diamond geezer

 Friday, October 24, 2014

I was going to write today's post on the train home. A two and a half hour journey should have been enough time to cobble some words together, at least to give a flavour of my day out. But disaster intruded, the power sockets in my return carriage weren't working, so my phone would never have survived the trip. The poor gent opposite me wailed "But now I won't be able to read my book!", which must have been quite traumatic... 21st century problems. One day I'm sure we'll look back on this brief era, as we do now with dial-up internet, and wonder how society ever coped before smartphone batteries were capable of lasting 24 hours. Anyway, I spent a most interesting day in this particular northern town, walking over ten miles in the process, and I shall be telling you all about it shortly. In the meantime I only have the energy to bring you these three photos, which should make it damned obvious where I was, before retiring for a well-earned sleep.







Pedants' Corner: But Hull is a city, not a town!
If this interests you, I've filtered off all the comments here

 Thursday, October 23, 2014

Earlier this summer the Imperial War Museum (London) reopened after a major revamp. The heart of the museum was ripped out, rejigged and overtly tweaked, while the galleries up the far end remained pretty much intact. I've been meaning to investigate the upgrade for a while, but had been reticent of visiting at the weekend when the place is packed, so I waited for an October pre-half term weekday and snuck in down Lambeth way. Still busy, but with more space than ever before to disperse the crowds.

If you remember the IWM of yore, the biggest change is the disappearance of the ground floor. Previously you walked straight into a display of weaponry and dangly things, but that level's now been removed to increase the depth of the atrium. Instead a new set of steps lead down to what was floor minus one, now zero, where nine iconic artefacts dramatically fill the space. Top tip: don't pause at the top of the stairs to take a photo, there are much less congested lookouts beyond. Top tip two: if you don't fancy the stairs there are entrances to the first floor hidden at each end of the gift shop. But best go downstairs anyway.



That's not an interactive display area on the left, that's more of the gift shop. Meanwhile on the right, no, that's the cafe. Don't worry, there is plenty of war hidden away beyond, including a major new World War One exhibition across most of the ground floor. It's very good, but also very popular, indeed on the day of my visit a man was positioned outside to say "It's Quite Busy In There" to anyone who approached. The exhibition is set out chronologically, and in considerable detail, which works rather well if you have the time to linger. Artefacts appear in clusters, sometimes sparingly, but always well described and in proper context. As you'd expect they're augmented by powerful audio-visual interventions, and all this on a subject that packs quite a punch in its intensity. Meanwhile appropriate emphasis is given to the ordinary soldier and to the role of women back at home, and even what the German people were enduring at the same time.

The IWM's previous WW1 exhibition was all medals and glass cases, whereas this is considerably more narrative-based and emotionally affecting. The one duff note is the recreated trench, a dull straight featureless canyon, whereas the fibreglass maze in the museum's former incarnation was somehow far more memorable. Nevertheless I learnt a huge amount about all the key battles and the tactics behind them, indeed about the shape of the entire conflict, which isn't bad given the volley of media attention the Great War's had this centenary year. In common with most visitors I spent at least an hour wandering through this atmospheric display, although it has to be said those unwilling to pause and read dashed through considerably quicker.

And what of World War Two? Two existing projects have that covered, the most significant of which is 'The Holocaust', spread over the fourth and third floors. I'm never anything other than humbled by walking through, indeed I make it a rule to return every few years to be reminded of the horrors inflicted on so many. Much closer to home, and rather newer, is 'A Family in Wartime'. This tells the story of the Home Front via the Allpress family from Lambeth, again extremely done, but the exhibition's now a year or two old. What you won't have seen before is the Turning Points series scattered around the balconies on the first floor. This is anything but chronological, more a series of bundled artefacts on diverse topics, and I found it unexpectedly unengaging.

The postwar years are covered by a very similar clustered exhibition one floor up. This works better, there being no consistent narrative to deliver, and dips into the Cold War, the Falklands, even the founding of the NHS. A small cinema shows propaganda films of the time - pray that your screening is not invaded by a school party relishing the opportunity to misbehave out of their teachers' sight. Equally I enjoyed the reaction of one primary class to Margaret Thatcher's Spitting Image puppet - "Oh that's freaky! - and why would they know any different?

Returning to World War One, two temporary galleries of paintings shed a different light on the conflict by hanging the works of some of the official war artists of the day. In only a handful of cases do we see traditional portraits of officers in uniform, instead a more sombre note is struck with very ordinary scenes of soldiers on the battlefield. And don't forget the Heroes gallery at the very top of the building (or as we're repeatedly reminded the Heroes gallery sponsored by Lord Ashcroft) where the world's largest collection of Victoria Crosses is brought to life by the stories of those who earned them.

All in all there's much to see at the Imperial War Museum, even if you thought you'd seen everything before, and it would be easy to spend the best part of a day exploring the lot. Just try to avoid coming at the weekend if you can, else you may spent more time in conflict with the crowds than learning about conflicts past.

 Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Year of the Bus isn't over yet, oh no. From this week until December, three bus sculpture walking trails have been laid out across central London. That's a peculiar statement, so let me clarify. Someone's made 60 identical blank bus shapes, 2½m long and 1m high, out of plastic or fibreglass or something. The bus in question is the New Bus For London, or whatever TfL are calling it this year. An equivalent number of artists have designed something bus- or London-related to paint or otherwise cover the surface of each sculpture. At the end of the process they'll all be auctioned for charity, one of which is Camila Batmanghelidjh's Kids Company, and another of which is TfL's very own London Transport Museum. A fourth walking trail is lined up for central Croydon in the run-up to Christmas. And the other three are up and running now should you wish to traipse around the capital and take a look.

Here's one, called Moquette.


