diamond geezer

 Friday, November 27, 2015

After a night at the football, a night on Radio 4.

Keep an eye on the BBC's tickets page and you too could attend the recording of a show. Most are in London, but quite a few are around the regions and nations, which is how come my Dad's attended a recording of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and I never have. Just a Minute is booking right now for just before Christmas, via a random draw, but that'll be vastly oversubscribed so don't get your hopes up.

I ducked the Radio 4 A-List and applied for a ticket one rung lower down, for John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. You may not have heard of Mr Finnemore, he's not on TV much, although has had a minor role as one of Miranda's lowlier sidekicks. Instead he mostly writes, and performs, as you might expect from a former Cambridge Footlight. His most celebrated creation is Cabin Pressure, the 26-part sitcom set set in the world of chartered planes, tickets for whose final episode were oversubscribed by a factor of a hundred. For a taste of Finnemore, if you're curious, his sextet of Double Acts finished only last week, so several episodes are currently available on iPlayer. Meanwhile the legendary Souvenir Programme, a half hour pot pourri of comedy sketches, is now on its fifth series and will be returning to your radios in January.

The first essential thing you need to know about BBC tickets is that they're always free. The second essential thing is a consequence of the first, namely that the BBC always give out too many. It would be ghastly if people applied with no genuine intention of turning up and there were loads of empty seats, so a significant number of extra tickets are issued just in case. But this has a further consequence which helps to make the start of the evening rather less fun, namely that if you don't turn up early enough you don't get in. And sometimes this means very early.

For a blue ticket recording like the News Quiz the queues can start ridiculously early. Admission may begin at T Minus An Hour And Fifteen Minutes but people'll turn up well before that, lined up stoically to ensure a seat. To counter the tedium, the crew start validating tickets even earlier, slapping a numbered sticker on your printout to match your position in the queue. With this obtained you can bugger off and have a life in the surrounding area for well over an hour, only needing to return just before the doors open. Be warned that you have to be actually physically present to get a sticker - it's no use turning up with a sheaf of four and claiming the rest of your party will be along later. But no pain, no gain.

I arrived at the Shaw Theatre straight after work, a full two hours before the recording was due to begin, and there were already more than a hundred people in front of me. A fair number of these clearly hadn't come from work, but dozens of later recruits from a younger demographic clearly had. The Radio 4 audience remains distinctly mixed, although a very different kind of crowd to that I'd found myself in earlier this week at the Emirates. More females than males for a start, and more people wearing glasses, and slightly more hipster beards than proper stubble. If my Tuesday night had been with spent with the sport lovers, Thursday saw me in the company of those more likely to have been left on the touchlines.

I could have spent my spare hour in the pub, or having dinner, but instead I made the most of my location on the Euston Road. The Wellcome Foundation have recently opened a new exhibition entitled Tibet's Secret Temple which tells the story of the Lukhang, for three centuries the Dalai Lama's private place of contemplation.

The setting established, the main focus of the display is an exposition of Tantric Buddhism, yoga and the spiritual physiology of chakras. Rest assured it's more enlightening than preachy, and a fascinating insight into a very mindful way of life. If you're a reflective kind of person, I think you'll learn lots. Open until the end of February - late opening Thursdays.

The Shaw Theatre's lobby isn't ideally suited to corralling an entire auditorium full of attendees. Two pillars obstruct the foot of the stairs, and more importantly the bar, and it only takes a handful of static chatters to place the entire space in lockdown. The great majority of ticket holders are always in pairs or groups, either from the same family or like-minded friends, a comedy recording being a good and rather different social evening out. This at least made it easier for a singleton like me to squeeze through some gaps in the wall of people to some spare carpet on the far side, awaiting the ever-so-polite 'rush' when the doors finally opened.

At some BBC venues they let you in by sticker number, with double digiters ahead of triple, so the sooner you arrive the better the seat you get. At the Shaw, however, it was every licence fee payer for themselves. Again my lone status worked in my favour as I was able to fill in a single seat in the middle near the front, while other linked souls were forced to wander rather further back or to the side. There were even a few spare seats at the back by the time everyone was in... whereas last time I attended a JFSP recording here I arrived just late enough to nab the very last seat in the entire auditorium.

Almost bang on time the show's producer appeared from the wings to do the warm-up in an appropriately self-deprecating way. And then we were off, with a greeting from the star of the show and the introduction of his four actorly sidekicks perched with scripts in hand on a row of chairs behind. John's a very likeable man who beams a lot - your mum would be chuffed if you brought him home - but also linguistically very sharp and with an eye for whimsy. And hurrah, we were due an hour of fresh sketches, which is double what you get on the radio, plus all the unintentional comedy of stumbles and slips.

A very typical Finnemore set-up is to take something well known and mine the situation for absurdity. What exactly happened when Good King Wenceslas arrived to give alms to that poor peasant, and what if there was an actual heritage site named Bouncy Castle? I particularly enjoyed what will come to be known as the Hunter Gatherer sketch, a lengthy tour de force, and also a meeting between two management consultants and a nursery rhyme character which seemed a shallow excuse to force the cast to (attempt to) talk in tongue twisters.

One particularly heartfelt song with a restaurant theme was familiar to those of us who'd attended John's recent (paid-for) show at the very same theatre. Comparing the amount I'd forked out for that, and for not a great deal longer in my seat, I have to say the Radio 4 recording was more enjoyable. I may smile a lot but it takes a heck of a lot to make me laugh out loud, and there will be a moment in January when you can hear me do just that. That's assuming of course that this particular take survives the cutting room floor - a second run-through with exactly the same material was scheduled immediately after ours. And you could so have gone to that.

 Thursday, November 26, 2015

Act II, Scene I: Inside the Stadium (North Bank)

It is a very long way up to our seats. First a seventy-five step ascent inside a bleak concrete shell, because that's how the external interior of a modern football stadium looks. Then a short stride across the services ring, where queues for pies and burgers will erupt later. And then out into the arena itself, backs to the action, for a further sixty steps climbing steeply up the bowl. The top of the North Bank is not for the faint hearted.

Checking the small clock on the big screen, the game has now been underway for just over ten minutes. No goals have been scored. This is both good news because we didn't miss any, and bad news because Arsenal really need to win. A fair number of other seats scattered all around the stadium remain empty, I'd say about 10%. Initially I wonder if the occupants are still outside, delayed by security, but eventually it transpires they simply haven't bothered turning up. A midweek Champions League tie isn't the draw every season ticket holder craves.

Wow the view is good. It's not the best in the stadium, for sure - most are considerably closer to the pitch. But from way up here behind the goal the view is end-on, perpendicular to what's normally shown on the telly, and the vast green rectangle glows bright beneath the floodlights. Unfortunately Arsenal are attacking the far goal, and attacking well, so all the action is down the other end. The thrust of passing play is crystal clear, but the red and black players are tiny and hard to identify, particularly for those of us unable to translate shirt numbers into a face. No problem, in the second half they'll all be up our half, for sure.

