diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 22, 2014

There are ten 'E' buses, all of them in the Ealing area, the first three inaugurated in 1968 as Flat Fare routes. I could have chosen any of them, but with no stand-out option I decided to go with the bus that shares my postcode. Perhaps not my best ever decision, the route twisted all over the place and took forever to get nowhere very exciting. Enjoy.

 Route E3: Greenford - Chiswick
 Length of journey: 9 miles, 75 minutes

Greenford sounds lovelier than it is, along the main shopping street at least. The E3 pulls out of a sidestreet and doesn't hit its first stop until the other side of some traffic lights, giving adequate opportunity for any potential rider to break off from shopping and still catch it. I beat a cabal of post-church kids to the front seat on the upper deck, from which I shall be mostly underwhelmed for the next hour and a quarter. Immediately beyond Lidl we traverse the floodplain of the River Brent, not especially overdeveloped, and familiar if you've ever walked this section of the Capital Ring. The sports field where we turn right is completely speckled with seagulls, from the nearest goalmouth to the furthest rugby posts. And then we climb Greenford Avenue to a relatively lofty peak, between leafy avenues down which certain other E buses deviate as indirectly as possible.

We're in the vicinity of Castle Bar Park and Drayton Green, two of the least used stations in London, but running parallel to the railway so never intersect. Instead we head for Hanwell, a more socially mixed locale and our second burst of shops. Three large places of worship dominate Church Road, a big Methodist, a more trad Anglican and a rather more modern Roman Catholic. Behind me everyone is sitting politely and not talking, which would normally be great except that nothing noteworthy is happening, so you'll have to make do with me looking out of the window and telling you what I see. The Pamela Howard School of Dance on the Broadway. The entrance to the Kensington & Chelsea Cemetery, seemingly miles from home. The Diamond Hotel, which looks like it definitely used to be a pub. As you can see, the E3's highlights are legion.

Despite being an E bus we're not heading straight on to Ealing Broadway but turning off to escape the congestion early. The run down to Holdenesque Northfields station features an increasingly upmarket retail selection, from a Wine Shop selling beer's and can's to the artisan Cheddar Deli. We pause a while outside the Ealing Christian Centre, formerly the Avenue Theatre, where the younger churchgoers have emerged onto the front step to check their smartphones. A more elderly worshipper waves her stick at the driver as she hobbles across the road, and we drive off a minute later with her safely aboard. Our next passenger has heels and a gold designer bag, hence Little Ealing Lane must be swisher, or is this South Ealing now - I've lost all geographical sensitivity.

You can tell from its wiggle that Popes Lane was once a country thoroughfare. Today a long curve of tasty semis shields the open space of Gunnersbury Park, which comes to the fore only when the gateposts of the Rothschilds' former mansion butt up against the street. Our dalliance with the North Circular is thankfully brief, making a direct beeline for Acton Town station, and in the process becoming an E3 in W3. Acton's 1930s fire station survives, but the Mill Hill Free House hasn't been so lucky and languishes all boarded up on a street corner. Ahead one badly parked car blocks our progress, and it's only when an E3 turns up travelling the other way that headlamps flash and we're on our way again.

Hang on, we're now back on the Uxbridge Road we left two paragraphs back, as the E3's meandering journey continues. Here it's known as Acton High Street, home to the very first Waitrose (now a takeaway), and where two policemen are keeping order by queueing at a cashpoint. But we don't stay on the main drag for long, instead nipping round the back of the old town hall to aim for a dog grooming and hypnotherapy studio in bijou Bedford Park. A blue plaque marks the former villa of John Lindley, orchidologist, whose son-in-law is responsible for turning a few sparse villas into the world's first Garden Suburb. Many passengers alight at Turnham Green station, at which point the shops vault up a gear to sequential bistros, boutiques and brasseries. My local postcode of E3 could never support a patisserie called Château Dessert, but on Chiswick Broadway it's positively buzzing.

We've been going an hour now and we're still not done. Indeed my ordeal is about to be extended by the dreaded crew-swap announcement. "This bus will wait here for a short time for a change of drivers to take place." We have an almost entirely new complement of passengers by now, boarding the E3 for its final leg out into tube-less territory. They're not best pleased at waiting either, but are probably well used to it, even the man to my left clutching a large laminated shelf. When our new driver's finally settled in we take the cut-through across actual Turnham actual Green, past Gilbert Scott's Christ Church isolated at its centre.

We have one last big road to cross, the busy A4, where the traffic lights let out only a few vehicles at a time. Annoyingly there's a bus stop partway down the lengthy queue and we're taking ages to reach it, but our driver kindly drops off expectant passengers early in the hope. Annoyingly one local resident doesn't take him up on the offer and holds back, dinging fifty yards down the road just before the stop, hence we miss our chance and get to queue one more time. But then we're across, entering the tongue of land inside the Chiswick meander and continuing almost all the way down to the Thames. But not quite, we halt finally on the lip of a housing estate - such a long way from Greenford, and so indirect too. An eye-opening ride for an east Londoner, but never again, E3, not all the way.

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

» route E3 - route map
» route E3 - timetable
» route E3 - live bus map
» route E3 - route history
» route E3 - The Ladies Who Bus

 Friday, November 21, 2014

Primrose Hill is not a village.
Wimbledon Village is not a village.
Stratford's new East Village is absolutely not a village.

But London does have proper villages, because in some areas the suburban sprawl doesn't quite stretch as far as the Greater London border.

So here's my attempt at a schematic map of London's villages.
Click on the name for more information from the excellent Hidden London website.
And click on the postcode for a map.

