diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 25, 2016

So my internet connection failed twelve hours ago.
Which is awkward.

 Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Yesterday was the first anniversary of The Line, "London's first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk".

The route runs "between the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and The O2", although by the former they mean Stratford High Street because nobody's got round to reopening the footpaths out of the Park yet. It "follows the waterways and the line of the Meridian", although for a lot of the time it doesn't follow any waterway at all, and it only crosses the Meridian twice and at one point is over a mile away. They call it a "Line", but in reality it's two clusters of sculpture at either end of the cablecar, plus a disjoint section reached by DLR. Such are the perils of an attempted recreational route down the Lower Lea Valley, where there isn't yet a footpath all the way, although they're working on it. [map]

To encourage you to visit, the organisers have written this.
You discover who you are when you journey. So travel the Meridian with us and along the path of those before you. We've inscribed the land with totems. Works of art that act as a marker to where we are. See the layers of East London. The very old song of its waters. The towering of its ambition. The democracy of a single sky. People have been journeying for millennia. Feet in ancient times finding paths through a changing landscape to tell or untell a story. Works of art singing us along. Pack your thoughtfulness. Walk The Line.
Please don't let that put you off. All they really mean is that they've installed a dozen artworks along a five mile walk, adding a little extra to make the environment even more interesting than it already is. Allow me to show you.

The middle of Stratford High Street isn't a great place to begin a walk, but it's better than ending here, so I always do The Line from north to south. This means following the blue signs, not the red ones - a waymarking system that's been improved of late, so you're less likely to get lost along the way. The route kicks off alongside the River Lea, or the Three Mills Wall River as it's called round here. To your left is a tongue of prewar housing, while across the water an entire industrial estate is being knocked down - listed buildings excepted - to create the Sugar House Lane development. This monster project has been on the drawing board for years, but only now is the ground being levelled and the last warehouses removed, as dense housing once again trumps sparse job opportunities.



Network - Thomas J Price (2013, Silicone bronze, 274×100×92cm): A larger than life youth in a puffa jacket is checking his phone. If you stop to take a photo, who then is the art and who the model? [photo]

A deep breath now, because it'll be another half an hour before you reach the next artwork on The Line. There was a video installation at Three Mills when the route opened last year, and a good one too, but it appears this was a one-off so instead there's nothing to view. Instead admire the historic mill as you go by, or perhaps go in for a cuppa and a tour if it's open, to enjoy one of East London's most unsung historic attractions. And get the right mill too - the pointy-topped Clock Mill opposite is now a free school, and they won't take kindly to you interrupting. The route continues along an increasingly thin grassy strip between the tidal and non-tidal Lea, past moored-up narrowboats and their characterful crews. All this you'll know if you've heard me mumbling on before, but the next bit is something excitingly new.

There's currently a serious problem with the Lea Valley Walk in that it can't reach the end of the River Lea so diverts off, here, down the Limehouse Cut. Neither is there a connection between the two banks at Bow Locks, forcing The Line to overshoot past the canal, double back up the busy Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, cross via the Twelvetrees bridge and then double back to the waterside. It kind of wrecks the ambience. So the great news is that, after years of undelivered action, the long-promised link from below to above IS NOW BEING BUILT! The Twelvetrees Ramp Project will connect the central towpath to the bridge above via a fairly precipitous slope, if the artist's impression on the hoarding is anything to go by. I don't think it's steps, although the illustration is ambiguous in that respect, and it's definitely not a lift - which was the over-expensive first solution to creating step-free access here.

Come the autumn you should be able to nip up the ramp and down a set of steps on the other side, bypassing ten whole minutes of unnecessary detour. For now you need to spot the temporary pedestrian walkway alongside the worksite by the recycling depot, and amble down to the far side of the river. I love this stretch of the walk, as I've mentioned too many times, for its pristine isolation. Newham council forced the local private industrial estate to create a walkway along the river, with lamps and lifebuoys and regularly mown verges, even though at the time it didn't lead anywhere. And now it almost does, and soon it very much will, and eventually the crowds will come. For now it's ridiculously peaceful, just you and the ducks and some fagbreak workmen from the Amazon warehouse, and all the better for it.



DNA DL90 - Abigail Fallis (2003, Trolleys and steel, 939×300×300cm): A double helix of supermarket trolleys rises into the sky, in sharp contrast to the way they're usually to be found half buried in mud along the river's edge. This stack is built for Instagram, if that's where your digital kudos lies. [photo]

The backwater path continues between the back of a new Sainsbury's grocery depot and the (much more interesting) industrial bank of the Lea. Here scrap merchants stack bits of used car, and empty skips line up beside undriven vans, while a yellow digger squats on top of a pile of something it has dumped. In the background are the gleaming spires of Docklands, and the brutalist wedge of the Balfron Tower, creating a surreal backdrop to the scene. At low tide birds potter and peck in the mud, or swoop above the gasholder, and almost nobody notices. But in the last year or so a single ten storey block of flats has arisen on the bend in Bow Creek, and this surely is the ultimate destiny of this entire forsaken stretch.



Sensation - Damien Hirst (2003, Painted bronze, 198×318×165cm): Yes, there's actually a Damien Hirst out here, watched over by a CCTV sentinel. It could be a slab of fruit-packed blancmange, except it has hairs, and is in fact an anatomical model of a thin section of human skin. As art, it strangely works. [photo]

We've reached Cody Dock, five years ago a derelict inlet (and dead end), now a thriving communal hub (and gateway). It's a triumph for social entrepreneur Simon Myers, who's coerced funding and people power to create a somewhere out of nowhere. In 2016 you'll find houseboats and a sensory garden, studios and workshop space, a boat masquerading as a community centre, rows of volunteer-tilled planters, and probably Simon himself wandering around. There's also a cafe, now open daily, from early, and surprisingly busy when I wandered by. What there isn't is a decent exit.

The plan is for the footpath to continue to the south, towards Canning Town, but there are working wharves in the way, and no sign yet of public access. The plan is also for a footbridge to span Bow Creek at this point, linking to a newly created Poplar River Park, but you can imagine the expense so that's for the long term. The plan is called the Leaway, the new name for what was once the Fatwalk, an aspiration to complete the Lea Valley Regional Park all the way to the Thames. Phase 1 includes the ramp at Twelvetrees, and much improved signage and facilities, and some interim routeing through via the Silvertown viaduct. Phase 2 is a direct connection, and also includes turning the site of the first Big Brother house into a park, once Thames Water have finished their mega-sewer. It may just happen, one day. [actual thought-out detailed project plans] [huge pdf]

Until then, The Line departs via the vehicle exit into the local trading estate, imperilled by reversing lorries and waste-dump smells. Car depots, electricity substations and meat wholesalers probably aren't what those tempted here by project's marketing collateral were expecting, but this is very much what they get. They also get the Greenwich Meridian, which is crossed without fanfare a few yards out of the gate, past the entrance to Orion Support Services. Unwilling to subject its patrons to more than five minutes of this kind of thing, The Line coerces its travellers onto the DLR at Star Lane station, and invites them to ride all the way to Custom House. And that's a disjoint leap, so we'll recommence there in the next part of this travelogue.

