Sunday, October 04, 2015
Sorry, this is yet another post about three bus stops on Bow Road.
Because yesterday, once again, things got worse.
This time nothing changed at the stops themselves.
Bus Stop E still has a shelter, a roundel and a sign saying ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G is still half-unveiled, with a shelter and a proper roundel on a pole
Bus Stop M: still has a shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop
What's changed, overnight, is the behaviour of the drivers. On Friday they stopped at Bus Stop E, then sped past Bus Stop G before continuing towards the roundabout. But as of yesterday they speed past Bus Stop E and stop at Bus Stop G instead. It's as if a message has gone out to all the bus companies that Bus Stop E is now closed and Bus Stop G is open. Unfortunately nobody's thought to tell the passengers.
On Friday it was passengers standing at newly-unveiled Bus Stop G who were left standing, and a little bit angry. But on Saturday things were the other way round, with passengers at Bus Stop E left behind as buses stopped thirty metres down the road. And they weren't happy. They especially weren't happy when drivers passing Bus Stop E looked across and pointed repeatedly down the road, as if to say "But the real bus stop is down there!" They might have been thinking "But the real bus stop is down there you stupid idiots!" or they might have been thinking "But the real bus stop is down there so I'm not allowed to pick you up!", it was hard to tell. But they still made no attempt to pull in, as passengers found out the hard way that allegiances had been switched.
For example. A family group arrived at Bus Stop E and settled in the shelter. "Are you sure this is the right place?" asked Mum. "Yes," said Grandpa, with some certainty, "they switched all the buses over here several weeks ago." When a 425 went past and stopped down the road they barely blinked, but when a 25 also failed to stop they finally started to twig. The passing of another 25 was the signal for them to dash off in an attempt to catch it at Bus Stop G further down the road. The kids arrived first and held the bus for Mum, slowing down the service for longer than if it had stopped at both stops in turn. Later a 276 headed on to G in preference to E, causing a young bloke with a suitcase to career off down the pavement. He made it, while the granny following on behind wasn't so lucky.
Just when I thought I'd got the hang of what was going on, a number 8 arrived and pulled in at E instead of G. Other buses then all chose G over E, but then several minutes later another 276 picked E over G. If a message has gone out to all bus garages that Bus Stop E is now closed, then not every bus driver's got it.
But then who wouldn't be wildly confused?
Bus Stop E G M Bus stop pole? No Yes No Bus stop sign? Yes Yes No Bus timetables? No Yes No Bus shelter? Yes Yes Yes Bus maps? Yes No Yes 'Bus stop' written in road? Yes No Yes Sign saying bus stop closed? No No No BUS STOP OPEN? NO? YES NO?
What I think has happened is that we've reached the end state of the Cycle Superhighway upgrade, i.e. that Bus Stop G is open and bus stops E and M are permanently closed. If so we've reached that state three months earlier than initially scheduled, and without anybody on the ground being told.
The issue here is simple - a mismatch between what the drivers are doing and what the bus stops are saying. All that's needed is for any bus stops that are closed to actually look closed, either through the removal of street furniture or the addition of a big sign. Could somebody official possibly pop down and sort this mess out?
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, October 03, 2015Sorry, this is another post about three bus stops on Bow Road.
Because, unbelievably, yesterday things got worse.
When I left you on Thursday, the situation was this.
Bus Stop E: Soon to be retired bus stop, with temporary sign - ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G: Almost upgraded to bus stop bypass, but still coned off - recently gained pole from Bus Stop M
Bus Stop M: Still has its bus shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop (probably)
Nothing's happened at Bus Stop E, it's still (for now) the place to wait to catch a bus. Disappointingly nothing's happened at Bus Stop M, it's still seemingly dead but with no definitive sign to confirm one way or the other (so passengers are still waiting, and drivers are sometimes stopping, sometimes not). Instead all the action is in the middle at Bus Stop G, which may (or may not) have opened. You couldn't make it up.
Very early on Friday morning, contractors working on the Cycle Superhighway Upgrade were out to remove the cones and barriers from around Bus Stop G. It's been sealed off for six weeks to create an island bus stop with a bypass, and half the island is now deemed ready for passengers. A new shelter has been added, as yet with no maps within, and a recycled pole with roundel has been plonked by the kerbside. To all intents and purposes it looks like a fully functioning bus stop, admittedly still with a lot of roadworks alongside, but convincing enough to persuade passengers to come and use it.
And come they have. Nobody seems to have blinked with surprise to see Bus Stop G open again, as if it's somehow never been away. So they're standing by the stop, and they're sitting in the shelter, and they're waiting for buses... that alas aren't stopping. All the buses still stop at Bus Stop E, thirty metres up the road, so naturally they're not going to stop again. A lot of angry fist-shaking has ensued.
Let's look at this situation from a bus driver's point of view. They pull in at 'temporary' Bus Stop E, as they have for the last six weeks, to pick up passengers who've learned they now have to wait there. Then they head out into the traffic and see passengers waiting at a mysterious bus stop thirty metres down the road. Of course they're going to skip it, it's far too close. And as for the passengers waving a lot, well they should have got on at the proper stop, shouldn't they? They should jolly well be waiting in the proper place, wherever the proper place should be.
It's taking passengers at Bus Stop G a few minutes to work out that they shouldn't be waiting there. First they're surprised to see a bus sailing past, then they're shocked to see another, then they twig that all the buses are stopping further back up the road, and then they wander off. Sometimes they shift quite fast - a group of schoolkids I saw bombed it up the road to catch a 25, but older folk generally aren't making it in time. And then the bus stop is people-free again, so looks normal, and a new victim wanders up, and the whole vicious cycle starts again.
Except it's not quite that simple... it never is. Because a few buses are stopping at Bus Stop G, presumably out of either confusion or guilt. I've seen drivers stop at both, having spotted potential passengers wildly gesticulating, despite the fact the stops are so close. I saw a D8 pull in at Bus Stop G, but in vain because nobody waiting actually wanted it. And I've watched a string of number 25s go by - five of them in one minute - but only the very last one deigned to stop where the others had not.
Meanwhile I think the odd bus is only stopping at Bus Stop G. This might be because they've been specifically told to, or it might be because they always used to, I don't know. But I definitely saw a number 488 skip past Bus Stop E and drop off its passengers at Bus Stop G instead, which might or might not have been what those passengers wanted. Their experience is ultimately the future, because Bus Stop G is supposed to be permanently replacing Bus Stop E on an as yet unspecified date. But alas some idiot has opened Bus Stop G without closing Bus Stop E, creating a node of uncertainty that's baffling passengers and inconveniencing their journeys.
And, just to add to the fun, Bus Stop G still appears to be called Bus Stop M. Workmen borrowed the pole from defunct Bus Stop M last week, and remembered to change the name from 'Bow Flyover' to 'Bow Church', but went and left the M on top. On Thursday I reported they'd failed to add route 25, and I'm pleased to say that overnight a proper '25' tile appeared, so that's all good. But they forgot to change the timetables, so there are still two big yellow notices announcing 'Route 25 is diverted and will not be serving this stop', even though it will. And they also forgot to change the 'next bus information' panel at the top of the pole, so if you text '55457' to 87287 you get the next bus information for the bus stop by the flyover, where the 25 doesn't stop and which (probably) no longer exists. I don't know who's supposed to be doing the joined up thinking here, but they absolutely haven't.