Hill End [UB9]
Mount Pleasant [UB9]
Harefield [UB9]
South Harefield [UB9]
Barnet Gate [EN5]
Rowley Green [EN5]
Arkley [EN5]
Monken Hadley [EN5]
Totteridge [N20]
Botany Bay [EN2]
Crews Hill [EN2]
Bulls Cross [EN2]
Havering-atte-Bower [RM4]
Noak Hill [RM4]
Newyears Green [UB9]GREATER
Hacton [RM14]
North Ockendon [RM14]
Wennington [RM13]
Harmondsworth [UB7]
Sipson [UB7]
Longford [UB7]
Petersham [TW10]
North Cray [DA14]
Hockenden [BR8]
Kevingtown [BR5]
Chelsfield [BR6]
Maypole [BR6]
Malden Rushett [KT9]Little Woodcote [SM5]Keston [BR2]
Nash [BR2]
Leaves Green [BR2]
Downe [BR6]
Berry's Green [TN16]
Luxted [BR6]
Pratt's Bottom [BR6]
Cudham [TN14]
Hazelwood [TN14]
Horns Green [TN14]

The largest concentration of London villages is to the southeast, in Bromley, across several square miles that probably ought to be in Kent. Several more villages run across the top of London along the outer edge of Barnet and Enfield. Meanwhile the county of Surrey generally begins before the houses stop, hence to the southwest there are barely any villages inside London at all.

But what precisely is a village?

I've plumped for settlements disconnected from London's built-up area, generally surrounded by fields or undeveloped land. I've included hamlets if they have an identity, but not mere clusters of houses. But I haven't done that religiously, I've also used judgement and common sense, which means you'll probably disagree with some of my choices.

Isn't Harefield big enough to be a town? Is Arkley more a suburb than somewhere rural? Do Luxted and Horns Green technically exist - their woefully brief Wikipedia entries suggest not. And where's [insert name of village here], shouldn't that also be included?

You may well have some comments to make about my selection, and how it should be tweaked, reduced or increased. If so, please let me know, and we'll try to make this as definitive a list as possible.

Because Notting Hill, Marylebone and Highgate are not villages, whatever the property-thumping media try to claim. The real thing is readily available within London's borders, so let's not pretend.

 Thursday, November 20, 2014

Three East London villages: 3) Noak Hill

My third village sits in the north-eastern corner of London, at the top right-hand corner on the map. Not the precise right-hand corner, because that's on the M25, but sprawled across the Havering Plain one field in. It's very much off the beaten track, not really on the way to anywhere, nor with any intention of being. It's an hour's walk from the nearest station, and not quite served by bus, but then if you lived out here you'd almost certainly drive. It has one church, one pub, the odd thatched cottage and the obligatory garden centre. It's Noak Hill, and it's a proper Essex village in every respect except that it's not quite in Essex. [4 photos]

Once known as Nook Hill, this is another village that owes its survival to the Green Belt. This whole area north of the Brentwood Road was once part of the estate of a manor house called Dagnams (not to be confused with Dagenham, which is the other side of Romford). In 1772 it was bought by a merchant called Richard Neave, whose meteoric rise to the nobility included posts as the Governor of the Bank of England and the High Sheriff of Essex. In 1919 the 5th Baronet auctioned off a large portion of his estate to a number of farmers, but kept hold of the land immediately around his mansion. The remainder was compulsory purchased in the late 1940s by the London County Council who promptly covered it with ten thousand houses to create the Harold Hill estate. Planning legislation has ensured that no finger of suburban sprawl quite reaches out to touch the original village today.

You can almost take the bus, indeed two routes advertise themselves as terminating at Noak Hill. But they stop by a patch of green beside the last houses in Harold Hill, and to reach the village proper requires five, ten, fifteen minutes walk. While you're here, perhaps visit the pub. Once called The Goat it changed its name in 1715 to become The Bear, and upped its game still further in the 1960s by actually acquiring a pair. Landlord Ron kept two brown bears called Rhani and Honey in a cage in the pub garden, along with a public menagerie of lesser animals, and occasionally brought them into the bar to enjoy a brown beer and a bag of crisps. Don't come expecting the same devil-may-care attitude today. The Bear is now a pub grill targeted far more at the neighbouring estate than the village up the hill, and serves nothing more exotic than a Chilli Dog.

Noak Hill Road rises steadily after crossing Carter's Brook, passing a handful of delightful cottages on the climb. Thatched Cottage speaks for itself, and used to be a village store, while Rose Cottage and Old Keeper's Cottage are timber-framed and weather boarded. What used to be the blacksmiths until the 1970s is now a characterful long house with four motors parked outside, and the former Post Office across the road has long turned residential. It's left to three signs at the main road junction to reveal what Noak Hill does best today - a plant nursery, a potato merchants and an aquatic centre.

The Ingrebourne Way starts here, a cycle track and footway running 11 miles down to Rainham. If you ride I think you'd like it, not least because it's so utterly different to most other London bikeways. A short distance through the first section the woodland opens out to reveal an unexpected public park, this the former grounds of Dagnams Manor. Of the house itself there's no sign - this because the LCC installed a caretaker after the war who promptly pinched all the lead from the roof and the rain got in, forcing demolition. A few fenceposts and the cobbled stable floor are all that survive, this at the Noak Hill end, whereas most of the parkgoers are dogwalkers from Harold Hill to the south.

Back in the village, one of Noak Hill's two places of worship is what you'd expect - redbrick Anglican with a slippery path to the front door, the last Lady of the Manor buried outside, and Zumba classes in the church hall every Tuesday. The other is a Hindu mandir, the Radha Krishna Temple, which in reality turns out to be the old school converted to community use, and not the glamorous turreted marvel you might have hoped. Tisbury's offers the only coffee in the village - a machine brew in a huge shed whose main purpose is the sale of tropical and marine fish, if that's your bag. And the garden centre's closed until the end of February, sorry, in case you were thinking that might be a good reason to visit.

Step further north along the lane and you'll catch the unmistakeable tang of manure, as if to prove the area's rural credentials, and then the smallholdings kick in. It's quite horsey out here, and pigeony and cattery too, and the sort of place you'd build a bungalow if you were trying to flout a planning regulation or two. Hence I found Benskins Lane quite oppressive, forever afraid that the local Neighbourhood Watch firmly wished there wasn't a public footpath passing their front gates. Ditto the tunnel at the end of the track where the path dips beneath the M25, in a cutting that destroyed the rural calm forever. The top right-hand corner of London lies along the hard shoulder, indeed it's somewhere you've quite likely, fleetingly, been. Essex looks a lot prettier on the other side.

