diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 24, 2015

What do you mean you haven't walked The Line yet? Some of us have walked it twice.

The Line is a contemporary art trail through East London, approximately following the Greenwich Meridian, with a dozen sculptures (and one video installation) spread out along the way. Everything's free to visit, apart from the necessary trip on the DLR and the connecting flight on the cablecar. Except it turns out The Line's not linear, and not all the sculptures have been installed yet, and come on we covered all this yesterday, pay attention.

If you're thinking of following The Line, your first battle will be with the official website. The 'About' page features flowery prose of the most meaningless kind (which on a smartphone appears as black text on a dark blue background so is thankfully unreadable). The list of artists doesn't yet allow you to click to find out what each work of art actually is (I think because someone somewhere missed a programming deadline). And the map is semi-dysfunctional, essentially a Google map with most of the underlying navigation bleached-out, which on a laptop you can zoom into but there's no way to zoom out. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lower Lea Valley, best track down the sculpture location diagram and keep it close, it's your best hope of getting around.

The Line is well signed throughout, so long as you know roughly where you're going (follow the red background if walking north and the blue background if walking south). Well signed everywhere, that is, except at the very beginning and at the very end. There's no mention whatsoever of The Line on Stratford High Street, with the first sign attached to a fingerpost a quarter of a mile down the river where you'd never accidentally find it. Similarly there's no mention of The Line at the O2 or at North Greenwich station, nor even which way to head out of the bus station to find the obscure backroad to the waterside. This means The Line has very little chance of attracting passing trade, you have to know about it in advance and go deliberately, else you'll miss it.

At the northern end, the first sculpture is on Three Mills Green. On Friday evening there was only a hole in the turf surrounded by plastic barriers, and a ladder up a lamppost where the essential CCTV was being installed. Early on Saturday afternoon two vans and a crane had turned up, cutting it fine on opening day, with a group of hi-vis blokes attempting to empty bags of soil around the base of a statue. But by teatime the staging had departed and what remained by the playground path was a solid-looking bronze bloke in a puffa jacket staring at his phone. He got some due attention from various passers-by, including one Afro-Caribbean gentleman who seemed to be smiling to see himself reflected in a work of public art.

The most unusual artwork on The Line is at the House Mill, which (if you've never walked through Bromley-by-Bow before) is the largest tidal water mill in the world, and well worth taking a tour round one day. Three mostly black and white videos have been installed on the first floor, accessed via a door at the far end of the mill, which will be open between 11am and 4pm every day between now and 28th August. You'll get to stand among the old timbers and watch Bill Viola's digital "Transfigurations" - three eight minute films in which various characters emerge from the darkness and get very wet. I'll not say too much more, except that I thought they were very powerful works, but everyone else I went in with left before all three loops had repeated.

To get to the next work requires a dull detour down the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road to Twelvetrees Bridge, rather than a more pleasant stroll down the river. This lack of connection has been the bugbear of every previous attempt to drive a proper footpath down the Lea, including the ill-fated Fatwalk whose plans imploded a few years back. The Line's organising team have promised that a temporary staircase will be provided to create a direct link, but I can't see how they'll manage that in anything resembling the near future, nor indeed the medium term. Nevertheless I was very impressed to see the footpath to the south, which I've always considered an overlooked secret, buzzing with people. It's home to The Line's most appealing sculpture, and the work attracting the most photographic attention - a double helix of supermarket trolleys rising into the sky.

Saturday was a golden day at Cody Dock, the day they finally flung open the gates and allowed access 24/7. This community asset has been built from desolate waterside over the last few years, and is now a lively spot complete with houseboats, colourful gardens and various spaces for the running of workshops. Scores of people had turned up to celebrate, lubricated by the presence of a vintage bus serving craft beer, with children running everywhere (including clambering all over the Damian Hirst). Cody Dock's head honcho Simon Myers stepped up to give a speech, thanking everyone who'd mucked in to help out, and a local councillor claimed this as a big win for Canning Town North. A snip of the scissors left a symbolic ribbon fluttering in the breeze, and hey presto this part of the riverside connection was complete. I never thought I'd see the day.

Having to take the DLR for the next bit of The Line dampens things somewhat, but there is no riverside path to the Royal Docks, and anyway they're well over a mile away. The subsequent cluster of sculptures is by far the farthest from the Greenwich Meridian, and also a nail in the coffin of any expectations that The Line might be linear. Instead four sculptures have been placed around three sides of a long dock, requiring visitors to walk up and back, twice, to view them. One's those three girders I mentioned yesterday, still surrounded by orange barriers, and which the youngsters attending ComiCon at Excel continued to studiously ignore. And one sculpture's still totally missing, with no explanation whatsoever, which is somewhat disappointing.

The Line finally gives the Dangleway a reason to exist, it being precisely the most direct route to the final four sculptures on the other side of the Thames. But at £3.40 a spin, and with the cabins brimming with cosplayed youth, I took the DLR and Jubilee line route instead (and still arrived in North Greenwich at the same time as a young woman in a black horned headdress). It didn't feel as if as many folk had made the effort to follow The Line right to the end, the Thames crossing perhaps being a step too far. And anyway, two of the four sculptures have been here more than 15 years, and one still hasn't been installed yet. But the last one's up, and is thought-provoking in its simplicity. A roadsign has been erected almost precisely on the Greenwich Meridian, announcing that "Here" is 24859 miles away, which indeed it is if you continue all the way around the world and back. Is it worth coming all this way for? Maybe. Does it make a good picture? Absolutely.

So I enjoyed The Line, but then it links two of my favourite urban-desolate walks so I would. If it brings more people to East London to enjoy them too, then great. But dipping back into civilisation again at the O2 I wondered quite how many people are going to be enticed into following a tortuous trail that involves four miles of walking, rather than the lightweight consumer culture most of those out and about seem to prefer. And when that walk delivers one sculpture only approximately every ten to fifteen minutes, perhaps the artistic rewards don't quite match the necessary effort. But that'd be their loss, I'd say, because what's always been an intriguing journey now has the added attraction of world-class art along the way. Come walk The Line sometime, because it's a darned sight more thought-provoking than yet another afternoon sitting in a cafe.

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

 Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Line is a brand new sculpture walk in East London, running approximately along the meridian from Stratford to North Greenwich. It's been a very long time coming.

The project was crowdfunded to the tune of £140,000 last year, with plans to install a series of outdoor sculptures by the summer. But sourcing the works, and making arrangements for their installation, delayed things somewhat, and the whole thing is opening approximately one summer late. To be more precise, it's opening this morning.

One important thing about The Line is that it's not a line. It might have been, if only a footpath existed all the way down the Lea to the Thames, but nobody's ever managed to make that happen. Instead the official route follows the Lea for two miles, then hops on the DLR to the Royal Docks, then rides the cablecar to follow the Thames round the O2. There are four sculptures in each of these three clusters, requiring a multi-modal trek to see the lot, the end result anything but linear.

Not all of the dozen sculptures on The Line are new. Two by the Dome have been there since the Millennium, but just happened to be in the right place to be adopted for this project. But the other contributors include some of the biggest names in modern art, including Damian Hirst, Martin Creed and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, each providing one massive work for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to stroll through.