So as of Friday evening, the situation is like this.
Bus Stop E: Soon to be retired bus stop, with temporary sign - ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G: Reopened, and looks convincing, but factually inaccurate, and buses generally aren't stopping
Bus Stop M: Still has its bus shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop (probably)
In summary, buses are stopping at E, but people are still waiting at M, and now additionally at G, because nobody's told them not to. My end of Bow Road currently has one open bus stop that's soon to close, one possibly open bus stop that appears still to be closed, and one probably closed bus stop that still looks open. Could somebody official possibly pop down and sort this mess out?
posted 07:00 :
Friday, October 02, 2015What a great and wonderful city London is.
As I woke up yesterday, fumbling for the light switch now that the mornings are drawing in, I gave thanks that my forthcoming day would be spent in the liveliest location in the entire known universe. No quiet country lanes or back-of-beyond cultural backwaters for me, I was slap bang in the middle of the action. Indeed I was somewhere so outstandingly invigorating that for a moment my situation seemed simply impossibly exciting. Millions of foreigners pay a fortune to fly here every year because London is so great, whereas as a resident I get to experience everything it has to offer for nothing. This uplifting realisation helped me bound out of the door with vim and vigour, and I headed to work with a spring in my step.
The autumn chill hit me but I didn't care. I was at one with the capital, alive to the world, and only a little bit cold in my shirtsleeves. Breathing deeply, I sucked the fresh clean air deep into my lungs as a stream of heavy traffic rushed by. Commuting to work in London might just be the healthiest thing that any Briton can do, and then some. I weaved my way through the cones and barriers to cross the main road, beneath a blue sky that brought my immediate neighbourhood into sharp focus. The buildings I was rushing past had a heritage second to none - the hotel that was once a pub, the betting shop that was once a station, the old police station that's now flats, and the new police station that may soon be flats. How excellent that so many of our scarce resources have been brought back to economic life, to the benefit of all.
I was still full of cheer when I reached Mile End station. Stepping off one train I was delighted to see another waiting on the opposite side of the platform, and unusually empty for this time of the morning. Every day in London is a lucky day, and this would be no exception. And OK, so at this point the hi-vis lady on the platform raised her wand and the doors shut, leaving a wave of disgruntled commuters floundering in the middle. And OK, so the next train was three minutes away, which is like forever in the morning rush, and it was rammed, and I only just squeezed in, and I had to stand pressed up to a man-mountain who refused to budge, and possibly hadn't washed, all the way to my destination. And I thought, how brilliant it is that the tube runs to time, rather than hanging around for 20 seconds to collect passengers and disrupting the service. Only in London.
Every office in the capital is a great place to be, and mine is no exception. With the sky blue and cloudless outside the window - a glorious sight - I was especially thrilled that only some of the blinds were down because not all of my sunshine-phobic colleagues had yet arrived. All too swiftly artificial gloom returned, but I didn't care because I was deeply engaged in striving to meet my long term goals. I've a big project underway at the moment, and this was the long-scheduled morning I was due to hand the whole thing over. Carefully I zipped up all the deliverables and fired off an email to the three main clients to announce completion. And back they came, one after the other, three 'Out of Office' emails revealing that not a single one of them was in until next week. Well good for them, I thought, taking advantage of the Indian summer to get out and about, and I felt privileged to have met their unnecessary deadline.
At lunchtime I remembered the wide variety of food outlets available in the immediate vicinity, and how blessed I was to have these levels of choice open to me every day. All the nations of the earth come together in London, bringing together exotic delicacies of every kind in a celebration of unrivalled culinary diversity. So I went down to the office canteen and had burger and chips, because it was nearest, and cheapest, and the least flavoursome, and would allow me to get back to work fastest. In the afternoon I worked on developing my personal brand, because an email from the head of Human Resources said we should. And at the end of the day I remembered the wide variety of cultural and retail opportunities available in the immediate vicinity, and how blessed I was to have such world-beating activity options available to me every day of the year. So I went straight home, as per usual.
I could tell you such tales of my journey home, if only I'd thought to ask my fellow travellers about their lives. Everyone had a story from their homeland, or a secret London location only they knew about, or even a favourite gin-based pop-up cocktail, but alas I enquired about none of these. Instead I buried my head in London's evening newspaper and its excellent journalism, learning which national politicians I should like and dislike, and how the Cereal Cafe charges more for a bowl of Rice Krispies than a box costs in the shops. Once home I ate some white bread instead, this being one of the many types of wheat-based loaf available at London's local boutique supermarkets. I also enjoyed a cup of steaming non-green tea made with London water, enlivened by that extra-special additional mineral tang you just don't get elsewhere.
And then I went to the theatre, because I'd booked expensive tickets months ago. I went to see comedy giant John Finnemore in his Souvenir Cabin, joining an audience of middle class Radio 4 types in occupying half the auditorium. Lots of sketches that had been funny on the radio were performed live, and were equally funny but with the addition of two real people on stage. How brilliant that I live close to the West End, I thought, because I can nip out of an evening and enjoy top notch laughs in person for the same price as ten weeks of licence fee. And when the lights went up after a seriously brief second half, and the audience deduced there wasn't going to be an encore after Captain Dinosaur, we all filed out sort of quietly. I was home by ten with a mug of hot milk. What a great and wonderful city London is.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, October 01, 2015This is a post about three bus stops on Bow Road.
These are the three eastbound bus stops immediately before the Bow Flyover. They're my local bus stops. They're served by 45 buses an hour on half a dozen different routes. They're currently being re-engineered because of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade. And with the transition well underway, I have to say the temporary arrangements aren't entirely ideal.
Buses are supposed to stop at either bus stop E or bus stop G (which are quite close), and then at bus stop M, before proceeding round the roundabout. But by the end of the year the needs of the Cycle Superhighway mean that bus stops E and M will be closed, and all passengers will need to wait at bus stop G to catch their bus. It's going to be a busy one.
The first roadworks along the pavement by Bow Church began at the end of July. During August bus stop E started to be downgraded, with the removal of the Countdown display inside the shelter and the removal of the bus stop flag. A temporary sign was put in place on a nearby lamppost, announcing ALL BUSES STOP HERE, but this wasn't initially the case. Some drivers still carried on to bus stop G, which at that point hadn't quite been closed, leaving passengers waiting in vain until another bus turned up. That swiftly sorted itself out. But the temporary sign doesn't give the numbers of the services that stop here, and there are no timetables, which isn't terribly helpful. It's been like this for at least five weeks. TfL have said they'll close this stop permanently "from late October".