I found it on Monday morning outside Stratford International station, glinting in the sunlight and being generally inspected by passers-by. I rather liked it, and its playful reference to the seat covers of the Routemasters of old, plus it looked like artist Beth Quinton had painted it herself so there was a proper realness to it. I found another bus sculpture outside Mothercare at Westfield, but that was rubbish, as if the designers knocked off an idea without considering the visual impact it wouldn't have.

Anyway, I thought I'd traipse around the capital and take a look at some more of the buses. I plumped for the River trail, rather than the Westminster or QEOP trails, for no especially good reason, and printed out the official YOTB Sculpture Trail map off the TfL website. I completely failed to notice that there was an app I could have downloaded with background and a location for each bus, plus the chance to tick them all off as I visited. There again, given that the app thinks one of the trails is in "Westiminster" and the Christmas trail is in "Crydon", perhaps I didn't miss out too badly.



I missed out quite badly at the first stop on the River trail, which was London Bridge City Pier. Bus number 1 was missing, definitely absent, no matter whether I checked on the riverbank or down on the pier itself. Again the app would have told me that "Dazzle Bus hasn't arrived on location yet", but I wasn't aware and so kicked off my walk unnecessarily. Thankfully none of the other dozen buses on my particular trail were missing. I eventually found brightly-coloured bus 2 almost under London Bridge, having walked round the wrong way because the line on the official map is a little over-simplified. Thankfully buses 3 and 4 were more obvious, these just past Borough Market, then bus 5 some way further on at one end of the Millennium Bridge.

I was surprised how little interest some of the sculptures were getting, despite their location on the busy South Bank tourist trail. Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days, but few stopped to share despite the undoubted novelty value and artistic merit of a painted bus. One family paused by bus 4 so that daughter could pose for a snap, but Mum seemed unimpressed. "It's not something you'd expect them to waste money on," she said, unaware that each of the buses has an official sponsor and so cost the travelling public nothing. Had she bothered to read the plaque on the plinth underneath, all this was spelt out, but in this case the good news about the charity auction went entirely unnoticed.

Buses 6 and 7 aren't on the official trail because they're too far away. If you're feeling completist you'll need to follow the orange lampposts from Tate Modern to Southwark station, which is also where TfL has its main London offices. The two outlier buses are located just outside the main entrance, in the immediate zone where employees come outside for a smoke. One has a Legible London design and is quite frankly a bit dull, while the other is pretty much a faithful copy of what a real New Bus For London looks like, so hardly an original work of art at all.



The official trail continues across the Millennium Bridge on the north bank of the Thames. The City of London Visitor Centre has a punk-themed bus parked outside, painted safety pins and all, while bus 9 (in another office doorway) has a children's storytime vibe. But rather more appealing was number 10 on Cheapside, adorned very simply with the original Routemaster red button - Push Once - repeated across both sides. A good idea followed through with panache is what the best of these buses boasts - either high concept or painted with highly skilled technique, preferably both.

If you've brought a small child with you, I doubt you'll have got this far. The second half of the River trail is quite contorted, and from this point on offers little excitement in return for number of additional steps walked. Having said that, bus 11 on Threadneedle Street hit all the right buttons for me. It's entitled 'All Aboard the Number 8' and depicts numerous street signs to be found along a number 8 bus journey. Maybe it's because one of the artists lives in E3 but most of these are from the Bow end of the route and, even better, are properly accurate representations of the actual signs. Anna and Jennifer, respect.

If you can be bothered, buses 12 and 13 are some walk away back down by the Thames. Bus 12 offers the opportunity to photograph a bus with Tower Bridge on it with the real Tower Bridge in the background, which one family were actually doing, which was nice. Bus 13 is quartered into night and day, which works, but includes some route diversions and changes of vehicle that proper bus geeks may be slightly peeved by. And the trail ends with a line on a map drawn to Tower Hill station, which is interesting because they might have assumed you'd catch the bus home instead, but seemingly not. [4 photos]

So anyway, I'd not recommend you spend an hour or two tracking down the Bus Sculptures on the River trail, it's too long for not enough payback. The Westminster trail looks more time-efficient, and is almost linear, so long as you ignore the hyperleap to an office block on the Edgware Road at the very end. Or if you have a small child in tow, do the Olympic Park trail instead because it's more compact, plus the autumn leaves will be more impressive. Or wait for Crydon.

 Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seaside postcard: Folkestone Triennial

While other south coast towns have resorted to building art galleries to bring the punters in, in Folkestone the town itself is the art. Every three years they throw a Triennial, commissioning a couple of dozen artists to showcase some fresh creation somewhere unexpected. Six years ago Tracey Emin cast a baby's bootees in bronze, and three years back Martin Creed composed a soundscape for the cliff lift. 2014's Triennial kicked off at the end of August and has only a fortnight left to run, so I thought I'd better get down sharpish before the season ends. Mondays aren't especially busy days, but the Hosts were out in force at each of the exhibits (daily, 10am-5pm), so I got plenty of them almost to myself. Grab a free map from the station and you should be able to track down the whole lot by following a long and sinuous walk around town. It's always a grand day out.


