diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 28, 2017

12 facts about the old one pound coin

£1) The one pound coin was introduced on 21st April 1983 (the Queen's 57th birthday).
£2) Last year it was estimated that there are 1671m one pound coins in circulation.
£3) There are more one pound coins in circulation than £2 coins (479m) or 50p coins (1053m).
£4) There are fewer one pound coins in circulation than 20p coins (3004m), 10p coins (1713m), 5p coins (4074m), 2p coins (6174m) or 1p coins (11430m).
£5) One pound coins make up 5.5% of all the UK coinage in circulation (but 36% by value).
£6) Of all the old one pound coins that have entered circulation, 19% are dated 1983, 6% are dated 1984 and 10% are dated 1985.
£7) Only 0.3% of one pound coins are dated 1988 (these show the Royal Shield).
£8) No one pound coins entered circulation in 1998, 1999 or 2016.
£9) Four different royal portraits have been used on the old one pound coin.
£10) In May 2015 it was estimated that 2.55% of UK one pound coins in circulation were counterfeit (compared to 3.03% a year earlier).
£11) One good way to spot a counterfeit one pound coin is to hold it upright and spin it round. If the orientation of the obverse and reverse designs is not in line, you've got a fake.
£12) The words around the rim can be either way up, this is purely random.

12 facts about the designs on the old one pound coin

£1) The design of the 'tails' side was changed each year from 1983 to 2008 to show (in sequence) an emblem representing the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England (together with an appropriate edge inscription).
£2) From 2008 to 2015 the Royal Arms was used each year, plus two additional national designs in 2010/11 and 2014/15.
£3) The Royal Mint has produced a list and a full infographic showing all of the UK's £1 Coin Designs - how many can you find in your change?
£4) The most common design in circulation is the Royal Arms, which appears on 26% of coins.
£5) 29% of coins show 'national plants', 20% show 'national symbols', 9% show 'national bridges' and 0.5% show 'coats of arms of capital cities'.
£6) The least common design in circulation is the coat of arms for the city of Edinburgh, minted in 2011 (only 935,000 were made).
£7) There are four times as many Welsh leeks as English oak trees in circulation.
£8) There are more Menai Bridges than all the other three bridges put together.
£9) The legend DECUS ET TUTAMEN (meaning "an ornament and a safeguard") was first used around the rim of pound coins minted in 1983. 60% of one pound coins bear this legend.
£10) The unintentionally-appropriate legend PRO TANTO QUID RETRIBUAMUS (the motto of the city of Belfast) was only used in 2010.
£11) Between 2004 and 2007 no words appeared around the rim of a pound coin, only "an incuse decorative feature symbolising bridges and pathways".
£12) Last year the 25th (and final) 'round pound' design was struck, but did not enter general circulation. It shows four royal beasts surrounding Edward's crown, and was designed by the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron.

12 facts about the new one pound coin

£1) The new pound coin will be the first 12-sided coin since the threepenny bit, last minted in 1970.
£2) The corners are rounded, using ‘radial chords’. Six of the twelve sides are milled, and the alternate six are smooth.
£3) Some new one pound coins will show 2016 as the year of manufacture, apparently, despite not coming into circulation until 2017.
£4) The 'tails' side of the new one pound coin shows a rose, leek, thistle and shamrock emerging from one stem within a royal coronet. The designer was schoolboy David Pearce from Walsall, then 15, now 17.
£5) If Scotland ever leaves the UK, presumably a new design will be required.
£6) The new one pound coin is made in Wales.
£7) The new one pound coin is bimetallic. The outer ring is gold coloured (nickel-brass) and the inner ring is silver coloured (nickel-plated alloy).
£8) The new one pound coin has a 'latent image' (like a hologram) which changes from a ‘£’ symbol to the number '1' when the coin is seen from different angles.
£9) The new pound coin has very small "micro-lettering" on the lower inside rim on both sides of the coin (ONE POUND on the 'heads' side, and the year of production on the 'tails' side).
£10) The new one pound coin has a top secret patented High Security Feature built in, "to protect it from counterfeiting in the future."
£11) The new one pound coin was first released to collectors, as part of a commemorative set, on 6th March 2017.
£12) London banks which'll definitely have the new one pound coin available today: Barclays 2 Churchill Place E14 5RB, Nat West 1 Princes Street EC2R 8BP, Halifax 33 Old Broad Street EC2N 1HZ, HSBC 103 Station Road Edgware HA8 7JJ, Santander 2 Triton Square NW1 3AN, Santander 164-167 Tottenham Court Road W1T 7JE, Santander 57 Streatham High Rd SW16 1PN... and the Post Office at 24/28 William IV Street WC2N 4DL [nationwide list here]

6 facts about the old and new one pound coins

£1) The old one pound coin weighs 9.5g. The new one pound coin weighs 8.75g.
£2) The old one pound coin has a diameter of 22.5mm. The new one pound coin has a diameter of 23.43mm from point to point, and 23.03mm from edge to edge.
£3) The old one pound coin has a thickness of 3.15mm. The new one pound coin has thickness of 2.8mm.
£4) The old one pound coin was 70% copper, 5.5% nickel and 24.5% zinc. The new one pound coin is 76% copper, 4% nickel and 20% zinc.
£5) The queen faces right on coins (but left on stamps). King Charles will face left.
£6) One pound coins are legal tender in any amount (whereas 50p and 20p coins are only legal tender up to £10, 10p and 5p coins only up to £5, and 2p and 1p coins only up to 20p).

6 facts about the pound coin changeover

£1) A "co-circulation" period exists from 28 March to 15 October 2017.
£2) During the co-circulation period, machines should be able to accept both forms of coin (but might not be able to).
£3) The legal tender status of the old one pound coin will be withdrawn on 15th October 2017.
£4) "Demonetisation" begins on 16 October 2017, from which date businesses are under no obligation to accept the old one pound coin from their customers, but it can still be deposited into a customer's account at most High Street banks.
£5) Old one pound coins will be melted down to help make new one pound coins.
£6) You have 201 more days to spend your round pounds.

 Monday, March 27, 2017

Opening sentence referencing the location of today's post. Acknowledgement that I have been here before, with link to previous article should you choose to compare and contrast. Recognition that not many Londoners have been to this place. Specific mention of the name of the place in the hope that at least one person leaves a message in the comments saying they used to live here and they remember one of the shops, while another says they live here now and it's not as awful as most people think. Link to Wikipedia article. Slight teaser.

Brief paragraph devoted to background history, seriously condensed so as not to slow down the flow of the post. If you go back far enough this was all fields, obviously. A follow-up sentence which sprints from the Georgian era to post-war development, via something vaguely interesting the Victorians did. Brief mention that things changed dramatically when the railways came. Several peripheral facts deliberately omitted, so that someone else can look clever by telling us all.