Bus stop E has been very busy since late August because bus stop G is temporarily closed. Planners decided that of all three stops along this stretch of road only G could accommodate a bus stop bypass, and that transformation is well underway. It began two months ago with the realignment of the kerb and an awful lot of digging. What used to be the inside lane of the A11 has become a bus stop bypass island, with space for cycling carved through the pavement behind. Soon this section of Bow Road will be only two lanes wide, rather than three, but cones and roadworks have meant that for the last month it's been only one. If you're on a bike this has been particularly bad news, because you've had to take your chances sharing a much narrower flow of traffic. That'll improve dramatically once the bus stop bypass opens, but tantalisingly it hasn't yet. The upgraded bus stop has been almost ready for a while, except there's still a lamppost in the middle of the new cycle lane so the safe route can't be opened yet. Until the old lamppost is removed and the new lamppost alongside is switched on, freshly-spacious bus stop G remains closed.
Poor old bus stop M. It's the last stop before the roundabout, and used to be served by all buses. Then planners decided the 25 should be diverted over the flyover to make up time elsewhere, an iniquity I've moaned about elsewhere. Now the 25 speeds by, and will continue to do so forever subject to the results of a consultation which ends on October 16th. So I was particularly surprised to walk past the stop last Wednesday and see that the number 25 had been removed from the routes displayed on the bus stop. Up until this point the 25 had been crossed out with red sticky tape, pending discussion, but suddenly the tile had been removed altogether as if the outcome had already been decided. Bloody hell, I shouted at the bus stop, talk about pre-judging your own consultation.
When I returned on Friday, I was even more surprised to discover that the bus stop had disappeared. Not the shelter, and not the painted lines in the road, but the pole on which the bus stop sign hung had vanished. Had bus stop M suddenly been terminated, as the Cycle Superhighway roadworks drew too close? The inside of the shelter still contained a bench and bus map, but there was no roundel on a pole, no list of route numbers and no set of timetables. Potential passengers also looked confused, waiting where they'd always waited and discovering that buses weren't stopping. When I walked past late on Saturday evening, an elderly lady was sitting in the bus shelter clutching a bag of shopping, wondering where the next bus might be. She too was waiting in vain, the poor woman, and this was after eleven o'clock at night. Bloody hell, I thought, someone has really bodged this up.
I had hoped the confusion would be only temporary, but when I walked past yesterday evening nothing had changed. The bus stop is still pole-less and roundel-less, and there's still no sign saying "This bus stop has closed" to confirm the outcome. On this occasion there were five people waiting, who looked particularly pissed off when a 276 whizzed by despite their desperate waving. Some deduced something was up and headed off up the road to bus stop E... only to be even more pissed off when a 425 pulled up and picked up those who'd decided to stay. Later in the evening I saw a 488 pull in to drop off some passengers, this despite the fact the onboard iBus display was already showing the next stop as if this one had been deleted. Bloody hell, I said, they've created a ghost stop that only half exists, through a mixture of incomplete planning and incompetence.
According to a letter TfL poked through my door in July, "bus stop M will be closed permanently from late December." Have they really shut it three months earlier than expected, and without telling anybody either? Do they expect regular users to spot that the pole's not there so this isn't a bus stop any more, despite never once putting up a sign announcing closure? Or is it in fact still functional, or is this week maybe a temporary blip before a couple more months of service? Not even the bus drivers seem to be sure. The TfL website still shows next departures from bus stop M, even though there aren't any, while a different webpage suggests the bus stop has already been moved uphill concurrent with stop G. This is how unwanted bus stops die, not with a bang but with a befuddled whimper.
Which brings me back to bus stop G, which will imminently be Bow Church's only surviving eastbound bus stop. It has a brand new shelter awaiting first passengers, and also a brand new bus stop pole... which looks familiar. The letter on the top is the big giveaway - this used to be the pole for bus stop M and it's been relocated 200m up the road. And that would be great, except the list of buses no longer shows the 25, and the 25 will definitely be stopping here because it's the last stop before the flyover. I trust someone'll be adding the 25 before the bus stop goes live, and I hope they'll be adding that Countdown display they removed from bus stop E up the road too. Of course I mustn't grumble about bus stop G as yet, it's not operational, and there might be final tweaks yet to come. But trust me, I'll be back to blog about bus stop G some more - I mean, a bisected bus stop bypass, whatever were they thinking...?
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, September 30, 2015In a city of over eight million people, why should one voice be more important?
London is full of opinions and opinion-makers, indeed the future of our capital depends on it. But whereas some opinions have proper status, for example because their proponent has been duly elected or appointed to a position of power, others are simply unfounded. Indeed certain people simply pretend to speak for the masses, whereas in truth their ramblings are little more than outspoken anger, based on baseless prejudice and outright negativity. Why should we even bother listening?
As an example of this phenomenon, I'm going to take a look at the London blogger diamond geezer. This east London resident publishes a daily post every morning around 7am, and speaks out on a wide range of topics. Here's today's, for example. The blog is not yet available by email, nor as a Facebook feed, but remains relatively widely read via other means.
London blogs are extremely hard to maintain, because there's not a great deal of financial reward to be had for blathering on about lost rivers and heritage alleyways. Various talented bloggers have fallen by the wayside over the years, worn down by the pressure of writing words hardly anyone will read, as the tumbleweed of social media indifference passes them by. In contrast diamond geezer has made a genuine attempt to generate a proper sequence of original content, and is what a daily blog ought to be. Or was.
At some point, which readers still find hard to pinpoint, diamond geezer became an outpouring of misery. No petty inadequacy was too small to moan about, no minor failing left uncovered, as his blogging switched from celebrating the capital to pulling it apart. There's a fine line between thoroughness and obsession, and many commentators would say the line has now been firmly crossed. So does the stream of bitterness run deep, or is this simply posturing to gain attention? What do you think?
To find out, I dug back into the diamond geezer archives to last September - well before the downward spiral of negativity kicked in. I analysed all the daily posts to see what kinds of things were being talked about, what levels of obsession were apparent, and how biased the general slant of the writing had become.
In total 30 posts were published that month, ranging from a visit to the Isle of Grain to a report on the proposed Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade. The most popular kinds of post were visits to places, totalling over half of the monthly output, thanks at least in part to the prevalence of Open House. Commentary on capital-wide projects came a clear second, followed by musings on life. The best word to describe the month's output would probably have been 'geographical', with a dash of cultural diversity thrown in.
You probably didn't notice, but a brand new long distance path opened to the east of London earlier this year. The Thames Estuary Path runs for 29 miles through the South Essex Marshes, from Tilbury Town all the way to Leigh-on-Sea, and is a proper waymarked trail.Let's also consider tone. 17 of the 30 events were intrinsically positive, that's just over a half of the total. Of the remainder only eight took a less than favourable approach to the topic under discussion, which is barely a quarter. One of these was a rant about the Midtown district of central London, and so was wholly justified, while other less convincing arguments were made against the TfL website and Greenwich's Tall Ships. It's interesting to note that over a third of September's posts concerned TfL, which is clearly an organisation of some focus, and only five slipped the bounds of the capital to look elsewhere.
Now let's jump ahead twelve months. This time I've focused on diamond geezer's posts from September 2015, that's this month, the blog's output now firmly under the influence of unbridled gloom. Again I analysed all the daily posts to see what kinds of things were being talked about, what levels of obsession were apparent, and how biased the general slant of the writing had become.
In total 34 posts have been published this month, some of them short piddly things that smacked of no effort whatsoever. Posts ranged from ramblings on a visit to North Kent to an analysis of new plastic bag regulations. The most popular kinds of post were again visits to places, totalling over half of the monthly output, thanks again in part to the prevalence of Open House. Commentary on capital-wide projects came a clear second, although these were generally lazy armchair rants based on limited understanding of the topic in hand. The best word to describe the posts was still 'geographical', but there was nowhere near as much good stuff about trains as before.
I was trying not to write about Bow again so soon, but TfL clearly have it in for us. Our streets are filled with year-long roadworks, our roundabout kills people, and our buses don't run as smoothly as they should. Now TfL bosses have discovered a fix to make the 25 bus run faster, and they're putting out their plan to consultation. It's great news... unless you happen to live here.Let's again consider tone. Only 14 of the 34 posts had a positive vibe, a drop of 15% on last year. Meanwhile an astonishing 16 posts launched a direct attack on the subject in question, or had some mumbling undertone, which is clearly not a healthy state of affairs and reflects badly on the author's mental state. Three quarters of posts focused specifically on London, but of these six related solely to diamond geezer's immediate neighbourhood and so were of very limited interest. There were even two posts about Slough, which has to be scraping the barrel, and exemplifies the contempt diamond geezer increasingly displays towards his audience.
What's caused this sudden sour shift isn't immediately apparent. Maybe he's having a rough time at work, or perhaps he's been unlucky in love, or maybe we're simply not giving diddums enough attention. Whatever the reason, it's clearly unfair to take out this anger on those who work in our great capital, all of whom are trying the best they can. Let's hear more about how everything's great, rather than petty nitpicking at every opportunity, because there's enough gloom in our lives without adding more. London is a truly great city, and no single voice is so big that it deserves our attention.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, September 29, 2015What happens when you accept money for blogging, I wondered, does it change what you post?
Don't worry, I'm not intending to do it myself. But I am intrigued by what the effect is, and in particular by how having a commercial partner slants the copy you write.
So as an example, I'm going to take a look at Londonist's daily Things To Do post. This is published every evening (except Saturday) around 7pm, and includes a list of a dozen things you might want to do in London tomorrow. Here's today's, as an example. It's also available as a daily email, if you choose to subscribe, which makes it a particularly powerful piece of information/marketing.
London listings are extremely hard to compile, because there isn't a central go-to place to find all this stuff. The Visit London website has long been a convoluted embarrassment attempting to flog musicals to tourists, and Time Out is increasingly a style bible rather than an events listing, preferring food and gigs over walks and talks. Londonist has instead made a genuine attempt to curate a proper list of one-off things you might actually want to do, and not just big events in the centre of town, and is what a daily listing ought to be. Or was.
Six months ago this week, Londonist's Things To Do post took on a sponsor. That sponsor was YPlan, a smartphone app designed to help you book tickets for popular and hard-to-shift events. "Get the lowdown on cool dates, hidden culture, epic parties and where to hang with friends," they say, "and get your social life sorted in a flash." So did the selection of Things To Do events skew to fit the sponsor, or did editorial independence shine through? What do you think?
To find out, I dug back into the Londonist archives to the last week of March - the last full week of unsponsored listings. I analysed the five weekday posts and the weekend bonanza to see what kinds of event were on offer, how much they cost, and what links were provided.
In total 96 events were listed that week, ranging from nature exhibitions at Camden Arts Centre to an evening of jazz fusion at Rich Mix. The most popular events were talks and lectures, totalling over a quarter of the whole, these being ideal one-off midweek specials. Musical events and concerts came a clear second, followed by art and exhibitions and comedy nights and film. The best word to describe the listings would probably have been 'cultural', and they were always reassuringly diverse.
AUTHOR SHOWCASE: Authors Catherine Chanter and Sara Taylor will talk about their debut novels with Louisa Joyner, editorial director of Canongate at Dulwich Books. Find out more about the books here. £6, prebook, 7.30pmLet's also consider price. 26 of the 96 events were free of charge, that's just over a quarter of the total. Other events ranged in price from £4 to £38, plus one way-out offering of £175 for an overnight Sherlock Holmes event at the Museum of London. The average price of an event was £9.75 (that's the mean, whereas the more representative median was £7). And on every occasion Londonist linked through to the event's website, so if you chose to book they took a cut of zero.
Now let's jump ahead six months. This time I've focused on Things To Do from the last week of September, that's last week, now well under the influence of YPlan's sponsorship. Again I analysed the five weekday posts and the weekend extravaganza to see what kinds of event were on offer, how much they cost, and what links were provided.
In total 81 events were listed last week, ranging from a silk screen printing workshop in King's Cross to an alternative community film festival in Peckham. This time the most popular events were concerts and special one-offs, for example the tattoo convention at Tobacco Dock or the Lambeth Heritage Festival. Talks and lectures had dropped way down the list (10% rather than 27%), as had exhibitions, while the highest climbers were films and food. The best word to describe the listings is still 'cultural', but with a slightly more central London focus and a nod to a wealthier demographic.
SOHO MUSIC WALKING TOUR: Discover Soho's rock and roll history on this tour which takes in iconic venues and memorable gigs that launched the careers of many successful bands. Meet at Tottenham Court Road station. £15, prebook, Saturday 11am, Sunday 3pmNow let's consider price. 14 of the 81 events were free of charge, that's about a sixth of the total, down from a quarter six months back. Other events ranged in price from £2 to £49, plus one way-out offering of £78 for a Secret Cinema ticket. The average price of an event was £11.56 (up almost two pounds from before), while the more representative median was £9 (ditto). And on some of these events Londonist still linked directly to the event's website, but on the rest there was no direct connection - YPlan stole you away.
Ah yes, the sponsor's definitely made a difference. Every Things To Do post now contains at least five events promoted by YPlan, each with a chunky mobile-sized button underneath which reads [Get Tickets]. Clicking delivers you either to the app or to a special Londonist tickets page where you can log in by email, with Facebook or even through Google+. All in all there were 38 YPlan-sponsored events last week, that's just under half of the total, and with an average price of £16. Some of these events were of a type which might previously have appeared in the list, but others definitely not.
OYSTERS AND PROSECCO: Have a luxurious Monday at Mayfair's Cartizze with five Colchester oysters with balsamic pearls, tarragon and lemon, plus two glasses of Prosecco. Until 14 October. £25, prebook, 6pmThe biggest change in the listings is the appearance of Things To Do which you could do any week, and therefore aren't true one-offs. YPlan would like you to snap up a restaurant deal, or head to a specific pub in Angel for a Sunday roast for no better reason than that they'll get a cut. Or how about making this the week you sign up to a £25 floristry class, a £10 yoga session or a trip to Shoreditch's Cat Village? The Cat Village has had now had eight mentions since April, while the James Bond car exhibition has had eleven, presumably because the topslice on tickets is financially worthwhile.
I don't want you to think I'm being smug in pointing this out. Londonist is a commercial concern with staff on the payroll, and has to gather its income from somewhere. Indeed on YPlan's first day they reminded us of this, stating "Every click and purchase helps keep Londonist free to read." Somebody has to throw money their way, and if that's readers buying £20 tickets for a night at Brooklyn Bowl, then at least they're keeping a subscription payment model at bay. I should also point out that Londonist publishes a separate weekly digest of Free and Cheap events, as yet untainted by sponsors, which is far more likely to contain Things To Do you'd like to do.
All I've sought to do here is to uncover what happens when a commercial partner has a say in the copy you write. And in the case of Londonist's Things To Do listings it seems YPlan's influence stretches to half of the content, narrowing the focus to profitable events and diminishing diversity. As you skim through tomorrow's selection, remember that any sponsored post will always have some ulterior motive at work beneath the surface.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, September 28, 2015One week from today, plastic bags will cost extra. Best be prepared.
From Monday 5th October every plastic carrier bag dished out in shops in England will cost 5p (with a few exceptions, which we'll come to later). Details for consumers are here, and retailers here.
A similar law has been in operation in Wales since 2011, in Northern Ireland since 2013 and in Scotland since this time last year. England is merely catching up. Legislation was announced two years ago, at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, and is perhaps the coalition partner's final bequest to the nation. Whether you think it's great news for the environment or the nanny state gone mad is very much open to opinion.
All shops will be forced to charge for plastic carrier bags except for those with fewer than 250 full time employees. That puts Tesco and Superdrug on the charging list straight away, and even WHSmith kiosks and small branches of Spar, because it's not the size of the store that counts, it's the overall size of the retailer. Independent corner shops will however be wholly exempt, as well as local chains with relatively few outlets, but some of these may choose to opt in anyway.
Rest assured that the 5p isn't a traditional tax so your money won't end up funding the government. Instead retailers will be expected to give proceeds to good causes once 'reasonable costs' have been deducted.
The definition of a chargeable plastic bag is enshrined in law. They must be made of plastic which is 70 microns thick or less (so paper bags can still be dished out free). They must have an opening and not be sealed (so a bag of frozen peas or a wrapped loaf of bread won't count). They must have handles (so those small bags you fill with self-selected fruit or veg won't be charged). And they must be new (so if you bring old bags to the supermarket they'll not be counted... which is of course the point).
There are several exceptions to the 5p charge in cases where it would be inadvisable or unhygienic for items not to be bagged.
• raw fish, meat and poultry (and associated uncooked products)
• unwrapped food (or anything sold in leaky containers)
• unwrapped loose seeds, bulbs and flowers, or goods contaminated by soil (such as potatoes)
• unwrapped blades, including knives and axes (the legislation specifically mentions axes)
• prescription medicine
• live aquatic creatures in water
There are also some less obvious exceptions. Buy goods at an airport, on a ship or on a train and you won't be charged. Bags used to give away free promotional material will be exempt, otherwise you'd have to pay to receive a freebie. Bags used for services rather than sale of goods, for example dry cleaning, won't count. But other than that expect to pay these extra 5ps every you turn up unprepared at Sainsbury's or Debenhams or wherever.
Home delivery of supermarket groceries doesn't escape either. Food brought by delivery van to your door generally comes bagged up, often overly so, and this could cost you dear. In an attempt to avoid excess charges, and because the precise number of plastic bags won't be known at the point where you pay, most supermarkets are introducing a flat fee. For example Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose will be charging an extra 40p (the equivalent of eight bags) no matter how many bags they use.
Alternatively several supermarkets are now offering 'bagless delivery', whereby all your shopping arrives in crates. This cunningly avoids the additional charge, but expect unloading to take longer, and for delivery drivers to be slowed down as a result.
'Click and collect' will also be affected (that's where you order online and then turn up at the supermarket later to receive your goods). Again expect a flat fee - Waitrose are charging 30p, no matter how many bags their acolytes distribute your groceries between. But again the surcharge can be avoided if you pick the 'bagless collection' option. For this you'll have to bring your own bags to the branch, where "a Waitrose partner will then pack your order into your carrier bags"... assuming you can put up with the additional time required and the penny-pinching embarrassment.
I'm intrigued by how the 5p charge might affect different formats of checkout...
Supermarket, till with conveyor belt: You pack your own bags, the operator charges you, no awkwardness.
Supermarket, narrow till: The operator packs your bags and hands them to you. How pissed off will you be if they use 'too many'?
Supermarket, self-scan: The machine'll ask whether you've brought your own bags, but what's to stop you lying and wandering off scot-free?
I'm also intrigued by how the 5p charge will affect different types of shopping...
Planned: Pop a few plastic bags in your pocket, or a reusable bag at the bottom of your handbag, and environmental salvation is assured.
Unplanned: Oh bugger, I wasn't expecting to be here at the supermarket, so I haven't brought anything with me, dammit.
The preferred solution is of course to carry bags with you everywhere you go, just in case. And that's easy for some people, for example if you always drive to the supermarket, because you can stash reusable bags in the back of the car. But for many of us on foot spontaneous shopping is about to get nigglingly more expensive, as dashing into the Co-op on the way home suddenly costs us more. And presumably this also applies to buying underwear from M&S, or a book from Waterstones, or a saucepan from John Lewis, or a bottle of cheap shampoo from the 99p shop. Plan badly, and from October it'll be the £1.04 shop.
And let's not forget that reusable bags aren't the panacea they're often made out to be. A reusable bag is only any use if you remember to reuse it, not if it's sitting at home. I have half a dozen cotton bags hanging up in my kitchen which I've been given over the years, each of which took more environmental effort to produce than a plastic bag, and none of which I've ever taken to a shop. Thankfully I also have over a hundred plastic bags stashed close by, and I shall now revel in taking wrongly branded bags to the wrong supermarket... assuming I don't forget.
The consensus from the rest of the UK is that the world won't end when the new legislation is introduced, and habits will adapt quickly to the new status quo. The number of bags handed out in Wales has fallen by 78% since 2010, and in Scotland by 18% since last year, as consumers adapt their behaviour to recycle more. Meanwhile plastic bag use continues to rise in England, with latest figures suggesting an annual uptake of 7.6bn, that's about 10 bags per person per month. Expect these numbers to tumble, and for several good causes to benefit, and for streets near you to perhaps be a little tidier, after the 5p charge is introduced.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, September 27, 2015Every two years I go on the best walk in southeast England - over the Seven Sisters to Beachy Head.
The ups and downs aren't for the faint-hearted, but the views are spectacular.
Along the way I pass my very favourite meander, on the River Cuckmere.
I'm sad to say the cult of the selfie is rife even immediately above a 500 foot sheer drop.
» 2007 report and photos
» 2009 set of 30 photos
» 2011 photos
» 2013 photos
» 2015 photos
Ten Beachy notes
1) Eastbourne Pier is open and busy, but not entirely recovered from last year's fire.
2) Eastbourne Bandstand's summer series of tribute concerts closed this week with an Abba fireworks finale.
3) Ice creams are £1 cheaper at the Beachy Head Kiosk than at Belle Tout lighthouse.
4) Beachy Head is an increasingly popular spot for drone-flying.
5) Yesterday the pub atop Beachy Head couldn't do food within an hour, and claimed to have run out of beer.
6) Cliff collapse at Birling Gap has led to three metres of retreat since my last visit.
7) Alas, the National Trust's new ice cream parlour at Birling Gap lasted less than a year.
8) The Seven Sisters comprise eight chalky humps, one of which is notably less precipitous than the others.