[Today's challenge: risk a third trip to the outskirts of Havering before the remaining readership departs]

Friday update: I've been taken to task by the webmaster of the FriendsofDagnamPark website, whose excellent resource I linked to eleven times above. "In the main you did a pretty good job. I have two minor complaints; one that we got no acknowledgement and two that one part paragraph is grossly inaccurate. I accept that you had a lot to take in and your synthesis of the data on our site was not bad." Hopefully the second half of the second paragraph is now less inadequate as a result of their helpful feedback.

 Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Three East London villages: 2) Cranham

I'll confess it was Ian Nairn sent me to Cranham.
Nairn's London, chapter 7, final entry, just after Romford Market and Upminster Windmill.

"Of all the ways in which London meets its countryside, this is the least credible. When the Green Belt came into force in 1938, the outward swell of building stopped dead, two fields away. So you can look back to the serried roofs from what is still an unspoilt Essex hamlet - farm, house, rectory and church (unhappily Victorian) in a big leafy churchyard."

And fifty years later he's still not wrong.

"There is a terrifying forty miles of solid brickwork behind those demure-looking semis half a mile away. You feel as if Canute might have on the beach, but unexpectedly successful."

To get to Cranham today, head past Upminster and stop on the big estate before the M25. If the District line went one stop further its terminus would be in Cranham, and it's here you'll find an extensive depot for the storage and maintenance of trains. Surrounding this is a considerable residential area, now pretty much merged with Upminster so it's hard to tell where one suburb ends and the other begins. But it's straightforward to spot where both end and the countryside begins, with the medieval hamlet of Cranham now isolated on a low rise to the southeast. Its survival is thanks to a timely coincidence - the local landowner put his estate up for sale in 1937, a year before the Green Belt was introduced and protected the southeastern quadrant in perpetuity.

The only road into ye olde Cranham turns off south just before the railway bridge, this the c2c link line via Chafford Hundred. I say road, it's much more a lane, and soon drops into hedgerow mode once a single house is passed. At first the adjacent grass is a school* playing field, alive with raucous rugger folk as I passed. But then a proper field opens out, all ploughed and muddy at present, and with Nairn's urban edge clearly visible on the opposite side. It's a shame about the metal bollards positioned at very regular intervals along the lane (this purely from an aesthetic point of view - if you live up the far end I'm sure they're essential for avoiding ending up in a ditch after dark).
* The school is Coopers' Company and Coborn School, which until 1971 used to be based in Bow Road.

And people do live up The Chase, in some very large houses indeed. Three are set back behind high hedges to obscure goings on from all those pesky dog walkers who will insist on traipsing past. And from churchgoers, because Cranham's parish church is still housed out here in the fields rather than amid some more convenient housing estate. The original medieval church had a semi-octagonal tower, but the current spire-topped building is Victorian, and hence seen more easily over the trees. A potter in the churchyard reveals little out of the ordinary, but inside is a memorial to James Oglethorpe, a British General who founded the American colony of Georgia and who lived out his later years nextdoor at Cranham Hall. Of this you can see the gates and a long drive, but the remainder is hidden behind a high brick wall of Tudor provenance, and the current tenant likes it that way.

The only other residents hereabouts are holed up in what was once Cranham Hall Farm, now a large quadrangle of converted barn units and livery stables. And all around, a sea of green (or gold, or brown currently, depending). To travel further you can only walk, or maybe trot, following a web of footpaths and bridleways out across the fields. One carries straight on past paddocks to Cranham Marsh Nature Reserve, and eventually the peculiarly named Stubbers Adventure Centre. Another path, well hidden round the back of the churchyard, leads down across the railway to Pike Lane (a mile long and totally undeveloped) and the Thames Chase Forest Centre. And the path that Ian Nairn would have taken tracks west down the side of something ex-agricultural to a small pond and the last hedge before civilisation.

I was fortunate enough to arrive in the hour before sunset as the sky above Argyle Gardens blazed pink and gold. Arriving with muddy boots through an alleyway I found myself on a pleasantly nondescript residential street of broad semis and postwar infill. With paved front gardens and littering leaves, and a boy on a bike passing a group of teenagers heading to the corner shop, it could be any of ten thousand streets across the capital. But as Nairn pointed out it's simply the first, the borderline zone between town and country, the latter paved over from here all the way to Uxbridge. Praise be to the Green Belt, and all who live inside her.

[Today's challenge: write several more paragraphs about almost as obscure a corner of London as yesterday]

 Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three East London villages: 1) Wennington

And if you don't need to look that up on a map, congratulations. Wennington's the last village in London heading east towards Lakeside, about halfway between Rainham and Aveley, and very very nearly in Thurrock. It sits alone on the Thames marshes, just high enough not to flood and disconnected to any residential sprawl. It's also very old, with a mention in the Domesday Book and an early medieval church, in which the ashes of a semi-famous mathematician are interred. Three hundred people live here, almost all along one side of one street, paying their London taxes and voting for London's Mayor. And if only the trains stopped you might have heard of the place, but there's a reason they don't, and the solitude's probably part of the appeal. [7 photos]

The village exists as half a dozen runs of cottages plus two farms amid some fairly squelchy fields. First up from the Rainham end are New Cottages, which'd rank as Fairly Old Cottages in most other London boroughs. Walk a bit further along the road and the terraces run together... Laundry Cottages, Marine Cottages, Kent View... each comprised of relatively affordable two-up two-downs. There's no shop anywhere in the village, but one slightly larger house proudly proclaims itself as The Old Post Office 1886-1967. Oh, and "Kent View" may have been true once but the county no longer appears clearly on the southern horizon, which is blocked by the landfill heaps of the Aveley Marshes, now grassing over in the middle distance.

A particular quirk of Wennington is that it has no public footpaths. One long pavement along the main street yes, but there are no tracks off into the marshes in case you fancy a walk. I did see one local resident wander off into the wilderness behind a trotting dog, but you'd probably not get too much further at this time of year without ending up knee-deep. Another barrier is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which speeds by a few hundred yards away behind a concrete barrier, blocking access towards the Thames. A more ordinary c2c service runs parallel, but only Rainham and Purfleet get stations, and intermediate passengers can only stare as they rush through. Immediately behind the railway is the A13, stalking across the Wennington Marshes on a long viaduct. And beyond that is an equally inaccessible bird reserve which the RSPB are currently scraping out to improve the habitat.