» Official website/Twitter
» 40 of my photos to flick through



The Wind Lift: Now here's an idea. Stake out some space in a residential car park at the foot of a railway viaduct. Rig a vertical track 25 metres up the side of the brickwork, and dangle an oversized windchime in the centre of the adjacent arch. And then, using wind power alone, raise a rickety platform high above the rooftops with up to six guinea-pigs aboard. The queues might be longer at the weekend, but I got straight aboard, and only slightly tentatively. The hoist paused halfway up to check that nobody had unexpected vertigo, then rose to the full height and shuddered slightly. It shuddered more when my fellow passengers decided they'd walk around a bit, but that was thankfully only brief. Conditions up top were excellent, with the coast of France clearly visible beyond the rooftops across the centre of town. The button-pressing volunteer told that us the hoist isn't quite so appealing in pouring rain, as you can imagine, so was pleased that October's been on the mild side. A most unusual experience. [photos]

Pent Houses: And why is there a viaduct across the centre of Folkestone? It's because a river once flowed through the town, the Pent River, now culverted beneath the ground... and temporarily marked by five Manhattan style water towers. [photo]

Green/Light: On some wasteground opposite a Tesco Express, Jyll Bradley has erected a forest of aluminium poles and some strips of yellow perspex. There's method to her madness, she's recreating the gasholder that used to stand here until the year she was born, and doubling this up with an allusion to Kent's hop fields, or something. Whatever, when the sun glints across the threaded circle, it's most attractive. [photos]



Amusefood: In further enticing weirdness, a unique fish and chip shop has been set up on a rooftop in the centre of town. The front looks real enough, but enter and you'll find yourself in a polytunnel growing hydroponic vegetables. Up front are two dark tubs containing hard-to-see carp, and behind that some thriving potatoes, mint and less-successful peas. That's fish, chips and mushy peas, Triennial style. Across the street is Folkestone's theatre, in whose bar Yoko Ono has written some typically Ono-esque instructions on a mirror. There's quite a lot of Yoko dotted around the town, in a dashed-off fairly effortlessly kind of way. Meanwhile just outside is a brand new greenspace, Payers Park, a sliver of steeply sloping land made permanently recreational as part of this year's festival. It's an impressive use of space, and Banksy must like it too because he's sprayed a special Triennial artwork - a woman looking at an empty plinth - on a big blank wall up top. [photos]

The Electrified Line: Folkestone Harbour station used to be the gateway to the continent, accessed via a steeply descending branch line to a viaduct across the harbour. Here Gabriel Lester has created a cube of bamboo scaffolding, a chance to step up over the tracks and look out over the harbour beneath a canopy of threaded poles. The Outer Harbour is the site of the Triennal's most expensive work, thirty gold bars buried in the sand, and accessible to potential treasure hunters only at low tide. Its not known how many have been found or how many are left, but the initial rush of golddiggers has certainly died down - there were none out yesterday. [photos]

Is Why The Place: Folkestone Harbour station saw its last scheduled train in 2001, its last train in 2009, and was officially closed for good in May this year. That makes it an excellent place for an artwork, in this case two, one the leftover Rug People from three years ago. 2014's piece is a pair of neon sculptures, one on the up platform and one on the down, spelling out COMING AND GOING IS WHY THE PLACE IS THERE AT ALL. It's apposite, but it's also marvellous to get the chance to walk along the slowly decaying platforms, once thronging with luggage, now the seagulls' haunt. And walk right up to the end and you can climb the stairs to the harbour arm, where Folkestone's anglers dangle their rods, and with another artwork painted on the lighthouse at the end. [photos]



Vigil: If you've ever visited Folkestone you'll know The Grand Burstin, the pig-ugly hotel on the harbourfront that 'resembles' an ocean liner. For the duration of the Triennial a series of volunteers are living on a portaledge hanging from the very top of the funnel - it looked like Monday was washing day. [photos]

Beach Hut in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor: The first 18 artworks on the Triennial train are relatively evenly spaced, but then there's an almighty gap along the seafront to number 19. I thought Pablo Bronstein's Baroque beach hut was worth the mile-long trek, but you might want to bow out earlier. If you do you'll miss the maze hidden in the grotto on the Zig Zag Path, although it's not so impressive now the volunteers don't hang the doors on every morning because it's too much hard work. [photos]

Whithervanes: By the time you've walked the entire dotted line on the triennial map, and if you've been paying attention at rooftop level, you should have seen five headless chickens. These are the whithervanes, five fear-tracking sculptures which monitor internet newsfeeds for alarmist keywords and then react appropriately. They're supposed to spin away from the source of the bad news, and also to light up in a particular colour relevant to the level of threat. They're endearing but I saw none spin, nor any light up, so I can only assume Monday was a good news day... or more likely that they're not working properly. [photos]

And that's only about half of the works. There's a cracked clay window in a High Street shop, there's a bomb site broadcasting bread recipes, there's a choral work composed from the answers to questionnaires, and there's a pentagonal sculpture inside which I sat and gobbled down a tray of fish and chips. The other trailgoers yesterday were mostly locals and groups of grey haired ladies from London, but I'm told the weekend's a lot busier. I didn't get the hang of the official smartphone app, which is a shame because it should have provided me with a lot more background information on the way round, but didn't. And you only have until Sunday November 2nd to come down and visit, else you'll have to wait until 2017 for the next burst of coastal creativity.

My Folkestone Triennial gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Monday, October 20, 2014

Scotch whisky is clearly a thing, English whisky less so. Indeed for almost all of the 20th century there was no such thing as English whisky at all, not since the Lea Valley Distillery Company closed down in 1901. Stratford's whisky factory was located on Warton Road, inbetween Palmer & Co Ltd (oil & candle manufacturers) and A Boake Roberts & Co (manufacturing chemists), backing onto the river Lea. All the old buildings along this stretch were cleared a few years ago, and for a very good reason, which is because the site's now in a prominent position in the Olympic Park. The Lea Valley Distillery Company stood almost precisely where the Aquatic Centre is today, in fact on top of the car park slightly to the south. No plaque marks the site, indeed the Park's industrial legacy is mostly overlooked. But English whisky's last hurrah was here, at least until Norfolk took over.

St George's Distillery was opened in 2006. It lies in the southern part of Norfolk, the bit most tourists drive straight through, just off the A11 past Thetford. There is a station very close by, that's Harling Road, but this is one of the least used stations in the UK and has a pathetically infrequent service. So you'll probably have to go by car, ideally someone else's car, because the whole point of going on a tour here is the taster samples afterwards, and you don't want to be the designated driver.