And not all of the sculptures have yet been installed, or at least hadn't been installed by yesterday evening, or else I somehow didn't see them as I passed by. Indeed I only spotted five out of the ten new pieces, three of these already in place by the Royal Docks, and another being lowered by a massive crane round the back of an Amazon warehouse. But by ten this morning they should all be in place, and if you've got the stamina you can come and see the lot.

I've already walked The Line, you see, I walked it last night, because I thought it might tempt you to follow suit. The organisers reckon the full Line takes three hours whereas I did it in two, so I assume they reckon you're either quite slow or that you'll be weak-willed and break off for a coffee somewhere. That two hours works out as approximately an hour down the Lea from Stratford to Star Lane (for the DLR), a quarter of an hour round the Royal Docks (for the cablecar) and then almost half an hour round the tip of the North Greenwich peninsula. All in all it's almost five miles on foot, if you're thinking of following. [map]

Three Mills
Network by Thomas J Price: This wasn't in place last night, but there was a big hole on Three Mills Green awaiting a big bronze man checking his phone. [Friday photo] [Saturday photo]
Bill Viola at the House Mill: This one's a black and white video installation inside the House Mill, open from 11am-4pm daily until the end of August (inside a fantastic historical building in itself). [photo]
Untitled (The Thing) by Piotr Uklanski: Of this (supposedly by the District line) there was absolutely no sign, nor does it appear on The Line's summary map. Crucially the official route currently bypasses this location while we wait for someone to add temporary steps to the Twelvetrees bridge.

Cody Dock
DNA DL90 by Abigail Fallis: Halfway down the remote footpath alongside Bow Creek leading to Cody Dock, twenty-two supermarket trolleys rise in a whirlwind above the riverside. Fabulous. [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
Sensation by Damien Hirst: A multi-coloured slice of skin, in fibreglass, has been plonked on the grass just outside Cody Dock. It's most arresting. [photo] [photo]

(and then the DLR from Star Lane to Royal Victoria)

Royal Docks
Vulcan by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi: A massive bronze man stands on the dockside outside a restaurant, staring out towards the cablecar. A favourite. [photo] [photo]
Work No.700 by Martin Creed: It's a small girder on top of a medium girder on top of a large girder. I cannot overemphasise enough how utterly and completely this work was ignored by passers-by last night. [photo] [photo]
Consolidator #654321 by Sterling Ruby: This aluminium piece looks like a red metal coffin on a plinth, and sits near the entrance to The Crystal. [photo] [photo]
something by James Balmforth: Couldn't find it, couldn't find any information about it.

(and then the Dangleway)

North Greenwich
Quantum Cloud by Anthony Gormley: This humanoid swarm of metal bars has stood off North Greenwich Pier since 1999. [photo] [photo]
Liberty Grip by Gary Hume: A part-severed pair of contorted kicking limbs, apparently, though it hadn't landed by the Thames last night.
A Slice of Reality by Richard Wilson: A thin slice of sand dredger, no less, created for the Millennium and moored off the back of the Dome. I've been on board, you know. [photo]
Here by Thomson & Craighead: And finally, a signpost leading back to where you're standing. There's no sign as yet, but if they don't hang it precisely on the meridian, I shall be very cross. [photo]

A grand opening party is planned this afternoon at Cody Dock, starting at 3pm and continuing into the evening, with food and music and workshops, and I think I heard somebody mention goodie bags. If you've nothing else on you should come, perhaps arriving by free rickshaw from Star Lane station, because why the hell not. And one day soon you should walk the rest of The Line as well (assuming you can make sense out of the pig's ear of a website), to enjoy fine modern art and the post-industrial backside of East London.

My gallery of 'The Line'
Can I tempt you along with 30 photos? [slideshow]

 Friday, May 22, 2015

Dollis Brook
Edgware → Barnet → Hendon (10 miles)
[Dollis Brook + Mutton Brook → Brent → Thames]

If the first half of the Dollis Brook was eastbound and rural, then the second is southbound and suburban. Don't worry, Part Two is still remarkably green and pleasant, though rather more tamed, and always with an underlying feeling that this is how Finchley council wanted the river to look rather than how it originally used to be. Stick to the footpath and you'll miss the heart of Barnet, bypass the streets of Whetstone and barely spot the outskirts of Hendon. And as before it's all terribly well signposted, thanks to a Mayoral grant from a few years ago, so there's no need to download a map before you visit. Unless you'd like proper background information, that is, in which case you'll be pleased to hear that a 9-page Dollis Valley Greenwalk guide can be found here.

As the Dollis Brook bends south, the surrounding banks become increasingly recreational. The first sign of this is the Barnet Table Tennis Centre, a drab brick shed with an unnecessarily extensive car park, and then a gently sloping playing field. Here a keen Dad had set out a course of at least two dozen miniature cones and was busy delivering an intensive solo spell of football training to his potentially not-as-keen offspring. The greenspace then metamorphosed into Wyatts Farm Open Space, essentially a long thin riverside park, where you'll be glad to hear kite-flying hasn't gone out of fashion. It has two parallel paths, the lower for cyclists and the upper for those on foot, although if you'd missed the tiny pictograms at the beginning you'd never know. I took the lower path because it went nearer the river, only to get dinged out of the way by a passing peloton in black and pink lycra. I also managed to get caught up with a Dad trying to tire out his two long-haired sons, one a skateboarder, the other on a scooter and occasionally smashing into his older brother 'for a laugh'.

Across the river lies South Herts Golf Club, 50 years ago appropriately named, as the ridiculously contorted border of Middlesex hereabouts somehow failed to enclose it. The former county boundary is still marked by a large ash tree at the top of the neighbouring slope, unoriginally called the Boundary Tree, where Hertfordshire unexpectedly melted into Middlesex. The river then became the dividing line, or dividing wiggle as it must have been, because the channel is really sinuous round here. There's one particularly distinct U-bend by the path which every passing chronicler stops to photograph, although the remainder of the meanders were more hidden within a wooded envelope. And this was a really busy stretch, people-wise, which might have been throngs of Londonistas out for a Weekend Walk, but alas nobody gave the secret signal, so was far more likely because the residents of N20 already knew how pleasant it all was.

There followed a direct hit on one of the Underground's least used stations, Totteridge and Whetstone. That's not surprising, given that the railway line to High Barnet took full advantage of the Dollis Brook's valley, but this is fractionally the closest the river comes to the modern Northern line. Totteridge Lane makes a very distinct dip to cross the brook, now approaching three metres wide, and here the official path switched to the opposite bank to pass through the delightfully-named Whetstone Stray. This was another tranquil linear greenspace, replete with daisies and deeper undergrowth, and is watched over by a voluntary group of local residents. Two well-groomed joggers sauntered past me, engrossed in discussing their favourite gins, closely followed by a pattering wolfhound and a woman patiently carrying its poo in a plastic bag.

The Dollis Brook divided Laurel Way into two postcodes, then continued along a narrow path between a recreation ground and explorable meanderside. Ahead, alas, was the one point where the council's bargaining power failed and the Greenwalk was forced to take to the streets. The offending landowners are the Old Finchleians, whose sports ground blocks the footpath at a locked gate, and also the long back gardens of the houses on Westbury Road. A choice of diversions has been provided, one via Woodside Park station, although I'd recommend the slightly longer western alternative because it eventually passed a more interesting location. Through the trees could be seen the point where the Folly Brook meets the Dollis Brook (hey Ben, there's a River of London called the Folly Brook, who knew?), a junction which once marked the very bottom corner of Hertfordshire.

