Route 49: White City - Clapham Junction Location: London inner, west Length of journey: 6 miles, 65 minutes
Sorry, but it's traditional that every birthday I take a numerically significant bus journey. I know you're sick of buses by now, but rules are rules, and at least this one goes to places with which you're familiar. Seven years ago I took the 42 to Dulwich, six years ago the 43 to Barnet, five years ago the 44 to Tooting, four years ago the 45 to Clapham, three years ago the 46 to Farringdon, two years ago the 47 to Bellingham, and last year the 48 to Walthamstow. This year I get to be the man on the Clapham omnibus, again. It being my birthday I'm afraid there will be rather more introspection than normal.
♦ I'm either too old or too unsophisticated for Westfield. The White City version is a notch posher than my local Stratford model, and I don't quite feel comfortable walking its malls. Were I younger, better dressed or more consumer-oriented I'd fit right in, but instead I am an almost-50 year-old man sporting not-this-decade's fashion, so I'll give the perkier shops a miss.
It's just me boarding at the bus station. This seems to be typical at the underused White City, with shoppers preferring to board at the next stop opposite Shepherd's Bush station instead. Along this first stretch I listen in on the conversation two drivers are having downstairs, discussing sick pay, stress and the merits of skiving, before one nips off to drive some other bus from Shepherd's Bush Green. Departing Westfield requires a considerable number of twists and turns, before a fuller bus escapes onto the roundabout beneath giant electronic ads for lager, cars and rugby.
♦ The houses are big round here. We're passing through the borders of Holland Park, an especially wealthy enclave where several of the stucco townhouses aren't yet subdivided into flats. Had I followed a different path through life I could have afforded one of these, I tell myself, although that's an aspirational dream I've been fed, and in fact this life was never for me.
A pair of (proper) Routemasters are parked up at the far end of Kensington High Street. Route 9H now terminates here, rather than round the back of the Royal Albert Hall, but soon it'll be terminated altogether when TfL scraps this heritage service for good. Further change is afoot at what used to be the Commonwealth Institute, reopening next year as the new Design Museum. Alas the iconic 60s building has almost disappeared behind three new blocks of flats, but 61 non-affordableapartments is how redevelopment projects get their funding these days.
♦ Shoppers on Kensington High Street are better scrubbed up than most. Two men in duffle coats and trainers walk past - shaved bald and immaculately groomed in defiance of their age. I reckon both must be 49-ish trying to look 29, but who are they kidding? Me, I'm letting my first wrinkles show and offering a foundation-free face to the world, and I bet I get out of the bathroom a lot quicker in the morning.
Past the Palace a right turn leads us into the heart of Kensington, and along a parade of shops pandering to cash-rich locals. One such resident has pulled up in his BMW outside Starbucks and set his hazard lights flashing. Our bus waits patiently behind, until he saunters back out with a single coffee in his hand, strokes his gelled hair and climbs back into the car. I'm disappointed to watch him driving off up the nearest mews - barely 15 seconds home - because that's what lazy self-absorbed consumption does for you.
♦ Gloucester Road is a lovely tube station, the second of three consecutive Circle line stations we'll be serving. Along the street two winter-tanned Sloanes are slouched in a doorway smoking, then at South Ken the queue for Ben's Cookies is out the door. I have a sudden crisis of conscience as I wonder what on earth I'm doing sat on a bus noting all this down for online narrative purposes. And than I pull myself together, because what else would I do of an afternoon?
Our driver is offering a masterclass in the art of travelling very slowly. By Onslow Square he pulls up at a bus stop where nobody is waiting, then pauses for an unnecessary minute before pulling off just in time to get stopped by the traffic lights turning red immediately ahead. Ahead on Sydney Street he tries a different but similar trick, allowing a van to pull out in front of us just before the lights change. I would applaud his skill, but I'd rather reach my destination.
♦ A private hire Routemaster is parked on the Kings Road, its blind offering wedding day congratulations to Rob and Sarah. Of bride and groom there is no sign, but my guess is that everybody's onto the reception by now. I haven't been to a wedding in years, let alone ever considered the logistics of hiring an old bus to transport guests to my own. But there'd be a private hire Routemaster, obviously.
I'm struck by the ethnic mix, or lack of it, on the King's Road. Almost everybody's white, or perhaps Far East Asian, enjoying the eclectic mix of boutiques and eateries provided hereabouts. Things change considerably after we've crossed the Thames - a graceful arc over the rippling Thames via Battersea Bridge. For the first time on this journey there are suddenly council blocks, a Costcutter and a Betfred, plus a more diverse range of passengers, with the privileged streets of Kensington and Chelsea now firmly behind us.
♦ With a deft swish of his hand, a silver-haired gent in a fedora waves his Freedom Pass holder to flag down our bus. I'm still seventeen years away from mine - my Freedom Pass, that is, not a fedora - which reassures me that "old age" remains a ridiculous number of days ahead. My 60+ London Oyster photocard is now barely a decade away, however, assuming no Mayor's scrapped it by the time I get that far.
The real Battersea lies some distance west of the Power Station, and Boris's much vaunted Northern line extension won't help the residents our bus is now passing. It should be a short ride from the gentrifying high street to Clapham Junction, but we're stuck in traffic and our driver's earlier attempts to dawdle now look unwise. Things aren't helped by a cyclist on Superhighway 8, which is too narrow to allow us to overtake, so we pootle slowly and meekly behind to reach Falcon Road.
♦ One particularly boring passenger on the upper deck is droning instructions down the phone regarding a party he's been invited to. Apparently a "Father Ted costume" will do, which simply involves finding something black to wear, and apparently "everyone has that in their wardrobe". It sounds to me like a ghastly evening lies ahead. I'm having a wholly unsociable birthday thanks, with no plans to meet up, dine out or go beering, let alone throw a party.
Most of the remaining passengers alight at the station, or outside the mega-Lidl, or at the post-riot shops in St John's Road. But the 49 dribbles on one step further, past the baby buggies of Northcote Road, to a turning circle up Battersea Rise. My driver is so convinced there's nobody left aboard that he almost sails past the final stop, but I manage to ding in time and he lets me escape.
♦ I can't help noticing that the 49 terminates immediately alongside a cemetery. I'm treating my birthday bus journey introspectively so I take this as a sign, and walk round through the gate to investigate further. In particular I check out the gravestone closest to the bus stop, which belongs to Cornelius Constant Sand who died aged 39. And I realise I've actually done pretty well out of life already, and if I can match the 90 year-old in the plot nearby, all the better.
In the 10th century the land it stands on didn't exist, until a sandbank grew across the mouth of Breydon Water. In the 14th century it was one of the wealthiest towns in England, thanks to its proximity to rich fishing grounds. In the 19th century it became a thriving seaside resort, and in the 20th century declined. In the 21st century Great Yarmouth is attempting to reinvent itself more as a daytrip option, should you ever be in the area, or near enough.
✉ They could have called it The Museum of Herring, but that probably wouldn't have drawn the crowds. Instead they call it Time and Tide, because that's more alliteratively appealing, and because it conceals the fish bit. The museum opened in 2005 and is based in a Victorian herring curing works. By the time you leave you will know everything there is to know about this humble fish, and the people who caught it, and how it was preserved, and thankfully a lot of other non-fish-related things too. If they offer you an audio guide at reception take it. It's free, and many of the displays are only brought to life if you're listening to the informative, entertaining and occasionally sarcastic commentary. First up is a recreation of a Great Yarmouth Row, one of the hundreds of narrow alleyways that led down to the seafront, inhabited by local characters circa 1913. That year saw the high point of the Great Yarmouth herring industry, which is outlined in acceptable depth across the ground floor of the neighbouring building. Millions of fish were salted, speared and hung up to dry here, and the genuine smell of kippery smoke still permeates the 9m high chamber. Upstairs there follows a full history of the town, which is where the sandbank bit comes in, plus obviously a lot about boats and ships and all things maritime. I liked the Beside The Seaside gallery, remembering the heyday of the guest house landlady and the end of the pier show, and especially enjoyed the mechanical miniature pier complete with buxom spinning Britannia. My complete circuit of the museum took almost two hours, far longer than the narrow entrance had suggested. And then my Dad bought me lunch in the adjacent cafe, a classy but friendly affair with not quite enough smoked fish on the menu. I can see how Time and Tide earned its nomination for European Museum Of The Year, alas losing out to a Heritage museum in Belgium. Recommended.
✉ The first week in March alas isn't high season on the Great Yarmouth seafront. Even if the weather's unseasonably fine there'll only be a few souls out and about, including those preparing for the new season and one suspicious looking family whose children really ought to have been at school. The Winter Gardens weren't living up to their name, and the amusements within the WellingtonPier were going mostly unspun. Still, where else can you get a tea for 79p, a coffee for 99p, and scone, jam, cream and cuppa for only £1.49? Alas there's no current admission to Merrivale Model Village, one of the largest in the country, complete with its own quarter mile of model railway. We were therefore pleased to see the PleasureBeach open so wandered in, but the lack of activity should have been a clue, and we were swiftly ushered out by winter workmen who locked the gate behind them. March is still the season for repairing and repainting, so the candy floss booths still have undercoat showing, and the Log Flume is an undressed stack of metal chutes. One day soon the monorail will run again, and they'll close the gap to complete the ScenicRailway, the only such operational wooden rollercoaster in the UK. It looks incomplete from the beach, a lot of the vertical planking removed to facilitate repairs, but then there's nobody on the beach to notice either. Best come back in the Easter holidays when hibernation ends, and Great Yarmouth wakes up for another hopeful summer season.
✉ There are several Nelson's Columns, the global icon in Trafalgar Square being the most famous, but there's a lesser known alternative in Great Yarmouth. Norfolk's monument is five metres shorter, but also 25 years older, erected from public funds as an elevated tribute to the great Admiral Horatio. Great Yarmouth was selected as the most appropriate place in the county, thanks to its naval connections, and the tower went up on the South Denes between the docks and the military barracks. It looks a mightystupid location today. The navy's operations are long gone, and the southern half of Great Yarmouth's sandy spit is now given over to industrial use. Walk towards the column, more correctly known as the Norfolk Naval Pillar, and the residential streets cease just beyond the Pleasure Beach. It takes some nerve to keep going past builders yards, Indoor Karting and storage depots, but have faith. A small square with metal railings survives within the estate, and within this rises an imposing Doric column. That's Britannia on top, not Nelson, and she's facing inland which some say was a ghastly error on the part of the designers. Beneath her are six supportive caryatids, and below that the names of Nelson's four greatest victories, one on each square face. Come on a summer Sunday and you can climb the 217 steps to the top, but only two people at a time because the spiral staircase is particularly narrow. Come on a March weekday and all you can do is look up and admire, and get stared at by the lads on fag break at the microelectronics firm across the square. It really is a comedown for the great Horatio, his monument ignored by 99% of visitors to the town because it's down the far end where none of them ever need to go. But a recent restoration gives hope that Nelson's Other Column may still have its victory.
The next three buses on my orbitaljourney all depart from Romford's MercuryGardens. I could get to Lakeside in one hop, or I could get there in two, but I've decided on three. That's mainly because I want to hug the edge of London as I go, but also because this next bus has the ultimate route number. Sure there are express 500s and school-based 600s, but the normal run of London bus numbers ends at 499. This tours the far northeastern corner of the capital, as do its near neighbours the 496 and 498, serving below-the-radar estates in outer Havering. Top of the shop - it's got to be done.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xxii)
Route 499: Romford - Gallows Corner Length of journey: 7 miles, 25 minutes
Romford boasts an excellent and plentiful retail offering, but its inner ring road holds insufficient space to contain the lot. Thus the Mercury mall and cinema sticks out beyond, linked to The Liberty beneath the dual carriageway via an arcade of minor shops. Folk throng through, then throng back, but only a few find the back stairs and rise up to the bus stop opposite Asda. From here depart several services to Gallows Corner, the others direct, but the 499 runs round the houses. A dozen passengers have chosen the single decker, most carrying bags, the youngest engrossed in tippy tappy on their phones. The lady in front of me is gorging herself on a packet of nuts. The label reads "only recommended for people with strong healthy teeth", to which I'd like to add "and neighbours with limited hearing".
We exit the ring road at Romford Library, before passing the town hall, two courts and a police station in quick succession. The 499 is then to be the sole service along Pettits Lane, a lane no more, now a line of mock Tudor homesteads. This section's Hail and Ride, but you'd never know from sitting on the bus because the electronic display keeps schtum. Indeed this is something I've noticed more than once on my trip around London - TfL appear to have stopped announcing Hail and Ride on buses and now merely display the name of the next normal stop for much longer than usual. I'd like to thank the executive who introduced this baffling policy for the additional hike I endured on an earlier route when I misguidedly pressed the button one mile early. Cheers mate.
Part way up we Pettits Lane cross the arterial A12, relatively swiftly, beside a sinuous footbridge for less fortunate pedestrians. These are London's spacious suburbs, with gardens and car parking spaces for all, along Drives and Mews and Avenues and Closes. Then at Chase Cross we tangle with one of London's ten least frequent bus routes, the 375, which heads out to the delightful almost-Essex village of Havering-atte-Bower. Instead we're cutting across semi-open, then open country, the fields to the left part of the nature reserve at BedfordsPark. Should you want to walk in rather than drive then sorry, there's no bus stop for an entire green mile, though the driver might stop if you dinged repeatedly enough. The views through the window look proper verdant as we climb towards London's next, and final, suburb.
This is Harold Hill, a giant postwar estate sandwiched between (and presumably named after) Harold Wood and Noak Hill. Even on its outskirts developers are seeking to replace yet another field to add to the fifteen thousand homes already hereabouts. Outside one bungalow on Noak Hill Road I'm surprised to see life-size statues of Laurel and Hardy guarding either side of the front door... and if I'm bemused, I wonder what the neighbours think. The 499 turns off this borderline road before the heart of the old village ofNoak Hill, to head down to the roundabout at the heart of the estate. One 1950s park and one 1950s shopping parade have been provided, the latter a lengthy double-pronged affair (which saves the locals too many bus rides back into Romford). A boulder-based war memorial remembers "those who gave their lives for freedom", rather than specific deaths, because barely anyone was living around here during the World Wars.
We've doubled-back by now to a point only a couple of hundred metres from the start of the previous paragraph. Buses in the high 400s often do this, their routes designed to join the dots rather than travel direct. In this case we're about to head around an estate within an estate, a narrow looping road passing avenues and tower blocks named optimistically after poets. It soon becomes clear that this four minute loop is the 499's raison d'etre, the street that many of those on board have been waiting for. We're on another unsignalled Hail and Ride section, and the dings come thick and fast as those with bags from Romford choose to alight. When Nutcracker Woman heads for the door I catch the smell of peanut breath, thankfully only briefly. And by the time we return to Straight Road I am the only punter remaining on board.
Criminals in the Liberty of Havering were once hanged at Gallows Corner. The scaffold disappeared centuries ago and in its place, near enough, is a key roundabout on the A12 Eastern Avenue. A very amateur-looking flyover lifts Southend traffic above the melee, although many drivers are here solely for the mega retail park located along the Brentwood Road. Argos, Halfords and Next are amongst the purveyors of warehouse-ware closest to the roundabout, behind an unusual fivefoldstatue of a Roman spear carrier on horseback. Across the road was The Plough pub, I imagine once busy from passing trade, now a burnt-out shell behind dark hoardings. Our 499 queues for a few minutes to turn off the main road, an ordeal faced by every driver seeking Tesco. They fill the rear car park while we stop short by the petrol station where this bus terminates. Our driver goes for a rest inside a black taxi hired by the bus company, while I stand and wait, not too long, for the rarest bus in London.
I'm heading by bus into northeast London's unsung suburbs. You've heard of Hainault, but no railways reach further out so Marks Gate and Collier Row are mysteries to most. Less so, hopefully, after the following.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xxi)
Route 247: Fulwell Cross - Romford Length of journey: 7 miles, 30 minutes
A lot of people are waiting to escape from the top of Barkingside High Street, most I'd say at the lower end of the London earnings spectrum. And most don't want to go far, merely to lug their cheap shopping home to the estates located around and inside the Hainault Loop. Various other bus services arrive to spirit them away, before a 247 eventually appears and there is a polite bundle for the front door. One passenger who's forgotten their Oyster needs to pay by cash - a simple privilege they'll be denied on the buses come the summer. I'm the last to climb aboard, so am surprised to discover the top front seat is clear until I spot the two empty boxes of chicken nuggets I'll need to shift aside.
The streets of outer Redbridge are not dripping with history, save that of farms turned over to housing in the mid 20th century. A couple of pubs - the New Fairlop Oak and the Old Maypole - hint at rural scenes lost and replaced. Near the latter a gaggle of girls throng aboard, splitting into two groups as they briefly take over the top deck. "She said we were embarrassing," says one, "how are we embarrassing?" It's a question I'll easily be able to answer, with evidence, before the end of my journey. A lot more people board at Hainault station, because we are the bus that provides the crucial last link from the end of the tube to home. Hainault proper is more residential than most, a maze of bungalows and LCC semis, plus a central shopping parade. We don't touch the shops but pass by up a wide-verged avenue, where building companies are keen to buy up any spare gap between homes to cram in another.
At Yellowpine Way a boyband boards, or rather three over-gelled over-dyed teenagers ascend to the upper deck. The girls further back are agog, but the objects of their infatuation instead spend the rest of the trip lusting after every sports car that drives by. Hainault Forest Country Park marks the edge of the Green Belt, with the grass covered by London 2012's temporary military camp still fenced off to recover. Where the dual carriageway ends is another 2012-related venue - the road cycling circuit displaced by the Velodrome, now a permanent addition to Redbridge's leisure offering. It's being fairly well used as we pass, though more by families with children to tire than by serious lycra-clad racers. Then descending Hog Hill comes an unexpectedly long-range view to the unhilly east, across the low rooftops of Havering towards my ultimate destination, the QE2 Bridge.
It's time for a whizz down Whalebone Lane (North). Acres of soggy fields stretch off to either side - I know of no other part of London as arable as this. Now there are distant views to the west, from Docklands round to the BT Tower, rising far across a broad expanse of ploughed mud. A different City Pavilion stands here, on the tip of Marks Gate, beside a roundabout pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Within its warehouse walls are five bars, two restaurants and a bowling centre, the latter the source of passengers rolling home to Romford. By now the three metrosexual lads are fixated on Mazda-spotting, debating whether that last red sports car was an RX8 or not, while the girls behind them giggle immaturely. And then we're bouncing back to the outskirts, our tenpin detour complete, to enter Havering, my final London borough.
Across the River Rom lies Collier Row, a sprawling suburb built across lands once inhabited only by charcoal burners. Growth came fast between the wars, so swiftly that theplace even merited its own cinema, but that's now a Tesco Metro because such is the future. A fair proportion of the population moved out here from the East End, hence the existence of a seafood stall in the car park of the Bell and Gate - The Jolly Cockle. Two-bedroom homes still sell for under 200K out here, if you're looking for affordable London and don't mind taking the bus everywhere.
I'd appreciate it if we continued straight ahead at the Colliers Row roundabout because my next bus passes barely half a mile away. But no, this is where the 247 turns right and heads for Romford, and I'm not allowed to get off and walk the intermediate gap. We thunder unhelpfully south towards the busy A12, past the entirely underwhelming Havering Guest House. It's a long hike, with houses gradually making way for borderline lowbrow retail. A lengthy pause is taken outside the Romford Bus Garage, where our driver stops to chat to friends in uniform, but is not replaced. I'm now having to endure Top-Gear-level chatter from the three automotive addicts, who are discussing the ideal turquoise shade of their dream car and what kind of tyres it'd have. So when Romford's ringroad finally appears it's a pleasure to join everyone else alighting for the shops, two stops before the end of the route. 499>>
Should you ever need to ride from Walthamstow to Barkingside via almost-Chingford, you need the 275 bus. Other than that, probably not. I'm starting to think I should have taken the alternative route viaChigwell instead.
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xx)
Route 275: Woodford Green - Fulwell Cross Length of journey: 4 miles, 15 minutes
Shoots and buds in front gardens suggest that spring has already taken hold along The Terrace, a row of cottages across the top of Woodford Green. Winston Churchill looks down from the 'village' sign as I wait for a double decker 275 to arrive. When finally it does, it's not busy. Only two of us have colonised the upper deck - me and a teenage boy sporting a lived-in but borderline-smart hoodie. We follow Broadmead Road down gentle slopes from the ridgetop, past a huddle of Post Office vans, and with unexpected views right across to Havering... where I'll be heading later. A bridge over the Central line takes us inside the Hainault Loop, before we turn up a Tudorbethan avenue to Woodford station. If that's your cafe opposite with the name Lunch 4 u written in giant-sized Comic Sans, I hope you are so very ashamed.
The railway divides Snakes Lane into West and East, with no road linking one to the other, so our bus is routed only down the latter. First comes Jubilee Parade, which from its brickwork I'd guess 1935, and much later than expected the Railway Tavern. We're descending to the River Roding, whose valley is exploited, some would say despoiled, by the M11 motorway exiting London. Sensibly nobody's built any houses right up close on the flood plain, so the Highways Agency have set up a depot filled to the brim with dormant roadsigns. The residential cluster ahead is Woodford Bridge, so close to Chigwell that its shops have an air of chiselled blonde about them. Coffee culture and deli sensibility have settled in, while the pub on the corner was (until recently) Deuce's nightclub where the TOWIE clan frolicked. Two competing canine establishments face off on Manor Road, one for training police dogs, the other for training guide dogs. Throw in a sloping green with a pond, bookended by an old church and a proper pub, and it's proper nice hereabouts.
It's time to dip outside London for a mere half mile. The Essex border nudges inwards at the entrance to what used to be ClayburyAsylum, now several blocks of exclusive private housing. We may be here some time thanks to temporary 4-way control traffic lights ahead, which leaves me too long to inspect an ugly pink bungalow with a view towards Buckhurst Hill over its roof. Only the well-off have homes on Tomswood Road, whose gardens are an alternating collection of Mercs, Audis, Jags and BMWs, usually two at a time. Our red bus feels an interloper here, until we regain the border at a tiny stream and the housing instantly switches back to normal. On our gentle descent of Tomswood Hill I spot Docklands and the O2's spikes in the distance, which is an unexpected surprise, plus the less iconic upthrust of the Halo on Stratford High Street. With each passing bus stop the ambience gets less Essexy and more Redbridge, the interior of the Hainault Loop being essentially relentlessly residential. And finally down to my favourite London library, architecturewise, by the roundabout at Fulwell Cross, where I alight for the opportunity to stare. 247>>
It's time to return to the final quadrant of my orbital Londonbus journey. I had hoped it would be possible to make the next jump from Chingford to Hainault in one bus, but alas not (quite), so I need to take two. To straddle the London border I've decided to go via Woodford, not viaLoughton, which means neither ride will be very long (nor, alas, very interesting).
ROUND LONDON BY BUS(xix)
Route 179: Chingford - Woodford Green Length of journey: 2 miles, 8 minutes
It gets a pretty decent bus service, Station Road in Chingford, courtesy of the bus station at the far end. The shops aren't bad either - not too mainstream, not too cheap - and I think Norman Tebbit would still approve. My departure point is opposite the parish church and village green, but more precisely outside the Co-op, and the waiting demographic reflect the latter. When the 179 eventually arrives two of them want to pay by cash, which is already one more than AndrewAdonis claims to have seen in 100 bus journeys across London last week. I'm late in getting upstairs so have to surrender the front seat to a family of four. They want the grandstand view for their four year-old, but he turns out to be less than keen so it's Mum and Auntie who end up hogging the prime location instead.
We're journeying down the Kings Road, Chingford version, so fashions here are more TOWIE than Made In Chelsea. What we pass instead are the dodgily-named Pimp Hill Allotments, plus Churchill Curtain Cleaning Services, which is a nod to what's coming up later. Green spaces range from a kickabout square where boys are playing keepy-uppy to the actual proper Epping Forest, threading through briefly along the 'valley' of the River Ching. An elderly couple board here and do something unusual - they climb upstairs. Normally nobody over the age of about 50 comes up here, so it's good to see more adventurous Freedom Pass holders deftly negotiating the stairs.
A sign alerts drivers "To Avoid Low Emission Zone Turn Left", but we turn right instead along the High Road Woodford Green. Some fine houses are set back across the grass, although the road down the centre is a bit more arterial that I think the owners would like. I spot Sylvia Pankhurst'santi-bomb memorial on the left, and even a brief view of the Lea Valley down one particular descending sidestreet. We track the edge of Woodford Green, a linear ridgetop common, and a lovely place to stroll. Winston Churchill'sstatue is down the far end - he used to be the local MP - but I'm not going quite that far. An unexpectedly middle class parade of shops intrudes, the kind that has a fireplace shop and a family butchers and a choice of Italian restaurants. I've just ridden from Chingford's Prezzo to Woodford Green's Prezzo in less than ten minutes. Sorry, that wasn't a very exciting trip, but needs must. 275>>
Thanks for voting yesterday in my readership survey - more than 900 of you were kind enough to take part! Now I know how my readership has changed overthelasttenyears, but also how very similar it is. One thing that hasn't changed, according to the 2014 survey results, is that the typical diamond geezer reader is still a 30-something male from the London area. Hello if that's you. And here are this year's results in a little more detail.
Male or female?
I'm losing the ladies. In the earliest surveys I had three male readers to every female, later four, but now it's nearly seven. That's quite some divide, and suggests my blog has a long term gender interaction crisis. Are there now fewer females reading stuff on the internet? Or has the content of my writing subtly shifted, so that I'm now frightening (or boring) many of my former female readers away. Sorry ladies, I'll try not to lose any more of you.
I'm slowly haemorrhaging the younger audience too. My highest readership has always been amongst 30-somethings, and still is. But the 40-somethings have convincingly leapfrogged the 20-somethings, and the 50-somethings have almost caught up. Back in 2004 the under 30s easily outnumbered the over 40s, whereas now they're outgunned even by the over 60s. We're all getting older, and more technologically aware, so maybe this upward shift merely reflects the passing of time. Or maybe blogging's a bit old school for the younger generation, who prefer regular status updates to daily thousand word essays.
Where do you live? (pick one)
These proportions are incredibly similar to those seen in previous surveys. Just over half of my readership comes from London - the city I write about the most. Another quarter are from England, probably with a disproportionate amount from the Home Counties. But one in seven are still from outside the UK, so it can't only be my reports from Uxbridge and Chingford which keep them coming back. I see diamond geezer very much as a non-London-centric London blog, so it's good to see my readership also reflects that.
How often do you read diamond geezer?
You're getting more regular. Back in 2004 only half of you came back every day, but now two thirds of you do. That's comforting because I do try very hard to post something every day for you to read - a frequency which is increasingly rare across the blogosphere. Meanwhile the proportion of readers visiting only occasionally has plummeted, because it's all or nothing these days. And hardly anybody lands on diamond geezer for the first time any more, at least not on the home page where the poll was, but a special hello to the three of you who did yesterday.
When was your first visit to diamond geezer?
This graph celebrates the longevity of diamond geezer's readers. About a third of you claim to have been reading for more than six years, with more and more of you joining in as successive years have passed. But another third of you arrived as recently as 2011 or later, with (I suspect) a significant number drawn here by the Olympics. Thank you all for sticking around, however long it's been.
How do you usually view diamond geezer?
This is my attempt to determine how many people are reading my posts somewhere that isn't my blog, although the results are slightly flawed because yesterday's vote wasn't clickable in certain formats. Overall figures may therefore be an underestimate, although it sounds like RSS is still adding substantially to my readership. Meanwhile smartphone numbers aren't hugely higher than in the last survey two years ago, which might be because my blog's design isn't very mobile friendly, or might be because my four question response options unintentionally overlapped. But viewing via tablet has certainly taken off, with its share of my readership now approaching 10%.
Do you have your own blog?
The proportion of readers with their own blog drops noticeably every time I carry out this survey. Back in 2004 more than half of you claimed to be blogging, but that proportion's now nearer one in six. A substantial number of you either never wrote a blog in the first place, or have given up on producing original long form content in favour of merely reacting to what others have written (via Twitter, Facebook etc). But it's reassuring to know that blogging isn't quite dead yet, and I still have competition from at least 150 of you. I wonder how different things will look by the first week of 2016...
Readership survey(6) : Precisely ten years ago I ran a readership survey to find out who was reading my blog. Then eight years ago, six years ago, four years ago and two years ago I repeated that survey to see what, if anything, had changed. And I suspect a lot's changed since then, so I thought I'd run the survey again. I wonder how different 2014 is to 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006 and especially 2004. Go on, tell me about yourself...
Ford quiz: Here are twelve places in and around London with the word 'ford' in their name. But which river are they on? Is it the obvious one, or is it another? Take your pick for each, and then check in the comments box.
Yesterday Stratford got itself a new swimming pool. Not just any old pool, but an ex Olympic venue, as the Aquatics Centre opened its doors to the public. You can take a swim for only £4.50, or you can come down and spectate for free. It is, I think, a triumph, and the people of Stratford are very much the winner.
It's now eighteen months since the pool was last used for internationalcompetition. Since then the two giant wings of extra seating have been removed, restoring the building's intended swooping silhouette. The space created has been filled in with glass, creating two enormous windows that let daylight flood inside. The building certainly looks a lot more impressive than it did during the Games (although perhaps with the exception of the not-quite verdant grass draped across the nose at the southern end). The barriers are down, new roads are open, and all you need to do is turn up and enjoy.
Staff were on hand yesterday to try to keep mere spectators out of the main swimmers entrance, but I still managed to get in by approaching via the car park, not the main walkway. Inside the doors is a small shop selling goggles and other swimming accoutrements, plus a registration desk where tickets are confirmed. A decent sized cafe has also been squeezed in, ideal for adding back the calories you may have expended while splashing about in the water. Various payment options are available, including discounts for annual membership, with all sessions bookable online in advance (or turn up on the day assuming they're not sold out). To gain admission to the main Olympic Pool "you must be able to swim 100 metres of a recognised stroke", but I don't think anyone checks that for real. As a casual visitor there was no way I was getting past the main desk, but I could see a central glass-walled corridor leading off between the main pool and the subterranean Training Pool, presumably to the changing rooms.
Instead I headed up the outside stairs to become a Day One spectator. I wasn't expecting access to be this easy and this comprehensive, but whoa, everything was extremely welcoming. Entrance is via a glass lobby, where yesterday (and presumably again today) several staff were on hand to say hello and invite visitors to sign up. No pressure. And then through the big doors into the main pool area... and wow. For a start it's warm inside, as indeed it was during the Games, but the temperature gradient is much more noticeable in March. And then of course it's huge. The wave-like ceiling is a long way up, and the light streaming in adds an even greater sense of space and height. Stand on the balcony, from which Clare Balding delivered her 2012 continuity, and stare. That's an Olympic-sized swimming pool down there, ten lanes wide, and most definitely not your average municipal baths.
Yesterday morning was an 'ordinary' public session, with some lanes designated 'pace lanes' and others for up-and-down anti-clockwise swimming. Whilst many took their first exercise session seriously, others sat on the edge dripping, or stood around simply working out what to do next. At least three lifeguards surveyed the scene from the side, while a camera crew wandered round taking first day footage. It was just about possible to look back underneath where we'd come in to see the Training Pool, I think full of families and small children and something inflatably yellow. And then there was the separate diving pool, alas with no Tom Daley in evidence on this occasion, but being well used by a group of even younger up-and-comers. Some bounced in from the lower boards, while others plummeted from ten metres high, kersplosh.
I could have nipped up to the back for a hot drink - there's a small cafe concession for spectators beneath the glass wall offering coffee for £2.25, tea for £2 and fruit for 75p. Instead I settled in one of the adjacent white seats, those charged a VIP premium during the Games, and watched theaction unfold. The view was so much better than I'd endured on the umpteenth row of those precipitous grandstands, and OK so there were no medal-winning races taking place below, but there was probably something better. The residents of East London were finally getting sporting payback for billions spent and a decade of inconvenience, and keeping themselves fit into the bargain. And for double the jackpot there are now only four weeks until the Velodrome reopens as part of the Lee Valley VeloPark. They promised us legacy when the Olympics were won, and this month, praise be, they've properly delivered.
Figures for the week beginning 15th February should have appeared on TfL's website over a week ago, but didn't. It had been an incredibly stormy week, with cablecar services suspended due to high winds for a substantial portion of six out of seven days. Some of us were on tenterhooks to discover how the storms had affected ridership numbers, but for some reason TfL seemed unwilling to tell us. No data appeared, and continued to not appear for over a week. Was there perhaps something TfL's datamongers were ashamed of?
And then yesterday, finally, another line of the table appeared.
Number of passengers
15 February 2014
22 February 2014
No surprise, the figures for the week beginning 15th February were indeed as appallingly low as some had feared. The figures were so bad that the total was as much as one third below the previous weekly record low of 10361, which had fallen in the week before Christmas. For comparison, 7033 passengers over seven days is roughly the same capacity as one full double decker bus an hour crossing the Thames, in one direction only. Obviously it's hard to pack in the punters when high winds cause prolonged suspension, but equally it's hard to attract regular customers when you can't guarantee the service will be running.
Oh, and you'll have noticed that a second line of the table also appeared. The figures for the week beginning 22nd February were much better, it being half term when parents bring their children for an aerial treat. From a record low to a total six times as great, a major down followed by a big uptick. It seems that TfL very deliberately held back their very bad figures for a week until they could release them simultaneously with some very good figures, as if to suggest that the appalling week wasn't quite so awful after all. Cynical, manipulative, but ultimately transparent. The cablecar's overall trajectory is, alas, very much downward, as I think I can demonstrate by comparing last year's figures with this.
Count 5 (Nights out): That's an increase to six nights out, which is a 50% increase on last year. Or it's twenty-two nights in, depending on how you look at it. Five of those six nights were courtesy of BestMate, because he's good like that, and the remaining night was the Tridentscan AGM (we meet annually to discuss the blog's bespoke commenting system, and this year coupled the event with a trip to the BBC Radio Theatre). Most of the six nights out were right at the start of the month, including a couple of nights away to see the Severn Bore, but it's been a bit of a social desert since. If your evenings are equally devoid of other people in a communal situation, you are not alone, hello. The number of nights in February 2014 I went out and was vaguely sociable: 6 2003-2014 review: In February 2003 I was a social whirlwind, but Best Mate emigrated three days later and a long term decline set in. You can see how things picked up a bit in 2008 when he returned, settling at a fairly consistent lower level of "once or twice a week". A special thanks to the rest of you who've dragged me out of my comfort zone and shared an evening (or ten) over the years. But nobody comes to this blog to read about London's sparkling nightlife, that's for sure. (2003: 21) (2004: 7) (2005: 2) (2006: 2) (2007: 3) (2008: 7) (2009: 7) (2010: 4) (2011: 9) (2012: 6) (2013: 4)
Count 6 (Alcohol intake): I know my favourite gassy lager is hardly an erudite choice, but I cling to familiarity and ease of ordering, plus it doesn't give me hiccups. I've only downed four bottles of Becks this year, and all of those were in the same pub on the same night on the first day of the month. Thank goodness the pub in Gloucester served my default beer, otherwise I'd be reporting a big fat zero this month. I did source Becks on draught elsewhere in other pubs, but sadly my count is for bottles, so a pint in a glass doesn't count towards my measure of monthly alcohol consumption. And I haven't been back to any pub since coming home, so I guess my disappointingly low February total is a fairly good reflection of my general abstinence. Total number of bottles of Becks I drank in February 2014: 4 2003-2014 review: Again 2003 is the outlier, with a couple of further uptick years in 2008 and 2011. But overall my Becks consumption is falling because considerably fewer pubs are stocking the stuff. How my heart sinks when I scan the selection behind the bar and realise I'll have to order something else. A sure sign of Becklessness is the presence of "Becks Blue", the non-alcoholic cop-out option, because if that's present the real thing is invariably absent. If current trends continue, I fear another zero year can't be too far off. (2003: 58) (2004: 17) (2005: 0) (2006: 7) (2007: 1) (2008: 28) (2009: 4) (2010: 3) (2011: 20) (2012: 14) (2013: 2)
Count 7 (Tea intake): Apart from one dodgy year when workplace kettle usage was banned, my tea consumption remains astonishingly consistent. Every February other than 2005 has fallen within a very narrow range of 127-137 teas, despite very different behaviour on weekdays and weekends. My office days are always brimming, brown-liquid-wise, whereas days off tend to find me rushing around without pausing for refreshment. But I am on average, it seems, a four-and-a-half cups a day man. Milk, no sugar, thanks. Total number of cups of tea I drank in February 2014: 129
(2003: 135) (2004: 135) (2005: 81) (2006: 128) (2007: 137) (2008:134) (2009: 129) (2010: 136) (2011: 135) (2012: 133) (2013: 127)
Count 8 (Trains used): This count's normally remarkably consistent too... always just over a hundred a month. That's apart from the year when I had a "one train" commute rather than two, when the total dipped a bit. And apart from last year, when I upped the total by blogging relentlessly about the Bakerloo line and travelling on it a lot. A month spent on the buses has dragged the total down a bit, but still averages about four train journeys a day. We Londoners do swan around in carriages a lot, don't we? Total number of trains I travelled on in February 2014: 101
(2003: 103) (2004: 109) (2005: 117) (2006: 107) (2007:100) (2008: 117) (2009: 103) (2010: 83) (2011: 109) (2012: 118) (2013: 139)
Count 9 (Exercise taken): Rather than fork out good money to use a gym, I get my step action by walking up escalators, usually at tube stations. I always attempt to walk up every escalator I ascend, which usually works so long as there's not some tourist, suitcase or buggy blocking the left hand side. I'm not thrilled with my total this year, but my commute doesn't afford the multiple climbs it once used to, so I could do better. Total number of escalators I walked up in February 2014: 29
(2003: 73) (2004: 72) (2005: 38) (2006: 35) (2007: 31) (2008: 33) (2009: 28) (2010: 13) (2011: 32) (2012: 43) (2013: 40)
Count 9a (Steps walked): Here's a recent innovation to The Count, introduced last year when I got myself a smartphone. By uploading the Moves app I've been able to keep track of my daily step count without the need for a pedometer attached to my waist. It's a brilliant app, if no longer free to new users, and a bit of a battery hog. It's also potentially stalky because it records everywhere I go (both when and where), plus how I travelled inbetween. I've learned that a typical working day requires me to walk only 4500 steps, whereas my weekends and days off are considerably more variable. Last weekend contributed almost a quarter of my entire monthly total, thanks mostly to a lengthy yomp along the cliffs at Dover and a quest for coffee around the streets of Bow. During February I've walked more than ten thousand steps in a day on eight separate occasions, and more than twenty thousand steps three times. I'm chuffed to have scraped together more than a quarter of a million steps in four weeks, but disappointed not (quite) to have reached the magic daily average of 10000 steps. Total number of steps I walked in February 2014: 254579 (2013: 273300)
Count 10 (Mystery count): Sorry to disappoint you all, again, but the legendary diamond geezer Mystery Count continues to be nil. I can confirm that had The Count been for January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September or October, then there'd have been at least one occurrence over the last ten years. But February seemingly not so, as 2014 has thrown up yet another big fat mystery zero. Ah well, maybe next year... Total number of times that the mystery event happened in February 2014: 0
(2003: 0) (2004: 0) (2005: 0) (2006: 0) (2007: 0) (2008: 0) (2009: 0) (2010: 0) (2011: 0) (2012: 0) (2013: 0)
During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, butI'vecontinuedtocountthosecategoriesagain, everyFebruary since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Eleven years later, I think we can agree it's changed quite a bit, and yet not changed too. Below are my counts for February 2014 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering. Yes, I know February's not over yet, so all the figures below are based on best estimates for the final 48 hours. But don't worry, I'll come back and update the 2014 data as the next couple of days play out, before settling on the finalised figures at the end of the month.
Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's not quite enough to top my post-Olympic high from last year, but that's almost the highest number of visitors I've ever had in a February. Indeed I've been averaging fifty thousand and something visitors a month pretty consistently since the middle of 2012, which is just under two thousand visitors a day, which is nice. February 2014's total is particularly surprising given that I've spent a significant portion of the month writing about bus routes around the edge of London, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average man in the street. It does sometimes feel like this blog is evolving into a travelogue about increasingly obscure parts of London and southeast England, but maybe that's what needs to happen after a decade of daily posts, otherwise I'd just end up repeating myself. I do try to intersperse the transport and travel stuff with other stuff, but I don't really know which topics you like best, so I assume you keep coming back for the variety. I also assume that London's other 8.172 million inhabitants aren't interested. Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2014: 51727 2003-2014 review: Eleven years ago, when this blog was mere months old, I attracted one double-decker busful of readers a day. That leapt up a bit in the following years, with an atypical peaks in February 2006 and 2008 skewed by externallinkage. Numbers have bobbed around a bit since, but almost always upwards, and this February's total is the equivalent of three crowded tube trains of readers daily. That's still insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and peanuts compared to what some blogs get, but most gratifying all the same. Accurate visitor numbers remain incredibly difficult to ascertain, given the number of folk reading via RSS feeds or whatever. But it's quality of readership rather than quantity which most makes me smile, so thank you! (2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012:40018) (2013: 55369)
Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts almost none, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. Yesterday would be a good example of that, where I hit the nerve (or missed the point) with a post about contactless cards and received twice as many comments as on any other day this month. Altogether this February you've fired more than 400 comments my way, and we've still got two more days of the month to go. This represents approximately 20 comments per day, on average, which is a fantastic level of engagement. Most blogs have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking. Often you're taking me to task or telling me something's wrong, usually politely, but that's good because I'd rather my posts were correct than riddled with errors. Sometimes you only join in when I discuss something generic (like coffee) and not when I get too place-specific (because you've never been). Sometimes you veer off-topic, occasionally wildly so, but sometimes that discussion is more interesting than my post. Somehow a community has evolved here, where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life. Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2014: 477 2003-2014 review: What's most surprised me about a decade of diamond geezer comments is how similar the monthly totals are. They bob up and down a bit, and the first year was understandably low, but since then the average has been unexpectedly consistent - between 400 and 600 comments a month. I might have expected numbers to fall, because commenting's a very old-school blogging thing, peaking in the "Golden Age" of 2005-2008. People don't have time to comment any more, not now there's a wealth of online content to distract them. Or else they're busy commenting on Twitter or Facebook, where debate is entirely transitory and rapidly ebbs away. To still have readers commenting in 2014 is a bit of a triumph, and against all the odds. Alternatively I might have expected numbers to rise, because I have far more readers now and they ought to talk more than they do. Ten years ago I received one comment per 20 readers, whereas now it's more like one comment per 120, and that's a far less impressive engagement rate. But at least what comment remains is intelligent, relevant, insightful and (mostly) non-stalky. I'm delighted, obviously. (2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440) (2013: 546)
Count 3 (Blog content): I continue to write too much. 2014 has been my most prolific February yet, with blog output now averaging over 1100 words a day. I always mean to keep things succinct, but rarely manage. There's usually something extra I want to add, another fact to include, another sentence to squeeze in, and before I know where I am I've written another daily essay. Eleven hundred words a day is not to be sniffed at - it's the equivalent of writing a novel every two months, except I never end up with a book at the end of it. And I write fairly slowly too, the words don't usually pour out, not least because there are facts to check and links to add even after I'm done. I know you'd still read this blog if I wrote less, but something keeps driving me to write a bit more, and then a bit more again. I need to learn to ease off a little, and to edit my verbiage down a bit more. Tl;dr. Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2014: 32283 2003-2014 review: I kept my output pretty much in check until 2008, writing approximately 500-600 words each day. That was manageable, even allowed me a social life as necessary, and you probably didn't think any the worse of me. But then the slow climb began. A few more words each day, a lot more words each month, it all eventually added up. I have now doubled the number of words I write compared to a decade ago, approaching a 25% increase in the last two years alone. Compare for example a typical report on a bus journey from 2004 (600-800 words) with one of my outer London orbitals from 2014 (1000-1400 words). You might be loving the outcome, because you get more to read. But I'm spending more of my time writing, and less of my time "having a life", and that's not really how things should be. Don't worry, I haven't broken yet. (2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698) (2013: 29410)
Count 4 (Work/life balance): Daytum provides a fascinating way to visualise my February as a purplish pie chart (reproduced here), and 2014's graph is no exception. What's especially reassuring is to see how my life isn't dominated by work. I put in more than my contractual hours, but the total still comes to less than a quarter of my time. I suspect your graph might be similar, or close-ish, if you ever stopped and calculated the percentage. This year I'm having an atypical February because I'm sticking pretty much to my contractual hours, but equally I haven't taken a week off like last year which skewed the figures somewhat. As for sleep totals, I doze for an average of six hours a day. That's only borderline normal, I suspect, although I'm edging slowly down towards five and a half, which is probably not a good thing. Only 7% of my time is spent on the move, less than half of which is my daily commute and the rest is time spent gallivanting round the capital. And that leaves nearly half my life for everything else - eating, blogging, socialising, visiting, tellying, slobbing, that sort of thing. Thankfully I'm extremely good at dragging things out to fill the time available, because there's a lot of it, but that's the joy of being footloose and offspring-free. What I really should do one year is count how much of this 'play' time is spent blogging, because I fear it's rather a lot, even rather too much... Total number of hours spent doing stuff in February 2014: 672 (=24×28, obviously)
2014 - (work: 157) (rest: 165) (play: 298) (travel: 53)
2013 - (work: 138) (rest: 163) (play: 313) (travel: 58)
2012 - (work: 169) (rest: 167) (play: 287) (travel: 49)
2011 - (work: 158) (rest: 172) (play: 290) (travel: 53)