[photograph of local high street with the sun shining attractively, which I hung around on a street corner for far too long attempting to capture without excess traffic]

Reference to establishing landmark, and link to map of the area should you be wondering where it is. Mention of nearby railway station, because that'll probably help you to understand where this is without clicking on the map link, because nobody clicks on links. Twinge of regret at mentioning the railway again, because this may trigger a long comment about trains, despite trains not being the main focus of the post nor mentioned in any other context.

Description of the type of housing nearby, admittedly not using the finest architectural terms but sufficient to get the gist across. Rather too many thesaurus-friendly adjectives all crammed together into the same sentence, which drones on rather longer than it should because I forgot to read it back after I'd written it, which is never wise, and probably containing one clause too many. Glaring factual error. Namecheck for local cafe, not that I went in, but normal people might.

List of three types of shop, selected for their collective stereotypical nuance, in the hope that this helps give a flavour of the kind of person who lives and shops here. Observation that something old has now become flats. Tone of voice tempered according to whether the old thing was merely adapted to create flats, or completely knocked down so that developers could start again and build something out of proportion with all the good looks of a shed.

Moving off from the starting point along some specifically-named road, in case you were ever to want to repeat my journey, which you never will. Something I overheard somebody saying as I walked by, because it's quite funny out of context. Silent recognition that this is entirely irrelevant, apart from adding a bit of local flavour, but it does prove that I did actually cross London to visit this location rather than sitting at home and sourcing all my photos from Streetview.

[photograph of key location, which I thought was decent but on getting home discovered was all blurry, so had to be photoshopped to within an inch of its life before appearing here]

Ordinary-looking house which it turns out has an interesting history, but only if you're a keen fan of one particular 1980s sitcom, or have a thing for mass poisoners. Worrying feeling that this building is why I crossed London to visit this location, and after all that effort it's only an ordinary-looking house. Attempt not to mention the address in too specific a manner in case the owner of the house ever Googles it and discovers I was the nutter taking intrusive photos of their front garden.

Incisive observation which deserves to be a single paragraph all by itself.

Second building notionally just round the corner from the first, but potentially half an hour away on foot. Short synopsis of the building's history, all gathered from the internet after I got home because I never realised how rich its background was while standing in front of it. Detailed description of the chimney, the front door or some other entirely irrelevant feature. Sentence including speling mistake which my proof reader will email me about within 20 minutes of the post going live.

Grim footpath up the side of the building - a route taken solely for dramatic effect. Trying hard to think of another synonym for footpath which I haven't used three times already. Mention that the local park is full of trees, which obviously it is, but the appearance of leaves and/or blossom permits a little seasonal flavour. Sentence including word which doesn't actually exist, but you should be able to work out my intended meaning, and I think I'll get away with it.

[photograph of local viewpoint or local waterway, linked through to larger version on Flickr, not that you'll probably notice, nor care, and anyway you've seen the photo already]

Obligatory visit to local viewpoint, be that hilltop, embankment, mound or footbridge. Repeated over-use of the words view and panorama. Mention of whether or not you can see the Shard, because again this proves whether I actually went or not. Obligatory visit to local waterway, be that stream, canal, ugly concrete culvert or lost river. Mild excitement if 'lost river' category can be correctly utilised. Description of at least one thing seen dumped in water, for same reason as previously.

Downbeat reference to proposed development of flats in that new brick vernacular. Recognition that yes, flats are needed, but surely we can do better than this. Trigger vocabulary used to ensure that at least one person in the comments questions what percentage will be affordable, and then bemoans the direction the modern world is travelling in. Oblique mention of Brexit merely to piss off one of my angrier readers.

Penultimate paragraph starting to tie everything together, and an excuse to link to posts other people have written which reference the general area I've just visited. Sentence which would read more clearly if it didn't keep changing colour because I'm linking to some photographs you won't look at. Opportune moment to mention a local bus route which might deliver you here quite easily, but best not, because commenters are even more likely to write something tangentially historical about buses than they are about railways.

Repeated admission that this is not the most exciting area of London. Tacit acceptance that my post has probably confirmed this in your mind. Acknowledgement that you could one day come here and see what I've seen but you won't. Unspoken feeling that surely I must have better things to do with my weekends. Assumption that I will one day be back. Concluding sentence incorporating limp pun. Now, what's in the comments?

 Sunday, March 26, 2017

As we edge into British Summer Time, is your sunscreen ready?

London's just entered the half of the year when the sun's rays are strong enough to cause skin damage. Indeed this is the very week when the UV Index ticks up from definitely 'Low' to potentially 'Moderate'. To help demonstrate this, here's a graph showing the UV Index in sunny London yesterday.

The UV Index appears in many weather forecasts, and acts as a guide to ultraviolet exposure during the sunniest parts of the day. For "the average person" it goes something like this...

UV IndexExposureAction
0-2LowYou can safely enjoy being outside.
3-5ModerateStay in the shade near midday, wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen.
6-7HighReduce time in the sun, wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen.
8-10Very HighMinimise time in the sun, wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen.
11+ExtremeAvoid time in the sun, wear protective clothing, apply sunscreen.

n.b. If you have lighter or darker skin colouring than average, click here for a reassessment of your risk. I'm fortunate enough to tan rather than burn, so for me the danger kicks in at 5 rather than 3.

The UV Index is a global scale, so scores of 11 and above tend to occur in the tropics. 10 is the maximum midsummer value in Toronto, where the UV Index was devised. In the UK we rarely go higher than 7, with 8 possible in late June in Cornwall and the Channel Islands.

I've long wondered how the UV Index is calculated, so have done some digging, and I can confirm that it's very complicated. Specifically a computer model is required to relate a) the strength of solar ultraviolet radiation, b) the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere, c) the amount of cloud in the atmosphere and d) the elevation of the ground. For the latter, UV intensity increases by about 6% for every 1000m above sea level. As for clouds, clear skies allow virtually 100% of UV to pass through, scattered clouds transmit 89%, broken clouds transmit 73% and overcast skies transmit 31%. This is why the UV forecast varies so much.

But it is possible to simplify things by ignoring actual weather conditions and focusing on what would happen in one place if there were clear skies. This splendidly basic website (circa 2003) allows me to calculate the maximum UV Index at any point on the globe at any time on any date. I've chosen London, obviously (other locations further north or south in the UK would be little different).

Assuming clear skies in London, what's the UV maximum at different times of year?

My first table shows the maximum UV Index in London at noon on the 21st day of each month. That's solar noon, the point when the sun is highest in the sky, which is around noon in the winter months and around 1pm in the summer. Theoretically, this is the highest the UV Index can reach. I've calculated the numbers to one decimal place.

Maximum UV Index in London at noon on the 21st of the month
UV Index0.

If you look at the green entries you'll see that the maximum UV Index is 'Low' for half of the year, from the start of autumn to the end of winter. Specifically the UV Index in London is always below 3.0 from 22nd September to 23rd March, which is why you haven't needed your sunscreen for the last six months. But last Thursday was the first day with a theoretical maximum in the yellow zone, and by May we'll be up into the oranges. Specifically the UV Index in London can be 6 or more from 13th May to 31st July. Notice that in this theoretical model London never quite reaches 7, although in reality certain atmospheric conditions can tip the index this high.