The crowd is mostly male, and unexpectedly mixed. Some are here because they love the game and can afford to come, others rather more for love than for money. Their clobber suggests that attendance does not equate to dressing up. A few have red and white shirts under their jackets, or badges on their lapel, but if anyone's wearing a scarf it's more likely a response to the weather than a need to indicate allegiance.

The first goal comes fairly quickly, at least for those of us who turned up late. Ozil's header thrills the crowd, the icing on a set piece manoeuvre from one end to the other which might (or might not) have ended in glory. A roar erupts, and when the club's announcer chips in with the scorer's name I suddenly realise that's the first time he's had cause to speak. Meanwhile at each end of the pitch two official flagwavers stand up and wave giant official club flags behind the touchline, because who needs poncey cheerleaders?

A second goal follows soon after, to general delight, the desired result now almost in the bag. This cushion adjusts the atmosphere in the stadium, the tension released, at least until Arsenal maybe do that usual thing where they throw it all away. The subsequent restart is the cue for some amongst us to head to the urinals, there being little chance of missing something game-changing, and to be sure of splashing the porcelain before the half time rush.

Act II, Scene II: Interval

The half time rush is underway, and the lure of pie is strong. Rows of spectators flood slowly down the steps and inch through the portal at amenity level. Current in-house catering rates are £4.80 for a burger or hot dog, but only £3.70 for a pie, in a range of none too shabby flavours (including a Guinness-based option). Others plump for lager, but I have been warned off this by an experienced fan, partly because of the taste but mostly to avoid spiking one's bladder for the second half. When you're sitting an assault course away from the facilities, this is wise advice.

Looking around the arena during the break one particular ring has completely emptied out. Those in the premium and sponsors' seats have all scarpered to their private bars, almost to a man, as if the half time hospitality were the key feature of their attendance. For those of us still present a previous player has been brought back onto the pitch to be inducted into The 100 Club, the equivalent of the freedom of the Arsenal, but in a lacklustre way which ensures that absent spectators haven't missed much.

Act II, Scene I: Inside the Stadium (North Bank)

The second half begins with no fanfare, indeed no announcement whatsoever. This time Arsenal are attacking towards us, and yet somehow they appear to be no nearer than before. Players perform their passing game across the pitch, losing and gaining possession in ways that make us yell, and occasionally making a stab on goal. Some shots are clearly going wide, though other sections of the crowd seem more excited, while others appear really close, until the replay reveals our angle of sight was mere illusion.

Throughout the match the supporters' role is very much to support. They gasp when required, they cheer on cue and they offer copious amounts of inaudible advice to the players. And of course they sing to demonstrate their camaraderie, selecting from a songbook of a dozen or so firmly entrenched chants. Sometimes a player's actions set them off - a particular favourite of the guy to my left was praising Alexis Sanchez to the tune of Don't You Want Me Baby. But more often a single firestarter or small group kicks things off ("Red Army!"), with others joining in ("Red Army!!"), and suddenly another semi-tuneful mantra is echoing around the ground.

The hardcore up the North End are especially fond of "We're the North Bank", a rabble-rousing hymn sung alternately in battle with another section of the ground. This tends to go on a bit, stopping only when the action on the field requires alternative noises to be made, or when the massed choirs finally tire and the singing peters out. Meanwhile somebody nearby has brought a drum into the ground and is repeatedly striking it for up to a minute at a time. I thought the security tonight was supposed to be tight, but presumably the stewards overlooked the concealment of this oversized percussion.

A third goal for the Gunners brings the crowd to its feet, but it turns out there's a practical reason for this. Whenever it looks imminent that a goal might be scored somebody somewhere in front of you always stands to try to get a better look. Unless the person behind them stands almost immediately their line of sight of a potentially crucial event will be blocked, and so a reverse domino effect of rising fans ripples backwards through the stand.

Despite their drubbing, a small group of Dinamo Zagreb fans maintains a noisy presence from a triangle of seats located near the far post. Most of these will be Croatians living in London or nearby, rather than those who've travelled halfway across Europe to be here, but they're no less excitable in their response. Arsenal's army ignores them as if swatting away a fly, with the announcement of each away team substitution greeted by a mass (and slightly camp) exclamation of "Who?!"

With the clock ticking down, and the result no longer in doubt, a minor exodus begins. The first to leave are quietly tutted by more devoted fans, but the drip becomes a trickle becomes a stream, especially for those with long journeys home and/or a train to catch. Despite the price of a ticket, some it seems are more than happy to miss ten percent of the match if this avoids getting stuck in the post-match pile-up. Striding past the shuttered pie stalls and down the echoing concrete stairwell, it's possible to be out and through the hi-vis ring before the final whistle blows.

Act III, Scene I: The pub on the Holloway Road

A three-nil victory sealed, it's time for actual and armchair spectators to rendezvous once more over beer. The team's finest manoeuvres are reviewed, and the most likely candidates for Man of the Match debated. Thoughts turn to the final group match upon which Arsenal's European fortunes now hinge, and to domestic challenges closer ahead. Eyes turn upwards briefly when Sky Sports News reports from the game, then back to earnest argument and extended chatter. Even when I'm no longer here to see it, I'm sure this final scene will be played out over and over, season by season, in perpetuity.

Epilogue: The works canteen

After five minutes of silent chomping, the silence is broken.

Colleague: A good result last night, eh? It's entirely what I expected, of course, and at the Bayern game too, so the whole Europe thing's back in our own hands again. All we need is two clear goals, or to score three, and we're through.
DG: Uh huh.
Colleague: I particularly liked our first goal on the long corner run, I think half a dozen players were involved, and that's only the second time Ozil's scored from a header, it must have been amazing.
DG (thinks): If only he knew I actually went to the match last night, he'd be really jealous, but best I say nothing otherwise I'll never hear the last of it.
Colleague: I see even Ramsey played...

 Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Prologue: The works canteen

After five minutes of silent chomping, the silence is broken.

Colleague: So, big match tonight eh? Arsenal have to win to go forwards in the Champions League but only if Bayern win and then we win by two clear goals in the last match, a draw isn't good enough, then Bayern and Olympiakos both go through and then it might be better if we lost tonight otherwise we might end up in the Europa League...
DG: Uh huh.
Colleague: But if we win tonight at home and then again next time we can still go through, we always go through it's been 15 years maybe 16, but it can't ultimately be a tie, in the end it all comes down to them beating us last time even if we get a really good goal difference, so tonight is crucial...
DG (thinks): If only he knew I was actually going to the match tonight, he'd be really jealous, but I shall say nothing otherwise I'll never hear the last of it.
Colleague: I think Ramsey might even play...

Act I, Scene I: The pub on the Holloway Road

An hour and a half until kickoff. The pub's not busy, but isn't quiet, with groups of drinkers dotted around at the bar and tables elsewhere. A few are wearing obvious Arsenal attire, but most are merely drinking and/or talking about the evening's football. Sky Sports News is churning out a diet of pre-match updates and speculation in the corner, along with transfer news from Bishops Stortford and regular promos for a boxing match later in the week. Many eyes are intermittently glued.