The church of St Mary and St Peter hugs up close to the road, but then the whole village does so that's no surprise. The present building dates back to the 13th century, and survives with a regular Sunday service because the village ganged together a while back to kickstart fundraising for roof repairs. Just outside the northeast corner is a squat obelisk to the memory of Henry Perigal (1801-1898), a Huguenot stockbroker's clerk who dabbled in mathematics and meteorology in his spare time. His main area of expertise was compound circular motion, but today he's remembered solely for an elegant cut-and-shift dissection of Pythagoras' Theorem. Henry was the first to discover the pleasing geometrical proof depicted here, and which also appears on the side of his obelisk (though considerably harder to see on the weathered post).

Next up is the village green, originally the site of a large manor house, now with 20 interwar semi-detached houses around the perimeter. This could easily be part of the Becontree Estate, were it not for the atypical village sign depicting the church and a tiller of the soil. The parish noticeboard features two posters warning about lung cancer, both since obscured by a faded printout that screams SAY NO TO GRAVEL EXTRACTION IN WENNINGTON. It'd be all too tempting for some company to move in on the surrounding marshes and dig them out, but earlier this year residents raised a 2000 name petition against, and local MP Jon Cruddas is firmly anti too. As things stands the worst that's currently confirmed is the seeding of a new golf course on the edge of the village, completion date unknown.

The next building beyond the green greatly surprised me - a fully functional fire station! Here we are in a tiny village only a few hundred yards from the edge of the capital, and yet the London Fire Brigade has closed a dozen other more central stations and left this one open. To be fair I suspect Thurrock pays a fair amount towards Wennington Fire Station too, plus it is jolly conveniently located near an A13 junction for speedy egress, but even so... you can't buy a Mars Bar in the village, but you can find a dozen folk who'll offer smoke alarm advice.

And it's just up the road past one last farm that Wennington, and Greater London, terminate. A busy road rushes by, with the Premier Inn and the Lennards pub fractionally on the London side and the Willow Farm Giant Bootsale (Every Sunday) fractionally in Thurrock. I arrived in time to see the last purchase-laden stragglers walking away, or maybe a few vans selling leftovers in a field was the height of the day's trade. A pint in the Lennards might have been welcome, but it appeared to be deep in Sunday roast mode so I took advantage of the village's one excellent transport link and escaped. The 372 bus runs through Wennington two or three times an hour on its way to Lakeside, or Hornchurch, should you ever wish to visit. I may have just saved you the effort.

[Today's challenge: write seven paragraphs about as obscure a corner of London as possible]

 Monday, November 17, 2014

If Time Out genuinely covered the capital, it'd occasionally venture outside Zones 1-3.
Because there's stuff of interest everywhere, if you look.

Great Bits of London #35

Rainham Hall, a sadly underappreciated National Trust property overlooking the Thames marshes, is currently closed for renovation. A £1½m lottery grant closed the Queen Anne house in February, and next summer it reopens to visitors all scrubbed up and properly refreshed. In the meantime if you'd like to take a look inside, a behind the scenes hard hat tour is taking place on Saturday 6th December, pre-booking required. But if you were the person who left a Thompson Local Directory at the front gate over the weekend, all you get is a slow handclap.

Meanwhile over at the railway station, zone 6, c2c's Not Very Good Signwriting Team has been hard at work outside the toilets. You can see what they did, but I still can't see why they did it. Desperate times.

Rainham's new library opened in the summer on a plot of land between the station and the Norman parish church. It's a very 21st century building, a bold red-brick cluster with asymmetric ceilings, which hasn't endeared it to all residents. The library's at one end, with enlarged facilities including meeting rooms and a crèche, the aim being to create a brand new community hub at the heart of the village. Adjacent is a stack of 16 shared-ownership flats, because that's how libraries get funded these days, plus two retail units at ground level that remain stubbornly empty. Havering's head of culture Andrew Curtin has declared the combination "arguably the most perfect building in the borough", while former councillor Coral Jeffery calls it "an abomination reminiscent of a workhouse", "overbearing" and "totally out of character for a conservation area". Coral's closer to the truth than Andrew, alas, but it seems that to gain a new public building these days there's always a price to pay.

Up the Wennington Road is The Wool Shop, Rainham's very own knitters' paradise and baby boutique. This is the kind of shop that still has knitting patterns pegged up in the window, along with knitting bags, knitting wool and brown ribbed knitted garments. Wouldn't you much rather Time Out covered proper long-standing businesses such as this than the usual round of pop-up fashion outlets? Closed afternoons, closed Thursdays and Sundays.

If you are tempted to the outer reaches of the Wennington Road, be careful where you park. The residents don't like cars churning up their verge, so metal signs have been plonked in the grass to warn you off. A frightening one pound fine could be yours, this being the going rate when Essex County Council set the rate in 1952. Let's hope that Havering council never notice the potential loss of revenue, and that these heritage plaques continue to ward off transgressors long into the future.

Only in Rainham.

 Sunday, November 16, 2014

Three years ago Anne Ward published a sparkling little book called Nothing To See Here, detailing several dozen offbeat places scattered around Scotland. It was based on a blog of the same name, now on hiatus, which also sometimes ventured south of the border. And that's helped set up Anne's latest publication, Northern Delights - A Guide to the Hidden Joys of the North of England. For this she's visited fifty oddities from the Wirral to Kielder, dragging her family and her camera on various car tours to complete her research. Every entry thus comes copiously photographed, seemingly always on a blue-skied day for which I am very jealous.

Don't expect the usual. Learn where to go on a rhubarb tour, where to find a collection of steam organs and where to spot a life-sized steam train made from 185000 bricks. Concrete lovers will appreciate the Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee, Forton Services on the M6 and Preston Bus Station. And yes, of course the Cumberland Pencil Museum is featured, because that's the law in any compilation of quirky bits of the north. To my shame I reckon I've only visited five, so I'm treating the other 90% as a wishlist for the future. Maybe one day I'll burrow through the Tyne Pedestrian and Cyclist Tunnels, gulp down a Scarborough ice cream sundae and dine in a South Shields cave - Anne's bright prose and pictures make them all look temptingly fine. Her handbag-sized volume costs £6.99, and is published by a small company based in Dumfries and Galloway (hence my copy arrived from a DG postcode in two days flat). It'd make a lovely stocking filler, but I'm definitely keeping mine.