The distillery's the big barnlike building by the tropical fish centre with a couple of red and white flags flapping outside. The St George's branding is a little blatant, perhaps, but still the right side of patriotic rather than über-UKIP. Two different tours are offered, one for £10, the other identical but £20 more and with five drams of "world whisky" tacked on at the end. Both are supposed to start off with a video, but we got a bloke talking instead which was probably more interesting if a little harder to hear. Delivery as dry as a fine malt, I thought, without the burning aftertaste.

This isn't the biggest distillery you'll ever see, more an oversized chemistry set in one large room, but at least this means you get right up close to the action. We were led round from each large copper still to the next, the various stages of the process duly explained, of which there are several. Each still has its own specific temperature and duration, precisely controlled by digital instrumentation, and most were warm to the please-don't touch. In a couple we saw the pre-whisky bubbling its way through, here resembling an aerated gloop, whereas what emerged at the end of the process was condensed reflux that was almost clear.

Out the back, in a large dark shed named Bond 1, we saw the stacked up barrels inside which the distillery's cargo matures. This takes several years of 'breathing in and out' through the wood, but fewer years than in Scotland because temperatures in Norfolk are generally higher. Then it was back in to see the bottling plant, a surprisingly minor feature, where half-dozens of Marks and Spencer's English Whisky were being boxed up. And then to the taster sampling finale, both peated and unpeated, cunningly located in the shop so that if you enjoy your swig you might walk off with more. Personally I'm not a fan, the single malts either too bitter or too smoky, hence most of the contents of the well-stocked gift shop left me cold. But almost everyone else off the tour wandered out with a bag dangling, indeed a bit of a hit all round.

You no longer have to go as far as Norfolk to see English whisky being made - a small number of English micro-distilleries have set up since. One of these is the London Distillery Company, opened last year in Battersea, but whisky officially takes at least three years to mature so they'll not be selling anything local until 2016. Instead Norfolk's your nearest supplier, should you be a connoisseur in search of an unusual day out, by George.

 Sunday, October 19, 2014

When in Norfolk, you'll likely want to visit Brother's House. This homely attraction lies on the outskirts of Large Town, just down the road from the paper shop, near that field they might be building on soon. A regular bus service links the neighbourhood to the town centre hourly, except on Sundays when it's probably too far to walk. The railway also passes close by, except nobody's ever thought to add a station in the immediate vicinity, so best hope that someone with a car offers you a lift instead.

You'll recognise Brother's House by the defensive line of shrubbery in the front garden, and the seeming impossibleness of getting to the front door without walking over the grass. Step carefully towards the late 20th century half-timbered facade, raise a finger to the bell and await a warm welcome at the front door. Be sure to remove your shoes before venturing too much further!

The entrance hall is a grand split level space, with key pieces from the family's glassware collection on display in cases along one side. Look up, and the faces of the current ruling dynasty stare down from the walls in a series of colourful historical portraits. Some of these are by the notorious School Photographer Collective, while others depict a golden day of hired morning suits and flowing dresses.

You'll likely be spending much of your visit in the Magenta Salon. This long room features period furnishings from the trading estate just off the ring road, and a pair of candlesticks that must never be lit. When visitor numbers are high be prepared to squeeze into the last seat by the fishtank and sink deep into the cushions. Expect all eyes to be on the big screen in the corner, perhaps for a lengthy sporting extravaganza or else for an archived documentary from the upper echelons of the Sky Programme Guide.

Refreshments are provided in the adjacent cafe, which is open 24 hours. The young chef's roast dinner is a speciality, especially on Sundays, and advance booking for the Christmas luncheon is recommended. But there are meals to suit all budgets, including stacked-high sandwiches, beans on toast and a bespoke jacket potato option with your choice of toppings from the fridge. Expect to wait a little longer for tea, or for a granulated café au lait, while the heritage gas kettle fires up to whistling point.

On certain days each year the first floor is opened up and guests are invited to take a tour. Most of the bedrooms date back to the house's original construction, although the enlarged Skyblue Chamber is the product of a post-millennial knock-through. In the master bedroom the drapes may be closed, temporarily, to shield the more precious contents from excessive daylight. And listen out along the hallway for the ghosts of departed students, at least until Reading Week or the midwinter festivities when they return and the corridor sings again.

In better weather events often spill out into the grounds of the mansion, and in particular to the lawn between the Bird Bath and the Summer House. Your guide will be able to point out the ring where the trampoline once stood, and the corner formerly blessed by a rabbit-based menagerie. At this time of year, however, a carpet of slippery leaves covers the majority of the kitchen garden, right down to the ancient perimeter fence where the neighbouring property begins.

Admission to Brother's House is free, but must be booked in advance, especially if overnight accommodation is required. But warm hospitality is always assured, and a friendly reception from the team of volunteers guaranteed, almost as if you were part of the family.

 Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not only am I the sort of bloke who still buys the Radio Times, I keep back copies too. Not all of them, because that would be obsessive, but I like to retain a handful for nostalgic reasons. The edition with the triffids on the front, EastEnders' first appearance, every double Christmas magazine, Paul McGann's Doctor Who Movie, London 2012, that sort of thing. I stash no more than half a dozen a year, rather than all fifty-one, but that still adds up to a tidy total when you've been accumulating since the 1970s.

And now the BBC has put the whole lot online. Not just the copies I've collected, but every single Radio Times from 1923 to 2009. All the TV and Radio listings are there, for every BBC channel, from Organ Recitals on 2LO London to Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny on BBC2. The project's called Genome, and has involved scanning 4469 issues of the Radio Times to grab the printed listings for each day. This means there are occasional spelling mistakes and inaccuracies, especially when events dictated that the scheduled programme was never broadcast. But what an absolutely brilliant resource, for historical research or simply digging idly through.