There is much to discuss. Arsenal have to win to go forwards in the Champions League but only if Bayern win and then we win by two clear goals in the last match, a draw isn't good enough, as per. Several of those in attendance will be attending the match later - there are season tickets in attendance - while others are staying put. The pub doesn't have BT Sport, which is a pain these days, but the game's on RTE the landlady reassures, so there's no need to shift.

An informed air exists, based on shared collective experience and speculation, sometimes gabbled ten to the dozen, at other times more restrained, even slurred, depending on how many pints have been consumed since entering. Several genuine Highbury characters are in attendance, including devoted disciples who go to every match and have for years, be that Norwich away or a tour of the Far East, and with anecdotes from each. Friendly to a fault, even to an obvious newcomer, a shared footballing history keeps the discourse flowing.

Top of the specials board by the bar is the culinary classic "Steak done in the oven", and for less than a tenner, but thus far the kitchen is quiet. For most a tall chilled lager is the drink of choice, again very reasonably priced, and we're outside the exclusion zone so it's served in glass rather than nasty plastic. A young man from the Far East sits alone at a neighbouring table, pristine red and white scarf around his neck, tapping furiously into his phone and (very) occasionally sipping his Stella.

The team news, when it comes, is greeted with shrugs. Best Arsene could have done in the circumstances, what with all the injuries, is the general consensus. Intelligence beamed from contacts at the ground suggests that security has been ramped up, what with you know what recently, so there are police everywhere and more checks than is usual. We might need to leave early so as not to get stuck in a queue, but there are still beers to finish off, and best visit the Gents before walking to the stadium. Is he still in there, come on, the time's ticking by.

Act I, Scene II: Outside the Stadium

With kick off imminent, the streets outside the Emirates are still teeming with fans. The locals always delay arriving until the last minute, because getting in's usually easy, except not tonight. An extra ring of police surrounds the stadium, roughly where the bollards are, and the team's stewards are out in great number. Those with bags are checked, which surprises many, then surprises nobody when they stop to think.

There are long queues at the gates. I am reliably informed that there are never queues at the gates, but tonight there are. Strings of fans billow out from the rim of the stadium, while police stand around in static supervisory mode. There's no sense of danger, nor even of frustration, merely resignation as the matchtime whistle sounds from inside the sporting garrison.

As is always the way, we find ourselves in the most persistent line. When nobody's come to stand behind you for a good five minutes, you know you've played the queueing game wrong. The Gunners'd better not have scored already, although the crowd noise from within suggests as yet not. At least we're moving.

My patdown, when it comes, is a token gesture designed to look as if something is being done. Directed forwards I attempt to work out how my ticket works, waving it ineffectively across a panel beside the turnstile. The turnstile refuses to move so I try again, and still nothing, and again... and this time I push with such force that the gate spins round and thwacks me in the head. Welcome to the Arsenal. Game on.


 Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The five best things to do in Northolt Park

1) Visit Alexandra Park
Though Northolt Park contains no eponymous greenspace, its recreational sensibilities are satisfied by the extensive amenity of Alexandra Park. Opened in 1928 on the site of the legendary Paddocks Pleasure Grounds, it was named after Queen Alexandra who frequently visited this delightful locale. Sinuous avenues of trees lead up the hill towards a verdant summit, where a notched sawtooth sculpture holds court and starlings roost. Bring a picnic from Mama's Kitchen or the Spicy Night Tandoori - the opening date for the organic independent cafe remains some time off - and spread out on the benches by the Millennium Garden. Some of London's finest breeds of dog can be found snuffling and squatting in the longer grass, while younger residents ride their bicycles from one gate to another enthralled by the possibilities created. Why slip up the road to South Harrow when everything a great day out needs is right here?

2) Join the Northolt Park Social Club
The beating heart of everyday nightlife in UB5 can be found in the midst of the Racecourse Estate. For eight pre-war years these fields were a national centre for pony racing, with crowds flocking to the grandstands from far and wide to bet on four-legged frolics, before the council ploughed the lot and built thousands of houses instead. But that early buzz and excitement lives on at the Northolt Park Social Centre, whose drab prefab exterior belies the warm welcome offered within. Conveniently located just up the road from the Harvester and Travelodge, a full range of activities from Zumba to Taekwondo are offered on a regular basis. Or come for the Bingo, renowned in the locality from Goodwood Drive to the flats, every Wednesday and Friday evening from eight. Annual membership is excellent value at £15, and much coveted, because where else in London can you watch every BT Sport live football match simulcasted as it happens? The spirit of Ascot is alive and well at the NPSC.

3) Dine out at Station Parade
When discerning visitors alight in Northolt, direct from the Aerodrome or elsewhere, Station Parade should be their natural destination. This run of exquisite eateries and boutiques serves the local neighbourhood with aplomb, from Hollywood Pizza to the House of Elliott salon. The cuisine of the subcontinent is a particular speciality, with an Indian hybrid flavour brought to life at the Golden Sip restaurant, and the Chautari takeaway offering the authentic taste of Nepal. If all this has tickled your tastebuds, pop into the Everest Supermarket where you can recreate all your favourite dishes at the drop of a shopping basket. Or venture differently east at the Gucio Polish delicatessen - of course it's an off licence too! And if any hipsters feel the need to opt out there's a quirky Asda immediately adjacent to the funeral directors, because that's the way Northolt Park parties.

4) Arrive in style at Northolt Park station
But how to get to this outer London hotspot? The powers that be haven't made it easy, indeed some would say deliberately difficult, by restricting travel options to minimal service levels. Chiltern Railways, holders of the Bicester Village franchise, run just one train an hour to this zone 5 outpost - miss that and miss out! The station that bears Northolt Park's name is a brief halt between two streets, crossed by a footbridge that affords a glorious panorama of the surrounding rooftops. As one of the dozen or so least used stations in the capital, the pop-up ticket office is regularly staffed and of an especially atmospheric vintage. A padlocked portakabin in scarlet and blue, the interior is laid out with low occasional tables and some leaflets, while faded colour prints on the exterior depict happier days when the Green Arrow steamed through. Alight here for The Top Shop newsagents, and adventure.

5) Walk to Northala Fields
If your visit to Northolt Park has taken its toll, take a brief stroll south to the banks of the A40. Here four huge conical mounds have arisen, seemingly inspired by Madonna's brassiere, their summits looming above the traffic on the silver thread of dual carriageway below. These sylvan hills date back barely a decade, constructed from the spoil removed during the reconstruction of Wembley Stadium, whose elegant arch resembles an ivory rainbow on the northwest horizon. Various footpaths curve around this quartet of grassy peaks, but only one spirals sufficiently to rise to the highest crown. Follow the gabions anti-clockwise, or use the wooden benches aligned as stepping stones, and pray that bitter winds have cleansed the summit of local riffraff. The view is genuinely one of the finest in west London, from Horsenden and Harrow round to Heathrow Airport, interrupted only by the occasional hovering bird of prey. And in the distance espy the City and the Shard, their retail and cultural delights impossibly out of reach, but when you have all of Northolt at your beck and call, why rush to leave?