I joined Ello this week. I tried to join in September but they were too busy coping with becoming popular, so it took until Friday for a sign-up invite to arrive. Ello is a brand new social network, like we need another, but this time with a privacy. They promise never to sell user data to advertisers or third parties, never to show advertisements and never to enforce a real-name policy, so of course that was ideal. It's a bit quiet on Ello at the moment, because they don't make searching for people you know very easy, which turns out to be both a selling point and a curse. But anyway, if you're on there, do please say hi or make friends or whatever Ello-ers do, I'm not yet sure. I also don't yet know whether it's worth investing time and effort in posting anything much, but then I once thought that about Twitter, back when I was a very early adopter. It pays to nip in early because then you get the ID name you want rather than dgeezerE3 or something else unmemorable. If you're tempted I have a handful of invites, apparently. But it'll probably be Goodbye.

Docklands buses, the original eleven*
D11990-99Waterloo - Isle of Dogs(Docklands Express)
D21989-93Ilford - Beckton 
D31990-93Old Street - East Ham(withdrawn Old St - Poplar 1991)
D41989-90Mile End - Poplar(reintroduced as a loop, 1992-94)
D51989-99Mile End - Becontree Heath (cut back to Crossharbour, 1990)
D61989-now Hackney - Crossharbour 
D71989-nowMile End - Poplar(via Isle of Dogs)
D81991-nowCrossharbour - Stratford(to Stratford City, 2011)
D91991-95Bank - Crossharbour 
D101991-92Liverpool Street - Leamouth 
D111991-95London Bridge - City Airport (Docklands Express)

An earlier D1 ran from Mile End to Poplar/Crossharbour between 1984 and 1989
In 1999 the current D3 was introduced between Bethnal Green and Crossharbour

* not because you're interested, but because I was

 Saturday, November 15, 2014

Around 1990 a whole suite of Docklands 'D' buses was introduced to make connections with the Isle of Dogs. The DLR wasn't so extensive in those days, and the Jubilee line had yet to be extended, and bankers needed a network of buses to help get them to work. The current D3 wasn't one of those, it was introduced a decade later using a redundant number, and followed pretty much the same route as it does today. And that's a wildly twisty route - barely three miles end to end as the crow flies, but over ten on the bus. Only the driver, or a fool, would ride the lot.

 Route D3: Bethnal Green - Crossharbour
 Length of journey: 11 miles, 50 minutes

London buses flock to hospitals like moths to a flame, with the D3 drawn to two. It kicks off in the leafy avenues surrounding the London Chest Hospital, deathly quiet at weekends, and a short walk from Victoria Park. Only two of us are waiting, the other considerably younger than me but with the inner confidence of a regular traveller. I climb aboard and wave my Oyster card at the reader... which doesn't beep. "Take a seat, it's not ready yet," says the driver, in a weary yet particularly trusting manner. The iBus display also has yet to kick into action, and I mention this only because it will turn out to be significant later. In fact quite soon.

We squeeze out of the sidestreets onto Cambridge Heath Road, where suddenly many passengers pour on board beside the exit from the Central line subway. And as we turn onto Bethnal Green Road, Emma Hignett's automated voice kicks in with an unexpected lie. "This bus is on diversion. Please listen for further announcements." We very much aren't on diversion, we're going the completely normal way, past a bustling selection of shops and the general E2 massive. I can hear the sound of much beeping from the front cab as the driver attempts to reset the system. The iBus display gets one stop right and then fails again, as Emma's dulcet tones continue to fib about our diversionary status. We pass the house built on the site of the house where the Krays used to live, and a bus stop called Fakruddin Street, which Emma usually pronounces extremely carefully.

The majority of passengers alight as we graze the Royal London Hospital, where we should be carrying straight on except there's a red metal sign blocking the middle of the road. The driver yells to confirm the news, that this bus is about to go on diversion, and suddenly everyone else skedaddles. They've judged how long the alternative route is going to be and wisely escaped, leaving only me to enjoy the mile-long Aldgate deviation. And unexpected silence. It's finally Emma's moment to shine and make her diversion announcement properly, except she doesn't, despite having made it repeatedly and inappropriately earlier on. I smile, because this is narrative gold and means I won't have to spend eight paragraphs simply repeating what I can see out of the window.

Out of the window I can see all sorts of things I wasn't expecting - the textile shops of the Whitechapel Road, the pristine skyscrapers of Aldgate and the luxury flats being erected where News International used to stand. I decide that this extended loop is a good time to touch in, so surprise the driver by appearing behind him and beeping. He kindly checks that I'm not being too greatly disadvantaged by the diversion, and then continues with my one-man tour of the East End. I'm expecting someone else to join us, surely, as we finally rejoin the correct route on The Highway, but no, it seems I'm about to get Wapping all to myself too.

The D3 is one of two buses to serve this compact riverside community, its cobbled backstreets notorious for their narrow twisting nature. But the driver's clearly well practised and hurtles along, judging the gaps between the speed bumps perfectly so as not to have to slow down. A pop-up dockside market is underway, where a small girl hiked up on her father's shoulders waves to us as we zip by. Back on the main road we continue to make up for lost time, taking advantage of an empty bus lane to undertake the Limehouse traffic. But then my solo run is up, as a diminutive shopper flags us down and drags her spotty wheely basket aboard... for two stops only.

There is no rush of bankers heading for Canary Wharf today, only the temporary company of an oversized man in a graceless parka. The estate's security guards raise the barrier for us as we approachWestferry Circus - they look as if they're glad to have something to do this far outside normal working hours. Alone again after the DLR drop-off I realise I'm about to be treated to my second private detour. A major development on Heron Quays, and a plethora of water nearby, means a riproaring alternative route is temporarily required. We dip underneath the new Crossrail station, head briefly onto the dual carriageway and then, really, up the backroad past the cinema? I've never been right to the end before and down into the tunnel, where Canary Wharf's secret delivery entrance leads off beneath the towers. It's been good this special diversion, if a proper timewaster... and no, of course Emma hasn't mentioned it.

At last we're back on the proper route, and about to undertake a spiral round the Isle of Dogs. The D3 exists to distribute the residents of Millwall and Cubitt Town around the peninsula, but two other buses do the same and today they're clearly taking all the strain. This and the fact that if you really wanted to go to Asda at the end of the route you could walk faster that the looping path we're tracing. I can sense the driver edging up to bus stops in a "you don't really want me, do you?" manner, and accelerating triumphantly when body language indicates "no". Eventually two ladies call his bluff and actually get on, though again not for long, more like they couldn't be bothered to walk for a few hundred metres.

The rim of the island is a fascinating mix of habitats, from shiny apartments paid for by annual bonuses to out-of-sight out-of-mind council flats. We also kink into the interior for a bit up the delightfully named Spindrift Avenue, where actual dockers would have lived back in the day, and where a "20 Slow Down" sign lights up as we pass through. No chance. Light loadings and lack of traffic on Manchester Road allows the driver to speed up to the extent that the seat in front of me vibrates and hammers repeatedly against my kneecaps. It therefore comes as light relief when we finally pull into the 1980s technovillage on Marsh Wall, and curl round to the supermarket car park where several buses terminate. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed my chauffeured private dash through Docklands, but the D3 is a route that feels like it's on diversion even when it's not.

» route D3 - route map
» route D3 - timetable
» route D3 - live bus map
» route D3 - route history
» route D3 - The Ladies Who Bus

 Friday, November 14, 2014

London's five 'C' buses are its most varied, geographically, representing Central, Camden, Chelsea and Cricklewood. You particularly recommended the Cricklewood version, the C11, for its circuitousness, contrasts and character. But I'm trying to spread my alphabetical buses as far across the capital as possible, and wanted at least one to hit the centre of town, so plumped for the Camden Hoppa instead. It's no classic, sorry.

 Route C2: Parliament Hill Fields - Victoria
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 45 minutes

If you're not sure where Parliament Hill Fields is, it's near Parliament Hill, where Hampstead Heath rubs up against Dartmouth Park. And if that hasn't helped, it's directly due north of Victoria, because the C2 runs in an almost direct north-south line between its two termini. And the reason it goes no further north than Parliament Hill Fields is twofold. For a start, Highgate West Hill gets a bit steep, so the only bus that goes that way is a single decker. And secondly there's a roundabout at the bottom of Swains Lane that allows drivers to turn their vehicles for the run back into town. But only a very small roundabout, indeed it was deemed too tight for New Bus For London operation, so the stand remains piled up with ordinary double deckers awaiting time of departure.

Lightly loaded, the C2 sets off relentlessly, gradually, inexorably, downhill. Past the more recreational side of the Heath, past some fairly desirable streets... and then suddenly a rather unnecessary announcement kicks in. "Alight here for Gospel Oak station", it says, except this is only the second stop so you'd have to be a particularly lazy traveller not to have walked. We duck beneath the Overground, where the car repair works under the arches specialises in Bentleys and Jaguars, and switch into slightly less wealthy Kentish Town. A mixed run of shops kicks in, and carries on for some time, a little quirkier to start, more chain-heavy later on. The most impressive outlier is Blustons, a Grade II listed gown shop with two checkerboard tiled entrances to draw the local lady inside. Outside a nearby cafe a sad-looking man sits alone, a cleared plate of breakfast congealing in front of him. We leave him behind.

We're following the valley of the River Fleet, which explains the general downhill trend. At every stop a few more souls climb on, including an annoying phone-chatterer intent on broadcasting half her conversation to all. "We had a lovely cream tea at the hotel, yes...", she roars, and then thankfully goes and sits at the back of the deck just far enough out of range. Camden Town is approaching, a-bustle with the young and youthful, although we're touring the back roads via Sainsbury's rather than any vibrant bazaar. The one-way system forces us (and six other buses) to run parallel to the main high street, dulling the atmosphere somewhat, until we finally make a break for it and cross the hubbub near a hummus restaurant.

A large proportion of passengers have now alighted, because where we're heading next is a little off-key. Not for us the direct route down to Euston, but instead a brief nudge west towards the rim of Regent's Park to take a mile long backroad you'd wouldn't think deserved a double decker. Albany Street runs down the back of the posh mansions overlooking the park, past the mews where the servants lived, now owned by anything but. On the opposite side is the Regents Park Barracks, an austere extensive brick hideaway, to which the Household Cavalry might be relocated if the Army gets its way and sells off Hyde Park. The subsequent sidestreets belong to more the kind of estate where residents might actually catch a bus, although there are none today and we speed down the road in impressively quick time.

The C2 then hits central London proper, specifically the Euston Road, at Great Portland Street station. A spin round the big church leads us straight ahead down Great Portland Street itself, where The Albany pub hosts Ukulele Wednesdays and Wilkie Collins once lived for not very long. Offices round here are small, stacked up staircases behind Victorian facades, perhaps with a cafe or bright young studio at ground level. But our true target is Portland Place, round the back of Broadcasting House - neither Old nor New seen at their best on a southbound journey. And hey presto we're delivered to the top end of Regent Street and pretty soon Oxford Circus, which used to be as far as this bus went, and for most of those on board is perfectly far enough thanks.

Oh god oh god oh god, the Regent Street Christmas lights. The silvery fronds aren't officially switched on until Sunday, but are already suspended in non-illuminated form, and have alas been tainted by the marketing fairies again. Beaming down from every set of lights is a scene or character from the film Night At The Museum 3, with toothy grins ranging from a dinosaur to Ricky Gervais. Yes, that really is Robin Williams up there, playing an American President in his final film, and could that really be Dick Van Dyke? At least the Regent Street gurus have chosen a Christmas release rather than last year's cartoon inexplicably scheduled to hit cinemas in February, but the overall effect succeeds only in utterly debasing the festive spirit. Come for the shopping, sure, but don't waste your time coming especially for the non-Xmas lights.

