diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 20, 2014

50years@BBC2
1964 Play School, Horizon, Match Of The Day, The Likely Lads; 1965 Call My Bluff, Not Only But Also; 1966 The Money Programme; 1967 The Forsyte Saga, colour television; 1968 Gardeners' World; 1969 Monty Python's Flying Circus, Pot Black, Civilisation; 1970 The Goodies; 1971 Open University; Face The Music; The Old Grey Whistle Test; Play Away; 1972; 1973 The Ascent Of Man; 1974; 1975 Fawlty Towers, Arena; 1976 I Claudius, One Man And His Dog; 1977 Abigail's Party; 1978 The Great Egg Race, Top Gear; 1979 Life On Earth, Not The Nine O'Clock News, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; 1980 Great Railway Journeys of the World, Newsnight, The Adventure Game, Yes Minister, Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way, Boys From The Blackstuff; 1981 See Hear, The HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy; 1982 The Young Ones; 1983 Boys From The Blackstuff; 1984 Floyd On Fish, Threads; 1985 Live Aid, Edge of Darkness, Acorn Antiques; 1986 A Very Peculiar Practice, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, The Life And Loves Of A She Devil; 1987 French And Saunders, Tutti Frutti; 1988 Red Dwarf, Def II; 1989 The Late Show; 1990 Have I Got News For You, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit; 1991 Probably The Best Logos In The History Of The World Ever; 1992 Absolutely Fabulous, Later... with Jools Holland; 1993 Shooting Stars, The Wrong Trousers; 1994 Ready Steady Cook, The Day Today, The Fast Show; 1995 Room 101; 1996 Never Mind The Buzzcocks, This Life, Sister Wendy's Story of Painting, Our Friends In The North; 1997 Ground Force, I'm Alan Partridge, Robot Wars, Holding On, Teletubbies; 1998 Goodness Gracious Me, The Royle Family; 1999 The League Of Gentlemen, The Naked Chef; 2000 The Weakest Link; 2001 The Office; What Not To Wear; 2002 Look Around You, Balamory; 2003 Little Britain, Restoration, QI; 2004 The Catherine Tate Show, Who Do You Think You Are?; 2005 The Apprentice, Mock The Week, Dragons' Den, Springwatch; 2006 The Choir; 2007 The Restaurant; 2008 ; 2009 Miranda, Pointless; 2010 The Great British Bake Off, Wonders of the Solar System; 2011 ; 2012 Line of Duty; 2013 The Wrong Mans; 2014 Inside Number 9, House of Fools

Leith Hill Place
Location: nr Coldharbour, Surrey RH5 6LY [map]
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday (11am-5pm) (Apr-Oct)
(welcome leaflet)

One of the National Trust's newest,or at least most recently-opened, properties sits on the slopes below Leith Hill. It's called Leith Hill Place, perhaps not surprisingly, and is of note not because of its architecture but because of the astonishingly talented dynasty that lived there. In particular that's three families instantly recognisable from their surnames; Wedgwood. Darwin. Vaughan Williams. That's quite some dynasty.

The house is a fairly standard country affair, by which I mean it's big and gabled and surrounded by a considerable chunk of land. The shell dates back to 1600, but was done up in Palladian style in the 18th century by Richard Hull, the bloke who built the observation tower on the nearby hill. It's just the sort of house a high-flying businessman might own, and so it was in 1847 that Staffordshire pottery magnate Josiah Wedgwood III snapped it up. That III should be a clue that he's not the Josiah Wedgwood, merely his grandson, who escaped the business early to move to Surrey. He married his cousin Caroline Darwin, sister of the famous Charles, who in turn married Josiah's sister Emma. I hope you're following this.

Joe and Caroline had four children, one of whom - Margaret - married a Gloucestershire vicar called Arthur Vaughan Williams. And their youngest child was called Ralph, who moved to Leith Hall Place in 1875 when his father died prematurely, and who later grew up to become a famous composer. When the house eventually passed back to him in 1944, Ralph met with the National Trust the following day to begin the transfer of the property. The house finally opened, fullish-time, to the public last summer. It's still not really ready, currently being described as "a house in transition", but the NT wanted people in before they'd completely finished restoration. A floor and a bit are open, but you're assured of a warm welcome if you visit.

The house is easily missed, indeed if you follow the orange waymarkers of Leith Hill's woodland walk it's not even signposted, despite being a few yards away. But if you walk up the lane, or park in the Rhododendron Wood car park, you should find the (not especially well signposted) front door. This brings you to the entrance hall, and the official National Trust Greeter, where you can pay your four pounds or flash your card. Ralph learned to play the piano in this hallway, so they've installed one here that wasn't his so visitors can have a go. A much nicer antique piano has been positioned by the window in the Wedgwood Room, also playable, but don't touch the special instrument in the Terrace Room because that's for recitals only.

Rest assured the tea is excellent. Volunteers bake their own cakes in the kitchen, from which the most gorgeous smell of flapjack was emanating on my visit. Refreshments aren't actually priced, you're asked to leave a donation, and then there's then the chance to eat and drink your purchases in the Wedgwood's actual dining room. And the view's good, isn't it? The lawn drops away beyond the rear terrace to reveal the golden farmland of the Weald stretching off as far as the South Downs. You can stand and stare while the music of RVW plays from a recording, or you can step out through the courtyard and enjoy the garden down to the ha-ha at the end. For a completely different aspect, head down to the cellar to see some Egyptian-type murals, more recently graffitied over by pupils at the boarding school Leith Hill Place became.

It won't take you long to look around, afternoon tea excepted. But there is one additional treat upstairs, a 40 minute Ralph Vaughan Williams "soundscape". This covers the length of the second floor and is accessible only by timed ticket, not that there seems much danger of these running out. If the NT volunteer can press the controls correctly, a four-part recording traces Ralph's life story from his Leith Hill Place childhood to a second wife and international acclaim. The first half's narrated by Virginia McKenna, and the last part is really quite moving as the Pastoral Symphony gently fades away.

It's much more a four quid visit than a tenner, but none the worse for that. You could hang on a couple years until they've done the place up properly, but thus far there's music and cake, and an evocative homage to a prodigious talent.

 Saturday, April 19, 2014

Southeast England's not renowned for its mountains. The best we have are hills, and even they aren't much compared to what the rest of the country boasts. But there are some significant peaks in the Chilterns and along the Downs, even if you don't need your climbing boots to reach the summit. And the highest of the lot - at 294 metres the highest point in southeast England - is Leith Hill.

Leith Hill's in Surrey, a few miles south of Dorking on the Greensand Ridge. Box Hill's not far away on the parallel North Downs, but a full 70 metres shorter. It's also much easier to get to, whereas Leith Hill provides more of a challenge. It's a drive-to sort of place, which suits Surrey down to the ground, with five separate car parks spaced out a reasonable distance from its base. A rambler-friendly minibus runs from Dorking on summer Sundays, which saves a five mile hike. Or you can get the train from Victoria down to Holmwood station, any day of the week except Sunday, and from there it's a couple of miles cross-country. Yesterday I did the latter, a most pleasant stroll, and made my assault on the hill from the east.

