diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 25, 2016

If you want your launch event completely overshadowed, schedule it for the day of a referendum. Or maybe that's the very best day of all, the eye of the political hurricane when all the euro-hoohah pauses, allowing other news stories to break through. Here are two big debuts, a hundred metres apart, in the Olympic Park.

Firstly, The Slide.

The Orbit has been very much a white elephant since it was added late to the Olympic Park skyline, and has struggled to attract visitors in large numbers. It's been hard to convince people to pay good money to see views of Stratford, even with the Olympic Stadium nextdoor, and even cutting the admission price/creating an annual pass/adding a bit of abseiling hasn't helped. The sticking plaster is a dramatic one - the world's longest tunnel slide - and might finally be enough to entice the public inside. It's been designed by Carsten Höller, who specialises in this kind of thing, and promises riders a 40 second descent at up to 15 miles per hour. How could an adrenalin junkie possibly resist?

The slide opened to the public on Friday, but they sent a load of journalists down it on Thursday, because no media outlet ever turns down the opportunity to whizz down a giant corkscrew for free. Back in 2012 they'd have written about their experience in excitable terms, but this is 2016 so instead they strapped video cameras to their bodies and let the journey do the talking. Some pointed it down, so you could experience the twisty rush into darkness with spluttered commentary, and others pointed it up, so you could watch the look on their faces as they sped, dropped, turned and shrieked.

The shrieks are quite audible from outside, even from standing outside the compound on the grass. It is just possible that the media sent their shriekiest journos on this assignment, but rest assured that this is no fairground helter skelter. They make you wear an unfetching helmet and padded sleeves before you set off, and there are some particularly steep bits on the corkscrew down. You also have to be at least 1.3m in height, and at least eight years old, and no more than 22 stone in weight, otherwise presumably there's a risk of doing an Augustus Gloop part way down. But be warned it's a lousy spectator sport, bar the occasional whizzy glimpse through one of the few windows in the curly tube.

All this positive publicity and the promise of excitement seems to have worked. The next week is fully booked, and all the weekend slots are taken for a month, which at the Orbit is unheard of. There are still loads of £10 tickets to simply go up to the top and look at the view, if anyone's still interested, but the £5 slide top-ups have rather less availability. How fitting that on the day the ex-Mayor's political destiny was sealed, one of his larger misjudgements finally got the sticking plaster that saves its life.

ORBIT PRICES * Adult  Child  Senior 
Walk-up£12 £6 £10 
Online£10 £5 £7 
Local†£8 £3 £5 
* The Slide costs £5 extra, per slide
† Resident of Olympic host borough, bring double ID
‡ Annual Pass prices are not advertised

Secondly, the West Ham Store.

West Ham are moving from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium, and the first bit of their new empire to open is the shop. It's three times larger than the one they used to have, and is located in a new concrete building wrapped round the southern perimeter of the main concourse. At the moment it's fenced off from everything else on the island, and is accessible across a single footbridge, But it opened for the first time on Thursday morning, the ribbon cut by team captain Mark Noble, and the team's supporters came streaming across from Stratford to take a look.

It's a football shop, so obviously it's stuffed with football shirts of various types and sizes. New season strips, souvenir editions, and miniature editions for offspring so small they don't yet realise they're a fan. There are also key rings and wallets, and teddies and mugs, and big hammers, and loads of other items of claret and blue merchandise previously unavailable elsewhere. Vice-chair Karren Brady and her team have gone to a lot of effort to ensure that these things fly out of the door even on matchday, with 31 tills lined up at the far end. You can watch Karren extolling the shop and other hospitality facilities at the new stadium in an exuberant video here.

Downstairs is a large personalisation area, with a dozen shirt-printing machines, should you want to walk around with the name of a hero (or your own) on your back. There's also a cafe, which it's hoped will be a draw seven days a week, looking out over the training pitch alongside. It's been branded West Ham United Coffee Co, but also serves tea, as well as muffins, pre-packaged rolls and a tiny range of beers and wine. A latte's £2.35 and a turkey and ham sarnie £4, should you agree this is somewhere "you can meet and mingle". At least there'll be something for you to watch on the walls, as huge screens play out favourite moments from past games - and this got a big thumbs up from one fan I encountered.

A nice touch is that the famous John Lyall Gates from the Boleyn Ground have been relocated, and now sit at the top of the stairs. But they do look wildly out of place, a dash of Hammers history in a place that as yet has none of its own. This could have been any Westfield store, except it's a ten minute walk away, at the heart of the 2012 bubble that West Ham must now make their own. As yet, the atmosphere is somewhat lacking.

Also in the Olympic Park this week...
» On the big lawn beneath the Orbit, an oil company is setting up big white marquees so it can hold a massive four day festival. Make The Future London runs from 30th June to 3rd July, and your pre-registered free ticket gets you inside a worthy scientific gala focusing on "tomorrow's energy challenges", or rather a wall-to-wall marketing shindig for Shell. Steamrollers were busy yesterday afternoon laying down fresh smooth tarmac ready for the anticipated cavalcade of eco-wheels.
» The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival reaches the Olympic Park this weekend, specifically the concrete expanse of Mandeville Place about halfway up. The People Build takes place today and tomorrow, with spectators helping French artist Olivier Grossetête and crew raise new buildings, and at the end of the event tear them down. A full artistic programme continues around East London until next weekend.

 Friday, June 24, 2016

London40% 60% 
Rest of England55% 45% 

Welcome to Little England (was Great Britain)

Thursday 23rd June 2016
I voted twice in the Euro referendum. Once for me, and once as proxy for BestMate, who's currently driving towards an airport in America. We both wonder what kind of Britain he'll be flying home to.
22:00 The polls close, and the nation's destiny is sealed. Turnout is high.
22:01 There is no exit poll, but bookies and the stock market seem pretty confident Remain will win.
23:37 Gibraltar votes strongly for Remain, as you'd expect. The general mood is 'Remain'.

Friday 24th June 2016
00:00 Hang on, Newcastle has voted only narrowly for Remain. Has Leave done better than expected?
00:16 Sunderland swings strongly to Leave. This is well off expectations.
00:30 The pound is tumbling on the markets, down several cents in a few minutes.
01:00 A suggestion that turnout is highest in areas that most want to kick the government.
01:40 Both sides are neck and neck, but we've only had 3% of the national vote so far.
02:00 Most areas are voting Leave. We're on course to Leave, surely.
02:10 Sterling tumbles again, down eight cents in two hours.
02:30 Inner London boroughs are voting very strongly Remain, which breaks through 2m votes.
03:00 Now at 4m votes each, the national breakdown is on a 50% knife edge.
03:30 Leave nudges over 51%, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and London the hubs of 'Remain'.
03:47 Leave is now halfway towards the winning post, with Remain slipping 4% behind.
04:02 "Dare to dream that dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom" (Nigel Farage)
04:30 Remain remain 4% behind. The pound hit $1.50 yesterday, it's now $1.35.
04:40 The BBC declares Brexit. Leave have an unassailable near-million lead.
05:00 Every part of Scotland has voted to Remain (and may just possibly do so).
05:10 I wrote a satirical Brexit timeline a couple of days ago. It's fairly factual so far.
05:30 It's hard to know which part of this disaster movie to sleep through.
06:00 Northumberland takes Leave across the finishing line - we are officially Out.
07:20 Final result Remain 16,141,241 (51.9%), Leave 17,410,742 (48.1%) on a turnout of 72%.
08:20 David Cameron announces he'll be replaced (by heaven knows who) in the Autumn.
08:45 Governor of the Bank of England speaks to reassure the plummeting markets.
11:10 Boris thanks the British people for voting to take back control.
11:20 President of the European Commission says there will be no renegotiation with the UK.
11:25 Nicola Sturgeon confirms Scotland will move towards a second independence referendum.
11:40 Angela Merkel regrets the UK's departure, and urges the remaining 27 to stay together.
12:00 Labour MPs have tabled a No Confidence motion in Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

 Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Prime Minister who led Britain into Europe was Edward Heath. Never the most popular of Prime Ministers, his reputation was shaped by various crises in the early 1970s, of which the Three Day Week and Northern Irish Troubles are perhaps best remembered. But it's our entry into the Common Market that has been his longest lasting legacy, both for all the benefits it has brought the country, and for all the discord it has sown.

So it's perhaps a surprise that Ted Heath is the only Prime Minister from the last half-century whose home you can visit. Margaret Thatcher as yet has no domestic legacy, Harold Wilson and Tony Blair never will, indeed you have to go back as far as Winston Churchill to find any other PM's abode with an open door. But Heath left his final home in trust so that members of the public could enjoy the building, the garden and his art collection, just as he had. It's Arundells, overlooking the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, and perhaps the ultimate in post-war political bachelor pads. [8 photos]

Arundells started out in the 13th century as a residence for the canons at Salisbury Cathedral, later leased out by the diocese to secular tenants and a school. In 1718 it was rebuilt in classical style, all symmetrical at the front and slightly less regular round the back, and earned its name when the daughter of the house married Lord Arundel, a local peer. By the mid 20th century it had fallen into disrepair, which is how it came to enter private ownership, and went up for sale in 1985 just as Edward Heath was planning on moving out of London. Initially he'd been intending to go to the Isle of Wight, but Arundells was more convenient for visitors, and still close enough to the Solent for easy yachting. Ted's security detail were pleased too, as the house was in a gated close behind medieval stone walls, which made it hard for any potential enemies to gain access.

Gaining access these days, a decade after the ex-PM passed on, costs a tenner. Come at the weekend or on a Monday and you can wander round inside at your leisure. Come on Thursday or Friday, or in the winter, and the place is closed. But come on Tuesday or Wednesday and you get an hour-long guided tour, and these are great, particularly if nobody else turns up. I know, it's Ted Heath's house, what are the chances of that?

What this isn't is a museum, nor just a listed building. Instead the trustees have gone to great effort to preserve the place as it was when Sir Edward was living here, which he did for twenty years until his death in 2005. And that's why the entrance hall comes as a little bit of a surprise. It's rammed with sailing memorabilia, as a reminder to guests of their host's great interest and prowess, and includes several paintings and models of his most famous yacht, Morning Cloud. There were five of these, two of which sank, and one of which Heath used to steer the UK to victory in the Admiral's Cup in 1971. It's hard to imagine any serving Prime Minister being given leave to do something so risky today, nor indeed to have world-beating talent outside the political arena.

Across the way in the drawing room is Heath's Steinway, as once installed at Downing Street, with a forest of signed photos on top of VIPs and statespeople that he encountered. Four years as PM provides a certain gravitas on the world stage, and there were plenty of big figures around at the time like Nixon, Gandhi and Chairman Mao. The Chinese leader gifted two ming vases, afforded prominent position beside the fireplace, while on the other side is the chair Heath sat on at the Coronation (when he was merely Deputy Chief Whip).

I liked the dining room, a narrow high-ceilinged red space with walnut table seating eight. In later years Sunday lunch was Heath's main social event, and the chairs would often be filled by musicians, sportspeople and occasionally politicians... Harold Wilson came once, and local resident Sting more often. The shelves behind are stacked with collectable ceramics, from widely different provenance, while the walls are hung with a set of John Pipers. It's clear that Heath really loved his art, as the selection hung down the main hallway (and elsewhere) attests, including a John Singer Sargent, a Walter Sickert, a Lowry seascape and even a couple of Sir Winston Churchills.

But for a true insight into Heath's personality, you need to step into the Library at the rear of the house. Here he would have spent the majority of his time, especially in his later years, surrounded by a lot of books on art and music and a few slightly less highbrow novels too. The collection of pristine classical CDs ranged from jazz to symphonies to opera and looked very much of its time, as did the chunky push-button CD player. Heath was an organ scholar while at Oxford, as well as an acclaimed conductor, and the Father Willis Organ in the cathedral was another reason why he moved to Salisbury.

Interestingly it's the photo of himself smiling at the Order of the Garter ceremony that Heath chose to place immediately alongside where he sat, plus the official parchment By The Sovereign's Command - not bad for a grammar school boy from Kent. Meanwhile upstairs in the study is a desk that belonged to Lloyd George, from which there's an excellent view straight down the garden, which visitors are free to take a look round once they're done inside. It's long, narrow and green, with space for croquet, and part of the hull of Morning Cloud 3 by the shed as a memorial. And it leads all the way down to the river, specifically the confluence of the rivers Avon and Nadder, where I stopped to watch a family of swans, and a flock of sheep grazing on the water meadows beyond.

Back in the house, one rear corridor is given over to a selection of original newspaper cartoons featuring Heath and the politicians of his day, that characteristic nose a gift to the artists, and his rivalry with Margaret Thatcher often a subtext. The upstairs landing is surrounded on all sides by a wholly unexpected mural depicting the tale of the Monkey King, massive and very colourful, but by no means the only Oriental theme in the house. And nobody gets to go in the bedroom, which is where Heath spent most of the last two years of his life, before passing away in 2005 at the pretty decent age of eighty-nine.

If you were any doubt where his passion for Europe came from, the answer is in the guest bedroom. A display here tells the story of Heath the soldier, an artilleryman who saw service in the Normandy landings, rose to the rank of major and was awarded the MBE. The devastation he saw stayed with him, as did an undergraduate trip to pre-war Germany where he heard Hitler speak at a Nuremberg rally. With such first-hand understanding of how Europe fell apart, his drive to lead the country into the Common Market was unshakeable, even if it took several attempts. His eventual success is the only decision the British public have ever been asked to reconsider twice.

I think Edward Heath would be aghast to see the hatred and misinformation today's referendum has whipped up. An organisation set up to bring nations together is being vilified for global issues, and used as a scapegoat for the decisions of national government, seemingly purely for personal gain. Heath saw how the masses can be persuaded to follow unwise saviours, and the destruction that misguided nationalism can bring. Will we reach the centenary of his birth next month with our membership of Europe intact, or will Heath's turbulent early Seventies be the model for our uncertain future?

 Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Alternative Brexit timeline #37426

June 23: A referendum occurs
June 23 (10pm): The nation's destiny is sealed
June 23 (11pm): In the absence of an exit poll, both sides claim to have won

June 24 (midnight): Somebody promises to eat their hat if the result goes against them
June 24 (1am): Early results from the City of London suggest a thumping win for Remain
June 24 (2am): Early results from not-London suggest unexpectedly high levels of support for Leave
June 24 (3am): Insomniacs busy tweeting "Oh my God this might actually be happening"
June 24 (4am): Nigel Farage opens bottle of champagne and lights big cigar
June 24 (5am): Scotland's looking very much in, South West England's looking very much out
June 24 (6am): "Well, if Birmingham tops 98% then Remain could still win"
June 24 (7am): It becomes clear that the electorate has voted narrowly to Leave
June 24 (8am): Prime Minister David Cameron advises everyone not to panic
June 24 (9am): The pound falls sharply against the dollar
June 24 (10am): Boris Johnson announces "we have taken back control"
June 24 (11am): Share prices fall, and the pound plummets a bit more
June 24 (noon): Boris Johnson apologises for the recession
June 24 (1pm): Government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty
June 24 (2pm): David Cameron announces that he definitely won't be resigning
June 24 (3pm): David Cameron resigns
June 24 (4pm): The pound realises it still has a bit further to fall
June 24 (5pm): Leading economists say "we told you so"
June 24 (6pm): Michael Gove is sworn in as stopgap Prime Minister
June 24 (7pm): Fortunately the stock markets have closed
June 24 (8pm): Bank of England cuts interest rates to negative 0.5%
June 24 (9pm): The nation collectively goes down the pub and gets very drunk
June 24 (10pm): The nation discovers that all the cash machines have frozen
June 24 (11pm): A hat is eaten

June 25: Britain wakes up and is aghast/delighted that yesterday actually happened
June 26: Street parties in Romford, Darlington and the Cotswolds
June 27: Police prevent braying mob from burning Remain supporter on large bonfire
June 28: Lord Nigel Farage announces publication date for his memoirs
June 29: European leaders gather in Brussels to say "right, well piss off then"
June 30: Rupert Murdoch announces his retirement

July: Boris Johnson assumes the role of Prime Minister "to save everybody time voting"
August: A selection of workers rights are revoked "to increase national productivity"
September: Legislation introduced to cap the number of Polish shops on any high street
October: Conservatives hold two party conferences as their membership splits
November: Several City institutions move their trading operations to mainland Europe
December: President Obama says "sorry, no way are we doing a trade deal with you"

January 2017: President Trump says "sure, how many guns would you like?"
February: Civil Service announces it will no longer be run by experts
March: European history removed from the National Curriculum
April: A promise that the NHS will be getting lots of additional funding "when the time is right"
May: Chancellor Gove assures the nation that the pound reaching parity with the euro is a good thing
June: Confirmation that 23rd June is to become become a UK Independence Day bank holiday
July: Amusingly, it's now the UK's turn to assume the EU presidency
August: Boris launches the Emperor Games, to be contested annually between the home nations
September: Only one UK bank has collapsed so far, so that's good
October: Human Rights legislation is scrapped in attempt to "cut back on red tape"
November: Central database of foreign-born UK residents is established
December: Bananas can now be sold in bunches of more than five

Winter 2018: Russia turns off gas supplies during coldest winter on record
Spring 2018: Civil servants have agreed exit terms on a few agriculture and fisheries agreements
Summer 2018: Two years are up, but the UK still hasn't managed to extricate itself from the EU
Autumn 2018: House prices would be much more affordable by now if only people still had any money

Winter 2019: Channel Tunnel rail services end after France refuses to restrain migrants at Calais
Spring 2019: Second Scottish referendum votes 3 to 1 in favour of independence from the UK
Summer 2019: Wall goes up along the Irish/Northern Irish border
Autumn 2019: To combat the deepening recession, Boris sells off the country's naming rights

Winter 2020: The UK becomes the Emirates United Kingdom (or EUK for short)
Spring 2020: In the General Election, the National Conservative Party increases its majority
Summer 2020: The Labour Party dissolves, replaced as opposition by a Remain/LibDem rump coalition
Autumn 2020: Launch of the British Health Service, where everybody pays because "it's only fair"

2021: A newly independent Scotland applies to join the EU but is told to join the queue
2022: Unemployment crisis forces positive discrimination in favour of those with Anglo-Saxon DNA
2023: Prime Minister announces exciting new trade deals with Iceland and Bermuda
2024: The Queen and the Royal Family move to Balmoral
2025: English Parliament opens in Leicester, and votes to make wearing of St George's cross compulsory
2026: Turkey now refusing to take in migrants from anywhere that used to be Great Britain
2027: Race riots destroy infrastructure in much of Lancashire and Sussex
2028: Retirement age reaches 78, as pensions prove worthless
2029: Immigration issue now totally sorted as nobody wants to come here any more

2030: Other countries have driverless cars, but Britain is now a nation of cyclists
2031: Wales votes for independence, rather later than it should have done
2032: EU breaks up after France and Germany vote to leave
2033: Government laughs at post-EU debacle and says "we told you so"
2034: Nuclear confrontation in the Baltic states makes much of East Anglia uninhabitable
2035: Boris Airport is forced to close after six months of operation due to rising sea levels
2036: The robots take over, so it turns out none of the above actually mattered

 Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TfL's name includes a strong clue that their job is supposed to be providing transport in London. But their influence stretches across the border of the capital, mainly for historical reasons, with several services running beyond. The Metropolitan line heads out into Herts and Bucks, for example, and the Central line serves a chunk of southwest Essex. Meanwhile as many as sixty London bus routes ply their trade outside the boundaries of Greater London, providing an often invaluable service to residents who don't pay London council tax. To make things fair, local authorities outside London pay a grant to TfL to ensure these peripheral buses continue to run. So what happens when that grant is cut? We're starting to find out.

Last November, Essex County Council voted to end a £586,000 subsidy to TfL which helped pay running costs for bus routes 20 and 167. Both these routes begin well inside London, head for the boundary and then run about five miles into Essex. Route 20 starts in Walthamstow and leaves the capital near Woodford, before continuing through Buckhurst Hill and Loughton to Debden. Route 167 starts in Ilford and leaves the capital near Grange Hill, before continuing through Chigwell, Buckhurst Hill and Loughton to Debden. TfL has no remit to serve these Essex locations, so might the end of council funding see these two buses cease?

A myriad of deregulated bus services run beyond the Greater London boundary, without the need for subsidy to prop them up. This usually means fares cost more, often quite a bit more, as those who live outside the capital know well. And it usually means buses run less frequently, or stop in the early evening, and maybe don't run at all on Sunday. But without that half million pound grant to top them up, why should Loughton and Debden continue to be an anomaly?
"In most other towns of comparable size in Essex, at least the main peak and daytime elements of services like the 20 and 167 would be provided commercially, with no charge falling on the County Council, although we might well fund evening or Sunday services, depending on commercial viability at these times." (Cllr Roger Hirst, 18 Nov 2015)
Essex's cut in revenue took place in April, but TfL have taken until this month to respond. A consultation has been launched proposing that route 167 be cut back, terminating in Loughton rather than Debden. That'll cut about 20 minutes off the route, and reduce the number of vehicles needed to run the service, so should therefore save quite a bit of cash. But they're not cutting the service all the way back to the boundary, which means residents of Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill will still be able to catch buses their taxes no longer pay for.