For example you can discover that television returned after World War 2 on 7th June 1946 with a broadcast including Mickey Mouse, Mantovani and Master of Ceremonies Leslie Mitchell. I can check that there really was a children's TV quiz in 1974 called Brainchild, hosted by John Craven, which featured a 'computer' called BERYL, I haven't been imagining it all these years. And we can confirm that Ghostwatch really was broadcast only once, on Hallowe'en 1992, with Teletext subtitles on page 888.

I suspect a lot of people will want to dig back into the archive to dates that were personal to them. I can pinpoint the only BBC TV programme I've ever appeared on, recorded in West Watford in 1973. The following year I can track down the Radio London show on which the presenter read out joint birthday greetings to my Mum and me (ah, bugger, no, they haven't scanned that one). And of course, like all the rest of you, I can see what was on TV the day I was born.

My 1965 birthday's a bit of a jackpot. Children's programmes that day included Andy Pandy, The Woodentops and Animal Magic. Schools programmes featured the art of thatching and trade union history, while in the afternoon Peter O'Sullevan introduced Racing from Cheltenham. Well known black and white faces on screen that day included Ray Alan, Ted Moult, Jonathan Miller and Richard Baker, while over on BBC2 was a programme on child development aimed especially at new fathers. I suspect my Dad was otherwise engaged. Marty Feldman and Barry Took wrote the evening's comedy drama, The Walrus and the Carpenter, while the genre of proto-soap was represented by an episode of Compact. Peaktime viewers were treated to a documentary on canals and a lecture on the future of transport, which might have interested me had I developed the use of language and been allowed to stay up late. And the evening rounded off with the Variety Club Awards ("An edited recording of today's Luncheon at the Savoy Hotel, London"), in which Morecambe and Wise, Rita Tushingham, Eric Sykes, Sir Laurence Olivier and Jimmy Tarbuck got the nod.

Your eyes will surely have glazed over during that paragraph because it has no innate relevance to your life. Or more likely you'll already have surfed off to dig through the 4,423,653 programme records in the Genome archive yourself. Go on, can you beat this?

BBC1 9th March 1965
17.30 ANIMAL MAGIC (a fortnightly series introduced by JOHNNY MORRIS)
17.55 THE NEWS
18.05 TOWN AND AROUND (News and views from London and the South-East, introduced by Richard Baker)
18.30 FIRST IMPRESSIONS (The panel tries to identify well-known personalities in a game of question, answer, and deduction)
18.55 TONIGHT (Introduced by Cliff Michelmore with the Tonight team)
19.30 COMPACT (A serial by HAZEL ADAIR and PETER LING - Blow Hot, Blow Cold)
20.00 THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER (starring HUGH GRIFFITH and FELIX AYLMER)
20.25 THE DANNY KAYE SHOW (in which DANNY KAYE and his special guests PETER FALK, MICHELLE LEE, PETE FOUNTAIN entertain to the music of Paul Weston and his Orchestra with the Tony Charmoli Dancers and the Johnny Mann Singers)
21.15 THE NEWS
21.25 VOYAGE INTO ENGLAND (with Macdonald Hastings, CANALS AND INLAND WATERWAYS)
22.15 MONITOR (with Jonathan Miller - Matters of Time)
23.00 VARIETY CLUB OF GREAT BRITAIN (Awards for 1964)
23.25 NEWS SUMMARY and THE WEATHER
23.30 THE SCIENCE OF MAN (Series 4: Heredity and Evolution)
  0.00 CLOSEDOWN


But am I throwing away my paper copies of the Radio Times? Hell no, over my dead body.

 Friday, October 17, 2014

For 24 miles between Tower Bridge (T) and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (Q), no bridges cross the Thames.

TRiver ThamesQ

The QE2 Bridge lies just beyond the capital's borders, linking Thurrock to Dartford, so technically East London has no bridge crossings at all. But road vehicles aren't completely blocked by the river, of course. There are three other Thames crossings - the Rotherhithe Tunnel (R), the Blackwall Tunnel (B) and the Woolwich Ferry (W).

T R B W Q

None of these is ideal. The Rotherhithe Tunnel is old and narrow with awkward bends and a 20mph speed limit. The Blackwall Tunnel is even older, and just as bendy northbound, but with an additional southbound bore dug in the 1960s to double the flow. And the Woolwich Ferry is a ferry, for heaven's sake, taking ages to cross the river and with very limited capacity. Still, at least all three are free, for the time being.

T R B W Q
        £

The Blackwall Tunnel has been described as the most critical road link in the capital. It's particularly susceptible to closure, for example when the driver of a high-sided vehicle ignores the warning signs at the entrance and gets stuck within, creating tailbacks that ripple out for miles. And when that happens, northeast and southeast London might as well be two different cities.

T R   W Q

So TfL have a plan, which is to build a brand new tunnel beneath the Thames, almost precisely underneath the cablecar. The Silvertown Tunnel (S) will be straighter and wider than its Blackwall cousin, allowing clear passage for lorries and double decker buses. Not only will this greatly increase capacity it'll provide additional resilience, meaning drivers can pretty much guarantee being able to cross the river rather than joining a queue.

T R B S W Q

On the northbound side of the river a new landing point will be served. While the Blackwall Tunnel surfaces in Tower Hamlets, the Silvertown Tunnel will rise in Newham on the opposite banks of the Lea. This will split the increased volume of vehicles, with more through traffic following the original route to the A12 and more local traffic taking the new tunnel. But things aren't quite so well balanced on the southern side.

T R B/S W Q

The Silvertown Tunnel is essentially a third bore of the Blackwall Tunnel and will dive underground from exactly the same location. A new road junction will be created on the southern approach road, and all traffic attempting to cross to the north will have to pass through this point. North Greenwich's roads won't get relief, they'll merely suck in additional vehicles hoping to use the new crossing under the Thames. So TfL have a plan to stop that.