Beyond Argyle Road the riverside gained a more playful air, with an abundance of child-friendly equipment installed relatively recently by the council. A dull but worthy sign announced "The use of these facilities involves risk", as was demonstrated further along by child swinging from a tyre above the water, and a Dad standing in the middle of the river while his two kids climbed an adjacent tree. I enjoyed the next half mile stretch, a woodland wander down a tightly defined corridor within which the brook was free to trickle between natural earthen banks. A series of footbridges added to the random appeal, as did the opportunity to bear off briefly via a narrow jungly riverside path. But best of all, for we fluvial geography connoisseurs, was a silted up bend that had become an oxbow lake. And OK, so it was more an oxbow puddle than a lake, but the banana shape was unmistakeable, and it was possible to step onto the former neck and stand on raised mud where the river had once flowed.

More obvious evidence of the brook's erosive power is the Dollis Brook Viaduct which carries the Northern line high above the valley on the Mill Hill East spur. Its 13 brick arches rise 60 feet above the stream, making this the highest point above ground level on the Underground network, and creating a photogenic sequence of openings through its lofty gaps. I didn't wait around long enough to see a train up there, instead negotiating the third and final roadside section of the walk with necessary care. When the brook re-emerged it had been constrained to an ugly concrete channel, thankfully not for too long, but a reminder that urban rivers remain overground only so long as the risk of flooding is mitigated.

The last of the linear parks along the Dollis Brook is the Windsor Open Space, initially slim then later opening out to fill a larger recreational space. The river was more languid here, flowing past thickly-rooted banks covered at present by innumerable six-petalled white flowers (whose proper name I'm sure you can tell me). An oppressively narrow subway led the Greenwalk beneath Hendon Lane, beyond which the brook emerged and promptly tumbled over a massive concrete weir, completely out of kilter with the entire previous ten miles. The next bridge carried the A1 Great North Way, and bore the copper shield of Middlesex on its flank, beyond which the river lost its brief sense of importance and retreated behind a screen of nettles. And there coming in from the left was the Mutton Brook, which you'll remember I walked back in January, and whose confluence marked the beginning of the River Brent proper. And that's eighteen miles further to the Thames, so definitely a safari for another time.

But, fine day for it.

 Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dollis Brook
Edgware → Barnet
→ Hendon (10 miles)
[Dollis Brook + Mutton Brook → Brent → Thames]

The Dollis Brook is essentially the first ten miles of the River Brent under a different name, running east from Edgware to Barnet, then bending south through Finchley to Hendon. If you're looking to walk one of outer London's unlost rivers it's also one of the best. At the top end it's proper pastoral, while further down it flourishes through suburbia within a thick strip of green, and very rarely are you forced away to traipse down parallel streets instead. For this we should thank Alfred Pike, Finchley's Mayor in 1937, who worked tirelessly to create a riverside walk down the western edge of his borough, and whose foresight has held back further development to this day. His Brookside Walk has since become the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, a comprehensively signposted ramble from source to mouth, which I walked for pleasure at the weekend. [official DV Greenwalk guide]

Coincidentally the Dollis Brook had featured on the Londonist website the previous day as a Weekend Walk, which opened up exciting prospects for a particularly social stroll. "Spot a secret Londonist reader: if you encounter someone else walking this trail, greet them with the words ‘fine day for it’, while subtly making an ‘L’ shape with your thumb and forefinger. If both parties do this, you’ll know that they’re Londonistas too. Have a chat." I couldn't wait to meet my new Barnet friends, so off I went.

Getting to the start of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk is only easy if you live in Borehamwood and arrive by public transport. In this case the 292 bus will drop you off right at the start, whereas if you arrive from the south you'll have to get off one stop early to cross the A1 dual carriageway via a subway. Drivers are stymied because Barnet Council have inexplicably closed the Moat Mount Open Space car park at the beginning of the route, but that suited me because I met nobody whatsoever for the first half mile, and otherwise the place would no doubt have been thronging with dogwalkers, doggers and the like. The first section of the walk was uphill, which was a clue that the damp notch beside the footpath wasn't the river proper. But the leafy climb swiftly topped out beside open pasture, the fenced-off path edged by spring flowers - a proper pleasant start.

It was at the summit that I met my first fellow walkers, a mixed group of ramblers studying a printed-out map and trying to work out which path to take. I considered making the Londonista secret sign, but chickened out through embarrassment, so decided that further along the walk I'd simply listen out for the key phrase ‘fine day for it’. A broad path continued downhill and into ancient woodland, a proper rural getaway and yet somehow still within the confines of Greater London. To one side a small pond marked the source of the Dollis Brook, fenced off behind a notice warning of deep water, with a prominent red canister attached containing an emergency line lest anyone should get carried away. The first of three road walks followed, along a half-residential lane lined with terribly desirable homes, as befits the north Totteridge environs. At one point the fledgling stream was seen, nothing special, before the lane headed south to meet up with the Dollis Brook's alternative headwaters.

A private track past a sports ground (they close it every year on 28th February) led back to the river, via what was the only unavoidable metre of mud on the whole walk. But the next mile was lovely, even gorgeous at the right time of year, which is now. The meadows of the upper Dollis Brook are lush and verdant in late spring, a riot in white, pink and green, and bursting with blossom and buttercups. They're also remarkably remote, the nearest mansions some distance up the valley slopes, and the only prominent sounds those of chirpy birdsong. Ahead lay Totteridge's ancient hay meadows, which are mown just once a year to maintain the butterfly-friendly wildflower mix. Every so often a small brook trickled down from the south, crossed via a plank, or rather would have trickled if only we'd had enough rain of late. And the main stream flowed crystal clear behind a screen of green undergrowth, occasionally visible through an overhanging indentation, as fluffy seeds drifted from the hedgerow in the breeze.

"Morning." Damn, I'd been enjoying the isolation, and suddenly a lady with two small dogs was bustling past. I received a "Hi there" from two joggers too, their jogging route almost certainly better than your jogging route, for what it's worth. I noted that neither of these parties had opened their conversation with Londonist's secret phrase, neither were they wielding their thumb and forefinger in the special 'L' formation, but that's local residents for you. Indeed unexpectedly local residents, as after six successive meadows the official footpath suddenly crossed to the opposite bank of the stream. Here behind a screen of trees were the backs of houses on the outer outskirts of Barnet, specifically Ducks Island, with a municipally mown lawn separating them from the river. The landscaping wasn't unpleasant, indeed the grass was impeccably maintained, yet all felt somewhat bland after the previous unspoilt mile.

The Dollis Brook was now a shallow stream a metre wide with pebbly bed, wiggling gently in a slightly deeper channel. Every now and then I heard laughs and activity on the other side of the stream, which I assumed must be bucolic youth enjoying screened-off meadows, but which later turned out to be a couple of sports grounds. On my side the land rose up to a broad river terrace used as parkland, with the first tarmac footpath of the walk snaking across the brow. From this point onwards you'll be fine in trainers, even during a muddy winter. The occasional footbridge broke off to carry a public path up the hill to Totteridge, which if I've not hinted already is one of the nicest (for which read 'most expensive') villages in London. But here on the Barnet side we got lads in hoodies, kids on pink scooters, and an invasion of crows flapping off with bounty from a freshly dumped loaf of bread.