My gallery of 'The Line'
There are 30 photos so far [slideshow]

 Monday, May 23, 2016

Beyond London (12): Hertsmere (part 2)

Somewhere historic: de Havilland Aircraft Museum
Britain's oldest aircraft museum is to be found in fields close to Junction 24 of the M25, just south of London Colney. The location is important. If you're not driving it's best to take the bus, specifically the 84 from Potters Bar or St Albans, and get the driver to drop you off at a godforsaken stop beneath the motorway embankment. From here it's a short walk down the drive of Salisbury Hall, a moated medieval manor last substantially upgraded in 1690, to which Charles II was a regular visitor (and Nell Gwynne lived in a cottage by the bridge). In the 1930s its owner was Sir Nigel Gresley, the esteemed steam loco engineer and designer of Mallard (which it's said got its name from the ducks in the moat). And in 1939 the Hall was requisitioned for a top secret wartime project, the creation of an ergonomic high speed bomber, hidden away inside a hangar disguised as a barn.

That aeroplane was the de Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful Allied planes, fast and high-flying and thus hard for the enemy to shoot down. Although unarmed it could deliver a substantial payload, and its aerodynamic shape made it ideal for long-range reconnaissance. Crucially it was made mostly of wood, which was both light and very easy to come by, unlike the aluminium required for more traditional bombers. Development took a couple of years, building on Geoffrey de Havilland's considerable experience in the aeronautics industry just up the road in Hatfield, and mass production began in 1941. All sorts of industrial premises could be used to make and assemble the necessary parts, and the ubiquity of production eventually led to over 8000 Mosquitos being built.



The first prototype Mosquito has pride of place at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, a cluster of hangars and sheds round the back of Salisbury Hall. There are only two hangars at present, but the foundations of a third are laid, which'll help get some of the larger aircraft out of the elements and under cover, thereby preserving their life. Some are shorn of tail and wings, else they'd be too unwieldy to keep, but all are from the de Havilland lineage, which has a mighty impressive pedigree. That means a Tiger Moth, a couple of proper Mosquitos and a Horsa glider used to land troops behind enemy lines. Moving into the jet age there are two Vampires and a Sea Vixen, and then my personal favourites, the passenger airliners.

The Comet was supposed to herald a golden age of jet travel, until two of the first planes fell out of the sky with metal fatigue prompting a major rethink. The museum has the full fuselage of a French Comet 1A, plus the cockpit of a Comet 4 you can climb up into and marvel at the array of knobs and dials and switches. I enjoyed clambering into a Heron, once used to fly to the Highlands and Islands and with almost no aisle whatsoever between its allegedly comfy seats. But most evocative of all was entering the first class section of a Trident, with 'Club' antimacassars draped over orange upholstery, and the original laminated safety cards poked in down the back, A nice touch is the selection of BEA flight goodies, from crockery and toiletries to a boxed Benson and Hedges cigarette, plus a (hell yes, I had one of those) Junior Jet Club log-book. If all this evoked a golden age of travel, one look at the screen-less flight deck soon tugged me back to reality.



As well as entertaining dozens of members of the public, young and old, the museum is clearly a place of pilgrimage for its many volunteers. They wander round in overalls giving the planes care and attention, and fix bits in a corner of the main hangar, as well as working on the restoration of a Dragon Rapide in a sealed workshop. If you have a penchant for aviation you could join them, or simply come for a look round (and inside) the collection. The museum's open five days a week, plus bank holidays, the shop is particularly well stocked, and entrance is a tenner.
by bus: 84, 84A


Somewhere pretty: Bushey Rose Garden
All rose gardens are bushy, but Bushey Rose Garden is one of a kind. It owes its existence to a Bavarian named Hubert Von Herkomer, whose lowly family migrated to England in 1857 when he was just eight years old. Initially they struggled, but Hubert developed a prodigious artistic talent which elevated him first to the Royal Academy and later to a knighthood. He moved to Bushey in 1873, later setting up an art school on the high street which grew to worldwide fame. He was also a big name in early motorsport and cinematography. No, I'd never heard of him either.

In 1894 Hubert and his wife moved into a turreted Romanesque mansion in Melbourne Road, named Lululaund after his second wife, and with an interior as florid as its title. Then in 1912 his art school moved elsewhere, so he demolished it and invited one of the finest landscape gardeners of his day to create a Rose Garden. Thomas Mawson designed a splendid sunken garden with pergola, gabled summerhouse and four-way fountain, for which he was paid the princely sum of "one portrait". Regrettably Sir Hubert died before the garden's first summer, but his widow lived to see many more and loved the displays of roses that bloomed forth each year.

To wrap up the history bit, the house (now derelict) was offered to the council in 1938 but they couldn't afford the maintenance costs so it was almost entirely demolished. Instead they took over the rose garden, and the Royal British Legion built a clubhouse on the site of Lululaund, preserving only the porch. Under civic ownership the garden became neglected, and was repeatedly vandalised, before an injection of lottery cash helped bring about about a full restoration in 2010. More recently the clubhouse has been knocked down and replaced by eight luxury flats, with the developers making full marketing capital out of Herkomer's red sandstone porch tacked onto the front.



The restored rose garden is gorgeous, and not yet at its seasonal peak. A path winds in from a gate on the high street leading to a terrace around the sunken garden. Step down to inspect the tall dribbling fountain, or cross to enjoy the pergola draped with climbing rose and clematis. At the end is a seven foot classical bronze plaque from Lululaund, or rather a convincing copy because the original was nicked in 1967. If you're lucky the summer house should be open, inside which is a comprehensive history of the great man and his garden project, along with a visitors book and leaflets inviting you join the Friends. They run several events, including yoga on the back lawn when the weather's decent. Even Gardeners' Question Time were here last month, and highly appreciative.

And despite the beauty, and copious benches throughout, I had the entire Rose Garden to myself. Presumably the people of Bushey have better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than enjoy their finest civic space, like dashing round Spar for provisions, or playing a round at the Country Club. To be fair the rest of Bushey's quite nice, or rather "stylish and affluent with an exclusive ‘village’ atmosphere" as the marketing collateral has it. Three separate clusters of cottages along the ridgetop high street give the place some pre-Georgian heritage, and even the suburban sprawl down the hillside comes with sweeping views.



For more on the area's history, be sure to drop into Bushey Museum (round the corner, beside the fire station). This hits well above its weight, both in terms of size and thanks to its formidable army of volunteers. Downstairs are the local heritage galleries, including that portrait of Herkomer, a tube map with Bushey Heath marked on it, and a VHS of Wham's greatest hits performed by Bushey Meads School's most famous pupils. Upstairs is the art, in more galleries than you'd expect, but then the museum does have a renowned and extensive collection. As well as the Herkomer-specific room, and another for his art schoolmistress, I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibition of locally sourced book illustrations (and less so the overdose of cutesy animal pictures nextdoor). Expect to have a fistful of leaflets thrust into your hand before you leave, but seriously, Bushey puts several London borough museums to shame.
by train: Bushey   by bus: 142, 258

So far: Dartford, Sevenoaks, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead, Epsom & Ewell, Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks, Three Rivers, Hertsmere

 Sunday, May 22, 2016

Beyond London (12): Hertsmere (part 1)

The Greater London boundary skips Watford to reach Hertsmere, a 1970s construct to the northwest of the capital. Its forty square miles are mostly Green Belt, and mostly inside the M25, from Bushey in the west to Potters Bar in the east. It's pleasant enough, although you wouldn't come for the scenery, Hertsmere's more the kind of place you travel through. And you wouldn't come for a day trip either, so I did exactly that, to search out four of the more interesting corners. [14 photos]