T R B S W Q
    £ £   £

They plan to charge vehicles to drive through the new Silvertown Tunnel. What's more they plan to start charging vehicles to drive through the existing Blackwall Tunnel too, because you can't toll one and not the other, it just wouldn't work. Put simply, TfL want to double the capacity to improve connectivity, but then slap on a Congestion Charge because connectivity's been improved too much. Tolls will likely be higher than on the Dartford Crossing during peak periods, closer in price for the rest of the day and with free passage at night. Existing users of the Blackwall Tunnel may not be best pleased.

T R B S W Q

Moving downstream, there are also plans in the pipeline to improve the Woolwich Ferry. The boats are old and nearing retirement, so an additional upgrade would be necessary to keep things running. And yes, if this happens TfL would bring in tolls on the Woolwich Ferry too. Suddenly the free-to-use Rotherhithe Tunnel is looking more appealing.

T R B S W Q
    £ £ £ £

But upgrading a ferry is a pathetic 19th century solution, given that what's really needed is another fixed crossing. So TfL have longer-term plans, if the money's forthcoming, to build a 21st century bridge further downstream. This would be the Gallions Crossing (G), running above the Thames from Beckton to Thamesmead, along an alignment long protected from development. It would need to be properly lofty to allow ships to continue to pass underneath, but once built TfL could shut the Woolwich Ferry for good.

T R B S G Q

The Gallions Crossing would be another major boost to connectivity, landing close to the end of the North Circular, although TfL claim it'll be used mostly by local traffic. Again they're keen to keep vehicle numbers down so tolls would be introduced from day one. The money collected would also go towards the cost of building the bridge in the first place, because governments don't tend to go round dishing out generous infrastructure handouts these days. And this would create four consecutive tolled crossings on the lower Thames, where previously there was only one.

T R B S G Q
    £ £ £ £

There are some groups who think that a Gallions Tunnel would be a much better idea. A subterranean crossing would eat up a lot less land than an enormous bridge, increasing the available area for new houses and bringing greater benefits overall. But tunnels are also much more expensive than bridges, hence TfL aren't keen, and since when were they responsible for housing policy anyway?

T R B S G Q

We're years off any of this lot being built. A Gallions Crossing won't be completed before 2025, if at all, and even the Silvertown Tunnel isn't pencilled in before 2021. The latter project is currently at the consultation stage, with TfL now seeking your opinions on the tunnel's design rather than whether it should be built in the first place. Many are not pleased, given the pollution and traffic noise the tunnel will bring, especially on shared approach roads south of the river. But the alternative is a disconnected and inefficient city, and a river it's remarkably difficult to cross.

T R B W Q

Tolled tunnels and greater capacity, or the status quo and queueing traffic - we'll likely end up with one or the other. Read the facts, take your pick, have your say.

 Thursday, October 16, 2014

WALK LONDON
The London Loop
[section 19]
Chingford to Chigwell (4½ miles)

Section 19 of the London Loop involves walking along the edges of only-just Essex, from Tebbitsville to Birds of a Feather, via all and none of the stereotypes you'd expect. There's forest, there's mud, there's the Roding Valley to cross, and there's some of the worst signage I've found anywhere on the Loop. So long as you can follow a map, it's got its moments. Best hurry, before TfL take it down. [map]


As you exit the platform at Chingford station there's a plaque on the wall exhorting you to follow section 19 of the London Loop. I'm not sure anyone ever pauses to study it carefully, it's rather too close to the ticket barrier for that, but if you take heed and cross the bus station on your way out you can be on the walking trail in a couple of minutes. Beware Cattle! I suspect the message is more for drivers than ramblers, but with several square miles of Epping Forest ahead it pays to be careful. This section of the Loop's only crossing a small part - section 18 does more - but this corner is possibly the busiest with daytrippers, dogwalkers, picknickers and general amblers. Almost immediately the signs disappear, but stick towards the main road round the back of the Brewer's Fayre and you'll not go far wrong.

And here you should break your walk, even though you've barely walked any distance at all, to enjoy two old visitor attractions and a very new one. Most obvious from the path is Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, a three storey viewing deck from which Tudor monarchs surveyed the royal hunt. It's a great whitewashed survivor, and free to enter for an insight into what King Henry VIII used to do when he came here, and maybe some juggling lessons too if you turn up at the right time. Nextdoor is a fresh, lively 'visitor interpretation centre', barely two years old, called The View. Alas the upstairs balcony is currently closed due to a broken glass panel, and looks like it's normally locked anyway, so the building doesn't really live up to its name. Nevertheless there's a rather good exhibition over two floors covering the history and natural wealth of the adjacent Forest, plus a tasteful gift shop in which small kids can run amok. Meanwhile newly restored on the other side of the Lodge is Butler's Retreat, one of Epping Forest's traditional refreshment blocks, converted from an old barn in the 1870s. Originally part of the Temperance movement, the new owners serve a bit of alcohol as well as bacon ciabattas and cake, and on Sunday afternoon the place was buzzing. Even if you don't fancy the whole walk, don't be afraid to consider Chingford Plain for an outdoor excursion of your own.



The Loop continues across the road, again unsigned, so you'd probably never think to take the path left through the edge of the car park. The small brook at the end of the wooded trail is The Ching, because what did you expect Chingford's river to be called. It also marks the dividing line from London into Essex, and what lies beyond is pure Home Counties. A broad grassy clearing rises steadily upwards, long and wide enough for an entire horse race, and not currently as muddy as it gets sometimes in midwinter. At the top of the ascent is the Warren Wood pub, and a main road, and a further climb to the edge of a cricket pitch. And this is Buckhurst Hill, a commuter suburb with a split personality.