Perhaps more surprising is TfL's proposal to leave route 20 alone. This bus spends about half its time in London and half its time in Essex, but the Essex half is to see no reduction in service whatsoever. And I think that's rather impressive. Indeed if you step back and look at what TfL have actually done, they've noted that the 20 and the 167 run along virtually the same route between Loughton and Debden and withdrawn the less frequent of the two. Nobody along this part of the route loses out, except in frequency, and TfL still rakes in money from fares to help offset the loss of grant.

Residents of the council estates of Debden and the Towie streets of Loughton aren't happy, particularly those who'll now need to catch two buses to make their journey rather than one. But here's where the Mayor's Hopper ticket suddenly makes a difference, because by the time this cut is made it'll continue to be possible to travel from Debden to, say, Chigwell, for the price of one fare rather than two.

And there are still two other TfL buses out here that aren't being affected. The 397 will still run from Chingford to Debden, providing a more direct link to Loughton, although that packs up before eight in the evening. And the 549 will still pootle up the backstreets, ensuring Roding Valley gets some sort of bus service, but this now only runs every 70 minutes and for only six days a week.

It's not yet the case that residents of Loughton and Debden must rely on the whims of private suburban operators. But they do have several of these already, including very brief circular buses, buses with A and B suffixes, buses that only run on Sundays, and a bus that runs only once a day. It all makes TfL's "frequent, reliable, simple and comprehensive" network look positively modern.

Meanwhile eyes are turning to the borders with Hertfordshire, whose councillors have made a very similar move. The county used to subsidise five TfL-operated cross-boundary routes at a cost of £390,000 a year, but that money also stopped in April, and local residents are concerned. The affected buses are the 142 and 258 from Watford, the 107 and 292 in Borehamwood, and the 298 from Potters Bar. Each of these has a long section outside Greater London, indeed for the 107 it's most of the middle of the route.

TfL could decide to lop back the buses to the borderline, for example terminating the 142 and 258 at Bushey Heath, although they'd then lose out on a lot of fares to Watford. They could choose to remove some of the faffing around the outer estates that the 292 does on either side of Borehamwood, or perhaps even all of it. They could rejig the local service pattern to provide more efficient coverage inside London and fewer bits outside, whilst still ensuring that key boundary locations like the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital remain served. Or they could just back out of Hertfordshire altogether, as they have with most of Bucks and Berks, and leave the commercial operators to it.

All that TfL have said at present is "There are no current plans to make alterations to any of our bus services that run to and from Hertfordshire" but also that "If in the future we propose to make any changes, we will undertake full stakeholder and public consultations as we do for any bus service." The Essex experience suggests that a consultation might well be on its way, but it's unlikely to propose the complete withdrawal of routes that many residents fear. Instead I wonder if they'll look at the four miles of double bus route between Bushey Heath and Watford and try the Debden trick again, removing either the 142 or 258 from this stretch. We'll have to wait and see.

In future other neighbouring counties might decide to drop or remove their subsidies, with the number of red bus services crossing into Surrey already looking quite anomalous. Meanwhile TfL still need to respond to a significant cut in central government funding, and to balance the budget now they have a Mayor who refuses to increase fares. The lesson from Loughton appears to be that they're keen to make minimal changes to the bus network, focusing on route efficiency and the protection of community links. But we live in times of financial cutbacks, and outer London in particular can perhaps expect to see more of this kind of thing.

 Monday, June 20, 2016

You can see it from the M25. Between junctions 26 and 27, where the orbital skims the edge of Epping Forest, a Palladian mansion is visible across the fields. This is Copped Hall, built in the 1750s on a historic site with links to royalty and Shakespeare, and whose frontage hides the damage wreaked by a great fire within. But a band of volunteers are putting the house and garden to rights, and every so often they open up and invite the general public inside. Top trip. [12 photos]

Where was King Henry VIII while Anne Boleyn was getting her head chopped off? Pacing the yew avenue at Copped Hall listening for confirmation from cannon fire at the Tower, if the story is to be believed. Where was Catholic Princess Mary quarantined during the reign of her brother Edward VI? Copped Hall again, for sure. And where did the very first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream take place? Many believe it was in the long gallery at Copped Hall, on the occasion of the wedding of the owner Sir Thomas Heneage, one of Queen Elizabeth's favourites. That's a pretty impressive line-up of Tudor hearsay.

By the 18th century the estate had passed to the Conyers family, who demolished the original hall and built a new one, and it's this that motorway drivers espy today. The final owners were the Wythes, who went off to church one Sunday in 1917 expecting a small fire to be put out, and returned to find their house ablaze. The building and estate were left to decay, suffering neglect and vandalism as well as the carving of the M25 through the edge of the estate. Then in 1995 the shell was bought up by the Copped Hall Trust, and their long term goal is to restore the house to its Georgian splendour. With a lot of help from donations and volunteers, against all the odds, they're getting there.

Guided tours of Copped Hall take place on the third Sunday of every month, except December. The front gates open at 10am and close at 11am, so you have a very narrow window to arrive, but the subsequent perambulation takes the best part of three hours, which is damned good value for the £8 fee. First you get an hour and a bit's tour of the house, then a brief refreshment break, and then an hour and a bit's tour of the garden. All three parts are great, and the garden's clearly at its very best in summer.

The restoration of the house is an amazing example of what can be achieved long term by a dedicated group. When they started work there were trees growing inside and unstable chimneys tottering in the wind. Today the building's weatherproof with replacement wooden floors, and all the rooms on the lower levels have been at least part restored. The kitchen in the cellars looks very much like a kitchen, the lady's bedchamber looks good enough to be used in modelling shots, and the high-ceilinged saloon is once again an ideal space for entertainment.

But it's an expensive project. Every replacement window costs in the order of £2000, and the same for the flagstones of the cantilever staircase now being reinstalled, while the expert plasterwork is thanks to a participant on a previous tour who said "oh I could help you with that" and now does the lot.

Our guide on Sunday was excellent, and led us through the rooms with a mix of knowledge and good humour. We had to rush through a few on the ground floor because they were being used by a local Shakespearean company preparing to deliver some outdoor theatricals, just one of the many events that take place in this splendid setting. If you fancy some jazz, or a lecture, or a wildlife photography course (the latter heavily oversubscribed), Copped Hall has something for you.

They also do a lot of educational work - it's easier to get grants that way - and some of the rooms in the north wing are given over to a fascinating series of exhibition panels. We could have lingered longer there, indeed probably in every room, but that three hour deadline was ticking away. Goodness knows how they'll fit everything in when the second floor is opened up, rather than being accessible only via a couple of rickety ladders.