Somewhere famous: Elstree Studios
So many famous films have been made at Elstree, from Blackmail to Star Wars, and a heck of a lot of top drawer television too. But not actually in Elstree, the action's all been in neighbouring Borehamwood, it's just that Borehamwood wasn't particularly large or important 100 years ago. The Neptune Film Studios opened here in 1914, on cheap land well connected to central London, but far enough out to be unpolluted. Its purpose-built facilities were bought out a number of times over the years, and impressed enough to be nicknamed Britain's Hollywood, attracting a number of other players to set up close by. Some made blockbusters, others made B movies, with Elstree's film heyday lasting from the introduction of the talkies until the Fifties, when television nudged in and shared the honours. And while a lot of the old studios have now been built over, this is still where the recent Paddington Bear movie was made, and where you come to sit in the audience for Pointless.

the crash location, beneath the bridge, east of St John's

Recognising their nationwide claim to fame, Elstree and Borehamwood council have set up a Film and Television Heritage Trail along the high street and beyond. What they haven't done is make it easy to follow, but if you walk through the town you can't fail to stumble upon several informative plaques. They kick off outside the railway station, close to the former site of Gate Studios, with a summative black and white mural (and a useful map if you think to walk round the back). The first plaque is for Barbara Windsor MBE, whose Borehamwood film credentials are embarrassingly sparse, but nevertheless her cockney landlady persona came along a few years back to launch the trail. An eclectic collection of big star names follow, from Sir Cliff to Sir Christopher Lee, scattered outside the shops or by some former place of work.

Perhaps the oddest pairing is outside Elstree Studios themselves, in a small garden paid for by the local Rotary Club, where Sir Roger Moore KBE sidles up to Simon Cowell. Roger is here not for Bond but The Saint, while Simon turns out to be the only local boy in this Hall of Fame, having grown up down the road on Barnet Lane and getting his first showbiz job here as a runner. Elstree Studios isn't much to see from the road, more a series of offices and sheds. It used to be considerably bigger, but the backlot where Star Wars was filmed was sold off to Tesco in 1988, and now forms the focal point of retail activity hereabouts. While the George Lucas Stage still looms over the car park, the majority of what remains is mostly screened behind a hedge, with the Big Brother House right at the back where only housemates and eviction audiences get to see it. But a couple of Oscar-type statuettes can be spotted on one front roof, while outside (by the litter bin) is the legendary "All Audience To Start Queue From Here" sign where the Strictly crowds assemble.



The other survivor is on the other side of the high street, up Clarendon Road. Still on the original 1914 site, these are now the BBC Elstree Studios, and you won't be getting in. A watchful security presence exists at each gate, with barriers and 'No photography' signs, should you wish to enter the island site. But stare down towards the end of the terrace and you'll spot a railway bridge that shouldn't be there, and a short row of houses that have a front but no back. This is the outdoor set for Albert Square, or at least one corner of it, tucked away at the far end of Auntie's lot. A ten minute hike via the Borehamwood Shopping Park will get you round to the other side (who knew there was an M&S Food Hall quite so close to the Minute Mart?), confirming that no, you really can't see much from over here either. But a few fake chimneypots, hollow roofs and sham terraces are vaguely visible, and I wonder whether those with adjoining gardens ever catch wind of any EastEnders plot twists before the rest of us.



For a less happy ending, head east towards the drably commercial end of Borehamwood. Pizza Hut and the Jehovah's Witnesses are amongst those with an administrative base behind drab façades along Elstree Way, and one more recent development means there's still (thank goodness) a big cinema in town. Another commemorative plaque points out the location of MGM British Studios, a big player between 1937 and 1970, where Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen and The Prisoner were filmed. It's said that Stanley Kubrick took so long to make 2001: A Space Odyssey that he bankrupted the place, and the entire facility was swiftly demolished (although the white clocktower survived until 1987). A road called Studio Way now curves through the site, mostly covered by housing along cul-de-sacs with appropriately cinematographic names. They're still squeezing new homes in where possible, and in perhaps the ultimate ignominy a Travelodge and Toby Carvery form the major entertainment option on site. Bring your tablet and you can stream a classic.
by train: Elstree and Borehamwood   by bus: 107, 292

While in town, make sure you pop into the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum on the main high street. You'll find it at number 96, a "new, iconic, multi-purpose community centre", which is basically a modern take on a library. The museum hasn't been given much room, indeed the tiny circulation space on the second floor looks like it's only the foyer until you realise nothing else leads off from it. And only a fraction of this is the permanent display, a rattle-through the history of the town and its neighbouring village, while the majority is given over to temporary exhibitions, generally an excuse to display a tiny fraction of the collection the museum has amassed over the years. Currently that's photography, which means lots of old cameras and a snappy history of imagery, but soon they'll be switching over to shops, reminiscing over the days when Shenley Road wasn't a string of salons, cafes and charity shops. For best value, talk to the volunteers on the desk, they have the best stuff tucked away out of sight.


Somewhere random: Aldenham
Aldenham is a tiny village slightly to the east of Junction 5 on the M1. It's lovely, I went through it on the bus. A leafy lane bends off the main road, curling up to and around 13th century St John's church, linking various listed buildings to the golf club and the village green. But Aldenham hits well above its weight, by merit of being the oldest settlement hereabouts, so has somehow managed to give its name to several features some distance away. For example its parish is now so dominated by the commuter town of Radlett that it's had to be split into two administrative regions, with Aldenham East reputedly the least deprived ward in the whole of England. I went through that on the bus too, and although it's no Little Chalfont or Ascot, I can see what they mean.



Then there's Aldenham Reservoir, an unexpectedly old affair, built by French prisoners in the 1790s to help keep the River Colne and Grand Union Canal topped up. That's a couple of miles from the village, considerably closer to Elstree, and now surrounded by Aldenham Country Park. This is the main recreational bolthole for Hertsmere West, particularly for anyone with a dog or small child to exercise, or a boat to sail. The path round the edge of the reservoir is the perfect length for a minor stroll, allegedly "a leisurely hour", although definitely possible in a concerted thirty minutes. Most of it's in woodland, with occasional breaks to see water lapping against the shore, and one long section (with ducks and swans) along the top of a dam. The park has gone all out to attract young visitors, with a small farm to visit and proper pony rides, each for a fee. Or for nothing there's the excellently realised '100 Aker Wood', where the world of AA Milne can brought to life using a bit of imagination. Cut-outs of Winnie the Pooh point the way around a special trail, passing simple wooden constructions cleverly labelled, including a heffalump trap, the North Pole, Pooh's Bridge, and the houses of Rabbit, Piglet and Wol. Older visitors may prefer the Aldenham Sailing Club, the reservoir's dinghy racing collective (who are holding their annual introductory session for novices this afternoon).