Much of the surrounding area is owned by the National Trust, and a lot of it's undulating and wooded. Not for nothing did the Olympic cycling road race head for the lanes of Surrey, and I passed a lot of men in lycra yesterday enjoying the contours hereabouts. I also passed a heck of a lot of pheasants, ambling across the fields and skulking into copses, so presumably a lot of the local residents enjoy a good shoot. Plus there were bluebells, oh boy were there bluebells, probably more and more widely spread than I've ever seen anywhere else. Several slopes were a veritable carpet of blue, like some sort of Countryfile porn, ideal for lustful admiration and the taking of copious photos.

After the relative peace of the surrounding slopes the summit of Leith Hill can be rather busy. All those families who've trooped up from the car park slump here and stare out across the view, which it has to be said is damned good. Cyclists rest and drop their bikes awhile, and dogs enjoying longer walkies than usual pause to frolic on the grass. Yesterday there was a lengthy queue at the servery hatch waiting for hot and cold drinks, home-cooked flapjacks and freshly-prepared sandwiches. The previous proprietor moved on last year when the NT demanded a 7-days-a-week franchise, and the new lot are more expensive but one suspects more likely to impress.

At the very summit, beside the trig point, stands a mock gothic tower. This was built by local resident Richard Hull in 1765, partly to act as an observation point, but mostly because the hill fell fractionally short of the magic height of one thousand feet. Richard's 20m Prospect Tower made all the difference, rising above the trees to afford a broader panorama, and he was duly buried underneath when he died. Today the tower's accessible on payment of £1.50, or a flash of one's National Trust Card, including a brief historical display in the tiny room halfway up the spiral staircase.

On a clear day they say you can see 13 counties from the top, so swiftly does the land fall away in each direction. To the south it's easy to watch planes coming into land at Gatwick Airport, considerably lower than you, while if visibility's good the Shoreham Gap may permit sight of the English Channel. To the north you should see London, and maybe Dunstable Downs, although it was a little grey in the distance to catch that yesterday. There is a free telescope, but I'd brought binoculars, and I definitely spotted the Wembley Arch, London Eye, Shard and Docklands cluster. Indeed standing on the top of Leith Hill Tower I was rather higher than Canary Wharf, even slightly higher than the Shard, and absolutely grinning at the prospect.

When you've finally tired of the view, or if you'd like to enjoy it from a different angle, the National Trust have laid on several well-signed walking routes around the estate. The green route's perhaps the least thrilling, but passes the highest cricket ground in southeast England above the village of Coldharbour. The pink route tours the bluebells in Frank's Wood so is magnificent at present, although the mile-long circuit is perhaps less of a must for the rest of the year. The 2½ mile orange route is more definitely the way to go, touring various chunks of woodland and also the Rhododendron Wood, whose flowers are coming into their own at the moment and putting on quite a display.

I thought Leith Hill made a damned excellent day out, if quite a tiring one, and made all the better by the spring sunshine. Plus it had one more treasure to impart, of which more tomorrow (unless you visit today).

 Friday, April 18, 2014

London's least used stations
No 7:
Emerson Park


You have to wonder how Emerson Park station survives. The only stop on an out-of-the-way branch line between Romford and Upminster, served by one ageing train shuttling back and forth. A lowly halt with a single platform used by barely 350 passengers a day. A station with no services after 8pm and nothing on Sundays. It's definitely not somewhere you'll find on the tube map, or at least not at the moment. But all that will change next spring when TfL takes over the line, and suddenly Emerson Park will find itself thrust into the spotlight. Best get a heads-up on the place now, I thought.

So yes, there's this three and a half mile branch line linking the Great Eastern Railway to the District line, and it's been there since 1893. Emerson Park's a little younger, opened in 1909 at roughly the halfway point, four minutes from Romford and four minutes from Upminster. A peculiarity of the line is that there are no signals along its length - there's no need because the single track is served only by a single train. And the whole thing's in Zone 6, within the London borough of Havering, which is probably why you've never been. Here's Emerson Park's timetable so you can see what you're missing.

Westbound to RomfordEastbound to Upminster
0615 0645
and every 30 minutes to
1915 1945
0628 0658
and every 30 minutes to
1928 1958
(no trains on Sunday)

For the full Emerson Park experience, join me on a journey out of platform 1 at Romford. This is a less than lovely spot, located far from platforms 2-5 where all the through trains stop. Platform 1 is accessed from the end of platform 2 via a footbridge over South Street, doglegging round to a lonely elevation above a pub's back garden. There are only seats for six on the platform, which is a bit feeble when the trains run every half hour, or if it's raining there's a not very enticing shelter. I ended up abandoning my seat for a loud Essex mum and her objectionable offspring, and stood instead beneath the crackly loudspeaker listening to announcements about trains that wouldn't be stopping here. When finally the inbound service arrived approximately two dozen folk poured off, most of these from Upminster rather than Emerson Park, and then the driver emerged and trooped up to the other end of the train.



Were this "the North", the line would probably be served by a Pacer or some other ancient one-carriage shuttle. Instead Abellio run a four coach train, the front half of which is essentially unnecessary because it never stops adjacent to a station exit. Indeed only an introvert would walk all the way up to the front carriage, and then all the way back at their destination... so obviously that's exactly what I chose to do. I was surprised to discover a first class section, complete with cheap antimacassars over the headrests, as if anyone on this line ever needs to pay extra for more space. I was less surprised to see an empty McDonalds takeaway bag on one of the first class seats, because I doubt that ticket inspectors pop by regularly to patrol patronage. All this and a vague smell of furniture polish, or was it petrol - this is a truly special experience.

The train follows the mainline for the first minute or two, before the single track branches off just beyond the first footbridge. It enters a cutting between the backs of houses, past garages and gardens, where the undergrowth closest to the track has been lopped to leave regenerative stumps. I spotted bluebells in amongst the long grass, as well as plastic bags, a couple of footballs and a bucket. At one point the railway spans the minor river Ravensbourne, and at another an ungated footpath crosses the tracks - a rarity within the London boundary, but safe enough when only a handful of 30mph trains ever pass.



Emerson Park station has a platform 1 but no platform 2, and a high wooden canopy above one end. A handful of artificial-looking hanging baskets dangle within, which saves money on gardeners and watering, while the next train indicator screen is dribbled with pigeon guano. According to the station sign this is still "Emerson Park Halt", the original name given by the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. A series of Network Southeast logos embedded along the edge of the platform create another nice heritage touch, although only through lack of investment, and those at the far end have been lost through recent tarmacking. And if you stand looking down the long straight line under Butts Green Road bridge, you might just see a local fox patrolling the tracks. For most of the day this is her domain, and only occasionally does she have to patter off the rails and hide back into the undergrowth.