Since 2009 the C2 has continued through Mayfair to Victoria, taking over what used to be the end of route 8 in a cunning ploy to reduce the number of buses running along Oxford Street. That's fine, we residents of Bow didn't have a lot of need to travel to Mayfair anyway, but the evidence suggests this may be the case for the residents of Kentish Town too. There are hardly any of us aboard now as we weave past boutiques and designer hideaways frequented by the impeccable. The Christmas lights are also rather lovelier here, as you'd expect, with a crown of snow white peacock feathers suspended at the junction of New Bond Street. We skip past Lalique and Stella McCartney, no takers, and then skirt Berkeley Square towards the Ritz.

Many buses have a winding down period towards the end, and we've now definitely entered ours. The bus stop outside Green Park station may be packed but nobody wants to join us, ditto further down Piccadilly where they're all waiting for a ten-times-the-price sightseeing bus instead. By the time we reach Hyde Park Corner I'm the only one left peering over the Queen's back wall, or attempting to because she's planted a long arboreal border with the sole intent of maintaining privacy. And finally to Victoria, which is a right mess at the moment while major redevelopment takes place, and where our driver chooses to turf the last two of us off one stop early. "Sorry mate I'm running early," he says, "it'd be quicker to walk." But he's lying, because by the time I catch up at the end of the route he's already out of his cab and bantering with a mate. Best not C2 it, I'd say.

» route C2 - route map
» route C2 - timetable
» route C2 - live bus map
» route C2 - route history
» route C2 - The Ladies Who Bus

 Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dangleway update

1) Fares

Somehow overlooked in the annual fuss about TfL fare rises was how the cost of your next aerial Thames crossing will be affected.

Cost of a single cablecar journey
Regular user£1.60£1.60£1.60£1.70
Discovery Experience---£10.70

The 10p increase for cash and Oyster journeys is very much in line with the 2.5% average fare rise overall. But be warned that if you turn up with only a bank card you'll have to pay the full £4.50 because contactless isn't yet accepted on the cablecar. Meanwhile that rare breed the 'regular user' faces a 6.3% increase, but that's after a big zero last year, and maintains the saver price at half of the Oyster fare. So, no surprises.

2) Rebranding

But what's this brand new 'Discovery Experience' which has appeared in the fare tables for the first time. Whatever it is it costs £10.70, and it's so new it doesn't officially have a price increase. A footnote explains.
The Discovery Experience Package includes a non-stop return fare with in-flight discovery film, souvenir in-flight guide and entrance to Emirates Aviation Experience.
I thought this sounded very familiar, so I checked the current website, and yes it already exists (for £10).
The Full Experience Package includes a non-stop round-trip, free entrance to Emirates Aviation Experience and a souvenir in-flight guide.
Which is exactly the same customer offer now as you'll get in January, but rebranded with a different title so that TfL can pretend there isn't a 70p price rise. Naughty.

3) Upselling

Recently this monstrosity has appeared in the entrance hall at North Greenwich station, immediately in front of the top of the escalator. You can't possibly miss it.

A spare gondola hangs from the ceiling, airline branded, beneath which is a big advert for the cablecar, "just a short walk from here". Beneath that is a list of fares (which, given all the possible combinations of single, return, Oyster, Experience and riverboat, is remarkably complicated). And below that, behind the counter of a semi-permanent red booth, is a member of staff waiting patiently to sell you a ticket. Mid-evening midweek she'll be standing around like a spare part because nobody's interested. But come at the weekend and you'll encounter a surprisingly large cluster of visitors keen to participate, chattering away because they can't read the fare list (and they wouldn't understand it anyway), proffering their credit cards in exchange for a journey pass.

It's TfL's station and they can do what they like, but this all-out grab for the tourist dollar is an uncharacteristically commercial gesture.

4) In-flight movie

Last time you travelled on the cablecar you may remember it being a quiet experience. No more. A 'feature tour' has been installed, playing on the video screen throughout your flight and blaring out from an Emirates-branded panel in the roof. Various experts (very few of whom are female) then pop up and tell you about the attractions and heritage to be found in the surrounding area, with two completely different films playing north and south. It's very professionally done, but also bloody annoying when all you really want to do is look out of the window. Top tip - tell the operator immediately before you board and they can turn it off, otherwise you're stuck with this ill-judged intrusion for eight and a half minutes.

5) Touristification

Fly into the North Greenwich terminal, descend to ground level and you'll stumble across the latest added cablecar extra - a themed photo booth. A spare cabin has been set up immediately before the ticket barrier, in one direction only, allowing you to pop in and grab yourself a souvenir photograph. Simply touch the screen to start, wriggle into place in front of the branded backdrop and you can 'collect' your souvenir photo as you exit. They very much hope you'll share it - it's not free for nothing, you know.

Also prominently positioned on the way out is a large new-ish electronic display allowing you to interact with the geographical extent of Emirates' global network, which most visitors stop and press. And then of course there's the Emirates Aviation Experience, which is a single room full of marketing material masquerading as infotainment. Northbound passengers get rather less in the way of distractions, only a rather sorry looking machine offering to dispense a souvenir Emirates coin. But next time someone tries to tell you that sponsoring the tube wouldn't be that bad, remember how tacky the cablecar is, and resist.

6) Passenger numbers

What with all this relentless focus on marketing, it won't surprise you to hear that passenger numbers on the cablecar are up, depending that is on how and when you count. Half term week had almost double the number of riders as the same time last year, and the remaining weeks of October showed an 8% rise on 2013. The first week of November, however, showed almost no change, and August saw a definite fall.

Whatever, all the evidence continues to suggest that people are riding TfL's public-funded cablecar for the view and not, as was originally intended, as a way of getting from A to B. There again, if you come after dark you can pretty much guarantee floating alone above the Thames and enjoying the twinkling lights of East London, and that beats arriving on the other side any day.

 Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This year's TfL fare increase announcement came with a very different angle of spin, focusing on a big cut rather than overall rises.
"London's army of part-time workers will save hundreds of pounds a year on the cost of travelling by Tube and bus under a new flexible fares system announced today. Mayor Boris Johnson today said he wanted to help the estimated 600,000 part-timers rather than offering the best deals only to those who commuted five days a week. It will be the equivalent of one fifth of the cost of a weekly travelcard to zone 1, so the part-timer enjoys the discounted rates of a five-days-a-week traveller."
Before we dip into the world of the Oyster cap, let's check the basics. This year's average price rise is 2.5%, which TfL are describing as "frozen in real terms", but which you might still describe as "higher than my annual pay rise." Nevertheless it's lower that last year's 3.1%, and much lower than the 7% increase imposed two years previously.