The tea was nice, and the cakes were excellent. Sometimes at these places you get pre-packaged muffins or limp sponge, but this spread was diverse, lush and home-baked (including two gluten-free options). Refreshments are served in the Racquets Court, a precursor of squash, where a small gift shop helps supplement the Trust's income. Rather more money comes from the private apartments around the stable courtyard, leased out to some very fortunate residents as a financial kickstarter at the beginning of the restoration period.

The Trust own 24 acres of garden surrounding the house, and that's in remarkably good shape. This is thanks in no small part to a further phalanx of volunteers, who prefer to serve in the borders rather than on the fabric of the building. Each appears to have their own appointed empire, one doing fantastic work in the rock garden where the original Elizabethan mansion used to stand, another single-handedly laying down a gravel path to a recreation of Henry VIII's yew avenue.

But the finest achievements are in the Walled Garden, at four acres the largest walled garden in southeast England. The Trust almost didn't buy it, which would have been a terrible loss, but over two decades they've turned an overgrown quadrangle into a place of diverse beauty. One corner is mostly orchard and topiary, another bursting with beds and blooms, with a pear-arched pergola leading down to a central pool where dragonflies dart. As we walked around we frequently bumped into the individuals responsible for each separate blaze of colour - I suspect they're always here - and the plant sale in the rusting greenhouses did a roaring trade. I'm no gardener but I could tell this was something special. If horticulture is your thing, garden-only tours are also available once a month.

Getting to Copped Hall is easiest if you drive, indeed walking there is a bit awkward. I hiked from Epping station in about an hour, taking the scenic route via the top of Epping Forest, but you can walk along the road to Ambresbury Banks, where the pavement only fades away for the last stretch down Crown Hill. This way you get to see the hall's pine and rhododendron drive, dramatically severed partway along by an eight lane cutting. Or you can walk in from the foot of Bell Common, taking a small footpath where the M25 emerges from tunnel along the edge of two fields and along a gravelled lane. This way you also get to spy on Wood House, a white-gabled mansion which Rod Stewart is currently moving out of.

You've missed this month's Copped Hall openings, but there are a couple of opportunities next month, including a day with even longer tours than usual. Stick a visit in your diary for sometime in the future when the weather's nice, which is what I did months ago, and I'm delighted to have finally made the effort to go.

Guided Tours: 3rd Sunday, arrive 10-11am, £8
Extended Tour Day: Sunday 17 July, arrive 10am-1pm, £8
Garden Afternoons: 1st Sunday (Apr-Sep), arrive 2-4pm, £5
Open Days: 29 May, 28 Aug, arrive 11am-4pm, £8
Apple Day: 9 Oct, arrive 11am-4pm, £8

 Sunday, June 19, 2016

With the opening of its new extension, Tate Modern has greatly increased in size. It was already pretty big, as converted power stations tend to be, but the addition of an eleven storey building makes even more space inside for art.

Tate Modern now consists of three parts: the Boiler House and Turbine Hall (which you already know well) and the brand new Switch House added on the far side. This has been built on the site of an electricity substation closed ten years ago, immediately above three decommissioned oil tanks. The original design for a glass pyramid was replaced by something similar in brick, to match the power station, with twisted layers decreasing in size as they rise. It's a striking design, and could look wildly out of place, except that this plaudit has already been taken by the cluster of luxury apartments squeezed in close by.

First things first, how do you get inside? It turns out there are four ways, and from outside just the one. The Switch House's main entrance is round the back of Tate Modern, at the foot of the brick ziggurat, immediately between the signs that say BAR and SHOP. There is another larger entrance here, but this leads into the original building, specifically the first floor bridge across the Turbine Hall, and then you have to cut back through the gift shop to get where you want to be. Alternatively you can get in from the Turbine Hall, down at Level 0, which leads directly into The Tanks where you'll find lifts and a staircase leading up. But the most thrilling way to enter is from the Boiler House via the fourth floor overbridge, a brand new connection high above the chasm of the Turbine Hall. If you want a vertiginous view down, feel free to wave your camera over the edge, but if you don't have a head for heights stick closely to the centre line and walk fast.

0: The Switch House's basement is called The Tanks, and is probably where you'll start. These circular subterranean spaces opened temporarily in the summer of 2012, so you might already have been, but then had to be closed to allow building works to take place on top. There are three tanks in all, each generally bigger than you think they're going to be when you walk through the door. This level is given over to interactive art and video installations, plus performances of various kinds which this weekend include people being ordered about as human sculptures. Or lie down on the comfy red cushions in the dark to watch a group of teenage Thais on a dozen screens, or step through a blue chamber and watch the lights change as you pass by. And don't miss the tiny gallery at the foot of the stairs with a display of homewares and furniture by the designer Jasper Morrison, which is much more interesting than its 'Thingness' title might suggest. Going up.

1: Hmm, the only things open to the public on the ground floor are the gift shop, the terrace bar and a lift lobby. There must be a lot of space hidden away round the back. Going up.

2: And here goes with the stuff. There are no paintings in the Switch House, only stuff, and the largest gallery on the second floor is replete with it. A lot of the stuff in here is geometric, including a lush pink cube with curved edges, and that pile of bricks the Tate famously blew its money on in the 1970s. I had to wonder whether twelve metres of blue and white cloth was really worth its place high on a sparse wall, and would have enjoyed the bubble fountain more if a group of schoolchildren hadn't taken up position all around. One work that did intrigue was a long strip of bunting being held by two strangers, apparently for hours, enforcing a separated connection between the two... until I looked round and saw that one of the participants had been silently replaced. Going up.

3: Of the Switch House floors with art, and there are only three, this one held my attention least. That may have been because the Brazilian exhibit was without its macaws - they're being kept away just for this opening weekend because the visitor numbers are expected to be so high. But I did love The Crystal Quilt, a video of a gathering of ladies in Minnesota coming together to discuss growing older, sat at tables temporarily arranged to match the tapestry of the title. And if two things should be obvious by the time you've got this far, they're that the Tate now gives greater than usual prominence to works by women and to works from overseas... indeed now a proper balance, which is long overdue. Going up.

4: By now the walls of the pyramid have shrunk a little so there are only two galleries on the fourth floor, plus a large sloping lobby that doubles as a potential performance space. One is devoted to the works of Louise Bourgeois, whose towers and giant spider dominated Tate Modern's Turbine Hall when it first opened, and one of her smaller arachnids stalks the space. The other includes works that reflect on cities, including a map of Beirut you can walk on, and what I thought at first was a town of sandcastles but on closer inspection turned out to be made of couscous. There really are so many opportunities throughout the Switch House to exclaim "well that's modern art for you!"

I should at this point mention the stairs. A grand staircase sweeps up the centre of the building from the basement to the fourth floor, curving and twisting irregularly as it goes. This provides more than just a connection, it's a promenade for visitors, a route to help you feel at one with the building. Or there are lifts, one set just running from zero to four, while the bank opposite rises all the way to the top. And everybody wants to go to the top, because that's where the viewing gallery is, so this weekend the 0-10 lifts have been hugely oversubscribed. Long queues have built up by The Tanks, which are temporarily the only point of access, as humanity attempts to squeeze in and ascend. It won't always be this bad, but there is another way to reach floor 10 which is to take the smaller unsigned staircase from floor 4. You'll need to be fit because there are 242 steps, indeed the entire staircase from basement to summit has 408! But you will arrive smugly on the roof, plus you'll get to peer at all the other levels inbetween. Going up.