Exit up the long ramp to discover Emerson Park, a northern suburb of Hornchurch. It's pretty pleasant suburbia, with a parade of shops along the main road and some quite tasteful interwar housing in the streets beyond. The closest retail outlet is the bright orange Oh My Cod! fish and chip (and kebab) restaurant, opposite the Emerson Park Drycleaners and a place selling fireplaces and stoves. Head across the railway to discover a proper pub on what's essentially a traffic island, that's the The Chequers. And continue south past the 500-seat Queen's Theatre, Havering's main (and rather modern) arts hub, to eventually reach the delights of Hornchurch High Street. The District line station of the same name may get 20 times more passenger traffic, but Emerson Park is actually slightly less far away from the town centre.



Returning to catch the half-hourly service to Upminster, look out for an unexpected geological treat a minute or two east of the station. When the railway was being dug circa 1892, an unexpected layer of boulder clay was uncovered in Hornchurch Cutting to the north of St Andrew's Park. What this discovery marks is the southern limit of glaciation in Britain, the furthest point reached by the Anglian ice sheets during the entire Pleistocene era. Indeed it's thanks to Hornchurch Cutting that we know the Thames was diverted to its present course less than half a million years ago, because here its layer of gravels lies above and not below the clay. Think on that as your train rumbles through past greenhouses and sheds, over a rich Jurassic fossil bed, through this site of prime stratigraphic importance.

Shortly afterwards the railway rises up to a leafy embankment and filters in to join the District and c2c lines. Actually there's no connection, the tracks are kept entirely separate (hence the lack of need for signals I mentioned earlier). And very shortly the train terminates at platform 6 of Upminster station, a quiet outpost accessed via a single footbridge. Six bright pink seats lurk in an alcove for those who wait, while the next train indicator states that "This service is operated by one", which is at least a franchise and a bit ago. Almost everybody else using the station is using the mainline or the tube, and giving not a second thought to this mere sideline to Romford. But when Emerson Park finally comes under TfL's wing next year, embraced by the tangerine arms of the Overground, expect passengers numbers to rise rapidly out of the bottom ten.

London's least used stations (2012/13)
No 1:
Sudbury & Harrow Road (18,050)
No 2: South Greenford (38,360)
No 3: Sudbury Hill Harrow (51,376)
No 4: Angel Road (63,040)
No 5: Birkbeck (86,360)
No 6: Morden South (87,638)
No 7: Emerson Park (113,904)
No 8: Drayton Green (123,038)
No 9: South Ruislip (142,830)
No 10: Castle Bar Park (144,182)

 Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hurrah, bus spider maps have (finally) returned to the TfL website.
And the full 10 year press release archive.
But not yet timetables.

Late Easters
April 18th: last in 1976, next in 2049
April 19th: last in 1992, next in 2071
April 20th: last in 2003, then this year, next in 2025
April 21st: last in 1957, next in 2019
April 22nd: last in 1984, next in 2057
April 23rd: last in 2000, next in 2079
April 24th: last in 2011, next in 2095
April 25th: last in 1943, next in 2038

It's coming on...


This year's Tridentscan Annual General Meeting took place at the BBC Radio Theatre.
If you enjoyed Susan Calman is Convicted on Radio 4 last night, that was Kirk and me laughing in the background.

Even on its last day, Pudding Mill Lane station is being dutifully mopped.


Maundy ceremonies of the Elizabethan era: 1952 Westminster; 1953 St Paul's; 1954 Westminster; 1955 Southwark; 1956 Westminster; 1957 St Albans (outside London at last!); 1958 Westminster; 1959 Windsor; 1960 Westminster; 1961 Rochester; 1962 Westminster; 1963 Chelmsford; 1964 Westminster; 1965 Canterbury; 1966 Westminster; 1967 Durham (outside SE England at last!); 1968 Westminster; 1969 Selby; 1970 Westminster; 1971 Tewkesbury; 1972 York; 1973 Westminster; 1974 Salisbury; 1975 Peterborough; 1976 Hereford; 1977 Westminster; 1978 Carlisle; 1979 Winchester; 1980 Worcester; 1981 Westminster; 1982 St David's (outside England at last!); 1983 Exeter; 1984 Southwell; 1985 Ripon; 1986 Chichester; 1987 Ely; 1988 Lichfield; 1989 Birmingham; 1990 Newcastle; 1991 Westminster (now every ten years, not every two); 1992 Chester; 1993 Wells; 1994 Truro; 1995 Coventry; 1996 Norwich; 1997 Bradford; 1998 Portsmouth; 1999 Bristol; 2000 Lincoln; 2001 Westminster; 2002 Canterbury (the first repeat outside London); 2003 Gloucester; 2004 Liverpool; 2005 Wakefield; 2006 Guildford; 2007 Manchester; 2008 Armagh (outside England and Wales at last!); 2009 Bury St Edmunds; 2010 Derby; 2011 Westminster; 2012 York; 2013 Oxford; 2014 Blackburn.



Pearly artwork (by Pang) appearing on the side of The Bow Bells pub, Bow Road.
This is Tuesday evening's view, after one day of painting.
By the end of Wednesday it'd grown further.
Keep an eye on developments at instagram.com/pang_london.
(or just walk past and enjoy)

I really should have published my Pudding Mill Lane post today.
But instead I went out drinking last night.
So there you go.

 Wednesday, April 16, 2014

At the end of service tomorrow, Pudding Mill Lane DLR station will cease to be. This poor stunted halt has suffered more spectacular ups and downs in its short life than any station has reason to expect, due to being in precisely the right place for Olympics but also precisely the wrong place for longevity. In this case the cause for closure is Crossrail, whose tracks will be emerging from the ground close by before climbing through the spot where the platforms now stand. A replacement station is almost complete, a few metres to the south, and is scheduled to open on Monday week. But tomorrow's your last chance to visit the original station, and to stand in the middle of nowhere looking out over everything.

The location's unusual in that, until very recently, the surrounding area has never been even vaguely residential. The River Lea runs through on either side, along a series of braided channels tamed from the extensive Stratford Marshes, through a landscape once used only for grazing and industry. During the 18th century the famous Bow Porcelain Works were sited a little to the south, while in the 19th century the site where the station now stands was occupied by a Lampblack Manufactory. A cluster of windmills existed close by from medieval times until 1934, the most prominent of which was called St Thomas's Mill. Its shape apparently apparently resembled an upturned pudding, hence it earned the nickname Pudding Mill, and the tiny stream alongside was known as the Pudding Mill River. If you want a fuller history, head back to this post from 2010, or just rest assured that the name Pudding Mill Lane is soundly grounded in fact.

When the DLR was first built, its budget was pared to a shoestring by the government of the day. This meant costs were cut beyond what might have been wise, and one of the casualties was the stretch between Bow Church and Stratford. For starters this was single-tracked, creating a bottleneck that still stunts the service over 25 years later. And secondly the planned station at Pudding Mill Lane, then codenamed Stratford South, was never built. The site was safeguarded in readiness for future development, and cash was finally stumped up in the mid 1990s for the creation of a bare bones halt. This finally opened on 15th January 1996, serving little more than an industrial estate and a few businesses along the quieter end of Stratford High Street. Nobody could have foreseen at the time that the station was utterly perfectly located for two fortnights in 2012, and that it was utterly incapable of coping.