Every so often the trappings of city life were visible on the skyline, in particular an Odeon cinema, the Northern line and Barnet FC's former Underhill Stadium. There was also a brief stretch where the river ran deep below what I could almost describe as a cliff, broached at one point by stairs down to three flat stepping stones, providing access to a field on the opposite bank. I considered crossing to enjoy less artificial surroundings but didn't risk it, foolishly as it turned out, as the dog walkers I later saw emerging onto Barnet Lane confirmed. This was only the second road I'd encountered in four miles of walking, so underdeveloped is this part of outer North London. And having followed London Loop section 16 for all that time, this was also the point where that more well-known walking trail broke off to head for Cockfosters, while we Dollis Brook devotees veered south along the riverside.

I'll write about the more urban half of the unlost river tomorrow, and whether perhaps the Londonist reader count was any higher here.

 Wednesday, May 20, 2015

And there's another reason why what we call the Overground matters. When part of it isn't working, how do we know which part that is?

These rainbow boards are everywhere across the TfL network. They tell us whether or not a line is disrupted, then allow us to dig below the headlines to see the detail. And this works well on a simple line like the Bakerloo or Victoria, and pretty well on a more complicated line like the Central or District. But it works much less well on a complex collection of lines like the DLR or Overground, where large chunks can be working perfectly even when other parts are borked. And at the end of this month, when a clutch of fresh branch lines join the Overground family, that informations's going to get more complicated still.

To illustrate this let's jump ahead to the first full weekend of extended Overground services, specifically to Sunday 7th June, to see what track closures TfL have planned.

DistrictDISTRICT LINE: Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 June, no service between South Kensington and Aldgate East.

Yes, fine, I can picture that.

CircleCIRCLE LINE: Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 June, no service between Gloucester Road and Aldgate (via Victoria). The Circle line service operates in two sections: Hammersmith - Aldgate and Gloucester Road - Edgware Road (via High Street Kensington)

A bit tougher to follow, but the severed Circle line service is all there in plain English.

Waterloo & CityWATERLOO & CITY LINE:- Does not operate on Sundays.

That's good to know, to prevent me from turning up when the line's closed.

And then there's this.

London OvergroundLONDON OVERGROUND: Sunday 7 June, until 1000, no service between Liverpool Street and Chingford. Use local buses via all reasonable routes between Liverpool Street, Hackney Downs and Chingford. Replacement buses operate between Walthamstow Central and Chingford.
Replacement buses operate Service L3: Walthamstow Central - Wood Street - Highams Park - Chingford First trains will operate as follows: 0955 Chingford to Liverpool Street 1018 Liverpool Street to Chingford
LONDON OVERGROUND: Sunday 7 June, until 1000, no service between Liverpool Street and Enfield Town / Cheshunt (via Seven Sisters). Use local buses via all reasonable routes between Liverpool Street and Seven Sisters. Replacement buses operate between Seven Sisters and Enfield Town / Cheshunt.
Replacement buses operate Service L1: Seven Sisters (for London Underground Victoria line) - Bruce Grove - White Hart Lane - Silver Street - Edmonton Green - Bush Hill Park - Enfield Town; Service L2: Seven Sisters (for London Underground Victoria line) - Bruce Grove - White Hart Lane - Silver Street - Edmonton Green - Southbury - Turkey Street - Theobalds Grove - Cheshunt Note: First trains will operate as follows: 1000 Liverpool Street to Enfield Town 1015 Liverpool Street to Cheshunt, via Seven Sisters 1022 Enfield Town to Liverpool Street 1031 Cheshunt to Liverpool Street, via Cheshunt
LONDON OVERGROUND: Sunday 7 June, until 1230, no service between Gospel Oak and Highbury & Islington due to Network Rail track works. Replacement buses operate between Hampstead Heath and Highbury & Islington, please interchange between trains and buses at Hampstead Heath.
Replacement buses operate Hampstead Heath - Gospel Oak (Agincourt Road / Southampton Road) - Kentish Town West - Camden Road - Holloway Road (for London Underground Piccadilly line and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury) - Highbury & Islington
LONDON OVERGROUND: Sunday 7 June, no service between Clapham Junction and Kensington (Olympia) due to Earl's Court redevelopment works. Please use local London Buses services via any reasonable

And that's much, much harder to pull apart.

Four different sections of the Overground have engineering works that Sunday, and they've all been crammed in together under the same umbrella title. If you scan through the list for LONDON OVERGROUND in capital letters you'll see where each separate announcement starts, but it's still not easy to determine precisely which announcement, if any, applies to the line you want to travel on. As a quick check, see how long it takes you to work out whether the Overground line from Gospel Oak round to Walthamstow is open or not. Unless you have a map of the disruption to help you, this isn't easy.

The first disruption in the tangle involves one of the brand new Overground lines, that from Liverpool Street out to Chingford. It'll be closed before ten o'clock, and there are rail replacement buses. The second disruption involves another of the brand new Overground lines, or possibly two, this time from Liverpool Street out to Enfield and Cheshunt. These'll also be closed before ten o'clock, and the rail replacement bus situation is more complicated, but by half past ten everything mentioned so far will be back to normal. The third break in service involves the middle section of the line that goes round the north of London, more normally called the Stratford to Richmond line, but that name doesn't get a mention here. And the fourth section of line to close is across the Thames from Olympia down to Clapham, this time all day, and you should go catch a normal bus if you can.

First I'm going to argue that these four disruptions are in the wrong order. The one that runs all day is at the bottom where it's most easily overlooked, which is unhelpful, while the two that might be over before you're out of bed are given the most prominent position at the top. Secondly I'm going to argue that which line is which isn't nearly prominent enough, with each disruption defined by the stations it disrupts, not the name of the line it's on. And thirdly I'm going to argue that the whole thing's horribly inconsistent. The Overground's other new line runs from Upminster to Romford and has no Sunday service whatsoever, but this isn't mentioned. The Waterloo & City is in a similar situation, and it gets a big 'Planned closure' flag in the rainbow list because it's a proper tube line, whereas Upminster to Romford gets bugger all. If you were planning a Sunday ride between these two outer stations, there's nothing whatsoever here to tell you not to try.

Wouldn't these disruptions be much, much clearer if each of the Overground's constituent lines were given their own separate identity? The Chingford line is closed before 10am, the Enfield Town and Cheshunt lines ditto. The North London line is closed all morning between Gospel Oak and Highbury & Islington. The West London line is closed south of Olympia all day. The Emerson Park line is closed on Sundays. And the Watford line, the East London line and the Goblin are all open and unobstructed.

Except maybe separate lines wouldn't be better after all. The London Overground has swiftly become one of TfL's strongest brands, a watchword for reliability and success, so the last thing they'd want to do is dilute their brand into seven separate silos. And rainbow boards are long enough as it is, without needing six new shades of orange for the Overground and four more blues for the DLR crammed in. Indeed it's telling that three years ago TfL chose not to give the cablecar its own row on the capital's rainbow boards, presumably either because there wasn't room or because they didn't think enough people would be interested.

