diamond geezer

 Friday, June 14, 2024

Bus Route Of The Day
146: Bromley North to Downe

Location: Outer London south
Length of journey: 6 miles, 25 minutes

Because it's 14th June I've been out riding the 146, because that's the Bus Route Of The Day.

The 146 is one of TfL's handful of hourly buses, and by far the lowest route number to run this infrequently. It starts in bustling Bromley and rapidly heads out into the countryside, indeed has done since the 1930s when it was a weekend only service. It exists to serve the village of Downe at the southern end, whose residents would otherwise have to rely on the even less frequent R8, and along the way zips through off-piste slices of Hayes and Keston.

It's also one of a dozen TfL bus routes to be operated by a single vehicle (in techspeak it has a PVR of 1). This is because each run is timetabled to take less than 30 minutes so a full hourly service only needs one bus. At peak times Bromley's roads are more choked with traffic so the schedule stretches somewhat, the interval occasionally extending to 70 minutes, but generally speaking a 146 leaves the village on the hour and heads back around half past. However this tight timetable also means the 146 is exceptionally susceptible to disruption, as I was about to discover when I tried to go for a ride...

Given it runs so infrequently I thought I'd best be early so turned up outside Bromley North station with five minutes to spare. This ridiculously busy interchange is served by as many as 15 different bus routes spread across two adjacent stops. These include 6th January, 26th January, 12th June, 22nd July, 13th August, 11th September and 26th September, plus several others that don't translate including the frustratingly marginal 31st April. All these were showing on the Countdown displays apart from 14th June, which didn't initially worry me because some older vehicles don't always register. I stayed put and waited, and the bus didn't turn up.

I checked one of my apps which wasn't helpful one way or the other, until I finally thought to switch direction and see where the incoming bus was. It was just outside Downe, i.e. at totally the wrong end of the route, so there was no chance of it being here any time soon. Such are the perils of a one vehicle route - when it screws up it totally screws up - so I went off and looked round the shops for a bit. I came back when the bus did and was excited to see 14th June was top of the Countdown display because it was now 'due'. I stayed put and waited, and the bus didn't turn up.

The 146 remained top of the Countdown display for a full 30 minutes, 29 of them a lie. I didn't dare go anywhere in case the bus came and went, because it would be a very long time before it came back, but instead I was being entirely misled. None of this was made easier by the large pile of sick inside the shelter, a lumpy sprawl which looked like a bowlful of porridge hadn't stayed down. Part of it was covered by a few flappy pages from a copy of City AM, but the remainder was visibly congealing on the pavement causing large numbers of arriving passengers to give it a wide berth. Sometimes travelling by bus is anything but glamorous.

Shortly before the timetabled departure time a cleaner from the council turned up, noticed the mess and halted his trolley. I expected him to clean it up, but instead he spotted a spare copy of City AM behind the shelter and used it to cover over the exposed half of the sickpool, then stamped the paper down. This camouflaging measure proved successful in that passengers no longer dodged the shelter, even sitting on its bench with their feet dangerously close to concealed beige sludge. I presume someone cleared it up properly later but I don't know for sure because thankfully at that point the 146 turned up, either bang on time or one hour late depending.

The bus wasn't busy, even after an exceptional wait, just me and a schoolboy and later three more passengers picked up by the shops. The weaving wiggle through central Bromley always seems to take an age, this the inevitable consequence of high street pedestrianisation. The driver nudged in by its bus stops, not really expecting much interest and generally being proved correct. Almost everywhere we were heading was alternatively served by more frequent routes so why wait for the intermittent single decker?

By the time we crept past Bromley South station we were already two minutes behind schedule. I soon spotted what the inbound traffic problem might have been - Thames Water digging up a road the 146 didn't follow but which had sent a lot of diverted vehicles into its path and clogged up the traffic lights. Heading south thankfully we skipped through. Hayes Road is lined by smart suburban villas and larger than average semi-detached houses, ditto Hayes Lane, the backroad through the original village of Hayes some distance from the station. I wasn't expecting anyone else to be getting on, not in a non-shopping direction, so was exceptionally surprised when an entire class of Year 6 schoolchildren piled on.

They'd been swimming in the Nuffield pool by the football ground and were now heading back to their village primary before lunch. They were also exceptionally polite and well-behaved, filing in quietly and filling every seat, the remainder standing near their supervisory adults and holding tight. The bus became so full that the driver triggered an announcement which inexplicably was 'Seats are available upstairs', which on a single decker shouldn't even be in the digital repertoire. And off we all went, the children chattering softly about how the lesson had gone and which was the best car in Sweden.

It strikes me as inherently risky to base your weekly swimming lessons around a two mile ride on an hourly bus operated by a single vehicle. I'd been caught out by a missing service and had to wait for ages, something which might have swallowed an hour of learning time and which was entirely outside the school's control. I guess it's hugely cheaper than hiring a coach, and I also suspect they got lucky this time because the class weren't anywhere near as restless as you'd expect if they'd been waiting for the cancellation.

On we sped past the civic bits of Hayes - the church and library and village hall, plus a rather nice village sign. At the secondary school the older boy who'd been aboard since the start of the journey attempted to alight, and the teacher had to nudge her pupils to part the ways and let him through. Swiftly we entered the wilds of Hayes Common, the road continuing past thick woods and ferny clearings without even a footpath to either side. After a brief breath to cross Croydon Road we plunged back into the greenery - nothing that'd generate any passengers - and eventually one small car park where the dogwalkers accumulate.

On the far side was Keston village green with its two pubs, one embracing the Euros with gusto and one remaining resolutely above the fray. This is one of the largest settlements in London to be entirely surrounded by Green Belt, although nearby New Addington and Biggin Hill comfortably trump it. At the bus stop by the Post Office the school party finally alighted, the teacher counting very carefully lest anyone be left hiding behind a back seat. One thing I'll say is that whichever company is making 'Leavers 24' sweatshirts must be making a fortune because I've seen them being worn by Y6 and Y11 children across London recently, and the other is that local parents must be chuffed to have such a good school to send their offspring to.

Now considerably emptier we ploughed on towards the windmill and ah, damn, a set of temporary 3-way traffic lights. This must have been another contributory factor to slowing down the previous journey, especially with people still heading into work. We stopped for what felt like ages beside thick nettles while the gas board took their turn to drill a massive inconvenient trench. No alternative timetable kicks in when this kind of disruption happens, nor can a second vehicle step in to ease the service, making the 146 extremely susceptible to falling over entirely.