 Monday, November 23, 2015

On Sunday afternoon I walked the Thames Path from Tower Bridge to North Greenwich, a fascinating eight mile stroll mostly alongside the river. I've walked it before, so this time I thought I'd do a little survey along the way to sharpen my senses. Every five minutes I took a look around me and rated my current location (out of 5) for Gentrification and for Busyness. My scoring was terribly subjective (I mean, what is gentrification anyway?), but what the hell, at least it was consistently subjective. You've read this blog before, you know I do peculiar things like this, just go with it. [map]

[0m] Tower Bridge (G0, B5) The famed Victorian bridge helps to set the ends of my two scales. Zero marks for Gentrification, because this is an original, but full marks for Busyness, oh stop taking photos and move out of my way.

[5m] Shad Thames (G5, B4) One of the original gentrification hotspots, but still tastefully done, and the cobbled canyon draws the crowds.
[10m] New Concordia Wharf (G4, B2) Slipping across the creek, this old warehouse hasn't quite gone the way of its surroundings. Few tourists get this far, preferring to turn back at the Design Museum.
[15m] Chambers Wharf (G3, B3) Now passing inland, one side of the street is utterly be-flatted, but the rest remains vacant (for supersewer work).
[20m] Bermondsey Wall (G3, B3) I'll be using code G3 a lot along this stretch of the walk, there being loads of flats that are not too old and not too new.
[25m] King Stairs (G3, B3) Rotherhithe didn't take long to get to, and the Angel pub is a refreshing survivor of the old days. And it's busier again too (OMG, that's the actual Matt Berry from Toast of London, walking past in dark glasses on his phone).
[30m] Cumberland Wharf (G3, B1) One catch with only checking-in every five minutes is that you sometimes miss somewhere important, in this case the historic residential heart of Old Rotherhithe. That was charming, this is more apartmenty.

[35m] Pacific Wharf (G3, B2) Have you noticed how all the flats around here seem to be called Something Wharf? A poignant reminder of how much trading heritage has been lost.
[40m] King and Queen Wharf (G3, B1) Few people walk this section of the waterfront behind Rotherhithe Street. Across the river on the Tower Hamlets shore, only a brief section of Narrow Street has any historic character.
[45m] Sovereign Crescent (G3, B2) These Georgian-style terraces are so very much of the post-Thatcher era. Nobody would ever build something so lowrise overlooking the Thames today.
[50m] Sovereign View (G3, B1) "This major riverside development was formally opened by Sir George Young Bt MP, Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction, 25th November 1993"
[55m] Hilton Docklands (G3, B3) A posh hotel ought to score higher for gentrification, but it's so nondescript, and the neighbouring residential streets so ordinary, that I can only rate this spot as a G3.
[1h] Durand's Wharf (G2, B3) They used to build mundane council-style blocks out here at the inaccessible tip of the Rotherhithe peninsula. Now Docklands glistens on the opposite shore. Coming up imminently, Surrey Docks Farm is a delightful urban/rural hybrid, and definitely more G1, B2.

[1h 5m] Barnards Wharf (G3, B2) Unbelievable as it sounds, a plaque confirms that this lowbrow residential development was opened by "Actor and Television Personality Fraser Hines" on Friday 10th July 1992. Thames-side walkers are low in number now, but not insignificant in number.
[1h 10m] Greenland Dock (G3, B2) Again my five minute rule skips an area of contrasts (deluxe New Caledonian Wharf faces bog-standard flats on Odessa Street) to hit the very-1990s edge of a major marina/dock.
[1h 15m] South Dock (G3, B2) You can catch a Thames Clipper from here to Westminster, but the nearest station's a considerable walk, so house prices have only been yanked up so far.
[1h 20m] Aragon Tower (G2, B1) This council tower block was reclad to boost its desirability to incomers, but a close look at the upper floors reveals a thin veneer. The neighbouring Pepys Estate opened in 1966, in an era when London built for workers rather than investors.
[1h 25m] Upper Pepys Park (G2, B2) I've just passed the first proper old riverside buildings for miles, the bricky remainders of Deptford Dockyard at Drake's Steps, but the modern playground in Pepys Park ups the gentrification quotient a notch.
[1h 30m] Grove Street (G1, B2) Oh my word. Forced inland, the Thames Path hits working class Lewisham and streets utterly untainted by thoughts of cappuccinos. How terribly G1.

[1h 35m] Sayes Court Park (G2, B2) The Evening Standard's property supplement does not yet come here, but graffiti on the park fence reads "No More Homes For the Rich", because it will.
[1h 40m] Convoys Wharf (G1, B2) What remains of Henry VIII's Royal Dockyard is huge, and fenced off, and awaiting transformation into 3500 new homes. Further graffiti suggests local residents are less than happy - security vans patrol the interior to keep protesters out.
[1h 45m] Wharf Street (G4, B2) Look at that Gentrification score suddenly leap. The first street in Greenwich has been transformed into offices and apartments with water gardens, pretentious sculptures at ground level and a "pop-up eatery" serving "Truffled Tentacled Croquettes". Sheesh.
[1h 50m] Millennium Quay (G4, B2) They've gone full whack towards apartment-building around the mouth of the Ravensbourne of late, including a new tidal footbridge to increase accessibility. I nearly awarded this G3, but the two local shops are a wellbeing centre and a cafe-cum-florists, so G4.
[1h 55m] New Capital Quay (G4, B3) Another very modern blocky waterfront development, piling up the profits, with gyms and restaurants to save the residents having to mix too much with citizens elsewhere. The Thames Path is not signposted, this being a private 'public' place.
[2h] Meridian Estate (G1, B3) Immediately adjacent to Maritime Greenwich proper, this very ordinary council estate holds its prime location in the face of commercial pressure.

[2h 5m] Old Royal Naval College (G0, B4) The one Greenwich location you're bound to know is the piazza around the Cutty Sark, now scarred by gold-coated Byron and Nando's restaurants (G4, B5), but my five minute timecheck has hit the untainted historical waterfront beyond.
[2h 10m] Trinity Hospital (G1, B3) Again I've missed the newer stuff (past the Trafalgar Tavern), this time checking in outside a 17th century charitable foundation.
[2h 15m] The River Gardens (G4, B2) Here we go again, with massive characterless flats recently crammed into a 'prime location' on the sanitised riverfront. Alas, as yet nobody seems to want to occupy the empty restaurant space beneath one of the blocks (if you're interested, ring Harry Cody-Owen).
[2h 20m] Enderby Wharf (G1/G4, B1) Barratt Homes have high hopes for this 40 acre development beside a proposed cruise liner terminal, although the artist's impression painted on the hoardings looks unspeakable. Until the first block opens, this remains the back of nowhere.
[2h 25m] Morden Wharf (G1, B1) This is even more desolate, a post-industrial walkway wiggling around crumbling premises, and the first double-1-coded location on the walk. Later, expect (slightly inaccessible) flats.
[2h 30m] Victoria Deep Water Terminal (G0, B1) And this is about as wonderfully desolate as it gets. Sand is piled up on a waterfront still used as a cement works, in the shadow of a gasholder, with a footpath still inexplicably passing through. Long may it survive.