Identifying track closures is a lot easier with a map, of course, and there's usually one of those nearby. The brand new over-Overgrounded tube map is due to arrive in stations on Friday week, and the online version on the TfL status webpage has updated today. It should also be remembered that commuters on the newly transferred lines are about to see information about their disruptions broadcast far more widely than before, which can only be good news. But the multiplicity of Overground lines is a naming problem that isn't going to go away, indeed is about to get a whole lot more complicated at the end of the month. And the next time you go to ride the Overground at the weekend only to find it's not running because you didn't understand the closure list properly, you may wish that somebody had finally come up with a solution.

 Tuesday, May 19, 2015

50 reasons why the Garden Bridge will be excellent

1) It'll be both a garden and a bridge.
2) It'll have plants and trees where currently there aren't any.
3) It'll won't have any nasty cars on it.
4) It could be open by the summer of 2018.
5) People will fall back in love with travelling by foot, solely because of it.
6) Imagine a morning commute through a peaceful garden.
7) Unlike the Dartford Bridge, it'll be free to cross.
8) Some nice trees are definitely prettier than St Paul's Cathedral.
9) If you come first thing in the morning, it won't be too crowded.
10) If you come too early in the morning, it won't be open.
11) They've made room on both banks for queueing, which is forward planning.
12) It'll improve views of the new apartment blocks on the South Bank.
13) Thank goodness picnics will be banned - horrible impromptu things.
14) It'll look prettier than the test borehole that's there at the moment.
15) What central London needs is an ecologically sustainable corridor.
16) It'll improve air quality in the middle of the Thames where it's most needed.
17) More trees will be planted on the bridge than will be cut down to make way for it.
18) Our friends in the corporate sector are helping to pay for it.
19) It'll be even more iconic than the cablecar.
20) It'll win awards, Heatherwicks always do.
21) It's not like East London needs a bridge instead.
22) It's not like West London needs a bridge instead.
23) It'll only be closed for fundraising on twelve days a year.
24) If you have the cash, you'll be able to hire it for your company's do.
25) It'll have security guards everywhere, so crime will be minimal.
26) There'll be no trains at Temple for months while they rebuild the place.
27) Afterwards, they can rename Temple station 'Garden Bridge'.
28) The soil will go down inches, so several species of tree might survive.
29) It'll be closed overnight, which'll keep undesirables out.
30) In this age of austerity, people need bread and circuses.
31) Cyclists have plenty of other bridges they can use, some of them even safe.
32) It'll bring more much-needed tourists to the South Bank.
33) Absolutely everybody wants it, apart from those with a hatred of beauty.
34) Joanna Lumley wants it, and she was in Absolutely Fabulous.
35) Nobody looks lovingly at St Paul's any more, so the view won't be missed.
36) The bridge'll be named after a sponsor, because that's cool.
37) They could sponsor the tube station too if they liked.
38) It'll be a model for all future pseudo-public infrastructure projects.
39) Where are London's bees going to go otherwise?
40) On the South Bank, access will be via a new commercial building.
41) They could put a coffee stall at the other end, ideally several.
42) You can picture a 007 action scene on it even now, can't you?
43) You'll be able to take photos with only a few dozen other people in.
44) TfL'd only waste the £30 million on public transport otherwise.
45) The podium will host exciting branded events every summer weekend.
46) When the big crowds come, it's not like the flowerbeds will get in the way.
47) We can flog the 'Garden Bridge' concept to cities worldwide.
48) This is about how we want the London of the future to be.
49) It'll be a private garden. On a bridge.
50) It'll be a private bridge. With a private garden.

 Monday, May 18, 2015

Seaside postcard: Harwich

You'll find Harwich in the top right corner of Essex, at the end of a peninsula overlooking the River Stour. It boasts the finest natural harbour between the Humber and the Thames, hence has a long and esteemed maritime history, although today is overshadowed by the container port of Felixstowe across the estuary. You get there via the A120 or up the branch line from Manningtree (from which, if you look out of the window for the right couple of seconds, you can see Grayson Perry's A House for Essex at Wrabness). And Harwich turns out to be a bit of a jewel, overflowing with old streets, pubs and museums, plus as a vantage point it's hard to beat. [Visit Harwich] [Visit Harwich] [Harwich Society] [24 photos]

Harwich Maritime Trail: One good way to explore the town is via a Discovering Britain audio walk, where you can listen to your history on the way round with the added bonus of an accompanying 36 page booklet from the Royal Geographical Society. Or there's the Harwich Pub Trail, if that's more your thing, and assuming you have no need to remember the rest of the day. But I plumped for the Harwich Maritime Trail, picking up a leaflet courtesy of the seemingly ubiquitous Harwich Society, which weaved for a mile and a bit through the old streets. Including the following...

Redoubt Fort This Napoleonic fortress was built just over 200 years ago, in case the French came calling. A two-storey circular building, it now sits inside a moat, inside a ring of allotments, inside a housing estate, so is nigh impossible to see from the rest of the town. Restored and staffed by volunteers, it was the best value three quid of the day. Circuit one takes you round the ramparts past the big guns, then you descend to view the ring of damp arches within which the soldiers slept, worked, exercised and ate. Today these arches contain an eclectic museum which tells the fort's story but also that of the town, including a collection of Sealink memorabilia, a second hand bookstall, and lots of old objects that Harwich Society members were reluctant to throw away. Make sure you get the 50p leaflet to explain stuff on the way round. (entrance £3, open daily)
Low Lighthouse A squat 200-year-old wooden light by the riverside, now home to the town's Maritime Museum. (entrance £1)
High Lighthouse Visible across town, its light lined up with the Low Lighthouse to guide sailors into the harbour. It also marks the end of the 81 Essex Way, an 81 mile footpath from Epping. It was recently reopened to allow visitors to enjoy the view from the top (and ignore the lady who says it's more than 200 steps to the top, it's less than 100). (entrance £1, Saturdays only)
Treadwheel Crane A 350-year-old hoist attached to big wooden hut containing a wheel operated by men walking round inside. Now there's a modern welfare idea, eh Minister?
Lifeboat Museum The town's not short on museums, even if most are small. This one houses an old Clacton lifeboat, the Valentine Wyndham-Quin. (entrance £1)
Electric Theatre Opened in 1911, closed in the 1950s and restored in the 1980s, this is one of the oldest operational cinemas in England. Its facade is glorious, and its daily film programme appropriately not-quite mainstream.
Mayflower Project The Captain and crew for the Mayflower came from Harwich, and the captain's house still stands in Kings Head Street. There are currently plans to recreate the boat in time for the 400th anniversary of its 1620 sailing. So far they've only built the keel frame, but you can have a look at that, and their plans for the next five years, on site by the station. [website]
Ha'penny Pier At the tip of the town, overlooking the river, this is a stumpy dog-leg jetty with a cafe and a tiny tourist information hut (where the Harwich Society will hope to sell you some of their many publications).
Light Vessel LV18 It's big, it's red, it's the last manned lightship in the UK, and it's moored up beside the Ha'penny Pier. Oh and of course it's a museum, containing Pirate Radio memorabilia. (entrance £2) [website]

That's a lot more than most small towns have to offer. And if Harwich doesn't hold you, here are three neighbouring places to escape to.