At the woody roundabout by the parish church we finally bore off to serve a trio of bus stops no other route serves. None are ever busy, indeed this is where the 146 gets fully rural and rattles down narrow country lanes with awkwardly high hedges. The first stop was by a farm shop and mobile home park, a quiet corner familiar to those approaching the Wilberforce Oak on London Loop section 3. The second was at Downe Riding Centre, which I speculated last week might be one of the very least used bus stops in London. The third was at one end of Farthing Street, a brief row of houses which the Ordnance Survey lists as one of London's eight hamlets. Nobody else had come this far, just me. I can't say I was surprised.

On the final approach to Downe the bus passed proper cottages and an orchard, and our driver hoped not to pass any other vehicles coming the other way. According to the timetable we arrived at the top of Downe High Street five minutes late, and not beside the proper terminus because that was occupied by a huge red coach. Normally the bus turns round here by circling a central tree but the driver had to do an awkward reversing manoeuvre instead, first past one pub then the other, before picking up absolutely nobody and ferrying them back to Bromley. I'd alighted by this point and was busy exploring London's highest High Street, which is Downe. How fortuitous that the Bus of the Day had delivered me here, and you can expect to hear more about that tomorrow.

 Thursday, June 13, 2024

I've been to see some art.

Art West: Serpentine Gallery

Many's the time I've traipsed to the middle of Kensington Gardens only to be underwhelmed. Thankfully this time it was well worth the effort.

★★★★☆ Yinka Shonibare CBE: Suspended States (until 1 September)
Yinka did the Ship in a Bottle on the Fourth Plinth, if you remember. This varied exhibition finds him reimagining and interrogating Western iconography, which means colonialism is never far from the surface. In one room public statues including Churchill and generals on horseback are re-covered by a colourful African print, in another model buildings representing places of refuge glow brightly in the darkness. My favourite was the War Library where 2700 battles, treaties and conflicts are embossed on the spines of brightly-bound books, almost numbing in their number.

★★★☆☆ Judy Chicago: Revelations (until 1 September)
Meanwhile, across the Serpentine, this retrospective of feminist art is by 84 year-old Chicago-born Judy Chicago. Her works are varied and sharply-targeted, the most beautiful a lengthy mural depicting the creation of the Earth as a natural birth. Once you start looking at some of her more abstract images you see vaginas everywhere, entirely deliberately, which is either empowering or unsettling depending. Talent shines through throughout.

★★★☆☆ Minsuk Cho: Archipelagic Void (until 27 October)
The latest summer Pavilion, in a line stretching back to 2000, is a cleverly-sectioned five-pointed star. The longest arm is pink-windowed with lateral benches, so somewhere shady to sit in the shade, perhaps reading a book sourced from the second-hand library in arm two. The arm that's technically the main entrance plays a soothing Korean soundscape, while opposite is the inevitable cafe dispensing tea and scant cake. The shortest arm looks the most fun, a bright orange scramblenet on two levels, seemingly for children but I didn't see an upper age limit. The architect's brief here is always to provide a multi-function outdoor space, and perhaps stripping out each function separately is the route to success.

Art South: Studio Voltaire

★★★★☆ Beryl Cook / Tom of Finland (until 25 August)
Never previously coupled, here's a pair of artists to either stir the soul or deeply offend. Beryl is the Plymouth-based artist whose playfully plump ladies delighted millions, seen here propping up the bar, swanning around in furs or eyeing up a Royal Marine. The exhibition also includes a few of her preliminary sketches and a sheaf of typewritten letters, some in strong support and one from the Devon County Ladies Bowling Association expressing disgust at her cheeky characters wearing white shoes on a bowling green. Interspersed around the walls are black and white works by the homoerotic artist Tom of Finland. His muscled bikers and leather clones pushed the boundaries of 60s censorship, appearing in specialist magazines and later comic books, and were sometimes a front for a fully-endowed version available privately. Expect to see erectile genitalia in a minority of the works.

The coupling is genius, two artists grounded in oversized physiques best known for their portrayal of bulges. It also makes the shop quite fun, with its select collection of gifts from a stack of postcards to a £750 leathermen blanket. If you've never been to Studio Voltaire before it's in a former Methodist chapel round the corner from Clapham Common station, just past Sainsburys, attached to a cafe which evolves into a restaurant called Crispin at mealtimes. I'll be back.

Art East: Bow Arts

★★☆☆☆ 2024 Bow Open - A Personal Treasure (until 25 August)
The Nunnery Gallery is tucked away up an alley close to Bus Stop M, and every year curates an exhibition of works by artists in the adjacent studios. This year's assemblage isn't as outré as some, although Peppa Pig and a tin of Spam do make an appearance. The 33 exhibits range from textiles to ceramics via a piggybacking dinosaur, two trouserless gentlemen and wearable cake. The obvious centrepiece is Poems for Keeping Warm, a fireplace made from takeaway cartons inside which inscribed timbers have been burned, and apparently more will be if you turn up at the right time. Next weekend is Bow Arts' annual Open Studios when the full creative warren is thrown open for exploration, so that's probably the best reason to visit to be honest.

Art North: Central Saint Martins

★★★★★ Degree Shows (until 16 June)
They don't just study sculpture at Saint Martins College, they do fashion, fine art, jewellery, graphics, textiles, architecture, animation, biodesign and narrative environments too. And at the end of their third year the students put on a five-day event to showcase their designs and it's thrilling, not least because anyone can walk in off Granary Square and explore the four storey building beyond the unlocked turnstiles. Most of the work is spread out along the ground floor atrium but more is to be found (and enjoyed) upstairs in the workshops and creative spaces behind chunky swing doors.

The creativity on show is astonishing, both individually and collectively. In the jewellery enclave I marvelled at Tina Jiao's jade bangles, Dermot Fowler's faceted lenses and Johnnie Day's collection of invasive wristwear. In the product design workshop I admired the professionalism that 3D printing can bring to what in my day would have been a tacky hunk of plastic adorned with Letraset and/or Dymo labels. But mostly I loved the graphic communication aisle, an astonishing range of ideas gorgeously presented, from Anna Zanelli's Navigate Your Vote campaign to Tracy Zeng's immersive audio encouraging heritage awareness on the 390 bus. Every student's work is QR coded, thankfully, so rather than donning headphones I was able to delve into Tim Huckle's Trespassers Trail on YouTube after I got home.

The student concerned sometimes hangs around beside their work, not always confidently, although I'm pretty sure Haowen Zheng would have explained his collection of bread cameras if I'd dared to ask. The only other fifty-somethings present appeared to be proud parents or tutors, perhaps even industry scouts on the lookout for the next tranche of apprentices and employees. As I strode round past youngsters thinking "blimey, so that's what art students wear these days" the overwhelming impression I got is that creativity is safe and thriving in the next generation. If you get the chance, see if it cheers you up too.

