couple to pose in front of a marine backdrop. Dazzling.

EAST WORTHING: Continuing along the promenade I first had to filter through the multitude of Sussex rowers who'd turned up for the Worthing Regatta, then try to pass the daytrippers thronging the bottleneck by the minigolf. But these bank holiday vibes gently faded as the distance from the pier increased, out past the ornamental lawns and ex-guest houses, past the grounded boats and fishermen's lockers, past the Moderne flats and BP garage, and past a very badly bunched stream of Coastliner buses. Yes I could have completed this entire journey a lot faster aboard the 700, but where's the fun in that?

LANCING: You don't see much of Lancing from the coast path, which branches off from the main road at the Platinum Jubilee bandstand to follow the far side of Beach Green. The old fishing boat filled with flowers looks authentic until you read the sign underneath which says it was built by inmates from HM Prison Ford in 2001. I felt somewhat sorry for the bride-to-be spending her hen do queueing patiently at the kiosk behind a small child trying to make up their mind about ice creams. Beyond the sailing club is a cramped cluster of holiday homes populated by sun-grizzled couples clutching cold drinks atop terraced decking, and then the beach starts to veer gently away from the land.

Widewater is a brackish lagoon cut off from the sea by longshore drift, a rare ecological habitat which stretches for over half a mile behind a protective shingle bank. Its most obvious wildlife is a colony of mute swans, parented by a cob and pen called Stanley and Hilda, but these waters also contained a tiny sea anemone found nowhere else in the world (although this is now thought to be extinct). The Lancing residents with the best view are those in the big houses along Brighton Road who have all this at the bottom of their garden, and everyone else just gets to walk past along the parallel disjoint Lancing Beach.

SHOREHAM BEACH: If you don't want to live in Shoreham proper you can live on Shoreham Beach, a large housing estate on a shingle spit at the mouth of the river Adur. It's all a bit storm-facing and climate-hazardous for my tastes, although you do get a fabulous view of the chalk cliffs stretching off into the distance along the East Sussex coast as far as Beachy Head. On the inland flank the riverbank is lined by an exceptionally motley collection of bohemian houseboats, and the footbridge across to the mainland has been replaced by a much broader span than the dodgy narrow concrete aberration I remember from last time I was here in 2011...

SHOREHAM: ...which is why I terminated my walk here - I'd already blogged the next bit. Last time I hiked here all the way from Brighton, indeed if you add on my achievements on three other lengthy coastal rambles I've now walked the entire coastline from Eastbourne to Littlehampton, a distance of about 40 miles. It's a drop in the ocean compared to walking the entire perimeter of Britain but hey, small steps, and maybe one day I will at least be able to tick off the whole of Kent and Sussex.

Kent: QE2 Bridge → Greenhithe, Gravesend, Cliffe, Allhallows, Grain, Rochester → Chatham, Sheerness → Minster, Leysdown, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Whitstable → Herne Bay → Reculver, Birchington → Margate → Broadstairs → Ramsgate → Pegwell Bay, Sandwich, Deal → Walmer, Dover → Folkestone, Dungeness
Sussex: Camber, Hastings → Bexhill, Eastbourne → Seaford → Newhaven → Peacehaven → Brighton → Shoreham → Worthing → Littlehampton, Bognor Regis, Selsey, West Wittering

 Sunday, May 26, 2024

Seaside postcard: Littlehampton

Littlehampton is a seaside town, I hesitate to say resort, midway along the coast of West Sussex. It has a Heatherwick cafe, a sort-of lighthouse, Britain's longest bench and a lot of crabs. I visited yesterday. [Visit Littlehampton] [12 photos]

Littlehampton started out as a small fishing community then became a minor port, which does at least give the town more history than Bognor Regis a few miles to the west. In the early 19th century it started attracting cultured seaside visitors, then in 1863 trains arrived and it's now a suburban retirement bolthole. Its station is not interesting.

The high street is called the High Street. Its chief feature is what looks like an old wooden clocktower, except it was actually built for the Millennium using a clockface which had been in storage since the 1920s. The largest plaque on the high street commemorates David and Betty Jones who founded a sports shop at number 7 in 1946.

Littlehampton Museum is based in the 18th century Manor House on Church Street and free to enter. Unfortunately on Saturdays it opens at 10.30am and I got there too early. The current special exhibition is Menagerie - Animals from the Archives. If you have a really good idea about the future of the museum you could win £100 in supermarket vouchers.

The town has more than its fair share of Armed Forces veterans. One of them will let you sit on his poppy-encrusted flag-bedecked multi-headlamped scooter outside Bonmarché in return for a donation to a veterans charity. The beacon on the seafront will be lit next week to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Littlehampton was in receipt of the very first Blue Peter lifeboat, although you won't see it if you look round the station because it was retired in 2016. Opposite is the Look & Sea Heritage Exhibition with its riverside observation tower, which looked like it'd have a great view but it turns out it closed in 2018.

The river here is the Arun, which starts near Horsham and by the time it enters the sea is a deep wide channel a-brim with yachts and cruisers. A passenger ferry used to operate from the town across to the Boat Club and West Beach Nature Reserve but they threw in the towel after the cash-strapped council ended their grant last year.

The big thing to do alongside the Arun is to go crabbing, especially if you're a child. Lines (for dangling) and buckets (for filling) are sold at the Harbour Park amusement park. The sculptural plaques displayed along the harbourside all display fishy recipes, for example for Baked Stuffed Bass and Pollock Fish Cakes.

Littlehampton's East Pier is more a short jetty at the mouth of the river, in fact a brief breakwater. The so-called lighthouse is actually a replacement postwar light tower. It looks like a cotton reel on top of a dart flight, but all in white and with a slot up high for looking out of. Sadly the webcam at the top no longer functions.

The town's lifeguards are very active and have a big quad bike for rumbling over the shingle. Sand appears at lower tides. Littlehampton won Levelling Up cash to rejuvenate its seafront which should deliver a new WC block by the Windmill pub and water play by the Harvester. Currently Union Jacks fly above the shellfish, burger and ice cream kiosks.

The land train operates between the Beach Office and Norfolk Gardens, where you can switch to a proper train on the Littlehampton Miniature Railway. Both charge £3 for a return trip. The LMR opened over the Whitsun weekend in 1948 and is the oldest of the world's six 12¼” gauge railways.

Britain's longest bench faces the promenade and was opened in 2010. It has colourful wooden slats and can seat over 300 people. It's also a bit of a cheat because it intermittently ducks behind litter bins and dips into the tarmac. Also at each end it swirls round manically inside a metal shelter, so perhaps it's more photogenic than practical.

The most striking building in Littlehampton is the East Beach Cafe, designed in 2005 by an upcoming Thomas Heatherwick. It was made by assembling steel ribbons and is meant to resemble a piece of driftwood, although you could also mistake it for a giant rippled turd. If you don't fancy beer battered fish or shredded brisket puff pastry pie then a kiosk at the far end serves simpler fare.

I coupled my visit to Littlehampton with a 13 mile walk so I'm a bit knackered which is why I've only had time to write some words, not add lots of links and photos. If you can see more than one link and more than one photo then I've had a good sleep and come back to finish off the post properly.

 Saturday, May 25, 2024

There are seven pedestrian crossings at the Bow Roundabout.
All of them have buttons, but only three are worth pressing.

This one's worthwhile.

This is the crossing at the entrance to Bow Road. I took this photo coming home from the supermarket yesterday. You have to press the button or the traffic feeding off the roundabout never stops. Sometimes the traffic's quiet enough that you can dash across but if you want to play it safe the button is essential. It always stops the traffic at the same point in the cycle, just as the northbound A12 sliproad gets the green light, and the button always works.

However this one's useless.

This is the crossing at the exit from Bow Road alongside the McDonald's drive-through. I took this photo coming home from the supermarket yesterday. It has a button but there is absolutely no point in pressing it - the traffic stops anyway and it doesn't speed things up.

This one's useless too.

This is the crossing underneath the Bow Flyover leading to the centre of the roundabout. It has a button but there is absolutely no point in pressing it - the traffic stops anyway and it doesn't speed things up.

And what's interesting is that people generally don't realise this and press the buttons anyway. Parents heading to the shops press the buttons. Worshippers off to the mosque press the buttons. Children on their way to school press the buttons. This is despite the fact that many of these people use the crossings regularly and the buttons have been pointless for almost ten years.

These are the seven crossings, shown in yellow.
The three with useful buttons have a ✔.
The four with useless buttons have a ✘.

The difference is all down to whether the pedestrian crossings are at traffic lights or not. The four ✘s are at lights which control traffic on the roundabout. Cars and vehicles stop here anyway, and pedestrians simply cross the road while traffic's being held at red. The three ✔s are at additional crossings which had to be added to ensure pedestrian flow across the interchange was possible. Cars and vehicles only stop here if pedestrians request it, potentially slowing traffic in the vicinity of the roundabout.

And pedestrians generally don't realise any of this, why would they? I know because it's my local roundabout and I've used these crossings many hundreds of times since 2015. I know because the phasing of the lights at the Bow Roundabout never varies - the cycle's always 64 seconds long and a mere pedestrian cannot speed things up. I know because I'm observant and I like analysing systems. I know not to press the four duff buttons, only the three useful ones, but I am very much in the minority.

London contains many types of button-operated pedestrian crossing but they all boil down to one of two types - those where the button stops the traffic and those where the traffic was always going to stop anyway. The Bow Roundabout has both.
In the latter case what the button often does is speed up how quickly the traffic stops, which effectively creates a third category.
London is full of type 1 and type 2 crossings, those where pressing the button matters. These include pretty much every standalone pedestrian crossing and also those at the majority of traffic lights. But sprinkled inbetween are the pointless buttons, the ones you never needed to press but doing so probably made you feel more in control.

I've also found a really annoying type 3 variant, where the traffic stops anyway but the green man doesn't light up.

This is the junction of Prince Regent Lane with the A13 in Canning Town. There are multiple pedestrian crossings here, as befits a junction on a major arterial dual carriageway, but whoever programmed these lights did something particularly sly. The red man displays permanently, even while traffic is safely stopped at a red light, and you'll never see it turn green unless someone presses the button.

I timed the lights and it turns out traffic waits patiently here for a full minute waiting to exit Prince Regent Lane. But if a pedestrian turns up at any time during that minute they'll see a red man, not green, which is very much not what happens at any normal crossing. They could cross safely but won't discover this unless they press the button, and even then it doesn't change to green immediately by which time they could have been on the far side.

Not only is this wasting people's time unnecessarily it's also potentially dangerous. A lot of pedestrians use the change from green man to red man as a signal that they ought to hurry up and get across. If that change never happens and you decide to dash across on red, perhaps because the traffic hasn't moved in ages, you could all too easily be surprised when a car starts accelerating towards you. Other junctions on the A13 in Newham are like this too, as if the area's had its traffic lights programmed by sadists.

So keep an eye out if you're walking around town and attempting to cross a busy road at a pedestrian crossing. Sometimes that button has absolutely no effect, and other times you'll never see the green man unless you press it. Just occasionally we pedestrians are being played for fools.

 Friday, May 24, 2024

I was in Arnos Park yesterday, a large and pleasant park in Enfield just to the north of Arnos Grove station. It has two prominent physical features, one of which is the Pymmes Brook which was flowing fairly strongly after all that rain we've had. The other is the Arnos Park Viaduct, a long brick structure which was built in 1932 to carry the Piccadilly line across the valley of the aforementioned river.

The viaduct is over a quarter of a mile long and supported by 34 arches, and if you get it at the right angle can be very photogenic. It's a particularly appealing structure because you can actually walk underneath it, stepping through the arches via separate arch-shaped openings and looking ahead through a curve of corresponding gaps. Other splendid brick arches like this exist elsewhere in London, for example the Dollis Brook Viaduct on the Mill Hill East spur of the Northern line and the Wharncliffe Viaduct over the river Brent in Ealing. But I think the Arnos Park Viaduct is the longest you can actually walk properly underneath as opposed to just under, certainly anywhere on the tube network.

And that got me wondering...

What's the longest distance you can walk underneath something in London?

The longest walk under the tube: Arnos Park Viaduct (160m)

Most of the Underground runs either underground or on the surface, with bridges and viaducts very much the exception. Being able to walk underneath those viaducts is rare, at least other than via a normal pavement or subway, which is why I think Arnos Park offers the longest walk of the lot. It's not the full 34-arches-worth because the ends of the viaduct are either too low or too filled-in, plus the Pymmes Brook itself creates an obstacle that can't be crossed on foot.

By my calculations the section of viaduct to the north of the river creates a covered space about 70m in length whereas the southern section is a much longer 160m, this before a few of the arches start to be filled in for use as backrooms, lockups or somewhere for the Friends of Arnos Park to store their litter-picking facilities. But 160m is a pretty good length to be walking underneath a working railway, intermittently hearing the tiny tube trains rattling across the top.