Dovercourt: Harwich's Essex twin is a former seaside resort fractionally down the coast, now coalesced with its northern neighbour. Its long bay is dominated by two wooden lighthouses, one by the promenade and one out to sea, installed by Trinity House in 1863, again to guide in sailors through careful alignment. It's also a great place for watersports, hence the bay was thronging with windsurfers at the weekend, watched over by spouses and family while they circuited offshore. The council's attempt at a cliff garden seems somewhat worse for wear these days, with crumbling concrete and no attempt at planting, and the beach huts are a motley bunch (numbered in an entirely illogical order). A couple of hotels survive overlooking the breakers, but alas you're too late to visit Dovercourt Bay Holiday Park, once dressed up as Maplins for the filming of Hi-De-Hi, now demolished and replaced by a housing estate.

the Harwich Harbour Foot Ferry: From May to August (and weekends in April and September) a pedestrian ferry crosses the Stour linking Essex to Suffolk. It's only small, seating no more than 12 paying passengers, but that was no problem on my visit with loadings extremely light. The custard-coloured lowloader sets off from the Ha'penny Pier a few times a day (be sure to check the timetable) to negotiate the shipping lanes where there might be a yacht, there might be an ocean liner or there might be a massive container ship. You might also get a bit splashed or you might not, depending on conditions, and there's a loyalty card in case you make ten journeys (which, let's be fair, is unlikely). Oh, and there's a choice of destination...

Shotley: At the end of a tongue-shaped peninsula, sandwiched between the Stour and Orwell estuaries, lies the small village of Shotley. It's most famous as the site of the Royal Navy's training school for boys, based on the Navy's last sailing ship, with recruits numbering 500 before WW1 but 2000 after WW2. The boys lived and trained in a complex on the hill, now almost entirely demolished and awaiting rebirth as housing, but the mast of HMS Ganges (which they used for rigging practice) remains on site. Various artefacts from the naval colony are preserved in a museum by the marina, free to enter, and containing the ship's original figurehead. Or, while you're waiting for the ferry to come back, you can go for a walk up one or other arms of the estuary. The Stour side is prettier, with a strip of communal woodland atop the cliffs, an important bird habitat along Erwarton Bay, and fine views over the peninsula from the adjacent farmland tracks. Meanwhile the Orwell side is busier, with yachts aplenty off the salt marsh, and the amazing sight of the Port of Felixstowe on the opposite bank. I couldn't take my camera off the miles of cranes and containers, so beguiling is the import/export theatre played out on the Suffolk shore. I counted 34 cranes in total, their automatic shuffling servicing a sequence of giant international ships piled high with wares from abroad. A lot of what you buy comes through here, out of mind and out of sight, unless you live in Harwich or Shotley, that is.

Felixstowe: And the ferry also runs from Harwich to Felixstowe, which I suspect is a busier run, but that's for another day.

My Harwich gallery
There are 24 photos altogether [slideshow]

 Sunday, May 17, 2015

One thing about TfL's tube and rail lines, as they appear on maps, is that they have quite short names. At present, this many letters:

3: DLR
6: Circle
7: Central, Jubilee
8: Bakerloo, District, Northern, Victoria
10: Piccadilly
12: Metropolitan
13: Waterloo & City
15: Hammersmith & City, Emirates Air Line
16: London Overground

Interestingly it's the youngest lines which have the longest names, specifically the H&C (1990), EAL (2012) and LO (2007). And yes it is officially the 'London Overground', even though its name is shortened to just 'Overground' in many places, for example on the line diagrams in tube carriages. But in only two weeks time the London Overground gets a lot bigger, and it's not just the network, it's the names.

The current London Overground comes in five orange flavours, colloquially known as the North London line, East London line, West London line, Watford DC and Goblin. But on 31st May we get two more, namely the old West Anglia lines out of Liverpool Street, and the Emerson Park shuttle. And then it'll start to get really confusing precisely which Overground is which.

Tube line diagrams are going to say 'Overground' everywhere, without making it in any way obvious which branch of the Overground it is. At the northern end of the Victoria line, for example, only one of the four orange interchanges leads to Stoke Newington, but your average Londoner isn't going to know which is which. Then there's the new Extra Complicated Tube Map, which'll have more orange lines than a plate of cheesy spaghetti, and no colour-based distinction as to which line goes where. And then there are the line diagrams in the new Overground timetables, which'll suddenly get a whole lot more complicated...

Once there are half a dozen separate Overground lines, you'll be seeing their official names more often. And their official names are unexpectedly long. The new West Anglia acquisition, for example, goes by the overloaded moniker of Liverpool Street - Enfield Town/Cheshunt/Chingford, which is hardly catchy. Meanwhile the former East London line assumes the mouthful that is Highbury & Islington - West Croydon/Clapham Junction. We should be grateful that map designers refrained from using the full name proposed in TfL's style guide, which is Overground Dalston/Highbury & Islington - West Croydon/Crystal Palace/New Cross, because that's insane. But sheesh, somebody important has clearly decided that reflecting geographical reality is more important than brevity, and stuff how difficult it for us to read.

Why don't we go back to calling Richmond/Clapham Junction - Stratford the North London Line? Why don't we simply call Willesden Junction - Clapham Junction the West London line? And why don't we call Gospel Oak - Barking the Goblin, for heavens sake, it's well established and it's fun? But portmanteau nicknames such as Bakerloo or Piccadilly are too 20th Century, it seems, and so we're lumbered with this verbose gobbledegook instead.

Imagine if geographical correctness took hold across the TfL network, how the portfolio of familiar names would change.

13: Bank - Waterloo, Bank - Lewisham
16: Romford - Upminster
17: Gospel Oak - Barking
18: Stanmore - Stratford
19: Hammersmith - Barking
20: Bank - Woolwich Arsenal
21: Watford Junction - Euston, Wimbledon - Edgware Road
23: Hammersmith - Edgware Road
25: Liverpool Street - Shenfield
26: Brixton - Walthamstow Central
29: Heathrow/Uxbridge - Cockfosters
30: Stratford - Canary Wharf/Lewisham
33: Willesden Junction - Clapham Junction, Harrow & Wealdstone - Elephant & Castle
34: Richmond/Clapham Junction - Stratford
38: High Street Kensington - Kensington Olympia
41: Emirates North Greenwich - Emirates Royal Docks
43: Ealing Broadway/Richmond/Wimbledon - Upminster
46: Liverpool Street - Enfield Town/Cheshunt/Chingford, Stratford International - Beckton/Woolwich Arsenal
49: Morden/Kennington - Edgware/High Barnet/Mill Hill East
50: West Ruislip/Ealing Broadway - Hainault/Woodford/Epping
53: Amersham/Chesham/Watford/Uxbridge - Baker Street/Aldgate
77: Dalston/Highbury & Islington - West Croydon/Crystal Palace/Clapham Junction/New Cross

Thankfully that's not going to happen, at least not on any of the non-orange lines. But if we can come up with simple names like Metropolitan, Jubilee and Crossrail that all Londoners understand, why can't we do the same for the impending Overground epidemic?