9) Particularly fit people go running over the Seven Sisters - most of us have enough of a challenge walking.
10) The cost of a ticket on the very-regular number 12 bus from Exceat to Eastbourne is currently £2.40.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, September 26, 2015Remember pre-Olympic Stratford?
It's been eight years, two months and three weeks.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
At the other end of the Old River Lea, at the very heart of the Olympic Park site, stands Carpenters Lock. 'Crumbles' might be a better word than 'stands', to be honest. There have been no boats through this dilapidated structure for years, and the access footpath was fenced off a few years ago to deter all but the most determined photographer. No point in any last minute restoration. Olympic architects have other plans for this spot, with the central Olympic spine path due to plough across the river right here. Which is a shame, because there's a perfectly decent footbridge close by already. It's a gently humping blue-green bridge with latticed sides, used by long-dead horses to tow barges downstream towards the Thames. Shame that it's a little on the narrow side, and would almost certainly collapse under the weight of spectator footflow when the basketball arena is up and running. But don't worry. This iconic bridge appears to be marked as a thin stripe on legacy plans for the Olympic Park, so I have every hope that it'll survive the oncoming bulldozer onslaught intact. I look forward to standing here again.
And at long last the old iron footbridge has reopened.
The bridge's location has been its medium-term misfortune but its long-term salvation. Linking stadium to park, it couldn't be opened during the Games themselves because one side was ticketed and the other was full public access. And yes, it's also ridiculously thin and could never have coped with spectator footfall anyway. As Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has opened up, and that's eighteen months now, it's remained blocked by barriers because Stadium Island isn't yet publicly accessible. But finally this week (probably in relation to Rugby World Cup action) the barriers on the bridge have come down, and look like staying away into the foreseeable future.
It is a lovely old bridge, all grooved and cobbly. The uneven surface was all the the better for keeping a proper foothold in days gone by, but makes for a right bumpy journey on a bike, and probably isn't ideal with a pushchair either. The width also makes it difficult to cross, not quite one person at a time, but you'll think twice about stepping up at the same time as someone else. What's particularly nice is the opportunity to stand low above the water and look down the channel (here a choice of three), and perhaps get rather closer to some of the birds swimming underneath. Plus of course it allows access onto the tip of Stadium Island for the first time in, well yes, eight years, two months and three weeks.
When West Ham move into the 2012 bowl the area surrounding the stadium will be opened to public, extending QEOP onto the western side of the City Mill River. The slopes are already landscaped, with a series of long shallow ramped paths leading down through a forest of trees to reach the towpath. There's planning permission on an upper walkway for West Ham's iconic Champions Statue to be relocated - that's the bronze of Bobby Moore and other 1966 World Cup heroes, rent asunder from the Barking Road and resettled in E20. I don't know how that's going to go down in Upton Park. More popular, I suspect, will be the long-awaited appearance of the Olympic Bell, as rung by Bradley Wiggins at the start of the 2012 Opening Ceremony. It "may occasionally be rung to celebrate special occasions, but will not be in general use", so don't get any ideas about coming along for a bong.
Up top may remain inaccessible, but the footbridge does finally link to (and unlock) the towpath along the Old River Lea. This was always a favourite walk of mine pre-2007, weaving through a woody corridor beneath the Marshgate Lane Trading Estate. Quite a few of those trees have been allowed to survive, as have a couple of bulb-headed iron mooring posts. Where the Pudding Mill River once broke away downstream now only a brief stubby inlet remains, its resident moorhens unaware of how much more water they could have lorded over a decade ago. But the stadium now looms large on the opposite bank, its corporate hospitality backstage area now fully revealed, significantly diminishing any former feelings of isolation.
The towpath along the Old River Lea is a potentially dangerous spot, so inflated orange rings have been hung from posts spaced out along its length. And each has been labelled "LIFEBOUY" in large black letters, because spelling isn't a speciality hereabouts, and quality management doubly so. Huge black gates, and two beady security cameras, lurk beneath one of the spectator access bridges. Not far after there's ramped access to the Park's outer Loop Road, access to which opened up last month, finally completing a pedestrian link to the top of the Greenway. And yay, it's also now possible to walk all the way through to Old Ford Lock, ducking beneath twin pipes to rejoin the Lea towpath proper. That walk I used to enjoy until 2007 is properly open again, and about time too. [6 photos]
posted 07:00 :
Friday, September 25, 2015My Open House gallery
There are 67 photos altogether [slideshow]
Sorry, you didn't think I'd finished writing about Open House, did you? Seven down, six more to go...
Open House: Trinity Hospital
The oldest building in Greenwich, Trinity Hospital can be found on the riverside past the Old Royal Naval College and the Trafalgar Tavern, beneath the tall chimneys of Greenwich Power Station. Opened in 1617 as almshouses - a function it still performs - those who've lived in Greenwich for a certain time and are of a certain age might one day be allowed to move in. But you won't be allowed through its locked gate unless you happen to be passing on Open House Saturday, which is the only day of the year that a top-hatted warden stands and positively urges you inside. Do not pass by, take him up on his offer, to view the gorgeous enclave beyond the clocktower and the suite of rooms that surround. A fountain gushes placidly at the centre of the courtyard, florally bedecked and with golden fish wriggling within. To one side is a large gothic chapel, still used by residents every Thursday when the vicar of St Alfege's comes to lead a service. Upstairs is a wood panelled courtroom that's only unlocked twice a year, the other occasion being the Monday after Trinity Sunday when the City's Mercers cloak up and pay a ceremonial visit. The most fortunate residents live in ten refitted apartments surrounding the courtyard, but there are also thirty flats more in a more modern building alongside, surrounding larger gardens. With so much life experience in one place it's no surprise that residents bake a great cake, and you should use this fact as an excuse to stop for tea and linger longer. And then next time you pass the bright castellated frontage on the Thames Path you'll know the secrets of what lies behind, and probably be more than a little jealous. [7 photos]
Open House: The Seager Distillery Tower
It didn't look like the most exciting venue in the Open House brochure. A housing development beside Deptford Bridge DLR, built on the site of something historic, including refurbished 19th century buildings you'd not be able to get inside. But there was one key phrase which piqued my interest, which was the identity of the only part of the development on the tour. "Entry: 27th floor viewing gallery." And I couldn't turn that down. The developers, Galliard Homes, hadn't gone out of their way to advertise their two-day opening to anybody local, so it took a while to find the right way in. But yes, the concierge confirmed that this was the place, and one lengthy lift ride later I was in a glass box in the sky. Not a big box, more like two small chambers linked by a brief passage, but with high glass windows affording a most excellent view. To one side the City, viewed across lowrise Southwark, swinging round to the surprisingly prominent heights of Dulwich. And from the other side Greenwich (and its observatory) up close, and the end of Deptford Creek, and the Docklands skyscraper wall. Various families who'd come to visit were trying to spot their home ("oh my, there's our washing!") and determine which of the verdant lumps to the south was Hilly Fields. I love a lofty panorama, and Open House always delivers what I most crave, but even so I hung around far longer than I'd expected. I was particularly thrilled by the unobstructedness of the view, because normally when you go up something there's another tall building in the way. Instead the Distillery Tower stands alone, which is great for penthouse residents but not for low level local people who hate this lone eyesore for sticking out like a sore thumb. On any other weekend of the year I'd side with them. [7 views]