To the south of the reservoir, now more than two miles from the village of the same name, there's Aldenham Works. This was London Buses' overhaul centre, a vast steel shed on an industrial scale which used to strip and refit 50 buses a week. You'll know it best from the film Summer Holiday - Cliff Richard and his friends were supposedly employees here - and the opening scenes that show them busy at work were filmed during the Works' summer break. Of course it no longer exists, the operation lasted only from 1956 to 1986, with the decaying building completely demolished ten years later. In its place is Centennial Park, a sanitised collection of sixty-or-so business units behind a security gateline, plus a hotel/gym/spa complex to feed the needs of upmarket leisure users. It's unwelcoming and bland, but busy, and I did spot the Leicester Tigers team coach slipping out yesterday on its way to a Saracens thrashing.



The reason Aldenham Works existed is a fascinating one. The site had been intended as sidings for an expansion of the Northern line, the plan being to push out beyond Edgware to kickstart house-building up the A5 corridor. Three new stations were planned, the first at Brockley Hill, then Elstree South and finally Bushey Heath, each surrounded by large areas of undeveloped land that might swiftly be turned into suburbs. Elstree South, as the name suggested, would have been just to the south of Elstree, pretty much exactly where the entrance to Centennial Park now stands. The terminus at Bushey Heath would have been one road junction further west, approximately parallel to what's now the M1 motorway, where the A41 crosses Elstree Road. And of course none of this got built, because WW2 intervened and then the Green Belt was imposed, which means the entire area remains mostly fields. Today horses graze the intended site of Bushey Heath station, beside a busy roundabout barely troubled by pedestrians, and only the clientèle of the neighbouring luxury dog hotel and grooming spa are truly missing out. It's too late to complete the extension now, because houses cover the intended line through Edgware. But in a world of "what if", this rural backwater could easily be home to fifty thousand people, with shops and schools and employment opportunities around three glorious Charles Holden station buildings, up the Aldenham branch of the Northern line.
by tube: Bushey Heath, Elstree South   by bus: 107, 306, 602

(part 2 tomorrow)

 Saturday, May 21, 2016

The busiest time at every tube station on the London Underground

07:30 - 08:00 Monday-Friday: Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chorleywood, Epping, Theydon Bois, Watford
07:30 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Croxley, Pinner
07:45 - 08:00 Monday-Friday: Chesham, Mill Hill East

The stations with a rush hour that peaks before 8am are at the extremes of the network. Far out on the Metropolitan line in Herts and Bucks, and at the tip of the Central line in Essex, commuters set off early. Pinner's a slight oddity, although all its neighbours are coming up in the next list.

07:45 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Becontree, Canons Park, Chigwell, Chiswick Park, Cockfosters, Dagenham East, Dagenham Heathway, Debden, Eastcote, Elm Park, Fairlop, Finchley Central, Grange Hill, Hainault, High Barnet, Hillingdon, Hornchurch, Hounslow West, Ickenham, Kew Gardens, Loughton, Moor Park, North Harrow, Northolt, Northwood, Northwood Hills, Oakwood, Queensbury, Rickmansworth, Roding Valley, Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens, Ruislip Manor, South Ealing, South Kenton, South Ruislip, Stanmore, Totteridge & Whetstone, Upminster Bridge, West Brompton, West Ruislip, Wimbledon, Wimbledon Park, Woodford, Woodside Park
07:45 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Buckhurst Hill, Edgware, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Hounslow East, Southfields, Southgate

That'll be zones 4, 5 and 6 starting their morning journeys into town, before eight o'clock, along with (for some reason) half the Wimbledon branch of the District line.

08:00 - 08:15 Monday-Friday: Greenford, Kenton, Morden, Newbury Park, Osterley, Stamford Brook, Stonebridge Park, Sudbury Hill, Upney
08:00 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Alperton, Arnos Grove, Balham, Barking, Barkingside, Blackhorse Road, Boston Manor, Bounds Green, Burnt Oak, Clapham Common, Colindale, Colliers Wood, Dollis Hill, Ealing Broadway, Ealing Common, East Acton, East Finchley, East Ham, East Putney, Finsbury Park , Fulham Broadway, Gants Hill, Goldhawk Road, Hanger Lane, Hendon Central, Hounslow Central, Kingsbury, Leytonstone, Neasden, North Ealing, North Wembley, Northfields, Northwick Park, Parsons Green, Plaistow, Preston Road, Putney Bridge, Ravenscourt Park, Rayners Lane, Redbridge, Seven Sisters, Shepherd's Bush Market, Snaresbrook, South Harrow, South Wimbledon, South Woodford, Sudbury Town, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway, Tottenham Hale, Turnham Green, Turnpike Lane, Upton Park, Walthamstow Central, Wanstead, Wembley Central, Wembley Park, West Acton, West Finchley, West Harrow, Westbourne Park, Willesden Green, Wood Green

A quarter of all tube station appear here, mostly in zones 3 and 4, along with a smattering of zone 2s (generally from the west of London).

08:00 - 08:45 Monday-Friday: Acton Town, Bromley-by-Bow, Clapham North, Clapham South, Golders Green, Harrow & Wealdstone, Highgate, Kensal Green, Kilburn, Marylebone, West Kensington
08:15 - 08:30 Monday-Friday: Leyton

Even closer to the centre now, although Harrow & Wealdstone is a last late straggler from zone 5. Meanwhile Marylebone is the first zone 1 appearance, as Chiltern commuters flood off their morning trains.

08:15 - 08:45 Monday-Friday: Archway, Arsenal, Belsize Park, Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Bow Road, Brent Cross, Brixton, Caledonian Road, Canning Town, Chalk Farm, Earl's Court, Finchley Road, Hammersmith (H&C), Highbury & Islington, Holloway Road, Kennington, Kilburn Park, Lancaster Gate, Maida Vale, Manor House, Mile End, North Greenwich, Oval, Paddington, Queen's Park, Richmond, Royal Oak, Stepney Green, Stockwell, Stratford, Swiss Cottage, Tufnell Park, Warwick Avenue, West Hampstead

The 'around half eight' list is almost entirely from zone 2, with Richmond (in zone 4) a glaring outlier. Paddington (and neighbouring Lancaster Gate) are further evidence of commuters pouring into town from the west.

08:00 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Canada Water, Victoria
08:15 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Baker Street, Euston, Euston Square, Hampstead, Kentish Town, King's Cross St. Pancras, Liverpool Street, London Bridge, Queensway, Vauxhall, Waterloo
08:30 - 09:00 Monday-Friday: Cannon Street

The rush hour continues until nine o'clock at all of these stations, the majority of which are at central London rail termini. Hampstead is the sole zone 3 late runner.

09:30 - 10:00 Monday-Friday: Bayswater

Bayswater is a true oddity, its busiest time well after the rush hour has died down elsewhere, presumably because it's chucking out time in the local hotels.

AND NOW TO THE FLIPSIDE - STATIONS BUSIER IN THE EVENING THAN IN THE MORNING

17:00 - 17:15 Monday-Friday: Holland Park
17:00 - 17:30 Monday-Friday: Harlesden, Ladbroke Grove, Russell Square, St. John's Wood, Whitechapel
17:00 - 17:45 Monday-Friday: Hyde Park Corner, South Kensington, Uxbridge

The hometime rush starts at five o'clock in these mostly central stations... plus, for some reason, Harlesden amd Uxbridge are emptying out.

17:15 - 17:45 Monday-Friday: Angel, Lambeth North, Park Royal, Regent's Park, St. James's Park, Willesden Junction
17:15 - 18:00 Monday-Friday: Aldgate, Aldgate East, Borough, Canary Wharf, Hatton Cross, West Ham

This lot are mostly central but minor. Elsewhere the Park Royal Trading Estate is clearing out, airline staff are departing Hatton Cross and the trading floors at Canary Wharf have closed.