'Moderate' UV levels kick in when the sun is more than 40º above the horizon, which happened for the first time this year at noon last week. Because the UV Index varies with the height of the sun in the sky, the maximum varies considerably according to the time of day. At dawn the UV Index is always 0 because the sun is on the horizon, and then on a cloudless day it rises through the morning and falls away in the afternoon.

My next table shows the maximum possible UV Index in London at various times of day on the 21st day of each month. I've only considered the spring and the summer - the rest of the year is all green. To keep things simple I'm using whole numbers. Note that all the times in March are GMT, and from April onwards they're BST.

Maximum UV Index in London on the 21st of the month
Time21 Mar21 Apr21 May21 Jun21 Jul21 Aug21 Sep
12 noon2466642

The first column is for last Tuesday, and shows how the UV Index rises to 2 between 10am and 2pm, but never quite reaches 3. The second column is for 21st April, which shows a 'Moderate' risk kicking in by 11am and remaining until 3pm. In May, June and July, a 'High' risk exists between noon and 2pm, with a 'Moderate' risk between 10am and 4pm. All of this assumes a clear sky, with lower values in case of cloud. But this helps to explain why you burn in the summer (either side of the solstice) and not in March or September.

This next table I'm calling my You Might Burn table. It shows the calendar dates when a certain UV Index is possible for a prolonged length of time.

UV Index3456
noon-2pm28 Mar-18 Sep12 Apr-1 Sep29 Apr-13 Aug22 May-18 Jul
11am-3pm9 Apr-5 Sep27 Apr-14 Aug21 May-6 Jul-
10am-4pm2 May-6 Aug---

For example, I'm particularly interested in a UV Index of 5, because that's when my skin becomes susceptible to burning. I need to watch out between noon and 2pm from the end of April to the middle of August, and between 11am and 3pm from the middle of May to the middle of July. But if your skin burns when there's a UV index of 3, you might need to slap on sunscreen between noon and 2pm starting this week, between 11am and 3pm starting in a fortnight's time, and between 10am and 4pm from the beginning of May.

If that was a bit confusing, try this. My final table shows the potential danger periods on the 21st day of the month over the summer. The times are a little more approximate here. Again the data is for London.

UV Index3456
21 Apr10.30am-3.30pm11.30am-2.30pm--
21 May9.45am-4.15pm10.30am-3.30pm11am - 3pm12 noon - 2pm
21 Jun9.30am-4.30pm10am - 4pm10.45am-3.15pm11.30am-2.30pm
21 Jul9.45am-4.15pm10.30am-3.30pm11am - 3pm12 noon - 2pm
21 Aug10.30am-3.30pm11.30am-2.30pm--

On 21st April a UV Index of 3 is possible from 10.30am onwards, and 4 from 11.30am to 2.30pm. By the time we reach 21st May, the UV Index could be 5 from 11am onwards, and 6 from noon to 2pm. The peak risk is on the day of the summer solstice, with the UV Index above 3 for almost the entire working day. That's assuming it's perfectly sunny, of course. A more typical British summer's day wouldn't be quite so intense.

If you're still with me, I hope that all this research and number crunching has been interesting. It's been reassuring to discover that there is genuinely no need for sunscreen in London between late September and late March. It's been a salutary reminder that it'll soon be time to get the sunscreen out again, or face the consequences. And it's helped me to understand why I got the worst sunburn of my life in San Francisco even though it was only April (it never gets to 7.5 in London, but it does over there). If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

» UV Index forecast (Met Office)
» UV Index - Wikipedia
» How the UV Index is calculated
» UV Index calculator (simple)
» Daily UV graphs for a dozen UK locations (Defra)
» Graph showing maximum UV Index for New York City throughout the year
» 2-page UV radiation explanatory leaflet (USA)

 Saturday, March 25, 2017

Although the revamped Battersea Power Station isn't due to reopen until 2020, a scrap of landscaped riverfront has reopened alongside the first adjacent flats. As yet there's bugger all to do apart from own an apartment, or gawp, but by the summer several shops, restaurants and cafes will have moved in and Circus West Village will have been born. The marketing team describe this as "London’s newest food destination", which vastly overstates the scale of what's planned, but it is already possible to wander in off the street and see for yourself.

The sole access point, at present, is on the south side of Chelsea Bridge, immediately opposite the entrance to the (much more enjoyable) Battersea Park. Proceed past the bastion of Berkeley Homes and the private clinic to reach the underside of Grosvenor Bridge, part of the main railway out of Victoria station. Here a security guy will eye you up and down in case you're undesirable - don't worry, they didn't mind me, you'll pass.

A cycle hire stand is already up and running beneath the fairy lights, as well as a red telephone box with a touchscreen video display inside. The volume's a bit too loud and the sound distorts, but the films and stories about the power station are nicely done. Come back soon and the adjacent temporary exhibition space should be ready - they were still putting up the panels when I passed by. But don't expect to read anywhere about just how many trains rattle by and quite how close. If it's half as loud in the adjacent flats as it is under the arches, I'd recommend buying a property elsewhere.

Step through and you're in Circus West Village proper, if it's right to describe a piazza overlooked by a wall of glass as a village. I'd say it isn't, but that's not the only delusional claim round here.
In what is one of the most important years in the history of Battersea Power Station, the Battersea Power Station team is pleased to confirm the first new shops, restaurants and cafés moving into the first phase, Circus West Village opening summer 2017.
The pedestrianised 'street' to your right is currently sealed off while the individual railway arches are fitted out. One will be a sourdough pizzeria, another a gin distillery attraction, another a brunch'n'burger canteen. There'll also be a Village Hall, designed as a community hub in conjunction with the excellent Battersea Arts Centre, although I suspect most future residents will be more at home in the oyster restaurant round the corner. You can get a fairly good idea of the intended populace from a massive illustration near the Marketing Suite depicting an everyday scene outside the 'Battersea General Store'. Every single person in the picture is white, every single person in the picture is under 40, only three are male... this place aims to be the unashamed epitome of nouveau posh.

Circus West is the reason you can't see the power station from the railway any more, a residential block longer than the Shard is high, perched on top of a two-storey commercial podium. Residents in the prime Thamesside flats have a fully-glazed conservatory where you'd expect to find a balcony, a narrow sun trap which unfortunately faces north so won't be seeing a lot of sun. Underneath will be the boringly-titled No 29 Power Station West, described on its hoarding as "a pub for the 21st century", although the artist's illustration outside better resembles a posh Georgian drawing room. Meanwhile "Your Vibrant Local Eatery" will be hosted by Pedler Cru, while the final unit is marked "New Exciting Concept Coming Soon" which can only mean it hasn't been successfully let.

Given that nothing retail is open yet, best make the most of the available public realm. A fang-shaped piazza rises up towards the dead-end edge of the power station, with semi-stepped terraces and gently sloping paving. Its most impressive features are two geometric pools, mirror-flat unless it's windy, with water gently cascading over the rim into unseen drains. A handful of swish chunky wooden chairs have been provided alongside each, an ideal amount of seating for current visitor levels, but likely to be overwhelmed later.

For now the highlight is the opportunity to see the old electric cathedral up close. Its lofty facade looms over all, with two chimneys rebuilt, another nearing completion, and the last original now demolished. Only the shell of the power station building remains, with a new penthouse roof yet to arise, and with offices, cinemas and other commercial magnets destined to be slotted within. Circus West Village is only a tiny fraction of all that's planned, but probably a good indication that this extensive redeveloped quarter of SW8 will be somewhere to enjoy spending your money, assuming you have more than enough.

A painted hoarding blocks off access to what will eventually be Power Station Park, six acres of partially-turfed open space adjacent to the Thames. Its main purpose is to ensure that there's at least one direction from which the silhouette of Battersea Power Station is still visible, rather than being smothered by a fortress of residential development. For now however the park is a huge deep hole in the ground, as can be seen if you climb a brief ramp and peer over the side. What the hell will they be burying down there, will it be basements or utilities or car parking, or is it simply currently a very useful place to plonk a crane?

One day the entire Thames waterfront will be opened up, connecting Battersea Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge along the south bank of the river for the very first time. Later this summer Thames Clippers will be dropping by, as part of a fresh waterbus connection to the centre of town. And this weekend you can come down and see for yourself, as part of a special Mother's Day event with free pizza, free coffee, a performer with a big hoop and some bubble mixture, and a biscuit decorating drop-in workshop. I say don't rush. But you will be down here eventually, the whole of London will be down here eventually, so why not get the heads-up early?

 Friday, March 24, 2017

Early afternoon, one day later, Westminster Bridge.

Both ends have been sealed with white tape, which flaps feebly in the wind. Normally the silhouette of the bridge has vehicle sized humps, and tiny people rushing by, but today's it's flat. Occasionally the cordon is detached to allow officialdom to pass through, but ordinary people are held at bay by a polite stare, and advice on the best route for negotiating round the disruption.

Tourists are streaming back to visitor attractions on the Albert Embankment, brandishing their tickets to the London Dungeon, milling on the steps into the London Aquarium and stuffing themselves with a Big Mac in lieu of lunch. The London Eye is turning again, with queues undaunted by yesterday's extended spin. Foreign camera crews are poised by the river's edge, explaining to the audience back home what's going on, with Parliament framed on the horizon.

On the north bank a police officer reels in the plastic ribbon blocking the Cycle Superhighway as a flow of pedestrians streams by. Initially only a few cyclists notice, while one young man on a motorised skateboard takes advantage of the off-peak conditions to whirr by, headphones poised. Road traffic is extremely light - a lone taxi, a delivery van for a small catering company, a limo.

Outside the new New Scotland Yard, a larger media circus is in evidence. The Queen was supposed to be here today to open the place, a small item at the end of the news, but instead the exterior is the focus of far wider attention. Only now are the public being allowed into, and out of, Westminster station, where the number of armed officers in the ticket hall almost exceeds the number of customers.

There's still no access to the nearest corner of Parliament Square, so police and journalists cluster on the Embankment traffic island. But Westminster Bridge is open, freshly reopened, and virtually empty. All the cars and buses that had been sitting here since yesterday afternoon have been cleared, along with all the evidence that this was ever a crime scene, and the span has the emptiness film producers can normally only guarantee at five in the morning.

For the few tourists who've managed to arrive at precisely the right time, the perfect selfie can be framed. Many of them won't even realise how hard it is normally to snap the Palace of Westminster without a horde of people in the background doing the same thing. The tourists doing the same thing 23 hours earlier managed to arrive at precisely the wrong time. Their snatched videos went round the world, if they were lucky,

In a few hours there'll be bouquets, but until then nothing marks the places where, who knew, it wasn't safe to stand. Where bodies lay, where bystanders ran to help, where hastily erected tents shielded the worst of the injuries from view, there's now just tarmac painstakingly swept for evidence, then tidied up, then cleaned. A couple of cars pass by, on the road of course and not on the pavement, and who would ever have assumed the opposite?

It takes some imagination to picture this walkway as a inescapable trap, with a line of traffic on one side and the edge of the bridge on the other. Only now is it blindingly apparent how low the parapet is, barely at chest height and all too easy to be manoeuvred over. The waters of the Thames are choppy, and not as far down as you might expect, though far enough at speed. On one of the lampstands a knot of police tape remains.

The souvenir kiosk at the eastern end of the bridge remains shuttered. A rack of printed merchandise has slumped onto the pavement, with most of its pockets empty, and the postcards in the others askew. Larger canvases depict the bridge at an unlikely angle, with one red bus prominent on each. The message on the final board is normally a cliche - Keep Calm And Carry On - but today that's precisely what Londoners have done.

As cordons clear, a stream of cars, vans and buses arrives. The bridge begins to look ordinary again, or at least will do once the chestnut sellers and card sharps have returned to their pitches. Every effort has been made to return this part of London to normality, a state impressively reattained in less than 24 hours. An unspoken message has been sent out to the rest of the world that whatever you may choose to do to our capital city, life goes on.

One day we'll be able to cross Westminster Bridge without thinking back to what happened here. We do the same in many other parts of London, the memories of the tragedies that played out dampened by years of familiarity. For now however it's impossible to walk across without feeling the shadow of events cast before you, and pondering what if, and why here, and why? And because it remains impossible to stop a maniac with a car, where next?

 Thursday, March 23, 2017

3 Beckenham/Bromley/Penge

Penge Urban District has an astonishing administrative history, and is the only part of the capital to have been absorbed into London twice, from two different counties.

In medieval times Penge was a patch of woodland owned by the tenants of Battersea Manor. As late as 1866 Penge was still a detached hamlet of the parish of Battersea, an exclave of entirely disjoint land administered from four miles distant, and thus part of Surrey. From 1889 it formed part of the new County of London, but in 1900 was transferred to Kent as a separate urban district. Only in 1965 did it return to London, combined with several other districts to create the London borough of Bromley.

So for today's post I thought I'd walk the boundary of Penge Urban District, hunting for evidence of its mixed-up past, if only I could work out precisely where it ran. Thankfully Martin Spence, author of local history book The Making of a London Suburb, has detailed just such a walk, in seven detailed chunks, on his Pengepast blog. With the aid of this (and Martin's hand-drawn map) I was able to work out precisely where to go and what to look for, and the end result is this post, which is nowhere near as good as his.

A walk around the rim of Penge

I started at the Vicar's Oak, which you may know better as the Crystal Palace crossroads at the top of Westow Hill. Once the point where the parishes of Lambeth, Camberwell, Battersea and Croydon met, this long-lopped tree is still the only point where four London boroughs (almost) meet. Look out for a memorial plaque on the gateposts at the entrance to Crystal Palace Park.

Heading clockwise, the boundary of Penge Urban District followed what's now Crystal Palace Parade, the ridgetop at the top of the park, and still the westernmost edge of Bromley. There's still a mighty fine view up here, just beyond the bus station on the terrace where the Crystal Palace once stood. I paused to soak in the panorama, interrupted by a lady behind me yelling "Come here Toto!" at a creature I assumed was her dog, but was aghast to discover was her toddling son. A little further along is the entrance to the Crystal Palace Subway, a stunning vaulted crypt which volunteers hope one day to reopen, and at the far end the soaring Crystal Palace TV mast. London's television is broadcast to your aerial direct from Penge.

At the top of Sydenham Hill the boundary doglegs back, and the key road to pay attention to is Old Cople Lane. This was once the main route between London and Bromley, a track along the edge of Penge Common, but today only a stumpy private cul-de-sac remains. This leads to a Caravan Club enclave, and also provides a back entrance to the transmitter compound for those allowed within for maintenance. I couldn't find the metal post marking the corner of Camberwell parish but I did find that for Lewisham, so deeply embedded in modern tarmac that half the 'L' now lies submerged within the pavement.

Alongside are the blocked-off gateposts to 'Rockhills', the large house where Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, used to live. He was instrumental in bringing the huge glass exhibition centre here to Penge after its spell in Hyde Park in 1851, and in completely relandscaping the local area to create Crystal Palace Park. Old Cople Lane therefore disappeared within the ornamental gardens, meaning that the dividing line between Kent and Surrey meandered unseen across the site. It clipped the tip of the north terrace, then passed south of the labyrinth and through the North Basin, then alive with cascades and fountains, now the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre swimming pool.

Only one relic of the former boundary remains within the park, but it's a cracker. A Victorian red-painted metal post lurks in a clump of trees between the playground and the toilets, down near the cafe on the Grand Centre Walk where it's all too easily overlooked. In raised lettering is the year 1875 and underneath this the legend HAMLET OF PENGE. It sounds epic, as if this oaken glade were once part of some Game of Thrones netherworld. Instead this is simply the location of a slight bend in the edge of a minor parish, which then continued out of the park just to the north of the Penge Gate.

The hamlet of Penge Green grew rapidly into a suburb once the railways came, the former Penge Common covered rapidly by housing, with the High Street the heart of the growing settlement. This road is the continuation of what was once Old Cople Lane, with its mid 19th century parish church, the Old Crooked Billet public house and the utterly splendid Royal Waterman's Almshouses. Far more modern is the so-called Penge Triangle, a millennial clock tower with a skirted canopy resembling a pterodactyl, although I'd never have guessed if I hadn't read the plaque.

The original boundary divided neighbours on four streets to the north of the High Street, with the consequence that although Penge West station was in the district of Penge, Penge East station lay just outside. On one of these half-and-half streets, Kingswood Road, you can still see a Beckenham parish boundary post in the pavement outside number 55. Neighbouring Mosslea Road became notorious in 1877 for the 'Penge Murder', a brutal case of matrimonial neglect which might have gone unnoticed had not the victim's husband been overheard in the post office asking whether number 34 was in the Kent or Surrey half of the street, because he was uncertain where to report her death.

From here the boundary becomes more obvious - it's Parish Lane. Where this bends you'll find the Alexandra Nurseries, opened on the site of the delightfully-named Porcupine Farm, one of a handful of local dwellings in Penge back in the 18th century. There's a lot less of historical interest to report from this point onwards, which'll allow me to speed up a little in my reporting. A right turn is made at the mini roundabout on Kent House Road, just before Kent House station, where it's finally time to head back to the High Street. Poor old Bearly Trading on the corner, until recently "Purveyors of Teddy Bears", now not barely trading but closed, with a forlorn-looking rocking horse pushed up against the window.

Where Tesco now stands was the site of Willmore Bridge, an ancient crossing where the road to Bromley crossed a tributary of the Pool River. The Willmore's not so much a lost river as a lost stream, but once had the honour (for about a mile) of marking the shire boundary between London and Surrey. Now culverted, one hint to its existence is the dividing line between SE20 and BR3 postcodes which runs at the bottom of the back gardens between Royston Road and Ravenscroft Road. Another clue is the dip in the land, seen very clearly in Avenue Road, with a brief parapet still evident at the lowest point under which the brook would once have flowed.

We've reached prime residential Penge, where large Victorian terraces line broad avenues, and the houses have anodyne bucolic names like Southview, Ivandene or Overdale. At the foot of Croydon Road an old green sign on a lamppost still says 'Penge', despite more modern eyes being more likely to think that the suburb ahead is Anerley. A sports ground and a railway cutting preclude access to the next stretch of boundary, which diverted me into a much more modern estate - a bit of a culture shock after the last five miles. On the bright side I got to divert into Betts Park, where a brief segment of the Croydon Canal survives. It's unexpectedly pretty, although less so at the moment because a retaining wall collapsed a few weeks ago, so council diggers are at work in the drained cut replacing it with a long gabion bank.

The diversion also forced me past Penge's town hall, a Gothic confection better known as Anerley Town Hall, or rather now the Anerley Business Centre. Bromley council rent it out to small companies, and hire out the hall, but also transferred the library elsewhere three years ago so the sign out front is wildly out of date.

It's a bit of an uphill hike from here to Hamlet Road, down which the parish boundary can reattained. This follows Fox Hill, an ancient track (now residential) and one of the steepest climbs in London. The road sign at the bottom warns 20%, and cars are more likely to edge gingerly down than crawl slowly up. Just beyond the crest the boundary veers off along Lansdowne Road, this juncture marked by a particularly weather-worn parish post. There's one more of these to go, the best of all, outside the front door of a dull block of flats. Look carefully and you'll see it says BATTERSEA 1854, a tiny insignificant reminder that Penge was once a tiny insignificant outpost of this Thamesside parish.

There's just Church Road to go, one side of the Upper Norwood triangle, where dapper boutiques and artisan chocolate cafes confirm quite how far the edge of Penge has come since all the land round here was woodland, field or common. The circuit is complete at the Vicar's Oak, the point where Kent met London met Surrey, or various paired-off combinations of the above. One day you'll be able to explore the best of the area via the Penge Heritage Trail, a crowdfunded project with the support of the Penge Tourist Board, which launched yesterday and very much deserves wider support. In the meantime let me reassure you that Penge is a lot more interesting than most people think. I know, I've walked its rim.

 Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A month ago I told you how badly wrong the eastbound Next Train Indicator at Bow Road station was.

But it was at least consistently wrong.

What the display saidWhere the train was going
PlaistowBarking (Dist)
BarkingBarking (H&C)
 Check destination on front of train  Dagenham East or Upminster 

If the display said Plaistow then the train was going to Barking. If the display said Barking then the train was going to Barking. And if the display said Check destination on front of train then the train was going at least as far as Dagenham East and probably as far as Upminster. Madness, but consistent madness, should any of Bow Road's waiting passengers ever have taken the time to deduce the underlying pattern.

A month later, something has changed. Or rather everything has changed.

 What the display says Where the train's going
Barking Barking or Dagenham East or Upminster 
Upminster Barking or Dagenham East or Upminster 

There is now seemingly no connection whatsoever between what flashes up on the display and where the train is going. If the display says Barking then the train could be going to Barking or could be going further. If the display says Upminster then the train could be going to Upminster or it might not be going that far. I've observed loads of eastbound trains this week, and I haven't been able to spot an underlying pattern at all.

Of all the Hammersmith & City line trains that arrived, destination Barking, sometimes the display said Barking but more often it said Upminster. Of the District line trains going only to Barking, half the time the display said Barking and the other half it said Upminster. Of the District line trains going all the way to Upminster, most of the time the display said Upminster but frequently it said Barking. Dagenham East trains are quite rare, but I've seen them flagged up as either Barking or Upminster too.

Overall there was only a fifty-fifty chance that the display would give the correct destination for the next train. It was like flipping a coin, no better, no worse. There was even one glorious spell when five consecutive trains came in with the 'wrong' destination.

The next stop up the line, which is Bromley-by-Bow, and the previous stop, which is Mile End, have no such issues. They always get the destination right, whereas Bow Road has an electronic tombola on the eastbound platform. What's more it's running to completely different rules to those which applied a month ago, which is doubly strange, and still completely unfit for purpose. If this Next Train Indicator genuinely can't be fixed, maybe somebody should switch it off.

I'm pleased to report that Bus Stop M has its timetables back. One of the panels went missing two months ago, then got ripped off completely five weeks ago, then got patched up with official TfL sticky tape three weeks ago. But yesterday a fresh new panel was added, with timetables and everything, and now we're all back to normal.

The 'everything' is a slight issue, because one of the spaces in the new panel is taken up by an advert for a West End bus consultation which closed two months ago. But all seven bus routes now have an up-to-date timetable, so let's not complain, just hope I never need to write about Bus Stop M again.

Thursday update: The consultation advert has been removed, but not replaced, so one-third of the default message underneath is now visible. Consultation adverts have also been removed from neighbouring bus stops.

 Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I went to the cinema yesterday. I was pleased that I wasn't allowed to sit where I liked, because the nice lady at the desk chose a seat for me, and she's an expert. Before the lights went down it looked like she'd picked badly, because all the seats around me were empty, but as the sequence of car adverts rolled they soon filled up. I had to move my coat from the seat beside me, this because the cinema was almost a quarter full, and it was good to be reminded that I don't have a God-given right to drape my outerwear wherever I choose.

The couple who sat directly in front of me had brought popcorn and nachos, which delighted me, because it meant the soundtrack to the upcoming movie would be enhanced. As for the man who squeezed past me during the "forthcoming features" section, I know he didn't mean to tread on my coat because this was all my own fault. He also hadn't quite finished checking his Instagram feed, which is fair enough, and as the photos spun by in the darkness I noted he certainly had a lot of overtly exhibitionist acquaintances.

I hoped the two ladies sitting behind me would continue talking as the film proceeded, and they didn't disappoint. Both treated the upcoming movie as if they were sat on their own sofa, which felt very natural, providing an intermittent commentary on the latest plot details and how they thought the characters were progressing. Normally you'd have to wait for the DVD release to enjoy an additional background track, so this was a proper bonus. I was only disappointed that they didn't talk a little louder, because there were times when I couldn't easily take on board the thread of their discussion and was forced to concentrate on the main feature instead.

Meanwhile the Instagram feed reappeared every ten minutes or so, during natural breaks when the storytelling on the big screen dipped, and it would have been a shame for my neighbour to have to wait until the end of the film to see them. What a pity too that the nachos in front of me ran out barely halfway through the film, but one of the pair then unwrapped a giant Toblerone they'd smuggled in, which distracted me faultlessly every time another chunk was broken off. And what a good idea to start packing up a minute before the credits rolled, so as to be poised to make an almost perfect getaway during the final denouement on screen. I must go to the cinema more often.

I hear the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is closing down. I don't know about you but I haven't bought a bell recently, so I don't think I'll be inconvenienced. The company's been up and running since 1570, so perhaps it's not surprising that nobody wants to buy its products any more. They couldn't even cope with the London 2012 commission, because that was too big, so what hope is there for the future? It's not like there isn't somewhere else in the country that can cast bells, because there's still a working foundry in Loughborough, so any churches with campanology issues can head there.

I went down yesterday and it doesn't look especially closed, so things can't be that bad. What's more the building nextdoor is already behind a hoarding, so there's clearly some kind of redevelopment nexus underway in this part of Whitechapel. The former workshops immediately across the road have long been replaced by offices and some useful shops, while the buildings across Fieldgate Street have evolved into student accommodation with a Tesco Metro underneath. Both of these are much better uses of valuable land, in a part of town rife with housing pressure, but I fear the listed nature of the foundry buildings precludes subdivision into flats.

Well meaning campaigners have whipped up a petition to complain about the foundry's closure, and almost 5000 people have so far added their names. There's even a website to create awareness amongst the wider public, not that any of the wider public ever buy bells either, otherwise the foundry wouldn't be closing. Such are the harsh realities of modern economic life, and it's wrong to go round propping up businesses that should be allowed to fail. It's all too late anyway, because the contents of the building are already up for auction, should you fancy getting hold of a rotary furnace, thermal arc welder or 2 tonne travelling crane, not to mention various unsold bells.

When the foundry disappears some other business can become Britain's oldest surviving manufacturing company, because it's their turn now. Tourists don't want to hike out to Whitechapel anyway, not to to see the empty shell of a building when there are more interesting coffee shops and cocktail bars in town. We cannot afford to get nostalgic when what London needs is basic facilities to support a growing population. Our historic buildings are being lost forever, and who are we to stand in the way?

As every proud Arsenal supporter knows, it's time for Arsene Wenger to go. The team has suffered some embarrassing losses lately, and all of these are entirely the Frenchman's fault. It's true he was a miracle worker once, especially that week we won that thing, but recent results confirm his time is up. Nobody else is to blame for us crashing out of the Champions League, certainly not any of the players, and that crushing defeat by West Brom is the final straw.

Only reaching the last 16 in Europe is a disaster, just as it's been for the last seven years, and the only rational conclusion is that Arsene is past his best. A new manager will definitely bring more success, because that's always how change works, and our players will definitely up their game as soon as he's gone. Things couldn't possibly be worse than having the current boss around, so let's take the only surefire step to ensure our results improve.

I am very much looking forward to Article 50 being triggered next week. The resulting negotiations will help make our country more prosperous and a better place to live.