Here are some of 2015's fares in historical perspective, with Ken's years in red and Boris's in blue.

Cost of a single central London tube journey

The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare rises 4.5% in January to a new high of £2.30. Pessimists will note that this is 53% higher than when Boris came to power. Optimists, however, should note that it's still only 35% higher than a decade ago. Meanwhile anyone paying by cash continues to be screwed, as TfL try ever harder to persuade people to switch to plastic.

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
Oyster (peak)£3.50£3.80£4.20£4.50£4.80£5.00£5.00£5.10
Oyster (off-peak)£2.00£2.20£2.40£2.70£2.90£3.00£3.00£3.10

All Oyster fares for London tube journeys outside Zone 1 are rising by 10p, which is a smaller percentage increase the further out you go. But paper ticket buyers heading to Heathrow get to stump up 30p more, indeed a Zone 1-6 ticket faces a bigger increase than any other cash single fare.

Meanwhile on the buses...

Cost of a single central London bus journey

The pay-as-you-go bus fare rises by 3.4% in January, that's up 5p to £1.50. Over the last ten years it's roughly doubled, and as you'll see has increased every year since Boris came to power. Meanwhile the cash fare has of course vanished, leaving a few non-Oyster stragglers unable to travel - a problem which a brand new ticket aims to address.
"A One Day Bus & Tram Pass costing £5 will be reintroduced designed for occasional bus users and visitors to London. It was previously abolished in 2009 as there was no market for it. Now, with cash free operation on buses there is a small but important need to provide an affordable means of travel for those wishing to use the bus but not in possession of an Oyster card or a contactless card.

It will be a lightweight single use Oyster card that will not require a deposit and will be available to buy at over 4000 Oyster Ticket Stops and our Travel Information Centres at major transport hubs. It will also be available at London Underground, National Rail stations and Heathrow Airport to benefit people arriving at Heathrow outside Tube operational hours."
The One Day Bus & Tram Pass will be a disposable Oyster card with £5 face value, usable for one day's travel only. It's not yet clear how it'll work, whether the clock starts ticking when you buy it or the first time you use it - I'd assume the latter. You'll then be able to travel on as many buses as you like up to 4.30am, so best not start using one at midnight or you'll be chucking money away. Indeed anyone who makes only one (or two) bus journeys on their One Day Pass will be doing precisely that, paying the equivalent of £5 (or £2.50) per ride, which is rather more than the £1.50 that an Oyster user would pay.

Cost of One Day Travelcard
cost now£9.00£11.40£17.00 £8.90
to be retained?× 
cost in 2015£12.00£12.00£17.00 £12.00

Meanwhile next year's fare announcement includes yet another nail in the coffin of the paper Travelcard. There used to be six of these (Z1-2, Z1-3, Z1-4, Z1-5, Z1-6 and Z2-6), but from January only the Z1-4 and Z1-6 options will remain, and at inflated prices. The latest to vanish is the Z1-2 travelcard, whose current users will need a Z1-4 instead - a fare increase of 33%. TfL don't care, they'd like to see visitors to the capital using Oyster rather than queuing in large numbers at ticket offices for a one-off rectangle of cardboard, and this expensive nudge might just do it.

Which brings us finally to the whopping decrease in this year's fare announcement - that of the daily Oyster price cap. They're impressive figures.

Oyster 'pay as you go' cap
cap now£8.40£10.60£10.60£15.80£15.80£19.60
cap in 2015£6.40£7.50£9.20£10.90£11.70£20.00
% change-24%-29%-13%-31%-26%+2%

And this is where the claims of massive savings for part-time workers have arisen. Anyone who doesn't travel enough days to make a weekly travelcard worthwhile can instead benefit from a much reduced daily cap, adjusted to equal one fifth of the weekly travelcard fare. The potential savings are vast, as much as £661 annually for a three day a week Z1-5 traveller. But don't think this is going to benefit every part-time worker, because it's not a saving for all - the cap only affects those who make several journeys a day.

Let's use the example of someone living in Edgware (Z5) who commutes to central London (Z1) in peak hours each day. The price of a single Z1-5 tube journey is currently £4.70, and to come home again the same, making a daily total of £9.40, which is well below the existing Oyster cap of £15.80. From January the cap tumbles to £10.90, but that's still above the return tube fare of £4.80×2 = £9.60, so no saving is made. Indeed nobody making one return tube journey a day will save a penny from this new arrangement, no matter how many days a week they travel.

Things are very different with an additional journey thrown in. Suppose our Edgware resident travels to the station every morning by bus, and home again the same way, adding an extra £1.45×2 = £2.90 to their daily fare. That makes a total of £12.30, still well below the cap at present, but not so in 2015. Next year the bus plus tube combination increases to £12.60, but this is now below the reduced £10.90 cap, leading to a daily saving of £1.70. For our part time worker this adds up to an annual £230 saving, nowhere near as good as the best case £661 scenario, but very welcome all the same.

And there are of course losers, because somebody has to fund all these price cap reductions. In this case the burden falls on Outer Londoners who travel a lot during the day or at weekends, because the offpeak Oyster cap is being scrapped.

Oyster 'pay as you go' cap (off-peak)
cap now£7.00£7.70£7.70£8.50£8.50£11.60
cap in 2015£6.40£7.50£9.20£10.90£11.70£20.00
% change-9%-3%+19%+28%+38%+72%

Those who travel only within zones 1 to 3 will see a reduction in the cap, paying no more after the third tube journey or fifth bus ride. But those further out will have to make more journeys before the cap kicks in, in Zone 6 the equivalent of three extra journeys. If you're used to whizzing around the outer reaches of the capital at weekends, or making lots of short journeys in the middle of the day, you might well be one of those paying a lot more.

And one last thing. Look at the final column of the table, for those using Oyster services in zones 7, 8 and 9 outside the Greater London boundary. They're not getting an Oyster cap reduction at all, they're getting a massive offpeak hike of 72%, so bad luck them. But that's the price you pay for not living in London - the Mayor can do what he likes with your fares, even though you don't directly elect him.

Same time next year?

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