17:30 - 18:00 Monday-Friday: Barbican, Barons Court
Chancery Lane, Charing Cross, Edgware Road, Edgware Road, Gunnersbury , Hammersmith (Dis), Latimer Road, Moorgate, Mornington Crescent, Pimlico, Southwark, St. Paul's, Tower Hill, Westminster, White City, Wood Lane
17:30 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Bank & Monument, Blackfriars, Embankment, Great Portland Street, Green Park, Holborn, Mansion House, North Acton, Warren Street

With the working day over, a lot of key inner London stations (plus a few around Hammersmith) are busiest after five thirty.

17:30 - 18:30 Monday-Friday: Covent Garden, Oxford Circus
17:45 - 18:45 Monday-Friday: Leicester Square

That's a very specific West End cluster, where the evening rush lasts a full hour.

17:45 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Bond Street, Farringdon, Goodge Street, High Street Kensington, Knightsbridge, Marble Arch, Notting Hill Gate, Old Street, Perivale, Piccadilly Circus, Temple, Tottenham Court Road, Upminster
17:45 - 18:30 Monday-Friday: Camden Town, Shepherd's Bush

A near-final batch of zone 1 stations don't peak until quarter to six. Standing out like sore thumbs in this list are Perivale (zone 4) and Upminster (zone 6).

18:00 - 18:15 Monday-Friday: Gloucester Road, Sloane Square

Only in the poshest part of town does the rush hour start as late as six o'clock.

no data: Heathrow Terminals 2&3, Heathrow Terminal 4, Heathrow Terminal 5, Elephant & Castle, Kensington (Olympia)

 Friday, May 20, 2016

When's the busiest time at your local tube station? TfL are keen to let you know. You may have seen a poster in the ticket hall advising you of the busiest period of the day, the hope being that it might just nudge you to travel at a different time. Leave home a little earlier, or later, and you might have a less frenetic commute. And you changing your plans might mean everyone else has a less crushed journey too, so it cuts both ways.



This is the poster in the ticket hall at Bank station. The bar chart displays a wealth of data, in fifteen minute chunks, showing the pattern of congestion across the evening peak. The graph even has numbers up the vertical axis, so we know there are about 6000 passengers using the station at 4.30pm, and twice as many an hour later. The busy period, with the darker bars, is from about 5.15pm to 6.30pm. But in the headline above the graph TfL have chosen to highlight the really busy bit, which is from 5.30pm to 6.15pm. Stay away after work if you can, is the unspoken message, and try not to pass through if you don't have to. All fine and good.

But TfL are also trying to dispense this crowding information through their website. They've added it in several places in the hope you'll use it to plan better travel, and thereby help ease congestion across the network. The only problem is that they haven't necessarily added it usefully, conveniently, obviously, sensibly, comprehensively or indeed always correctly.

Here's the crowding information for Oxford Circus.



The busiest time at Oxford Circus is half an hour either side of 6pm, in the evening rush hour, when the throng attempting to get down to the platforms is at its greatest. Sometimes the volume of people is so great that the entrances have to be closed off, and then you might wish you'd planned ahead and tried to enter the network elsewhere. This is genuinely useful information.

This is not genuinely useful information.



Roding Valley is the quietest station on the London Underground. It lurks on the farthest reaches of the Hainault Loop. There are no ticket barriers. Trains run only every 20 minutes. On a typical weekday the station has only 517 passengers. There is no crowding issue at Roding Valley, none whatsoever.

But the TfL website still recommends you avoid Roding Valley for half an hour in the morning, because the TfL website is fuelled by a database. No human has stopped and thought "hang on, is this sensible?" Instead they've thought "it would be useful for our passengers to know the busiest time at every station, and then we'll add exactly the same advisory message whether it's needed or not."

So there are suggestions you could have a quicker journey from Croxley if you avoid 7.30am to 8.15am, and that your journey from Hatton Cross might somehow be more comfortable if you dodge 5.15pm to 6.00pm. There's a recommendation to avoid Upminster between 5.45pm and 6.15pm, but neighbouring Upminster Bridge between 7.45am and 8.15am. The busiest time at Arsenal is surely when there's a football match on, but these don't happen at regular times so the website says between 7.45am and 8.15am instead. Holborn is busiest between 5.30pm and 6.15pm, and that's very true if you're trying to get in, but there's no mention whatsoever of the morning crush (getting out) which has inspired the escalator standing trial. And if you're an end-of-the-line commuter at Cockfosters you're bound to get a seat whenever, but the advice is still that 7.45am to 8.15am may not be good, without the qualification that this is only relatively worse. This is valid data used badly, without thinking what the website will display.

But there are also nudges not to arrive at Victoria between 8am and 9am, at Clapham Common or Colliers Wood between 8am and 8.30am, and Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road or Knightsbridge between 5.45pm and 6.15pm, and these are considerably more useful. It's dead helpful for me to know that Bow Road is busiest between 8.15am and 8.45am, for example, so I can avoid starting my journey at these times. And it's fascinating to see that Bayswater is busiest between 9.30am and 10am, after the rush hour everywhere else has dwindled away, presumably because it's chucking out time in the local hotels. This is useful and interesting data, indeed a lot of it is, but in amongst all the other stuff that isn't.

Then there's a problem with the presentation of the data.

The busiest time at each station doesn't immediately appear on the station's webpage, it's been hidden away. And it's been hidden away behind a particularly thoughtless label. Head to the Oxford Circus page, for example, and you'll see this alert part-way down.



What might these purported 'access issues' be? A faulty escalator perhaps, or a broken lift? Well, if there is one, then yes. But generally there isn't, and on clicking-through the only information revealed is mention of the busiest time at the station.



Surely this isn't an "access issue", it's advice. This is badly labelled, pointlessly hidden, information. What's worse is that it disguises genuine access problems should one come up. Every single tube station* on the network now has "reported access issues", all the time, so if a lift does ever develop a fault or an escalator goes wrong, you'll never know to click through and find out. What's more, if you check the individual tube lines on the TfL website, every single tube station* appears with a yellow exclamation mark symbol next to it, insinuating there's a problem, when in reality there probably isn't.

* Actually it's not quite every tube station, they've missed five out. Three of these are at Heathrow, which is fair enough because these are special cases, and nobody really has a choice about when they arrive. Another is Kensington (Olympia), another special case, thus absolutely best ignored. But the fifth appears to be a genuine omission, or not uploaded from the database, and it's a fairly busy station too. I wonder how it got entirely overlooked?

And then there's a problem with the Journey Planner.

Somebody thought it would be useful to add information about busy times at stations to the results you get when you use the Journey Planner. Somebody may not quite have thought it through. Take this lunchtime trip from Edgware to Mornington Crescent, for example.



When the results come up, a blue circle now announces that "This journey has additional information". Click through and you'll discover that this is "Crowding information", and click again to find out what that is.



We're told that the busiest time at Edgware station is 7.45am to 8.30am, and that the busiest time at Mornington Crescent is 5.30pm to 6pm, and advised it might be best to travel outside this time. But we are travelling outside this time! The website knows we're travelling at lunchtime, but still insists on making a fuss about something that's only an issue four hours earlier and five hours later. We're not making a trip at the busiest time, so we don't need to be warned not to! The same thing happens at weekends too. No station is busiest at weekends, according to TfL's crowding data, but if you plan a journey on a Saturday or Sunday the crowding information appears all the same.