 Saturday, May 16, 2015

I remembered too late that it was Walk To Work Week, but not too late to walk home from work. So at five thirty I set off from the office and made my way back to Bow on foot, because hell why not. It's only five or so miles from door to door, and a fascinating journey of contrasts, through the heart of the City and on down the Whitechapel Road. Here, in order, are twenty of the more interesting folk I passed along the way.

1) A long-haired homeless man sits outside the bank entrance, patting his dog and gazing upwards at potential passing benefactors. Ignoring me, he tries his luck with a young ponytailed lad, who nods and walks on by.
2) A twenty-something office escapee in trendy specs, with a drooping rucksack on his back, weaves deftly between the pedestrians on his small blue scooter. He'll be home before me.
3) Stepping from the revolving doorway, laptop bag in hand, a suited lady whips out her phone, lights up her first post-work cigarette and breathes deeply.
4) Headphones on, and something inaudibly magnificent reverberating between her ears, a young woman skips and dances along the line of the pavement oblivious to all those around her. Office workers scatter.
5) Braided hair dangling down his back, the cycle messenger stands with pint in hand among a throng of lawyers and bankers in the roped-off zone outside an old City pub.
6) In her smart white apron, a waitress hovers outside the entrance to a packed bar with a fixed smile and a tray of canapés, welcoming jolly financial types to a wine-fuelled Friday evening.
7) Beside a hole in the shadow of a skyscraper, where another is slowly rising, a helmeted crane operative raises a concrete mixer from ground level to what will one day be the third floor.
8) It's mealtime on the move for a bristly bloke wrapped up in woolly hat and camouflage jacket, at least until the plastic container he's holding slips and his second sandwich falls directly onto the pavement. Curses ensue.
9) In the brief transition zone between the City and the East End, the last man I see in a suit is the middle-aged gent with straggly grey beard stood outside The White Hart with a beer and a roll-up.
10) A Sikh man is unloading a warehouseful of clothing from a large lorry blocking the Cycle Superhighway. He piles six boxes onto a low trolley and then pushes them up a covered alleyway past a car with a personalised numberplate.
11) Above the waist he could be any East End hipster - white and bearded with a trendy demeanour - but below the waist a pale cotton tunic flaps, as he crosses the street to attend mosque with the other believers.
12) Four young daughters mill around their mother, they all in pink, she in blinged-up black hijab. The presence of a tiny son in her pushchair suggests that what has been a lengthy sequence of pregnancies can now conclude.
13) As the Whitechapel market traders pack up for the day, piling unsold fish and clothes and six-packs of mangoes into stacks of plastic containers, he wheels his livelihood (two boxes, a wrap of canvas and a dozen long metal poles) towards the rear of a waiting van.
14) Is she walking the dogs, or are the two pit bulls walking her? Beaming broadly, the lady with the over-prominent teeth slows to a halt outside The White Hart (yes another one) to greet unexpected friends.
15) In thin white t-shirt and unbranded shorts, dressed for practicality rather than to impress, the sports-friendly university student jogs past the Co-Op to catch up with his teammates.
16) Short, squat and wide, the Asian woman's tummy bulge is I'm fairly certain a late-in-life child rather than the result of excessive calories. She's looking down, and looking down. We both try to avoid each other on the narrowed pavement, but instead drift into each other's path, "sorry".
17) The woman crossing the road in front of me has a bow in her blonde hair, a fur coat, and a wicker handbag dangling from her arm. From behind I can't work out whether she's nearer 19 or 79, plumping eventually for the latter, only to discover when she turns up a sidestreet that it was the former.
18) A short young woman in a dark suit, with what look like tears welling up in her eyes, wanders slowly off the pavement and stands behind a convenient hedge to mull over the very sad thing that clearly just happened.
19/20) I'm trying to work out why two old ladies are pointing disapprovingly at my front doorstep, and then I see the canoodling couple. He has his red baseball cap pulled down to hide illicit mouth action, and a home-made fag held behind his back, while she holds a glistening lollipop in her outstretched hand. Both are oblivious to my approach, and disperse with a broad grin after I've stepped inside.

 Friday, May 15, 2015

Dear Londoner,

I am pleased to be able to confirm your membership of London Above, the lifestyle brand for the discerning Londoner.

As a member of London Above, the capital is your oyster. You can dine in it, play in it, shop in it, even own part of it, because you're one of the privileged ones with the capability to consume. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Membership of London Above is available only to those with the wherewithal to contribute in a positive way to the economic life of the capital. Our members are defined by their ability to retain a measure of disposable income after housing costs and all the bills have been paid, leaving them free to enjoy the many delights the capital can afford. Whilst the less fortunate dream of being able to save up enough for a flat and a big night out, for you this is weekly reality.

For you a morning cappuccino is a ritual, rather than an occasional luxury. For you the property pages in the paper are for perusal, not for flicking past. For you a West End theatre ticket is always a possibility, rather having to make do with another boxset night-in. For you a cocktail can be a regular tipple, rather than making do with bargain basement lagers from the local corner shop. For you a taxi remains the better option for getting home late, rather than squeezing with everyone else onto a hellish nightbus. Because for you a cushion of money helps to lubricate your way through London, which is the way it's meant to be enjoyed.

It's reassuring to know that London Above has millions of members across many older age groups and from all walks of life. Some were born into this status, via the parental home in an inner London terrace or a semi in the outer suburbs. Others moved in from outside, landing the plum job that enabled them to take their first steps on the capital's housing ladder. Some were damned lucky, buying their own property in the days when that was actually possible and riding the rising tide of ownership ever since. And others simply married the right person, or had the right parents, or knew the right friends, but that's fine, because London Above is an unequal opportunities organisation.

To make best use of your London Above membership, we urge you to keep an eye on the special offers available in our two in-house publications. The Evening Standard is always filled with news and features for the London Above community, as well as products and services on which to spend your hard-kept cash. Meanwhile Time Out's weekly pages provide an encyclopedia of venues and locations at which paid-for entertainment can be enjoyed, and include all the latest essential must-share views on how best to support such important campaigns as Pop-Up Mexican Organic Doughnut Week.

Please be aware that your membership of London Above can be terminated at any time. A redundancy letter, the sudden breakdown of a relationship, a significant rent rise - all of these are possible reasons for overnight expulsion from the elite. One day your finances are secure, the next you're drawing together plans for budgetary survival, and suddenly that mid-afternoon sourdough pastry is starting to look unwise.

Rejected members are automatically transferred to our sister organisation London Below. This works to provide opportunities for economically challenged Londoners by offering suggestions and tips for living within one's means, be that in outright poverty or in borderline breadline conditions. Cutting back on evenings out is only the beginning, with options for struggling Londoners including downgrading your regular supermarket, reconsidering your gym membership and moving in with friends to share an overpriced/undersized apartment because that's the only way to keep your head above water these days.

Some former members prefer instead to transfer to communities outside the capital, such as Stevenage Above or Hastings Above, or more likely Hastings Below. Living standards beyond the boundaries of London are often much lower than those within, hence those left financially ineffective by the pressures of metropolitan life can often carve out a mediocre niche for themselves in the provinces. But please be aware that cultural life beyond the suburbs lacks both depth and flair, that haute cuisine dining options can be severely limited, and that hipster-operated cereal cafes are in dangerously short supply.