It is a runty little station, Pudding Mill Lane, and always has been. The platforms are narrow, and asymmetrical, and too short for the three-carriage trains that now stop there. Management decided there was little point in extending them while the station was doomed, so passengers still need to "move towards the centre of the train" to disembark. The timetable's organised so that trains pull into both platforms simultaneously, the station acting as a passing place, bringing brief regular moments of activity. To the north, across the Greater Anglia mainline, the view through the wires and gantries is of the View Tube, Greenway and Olympic Stadium. That's probably what I'll miss most, because the replacement station has glass walls - ideal for shelter but much less a part of its surroundings.

Exit from the station is via a steep single staircase, pretty much wide enough for two abreast, or via the lift. I realised this week I'd never taken the lift before so I gave it a try, and it reeked of cigarette smoke, so perhaps I'm glad I'll never do that again. Stairs and lift both disgorge into a ticket hall, if that isn't too grand a name for a tiled concrete corner under strip lights. Along one gloomy wall are the doors to a switchroom and a cleaner's cupboard, and opposite is the one place you can guarantee to find a copy of Friday morning's Metro on a Sunday afternoon. Although, sorry, that's suddenly an obsolete piece of advice, because this particular station has no more Fridays or Sundays left.

What used to be outside was a triangular piazza and one really (really) tall lamppost, but Crossrail's encroachment put paid to those. Instead there's one of the most unlikely coffee shops in town, the London Diner, which opened up when someone realised a regular clientèle of Olympic site workers needed refreshment. But no longer... the shutters have been down for a couple of years, and the View Tube has sole trading rights on caffeinated beverages hereabouts. Escaping from the station is a bit of a switchback, first a narrow path down the edge of the viaduct and then following whatever route Crossrail's contractors have laid on through their building site. It's very much a zigzag at the moment, occasionally closing temporarily to allow a digger or truck to rumble from one half of the site to the other.

The new station's nearly finished, or at least there's nothing ten days of intensive work can't fix. It utterly dwarfs its predecessor, and will indeed be the largest station on the entire DLR network once it opens. That capacity looks fairly pointless at present, at a location surrounded by nobody and nothing much. But once Crossrail have departed the entire area's becoming flats, which'll boost passenger numbers no end. Plus the new station's been built to withstand the impact of crowds attending events in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and sporting events at the stadium, including a claret and blue army descending the broad staircases pre-kick-off. Just like the 1996 station, 2014's Pudding Mill Lane is being built too big for now but with the future in mind.

So if you want to ride the original tracks before they're bypassed by the new, you have less than 48 hours. If you want to be able to picture what all this used to look like when your Crossrail train comes speeding through in 2019, visit soon. There are no medals for leaving on the 0047 departure to Stratford on Friday morning, the very last scheduled service the old Pudding Mill Lane will see. But if you want to visit a disused station before that's what it becomes, you have today and tomorrow. PML, RIP.

» Ian has also visited
» TfL PML upgrade press release
» Pudding Mill Lane DLR information
» DLR line closure leaflet (18th-27th April)
» Olympo-history of the disappearing Pudding Mill River

My Pudding Mill Lane DLR gallery
There are 30 photographs altogether (for posterity)

 Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I never got coffee. I've always done tea.

I can survive mornings without the assistance of a milky caffeinated buzz, so I do. I can get through the working day without a cup of browny white froth on my desk, so I do. I can walk past a coffee shop without ever feeling the need to go in, so I don't.

But over the last three days I've been bought three teas from coffee shops, teas I'd never normally have had. And, my apologies to the kind people who bought them, but they weren't very good.

On Saturday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop on Chatsworth Road. It was exactly what I asked for, which was an Earl Grey without milk, and it turned up hot. If anything it turned up too hot, which ought to have been a good sign because the water in tea is supposed to be boiling. But I was forced to sip with caution, indeed was barely able to sip at all, as I held the cup of essentially scalding water in my hand. A tastefully expensive teabag floated somewhere within, which normally I'd seek to eject after the requisite time except it hadn't done its stuff yet, and I was about to climb aboard a bus. This was a beautifully preserved heritage bus which didn't have a litter bin on board, and so I found myself on the top deck clutching a full cup of water too hot to drink, and no way of removing the bag of leaves without disfiguring the floor. Off jolted the bus round the first corner on its route, and my tea promptly spilled out over the brim through the little hole in the lid. I tried to sip a little, and thought I'd succeeded in lowering the level, but the next corner brought further overflow and an increasing puddle on the floor. Speed bumps, turns and narrow streets caused repeated additional mess, which thankfully nobody else noticed, but there was by now considerably more liquid on the floor than in my stomach. By the time I disembarked my tea had become drinkable, but was still surprisingly weak, and therefore no longer as attractive as it had once promised. My cup went in the nearest bin still half full, which for a bespoke premium Earl Grey seemed less than ideal. And if you had to mop up my bergamot-scented spillage, or ended up sitting in it, my apologies.

On Sunday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop at a station. It was a pretty generic brew all told, the sort that's doled out matter-of-factly to thousands of commuters daily. I hadn't actually asked for it, but my travelling companion was in need of a caffeine fix so had bought me a drink thinking I'd be the same. I said thank you, obviously, then set my drink down on the table in the carriage and waited for it to become drinkable. Alas the resulting brew was oddly tasteless, which surprised me because it contained all the key elements of a decent tea. The teabag hadn't infused like teabags in my kitchen, possibly because the shop and I use different types, or possibly because I take mine out after a different length of time. I have a pretty good idea how long my usual bags should bathe, whereas the random bag from this particular chain outlet was more of a temporal mystery. I also use a mug that's smaller than a typical coffee shop cup, because good tea isn't helped by excess water. My station-bought tea tasted over-diluted, because the barista had taken control of how much liquid was poured in and had plumped for volume, as if somehow this was better value for money. Again half my tea ended up in the litter bin on the way out of the carriage, not that anyone noticed because the cup was sealed and I dropped it so as to avoid a telltale splosh. If that was you who bought me that 'tea', my apologies.

Yesterday I was bought a cup of tea from a coffee shop at work. I say coffee shop, it was more a coffee franchise, where some lowly paid employee puts on a specially coloured hat and apron and pretends to be from the same company as the proper shop down the street. This particular coffee franchise was at a distant set of offices where I'd gone for a meeting. Tea and coffee used to be provided in the meeting rooms, make-it-yourself-style, but management then sacked all the tea ladies to save money and installed a central go-to outlet instead. People who like coffee are well pleased, because they can now have their favourite frothy number with special syrup instead of the dark brown liquid in a thermos previously served. But we tea drinkers are far less well served because we're now forced to endure a bag dropped into the wrong amount of water with the wrong amount of milk. My tea arrived from the central point of manufacture just as the meeting was starting, but I was scheduled to be talking a lot which meant I didn't have much time to drink it. Occasionally I snatched a sip, only to discover that it wasn't very nice, and was getting increasingly less nice as time passed. I couldn't pause to lift out the teabag because the eyes of the meeting were on me, and there was nowhere to dangle and dump it anyway because saucers had been cancelled when the trolley staff were sacked. I really wanted a drink after my long journey, but the tea in my cup was becoming increasingly stewed in the same way that coffee doesn't. I left the offending cup on the table at the end of the meeting, although I don't know who collects the empties any more, my apologies.