Thinking back to that graph displayed at Bank at the the beginning of the post, TfL clearly have in-depth data by the quarter hour, indeed they have had for years. You can get some idea of its richness by digging through this 2010 visualisation, but there's no official public version for 2016, it seems, only a single headline figure for each station. Having simplified the data in this way it's then been served up in a variety of inflexible situations, dispersed across the website, without considering whether this is always appropriate.

TfL's summarised and spoonfed data may not be perfect, but it's a lot better than no crowding information at all. So let's hope this innovation helps us to make better decisions about our peak time journeys, because by travelling smarter we can make everyone's journeys that little bit easier.

 Thursday, May 19, 2016

The writer Will Self is a big fan of walking out of London. He's walked out several times, from somewhere in the centre to somewhere on the edge, attaining "a sense of enlightenment" along the way. But, as he recognises, it's not an easy thing to do, hence only a tiny number of Londoners have ever followed suit.
"The writer Cyril Connolly once remarked: 'No city should be so large that someone can’t walk out of it in a morning.' But London is so vast a city that you need to leave early on a summer morning and promenade until dusk in order to find yourself in greenish fields. So there's this major obstacle — and then there's the problem of the intolerable monotony of trudging along successive, increasingly suburban, streets — or so people think. In fact, the much vaunted open-ness of our great city is never more evident than when you plan a long walk across it."
I thought I'd give walking out of London a try. I've done it from home, but I wanted to do it properly, so I kicked off at the very centre of the capital. That's the historical centre, at the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square, the point from which all distances are measured. And having confirmed my starting point, I wanted to walk the shortest possible distance, so I referred to a particularly helpful map that Oliver O'Brien put together back in 2014, which confirmed I needed to head towards a pub in Worcester Park. I drew a straight line from Charing Cross to the beer garden, a distance of almost exactly ten miles, on a bearing of approximately 208°. Then I drew in the actual route I'd have to take, because buildings and rivers and railways get in the way somewhat, whilst still trying to stick as closely as possible to my target route. And then I walked it. Thankfully it didn't take anywhere near as long as Will had suggested, but he was right about the important thing, how fascinating it would be.
[my map] [12 photos]


TO THE EDGE OF LONDON
Trafalgar Square → Battersea → Wimbledon → Worcester Park

10 miles as the crow flies, 13½ miles on foot (4½ hours)




It's ten o'clock as I commence my radial safari, setting forth from a traffic island beneath the raised hoof of a bronze horse. It's two minutes past by the time I manage to escape the ring of circling vehicles, stepping off down The Mall as the tourist buzz begins to build. Already I've had to veer off the direct line to my destination, with the top of Whitehall and then the lake in St James's Park getting in the way, but no complaints, this is a delightful way to begin. I pass the weather station that's sometimes the warmest place in the country, and a kiosk owner unloading a box of muffins from a truck, before greeting the wildfowl by the water's edge. From the centre of the footbridge I can see both the London Eye and Buckingham Palace, which are as far as many tourists get, but I'm going so much further.

My brief green sojourn ends at Queen Anne's Gate, heading down towards the Art Deco façade of 55 Broadway. There follows a wiggly walk through Victoria, past the civil service caffeine-clutchers late to their desks, before diving off into the residential hinterland beyond. Beneath a brown and cream-striped mansion block an old lady with splayed crutches walks her small dog back home, a packet of biscuits dangling from her arm in an Argos carrier bag. I'm impressed, my straight line has already brought me to a series of streets I've never walked before, and we're barely a mile in. I get to walk the entire length of Cambridge Street, a prime Pimlico bolthole, with stucco frontage and pillared porches, plus a Westminster City Council plaque for Laura Ashley partway down.



It's fortunate that my straight line delivers me almost precisely to Chelsea Bridge, else I'd require a significant diversion to cross the Thames. Less fortunately, this location delivers the greatest concentration of new building work anywhere along my walk, specifically the glass shroud currently springing up around Battersea Power Station, and the completed apartments at Chelsea Gate alongside (which it must be better looking out of than looking at).

It's a relief then to slip into Battersea Park, and a goodly crossing thereof, the direct route again thwarted by a lake. Numerous truck drivers are parked up along North Carriage Drive, one cooing from his cab to an adoring crowd of crows on the tarmac, or so it seems. Two very different sides of London are visible on the way through - a local school holding a mass athletics event at the Millennium Stadium, and a huge speculative events space hosting a "designer bridal show", its customers arriving by cab and chauffeur to be ushered inside. Two herons are the highlight on the boating lake shore, while the grass on the bowling green is being given a striped manicure by two gents with rotary mowers. On a different bearing I could be in Paddington, Hoxton or Bermondsey by now, and I think I've struck lucky.



Into Battersea proper, where artisans travail in backstreet workshops to bring hand-blown lamps to drawing room tables, and fireplace merchants stock bespoke wood-boilers for that perfect finishing touch. Just when I'm despairing of ever passing through anywhere council-built, I stumble upon the Latchmere Estate. A plaque dates it to 1903, indeed it turns out this is the very first council estate in the country, and it's gorgeous. 315 high-quality Municipal Dwellings were laid out in parallel streets, with novel features such as baths and gardens... and needless to say they've all been snapped up by folks with (and who no longer need) mortgages, who maintain the stock brick terraces in near perfect condition.

A triangle of railway viaducts now intrudes, because here comes Clapham Junction. This means negotiating the car park in front of the 24 hour Asda (ideal for a toilet break, should you need one after 90 minutes on the road). There follows one of the most bustling sections of the entire walk, down to the Falcon and back up to the station entrance, where I get stuck behind a group of oblivious mummies and their offspring walking seven abreast, then accosted by a beaming chugger. The ominously-named Severus Road kicks off a backstreet chicane of three-storey beauties, before emerging onto Battersea Rise, where a procession of three genuine Routemasters appears bearing a cargo of Scandinavian party-goers.



A spatial coincidence now allows me to switch off for a bit. That straight line I drew from Charing Cross to the edge of London coincides almost perfectly with the main railway line from Clapham Junction down to Wimbledon - a good hour's walk - and for the next mile and a half there's a perfectly parallel road. The Daily Telegraph describes Spencer Park as the millionaires row of Nappy Valley, an enclave of small mansions with big gardens, overlooking its proximity to the Clapham Rail Disaster Memorial. At Wandsworth Common it changes to Windmill Road, named after a smock mill built to pump water out of the railway cutting into an ornamental lake, and whose wooden body still stands behind protective railings. And then the name switches to Earlsfield Road, a long slow straight descent to the suburb of the same name, whose sideroads are so snobbish that they all have "no public service vehicles" warning signs at the end. Again the houses are late Victorian delight - high, brick and gabled - plus one solitary whitewashed newsagent, because nobody gets their papers delivered any more.