Thank you then for your continued membership of London Above. And let's continue to refashion the capital in our own image, welcoming those with the necessary purchasing power and casting out those no longer able to keep up. But be warned that the price of membership continues to rise with each passing year, and that one day even you may be forced to wave the flag of surrender and depart. Because we live in a divided city, an uneasy mix of Above and Below, so best hope you can cling on to your right to live here for as long as possible.

 Thursday, May 14, 2015

Yesterday, somewhat unexpectedly, this blog had more visitors than it's ever had in one day since it started thirteen years ago. Visitor numbers reached a five-digit total, the first time I've ever breached that ceiling, indeed only the twentieth time I've topped 3000. You might think this blog was popular, and for a blog relatively speaking it is. But my average readership is fairly lowly, a couple of trainfuls a day, apart from on days when something special happens. So I thought I'd look back through those something specials, which are generally times that someone more important has noticed one thing I've written, and then drawn in curious folk to see what's what. Here's a Top Twenty.

1) 13th May 2015 (10265 visitors)
Monday's post about the election results, based on a tweet, has proven to be the most widely-shared thing I've ever written. People have been surprised/shocked/annoyed by the revelation that a mere 901 electors decided the outcome of the election, and felt the need to share this observation with their friends. It's the kind of statistic that anybody else could have come up with, but it seems nobody else did until I cobbled together the numbers from a newspaper supplement on the tube heading to the Boring Conference. Interest continued to bubble away over the weekend so I wrote up a a proper post, and was chuffed when the Daily Mirror noticed it on Tuesday, but it was a late tweet from a New Statesman journalist yesterday lunchtime that really gained traction. This reverberated around Twitter like a pinball, including mentions from Armando Iannucci and Billy Bragg, and has currently accumulated more than 600 retweets. It won't change the political system, and the thousands of one-off visitors who surfed in yesterday won't be back, but it's nice to have fed the political zeitgeist just this once.

2) 6th July 2011 (8363 visitors)
This one shows the power of delayed reaction. Three years earlier I'd written a post entitled "109 journeys between Central London Tube stations that are quicker by foot than Tube", based on a map in a TfL publication, and thought it would be interesting to turn the map into a list. Roll forward to 2011 and the QI Elves linked to my list as proof that "There are 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk", and in the visitors flooded. It turned out that there actually many more than 109, and that to attempt to give a precise figure is doomed to fail, but never let the truth get in the way of a top tube statistic.

3) 3rd September 2011 (6220 visitors)
A few days after TfL silently launched its bus countdown scheme online, I had lots of nice things to say about it. I also appeared to be the only blogger who'd noticed, so the BBC News website grabbed a quote from my review and linked to me. Sometimes it pays to be transparently positive, rather than critically negative.

4/5/6) 11th - 13th February 2006 (5538/5614/5029 visitors)
Back in the day, when Blogger was a burgeoning force to be reckoned with, they featured a different blogspot blog on their homepage each day. I got my turn on 11th February 2006, after a shortlisting in the Bloggies (remember them?). I'm not sure what middle America made of my report on a day trip to Dover, but several new readers actually chose to keep coming back.

7) 28th July 2008 (4610 visitors)
Ah yes, the day that Diamond Geezer (the jewellery company) appeared on Dragon's Den. A significant proportion of their pitch referred to its website, so thousands of TV viewers on laptops tried to Google their way in and ended up on my blog instead. I got 2500 accidental visitors in 15 minutes, but the diamond merchants got far more because their website promptly collapsed under the strain. Even years later, I could still tell when Dave was repeating this particular episode on TV by the sudden concentrated spike in visitor numbers.

8) 9th April 2013 (4467 visitors)
Like all the best media outlets, I had a Margaret Thatcher obituary ready to publish the day she pegged it. Unlike theirs, mine was three obituaries in one, so appealed to whatever bias you were looking for. Twitter gold, it turned out.

9) 15th November 2012 (4259 visitors)
The good folk at Reddit sometimes get very excited about things I've written, especially if they involve the Underground. They got terribly excited to discover that a Circle line train runs from Barking through Bow Road before dawn, and that I'd taken a ride on it.

10/11/12) 15th August/30th July/31st July 2012 (3689/3539/4242 visitors)
Yes, obviously the Olympics make an appearance in this chart. By an accident of geography I was the local blogger on the spot, and August 2012 remains the busiest month my blog has ever had. Oddly the top day was after the Closing Ceremony, when Reddit picked up on the magenta Rio de Janeiro sign TfL had hung for a laugh at Stratford station. My July peak came amid all the advice I posted for potential datrippers, with the BBC's Tom Edwards linking to my analysis of which gate was the best way in, or best way out. Thanks Tom.

13) 18th May 2012 (3523 visitors)
Back to Reddit again, this time when Redditors came to read a post on trains but got sidetracked by my blog's ghastly template design. "What a terrible looking site" said one, and "not very readable" said another, topped off by "why bother publishing it online at all?" When I then blogged about their comments they came back in even greater numbers, but blimey they were well ahead of the curve with all their comments on "responsive design", which three years later has pretty much taken over how we view the web. Except here, that is, where the ghastly template lingers on.

14) 27th October 2011 (3485 visitors)
Remember when the Olympics was going to be the event that ground our city to a screaming halt? At the height of the pre-hysteria, precisely nine months before the Opening Ceremony, I posted a spoof press release warning couples not to conceive their baby today. And I got the tone almost spot on, so an insider within 2012 Towers later told me.

15) 25th February 2013 (3423 visitors)
I assembled all the facts I could find about London's postcodes, how they came about and why they're numbered like they are. And that went down well.

16) 6th July 2014 (3418 visitors)
On the day of introduction I wrote a factual but relentlessly snarky piece about TfL's transition to cashless operation on London's buses. By exposing some of the potential iniquities of the new system in an amusing way, and hitting a nerve, the post got shared a lot. And now almost a year later obviously all those worries about passengers not being able to cope have been borne out... oh.

17) 22nd February 2015 (3339 visitors)
A weekend post about the seven and a half metre difference between central London's highest and lowest tides, with pictures, brought those Redditors back again. A travelogue with a good dose of geeky science usually goes down well.

18) 29th July 2008 (3117 visitors)
The day after the Dragon's Den Diamond Geezer debacle, fresh visitors were still pouring in. The same phenomenon'll probably happen today, with late fallout from that election tweet sufficient to propel 14th May 2015 somewhere into the Top Twenty too.

19) 13th January 2010 (3097 visitors)
The day after we buried my Mum, a New York uber-blog quite liked the poem read out at her funeral.

20) 6th August 2012 (3084 visitors)
And finally, perhaps unsurprisingly, back to the Olympics again. This was the day of the marathon that didn't come to Bow, and the day after I'd offered some advice to visitors in a useful Q&A. Numbers 21 and 22 in my Most Popular list are also from this one-off Games-time period, when East London ruled.

I hope that my Top 20 hasn't come across as over-smug, that wasn't the intention. What the list does appear to prove is that you can't control popularity, it simply sometimes happens, or more likely doesn't. But if you can write interesting, original, relevant and accessible stuff, your chances of an externally-focused visitor bonanza are occasionally greatly increased. I shall keep trying.

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my special London features
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