But on another occasion over the weekend I went to a proper tea room and ordered proper tea. A proper teapot turned up, filled with boiling water and proper leaf tea of the gnarled and fragrant variety. I waited, and waited a little more, and poured the tea into the china cup with eager anticipation. What emerged was the weakest brew I'd seen in ages, barely the shade of milky water, and a most unsatisfying cuppa. Never mind I thought, the second pour will be better after the leaves have had longer to infuse. Not so, the second cup was pretty much as weak as the first, which I subsequently determined was because the tea leaves were sitting undisturbed on the floor of the pot. I don't know how the lady behind the counter had managed to pour in boiling water without disturbing the leaves, that's quite abnormal, but manage it she had. A simple stir of the pot produced the correct colouration, but by then there was barely half a cup left and I'd wasted the majority of my allocation. I'm more used to mugs than teapots, hence my inexperience, and the disappointment of a proper tea experience wasted. And I paid for this one too, no apologies.

For a nation of tea drinkers, it strikes me that we're no longer very good at serving up tea in public. In particular we're not very good at serving up tea in coffee shops, which is where the majority of external beverages are created these days. People who like coffee are well served because they get an expert hand-crafted drink they probably can't get at home. But people who like tea are generally presented with a bag of leaves dumped into too much boiling water with an inappropriate amount of milk, and left to stew, to create a drink that's entirely substandard to what could be made at home. Which is why I don't bother going to coffee shops, as a rule, because for a tea drinker it's like throwing money down the drain. And if you see me out and about, thanks very much, but there's really no need to buy me one.

 Monday, April 14, 2014

The Centre for Computing History
Coldhams Road, Cambridge, CB1 3EW
Admission £7, Wednesday to Sunday from 10am


It's only right that a museum devoted to computing should exist in Cambridge. The university town in the Fens has played an important role in the development of the device you're reading now, be that the hardware, the software or the processor inside. The Centre for Computing History started out as one man's labour of love, and also started out in Haverhill, which is never somewhere you'd associate with tourists and museums. Then last summer it relocated to larger premises in Cambridge, on a trading estate on the eastern side of town, and that's made it much easier to visit.

(But not easy. The museum's by the railway, but not by the railway station, more a half hour's walk away. It's not near the town centre either, again half an hour's walk away, close to a large retail park called the Beehive Centre. Beyond the tracks a lane doglegs back past a couple of cut-price tiling outlets, then bends round to a level crossing where you turn right. That's the museum in the warehouse unit at the far end, the metal-roofed shed beyond the cherry blossom. It costs seven quid to get inside, upped last month from a fiver, which you might well think was value for money. So long as you like computers.)



There are three main rooms to explore. The first is the entrance hall, beyond the admission point, where a fairly sparse selection of ephemera holds sway. But look, that's an Apple II microcomputer of 1977 vintage, with a stack of floppy discs by its side, and it's switched on. You can sit down and start playing whatever's loaded, which yesterday was an adventure game in greenscreen featuring the adventures of Sir Ronald. The gameplay's mighty tame by today's standards - typing in text and negotiating a screen dotted with pixellated obstacles - but my weren't we captivated at the time? Nearby is a Commodore PET, this with cassette player memory storage so less likely to be working, and on the floor a racing car game circa 1985 on which you can display your abject lack of prowess. In an adjacent glass case are some old mobile phones... ooh that was my Motorola fliptop, and my workhorse Nokia, but never my Psion organiser. And there's a row of arcade machines too, some priced and some not, where you can relive your childhood if you can get the damned things to work. I so wanted a game of Mr Do, or Mr Ee as I remembered it, but no way could I work out the correct combination of buttons and joystick to make it start.

The second room is the 80s classroom, which as you might guess is full of BBC microcomputers. That's enough BBC microcomputers to seat an entire class (in pairs), and all switched on with the command prompt flashing. Those of us with an 80s pedigree might well be able to sit down and write a competent program, probably involving PRINT and GOTO, while a helpful instruction list awaits those less certain. The room is also kitted out with Raspberry Pis (or whatever their collective plural is), which are the modern era's programming equivalent. It's intriguing how the computing curriculum has recently swung back to how to code rather than how to use, hence a retro facility like this 80s classroom might actually be useful rather than some quaint nostalgic geekfest.



The third room at the museum is by far the largest, a huge shed that's (as yet) a long way from being full. In here is the main collection, approximately themed, with a bunch of office computers down one end and a selection of mainframes and business 'portables' elsewhere. A Sinclair C5 sits in one corner, a Sinclair Spectrum on a central table and a row of coloured iMacs on a top shelf. But it's the games consoles and 80s personal computers that'll probably appeal most. Take a seat and play Pacman (I was pleased to see I'd not forgotten), or Super Mario, or re-engage with a 70s Binatone version of Pong. What's most frustrating is not having a manual to hand to check how to start a game or which keys do up, down and fire, rather than determining this though trial and error (oh damn, I've crashed). Things were much easier back then because you probably only owned one computer gadget, and it only had five games, hence you knew all the moves inside out.

If you're of a certain bent and age, much of the assembled stuff will mean something. I used to have one of those electronic calculators, and my sixth form years were spent on an RM 380Z like that, and my Mum used one of those comptometers in her job, and I remember when programs had to be typed into punched tape and cards like those. If you're younger you may have more trouble relating, except on a historical basis, and may therefore lack the urge to dig in and get involved. Many of the exhibits at The Centre for Computing History have no accompanying information other than what's written on the shell, and a little more labelling would definitely help. I'd have to say that the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park is better and more comprehensive, and a little cheaper too, but this is a much more hands-on experience. And if your inner geek is rated at 92.3 or higher, you'll already be considering a visit. [photos]

 Sunday, April 13, 2014

Before the Routemaster came the RT, London's omnibus workhorse of the 1950s. The first prototype hit the streets in 1939, which makes this the 75th anniversary, which is as good an excuse to celebrate as any. The body celebrating were the London Bus Museum, who yesterday organised a special service on route 22 with dozens of heritage vehicles. That's the eastern half of old route 22, from Piccadilly Circus through the City, Shoreditch and Dalston to Homerton. A fine day was had by all, not least the volunteers who maintain and crew the buses, but also the massed ranks of The Men Who Bus. Here's what you missed.