Open House: Limehouse Town Hall
Local government reorganisation hit this grand civic building hard. Opened in 1881, Limehouse Town Hall lasted as an administrative hub for less than 20 years before the Borough of Stepney absorbed Limehouse Vestry, and since then it's muddled on the best it can. Edwardian East End families came for weddings, bazaars and ‘cinematograph’ showings, after which the building's been an Infant Welfare Centre, a doctor's surgery and even (from 1975 to 1986) the National Museum of Labour History. Harold Wilson turned up specially to open the latter, and I'd like to imagine that Margaret Thatcher turned up to close it down. A deeply communal vibe remains, overseen by the Limehouse Town Hall Consortium Trust who welcome all sorts of hands-on projects and charities to thrive under their roof. On my visit the Tower Hamlets Wheelers were holding their monthly bike surgery in the main hall, tending to spokes and upturned chains while the occasional OH visitor wandered through. I took the opportunity to enjoy the Town Hall's audio tour, which was more atmosphere than fact, but brought the crumbling fabric of this great survivor to life. Long may it thrive, and all those who inspire from within. [2 photos]
Open House: Thames River Police Museum
Where is the world's oldest police force based? On the waterfront at Wapping, of course, where a band of lawmen was assembled at the end of the 18th century to reduce crime on London's lifeblood river. It made sense to merge them into the early Metropolitan Police, eventually becoming the Marine Support Unit, who continue to patrol the Thames in search of wrongdoers. They have a boathouse and private pier, complete with blue lamp, and also a small but excellent museum. This is housed in a former carpenter's workshop, its benches now piled with display cases and its walls hung with pictures and ephemera. There was a time when the Thames Police wielded cutlasses, or cracked pistols, and some of the older handcuffs don't look entirely kind. Here too are old charts and notebooks, and model ships and ensigns, and caps and epaulettes. But the main emphasis is on individual police officers and their deeds, from everyday service to something special, like rescuing passengers from the Princess Alice or the Marchioness. A stalwart group of volunteers oversee the museum and can tell you more, not just on Open House Weekend but (by appointment, in writing) throughout the year. In the absence of a proper Met Police museum, as yet, this packed heritage repository is a proper treasure. [4 photos]
Open House: London Dock - Pennington Street Warehouses
200 years ago much of the land between Wapping and Shadwell was carved out to create the London Docks, a network of deep basins for trading high-value commodities. They survived in business until the 1960s, eventually ending up in the hands of the London Docklands Development Corporation who filled in the huge Western Docks to create a non-council housing estate. Along the northern edge Rupert Murdoch built Fortress Wapping as News International's HQ, but now they've moved out there's a huge demolition site awaiting redevelopment. What's not being removed is a (very) long chain of brick vaults, these once used to store rum and spices (and more recently printer's ink), stretching most of the length of one side of Pennington Street. Site developers St George allowed access at the weekend, allowing the curious a) to stare from one end to the other b) to read lots of information boards about what's planned. And what's planned is stacks of flats, which if you believed the architect's hyped excitement on the video will be nothing short of amazing, but I was wholly unimpressed. The artist's impressions he was enthusing over could have been built anywhere, and all his spiel about how they reflect the site's maritime history seemed little more than empty bluster. Instead this is yet another exercise in cramming in as much luxury housing as possible, while the dock vaults will at least be restored for use as boutiques, bars and creative arts spaces. You'll like those, when they open, but perhaps give the rest of the "world class public realm" a miss. [photo]
Open House: St Georgs Deutsche Lutherische Kirche
It wasn't in the Open House Guide and it wasn't on the website, indeed it's possible they simply stuck a leftover poster outside the door and hoped passers-by would notice. And I'd never have noticed if the Overground was running, but there I was walking up to Aldgate, and there they were, so in I went. St George's is the oldest German church in the UK, opened 250 years ago by a community of expat sugar-boilers, this being a key local industry at the time. A place of worship until 1996, it was subsequently rescued and restored by the Historic Chapels Trust, and is now used mostly for recitals, concerts and lectures. Very few box-pew chapels survive, let alone double-decker pulpits, and its Georgian altar decorations are also a sight to see. Visit on the first Tuesday lunchtime of the month to enjoy an organ recital on the restored Walcker. What shone through here, even more than at other venues over the weekend, was the dedication of a band of volunteers who've striven to keep the place alive, and really wanted you to stay for tea and biscuits so they could tell you more. And if that's the true spirit of Open House, long may it remain.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, September 24, 2015I get far fewer approaches from PR companies and commercial interests than most high-profile bloggers. But I'd rather have none.
Here are three examples that arrived recently. The first is from Sylvia.
Hi,Promotional emails often start with a bit of ego massage before the pitch kicks in.
I stumbled across your blog and I thought it was beautifully written.
I am working with a friend on a new property tech venture which has neighbourhoods at its heart. For us, finding a home goes well beyond the walls of your flat to your neighbours, local bars and restaurants, parks and all the little places that give identity to a neighbourhood.It's an estate agent app, isn't it? A greedy start-up attempting to topslice the booming property crisis. I'm already switching off.
We are starting out in East London (Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney, Angel, Canary Wharf) and are looking for people who know it, love it and can bring it to life for others with words (and photos).I don't even live in any of those areas, for heaven's sake. Bow's hipster revamp is running slow.
We want to help regular people find a home in a city like London by giving them a feel for a neighbourhood's true character. As content will sit at the heart of the home search, your words (and photos) will be invaluable to anyone looking to find a home in London.Sylvia's brainwave is to combine house sales with local content, except she doesn't have any local content, which would seem to put a fatal damper on potential profits.
Would you be interested in contributing content for us and we can find a way to reward you for your help?I tend not to write puff pieces about sipping bespoke cappuccinos in pocket parks. So no, Sylvia, I wouldn't.
Then this arrived from Scott.
To all employees, friends & family of Diamond Geezer,It's amazing how quickly a promotional email can misfire.
You may have already heard that we’re opening <BBQ restaurant> in <central Lambeth>.Given that this restaurant is five miles from where I live, no, actually not.
We're inviting locals in for dinner & drinks before we officially open to the rest of London. If you fancy joining us between Thursday 1st & Thursday 15th October, we’ll be offering 50% off your total bill.Scott's offer is a half-price meal during his soft launch phase, which is no big deal. And only because I'm a potential influencer who might big-up his fledgling restaurant on social media.
We can accommodate tables of 4, 6 and 8. Let me know when you’d like to come down. Look forward to seeing you soon.Sorry Scott, I'm a 1. Don't expect me down any time soon.
And then there was this unlikely missive.
HiI worried where this might be leading. And rightly so.
I'm Stephanie, and I represent London-based <massage company>, a first of its kind company offering professional massages at the home/hotel/gym/office of the client.
We are currently searching for London-based bloggers and vloggers to collaborate with, in an exchange of services.It's not every day you get the offer of a free massage in your inbox (except in your spam folder, obviously).