Art Central: Newport Street Gallery

★★★☆☆ Dominion (until 1 September)
It's been a while since Damien Hirst's Vauxhall gallery has been open, almost like they skipped an exhibition, but finally it's back with an eclectic collection curated by, aha, Damien's son Connor. He's only included one of Dad's spot paintings whereas there are five Banksys, and also wallfuls of actually not bad modern art. A giant splotchy Myra Hindley greets you in the first gallery, plus a mundanely frosted door entitled Jess on the Toilet. Beyond are several tryptychs, the odd skull and even the EXIT sign is a neon work of art. Even though most of the works are 21st century the occasional Francis Bacon slips in perfectly, plus a Sutherland, a Warhol and the most underwhelming small black and white daub which it turned out was by Franz Kline. It's good to have the Hirst dynasty back.

 Wednesday, June 12, 2024



London's Monopoly Streets


Colour group: orange
Purchase price: £180
Rent: £14
Length: 300m
Borough: Westminster
Postcode: W1

The Monopoly board contains two streets that don't exist* and this is the first - it should be Great Marlborough Street. To understand why, remember that the orange set of properties were originally all places related to law and order, specifically Magistrates Courts and Police Stations. The key building here is Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, a building which was never officially Great so it's easy to see why Victor and Marjory from Leeds might have selected the shortened version by mistake. You probably won't be surprised when you discover what that court is now. You may also go "aaah" when you hear what the two biggest shops are and "oooh" when I mention the world famous theatre.

* Yes, I know an actual Marlborough Street exists elsewhere in London, in South Kensington, but it's an insignificant dogleg with just the one blue plaque and not in any way what Victor and Marjory meant.

You know where Great Marlborough Street is even if the name hasn't stuck. It's one-street-back from Oxford Street, thrusting into Soho. It bears off Regent Street near the first set of traffic lights. And it's the street where Carnaby Street begins, at the skew end before the clothes shops begin in earnest. Development began on open land in 1704, first the sewers, then the fine houses, originally not quite as far as Regent Street because Prince George hadn't commissioned that yet. The name of the street was inspired by the biggest event in 1704, the Battle of Blenheim, a thumping victory over the French under the command of the Duke of Marlborough. Let's start in the middle. Sorry about the big green lorry.

21 Great Marlborough Street was first used as a public office for a Justice of the Peace in 1792, prior to which it had been a private house occupied by dukes and diplomats. In 1856 the facility expanded into number 20 nextdoor, and when number 19 was additionally purchased in 1912 this allowed for a complete rebuild into the courthouse building we see today. The front's all Portland stone and the architectural style is Restrained Free Classicism, according to its listing. The most famous 19th century trial was probably that of Oscar Wilde, this being where he launched his ill-judged case against the Marquess of Queensbury, while later defendants included Christine Keeler, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Johnny Rotten and Bob Monkhouse. Marlborough Street Magistrates Court finally closed in 1998 and was swiftly transformed into...

Hotel: Courthouse Hotel
Well of course it was.

A few of the suites in the former judges' quarters contain original Robert Adams fireplaces, while three of the prison cells now conceal private tables in the hotel bar. Meanwhile the old Number One court has been transformed into a restaurant called Silk where the bench, the stand and the dock remain intact, the spectre of past sentencing thus hanging over diners while they wait for their tasting menu to arrive. You don't get much sense of this from the front, only some fake ivy and an enticement to come inside for afternoon tea, although there is a lovely old brass plaque by the door reminding visitors that Court opens at 9.45am.

Nextdoor-but-one is perhaps Britain's premier theatre, the London Palladium.

The main entrance is around the corner on Argyll Street, and what's round the back are the legendary Stage Door and some of the unmarked exits audiences find themselves ejected through at the end of a performance. I turned up while scenery for the next production was being delivered (hence the big green lorry), so got to dodge numerous black t-shirted stagehands manoeuvring panels and scaffolding into the wings. This also meant the doors of the Wall of Fame had been flung open, this a metalwork mosaic of the faces of some of the greatest stars to tread the boards here.

It was designed by Lee Simmons in 2018 with the backing of the Lloyds Webbers and features the cheery grins of entertainment stalwarts like Ken Dodd, Norman Wisdom and Sammy Davis Jr. The only nod to the last 30 years is Julian Clary, so often a Palladium panto dame, and it says a lot about postwar showbusiness that only 6 of the 31 panels depict women.

The street's most photogenic building is Liberty, the Mock Tudor department store.

It opened here in 1924 while the previous emporium on Regent Street was being renovated, but swiftly outshone it. Its timbers come from two old battleships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, with their decks duly transformed into four levels of flooring. Up top are faux barleysugar chimneys and an iron & glass roof, while the interior is intermittently interspersed by three surprisingly large lightwells. Shopping here is like walking round inside an Elizabethan mansion - far cosier than Selfridges and considerably more tasteful than Harrods.

It's also a playground for brand-friendly tourists and sturdy Home Counties types who come to pick their wardrobes from the sparse racks of designer labels. They plod carefully up the wooden staircases to check out homewares and haberdashery, or slip into the wood-fronted lifts to peruse the iconic soft furnishing selections on the 4th floor. The big attraction at present is a sponsored Bridgerton experience, your chance to admire wigs from the series, snap a photo while sat in a horseless carriage and ideally go away inspired by matching wallpapers and fabrics. Liberty also has a florist in the lobby (where it's Peony month) and a choice of two spas - one for your feet and one for your pets. And every quarter hour the mechanical clock over Kingly Street chimes loudly, its wise advice No Minute Ever Comes Back Again.

If your budget's more middle class then the other big store on the street is M&S's West End flagship. The main entrance is on Oxford Street but you can always enter via what feels like the staff entrance round the back, passing through swing doors with curved metal pushplates which took me right back to the 1980s. Head down for the expansive Food Hall, head up for Autograph and Per Una. The store was built on the site of the Pantheon, a place of entertainment opened to high acclaim in 1772 (and burnt to the ground 20 years later), indeed it still says The Pantheon in illuminated green letters above the Art Deco facade. Rest assured this isn't the M&S destined for demolition, that's up the Marble Arch end.

Moving down the retail ladder somewhat, but still famous, is the Schott music shop at number 48. The German publisher first landed in London in 1835, moving to Great Marlborough Street in 1908 in a flurry of sheet music. Their oeuvre has broadened somewhat since, with their shop window showcasing Joan Baez and Taylor Swift as well as Schubert, also a boxed tin whistle and an offer to hire one of their practice rooms from £12 an hour. Opposite is the HQ of Sony Interactive Entertainment UK, their lobby illuminated by the four neon Playstation roundels which once spent 48 hours outside Oxford Circus station. Meanwhile one of the last 18th century buildings on the street is the Coach And Horses pub on the corner of Poland Street, although best not if its beers are as bogstandard as its menu.