5: There's no further public art to see, although this level is devoted to dialogue about art and will open up to a programme of events from September. Going up.
6: This level has two rooms, both being used (and to be used) as event spaces. Going up.
7: This level is staff only, so the lift lobby is an oasis of calm on your upward ascent. Going up.
8: This level houses the Members Room, a counterpoint to the Members Bar at the top of the Boiler House. Going up.
9: And here's the restaurant, because any modern art gallery lives or dies by its foodie offering these days. This one has a particularly large plate glass window allowing those ascending the stairs to peer in at the immaculately laid tables, so try not to get seated too close to it. Going up.

10: Finally, be it by lift or by stairs, you'll reach the top floor. Brilliantly this is a viewing gallery with terraces along all four sides of the building allowing 360° views. From the front that's across the multifarious roofs of Tate Modern towards the Thames, with the brick chimney and St Paul's Cathedral the two dominant features. To the side that's across towards the Shard, whose viewing gallery may be considerably higher but also costs infinitely more to visit, so I can see the Switch House becoming a vantage point of choice for many Londoners. And round the back are the residential towers of Neo Bankside, whose exo-skeleton design saw them shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, but whose residents now find themselves being stared at by artlovers wielding zoomable cameras. I watched one couple in their triangular glass living room sitting down for lunch, and another resident opening up a copy of the Financial Times with a cup of coffee. Perhaps you had to be an exhibitionist to want to live so openly in the first place, but many may now be regretting their luxury purchase and its lost Thames view.

So that's the Switch House, a massive undertaking and I'd say a great success. Tate Modern is already London's most popular visitor attraction and now has space to breathe and space to grow. A journey round the new building genuinely feels like an adventure, the irregular nature of the rooms and passageways inviting personal discovery. It makes the 'old' Boiler House look positively predictable by comparison, but that still has more to see, and might even be rather quieter now this overspill has opened. Whatever, it's now a lot easier to spend much more of your day at Tate Modern, or to dip back in repeatedly to a building you'll learn to know well. [40 photos]

 Saturday, June 18, 2016

Switch House, the brick ziggurat behind Tate Modern, opened to the public yesterday. It's packed with space and levels, and partly full of art. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some photos.
[there are 40 photos altogether] [slideshow]

On Friday 27th May, you may remember, TfL launched a new tube map.
Transport for London (TfL)'s latest Tube map is to include the Capital's tram services for the first time. The addition is designed to make it easier for those travelling to Wimbledon, Croydon or Beckenham to plan their journeys.
It had trams. Unfortunately it also had Morden in the wrong fare zone.

Nobody spotted that Morden was in the tram zone before the tube map went to print. Thankfully they did spot the erroneous National Rail symbol at Mitcham, and shifted it to Mitcham Junction instead, before pressing the button. But Morden slipped through, onto hundreds of poster maps destined for station walls, and millions of paper maps destined for ticket hall racks. It was an expensive blunder.

TfL's plan had been to start distributing the new maps in the week ending Friday 3rd June. Normally they don't reveal their launch schedule in advance but this time, because of the big tram reveal, they did.
Customers will begin to see the latest Tube map in stations throughout the next week, and it will be available to view online, along with other transport maps produced by TfL, at www.tfl.gov.uk/maps from 3 June 2016.
Once the new map had been released to the media, it didn't take long before eagle-eyed readers spotted the Morden blunder. Ouch.

It wasn't hard to amend the error on the digital map, and the corrected version appeared on the TfL website from Friday 3rd June as planned.

But as for the paper version, TfL suddenly had millions of incorrectly printed tube maps on their hands. A brand new print run had to be paid for, and the intended launch date was silently postponed.

Boxes of the new June 2016 tube maps had already been sent to stations at this point, ready for wider distribution, but now they had to be recalled. Except at High Street Kensington, it seems, where staff accidentally put them out on display in the racks, and dished them out to passing tourists by the ticket gates. And those incorrect maps carried on being available for over a fortnight before somebody eventually noticed.

Finally yesterday, a couple of weeks later than intended, corrected reprinted versions of the new June 2016 tube map started to appear at tube stations. They're going up in poster frames on platforms, and they're starting to be available for passengers to take away, as of this weekend.

Which means there are now two different versions of the June 2016 paper tube map - one an updated reprint of the other. Both versions have a threaded eye on the front cover, both versions have trams, and both versions have a dotted line to represent major engineering work on the London Overground. But the first version had Morden in the wrong fare zone, and the new version places it properly in zone 4.

It's embarrassing for TfL to have made so public a mistake, especially on a map which declares itself on the back cover to be "one of the most iconic designs in transport". It's unhelpful to have delayed publication, because for the last two weeks Overground customers have been seeing out of date maps which didn't show their line has been closed. And it's an expensive error, because to print a half-year supply of 12 million tube maps costs TfL £100000, and they've just been forced to reprint an entire delivery.

Fortunately for TfL, nobody in the wider world has noticed their mistake. Normally the media go wild for tube map news stories - you only have to fire a press release with a tweaked tube map at them and they publish it with glee. But as for the official tube map having been printed with an actual error on it, and then reprinted (at a cost to Londoners), it seems this isn't news. So that's a bullet dodged.

You'll be able to pick up copies of the corrected June 2016 tube map in stations for the rest of the year. But if you were lucky enough to pick up a copy of the incorrect map that nobody else will ever see, you probably have a collector's item on your hands. I wish I'd picked up more...

 Friday, June 17, 2016

Quietways are new. These backstreet cycle routes should be old by now - they were supposed to start opening in May last year. But the first (of seven) only opened this week, that's Quietway 1 from Waterloo to Greenwich.
Quietways will be a network of radial and orbital cycle routes throughout London. Linking key destinations, they will follow backstreet routes, through parks, along waterways or tree-lined streets. The routes will overcome barriers to cycling, targeting cyclists who want to use quieter, low-traffic routes, providing an environment for those cyclists who want to travel at a more gentle pace.
These aren't cycle superhighways, they follow lightly-used backroads where segregated lanes aren't required, which you'd think would make them easier to set up. Not so. Plans have to be agreed with local councils - in this case there are four - whereas cycle superhighways tend to run on TfL-run roads. With each street a Quietway turns down, a different set of issues arises and a different set of residents must be taken into account. And London doesn't have a straight-forward grid of identikit roads, so the end result varies considerably along the six mile route.

I haven't ridden Quietway 1, so for a cyclist's eye view you should read this in-depth report on the As Easy As Riding A Bike blog. But I have walked it all, and I can confirm that AEARAB has called it right - mostly good, but with intermittent issues.