Chatsworth Road, Homerton
It's coming up in the world, is Chatsworth Road. I remember the street at the turn of the century as a scrawny backwater, a laundrette and betting shop type place, most definitely off the beaten track. When I returned in 2011 it seemed much the same, but with the addition of a fledgling Sunday market to try to appeal to incomers. Today the laundrettes and betting shops remain, but infilled with creperies, delicatessens and coffee shops, as Hackney opens up to the thick-bearded and the stilettoed. Whatever, the residents and shoppers of Chatsworth Road weren't expecting the nostalgiafest that hit them on Saturday, indeed many failed to blink at all. When a 60 year old bus rounded the corner and rattled past the shops, most carried on as normal, despite the fact this was never likely to happen again. All the proper clues were at the foot of the hill, where The Men Who Bus were lurking with cameras. They're always on the lookout for the perfect vantage shot during these events, the opportunity to catch the lesser spotted red bus in what used to be its natural habitat. They perched on the corner by the park, watched by hipsters with lattes and Guardian-reading dads with prams, awaiting the oldest of the species, the venerable RT1.

Eventually her white-topped frame appeared and rumbled hesitantly over the speed bumps. Ads for Alka Seltzer and Brymay matches decorated her side, and the passengers inside looked down as if on some kind of regal tour. They'd be alighting at the bus stand by the park, where the London Bus Museum had parked another RT to act as a base for the afternoon. This particular vehicle had been around the world to promote the Festival of Britain, hence the plug for BOAC along the side and "Greetings from Britain to the USA" on the rollerblind. A museum volunteer patrolled the crowd, asking Would you like a leaflet, and Can I interest you in this book, and Had you thought of going to our Spring Gathering tomorrow? The Men Who Bus milled and chatted, and rushed across the road to take more shots of RT1 without any other annoying Men Who Bus standing in front. She wasn't full when she departed, this being the non-central extremity of her route, and there then followed a lengthy hiatus during which no other heritage service appeared. A stream of ordinary 242s passed through, opening their doors to waiting souls who had no interest in boarding, while in the adjacent park the Hackney Playbus held court to entertain the younger generation. Eventually an RT arrived and the polite scramble for the top deck began, game on.

Piccadilly Circus, Westminster
At the sharp end of the operation, there was a queue. Many folk had lined up on Shaftesbury Avenue, opposite the tourist hole where the caricaturists lurk and the food joints offering burger and chips. The pavement become more semi-blocked with every passing minute no RT came, although true to form three came along at once in the opposite direction. At last a Shoreditch-bound vehicle came round the Circus past Eros, and the waiting phalanx of amateur photographers leapt into action to capture the event. Umpteen passengers poured off, or rather dribbled off, many of them being older than the bus. As we waited, a woman strode up to the driver in his cab and asked, repeatedly, if the bus really was going to Dalston. She did this in a thick non-Dalston accent, which was nothing the poor guy understood even by the tenth attempt, and all he could do was shrug. She eventually nipped happily onto a number 38, having presumably been unable to deduce that this 22 wasn't in any way normal. And we boarded the special, grinning more broadly, for a jaunt to Shoreditch through the City.

The back seat on the top deck is highly prized, and had been grabbed by a young mum and her hyperactive offspring. He'd been pushing his luck in the queue, so Mum threatened him with all sorts of sanctions if he misbehaved, then failed to follow through when he sat there kicking the seat repeatedly. Normally small children gravitate to the front seat, but that was already occupied by The Men Who Bus, in large numbers, many with bulging camera bags on their laps. I made sure to sit two seats behind, but the unfortunate pair who sat in front of me got to endure a full outburst from the balding gentleman in front. He regaled them with his thoughts on the New Bus for London's double staircase, on the perils of buses going cashless and the merits or otherwise of Abellio Surrey's current franchise. When finally he shut up the pair in front rolled their eyes and stared out of the window, attempting to say nothing more that might cause the expert to turn round and put them right. And on we rolled, admired by many onlookers along the way, in our bubble of transport history.

Ash Grove Bus Garage, Hackney
As part of the day's celebrations, a cavalcade of old buses was on show in the yard outside the bus garage off Mare Street. They don't normally allow the public in, but yesterday you'd have been welcomed beneath the railway bridge and past the temporary bus stop. Which buses you saw depended on when you arrived. Early enough and they were all here, lined up in nostalgic perfection, whereas later there were gaps where vehicles were out on the road. Ah, the joy of seeing proper old buses, polished and scrubbed to within an inch of their lives, and with long gone route details on their blinds. The 10 no longer goes to Abridge, the 716 no longer ventures to Hatfield House, and (interesting interloper here) the 317 no longer runs to Knotty Ash. The old adverts too were marvellously evocative, be they for seven shilling Green Rovers, Battersea Fun Fair or Saturday's (Saturday's!) Evening Standard. Some owners allowed you aboard, others preferred it if you cooed and admired from outside.

A couple of stalls were selling stuff that The Men Who Bus really like, notably photos and books and mugs and things with logos you can stick on the fridge. And intermingled with the old were the new, namely the New Bus For London, stashed away waiting for the weekday run on route 38. Their curves contrasted well with the RTs, but few gave them a second glance with the older generation around. Over at the temporary bus stop a queue of people waited patiently for the next service into town. They'd been waiting for some time, as by this point in the day the planned timetable had been shot to pieces. Some vehicles had broken down, others had got lost in the backstreets of Hackney, and nothing seemed to be turning up at its scheduled time. When the relevant vehicle finally pulled forward it drove straight out of the garage without stopping, leaving those waiting bereft... and with a 45 minute gap before the next certain departure. Don't expect reliability on days such as these, that's not what the old school experience is about. Instead simply enjoy the rare opportunity to ride what was once commonplace, and remember to thank the organisers who made it happen.

» 10 photos by me
» lots of photos from others
» Report (with photos) from The Gentle Author

 Saturday, April 12, 2014

One of the joys of April, I find, is being able to walk to BestMate's house along the Greenway. Before the clocks go forward it's locked and dark of an evening, but for a few summer months I can make it all the way to Plaistow before dusk without fear of mugging. Having not been east along the Greenway for some time I noticed several changes to report along the way. So that'll be interesting for everyone, I thought.



a) I normally join the Greenway on Stratford High Street, which involves walking from the Bow Roundabout alongside the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2. This opened less than six months ago to great fanfare, so it's a surprise to see part of it coned off for repainting. A long strip from Abbey Lane towards Bow looked freshly blue this week, with tape along one side to prevent cyclists or pedestrians from accidentally straying onto it. It's strange to be repainting a Superhighway so soon, I thought, particularly because it's segregated and has thus only been subjected to bike wheels since October. I wonder if that's because the original paint was slapped down incredibly fast to meet an approaching deadline, or if the contractor drafted in to do that work did a less than brilliant job. Whatever, with the blue stripe temporarily closed cyclists have been forced to ride along the ordinary carriageway, now one lane narrower than it used to be, to reach the less-than-adequate Bow Roundabout. Superhighway? Not currently.