We were hoping you might be interested in writing a review of our services or posting a youtube video, following treatment from one of our professional and vetted therapists.At least Stephanie wasn't proposing a YouTube video during the treatment. Much as you'd love to watch the outcome, I had to let her down gently.
We parted on amicable terms.Best look elsewhere, Stephanie.
So very wildly off target…
All the best.
Alas Stephanie is just one of a battalion of 21st century marketing underlings, their job to fire out volleys of outreach emails in the vain hope that somebody somewhere might be interested in prostituting themselves. I am not that somebody. Please send your promotional messages elsewhere.Yeah I figured that much.
But at least nobody can say I didn't try!
Best of luck,
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, September 23, 2015Open House: Millennium Mills
Most years there are a handful of entries in the Open House listings that make you think "oh my word, are they actually allowing access to that?!" In 2004 it was the Gherkin, in 2010 TfL HQ, and this year the BT Tower. But scanning through the list there was also the opportunity to go inside one of the holy grails of Urban Exploration, Millennium Mills in Silvertown, for a 100% legitimate tour. This crumbling ten-storey flour mill beside the Royal Victoria Dock has lured in many a balaclava-ed trespasser keen to experience the danger of its gaping internal voids and the thrill of standing on its roof. And suddenly they're running public hard hat tours, you say, OMG wow! Oh, but only a tiny handful of tours, and with less than ten people on each, so not a chance of getting a place. Sadface. But I got lucky. Doubly lucky, in fact, because wasn't the weather at the weekend ace? The opportunity to explore a taboo building in perfect sunshine was like winning the lottery, so I bounced along, togged up in hi-vis and boots, and grinned.
So there's this vast area of undeveloped land to the west of City Airport, opposite the ExCel exhibition centre, which used to be part of East London's docks. This section was all about importing food, and specifically flour, and at the start of the 20th century the three largest milling companies established premises here. Millennium Mills was built in massive style by William Vernon & Sons, who named the building after their most successful brand of flour. The current building's not the original, which was badly damaged by the great Silvertown explosion of 1917 and again by bombing during World War Two. But the 1953 building survives, which is quite something given that flour production shifted to Tilbury in the 80s and the concrete monster's been empty ever since. Today it's the sole survivor on a 60 acre site, bar a bit of the Rank Hovis mill nextdoor and a mighty grain silo nearer Pontoon Dock station. And change is imminent.
There have been many attempts to build on this site over the years, including a millennial plan to build a new residential zone around a massive aquarium called Biota. That eventually stalled when the developers went quiet, so the next team on the block are the so-called Silvertown Partnership who got the nod in April. They're planning a creative quarter, which'll be mostly housing but also with a heavy commercial slant, the intention being to attract digital start-ups and boost the knowledge economy. Half of Pontoon Dock will be filled in, and the majority of the site tightly packed with flats and offices and very little open space. More depressingly there are plans to create a 'brand village', where large multinational companies will build consumer temples to enhance their commercial reputation - not so much shops as a showcase designed to enhance online purchase. They never mentioned the brand village on the tour, I think they realised we'd only have ripped the piss.
"Silvertown Quays will provide a unique experience in what will be the first purpose built brand destination in the world; and through a series of brand flagships, pavilions and trading houses, organisations will be able to showcase and engage with their consumers through education, entertainment and customisation."At the far end of Millennium Mills, nearest the airport, is what remains of the Rank Hovis Premier Mill. This brick edifice isn't as tall, nor as listed, as its iconic neighbour, but it does house the one remaining grain chute still in situ. This spirals down from above like a rusting worm, and should be saved for posterity so long as the building around it is too. Some of the hoppers have been rescued, for which read dumped outside in piles for artists to use creatively in the new development. For now, however, the main residents are pigeons flying in through absent doors and smashed windows, and workers from Up North storing boxes and boxes of air filters for asbestos removal purposes. Jay and his mates expect to have all the evil fibres out soon, vastly increasing the value of the property overnight and kickstarting proper development... there'll be no more public tours after this.
Gaining access to the upper levels of Millennium Mills is currently possible via builders' lift. This jerks up the outside of the building to the seventh floor where a scaffolded platform provides an excellent (but temporary) view to the south and east. That golfball dome is what's left of the notorious London Pleasure Gardens, a 2012 attempt to bring the place to life which crashed and burned financially after demonstrating Herculean levels of organisational incompetence. And yes, the City Airport flightpath is ridiculously close, with planes roaring upwards over the dock pretty much right next to the front of the mill. If you're ever thinking of buying a property here, don't let the estate agent trick you into a site visit on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning when the runway is conveniently closed.
We merry band of Open Housers were then invited to step inside the building, most probably through what used to be a window. We were at least a year too late to see the building at its worst, with almost all of the grain slides and silos and associated metalwork long removed. Instead we'd entered a concrete shell of roof beams and floors, the latter regularly broken by large (and very large) holes. These voids are the ultimate health and safety nightmare, or trespasser's thrill, but they're also the reason why this building faces a bright commercial future. Most old buildings have no space to thread cables and utilities through the floors, but Millennium Mills has holes everywhere meaning your start-up company can move in with ease. Braver souls on the tour edged along narrow ledges past enormous circular drops to reach the farthest corners, or hung over the edge with their SLRs, because you only live once.
The stairs will have to go. They're old and narrow, and almost as steep as a ladder, and absolutely not what a new business district needs. But they do (eventually) lead to the roof, which is where any decent Open House tour ought to end up, and at Millennium Mills doubly so. Plans suggest that the very top of the redeveloped building will be appropriated by bars and restaurants, these in glass boxes rather the existing concrete bunkers, because in the future it'll be impossible to enjoy a lofty panorama without an expensive cocktail in hand. Hurrah then for the chance to stomp around in safety helmet and boots, and to climb one final wall to the Mill's highest point.
I had insufficient wows for this bit of the visit, first the realisation that I'd actually reached the heights of Urbex inaccessibility, second for being up amongst the chimney vents in blazing sunshine, and thirdly for the view. The main draw was Docklands to the west with the City and Shard poking up behind, not quite so close as the Dangleway gets, but without any of that annoying shiny glass getting in the way. The Royal Victoria Dock shimmered below, temporarily decorated with a warship because of the Arms Fair at ExCel. The Barking and Essex direction was, sorry, a bit dull, which Shooters Hill never is. Meanwhile over by Barrier Park a forest of cranes were busy erecting something blandly cuboid, a fate which'll soon befall the expanse of cleared tarmac and vegetation surrounding Millennium Mills on three sides.
I know that the Silvertown Partnership only allowed us up here for PR reasons, our token presence another box ticked on the Community Engagement list. And I know they kept the numbers down because organising these tours is a complex and expensive thing, and because it only takes a small gesture to inspire acres of coverage in the media. But I'm well chuffed to have been one of the handful to get the nod, and to get the opportunity to report back on your behalf. I suspect the rebirth of Millennium Mills itself is going to be the best thing about this future development - it'll make a great communal office block with true character and elevated accessibility. The rest of the site I'm less sure about - the masterplan looks extremely cramped with an eye on maximising rent, and the less said about the brand village the better. But in September 2015 before the refit kicks in, just OMG wow.
My Millennium Mills gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [or why not sit back and enjoy a slideshow?]
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