For a start, the roads genuinely are quiet. That's impressive, given that you'd normally head from Waterloo to Greenwich along something busy like the Old Kent Road, but Quietway 1 successfully threads between the main roads and helps keep cyclists out of danger. Most importantly it manages to link these quiet bits together, to make a ride of it, with more complex infrastructure only where busier roads cross. Some roads on Q1 have been sealed at one end by posts to make them impermeable to larger vehicles, while some have had ramps added to slow traffic down, and others were always this quiet.

The ramped roads are the least convincing. I don't think I'd have enjoyed riding down Great Suffolk Street in SE1, manoeuvring past two-way traffic and parked-up construction vehicles, neither would meeting the boy racer on Childers Street in Deptford have been fun. But half-posted Cornwall Street near Waterloo looked a breeze, and the lengthy run of estate roads and cul-de-sacs to the north of the Old Kent Road was about as non-threatening as it comes. That last section's nothing new, it's part of an existing cycle route, but other sections have been added more recently to make the Quietway work.

The most impressive of these is the new path round the back of Millwall football ground. This part of London is characterised by a veritable delta of railway viaducts, and at Bolina Road one of the most oppressive backstreets in inner London. Instead Quietway users get to take a broad raised path from just outside South Bermondsey station to the Overground bridge where Surrey Canal Road station may one day be built, with views of The Den along the way. Indeed at one point there's a damned good view between the stands onto one end of the pitch... which may be why this path will be sealed off from 2 hours before until 2 hours after any Millwall game, and if there is an alternative route it wasn't well signed.

A few roads do have segregated lanes for bikes, occasionally dualled, and this is occasionally necessary. It's harder to work out why Tabard Street in Borough has been afforded this luxury, indeed I saw two cyclists trying to enter the adjacent park for whom the segregation was a frustrating barrier. And then there's one inexplicable case of residential hostility in nearby Trinity Street where an ornamental chicane has been installed across the road. This (gorgeous) road is otherwise ideal to cycle down, being both broad and quiet, but then comes precisely the deterrent that Quietways were supposed to do away with, and I watched one cyclist simply ride up onto the pavement to avoid it.

Many of the road junctions the Quietway crosses have been upgraded, especially where a quiet street meets a busier one. Variegated grey tiling is often used in an attempt to encourage a slower pace, while elsewhere traffic signals with countdown aid the flow. It generally seems to work well. But some of the improvements are more low-key than they could be, for example at an underwhelming staggered junction on Tower Bridge Road, while at others cyclists are simply expected to zigzag through whatever's already there, which might even mean getting off.

One issue I encountered whilst trying to walk the Quietway is that it's not always particularly well signed. A cycle superhighway is easy to follow because it's blue, and generally straight, but Quietways aren't so obvious, marked only by having "Q1" painted on the road and the occasional purple sign at what are deemed key points. Usually that works, indeed I suspect it works better if you're on a bike and literally reading the road. But I wandered off the correct track at least three times thanks to rationed or ambiguous signage, in one case because a truck had parked on top of the painted arrow at an unexpected turning and there were no signs above tarmac height. At other junctions I had a strong hunch which way to go but nothing to confirm, or was briefly baffled by a directional sign which must have been clear to whoever installed it but wasn't to me.

Oddly the worst signed sections of Quietway 1 are at the very beginning and at the very end. There's absolutely nothing at the south end of Waterloo Bridge to indicate that a safe cycle route exists close by, only a hairpin bend back down to South Bank level which just happens to have a 'Q1' painted right at the very end. Similarly the signage at Greenwich DLR is contradictory and incomplete, indicating two different directions and then nothing whatsoever as the path heads off through a private development, which is nowhere near good enough.

TfL do provide an overview map, but alas it isn't detailed enough to be able to make decisions on the ground junction by junction, indeed I'd say the combination of map and road signage isn't quite fit for purpose. But then Quietway 1 isn't meant to be a one-off track for sightseeing, more a regular route for commuters and local travellers, and once you know where you're going then all that ambiguity disappears. And then what you have is what was intended, a six mile corridor that's safer than the surrounding roads and hence a better way to travel. I wouldn't bother walking it, there's very little of interest to see, but if subsequent Quietways can reach this standard then I might well recommend a ride.

 Thursday, June 16, 2016

Vote Leave and take back control It'd be a leap in the dark
We give £350m a week to Europe That's misleading and you know it is
We could build a new hospital a week on that But you won't
Imagine how bad it'll be when Turkey joins Turkey's not joining
Rising from the ashes, we will conquer the world! No, we'll crash and burn
Voting Leave is a huge risk Nonsense, it'll all be fine
We won't be able to do a decent trade deal with the EU Don't be so negative
The NHS will lose large numbers of staff if we leave You're just scaremongering
The economy will tank It's just Project Fear
Not a single economic institution supports Brexit I think we've all had enough of experts
The EU is wasteful, greedy and bullying It helps more than it hinders
Unfettered immigration could change the UK forever So could Brexit
Public services are cracking under immigration Government policy, more like
We'll be able to decide our own laws! We already do that
We'll be able to control our own borders! Like we already do
90% of economists say leaving would damage growth Balderdash!
The TUC says the average weekly wage would fall £38 Poppycock!
The CBI think that 950,000 UK jobs could be lost What do they know?
We'd have less influence outside the EU Rubbish, we'd have more
Brexit will hit the low paid the hardest We're already low paid, thanks
The EU superstate threatens us all The last 40 years haven't been so bad
EU regulations bring unnecessary bureaucracy They protect workers' rights
EU citizens are filling our hospitals and our schools A lot of them are nurses and teachers
The European Court rules our entire legal system Better them than Michael Gove
Immigration has taken our jobs Austerity has made us poor
EU laws help to cut air pollution Bloody EU interference!
Workers' rights could be scrapped Bloody EU red tape!
Brexit would mean deep spending cuts and tax rises It can't get any worse
The EU would still make us sign up to harsh trade rules That just shows how awful they are
Why risk our economic security by leaving Europe? We're proud to be British
The Remain camp are talking this country down Being realistic, more like
A proud Britain will be able to do its own trade deals Worse deals than we have now
Unless we leave, we'll end up like Greece If we leave, we might end up like Greece
The EU migrant crisis is out of control We've hardly taken in any migrants
Brexit is a great way to snub the PM No, it'll hand power to the right wing
Britain is stronger, safer and better off in Europe Half my local high street is Polish shops
Leaving the EU is Britain's biggest single risk I don't want foreigners taking my job
Immigrants pay more in than they take out But they're foreign, send them home
Billions will be wiped off business if we Brexit We can pay billions to the NHS instead
We'd lose the economic benefits that the EU brings A new hospital every week, think on that
Most UK laws are made in Brussels You're making this up
Our open borders allow terrorists to come here You're preying on people's basest fears
By 2020 you'll have a foreigner living nextdoor You're scaremongering
We can have our proper British light bulbs back You're insane
We must take back full sovereignty And become irrelevant
Being in the EU saves your family £350 a year Being in the EU costs us £350m a week
The EU is a net benefit to everyone in the UK They banned straight bananas, you know
There'll be no going back if we vote to leave Excellent!
Yeah, but economic disaster Yeah, but immigrants
It would be senseless to leave It would be lunacy to stay

 Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I'm pleased to be able to report that the Cycle Superhighway upgrade works at Bus Stop M appear to be finished.