Initially the Loop threads through the slightly posh bit, on the top of the ridge. A two bedroom flat in gated Roebuck Heights will set you back £600,000, the neighbouring cottages around North End a little more. And now, sorry, it's time to get lost again. Green signs point you down an umpromising cul-de-sac, then fail to point you left into what looks like a house's private drive. That narrow track curving off round the fence is a proper public right of way, indeed in days of yore was a cattle drive for leading livestock through the Forest. The City of London still owns North Farm, to one side, retained as a buffer zone to stop housing spreading across the valley. In spring the bluebells in adjacent Linders Field are worth a diversion, but in autumn best continue beneath the tinted canopy and follow the carpet of leaves downhill.

We may be outside London but here's the Central line, specifically the section between Buckhurst Hill and Loughton. A metal footbridge links open fields to the housing estate beyond, a favoured teenage hangout I'd judge by the chocolate milk and Haribo packets littering the walkway. And here we're entering a very different part of the suburb, more Buckhurst Valley, and with the unmistakeable air of London overspill. The streets are pleasant enough, but that wife waving her cabbie hubbie off to work could be Sharon or Tracey, and the welcoming committee outside the parade of shops is most likely wearing a hoodie and smoking a fag.



Ahead are Roding Valley Meadows, the largest remaining water meadows in Essex. That's landscape code for "liable to flood", hence nobody lives right by the river. Instead the western banks of the Roding follow a sequence of sports grounds, here cricket, further up football and rugby, and a favoured spot for exercising dogs and children when no matches are scheduled. The Loop skirts round a big lake, ideal for bread-chucking, then crosses the river before doubling back (unsigned) on the opposite banks. Here I met a thin woman in a pink cardigan with two feisty hounds called Dapper and Boudicca, both thankfully distracted by the opportunity to play in the shallows by the weir. But five minutes later the pair bounded out of the woodland ahead of me and launched themselves at the ankle of a lady out walking a Highland Terrier. An actual Essex catfight ensued, with the injured party pleading for the offending hounds to be put on a lead and the owner screeching that her dogs weren't dangerous, when they quite clearly were.

If you're not obsessed by walking the Loop you should break from the proper route here and continue through the Roding Valley Nature Reserve to Debden station. The lush riverside route looks far more interesting than what I got to walk next, venturing to Chigwell instead. The access road to a David Lloyd tennis centre round the back of an unbuilt motorway service station is nobody's idea of a scenic stroll. From the bridge across the M11 there are distant views of City towers, plus the attractive residential ridge over which you've just walked. And the walk ends with a good half mile of Chigwell pavement, past the front of many an Englishman's castle, any of which could easily be Dalentrace. The personalised numberplate density is high, and the number of unpaved front gardens correspondingly low. And outside Chigwell station there's a plaque on the wall exhorting you to follow section 20 of the London Loop. That's a much better walk, but 19 had its moments.

» London Loop section 19: official map and directions; map
» Who else has walked it? Stephen, Mark, Oatsy, Tim, Maureen, Richard
» See also sections 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24

 Wednesday, October 15, 2014

If you ever walk one of Walk London's walking routes, as I did at the weekend, they have news for you.
Changes are happening to the way you find information about the 7 walking routes we promote.
It's not good news.
From the 1st November the Walk London website will no longer hold the route information, so will be taken down. Route information will start to appear on TfL’s website, including great new Legible London maps and updated directions. We will be keeping a webpage to let you know about the walking weekends and direct you to the new information but all directions and downloads for the routes will no longer be found at www.walklondon.org.uk
That's right, TfL are taking down the Walk London website before its replacement is fully up and running. All the printable maps and directions for the Capital Ring, London Loop, Jubilee Greenway etc will disappear, and may take several months to reappear in a new format on the TfL website.
If you are walking any of the routes and were planning to download information in the coming months we suggest that you do that now as the not all of the new information will be on TfL’s site immediately. You will still be able to find maps of the routes on www.walk4ife.info of course. Any enquiries about the routes should be sent to walking@tfl.gov.uk
Bad planning, copyright issues or thoughtless management? Whatever, it's hard to view this move as anything other than contemptuously stupid.

Update: "The changes are due to limitations on what TfL can fund, like many government bodies they can no longer fund any external websites."

This sounds very much like the application of government cost-cutting protocols. But the remaining mystery is why TfL's replacement site won't initially be able to host Walk London's existing resources.

Last night, at a swanky adult education centre in Bishopsgate, one of London's finest websites celebrated its 10th birthday. Londonist has been firing out several posts a day since 2004, on a wildly diverse range of topics, so a slap-up alcohol-fuelled party was clearly called for. Not that yesterday was their actual 10th birthday, you understand. The first post in the Londonist archive - on drunkard-benches in Islington, since you ask - dates back to October 25th, not October 14th. But one should never let facts like this get in the way of a good room booking, hence invites were sent and the bubbly flowed.

Londonist, you may remember, evolved out of a less well known blog called The Big Smoker. The brainchild of Rob Hinchcliffe and Euan Mitchell, it lifted the Guardian's award for best designed British blog back in 2003. Euan then decided to get into bed with an American stable of websites ending in -ist, becoming their first overseas partner, hence the rebrand and the October 2004 relaunch. They even linked to my blog in their sidebar, back in the day when blogs did that sort of thing, in a rolling news and features kind of way. It's hard not to have a soft spot for a pioneering survivor. [Londonist history podcast]

The London skyline logo has been a constant throughout those ten years, apart from that fateful day in 2011 when the poor old BT Tower was ousted by a silhouetted Gherkin and Shard. The rest of the site's evolved rather more over the years. Time was when each story appeared sequentially down the page, like only the most stuck-in-the-mud old school bloggers do these days, and you could read the entire current output all in one go. Before long it was first paragraph only, then top level headlines and teaser text to encourage you to click through, and now we're in full-on mobile and tablet optimised territory.