[2h 35m] Greenwich Peninsula Golf Range (G4, B1) Hang on, what?! A driving range has been laid out on land that's five years off being flats, its extensive astroturf splattered with thousands of white balls hit from 60 heated grandstand bays. The attached wine bar is called Vinothec Compass and looks beyond pretentious, but an upmarket clientèle evidently exists.
[2h 40m] InterContinental London Hotel (G1/G4, B1) Due to open next month, this intrusive mega hotel has its eye on business travellers and wealthy conference stopovers. Until then, tumbleweed rolls down the western edge of the peninsula.
[2h 45m] The O2 (G5, B5) And finally, almost three hours after leaving Tower Bridge, this teeming teflon tent is the ultimate in gentrification. Formerly a gasworks, yesterday it hosted tennis's ultimate world final, and served a lot of burgers. Thankfully not all of London's Thames-side has yet been devoured by money.

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 Sunday, November 22, 2015

Most model villages are rural idylls. A row of cottages, a parish church, a duckpond, that sort of thing. But yesterday I visited a model village that's anything but, in a railway arch off Southwark Bridge Road. You might have seen it at Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare over the summer, as part of Banksy's seaside bemusement park. And now it's come to London, rather closer to the environment it represents, and you have two months to take a peek. [10 photos]

The creator of this dystopian model village is Jimmy Cauty, one of the members of 90s pop collective the KLF. He's morphed from successful bandsman to artist with a social conscience, with a particular focus on the rule of law. In 2011 he placed model police and protesters inside glass to create A Riot In A Jam Jar, a concept which later grew into an entire installation. Entitled The Aftermath Dislocation Principle it covers the equivalent of one square mile, but at 1:87 scale, from a cluster of tower blocks in one corner to a bleak country lane in the other. There are cars and buildings and houses like any other model village, but here represented in the aftermath of a riot so generally wrecked, empty or rolled over. And although there are no residents - they've either fled or been taken away - over 3000 police officers are standing around in hi-vis jackets and collectively wondering what to do next.

Naturally it's excellent.

The whole thing's quite dark, both in tone and in illumination. A roving spotlight moves above the town, but it's the combination of sodium lamps and blue flashing lights which provides most of the atmosphere. But keep looking carefully, because the attention to detail is spectacular. The billboards have twisted slogans for multinational brands, the Meat Rendering Plant is named Slaughterhouse 22, and there's even a proper scaled-down road sign showing the turnoff for the Model Village. Ah, the irony of a poster urging you to join the Bedfordshire Police, in a neighbourhood seemingly inhabited by nobody else. Poor old Bedfordshire has been selected for this fictional dystopia, I'd say more likely Luton than the county town itself, but the location is never further narrowed down.

At Weston-Super-Mare the village was so popular that visitors started walking off with the figures, so a fence was swiftly erected around it, and here in London that's been taken one step further. The entire board is surrounded by a hoarding drilled with holes, and visitors can only peer inside through one of these. Rather than scanning the whole thing far too quickly you find yourself forced to view each tableau in turn, taking in each set piece with a smile. A car stacked up in a pyre of branches. A lorry toppled from a traffic-free overpass. A Burger King restaurant entirely overrun with police officers. And my personal favourite, a roadblock on a flyover where the media have pulled up in outside broadcast trucks to hear a speech from the Home Secretary, who's standing on a podium and has a big black cross on her back.

I'd not have realised it was the Home Secretary if I hadn't read the map provided on the way in, so make sure you check this out or you'll miss some visual treat. That stage erected in the midst of the tower blocks is for some X Factor-style competition, although the gallows alongside suggests elimination has been taken over-seriously. The helicopter hemmed in by an army escort supposedly contains the Duchess of Cambridge, her destiny never to evacuate. And the McDonalds drive-thru has suffered a particularly appropriate vehicular accident... actually yes, I spotted that one without the need for the map to point it out.

What's more, the model village still isn't finished. The main S-shaped board, yes, but an additional zone is under construction in the front half of the arch. The latest creation is New Bedford Rising, a gold-encrusted pyramid inside which the police force is building a fresh crime-free society. Officers can be seen ferrying supplies inside, either through a ground level portal or up steep external staircases, Egyptian style. Even better, you can watch the miniature construction project unfold at the workshop benches alongside, where a small team of model makers are busy cutting material and painting fresh policemen. All the materials are laid out, including boxes and boxes of not-yet-yellow human figures, with a full-size Bedfordshire Police caravan behind to act as store and bolthole.

You might even see Jimmy himself, as I did yesterday afternoon, continuing to treat his pet project with the seriousness its subject matter deserves. The model village is open between noon and six at weekends, and noon and seven from Wednesdays to Friday, and continuing until 28th January. Admission is £4, which is about right assuming you hang around and take a proper look. And it's not busy, at least not yet, the arch in America Street being far enough off the beaten track that you'll not walk past by accident. To find the entrance follow the railway line west from London Bridge station (or walk in from Borough, or catch the RV1), and look for the postered entrance beside the car valet. Excellent both in its construction and as an incisive satire on the way we live today, Jimmy's model village is well worth a look.

 Saturday, November 21, 2015

Q: How long will a Crossrail train be?

A: Really quite long

Wembley pitch105m
TfL Rail160m

(change of scale)

Q: How long will a Crossrail platform be?

A: Longer still

Piccadilly line train108m
Crossrail train205m
Canary Wharf platforms241m
Farringdon platforms250m
Tottenham Court Road platforms260m

 Friday, November 20, 2015

I really don't like hats.

I've never seen the need for them myself. I never wear one, and I've never wanted to be a person who wears one.

Hats only get in the way. They perch on your head in a peculiar manner. They muck up your hair, which would still be pristine had no hat been applied. They potentially obscure your vision, which could be a danger to others including children. And they feel a bit funny, as I'm sure you'll agree if you've ever tried wearing one.

I wouldn't want to be a person with a hat. Covering my head in an artificial way. Having to carry it around everywhere in case of need. That awkward brushing sensation against the ear. Being judged by others for my choices. It must be so difficult.

To me, hats are unnecessary. I can live my life perfectly well without a hat, and so can everybody else. There is no situation in which a hat is essential, save for safety reasons, so I don't see why anyone else should wear one.

And yet people still wear hats. They place them on their head in public and sometimes even wear them indoors. If questioned they'll claim it's part of who they are, that it makes them feel good, that it goes along with their beliefs. I simply do not understand why this should be the case. I don't wear a hat, so surely there's no need for anybody else to.