Other businesses here include a number of coffee shops, from lowly Costa to a clothes boutique with a few smart tables. For finer food Bocconcino does Italian, Sucre does high end and Wagamama does what Wagamama does. One of the most traditional businesses is the news kiosk between Spaghetti House and the Palladium where Viz, Heat and OK are still on sale alongside the latest Vogue, Vanity Fair and Conde Nast. While we're on throwbacks, don't forget the men's and women's conveniences at the top of Carnaby Street which are always there if you're caught short while wandering through the West End. And one final fascinating fact, Marlboro cigarettes are so named because they were first manufactured at the Philip Morris tobacco factory here in the 1870s. Marlborough Street may not be Great on the board, but it has its great moments.

 Tuesday, June 11, 2024

All the candidates for the upcoming General Election are now in place, so I thought I'd have a look to see who mine are.

I have a new constituency this year, thanks to the Conservatives' decade-long quest to redraw the electoral map. Constituencies now have approximately equal electorates, which is terrible news for Wales (which is losing eight MPs) and good news for London (which is gaining two). Tower Hamlets and Newham are two of the fastest growing areas in the country so can now support five constituencies between them, not the previous four. And the extra constituency being shoehorned across the river Lea is my new constituency, Stratford and Bow.

Bow has a habit of being switched between constituencies as needs must. In 1950 Bow was lumped in with Poplar and the Isle of Dogs as part of the Poplar constituency. In 1974 Bow was coupled with Bethnal Green instead forming Bethnal Green & Bow. In 1983 Bow was switched back to Poplar, forming Bow & Poplar, then returned to Bethnal Green & Bow in 1997. Now we're being bundled in with Stratford, an electoral sprawl from Victoria Park to Upton Park, and all of us who live here can expect a new MP come July. Lyn Brown on the Newham side is retiring, while Rushanara Ali on the Tower Hamlets side will only be representing those living west of the Regents Canal.

So who might Stratford & Bow get next?

Nizam Ali (Independent) - Nizam works for the NHS, although if you dig one layer down it turns out he's an IT/commercial/management/consultancy kind of guy. He's campaigning to 'Kick out Labour and the Tories!!' because they've destroyed the country over decades, but is particularly focused on attitudes to Palestine. Its flag appears prominently in his campaign materials, where he's hoping an appeal to Vote Against Genocide will attract disillusioned Muslims to his cause. He may only have 15 followers on TikTok and one video on YouTube thus far, but his campaign is still young. [Instagram] [Twitter]

Kane Blackwell (Conservative) - Kane is the young blood the Tories have sent here to cut his campaigning teeth. He's a former Young Chairman of the Conservative Democratic Organisation, lives in West Kent, spent eighteen months as a producer for GB News and was a keen Brexiteer. In a speech last year he won plaudits from the right for saying 'If you don't believe in Woke, then the Conservative Party is your home'. Skimming back down his twitterstream I see he counts Priti Patel as a friend, sends Nigel Farage birthday wishes, supports the (non-T) LGB Alliance, rails against 'virtue signalling lefty celebrities' and wants to Defund the BBC. These are not especially viewpoints which resonate in my part of London, but every future Minister has to start somewhere. [Twitter]

Jeff Evans (Reform) - Jeff's from Enfield where he was a UKIP candidate locally in 2014 and 2018 before switching to Reform in 2022. He describes himself as 'Anti Woke, Anti PC', despises ULEZ, isn't keen on immigrants and reckons 'there is no climate emergency, it's all a massive money making con'. One piece of evidence for this is that it was warmer in Europe on 21st June 2017 than on 21st June 2022, which in Jeff's world is a QED. He may pick up some of the anti-Tory vote this time round, indeed I know at least one of my readers will be voting for him because they signed his nomination papers, but he won't be creating ripples locally. [Twitter]

Omar Faruk (Independent) - Omar's a barrister "on a journey to justice" with 27 years legal experience, and also hitched to a car company as part of the BMW Responsible Leaders Global Network. He's the preferred local candidate of The Muslim Vote, a nationwide anti-Labour campaign supporting Anti-Genocide alternatives whose slogan is "No Vote = a Vote for Keir Starmer". Alas Omar's Pledge to the Community on his website addresses only the People of Tower Hamlets, not of Newham, and this is not how to win votes in a cross-borough constituency.

Steve Hedley (Independent) - Here's our third anti-genocide candidate, this time from the left. Steve is Chair of Newham Trades Union Council and was previously RMT Union Senior Assistant General Secretary so has impeccable socialist credentials. He's been campaigning for Palestine for years - that keffiyeh isn't new - and reckons the race for PM is between "a right wing racist Islamophobic scum bag or Richie Sunak". Taxing the rich is one of his key policies, and if elected will only take a worker's wage and throw the surplus into campaigning. Steve has over 6000 followers on Instagram, far more than any other candidate in this election, but thus far his GoFundMe for campaign funds remains some way adrift of his £5000 target. [Instagram]

Joe Hudson-Small (Green) - Joe's an IT professional and rents a property in the Olympic Park, making him the only one of the main candidates who lives in the constituency. He's pro affordable housing and accessible public transport, also a keen litterpicker and installer of dogpoobag dispensers. No other candidate in my constituency has 💚🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️ in their Twitter bio. Joe's also had more electoral success than any other candidate, this when he stood to be the Member for City and East in this year's London Assembly elections and attracted 29,073 votes, just ten behind the Conservatives. He could very easily come second this time (so will still be an IT professional in four weeks time). [Twitter]

Halima Khan (Workers Party) - We've seen all the men, now here come the women. Halima is the candidate for the party founded by George Galloway, the outspoken cat impersonator who's previously been the MP for those of us in Bow. She casts herself as "Whistleblower of the Labour Party, for the Nation, for the Constituents and for Palestine", although you'll only know about her whistleblowing activities if you've seen the Al Jazeera series The Labour Files. No love is lost between Halima and her former employer ("Vote for Labour if you love nepotism and hate representation"), but her chief focus on social media is very much the "Israeli genocide". She seems a little put out that The Muslim Vote recommended Omar and not her, but I suspect her campaigning fire means she'll poll higher. [Instagram] [Twitter]

Uma Kumaran (Labour) - Short of a Galloway-style upset, here's my next MP. Uma was "born in East London" to Sri Lankan parents, I guess not in the constituency or she'd have mentioned it. She studied at Queen Mary University (another near miss) but has actually lived here (even if she now lives near Harrow). She started her political journey as a parliamentary researcher, was later a senior adviser to the Mayor of London in his first term and has just resigned as a Director in a global Climate Leadership Group. Recent tweets show her embracing all the usual campaigning tropes - smiling alongside people holding leaflets, chatting to street traders and getting up close to constituents' dogs. No kissed babies yet, but Uma has a job for life here if she wants it so there's plenty of time. [Instagram] [Twitter]

Fiona Lali (Independent) - There are no clues on the ballot paper but Fiona is a prominent member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, having been expelled from Labour post-Corbyn. She's already taken on Suella Braverman in a supposed viral interview on GB News, and now wants to bring down capitalism and the British government. "I wholeheartedly believe that I will see a revolution in this country in my lifetime," she says, "Britain is ripe and ready for the making". Fiona doesn't do Instagram but she has 115,000 followers on TikTok and 47,000 on Twitter so discount her at your peril. Equally, as the fifth candidate in this constituency to be speaking up loudly for Palestine, attracting her share of the vote is going to be challenging. [TikTok] [Twitter]

Janey Little (Liberal Democrats) - Janey lives in North Somerset, joined the party in 2019 and is currently Chair of the Young Liberals. She was present at the manifesto launch yesterday, this just three days after finishing her Finals (PPE at Oxford, since you ask). She's one of five candidates here who aren't yet over 30 (the others being Kane, Joe, Halima and Fiona). I think she's worked out she's not going to win because she's spent more time campaigning in Swansea and Winchester thus far. Safe seats are strange things, especially in hastily-sprung elections with hundreds of seats to fill, and both Janey and Kane feel like they're here doing essential work experience rather than attempting to win. [Twitter]

It would be extraordinary if any constituency in Tower Hamlets or Newham failed to elect a Labour MP, even in a blue year, and this is very much not that. This has thus been a fairly pointless biographical dissection of the ten candidates, even if you actually live here, because Uma is going to walk it. That said, digging into their beliefs and backstories for blogging purposes has been fascinating, otherwise I would have been walking into that polling booth on July 4th with almost zero knowledge of who I wasn't voting for. You can dig into the candidates for your constituency here.

 Monday, June 10, 2024

My High Streets post got a lot of attention over the weekend.
How many High Streets are there in London?
I've counted, and there are 57.
Readers left 40 comments.
I put it on Twitter and got 20 more comments.
Then it ended up on Hacker News, the behemoth American syndicator, and got 80 more comments.

The latter also attracted thousands more visitors to the blog, making it the 12th best day ever on diamond geezer.

When this kind of inrush happens I like to go all introspective and try to work out what drove the commotion. And in this case I think it's two things.
a) not realising the significance of capital letters
b) not reading the post

So here are some of the questions people asked, from pertinent to eyerolling, and my attempts at a response. Keep reading and there will be new data and two new maps.

Q: You seem to have missed Clapham High Street
Q: Have you missed out Greenwich High Street? (Zone 2)?
Q: Is Kensington High Street not inner London?
Q: Oh and what about Marylebone High Street too?
Q: Missed at least Borough High Street
Q: Hampstead High Street?
Q: Deptford would like a word...

These are fairly typical of the comments on Twitter. Readers saw London has 57 High Streets (none of which are in Inner London) and instantly thought of examples which were in Inner London. They hadn't clicked though to read the post where I explained I was only counting High Streets, not High Street Somethings. They simply responded, convinced I was wrong because they hadn't read my caveats.

And OK this is a spurious case, but I think it's emblematic of a huge amount of sound and fury generated by social media. Someone asserts something, knowing precisely what they meant. Someone else then tears into it, assuming they meant something else. Life would be a lot quieter if people sometimes stopped and thought "I wonder what they actually meant by that?" and perhaps kept quiet. But we don't, we leap in and raise the temperature based on our own misconceptions, and I can be just as guilty of that as the rest of us.

Q: There also seem to be quite a few examples of 'High Road' in London?
Q: There are some High Roads on top of that, such as Greenwich High Road?
Q: This ignores all the High Roads...
Q: Chiswick High Rd is not included.
Q: My parental shopping locale was a Something High Road. Hope we learn about those too.
Q: One of our High Streets is a High Road - surely they count too?

Never risk a surely. If you'd read the post it should have been clear it was only about High Streets, not High Roads. Yes they do exist but that wasn't what I was writing about, a man can't research everything.

But since Saturday I've done more research and tallied all the High Roads in London too. There are 13 of them.
London's High Roads: Cowley, Eastcote, Finchley, Harrow Weald, Ickenham, Ilford, New Southgate, South Woodford, Tottenham, Wembley, Willesden, Woodford Green, Wood Green
Again all of these are in Outer London, not Inner, and this time every single one is north of the Thames, The longest is the High Road through Finchley and Whetstone at almost 4 miles, followed by the High Road between Ilford and Chadwell Heath which is 3½ miles.

And yes, there are also Something High Roads with an extra placename added.
London's Something High Roads: Balham, Chiswick, Greenwich, Kilburn, Lee, Streatham
London's High Road Somethings: Leyton, Leytonstone
If you tot up all the High Roads and Something High Roads there are 21 altogether. But they're very much outnumbered by the High Streets and Something High Streets, of which there are 103.

Q: What’s the difference between (any) 'High Street' and (any) 'High Road'? Is it that the 'Street' was a focal point of local activity and 'Road' was a route?

Good question. But whatever the reason it's not going to be black and white like that, contexts will vary.

OK, back to the misconceptions.

Q: I’ve counted 20 high streets from memory that aren’t mentioned in this article.
Q: Streatham High Road still seems like a grey area that should be considered a high street.
Q: Searching just for the name limits a bit. The great Muswell Hill ends up not being there, for example.
Q: I think Surbiton & Tolworth also have high streets (albeit I’m not sure if they call it that)
Q: Kentish Town Road?

A lot of people who only saw the headline thought I was talking about high streets rather than High Streets. Unsurprisingly they took exception to my conclusion. Such is the importance of capital letters.

Some people noticed, but didn't like it.

Q: This would be more interesting if you'd actually identified the higher order concept of a high street not just if it had "High Street" in the name.
Q: Is it not more meaningful to identify actual high streets, not streets named “high street”?

These questioners pointed out that a high street is more important than a High Street, geographywise, and I agree. The problem is that a 'high street' is incredibly difficult to define, thus an entirely subjective concept. High Streets, by contrast, are fundamentally countable which is why I chose to focus on them. If you want to waffle endlessly about what a high street is (and many people did) then go ahead. But you're not going to come up with a number at the end of the exercise, only a woolly discussion.