b) A temporary footbridge spanned Stratford High Street during the summer of 2012, linking up the Greenway to allow the passage of spectators. The bridge hung around for a while afterwards, dumped unceremoniously in the former coachpark alongside, until it was finally removed and disassembled elsewhere. Left behind was a large square indent about a foot deep, the bridge's former footprint. This was duly deemed a health and safety hazard and barriered off for months, blocking three-quarters of the entrance to the Greenway for months. Now finally this large dip is being filled in, returned to a level surface like it should have been ages ago, and maybe they'll even take the barriers away soon.

c) The other major Olympic intrusion on the Greenway was the tarmacking of the entire stretch between Stratford and West Ham. In readiness for the Olympics money was poured into replanting the grassy strip, removing knotweed and adding flowering plants. Then shortly before the Games all these improvements were ripped out so that the full width of the Greenway could become a grass-free spectator superhighway, and all the prettiness lost. It was therefore especially galling when 100% tarmac remained throughout 2013, as if all the promises of improvement had been forgotten and we'd be doomed to endure a Greyway, not a Greenway, forever more. But now suddenly hurrah, the contractors are back and the additional tarmac has been rent asunder, replaced by a wide swathe of raked earth. It'll take a while for the grass to regrow, and we may not get pretty shrubbery this time, but the regeneration of the Greenway is once again back on track.

d) Tarmac removal means the Greenway is back to being two thin strips again, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. Occasionally that's a bit narrow, but it echoes the arrangement past the View Tube so fair enough. Things broaden out past Abbey Creek, where as sunset approaches the devout of Newham pour in to worship at the Masjid-e-Ilyas. And beyond West Ham the Greenway still looks much like it ever did, more spruced up than remodelled... a bit of grass, a bit of path, and midges hanging in the air above the sewer-whiff.



e) Two summers ago Newham Council got all heavy-handed with graffiti artists on the bridge over the Jubilee line. They erected two metal fences in front of the walls, obliterated the spray paint tagging and stationed a bloke in a van to prevent further misdemeanours. The security bloke didn't last past the Games, and the two fences were so feeble that graffiti sprang up again almost overnight. What we see today is a pathetic barrier in front of some not great art, the worst of both worlds, and the unmistakeable sense of misplaced municipal self-righteousness.

f) Several tunnel boring machines have been making their way beneath East London recently. The most well-known are digging out Crossrail, but another has been ploughing beneath the Greenway from Beckton to Abbey Mills to create the Lee Tunnel. This is a key overflow tunnel being built to prevent discharges of sewage into the Lea at Abbey Creek, and should improve the post-storm environment around here no end. Tunnel boring machine "Busy Lizzie" reached her destination back in January, and the workforce are now busy installing the tunnel lining and making connections to the pumping station at Abbey Mills. They're also watching nervously in case the ground shifts, hence the appearance of several tiny shafts labelled TBM painted onto the Greenway surface. Just goes to show you never do quite know what's beneath your feet... and on the Greenway it's probably best not to imagine.

g) Being the only elevated path in the very flat borough of Newham, there are some fine views from the Greenway. The best are beyond the Jubilee line, across the Memorial Recreation Ground towards Docklands and the City. One day we'll look back on now as the golden era of 21st century skyline, before developers came along and disfigured select architectural pinnacles with tacky matchbox towers. There again, it could be some time before Plaistow joins the ranks of upscale upmarket gentrification.

h) As sunset approaches, the Greenway becomes less a thoroughfare and more a place for locals to hang out. Some slouch on the bench by the cemetery quaffing a selection of Polish lagers, some cycle by blazing the suspicious smell of weed, while others bring their hound for one last dump before bed. Only the fearless pass through after dark, by which time the guy from the council will have been round and padlocked the gates on Upper Road to prevent easy access. But by now I'm on BestMate's sofa watching telly and putting the world to rights... and it'll be the tube home, I think.

 Friday, April 11, 2014

I thought you'd appreciate a post that wasn't about Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

I'd quite like to have brought you a post about Big Northern City, which I visited for the first time this week. Unfortunately I went for work, which meant I didn't get to see the side of Big Northern City I'd otherwise have explored. At one point I did take a very interesting train ride, but with work colleagues watching I thought it unwise to take any photos in case they thought I was odd. Even when there was a half hour gap to escape into town, I was saddled with a colleague in tow which meant I got to see a sandwich shop rather than anything iconic and interesting. So my Big Northern City write-up will have to wait until I can do the place properly, and alone, another time.

Instead, here's some other stuff.


» You have only three more months left to pay cash on London buses. From Sunday 6th July you'll need Oyster or a contactless card. I still don't have a contactless card.

» The Line met its target. That's the sculpture trail I mentioned which was trying to raise cash to locate sculpltures approximately along the meridian between Stratford and North Greenwich. They needed to raise over a hundred grand to set in motion the first stage of their plans, and gave themselves two months to stoke public interest. Unfortunately public wallets stayed closed, despite considerable publicity, and with a week to go they weren't even 20% of the way there. It seems the general public were the wrong target. Instead some last minute schmoozing of wealthy benefactors appears to have paid dividends, and the target of £140744 was hit with hours to spare. One of those benefactors paid £50000, another £44806, which means the two of them stumped up over two-thirds of the total amount. The top ten donations made up over 90% of the target, again sourced from rich philanthropists or via corporate generosity. Indeed it turns out that 159 of the 283 pledgers needn't have bothered, their two quids and ten quids made completely redundant by the project's minor £1700 overshoot. They'll still get their place in the gallery of generous sponsors, but the concept of online crowdsourced art projects appears fatally flawed. Whatever, we thank our generous masters, and you can expect to see The Line's shortlisted sculptures along the Lea in a matter of months.

» I finally got the 2048 tile in 2048. I can stop playing now.

» If you thought blogging about bus rides round the edge of the capital was a big project, what Ruth's doing is hardcore. She's walking clockwise round the coast of mainland Britain, and blogging every step of the way. She's not doing it all in one go, indeed she started four years ago in North Norfolk and has only just reached the Bristol Channel. She's done East Anglia, the south coast and the South West Coast Path, and Day 138 sees her reach the Devon village of Clovelly. It's inspirational to read her accounts of pristine beaches, clifftop footpaths and inclement headlands, all written up (with map and photos) after she gets home from another stretch. I have to say the Cornish coast sounds fantastic, if a little hairy in places, the Thames estuary rather less so. Start here to begin from the beginning, or catch up somewhere along the way, and maybe be inspired.

» A regular reader from the Colchester area, using a Google Nexus 4 via a BT connection, was this blog's four millionth visitor. If that was you last Sunday morning, four million congratulations.

» For those of you who like old buses, a rare opportunity to ride is taking place tomorrow. It's to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the RT, and will involve several heritage buses running along what used to be route 22 from Piccadilly Circus to Hackney. Services will run every few minutes (from ten thirty to four thirty) on the inner London section, with all journeys free of charge (apart from those on RT1 for which £10 will be charged). Stop off at Ash Grove bus garage in Hackney to enjoy a display of RTs, and if this is really your thing then make tracks to the London Bus Museum on Sunday for their Spring Gathering.