Why is it so important to these people that they be allowed to wear hats? If you look around, it's not the normal state of affairs. The vast majority of people in this country today are not out there wearing a hat. But still this subgroup exists amongst us, encouraged by certain sections of the press, as if the wearing of a hat were somehow fashionable.

I often feel personally offended when other people choose to wear a hat. I never wear one, but they insist on parading in front of others with a hat on their head. Why should I be forced to look at people doing something I would never do, and without me having any say in the matter whatsoever? These people are from a different world to me.

There's something unnatural about hats. We're not born with them, neither are they something that we choose to wear unaided. Many people are introduced to wearing hats at an early age by fellow sympathisers. They start off with entry-level hats before progressing to stronger hats, and before long they've been sucked into the world of extremist hat wearing, while society does nothing.

When I see someone has started wearing a hat I always look at them in a new way. Why are they doing that? How are they different to me? What gives them the right to wear a hat in public? And if they can do all this, what else could they be capable of?

If a member of my family got involved with someone wearing a hat I'd be uncomfortable. What they do under their own roof is up to them, but I wouldn't want to have to invite them into my home. I don't want hat-wearing to take root in my family, it wouldn't be right. It's not the future I want to see.

Wearing a hat makes people think differently. There's a swagger, even a bravado, that comes from within once the hat is on their head. It's clearly dangerous to allow such thoughts to prosper. These people should be registered so that we know where they are at any time.

A lot of people overseas wear hats, and yet our borders are powerless to stop them passing through. Meanwhile more and more new converts to hat-wearing are recruited from within our own communities. Our liberty is increasingly threatened by weak and impressionable citizens.

I don't want you to think I'm anti-hat. Some of my best friends wear hats, and they're of perfectly reputable character. But we've all read the news and seen what people who wear hats are capable of. What I expect from others is respect. And if it takes new laws to impose that consensus, so be it.

We cannot tolerate people so fundamentally different to ourselves. We need to protect the rights of the majority. We must not lose our country to the hat-wearers.

(feel free to adapt today's post to your own ill-founded prejudices)

 Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Note to self: try to write a post soon that isn't about TfL)

The Ruislip Lido Railway is a fantastic miniature railway line in northwest London operated entirely by volunteers. It runs for a mile around the edge of Ruislip Lido and is Britain's longest 12 inch gauge railway. It runs afternoons only during the school holidays and pretty much every weekend (including this weekend, if you're interested). It has two stations, one at Woody Bay near the beach and one at Willow Lawn near the car park. It's a great little trip as part of a fun afternoon out. It's very reasonably priced. And back in July TfL added it to their Journey Planner.

They were very proud of the fact, and rightly so, publishing a special post on the TfL Digital blog announcing what they'd done. They explained that the Ruislip Lido Railway and associated places of interest were "now available in our Journey Planner solutions". They said this meant customers using the TfL website could now plan their trip from home to Woody Bay without the need to navigate to another website to plan other legs of the same journey. They alerted app designers that the new Ruislip Lido data was now available in the Open Data API used by developers. And they summed the whole thing up as being able to "catch the big train, to the little train!"

And it almost works. If you'd like to play along and give it a try, get yourself over to the TfL Journey Planner and have a go. You'll need to make sure you've set the date and time to a weekend afternoon, say this Sunday at 2pm, because the RLR doesn't run on Thursdays. TfL's web developers have been clever enough to incorporate the proper timetable into the Journey Planner, so it will indeed deliver a correct result.

But good luck working out what precisely to type into the destination box. Typing 'Woody Bay' doesn't seem to work, it brings up a point which doesn't seem to exist and then the error message "Journey planner could not find any results to your search". Typing 'Willow Lawn' does bring up 'Willow Lawn Station, Ruislip, Greater London HA4 7TS', but this turns out to be 5 minutes walk from the station and is no use in planning a follow-on journey. Typing in 'Ruislip Lido' doesn't help, and neither does 'Ruislip Common'. Only if you think to type in 'Ruislip Lido Railway' and then do a search do the relevant points of departure appear. And then it's all brilliant.

And I bring all this up, four months late, because of the cablecar. Bear with me on this.

When it's a bit windy, services on the cablecar have to be suspended. TfL never use the word 'suspended' on their Status updates webpage, because in one sense of the word a cablecar always is, and gentle mocking on social media would ensue. But neither do they use the word 'closed', preferring instead to describe closure as a 'Special service'. Is this euphemism because winds could ease at any minute and the cablecar come back on line, or is it that TfL would rather not frighten off any potential passengers who might be on their way to visit? And look, there's even a contradictory message underneath which says 'Good service', when the service is clearly anything but. What is going on?

High winds cause another inexplicable issue, as you can see from the screenshot below, which is that the adjacent map clearly states 'There are currently no major line disruptions reported on the network'. There clearly are such disruptions when the entire cablecar 'network' is closed due to high winds, but the line diagram on the website seemingly chooses not to mention this.

Full details of the closure are only made clear if you choose to click on the box that reads 'Emirates Air Line - Special service' to read the current status. And here's the truth... EMIRATES AIRLINE: No Service due to high winds. This state of play can last for hours, indeed last Sunday it was mid afternoon before gusts diminished sufficiently to allow cross-river travel. Only if you've decided to dig this deep is the cablecar's non-functional status finally revealed. But have you spotted the truly mysterious thing about all of this? Also uncovered at the bottom of the fully-opened status box is an extra line of information which concerns the RLR, or Ruislip Lido Railway!

For reasons which don't entirely make sense, the Ruislip Lido Railway has been added to the rainbow board on the TfL website Status update page. The designated colour is black, which is a bit dull, but presumably all the other good colours were already taken. This kind of modal presence isn't entirely without precedent - click on another tab and each of Croydon's tram routes appear, while six different river services are shown elsewhere. But the inclusion of the RLR under the Emirates Air Line tab goes beyond rhyme and reason.

What's more, the RLR status update always shows a Good service, even when the railway is closed. This is partly because it's not a TfL service, but mostly because nobody in Ruislip is providing TfL with regular updates on the status of the line. If a family of ducks wander onto the lido-side tracks this will never be displayed as 'Minor delays', and if a derailment causes trains to turn back at Haste Hill Halt we'll never see 'Part suspended'. Whilst it may be utterly charming to see a London-based miniature railway given prominence on the Status updates page, it is alas also entirely pointless.

The RLR's status is seemingly a permanent presence on the cablecar tab, you may even have spotted it earlier on in today's post. That contradictory message saying 'Good service' had nothing to do with the Emirates Air line having a Special service, it was instead the service update for the Ruislip Lido Railway. Indeed if you're on the Journey Planner and you drag your cursor across the blank space at the start of the 'Good service' line, the three letters RLR can be revealed. White writing on a white background doesn't generally show up, indeed it's quite a good way of hiding text, but the three letter acronym is absolutely definitely there.

It's fair to say that TfL are fully aware of this 'RLR' issue after it was pointed out to them on social media yesterday. They also tweeted yesterday to apologise that the cablecar's status update "isn't correct and is being fixed" - it appeared to be showing Special service no matter what, although this morning it's being better behaved. It's not a great state of affairs when you get a far better idea of the cablecar's operational status from Twitter than from the TfL website itself, because these things are supposed to be reliable. So it may be that by the time you read this the whole thing has been cleared up and the RLR aberration has disappeared. Aww, shame, it was a delightful idea while it lasted.

(Note to self: well at least it wasn't about buses)

 Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Anyone can make a Freedom of Information request to Transport for London.
Dear Transport for London,

If possible could I have a list of all stops where busses can terminate. For example I know the bus route 188 terminates at Russell Square and North Greenwich, but the 188 can also terminate at Canada Water and Waterloo.

Yours faithfully

TfL always respond promptly and politely to each request.
Dear Mr Reed

Thank you for your email received on 20 October 2015 asking for information about Terminating Bus Stops.

Your request will be processed in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act and our information access policy.

A response will be provided to you by 17 November 2015. We publish a substantial range of information on our website on subjects including operational performance, contracts, expenditure, journey data, governance and our financial performance. This includes data which is frequently asked for in FOI requests or other public queries. Please check to see if this helps you.

In the meantime, if you would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

They then have 20 working days to dig deep into their corporate resources to search out the information requested.
Dear Mr Reed

Thank you for your email received on 20 October 2015 asking for information about Terminating Bus Stops.

Your request has been considered under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and our information access policy. I can confirm that we do hold the information you require.

A bus service can be terminated at any bus stop on the network.

If this is not the information you are looking for please do not hesitate to contact me.

If you are not satisfied with this response please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.

Yours sincerely

Sometimes, you feel, they're taking the piss.

Issued on the same day, the following request (I can assure you) has nothing to do with me.
Dear Transport for London,

Please can I have copies of all documents and correspondence (including emails, meeting agendas and minutes, and press lines) created or sent between 01 October 2015 and 18 October 2015 that relate to, or mention the bus stops E, G and/or M on Bow Road.

Yours faithfully

TfL got back with the usual reassurance, then waited a whole month before responding thus.
Thank you for your email received on 20 October 2015 asking for information about Bus Stops E, G and M on Bow Road.

Your request has been considered under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and our information access policy. I can confirm that we do hold the information you require. However to answer your request would exceed the ‘appropriate limit’ of £450 set by the Freedom of Information (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004.

Under section 12 of the FOI Act, we are not obliged to comply with a request if we estimate that the cost of determining whether we hold the information, locating and retrieving it and extracting it from other information would exceed the appropriate limit. In this instance, we estimate that the time required to do this would exceed 18 hours which, at £25 per hour (the rate stipulated by the Regulations), exceeds the ‘appropriate limit’.

You have requested copies of all documents and correspondence (including emails, meeting agendas and minutes, and press lines) created or sent between 01 October 2015 and 18 October 2015 that relate to, or mention the bus stops E, G and/or M on Bow Road. Whilst we believe your request relates to changes made as part of the Cycle Superhighway, you have not limited your request to this, or any other topic. Therefore in order to fully respond to your request we would need to carry out searches for any documents which mention these bus stops in any way, across many different departments within TfL.

To help bring the cost of responding to your request within the £450 limit, you may wish to consider narrowing its scope so that we can more easily locate, retrieve and extract the information you are seeking. For example you may wish to reduce the amount of information requested by refining your request to concentrate on matters which are important to you.

Although your request can take the form of a question, rather than a request for specific documents, TfL does not have to answer your question if it would require the creation of new information or the provision of a judgement, explanation, advice or opinion that was not already recorded at the time of your request. If you have specific questions relating to these bus stops we may be more easily able to respond to these than to a request for any information held.

If you are not satisfied with this response please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.

Yours sincerely

Unless the complainant replies to clarify their woolly-framed query, we may never discover what's been being said about my three local bus stops, dammit.

See how important it is to narrow down your initial question to something the administrators can't wriggle out of.

Be precise, pinpoint what it is you really want to know, and ask carefully.

 Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Before I leave TfL's database of 19937 bus stops well alone, allow me to reshuffle one last field. Every bus stop has an official title, a Bus Stop Name, displayed on the flag beneath the roundel. By rearranging these into alphabetical order, it's possible to uncover the complete A-Z of London bus stops. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the first stop on the list was only a short walk from home...

The first London bus stop in alphabetical order: Abbey Lane
[bus stop ID: 54140] [routes served: 25, 108, 276, 425, D8] [borough: Newham] [postcode: E15 2SE] [map]

If you were hoping for Abbey Road, apologies. There are seven Abbey Road bus stops in London, but Abbey Lane in E15 pips the lot. You'll find it about halfway along Stratford High Street, approximately where the Greenway crosses, at what'll one day be the southern gateway to the Olympic Park. Abbey Lane heads off across the marshes to towards the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, once ecclesiastically huge in these parts, and the reason why this particular bus stop tops the alphabetical list. Alongside is Albert Bigg Point, one of the few tower blocks round here erected as long ago as the 20th century, while elsewhere a febrile state of developer-mania has taken hold. Stratford High Street is fast becoming a skyscraper boulevard, with one particularly lofty beast attached to the former Yardley factory fractionally up the road, and a brand new pile of flats shooting up immediately across the road on the site of a former tyre depot. Where once this bus stop served a minor council estate surrounded by light industry, it's now the departure point for thousands of professional incomers in concierge-served studios. And joy of joys, it's also slap bang on Cycle Superhighway 2. This bus stop was one of the first anywhere in London to get a bus stop bypass, indeed the design's barely changed since, with the carriageway narrowed to provide room for a bike-friendly chicane, and passengers waiting patiently on a thin island midstream. A thoroughly modern patch of pavement, every other London bus stop follows on behind.

The last London 'bus stop' in alphabetical order: Zion Road
[bus stop ID: -] [route served: 198] [borough: Croydon] [postcode: CR7 8RG] [map]

The very last entry in the TfL bus stop database, alphabetically speaking, is in Thornton Heath. But the details listed in the database are sketchy - the stop doesn't appear to have an SMS code, nor a postcode, neither does it show up as a dot on the TfL website. So I had a theory what I'd find when I reached Zion Road, and on arrival my suspicions proved correct. Zion Road is a terraced backstreet parallel to the main drag, and brief enough that no scheduled bus service would choose to pass this way. While homeowners bustle in their doorways on one side of the road, the other is taken up by Strand House, the Croydon Adult Learning and Training Centre. It's big and blocky, but has the major advantage that nobody lives here nor needs to park a car outside, so there's plenty of room to park a bus instead. When double deckers on route 198 have finished their haul from Shirley they pull in here, one way only, and stack up in the bus stand painted on the road. There's room for at least three. TfL have even provided a tiny cubicle for ablutions, locked by PIN code, on a scrappy patch of grass at the street corner ahead. And then at the appointed time drivers accelerate off to the first official stop in Nursery Road, and start the entire circuit again. So as I suspected Zion Road is a Bus Stand rather than a Bus Stop, and entirely off-limits for passengers. So it doesn't count. So let's go travelling again.

The last TfL bus stop in alphabetical order: Zig Zag Road
[bus stop ID: 51477] [routes served: 465] [district: Mole Valley] [postcode: RH5 6BY] [map]

Here's a turn-up, the bus stop at the other end of the alphabet to Abbey Lane also has an Olympic connection. It can be found at the bottom of Box Hill, specifically at the bottom of the the hairpin ascent that gave the 2012 road race some oomph. The gradient on the Zig Zag Road is approximately 5% throughout, which thoroughly tests the thigh muscles of the besaddled, and offers a stunning view in the upper reaches of the ascent to boot. I loved it as a walk, so long as I kept out of the way of puffing bikes. But in November I suspect it's less fab, so I was relieved to have already visited earlier in the year, and taken a photo of the bus stop at the bottom of the hill because that's the kind of guy I am. Not only is this a remote spot on a country lane, serving a handful of hideaway villas, but it's also a very long way away. The 465 runs further south than any London bus, beyond Leatherhead, beyond Westhumble, all the way to Dorking. Which means of course, that Zig Zag Road lies far beyond Greater London. So it doesn't count. So let's go travelling again.

The last London bus stop in alphabetical order: Zangwill Road
[bus stop ID: 76899] [routes served: 386] [borough: Greenwich] [postcode: SE3 8EL] [map]

If we can't accept a bus stand, and we mustn't accept somewhere in Surrey, then the last London bus stop in alphabetical order is that at Zangwill Road, SE3. And this is more like it, a mundane turn-off from a better known thoroughfare, very close to the top end of Woolwich Common. The street name you'll know is Shooters Hill Road, here running down to the foot of the aforementioned hill in the approximate vicinity of Hornfair Park. Also close by is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, whose out-of-town presence demands the services of at least half a dozen buses, one of which is the 386. This tortured workhorse follows a perversely convoluted route from Woolwich to Blackheath, seemingly ticking off every housing estate it passes, in this case suburban avenues to the east of Kidbrooke. Zangwill Road mixes postwar semis with even poster-war flats, and is seemingly named after the Jewish author Israel Zangwill. Somewhat appropriately for an end-of-alphabet feature he was a keen Zionist, indeed a leading light in paving the foundations for the nation which bears his name. And so now does the bus stop at the end of the road, although this wasn't always so. Until relatively recently this stop was called The Brook, after the pub on the corner, but when this closed (and was bought up by the Co-op) TfL were forced to rename it after a local road instead. So Zangwill Road is now the final valid entry in the alphabetical bus stop database... unless, bugger, does Z space S come before or after Zan?

The last London bus stop in alphabetical order? Z S L London Zoo
[bus stop ID: 49306] [routes served: 274] [borough: Westminster] [postcode: NW1 7SX] [map]

 Monday, November 16, 2015

As you may know, every London bus stop has its own identifying number. That's a five-digit code posted on a panel beneath the roundel, which you can send by text message to receive up-to-the-minute next bus information by return. This system was almost cutting edge in 2011, before virtually everyone had a smartphone, but has been outclassed since by the advance of transport-friendly apps. Passengers almost never stand at bus stops and send text messages to '87287' these days, especially when they get charged 12p for the privilege. But as many as nineteen thousand London bus stops still have their own SMS code, and TfL's bus database lists the lot.

You'd expect the lowest five-digit SMS code to be ten thousand and something, but no, none of them start with a 1. None start with a 2 or 3 either, with the lowest individual code launching partway through the forty thousands. London's lowest bus stop code is 47001, then 47002, but then 47004 because these codes irregularly skip numbers. The fifty thousands are very popular, then the whole of the sixty thousands are omitted, then the seventy thousands terminate at 77999. Only one London bus stop has a code beginning with an 8, that's 87898, which (for some reason) you'll find at Briant Street on the New Cross Road. There's then a leap to the ninety thousands, with fewer than half a dozen SMS codes scattered above ninety-five thousand. Meanwhile there's seemingly no geographical rationale here either. Bus stop 50000 is in Wandsworth, for example, but 50001 is in Lambeth, 50002 is in Hounslow and 50003 is in Barking and Dagenham. Or to look at this the other way round, wherever there's a cluster of bus stops in the same place then their numbers are invariably wildly different. The five bus stops at Canada Water bus station, for example, are numbered 48366, 50307, 54675, 58185 and 77739.

Before your eyes glaze over, let's visit the lowest and highest numbers in the list.

The London bus stop with the lowest SMS code: [47001]: East Street
[routes served: 12, 40, 68, 176, 468] [bus stop letter: F] [borough: Southwark] [postcode: SE17 2DJ] [map]

Seemingly randomly, the lowest numbered London bus stop is in Walworth Road, a couple of stops beyond Elephant and Castle. There seems to be no reason to begin here, the stop has no qualities that would place it at the top of any list. Walworth's high street is about as average as any London high street gets - there's a Boots and an M&S nearby, but also a Poundland and a Chicken Cottage. This particular stop is named after East Street, the pedestrianised street market round the corner where the stalls sell handbags, watch straps and seafood, plus yesterday the particular bargain of remnant baseball caps for £2. Stooping ladies drag baskets across the street in gaps between the traffic, while folk born beyond these shores carry home enough for a meal in a blue plastic bag. There's still something of the late 20th century about this place, in a good way, with gentrification as yet held back to the demolished Heygate up the road. I'd swap these shops for the so-called delights of Roman Road back home in Bow any day.

The London bus stop with the highest SMS code: [98505]: Victoria Station
[route served: 24] [bus stop letter: U] [borough: Westminster] [postcode: SW1V 1AA] [map]

Equally randomly, the highest numbered London bus stop is outside Victoria station. Nor immediately out front in the bus station, amongst the maelstrom of roadworks, but over to the east on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Two well known theatres lie across the road, with Wicked playing behind the the austere wall of the Apollo, and Billy Elliot at the rather more ornate Palace. This particular bus stop sits beneath a brick cliff of mansion blocks, immediately outside a Carphone Warehouse and an Internet Cafe - so very Victoria. There's also something about the stop that looks temporary - the roundel and timetables are affixed to a lamppost rather than a proper pole - which might explain why the SMS code is top of the shop. It's also top of the shop by some considerable distance, the second place bus stop (in Cheam) being 98360 and the third (at Canning Town station) being 97500. It's numerical madness - there appears to be absolutely no pattern to these SMS codes whatsoever. Unless, that is, you know better.

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What's on this weekend?
Saturday 14 Nov (9am-5.15pm)
Lord Mayor's Show
Now in its 800th year, the big parade is accompanied by a river pageant and fireworks.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections

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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
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