The longest walk under the DLR: North Woolwich Road (1300m)

The DLR spends a lot more of its time in the air, indeed it's the most viaducty of all London's railways, hence the excellent views you get while whizzing across Limehouse, Deptford or Docklands. But the longest section you can actually walk underneath is on the Woolwich branch as it runs through Silvertown, immediately alongside North Woolwich Road, and covers a substantial stretch of the pavement. Start by the Silvertown Viaduct and you can stay immediately underneath the viaduct by following the pillars all the way to the Connaught Road junction, passing directly beneath West Silvertown and Pontoon Dock stations along the way. Admittedly there is one spot near Barrier Point Road where a safety barrier nudges you out fractionally and another near West Silvertown where a future building site marginally intervenes, but amazingly this under-railway jaunt is well over a kilometre long.

The longest walk under a railway: erm

If we broaden our scope to non-TfL rail lines in London, these more often run at height so there should be a good chance of finding a walking route directly underneath. But again a lot of under-viaducts are inaccessible to the public, their arches hired out for use by very small businesses, or only duck-under-able along a very short stretch. So where in the capital might be the longest covered walk beneath a stretch of railway tracks? I'm not exactly sure. I considered the shop-lined hike between London Bridge tube station and London Bridge railway station, but I don't think that goes much above 150m. I considered The Sidings, the half-dead shopping Centre underneath Waterloo's former Eurostar platforms which might be 170m all told. I considered the 200m passageway connecting both sides of Clapham Junction station which probably qualifies but isn't really what I meant. But I couldn't think of an actual bridge or viaduct that beats these, and wondered if you might be able to help me out because I bet I've overlooked something obvious.

The longest walk under a motorway: Boston Manor Viaduct (450m)

London's not overblessed with actual motorways, we only have the M1, M4, M11 plus the M25 around some of the edge. But in terms of being able to walk underneath them I think we have a clear winner which is the M4 viaduct north of Brentford. When engineers came to plot the course of the motorway across the river Brent they chose to drive it through the grounds of Boston Manor House, creating a 17-span concrete centipede that despoils the far end of the park. The mix of nature and slab blocks is very much unlike anywhere else in London, and hardly any of the drivers speeding across the top realise it's here. Arguably the elevated section just to the east is a mile longer, but most of the pavement there isn't actually underneath the motorway proper.

The longest walk under a road: erm

My best guess here is the Westway through North Kensington, another 1960s viaduct but this time carving through a more residential area. The older Harrow Road passes directly underneath, like an exhaust fume sandwich, with actual pavements that local air-breathers can choose to risk. I'm not sure quite how long the walkable section underneath the A40 is, maybe 1000m, maybe more like 400m, and next time I exit Royal Oak station I should probably go and check. But there might well be a longer stretch of road you can properly walk under, somewhere in the region of a few hundred metres, and again I seek your suggestions for what I might have missed.

The longest walk under a river: Woolwich Foot Tunnel (450m)

This is easier to ascertain. The widest river in the capital is the Thames and the longest foot tunnel underneath it is at Woolwich, has been since 1912. The tunnel itself is 504m long but some of that is needed to extend as far as the access stairs to either side, so the length that's actually underneath the river at high tide is more like 450m. It always feels longer.

The longest walk under the ground: Rotherhithe Tunnel (1000m)

Some subterranean Crossrail platforms are really long, as indeed are Crossrail subways, but we can beat those. The Rotherhithe Tunnel dips below the ground for a considerable length, which if you measure it comes to nigh exactly one kilometre from the northern portal in Limehouse to the southern portal in Rotherhithe. And it's officially walkable too, indeed I risked it for the centenary in 2008, not that I recommend any of you should follow in my footsteps. I can't think of anywhere else in the capital where you could spend a full twelve minutes at walking pace beneath the surface of the earth, not that's publicly accessible anyway, the mysterious secret Holborn tunnels being both off-piste and unquantifiable. If you know better, feel free to tell where me I'm going wrong.

 Thursday, May 23, 2024

It's Where in London? time again.

Can anyone identify where these photos were taken?
They're each from a different 'quadrant' of London.
A path, a parade, a clump of birches and a meander.

You can see the photos individually here: NW NE SW SE

You may need to work collectively.
No more than four guesses each.

NW: Vanbrough Crescent, Lime Tree Park, Northolt UB5
NE: Stansgate Road shops, Dagenham RM10
SW: Heatherlea Grove, The Hamptons, Worcester Park KT4
SE: The Beck, High Broom Wood, West Wickham BR4

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