» New album from Todd Terje? Hell yes.

» For those of you still wondering where everything is (or isn't) on the re-designed TfL website, an update on TfL's digital blog yesterday brings news of what's been tweaked two weeks on. There might be some news there that keeps you happy, or an excuse that explains why something you need isn't working yet. Head of Online Phil Young hopes you're getting used to the changes they've made. I sort-of am, but that's not the same as enjoying them.

 Thursday, April 10, 2014

While exploring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the weekend, I used the excellent Art Trail booklet to track down various fresh aesthetic treats. I found the whirly tunnel on the way to the hockey centre, tracked down the poem on the substation and spun the wooden pixel wall on the Podium. And then I hit the East Village.

Most of the East Village has been sealed off for the last year, indeed a substantial proportion still is. But three new greenspaces have opened up this month amongst the apartment blocks of the Athletes Village, part of the plan to make this estate more warmly welcoming than most. The Waterglades I've already mentioned, an extension of the wetlands in the corner of the 2012 Olympic Park, and a most attractive squidgy habitat. Mirabelle Gardens is an oblong-shaped 'square' between apartment blocks, nothing you'd travel out of your way to visit but not bad to have on your doorstep. And then there's Victory Park, a large triangular expanse of undulating lawn and the centrepiece of the East Village development.



The name sounds more like something out of Nineteen Eighty Four rather than Twenty Twelve, so I was relieved not to see pictures of Big Brother beaming down from the adjacent flats. In the northern corner is a playground, already being well used. Over eight hundred folk have moved into the East Village already, and judging by the number of removal vans and estate agents hereabouts at the weekend there'll soon be many more. But for now they're probably outnumbered by the hardhat workforce, labouring behind barriers even on a Saturday to fit out the remainder of the apartments and bring them up to scratch. Their presence means it's still not possible to walk direct down "Anthems Way" or "Victory Parade" to the Waterglades and the park proper. But there is now access, up against the fence, to the outdoor artwork I'd come to find.

It's called Mirror Labyrinth, and is the creation of Danish artist Jeppe Hein. He's the man who created Appearing Rooms, the quartered fountain that delights children outside the Royal Festival Hall most summers. Mirror Labyrinth isn't one of his watery pieces, but a reflective sculpture made from highly polished steel plates. The plates are of a variety of heights, and Jeppe has positioned them in concentric circles to create a kind of Hall of Mirrors meets Stonehenge. It's not entirely unique - there's a smaller version in Chiswick, and a semicircular variant in Copenhagen. But Stratford's is the biggest completest one, and all you have to do is step inside.



It being very early days, in a dead-end corner, I was hoping to have the entire site to myself. Alas a courting couple had taken up position beside the labyrinth and were leaning somewhat amorously on the adjacent information panel. I chose to ignore them as best I could, approaching from the opposite side, while they looked on suspiciously. The polished plates reflected the surrounding landscape - mostly grass but with slivers of path, trees, flats and snogging couple thrown in. Pretty, but nothing special. I stepped through the outer ring to see what changed, and nothing much did. It wasn't even much of a labyrinth, with no single path to follow or choice of dead-end routes. So I continued through three successive rings to the centre and looked again. And that's where I had my cathartic experience.

Further out I'd seen one-off bits of me on certain plates, but at the centre the laws of physics dictated that all my reflections bounced straight back. All of a sudden there were an awful lot of me, at full height, reflected back on all sides from the entire inner ring. I'm only really used to seeing my reflection from the front, in a fairly dimly lit bathroom mirror, but here I got a glimpse of me from slightly to the side, and further round, and further round still. Oh, I thought, do I really look like that? The unforgiving daylight highlighted lines and bulges more normally hidden, while my hair I'd long convinced myself was still dark had a definite and unmistakeable sheen of grey. I felt a sharp internal jolt as my body revealed itself as almost 50, rather than barely 40, in a circle of apocalyptic reflection.

You'll most likely have a very different reaction. You might end up grinning as you take a multitudinous selfie, or preening at your handsomeness multiplied, or wandering off wondering what all the fuss was about. But Mirror Labyrinth upgraded my chronological self-image by several years in only a few seconds, and I may never be able to step back outside the circle. Thanks Jeppe, thanks a million.

 Wednesday, April 09, 2014

What a glorious open space Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is, with broad skylines and vistas across East London. Enjoy it while you can, because it won't last.



0) See those blue areas on the map? They were the Athletes Village, and they're already flats.
1) See that large building site beside the Velodrome? That's Chobham Manor, the next residential area to be built, which'll include houses and lots of flats.
2) See that long strip of featureless lawn along the west side of the North Park? All that's going to be flats.
3) See that empty gap between the Copper Box and the Media Centre? That's Eastwick, and that's going to be flats (alongside a new sports field for Gainsborough School across the river).
4) See that large building site between White Post Lane and the stadium. That's Sweetwater, and that's going to be flats.
5) See that vast empty space beyond the Greenway that used to be the 2012 warm-up track? That's surely going to be flats.
6) See most of the Crossrail building site around Pudding Mill Lane station? That's going to be flats, obviously.
7) See that huge green lawn immediately to the south of the Orbit? That's going to be flats, not a picnic spot, eventually.
8) See those two empty plots in front of the Aquatics Centre? They're both going to be flats.
9) See that long strip of land between John Lewis and the South Park, where the Water Polo arena used to be? That was going to be flats, but the Mayor would prefer it to be a university and a new outpost of the V&A.
10) See that small plot between the Aquatics Centre and Westfield. That's going to be Glasshouse Gardens, aka highrise flats.
11) See that large area of land opposite John Lewis? That's going to be The International Quarter, a huge area of highrise offices attempting to create "a new metropolitan business district".
12) See that long thin strip of land to the east of Stratford International station? That's going to be the other part of The International Quarter, with yet more offices and flats, including the 42 storey Manhattan Loft Gardens.
13) See that hideous tall block near Westfield that's gone up since the Olympics. That's a warren of student flats, and I hope it's not architecturally indicative of what's about to be erected elsewhere.
2020) See that broad skyline and vista across East London? No, because it's mostly flats.

And yes, of course most of the area around the edge of the Olympic Park was always going to be flats. It's how the redevelopment of the Lower Lea Valley got the green light in the first place, and a significant contributory factor to the legacy budget. This is also a major boost to London's chronic housing shortage, and a sensible way to exploit the excellent infrastructure put in place for the Games. It is perhaps less good that the number of flats has been cut by 15% to cram in more commercial activity, and most definitely less good that the proportion of affordable housing in the park will be reduced even further in the process. Everybody wants to feed at the Olympic trough, taking advantage of a one-off mega-investment in the future of our city. And the future of our city is blocks of flats.

Best come down and enjoy the unblocked view while you can.


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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
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

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
boredom
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
iceland

just surfed in?
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diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
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