 Monday, March 20, 2017

Half a dozen things to do in Cardiff Bay

The centre of Cardiff lies a mile and a half from the coast and the former docks that made this coaltown rich. But the port's long decline has recently been turned around by some serious millennial investment, creating a new commercial, cultural and administrative hub on the waterfront. A major re-engineering project transformed the bay from mudflats to freshwater lake, and now it seems everybody's down here, from the Welsh government to Doctor Who.

Walking to Cardiff Bay is a bit of a schlepp through some mundane estates, but you can catch a bendy bus shuttle to the farthest extremity, or a waterbus to Mermaid Quay, or take the train. Every twelve minutes a one-car Sprinter shuttles south along a low embankment to deposit passengers at a lowly terminus alongside a derelict station (recently pencilled in as home to a new military museum). But all the good stuff lies a little further south, and my word there's a lot of it.
[Visit Cardiff Bay]

1) Visit the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru)

You'll no doubt recognise this building from its striking steel dome, with the upper windows spelling out two poetic lines in Welsh (Creu gwir fel gwdyr o ffwrnais awen) and English (In these stones horizons sing). The site had long been pencilled in for the Welsh National Opera, with construction delays almost leading to a shopping centre being built here instead, but phase 1 was eventually completed in 2004 and phase 2 in 2009. Having gawped at the facade for a while, yes, visitors are very welcome inside. A long desk of ticket vendors lines the foyer, which opens out at both ends into glittering lofty atria with hardwood trim. Don't expect to get higher than the toilets on the first floor unless you're here to see a performance, but instead the cafes and restaurant downstairs will happily take your cash, and are a popular place for the cultured to socialise. Apparently the Tourist Information Centre is down here somewhere too, but I totally overlooked it, and I'm normally drawn like a moth to these things.

2) Try to locate Torchwood HQ

When this Doctor Who spin-off began in 2006, we were asked to believe that its top secret headquarters lay beneath a huge oval basin leading down to the Cardiff Bay waterfront, now known as Roald Dahl Plass. Specifically there was an invisible lift leading down from the foot of the 20m-tall Water Tower, and a more mundane entrance through a door on a quayside jetty. A fountain still gushes down the tower, which dominates the lowered piazza alongside, and seems a bit of a waste of space unless an open-air concert or something is happening within. Meanwhile the doorway has been covered up by a makeshift shrine to Ianto Jones, a character who had the misfortune to be killed off by child-snorting aliens, and is now commemorated by a ragtag wall of fan art, laminated tributes, plastic flowers, ill-judged poetry and a guestbook in a plastic briefcase. Initially tolerated, now embraced by the leisure complex above, the shrine has lasted longer than the show.

3) Mourn the Coal Exchange (Gyfnewidfa Lo)

Once the hub of Cardiff's international trade, this magnificent 1880s building filled Mount Stewart Square and is reputedly the site of the world's first million pound business deal. The Coal Exchange closed in 1958 and the fabric of the building entered a slow decline, although there were always several plans for re-use, and from 2001 to 2013 the main oak-panelled hall was used as a music venue. The Welsh government investigated various options to fund the rescue of this crumbling structure, and eventually threw in their lot with a luxury hotel developer. Since last year they've been transforming the place into boutique bedrooms, a spa and wedding venue, and hope to include 'a small museum' too, with reopening supposedly scheduled for Spring 2017. This deadline looked wholly unattainable from what I saw of the poor state of the exterior and the workmen sat amid rubble out front, and there are fears that refurbishment of the most profitable parts of the interior has been prioritised over more widespread restoration and weatherproofing.

4) Tour the Welsh parliament (y Senedd)

As part of the regeneration of Cardiff Bay, the devolved Welsh government selected a waterfront site as the permanent home for the National Assembly. The Senedd is a dramatic glass-walled building topped off by a wood ceiling and steel roof, and was officially opened by the Queen on St David's Day 2006. What's more the public are welcomed within, at least once they've passed through a full security scan bolted onto the side. Free tours are offered three times a day, but generally have to be pre-booked, and I arrived in the lunchtime gap so had to explore alone. I got to see a large public foyer, with views down to some of the committee rooms on the private basement level, and rode the escalator up to the Oriel which sits on top of the main assembly chamber. Nobody was legislating, so all I saw was a few plush seats and keyboards beneath the slate plinth, plus a couple of armed police enjoying the splendid panorama across the bay. Up here is a cafe and a small exhibition, which seems scant reason to come inside, but the undulating ribbed roof is pretty amazing, rising up from the floor like a hallucinogenic mushroom.

I was better looked after in the Pierhead, a terracotta beauty once containing the dockmaster's offices, now administrative assembly overspill and with a couple of heritage galleries to explore. As the sole vintage building prominent along the waterfront, it provides a highly photogenic contrast to the modern architectural cluster behind.

5) Experience the Doctor Who Experience (Doctor Who Experience)

When BBC Wales took on production of the revamped sci-fi series in 2005, it was inevitable that Cardiff would feature heavily in its filming. New drama studios have recently been built on the dockside at Roath Lock, a remote location which has yet to attract substantial office development, and BBC Cymru's long castellated building is also now home to Casualty and Pobol Y Cym. You won't get in there, but Doctor Who fans can flock to a separate warehouse-style building (past the Norwegian Church) opened in 2012 as a full-scale interactive experience plus museum. It's busy too. I was expecting maybe a couple of us but instead there were over twenty, including one gent dressed up as the Seventh Doctor and a blackclad accomplice who made an even more convincing Ace.

I'll attempt to keep my review of the half-hour drama spoiler free, but writer @JoeLidster has attempted to cater for all generations with a dash-through plot that tenuously links together a few old favourites. Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi pops up on screen throughout, conversing in agitated fashion with your Museum Guide, and sometimes drowning him or her out. There is a bit where you 'fly the Tardis', with the set perhaps more impressive than the effects, and yes, the monster you'd most expect to find on your travels appears with a demonic inrush of steam. Monster number 2 fits the scenario well but isn't as scary, and the location of the final denouement certainly made me smile.

Once out of the tunnels you're let loose - time and photography unrestricted - into a large collection of original props and costumes from the TV show. Various Tardises and consoles have been preserved, one of the latter with a Dymo 'Yearometer' label, along with K9 and a rather frail old Bessie. The upstairs collection is rather larger allowing you to meet variants on numerous monsters, some actual sonic screwdrivers and outfits worn by more humanoid members of the cast. Whilst the rebooted series gets most of the attention, including an entire gallery devoted to individual episodes from 2015, several totally classic aliens complete the line-up. I'm unconvinced the Belgian school party pouring through recognised much, but I was as excited to see my childhood's Giant Robot and Zygon as any Cyberman or Ood.