In good news, reaching Earlsfield means I'm now halfway to my destination. From here it would be nice to follow the River Wandle south - it runs parallel to my desire line, and Will Self once walked this way on another trip out of town. But I must stick to the other side of the railway to avoid an enormous detour later on, which means a mile of déjà vu. I didn't plan it this way, but my route from Earlsfield to Wimbledon Park exactly follows the end of Capital Ring section 5. I recognise the bridge over twin concrete channels, and the corner shop where Wandsworth turns into Merton, and the brief deviation through a recreation ground full of cherry blossom, and the everydayness of the local mosque, and the semi-exclusive shopping parade leading up to the tube station. But at least I got to see a BMW with numberplate M16 GAG parked outside a bistro, so it wasn't all a repeat.



The avenues north of Wimbledon are sylvan suburbia, and I'm fortunate that my route leads me along a couple. Kenilworth Avenue is part conservation area, for the consistency of its semis, which boast lintels carved with foliage, stone bracket detailing and ornate ridge tiles. Daytime activity hereabouts consists mostly of workmen spending the owners' money - positioning tiles, bitumening paths, traipsing patio debris through the hallway and hoisting scaffolding poles up above potential loft extensions. In the second street, Woodside, a plaque announces that the romantic novelist Georgette Heyer was born here, and drooping boughs on various frontages hint that Peak Wisteria has just been and gone.

The centre of Wimbledon is the ugliest point on my walk, courtesy of the late 20th century. All the buildings around the crossroads to the west of the station were built for commercial convenience rather than architectural merit, and the brief strip of high street I get to follow is little more than somewhere shoppers sup and graze. The rest of the town centre's nicer, but I'm bearing off down the side of Little Waitrose, along an alleyway I'd not realised existed before. This is Railway Path, a mile of path alongside the railway, so well-named. It's popular too, the ideal route for residents of several dead end streets to reach the shops, or head to yoga, or cycle to Raynes Park, or be pushed home from nursery. I walk about halfway down, pursued by a postman with a large red trolley, before vaulting the tracks via a trellised footbridge.

On Toynbee Road a lost stuffed puppy sits smiling atop a junction box. I do hope it's not still there.



Were it not for my desire to walk a straight line, I'd never have considered walking down, or even near, Dennis Park Crescent. I wonder initially if it might be the first patch of genuine council housing on my route, but no, the houses are too varied. Indeed quite the opposite, this turns out to be another of Merton's conservation areas, this time backed by a 24-page planning document praising the housing layout, the mature treescape and the central island of open space beneath a spreading plane. Dating from 1921, no housing developer builds anything vaguely like this any more, nor alas is allowed to.

I next stride down Bronson Road, one rung of a ladder of 20 parallel residential streets, and one of 19 to be sealed off at one end. The council appear to have been particularly vigorous in deterring through traffic hereabouts, an area romantically named Wimbledon Chase. A cut-through at the end of Whatley Avenue leads to the first decent expanse of greenspace since Battersea, Prince George's Playing Field, where two hoodied adolescents nuzzle by a rusting goalpost. A fence erected by the local football club forces me quarter of a mile off-line, the largest deviation of the walk, before eventually returning down Grand Drive past a succession of toppled empty food waste buckets. It must have been bin day.



Tennyson Avenue (in West Barnes) might easily have been the actual street on Reggie Perrin's daily commute, if only there were a Coleridge Close leading off, or indeed any other poet-themed thoroughfare on the walk to the station. Its visible daytime residents are mowing the front lawn, or watering the lupins, or cleaning out the back of the car with a Henry. Meanwhile, according to the notices affixed to a depressingly large number of trees and lampposts, at least one homeowner is desperately seeking a lost cat called Archie (quite small, black and white, neutered, micro-chipped, please check your sheds and garages).

I've never explored the Motspur Park area before, so it's a pleasure to discover Sir Joseph Hood Playing Fields - the only playing field round here that doesn't belong to a posh school. The main focus is a footballing expanse with buttercup corners, overlooked by three large (and presumably doomed) gasholders. One overkeen athlete in sing-along headphones is jogging all around the perimeter, stopping off at every item of outdoor gym equipment to do press-ups, sit-ups, whatever, before sweating home. And to the south is a fenced-off track between fields of horses, in one of which a grey pony is gambolling merrily, bringing joy to a small child and her mother walking by. Suburban living is under-rated.



The final fifteen minutes of the walk crosses the top left corner of the borough of Sutton, as you can tell because the bins have changed colour. Green Lane crosses and is then bordered by the Beverley Brook, a very minor stream at this point, running in wooden-edge channel round the local sports club. With barely 200 metres left I finally spot what might have been actual council housing, two symmetrical loops of pebbledash semis, although I might be wrong, in which case I have somehow managed to exit the capital without passing through any less-than-desirable residential area. When you consider how much of London is nasty, modern, dull, squashed, over-commercial or simply bland, the entire 208° radial route is somehow a triumph of pre-war survival.

My ultimate target is the fence below the railway embankment at the back of the car park of The Brook public house in Worcester Park. It's private land, so I get funny looks from the couple finishing off their lunchtime drinks at the tables alongside. And annoyingly I can only waggle my fingers into Surrey, which doesn't really count, so I have one last detour to make, beneath the railway bridge and back up The Avenue on the other side. The boundary runs diagonally across the street just past the Baptist church, where I'm chuffed to have confirmation of this invisible line from an official marker inclined at the edge of the pavement. I slump on Mrs I. M. Carr's memorial bench ("who in her later years enjoyed the rest and company provided by seats like this"), somewhat drained after a four and half hour walk, but achievement unlocked.



When Will Self walks out of London he carries on until he reaches open fields. I got none of that in Worcester Park, a peripheral anomaly that's still in Zone 4, with the built-up streets of Epsom and Ewell spread out beyond. But I can now say I've walked from the centre of London to the edge, and yes I am tempted to do it again. A small nudge in my starting position would have yielded very different endpoints - from the other end of the Strand the most direct route out is to Woodford, while from Oxford Circus the fastest exit is at Stirling Corner. Or I could instead put my phone away and stop trying to follow an artificially straight line on a map, and just walk. There's no better way to know and understand the city we live in.
"Perhaps that’s why I keep walking across and out of London; after all, native or incomer, lots of us feel disoriented and powerless in this mighty metropolis, but by continually measuring the city’s true extent, using my own body as the yardstick, I don’t just feel more at home in the brick canyons and concrete wastes — I own them. Try it for yourself. I truly feel that if all Londoners walked out of the city once a year, it would do more for our sense of civic pride than any number of mayoral or local governmental initiatives. What’s more, it wouldn’t cost the proverbial penny."