Q: A high street is a very difficult concept to quantify, because depending on what scale you're thinking at a whole range of roads may or may not qualify.

Interestingly the Ordnance Survey has had a go at quantifying high streets (lower case). In an experimental 2019 study they defined a high street as "a named street predominately consisting of retailing, defined by a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres." According to their definition London has 1204 high streets. Even better they made a map which you can swoosh round and look at your local area and it's fascinating. Some of the longer London 'high streets' are Oxford Street/High Holborn, Upper Street/Holloway Road and Balham/Tooting/Colliers Wood, although technically these are all comprised of shorter chunks, so 1204 is undoubtedly an overestimate.

Q: Thank you, I was hoping the site wold give exactly that description, but alas it didn’t. The author is victim of the Fallacy of shared context.

I'm sorry I didn't write about what you wanted, Andrew. Refunds are available in the usual place.

Let's finish with three good ones.

If anyone wants to make a similar map in their own city or with a different street name, you can use Overpass Turbo to query OpenStreetMap data for this. Just comparing the maps visually, they seem to match.

That map is brilliant, thanks William. It's not the first time Overpass Turbo has helped to confirm a London-based query on this blog.

Which High Street is the highest?

Ironically it's Downe.

All the Inner London boroughs were once part of the London County Council, and they undertook a street renaming exercise to ensure that street names were not duplicated.

Indeed they did, mostly in the 19th century under the auspices of the Metropolitan Board of Works. This explains why Inner London no longer has any High Streets. I found this on Bruce Hunt's comprehensively excellent website, London Miscellany.
"The street renaming scheme was started in 1857 by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), encouraged by the General Post Office, after the MBW was given control by the Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 and Postal Districts were introduced in 1856. It carried on after the London County Council (LCC) was formed to replace the, allegedly corrupt, MBW. Most of the final changes occurred in a 'big push' between 1936-1939."
What Bruce has done, which is brilliant, is patiently list every single street in (Inner) London which changed its name between 1857 and 1945. He's made an 1857-1929 list and a 1929-1945 list, in both cases one ordered Old→New and another New→Old. From this I've learned that 17 High Streets stopped being called High Street and were called something else, and these are they...
Used to be called High Street: Battersea High Street, Borough High Street, Bow Road, Camberwell Road, Dartmouth Road, Denmark Hill, Eltham High Street, Great Garden Street, Hoxton Street, Kensington High Street, Kingsland High Street, Lewisham High Street, Newington Butts, Shoreditch High Street, Stepney High Street, Stoke Newington High Street, Upper Tooting Road
The one that fascinates me most is Bow Road, the road I live on, because I never realised it was originally called High Street. Indeed I'm a bit suspicious because I've found an 1850 map where Bow Road is already called Bow Road, not High Street, so maybe take Bruce's list with a pinch of salt.

What hasn't changed, even after all this discussion and two days of interrogation, is my assertion that London has exactly 57 High Streets. And if you disagree, even after reading everything I've written, feel free to do your own research.

 Sunday, June 09, 2024

Having identified London's longest and shortest High Streets, I thought I'd better visit them.

London's shortest High Street
High Street
(Wembley) [50 metres]

This is no ordinary High Street, it's a dead end and it's never seen a shop. It's also located somewhere fairly familiar - in sight of Wembley Stadium just round the back of the Designer Outlet. And it's a lot more interesting if you turn up when there's a match on because it has a security guard.

The first thing that strikes you about High Street is it's on a hill, indeed this is likely how the road originally got is name. This is Wembley Hill, a 72m-high hump which would have been proper rural in 1722 when the Green Man pub opened taking advantage of the excellent vista. In the late 19th century a cluster of a dozen cottages joined it, this the aforementioned High Street, before developers moved in and created a genteel microsuburb across the surrounding slopes. High Street doesn't look terribly promising from the bottom, a steepish lane between 30s semis and a building site, but at the top is a cute little enclave that feels wonderfully un-Wembley, almost a bit Yorkshire. Parking looks like it'd be a problem.

Up the side of one house is a narrow unsigned alleyway which leads to a short terrace of five more cottages. Their front doors have footpath access only, which must confuse most delivery drivers turning up here for the first time. Keep going and you reach... aha, the grass round the back of the Green Man pub, except I found it blocked off with temporary metal fencing. The pub was busy with Rugby League fans in town for the Challenge Cup final and the smell of warm lager was unmistakeable. It turns out this alleyway is the most direct route from the pub to the stadium and I guess the railings are there to prevent fans from using High Street as a rowdy cut-through, or indeed as a semi-private spot to relieve themselves by the back fence.

I also guess the security guard at the bottom of the street is there to deter cars from driving in, this because he totally ignored me wandering in on foot, even when I started taking a suspicious number of photos. Alternatively maybe he only activated yesterday if you were wearing Wigan or Warrington colours, whereas I'd sensibly turned up in a neutral shirt. And I'd have got none of this excellent nuance if I hadn't turned up on a Saturday afternoon and seen High Street in matchday mode, just a sleepy uphill enclave that predates everything sporty about Wembley.

London's longest High Street
High Street
(Harlington) [1¼ miles]

This is no ordinary High Street either, being the main road in what's essentially a linear village. It also gets genuinely high at one point courtesy of the M4 motorway but we'll get to that. If you think of Heathrow Airport then Harlington is top right, fortunately entirely to the north so that no planes actually fly over, and fortunately the Third Runway's dead otherwise the racket here would be deafening. At the foot of High Street is a busy junction called Harlington Corner, very much in sight of touching-down Boeings, which is currently a dense forest of temporary traffic lights and draped yellow cables. It also has the first streetsign and, ah, damn, look at that.

Having gone to all the effort yesterday of saying I was only interested in perfectly-named High Streets, this one's signed as High Street Something. I guess it made sense to add the name Harlington because the entire village is strung out along it, but the suffix wasn't what I wanted to see after I'd slogged for two hours across London. It can't be London's longest High Street if it's not a High Street, indeed was it even worth turning up? I did walk it and make notes but I'm not sure I can be bothered to write them up, what would be the point, so here's a very condensed version of what I saw and perhaps you can imagine the paragraphed prose I might have turned them into.