At the end is a shop, with numerous fan-raking merchandising opportunities, although you don't need to have gone round the museum to get in. The Target novelisation and magazine gallery is a nice extra touch, and I recognised a few classic covers from my childhood here. If you're not a fan (or chaperoning one) then I wouldn't bother stumping up for the full Experience, but if you are then the combination of drama and reverent heritage works rather well. And come soon, because it'll be closing permanently in July when the five-year lease on the building runs out! [£14 plus £1.60 booking fee in advance, or £16 on the door, which is barely worth the differential]

6) Cross the Cardiff Bay Barrage (Morglawdd Bae Caerdydd)

It's hard to flog a seafront housing development when the view for half the day is mudflats, so in the late 1980s a Welsh civil servant came up with the extraordinary idea of sealing off the tide so that Cardiff Bay became a permanent freshwater lake. What's more the government took him seriously and invested £120m in the project, and by 1999 a concrete barrage had been built with giant sluice gates to manage the flow of water. Environmental campaigners had been severely worried about the effect on habitats, but the resulting lake has greatly enhanced appeal for homo sapiens, most of whom would judge the aesthetic effect a storming success. As well as promoting watersports activities, and giving restaurant diners at Mermaid Quay something nice to look at over lunch, another success has been the creation of a footpath and cycleway across the dam linking to Penarth on the opposite headland.

I walked the lot, following the path round the extremities of the Port of Cardiff and up onto the bouldered embankment. This was the only time during my day out that the sun came out, to dazzling effect, looking back towards the aforementioned cultural cluster, or out across the Bristol Channel to the island of Flat Holm and the coast of North Somerset on the opposite shore. Partway along the barrage is a set of covered exhibition boards commemorating Captain Scott's voyage to the South Pole (he sailed from Cardiff), and I was passed along the way by an empty 'land train' which looked like it would have been more at home at a seaside resort. The sluice gates are towards the western end, followed by massive lock gates linked by bascule bridges, each with lights to control any passing traffic. I was duly wowed. Then rather than retracing my steps I walked on into Penarth, enjoyed some lofty views and caught the train back into Cardiff. You probably won't be able to fit all that in if you ever spend the day here.

My Cardiff gallery
There are 48 photos [slideshow]
(sorry, you're never going to want to scroll through 48 photos)

(this has been the 7000th post on diamond geezer)

 Sunday, March 19, 2017

Half a dozen things to do in Cardiff

Cardiff has only been the capital of Wales since 1955, before which the country muddled by without one (for which read 'had been unduly subjugated by the English since the 16th century'). Cardiff has only been a city since 1905, its importance founded on being the port for the coal mines of the Welsh valleys. But it's been around a lot longer than that, with a Civil War battle on the outskirts and a castle dating back to Norman times, and now has almost half a million residents. Shamefully, this was my first visit, so naturally I zipped around and tried to see as much as possible. [Visit Cardiff]

1) Explore the National Museum (Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd)

Housed in an imposing classical building in Cathays Park, this museum looks like it's going to contain all things Welsh. Not so, it focuses very much on natural history and art, with the rocks and animals downstairs, and gallery after gallery of fine art upstairs. The rocks were my favourite part, with a lengthy geological trail weaving through stories of the landscape and various dinosaurs to a giant woolly mammoth watched over by wolves. Key treasures to hunt down elsewhere include a silver gilt toilet service (that's an 18th century dressing table set, before you wonder), a dazzling Venetian Monet and a nugget of Welsh gold. If you do only have an hour to look round, don't do what the visitor's map suggests and waste time on a coffee. [closed Mondays, free admission]

2) Relive the Cardiff Story (Stori Caerdydd)

If you're wondering where all the history is, it's in the Old Library in the centre of the town. This was refitted in 2011 to tell the story of the city, which it does with big sweeping graphics, a focus on community and a low density of actual artefacts. One unexpected challenge in a bilingual museum is to work out which half of each information panel you can actually read, a necessity which also halves the amount of information each panel can contain. Although the single upstairs gallery was interesting, the 'City Lab' downstairs was targeted more at residents and/or children and didn't detain me long. Do make sure you find the ornate tiled corridor opposite the entrance desk. As for the history of Wales itself, if that does have a museum, it's not here. [free admission]

3) Wander through Bute Park (Parc Bute)

This is gorgeous, and huge, stretching for 130 acres along the River Taff from the edge of the city centre. It's gorgeous because it was once the garden of the richest man in the world, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, and public because the 5th Duke handed it over after the war. Bute Park's arboretum contains more of the UK's tallest types of tree than any other park, For the herbaceous borders you want to be here in summer, but the spring brings forth daffs, of course, and some quite magnificent pink droopy mega-magnolia-type blossoms. An hourly waterbus service runs from here down to Cardiff Bay, which is otherwise a not insignificant hike. [free admission] [waterbus £4]

4) Tour Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd)

Unusually for a large castle, Cardiff's is bang in the middle of town, opposite the shops. It's also older than it looks, built by William the Conqueror on the site of a Roman fort, and with a 12th century shell keep at its heart. Anglo-Welsh battles kept the place busy in medieval times, after which it became more of a home than a fortress, and eventually passed into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute. An expensive transformation took place, with most of the older buildings within the walls demolished, and a large Georgian mansion grew within. The 3rd Duke - him again - oversaw further transformation in Gothic revival style, the interiors verging on fantastical, and heavy on opulent iconography. Like the neighbouring park the castle's now in public hands and is probably the city's top tourist attraction. I should have gone inside and been amazed, but time was tight, so I went everywhere else instead. [admission £12, plus £3 for a 50 minute tour of the house]

5) See the Millennium Stadium (Stadiwm y Mileniwm)

Unusually for a large stadium, Cardiff's is bang in the middle of town, opposite the station. This makes it ridiculously easy to get to, and also ridiculously easy to spill out of into the main shopping area and get pissed. Opened in 1999, one of its first jobs was to host the Rugby World Cup final, and the FA Cup Final was also held here for six years while Wembley was being rebuilt. From ground level the four spires are the stadium's most prominent feature, but it's the retractable roof that's properly defining - one of the world's biggest, and fully openable in 20 minutes. Unless you pay for a match or a tour all you'll see is the perimeter, specifically a boardwalk along the River Taff, along which a series of mosaic tiles represent each of the major rugby playing nations. Lurking beneath the northern stand is a much lower grandstand for Cardiff Arms Park, squashed up alongside, and the much less impressive former home of Welsh international rugby. [tours £12.50]

6) Go shopping (siopa)

Cardiff has a lot of shops, obviously, particularly along Queen Street and a central thoroughfare called The Hayes. There's also a massive new shopping centre named after St David, on one wall of which is a London tube map with all the station names replaced by places around Cardiff. More picturesque are the Victorian arcades which thread off from the High Street, eight in total, housing livelier boutiques and the occasional tiny little business up at lantern level. In Morgan Arcade is Spillers, the world's oldest record shop (established 1894), where a lengthy screed of this week's latest new releases is still pinned up in the window, and keen millennial staff oversee racks of CDs and vinyl. But my favourite retail location was Cardiff Market, still trading in a glass-roofed Victorian hall. Most of the stalls are downstairs (including Bakestones where I purchased far too many off-griddle Welshcakes), whereas the rim of the upper balcony is considerably emptier and offers by far the best view.

» Oooh, forty-eight photos of Cardiff

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