 Wednesday, May 18, 2016

London's ten rarest bus routes * **
*
scheduled TfL buses, in one direction, ordered by weekly frequency (no school journeys, no mobility services)


1)   347     Romford → Upminster → Ockendon
The 347 runs ever so occasionally, along country lanes still somehow inside London's eastern boundary. A few cottages outside Harold Wood and some farms beyond the M25 benefit from its existence - the ultimate example of TfL's public service ethos. It's a very long wait if you miss one... although there are rural communities outside the capital who'd think "every two hours" was a magnificent service.
Mon-Fri 4 buses, Sat 4 buses; weekly total 24 buses

2)   W10     Enfield → Crews Hill
Most people who go to Crews Hill go to the garden centres, and they have cars because it's difficult to lug wisteria, potting compost and a trellis on the bus. The W10 stops frustratingly short of the greenhouses, on the estate up Rosewood Drive, helping these borderline London residents to go shopping in Enfield... so long as they're quick. The weekday service is the worst anywhere in London, operational only between 9.30am and 2pm.
Mon-Fri 4 buses, Sat 7 buses; weekly total 27 buses

3)   389     Barnet → Western Way
4)   399     Barnet → Hadley Wood
The 299 bus runs regularly between Muswell Hill and Cockfosters. Once the morning rush hour is over, one vehicle flips its blind to become a 399 and nips round Hadley Wood to the shops in Barnet. Here it flips its blind again to become a 389 for the eight minute trip to the Underhill estate. Then it's eight minutes back to Barnet, and flip back to 399, and back to Hadley Wood, and flip back to being a 389 again. And repeat, but only until until the evening peak - both services are all sewn up by 3pm. Flipping infrequent.
Mon-Fri 5/6 buses, Sat 5/6 buses; weekly total 30/36 buses

5)   385     Chingford → Crooked Billet
They say Crooked Billet, but they really mean the big Sainsbury's close to what used to be Walthamstow Stadium. The 385 exists solely so TfL can claim that people living along the eastern edge of the Lea Valley reservoirs have a bus service (even if it is a bit sparse and packs up by 4pm).
Mon-Fri 6 buses, Sat 6 buses; weekly total 36 buses

6)   H3     Golders Green → Hilltop → Golders Green (circular)
This little minibus meanders through the back of Hampstead Garden Village, to the north of the Heath, along long residential roads where every householder owns a car. It pauses at the Spaniards Inn, nips up to East Finchley station, turns round beneath East Finchley Cemetery and then heads all the way back again. You just wouldn't (and after 3pm, you can't).
Mon-Fri 7 buses, Sat 7 buses; weekly total 42 buses

7)   R10/R5     Orpington → Knockholt → Orpington (circular)
The southeast corner of London is remarkably rural, green and villagey. These titchy minibuses tour the border with Kent, serving Cudham on the London side and Halstead on the other, via a variety of other obscure non-urban locations. The R10 goes one way round the big loop while the R5 goes the other, slightly more often. The 150 minute gap between services is the longest of any TfL bus route.
Mon-Fri 7/8 buses, Sat 7/8 buses; weekly total 42/48 buses

8)   375     Romford → Havering-atte-Bower → Passingford Bridge
Back to Romford for London's only every-90-minutes bus. There's quite a history here. London Transport used to run a bus all the way from Romford out to Epping, until 1984 when an Essex company took over. They pulled out in 2008, due to the introduction of the Low Emission Zone, leaving no link and several communities bus-less. TfL promptly stepped in with the 375, which trots infrequently up to the edge of London, continues to the first practical turning-round spot at Passingford Bridge, and then heads back to Romford again. It no longer connects to anywhere useful, but it keeps the edge of Havering ticking over.
Mon-Fri 9 buses, Sat 9 buses; weekly total 54 buses

9)   N113     Trafalgar Square → Brent Cross → Edgware
Here's a new entry since the last time I compiled this list five years ago. The N113 was introduced in 2012 as a parallel service to the N13, but running to Edgware rather than Finchley, and introduced an overnight service to the A41 corridor for the first time. As far as I can tell it's the only N-prefixed bus to run just eight times a night, hence the only half-hourly service (and the only daily service) to make it into this top 10.
Mon-Fri 8 buses, Sat 8 buses, Sun 8 buses; weekly total 56 buses

10)   X68     Russell Square → West Norwood → West Croydon
Also slipping into the top 10 for the first time (because other buses got more frequent, not because it got less), is Central London's only express service. Eight buses into town during the morning peak, and eight back again in the evening, make for a unique commuting experience. Every Londoner with a keen interest in transport should probably give the X68 a go, if only the once.
Mon-Fri 12 buses; weekly total 60 buses

** unless you know better

 Tuesday, May 17, 2016

While queueing for the latest avocado toastie pop-up, spare a thought for some of London's less well known attractions. They may struggle to draw attention to themselves amongst the surfeit of lifestyle experiences available in the capital today, but some of these attractions are (whisper it) quite good.

Take Tate Britain, for example. This may sound like a sugarcraft boutique, but is in fact a novel concept called an art gallery, a building whose walls are covered with pictures of things you can't buy. This particular outlet is in Pimlico, by no means as hip a location as Dalston or Peckham, but it is on the Victoria line, so we think property prices might pick up soon.



Don't be put off by the exterior. Tate Britain looks like a temple or something from a dullsville history lesson at school, but only part of the inside is that bad. Most of the rooms are breezy and spacious, indeed the building would make a great nightclub, and there's a map you can buy if you think you're in danger of getting lost.

Get your Uber to drop you off at the entrance by the river if you want to be wowed, because beneath the main rotunda there's a staircase to die for. This twists down into the basement with vibrant white treads edged in black, like a retro Viennetta, so if you can't snap that to win Instagram hearts from your best chums then you're doing it all wrong.



An oil company has kindly sponsored a lot of the rooms, bringing a strong brand presence to the Tate Britain experience. Their main contribution is a feature called 500 years of art, most of which was completed by dead people. There are no advertising slogans, which seems a lost opportunity, but a lot of the landscapes look like prime fracking territory.

The main purpose of Tate Britain appears to be to sell small white rectangles of card depicting colourful images. There are stacks of these in the shop, with a variety of designs, and all at a very reasonable price. These designs are then displayed elsewhere in the building, blown up much larger than full size, and this helps to see the intricate detail the illustrators have hidden away in every piece.

Some of the designs look quite rushed, especially the most recently completed, created by people we'd generally never heard of. But the older ones are a lot more lifelike, the selfies of their day, and some of the tresses and beards from the 16th century crowd look exactly like folk you might meet in Broadway Market today.



One of the wings is devoted to a bloke called Joe Turner, who apparently was a dab hand with a brush. Anywhere else you might expect to pay £18 to see a collection of his works, but amazingly here you can walk in off the street for free. If that's not your bag, rest assured there is an exclusive zone on the ground floor where £18 allows you to share floorspace with the other culture vultures, devouring pre-Raphaelite movers and shakers.

The Tate's core offering is pre-digital, so only a tiny number of the later exhibits actually move. But you can take as many photos as you like, and punters do, so feel free to share or even Periscope your personal journey as you walk around. Better still there's a bespoke app which brings the individual works to life, so perhaps you could simply download that and not bother coming to see the real thing at all.



If you love a party, and who doesn't, you'll enjoy the so-called dancing in the central gallery. Three performers have been drafted in to perform in tights until the end of October, if your limited attention span can cope with that. It'd be easier with a negroni in hand, and perhaps a bowl of ramen, but alas Tate Britain has yet to set up a streetfood area despite the obvious availability of space.

Hunt around the basement and you will find a cafe, thank god, because culture can be insufferable on an empty stomach. Splash out on a goats’ cheese quiche, or maybe a salad flecked with Pinney’s of Orford smoked salmon, washed down with the best of British craft beers or a hand-curated bottle of wine, before enjoying a bijou selection of freshly made cakes from the in-house pastry kitchen. Now that's art!

So give Tate Britain a try, assuming you're ever in the area. We think it has potential staying power on the London scene, not least as a useful meeting place for friends in damp weather. And remember, London's secret attractions are often more than worthy of our attention, if only we could be bothered to remember they exist.


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