» Starts at Best Western hotel - ugly rotunda
» Highest house number - 443, I think
» A handful of old cottages amid much suburban linear infill
» Only two streetsigns - both alas the long version
» Food options include the Harlington Tandoori and The Flying Egg cafe
» Both parish noticeboards empty
» Site of village pond was landscaped in 1977 - a minor green focus
» Reasonable parade of shops peaking with a Co-Op
» The salon is called 'Hair by Amnesia' (hahahaha) (sheesh)

Nod to target audience 1: West London Models sell mini cars, helicopters and planes. Shop has a railway layout in its window. Currently selling a 'Back To The Future v Knight Rider' Scalextric for £159.
Nod to target audience 2: Superloop route SL9 stops here - it's only one stop to Crossrail at Hayes and Harlington.
Nod to target audience 3: In the flowerbed outside the chemists is a classic 'red triangle' road traffic hazard sign. It's over 100 years old and Grade II listed.
Nod to target audience 4: The Harlington Locomotive Society (founded 1947) opens for miniature steam train rides once a month from Easter to Christmas. Their next open day is This Afternoon from 2pm-5pm and you know you want to.

Pub 1: The Wheatsheaf is closed and empty - locks changed 5/6/24
Pub 2: The Red Lion is long-closed, boarded and gutted
Pub 3: The White Hart survives and thrives (and is reputedly haunted by a dead barmaid called Alice)

» High Street suddenly diverts off to the east up a new road
» Parish church is on former alignment (flinty, locked)
» New road slowly launches over very minor stream called Frogs Ditch
» New alignment of High Street then crosses busy M4 (so is genuinely high)
» Old alignment ducks underneath M4 via grim subway
» Viaduct lands gently amid extensive lowly suburbia
» Road here appears to be called Harlington Bridge
» High Street ends by vets at traffic lights and becomes Station Road

I was fairly peeved that this particular High Street is apparently High Street Harlington, at least as far as road sign evidence goes. But is it really? When I got home I checked with the Royal Mail postcode finder and it lists addresses on this road as 'High Street' and then 'Harlington' on separate lines. I also went on Hillingdon's website to check the bin collection day, which is Monday, and they give addresses as 'High Street Hayes', which is neither 'High Street, Harlington' nor 'High Street Harlington'. Finally I doublechecked with the National Street Gazetteer and that definitely calls it 'High Street', not 'High Street Harlington', and they're the definitive record of what a UK street's officially called.

Whatever its streetsigns say it seems Harlington's High Street isn't a High Street Harlington, it's a High Street and therefore London's longest. I'm still not writing it up properly though, sorry.

 Saturday, June 08, 2024

How many High Streets are there in London?

I've counted, and there are 57.

Here's a map.

Here's where they all are.
Acton, Barkingside, Barnet, Beckenham, Brentford, Bromley, Carshalton, Cheam, Chislehurst, Cowley, Cranford, Croydon, Downe, Ealing, Edgware, Farnborough, Feltham, Green Street Green, Hampton, Hampton Wick, Harefield, Harlesden, Harlington, Harmondsworth, Harrow, Hornchurch, Hornsey, Hounslow, Kingston, Mill Hill, New Malden, Northwood, Orpington, Penge, Pinner, Plaistow, Ponders End, Purley, Romford, Ruislip, South Norwood, Southall, Southgate, St Mary Cray, Stratford, Sutton, Teddington, Thornton Heath, Uxbridge, Walthamstow, Wanstead, Wealdstone, Wembley, West Wickham, Whitton, Wimbledon, Yiewsley
I believe that to be a complete list.

(If you've looked closely at my map you may be a bit suspicious by now, and something strange is definitely going on, but I stick by my list and my total)

I used the National Street Gazetteer to confirm all of this. It's a definitive list of every street in the country, its name, its classification and its status. I searched for every street called 'High Street' and I did this for every London borough. Then I looked to see where they were on the official map and transferred them to my Google map. Should be watertight.

The High Street closest to the centre of London is High Street in Harlesden, which is a teensy squidge closer than High Street in Stratford. Both are just over five miles from Charing Cross.

London's longest High Street is High Street in Harlington. This runs from just north of Heathrow Airport across the M4 towards Hayes and is 2.10km long. It's marginally longer than High Street in Hampton. This runs from the Thames along the edge of Bushy Park towards Fulwell and is 2.08km long. No other High Street exceeds a mile in length.

London's longest High Streets: Harlington (2.11km), Hampton (2.06km), Brentford (1.56km), Stratford (1.43km), Penge & Sutton (both 1.38km)

The shortest High Street is High Street in Wembley. This isn't a proper high street, it's a brief residential cul-de-sac near the stadium which just happens to head sharply uphill so I guess that's why they called it High Street. It's barely 50m long. The shortest proper High Street is in Ealing and is 170m long.

London's shortest High Streets: Wembley (50m), Ealing (170m), Harmondsworth (180m), Pinner (190m), Mill Hill (200m).

(All these measurements are taken from my Google map, not anything official, so take them all with a pinch of salt)

The borough with the most High Streets is Bromley which has 10 (Beckenham, Bromley, Chislehurst, Downe, Farnborough, Green Street Green, Orpington, Penge, St Mary Cray, West Wickham), closely followed by Hillingdon which has 8.

What's weird is that only 18 London boroughs have a High Street and 15 don't. And what's particularly weird is that every single one of London's High Streets is in Outer London. Inner London has a big fat zero.

The reason for this is that all the High Streets in Inner London are called Something High Street. For example there's Shoreditch High Street, Kensington High Street, Marylebone High Street and Deptford High Street. Whatever you might call them, their official name is Something High Street (or in one case High Street Something), never plain High Street.
Something High Streets in Inner London: Aldgate, Battersea, Borough, Bromley, Camden, Clapham, Deptford, Eltham, Fulham, Hampstead, Highgate, Homerton, Islington, Kensington, Kingsland, Lambeth, Lewisham, Marylebone, Norwood, Peckham, Plumstead, Poplar, Putney, Roehampton, Shoreditch, St Giles, St John's Wood, Stepney, Stoke Newington, Tooting, Wandsworth, Wapping, Whitechapel, Woolwich
The Inner London borough with the most Something High Streets is Tower Hamlets with 6 (Bromley, Poplar, Shoreditch, Stepney, Wapping, Whitechapel), closely followed by Wandsworth which has 5.

I'm not sure why Inner London is High-Street-free, and I wonder if it's because the GLC pre-1965 (or some other road-naming predecessor body) forbade it.

There are also a number of Something High Streets in Outer London. They're not exclusively an Inner London thing.
Something High Streets in Outer London: Barnes, Bexley, Colliers Wood, Crayford, Erith, Foots Cray, Merton, Mortlake, Sidcup, Welling
Bexley has 6 Something High Streets. The only borough without any kind of High Street whatsoever is Barking & Dagenham.

The longest Something High Streets are Lewisham High Street (1.73km), Kensington High Street (1.58km) and Plumstead High Street (1.42km). The shortest Something High Streets are Stepney High Street (160m), Foots Cray High Street (170m) and St Giles High Street (190m).

(If you're wondering where Streatham is, given it's often quoted as London's longest high street, its name is Streatham High Road so it doesn't count)

Two awkward quirks are High Street North and High Street South in Newham. One runs north from Newham Town Hall past East Ham station and the other runs south to the A13. If you combined them they'd be 3.4 miles long making them London's longest High Street, but officially they're separate roads with different names.

I've made another map with ALL the High Streets on.
The Something High Streets are in red.

(I haven't embedded it, I've given you a static image, but click on it and it'll take you through to a proper Google map)

This gives a much better spread of High Streets across the capital. But see how the red ones are almost all in the centre and all the black ones are round the edge.

Overall that's 57 proper High Streets, 43 Something High Streets, one High Street Something, one High Street North and one High Street South. You could argue that makes a total of 103 High Streets.

But if you want the proper number of High Streets in London, I've counted and there are 57.

 Friday, June 07, 2024

I've not been especially balanced in my recent reporting of the capital.

Yesterday I went to Carpenters Road in the constituency of Stratford & Bow where Labour's Uma Kumaran is going to walk it.
The day before I went to Ham in the constituency of Richmond Park where Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney is sure to keep her seat.
The day before I visited five stations in Brent West where Barry Gardiner is firm favourite to retain the seat for Labour.
The day before I climbed three peaks in Lewisham North, Lewisham East and Lewisham West and East Dulwich, which are baked in for Labour.
Even my 13 mile coastal walk from Littlehampton to Shoreham is pencilled in for three Labour gains.

To redress the bias I've made a special effort to visit a constituency where the Conservatives are expected to win at the upcoming General Election. I checked the latest predictions on the Electoral Calculus website and was relieved to see there's one London seat they're projected to retain. So I went there.

Old Bexley and Sidcup

Importantly that's Old Bexley, not Bexleyheath where all the big shops and services are. Old Bexley's where the history is, like the flinty medieval church and the old watermill, not to mention the pub in the high street which dates back to the 15th century. The good citizens of Old Bexley are such proud monarchists that the King's Head's innsign already depicts a smiling Charles III. Also the hair salon opposite has not one but two Union Jacks dangling outside, each additionally adorned with poppies and mention of D-Day 80 because it wouldn't be right to get your perm done otherwise.

All is not entirely well because the ULEZ starts at the bottom of the high street, but anyone who insists on not paying can always turn off down the A2018 instead. More cheeringly the almshouse front gardens are glorious, the bakery sells cream horns and the Village Emporium is well stocked with Everything You Need For A Party including stationery. Also the sex shop has longer opening hours than the library nextdoor, which for many a resident is the correct ordering of priorities. I always think it's very appropriate that Bexley street signs have a defecating dog where the borough logo ought to be, because nothing says true blue better than a passive aggressive fingerwag.

The chief town in the constituency is Sidcup and that's where Old Bexley & Sidcup Conservatives have their HQ. Here it is on Station Road, an end villa identifiable by the St George's bunting in the tree out front. The sign by the garden wall is "sponsored by Signs of the Times (GB) Limited" but contains no other information, i.e. it's literally just an advert, which seems an appropriately mercenary way of raising money. This is where Old Bexley & Sidcup's latest MP will have been selected, that's local lad and former financier Louis French who took the seat comfortably in a by-election in 2021. He says on his website he's particularly proud of "the new library and cinema in Sidcup", so that's where I went next.

The library was closed. That's because it was a Thursday and not even the biggest library in the constituency opens more than four days a week nowadays. This in turn is thanks to 14 years of Tory economic policy voted through by Louie and his predecessor, but it's fine because their constituents voted for it too. By contrast the accompanying cinema is open daily and its cafe opens at 9.30am, which no doubt explains the lingering smell of popcorn in the lobby. Who needs Dickens and Shakespeare anyway when you've got The Garfield Movie upstairs? It's worth noting that this redeveloped civic site also incorporates nine new flats, none of them affordable because it wouldn't be right to have poorer people taking advantage.

The constituency contains three grammar schools because in this corner of former-Kent educational opportunity continues to depend on divisions created in the 1950s. The most central of the three is Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar, known locally as Chis & Sid, which is actually in Lamorbey. Do well in your 11+ and you get to wear a purple blazer, do badly and you're sent to Hurstmere further down the road in black. This prestigious grammar school was rescued from the imposition of comprehensive education by the indefatigable Margaret Thatcher, although I'm not sure she'd be overly impressed by the Progress Pride rainbow flag that's currently dangling out front.

To sample a less woke corner of the constituency I also ventured to Blackfen, a suburban crossroads by the A2. It's a great place if you like living in the 1930s, indeed even the very old-looking pub on the corner is a complete 1931 rebuild. Key voters looking to spend their triple-locked pension will be pleased to hear that Tonics! is fully stocked with menswear for grown-up mods and rockers, while J Ayre bakery still sells gypsy tart like your favourite school dinnerlady used to make. Residents who fled the inner city after the war should find their lunchtime needs satisfied by LB's Pie & Mash, or alternatively the Blackfen Cafe where 'Stewing Steak' is permanently one of Today's Specials. Full marks too to the chip shop which has been frying since the unbeatably nostalgic year of 1966.

The constituency's sense of defiant independence is perhaps best summed up by the gentleman with the tattooed head who I spotted buzzing up and down Westwood Lane in his roofless Reliant Robin. He had a fake numberplate [FUQ KHAN] to tell the populace know what he thought of ULEZ, and an actual numberplate suggesting he was being charged £15 a day for the privilege. Such is the way of things in the wild blue yonder of Old Bexley & Sidcup. Of course the constituency's most famous MP was former Prime Minister Edward Heath, he who led us willingly into the Common Market, and it turns out he grew up around here so I went to see where.

This is 106 Green Walk in Crayford, two streets back from the River Cray, where Ted resided until the age of seven. He was born in Broadstairs but his father had a job making wooden frames for planes at the Vickers factory because there was a war on, so initially Crayford took precedence. It's possible to imagine him trotting down the front steps into what would then have been an unpaved front garden, but not then heading off to piano lessons because he didn't start those until he was eight. However his house isn't actually in Old Bexley & Sidcup, it's in Bexleyheath & Crayford, and according to multiple polls that's currently leaning heavily for Labour. The very idea feels incredulous, but perhaps Ted's former seat will help to prevent a total Tory wipeout in the capital.

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the diamond geezer index
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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?
here's where to find...
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