The site's always covered a wide range of topics. It started out quite eclectic, more likely to comment than report, but carving out an informed niche of its very own. As Londonist has grown so its newsier side has been overtaken somewhat by an entertainment vibe, taking on Time Out at its own game (and, quite frankly, doing a better job). As a team-built website the diversity of its contributors is its strength, so that whether you're interested in cocktails, fringe theatre or videos of tube stations there'll be something for you soon enough. And OK, sometimes there's some full-on sponsored crap to pay the bills, but at least that's flagged up at the start of the article so you know you're being spun to and can move on.

You might well have got an invite to the 10th anniversary do at the Bishopsgate Institute - the Great Hall was packed. The mix include old-school contributors, occasional columnists and miscellaneous 'Friends of Londonist', of which there were several. They even invited me, never thinking I'd go, but when there's free food and booze on offer who'd say no? All descended on the inner East End, not so far from Londonist Towers, for an (early) evening outpouring of thanks.

And I was somewhat surprised, although I guess I shouldn't have been, that so many people I knew turned up. It was almost like the old days when Blogger Meetups were a thing, when people who normally only typed at one another came briefly face to face. Hello to Ian and Tom and Sarah and Andrew and that bloke from the local history website whose name I never remember, and to others too numerous to mention. If I missed you, apologies, I'm not a fan of hand-scrawled name badges, but rest assured that I was not the bloke who came dressed as a taxi.

Did I mention the free food and booze? Most of this came courtesy of clearly-named sponsors, but nobody was expecting the editorial team to have spent Monday night baking, so that was fine. A tiny chocolate cake on a stick was the most unusual freebie, topped off with an edible Londonist 10th birthday sticker, and carefully wrapped in plastic for health and safety reasons. Two grinning ladies from a pie company had turned up to hand out an equally tiny filled pastry, and another bloke had set up a pump of <insert name of supplier here> beer to wash it down. There was even champagne for raising a glass at the appropriate moment, or at least there was something sparkling for raising a cup, but no complaints.

Kris was doing live street art in the corner, this with chunky pens rather than aerosols, and elsewhere Geoff was doing interactive things with tube maps, because you can't go wrong at a London-based party with one of them. And then all the chat and action paused for the special coming together moment, which featured a loved-up video you'll be able to see on the Londonist website later today. There were speeches too, from some of the proud parents who've shepherded this ten year old child towards early adolescence, and I suspect not all the words were as 'unplanned' as their orators made out.

The evening's general flood of appreciation was an appropriate way to celebrate a site that's grown from one man's part-time output to a full-time team-built concern. If it happens in London it's more likely to get a mention on Londonist than on the BBC, and more likely to be of interest to ordinary people than the majority of stuff in the Evening Standard. Indeed just last weekend my Saturday revolved entirely around something I read on Londonist the night before and would never have known about had they not mentioned it. Ten years down, one expects more than ten to go.

 Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Over the last decade or so, the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern has been home to some pretty massive artworks. That blazing yellow sun, for example, or the big slides, or the stacked-up cardboard boxes. Last year the space took a year off, but as of yesterday the sequence continues with a giant wooden orange and red thing. [3 photos]



There have been bigger things. Occasionally artists use the entire length of the Turbine Hall to house their masterwork, whereas this latest one sits down the end - pretty massive, but stretching barely halfway.

It's called I Don't Know. The Weave of Textile Language for reasons half-guessed and half known only to the artist himself. He's Richard Tuttle, an American sculptor with half a century's work under his belt. Richard is the sort of guy who chops off three inches of rope and calls it art, so we're fortunate to have a more substantial undertaking suspended from the ceiling. Picture a twelve metre high wooden frame, longitudinally symmetrical, occasionally smothered in fabrics of three different hues. That's about it really.

Actually, look a bit closer and the structure's got form. The end nearest the mezzanine is distinctly aerodynamic, and those are two big wings, and the whole thing's representative of a plane or glider. And you'd never guess unless you'd been told but the creation deliberately resembles aeroplane parts in order to "raise the issue of genocide". Richard once qualified to be a pilot, then realised this would have mean dropping bombs on Vietnam, so chose a different career. I can't say I'd ever have spotted this underlying rationale unaided.



His sculpture creates "a huge volume of joyous colour and fluidity", apparently, whereas I thought it had an element of bus station about it. Segmented bays with a curved roof, creating shelter from the elements, and various bits of windswept fabric blown across the surface - that says suburban bus station to me. Obviously it's art so it's whatever you'd like to be, but you're probably on safer ground thinking aeroplane.

Yesterday being launch day all ground floor access to the sculpture was sealed off. This left viewing from the central mezzanine the only option, not ideal when attempting to view a linear artwork. But not to worry, the piece is striking enough hanging in the air... or so you'd think. Instead Richard's piece managed something I've rarely seen in the Turbine Hall before - it was mostly ignored.

Hordes of foreign schoolchildren sat nearby, but they were busy chatting rather than staring. I watched one fresh group approach convinced they were about to pause, but instead they trotted off down the stairs with barely a glance. Adults too generally gave the piece a miss. One rested on the adjacent balcony facing the wrong way, tapping into her phone, while others didn't even wander across that far. And OK, so I looked, and at least one other bloke did too, but the general level of artistic nonchalance surprised me.



One particularly unusual feature of this Turbine Hall presentation is that it's a companion piece to an exhibition taking place elsewhere. Richard Tuttle has a retrospective opening at the Whitechapel Gallery today, across two floors, including that three inch piece of rope and several much larger pieces. I think it's a clever idea, the one major gallery promoting the other, although how many of the Tate's millions of visitors will make it to the East End I have my doubts.

Anyway, the Whitechapel exhibition continues until 14th December, while the Turbine Hall's enormous wooden plane thing will be hanging up until Easter. Surely you'll be able to pop in at some point before then, if only to judge for yourself the level of spectacle or underwhelm. Not as good as the crack in the floor, rather better than the bunk beds with books on - you'll not be able to decide for yourself without a taking a view.


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