And it only took ten months.

July 2015: There are 3 eastbound bus stops between Bow Church and the Bow Roundabout, two by the church (E and G) and one by the roundabout (M)
August 2015: Bus Stop G is dug up to create a bus stop bypass, so all buses now stop at Bus Stop E. The road alongside is narrowed from three lanes to two.
September 2015: Bus Stop M is permanently closed, and its pole is moved to the site of former Bus Stop G.
October 2015: Former Bus Stop G reopens, now renamed Bus Stop M. Bus Stop E is permanently closed. The transfer of services from E to G, now M, is spectacularly mismanaged.
November 2015: Digital data regarding the three bus stops is mostly fixed. A new lamppost appears beside the bus stop bypass rather than in it, but is not yet switched on.
December 2015: Timetables at the stop are updated, and a bus map is installed in the shelter.
December 2015 - April 2016: Bus stop bypass appears complete, but remains blocked by orange plastic barriers.
May 2016: Bus stop bypass is finally opened. Lamppost is finally switched on. Countdown display installed in bus shelter. Bus stop pole is carted away on the back of a lorry.
June 2016: Bus stop pole returns. Bus Stop M and bus stop bypass now fully functional.

Why the pole for Bus Stop M needed to be carted off for four weeks is a mystery, especially just when it looked like everything else was finally complete. But suddenly it's back, seemingly exactly the same as before, and the good people of Bow can now catch their buses as intended.

So I thought this was finally the time to tell you about the other inbuilt design fault at Bus Stop M, which has been glaringly obvious since last summer, but I didn't want to mention it until I was sure we'd reached 'Final Configuration'.

Actually we might not be quite there yet, because I think this yellow board is supposed to have a sign on it, but that's probably just an oversight.

As one of TfL's new bus stop bypasses, you'd expect Bus Stop M to have all the usual features, and indeed it does. Specifically that's a cycle lane round the back of the bus stop, which keeps cyclists safely out of the way of traffic and stopped buses, plus a long thin 'pavement island' beside the road where passengers now wait. The awkward bit for pedestrians is that they now have to cross a bike lane to get to or from the bus stop, and that means crossing the path of oncoming bikes.

TfL have of course considered this and created a crossing point, centrally, where the cycle lane rises up to pavement level and where pedestrians are meant to cross. They don't, of course. Some do, especially those with pushchairs, but the majority wander across the cycle lane wherever's easiest, which is usually either at one end of the island or the other depending on which way they're going. Sometimes they even treat the blue strip as an extension of the bus stop and stand in it while they're waiting.

None of this is good if you're on a bike. But none of this is unusual.

What's unusual is that Bus Stop M doesn't have one island, it has two.

Finding space for a bus stop bypass along this stretch of Bow Road proved problematic. Diverting a cycle lane behind a bus stop eats up a lot of pavement, which narrowed the options somewhat (indeed it's the main reason there's now only one bus stop here where there used to be three). It's also not a good idea to place a bus stop bypass in front of any premises with vehicle access, and here this issue proved insurmountable. The optimal site proved to be inbetween the Bow Arts Trust and the Metropolitan Police Garage, both of which have considerable need of vehicle access, and this has been maintained. But there's also a residential block between the two with car parking round the back, and this clashed directly with the selected bus stop bypass location.

TfL's solution was to chop the bus stop bypass in half, allowing residents to drive in and out through the middle. The front half is slightly longer, and contains the bus stop, the bus shelter and almost all of the passengers. And the back half is shorter, and generally empty, but still technically necessary to create a facility of adequate length.

So here's the rub. If only one bus turns up, no problem, everybody gets on and gets off fine. But if a second bus turns up, the configuration of the bus stop means that the doors open in the middle bit.

Generally the front of the second bus pulls up beside the back of the first bus stop island, so that's fine. Here's a man with a walking stick getting on.

But the middle doors almost always open in the gap, where the cars drive in and out, and where there's no raised pavement. Here's a lady with a pushchair and a small child getting off.

TfL rightly make a big thing of bus stop accessibility, indeed they have a target that "95% of all bus stops in London will be accessible by December 2016". In particular "the ideal range in terms of kerb height is 125–140mm, however 100mm is the minimum for it to be compliant". But arrive on the second bus at Bus Stop M and there's no kerb at all, which fails the accessibility test outright.

Obviously if you're in the second bus in a wheelchair, the driver will wait until the first bus leaves and move forward, or hang back and stop on the other island, so that the ramp can be deployed. In this respect Bus Stop M is probably technically accessible. But generally the second bus pulls in at the gap, and those with limited mobility or pushchairs are forced to step down further than necessary - I've watched it happen many times.

One solution would be for the second bus to always hold back and stop beside the second island. However that's not going to work long term because Bus Stop M has to cope with over 40 buses an hour, so there needs to be space for a third bus to pull up behind.

A simpler solution would be for the first bus to stop a little further ahead than it does now - there's room - which would allow the second bus to stop with all its doors alongside the first island. Indeed a few 'first' bus drivers already do this, stopping beside the front of the bus shelter and leaving sufficient room behind. But most drivers naturally stop beside the back of the bus shelter, because that's where the bus stop pole is, and where it's considerably easier for those waiting all around to board.

Shifting the bus stop pole a few metres forward would entirely solve the "second bus access" problem. Unfortunately it would create fresh issues with boarding the first bus, with access now only from the sharp point of the island, past the shelter, and much harder for those with pushchairs or wheelchairs to reach. It seems there is no optimal solution here, which is why no optimal solution has been imposed.

Still, at least it's better now than it was last autumn when the bus stop bypass was first built. Some idiot planted one of those yellow warning signs by the kerb at the back of the first island, where it totally got in the way of anyone trying to board the second bus. That lasted a couple of months before somebody else thankfully noticed, and had the sign completely removed.

Another issue when the bypass was first built was the lack of direct step-free access from one half of the island to the other. Anyone with mobility issues alighting on the rear island was expected to cross the cycle lane to the pavement, proceed up the pavement and then cross back onto the other island if they wanted to catch another bus. Again, thankfully, somebody spotted this, but it required additional roadworks to introduce dropped kerbs either side of the central gap, wasting funds by having to build these bits of the island twice.

So the final configuration of Bus Stop M is better, but still doesn't quite work. It's a bus stop in two parts, a bus stop with a hole in it, where you might be dropped off onto the kerb or you might not. It's hugely better for cyclists, who can now whizz by in safety, but not quite as good for bus passengers as what was here before. Not everybody wins out when a Cycle Superhighway passes through. Let's hope that TfL learns to mitigate the downsides as plans roll out elsewhere, so that nobody in any other part of London need ever suffer the fiasco that has been Bus Stop M.

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What's on this weekend?
Sat 25, Sun 26 June (11-6)
Eel Pie Island Open Studios
Twice a year, artists open up their mid-Thames hideaway.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards