L ND N

 Monday, February 26, 2007

  I SPY LONDON
  the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
  Part 17: Hampton Court Palace

Location: East Molesey, KT8 9AU [map]
Open: 10am - 6pm (closes 4:30pm in winter)
Admission: £12.30
5-word summary: 500 years of royal magificence
Website: http://hrp.org.uk/hampton
Time to set aside: a day

Hampton Court chimneypotsYou've probably never considered visiting Hampton Court during the winter months. The gardens aren't at their best in February, the renowned flower show is still months away and the palace isn't centrally heated throughout. But this might just be the best time to visit, mercifully free from packs of tourists and staircase-blocking coach parties. Plus there's absolutely tons to see, far more than you probably expect, and it's not all bluff Tudor monarchs and armoured codpieces. Hampton Court wasn't originally a royal palace, not until Henry VIII confiscated it from his disgraced archbishop Thomas Wolsey in 1528. But over the last five centuries it's been repeatedly embellished, extended and rebuilt, so that the palace now comprises several different architectural styles. It certainly has a turreted chimneypot skyline like no other [photo].

Clock TowerMost visitors start their exploration of the palace from the central Clock Court [photo], maybe meeting up with a costumed guide, or else following one of the many audio-wand walks around the building. One of the oldest surviving parts of the palace is close by - the Tudor Kitchens. This mass catering establishment has been recreated for today's visitors as if preparing for a genuine 16th century banquet. The roast boar and savoury pies cooked here would have been served in the Great Hall upstairs, and gobbled down beneath the richly decorated hammer-beam roof. Nextdoor are Henry VIII's state apartments (or at least those which Sir Christopher Wren left alone when modernising the rest of the building a couple of centuries later). Palace guides enjoy leading hapless visitors through the gallery supposedly haunted by Henry's headless Wife-number-5, and this is also where the famous oil painting of The Field of the Cloth of Gold is hung. Close by is the magnificent Chapel Royal, where Henry married his last wife and baptised his only son, and which is still used for regular Sunday services to this day.

And that's only a small part of what there is to see. The southern and eastern sides of the palace, around the Fountain Court and cloisters, house the state apartments of King William III and his wife Queen Mary. You know the sort of thing - chains of vast rooms and long galleries packed with panelled walls, stern-looking portraits, giant tapestries and ornate 4-poster beds, all set out beneath impossibly ornate roofs. And, if you're willing to climb up several rear staircases to reach them, you might be able to take a look inside one of the old grace and favour apartments on the upper floors, close to the seat of the 1986 fire which devastated several of the historic rooms beneath (now restored).

Hampton Court from the East Front Gardens

Don't rest yet, there's still loads to see outside. There's Capability Brown's Great Vine for a start, not especially impressive in winter but still the oldest productive vine in the world [photo]. Inside the Lower Orangery are nine priceless (but overlooked) Italian Renaissance canvases depicting the Triumphs of Caesar (I suspect the security guard stationed in here gets very lonely). Round the corner is the famous Royal Tennis Court - a wooden chamber where Henry VIII used to play, and the oldest surviving tennis court anywhere in the world [photo]. And then there are the gardens [photo], acres and acres of them, beautifully laid out in a variety of imposing formal styles. Some lead down to the Thames, others run alongside an artificial channel through the grounds. Look east into the Home Park (above the heads of the swans on the Long Water) and you can just make out the Golden Jubilee Fountains shooting water 100 feet into the air some three quarters of a mile away.

Hampton Court mazeThe infamous Hampton Court Maze is located in the northern part of the palace grounds. This was Britain's first hedge maze, planted as long ago as 1690, and crams half a mile of paths into a third of an acre. The labyrinth is considerably more complicated than the sign pictured here suggests, although not so complex that you need fear getting trapped inside forever. Study the map by the entrance as much as you like - it won't help you much once you get disoriented inside. The sanctuary of the centre never seems too far away when viewed through a patchy yew hedge, but selecting the correct route at each junction is far harder than you might expect [photo].
"Harris asked me if I'd ever been in the maze at Hampton Court. He said he went in once to show somebody else the way. He had studied it up in a map, and it was so simple that it seemed foolish – hardly worth the twopence charged for admission." Jerome K Jerome, Three Men In A Boat
Expect to have to fight your way past yelping children and scattered families, and maybe enjoy directing them down one of the dead ends just for a laugh. Listen out too for a permanent audio art installation called "Trace" which has been embedded around the maze, playing various enigmatic sound effects as you pass by. Just try not to be too disappointed when you finally reach the centre only to discover a few occupied benches, a big tree and far too many over-pleased mummies with pushchairs. It's much easier to get out, thankfully, through a simple exit gate back into the surrounding gardens. You might be ready to go home at this point, but I bet you still won't have seen everything this a-maze-ing palace has to offer. [sorry, I couldn't resist it]
by train: Hampton Court  by bus: 111, 216, 411

 Thursday, February 22, 2007

London's most popular

Just released, figures which reveal London's most visited tourist attractions. And what do you know - the Tate Modern is the most popular attraction in the capital with nearly 5 million visitors last year (that's an impressive 13600 visitors a day or, if you like, 26 visitors a minute). According to the official list, a total of 14 attractions welcomed more than a million visitors in 2006 (up from 13 the year before). And right down at the bottom of the pile was the Theatre Museum, whose visitor numbers were so feeble that the place was forced to close down last month. Great headline-grabbing stuff, this rank-ordering.

London's Top Tourist Attractions 2006
AttractionVisitors
per year
Visitors
per day
Admission
(1 adult)
Tate Modern4,915,00013600free
British Museum4,837,87813400free
The National Gallery4,562,47112600free
Natural History Museum3,754,49610400free
Science Museum2,421,440 6700free
Victoria and Albert Museum 2,372,9196600free
Tower of London2,084,4685800£15
St Paul’s Cathedral1,626,0345200£9.50
National Portrait Gallery1,601,4484400free
Tate Britain1,597,0004400free
National Maritime Museum1,572,3104300free
Kew Gardens1,357,5223700£12.25
British Library1,182,3933300free
Westminster Abbey1,028,9913300£10
London Zoo905,3032500£12
Houses of Parliament890,4552500free/£12
Imperial War Museum712,3212000free
Hampton Court Palace473,0131300£12.30
Cabinet War Rooms296,656820£11
Kensington Palace273,566760£11.50
HMS Belfast268,774750£9.95
Kenwood House194,408540free
Theatre Museum178,013700free

But hang on a second, there must be more than 23 visitor attractions in London, surely? Where's Buckingham Palace? Where's Madame Tussauds? Where's the London Eye? It turns out that the above list is restricted only to attractions with current membership of ALVA - the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. If you didn't take part in the organisation's latest survey then you're not on the list. It's not exactly definitive is it? I'm perfectly willing to believe that Tate Modern is the genuine number 1, but I have very little faith that Tate Britain is really number 10.

Still, at least the visitor numbers are fascinating. It's striking how much more popular the National History Museum is than its scientific neighbour. It's instructive that the Tower of London is the only attraction in the top half of the list which charges for admission. It's mysterious how the Houses of Parliament seem to have so many visitors when they're only open to the public during the summer recess. And blimey, more people visited my blog last year than visited HMS Belfast - surely that can't be right?

The full ALVA list also contains attractions outside London, which means that even the Tate Modern is eclipsed by the success of Blackpool Pleasure Beach - Britain's most-visited in 2006, with 5.7 million dropping in. All the rest of our top attractions are still in the capital, however, right down until Edinburgh Castle appears as the UK's number 14. Meanwhile, at the very bottom of the full UK list, a rather more folorn picture is painted:

AttractionVisitors
per year
Visitors
per day
Admission
(1 adult)
National Wool Museum17,53550free
National Museum of Costume 10,71750£3

It's quite sad that only 50 people a day head down to deepest Camarthenshire to "discover the spellbinding story of the Welsh woollen industry". Similarly it's a shame that only 50 people a day head for a small village south of Dumfries to "open the door on fashion and society through the ages". That's as many visitors daily as the Tate Modern gets in two minutes. For every mega-attraction in central London, it seems there are several carefully-crafted mini-museums in the provinces which never get the support they deserve. Let's hope that a few more tourists frequent these overlooked treasures in 2007.

 Monday, February 19, 2007

that'll be a £8 please10 places in Kensington and Chelsea that now cost drivers £8 to visit

1) Hyde Park (we'll all think twice about popping down to the Serpentine with our Fortnum & Mason hampers now)
2) Portobello Road market (how is one expected to carry polenta and antiques home without forking out for a taxi?)
3) That lovely boutique on the Kings Road which sells bijou objets d'art (increased delivery charges will surely put essential services such as this out of business)
4) The Royal Albert Hall (thankfully the charge applies only to matinée performances)
5) Rupert and Olivia's private school (how will the au pair ever be able to afford to pay the newly-extended Congestion Charge every day?)
6) Sloane Square (obviously one could use public transport instead of one's car, but buses and trains are full of common people)
7) All the museums in South Kensington (does Mayor Ken not realise that the price of school coach trips will now have to rise?)
8) The Notting Hill Carnival (it's a damned shame the charge doesn't apply on Bank Holidays, because we'd rather those noisy sound systems and steel bands stayed away)
9) Harrods (although anybody who shops here can easily afford to pay £8, so it's not much of a disincentive to drive is it?)
10) Connaught Square (ha, that's slipped Tony Blair's new house just inside the zone with only a few months to spare)


that'll be a £8 please10 places to which Kensington and Chelsea residents can now drive once they've paid their £8

1) Mayfair, 2) Marylebone, 3) Westminster, 4) Soho, 5) Southwark, 6) Lambeth, 7) Covent Garden, 8) Bloomsbury, 9) Clerkenwell, 10) the City
(so traffic in the original zone is now sure to increase, because it doesn't cost K&C residents anything extra to drive there. Damn)


10 places to which we can still drive for nothing

1) Paddington, 2) Park Lane, 3) Victoria, 4) King's Cross, 5) Tower Bridge, 6) Elephant and Castle, 7) Vauxhall, 8) Earl's Court, 9) Shepherd's Bush, 10) the rest of Britain (for now)

new map of extended Congestion Charge zone [pdf]
new bus map showing CC zone and surrounding area [pdf]

 Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cool In Your Code

The Times newspaper's website updated last week. It was an absolute dog's breakfast on the first day, but the intended lime-green multimedia environment later emerged. One of the website's special new features is an online audio/video section entitled Cool In Your Code. This is a web TV extravaganza in which three energetic young presenters travel around London, postcode by postcode, reporting back on what they find. "We've walked the streets, toured the bars and poked our noses into the homes of London's most vibrant districts to find the places which make the capital special." This is most definitely not The Times of old. But the newspaper must be very proud of Cool In Your Code because they're promoting it with special adverts on tube trains. So I wondered what they'd made of my postcode, E3, and I thought I'd check it out.

Ah, Cool In Your Code hasn't got to E3 yet. Nor have they reached W8, SE1, NW1 or even W1. So far they've only covered Hoxton, which is sort-of N1-ish, and absolutely nowhere else. Great start, guys. We'll have to make do with Hoxton then. There are three Hoxtonesque video snippets to choose from - one on property (ie estate agents), one on culture (ie art and shopping) and one on nightlife (ie bars and restaurants). If you click carefully enough, one of them might even load (I had no luck in Firefox and had to start up Internet Explorer instead). Look, moving pictures! The future, alas, is not text-driven.

The three Cool In Your Code presenters could be straight out of Saturday morning TV, and they're really really keen to show us everything that this postcode has to offer. Well, just the tiny area around Hoxton Square, because that's where the only Cool in Hoxton seems to be. Each broadcast is flash, hip and snappy, with a nagging jazz soundtrack underneath. Let's whizz round a gallery and meet some artists, let's chat to a chef working in a restaurant kitchen, and let's ask a nightclub owner what makes his nightclub so great. Everything is dynamic, everything is "vibrant" and everything is upbeat. Presumably this is because the film crew had to seek permission from the owner of each establishment they entered, and therefore there are no negative comments about anything whatsoever. Yes, this is really just a lot of hyped-up PR disguised as editorial, and more fool us for watching it.

And where is Cool In Your Code going next? The site lists a few teaser previews to whet your appetite: Marylebone W1 (home to "London's most fabulous kitchen emporia"), Borough SE1 ("a cornucopia of delight") and Crouch End N8 ("crossroads of culture"). At least they're breaking out of Zone 1 predictability with that last location, but I think it could be a long time before the cheesy threesome come to see what Cricklewood, Thamesmead or Bow have to offer. Not enough boutiques, bars and property investment opportunities, I suspect. And what do the millions of Times readers living outside London make of all this, I wonder. Will there ever be a Cool in Your Code for Bootle L20, or Scunthorpe DN15, or Stornoway HS1? I think not.

So Cool In Your Code isn't cool, and it isn't in your postcode. Apart from that, it's perfectly named. But if you're an aspirational Londoner with money to burn and time to kill, then it might be right up your street. Just as soon as they reach Chelsea SW10, that is.

 Saturday, February 10, 2007

10 more reasons why the VisitLondon.com "What's On" search engine is unexpectedly bloody useless

There are more than ten thousand events altogether in the Visit London What's On database. Using a special online search form, it's supposed to be possible to refine this list to select only events meeting certain criteria. As we discovered yesterday, searching by date is bloody useless. But several other database searches are even worse...
1) You searched for all events with car parking for 10 Feb 2007 onwards.
We're sorry, but there are no results for your search.

2) You searched for all events with wheelchair access for 10 Feb 2007 onwards.
We're sorry, but there are no results for your search.

3) You searched for all events with a hearing loop for 10 Feb 2007 onwards.
We're sorry, but there are no results for your search.

4) You searched for all events with toilets for disabled visitors for 10 Feb 2007 onwards.
We're sorry, but there are no results for your search.
So, according to the Visit London website, not one single event in our capital city is accessible to the physically disabled or the hearing impaired. This is clearly untrue. The search engine has been set up to search for these categories, but NOT ONE event has been tagged as accessible. If I were one of Visit London's paying advertisers operating a disabled-friendly venue, I'd be livid.
5) You searched for all free events for 10 Feb 2007 onwards.
We're sorry, but there are no results for your search.
And again. Thousands of the ten thousand events in the Visit London database charge nothing for entry, but NOT ONE has been tagged as 'free'. So if you search for free events, not one shows up. This is gobsmackingly lazy programming and website design.

6) How about searching by location? Still not great. You can't search for events within a certain radius of somewhere - it's all or nothing. If the location you enter doesn't appear in the event's address, Visit London won't find it. Ask for events in E3, for example, and you get 40... but ask for events in Bow and you get nothing. It's all a bit old school.

7) Past events aren't always retired from the database after they've happened. Anybody fancy "a selection of the finest carols and Christmas music sung by The Bach Choir" at Cadogan Hall on 16 December 2006? Or Lewisham Winter Festival and Christmas Market on 25 November 2006? There's some very sloppy database housekeeping at work here.

8) At the other end of the scale, several events in the database are listed ridiculously far into the future. The Elmbridge Museum in Weybridge is launching a special Olympics exhibition on 16 February next year. Book now for next year's Lord Mayor's Firework Display on 9 November 2008 (quick, before your diary fills up). The late night Ceremony of Keys at the Tower of London apparently continues until 31 December 2010 (but not beyond, for some reason). Most forward-looking of all, we're told that Brazilian musician Seu Jorge is playing the Roundhouse in Camden on 12 November 2012. That's got to be data-entry incompetence, surely? On the Visit London website, it almost certainly is.

9) The British Judo Festival is still one of Visit London's three featured special events for today. The British Judo Festival is still very very cancelled.
10) "We make no representations that information is accurate and up to date or complete and accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by inaccurate information. This Site gives a large amount of data and there will inevitably be errors in it, particularly because dates and times of events change and cancellations occur. You are advised to check directly with the organisers of the event concerned before making any arrangements. In no event shall we be liable to you for any direct or indirect or consequential loss, loss of profit, revenue or good will arising from your use of the Site or information on the Site."
So don't say you weren't warned.

 Friday, February 09, 2007

Websites which are unexpectedly bloody useless: VisitLondon.com
(specifically the "What's On" search engine)


Visit London is the official visitor organisation for London. They receive public funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They employ about 70 staff. They run a very important service encouraging tourists worldwide to visit our capital city. And their search engine is unexpectedly bloody useless. Here's why.

I'm going to test out Visit London's website by asking the question What special events are taking place in London tomorrow? That should be simple enough for London's official visitor website to answer. Let's see how they do.

Start here: The What's On Special Events homepage
Three special events have been prominently highlighted at the top of the page, one of which is tomorrow's London Judo Festival at the ExCel exhibition centre. Sounds special enough... except that this event was cancelled three weeks ago. Surely somebody should have noticed by now? Next on the page come three bookable events (none of them this weekend) followed by 14 special 'Features'. Only a couple of these featured events are taking place tomorrow. Most are weeks or even months away, including Trooping the Colour (4 months to go), the Tour de France Grand Départ (5 months) and the Notting Hill Carnival (6 months). Great for forward planning, but useless for the immediate future. Looks like we need to dig deeper. See the word 'tomorrow' just above 'Book Tickets'? Let's click on that...

Next: Show all special events for... tomorrow
"You searched for all events, in Special events, for 10 Feb 2007 to 11 Feb 2007.
Your search returned 870 results."

Hang on, I only asked for events tomorrow, but this bungling website has decided I meant "tomorrow and the day after" instead. No I don't, I really only want tomorrow. I'll have to Refine the search myself...

Next: Refine your search - When? From 10 Feb 2007 to 10 Feb 2007
"Your search returned 854 results"
What, seriously? 854 special events taking place in London tomorrow? That's fantastic - what a choice! Although this might make finding the really special events quite difficult, mightn't it? Let's start at the top of the list of 854 events and work our way down...
Event 1: 20th Century Decorative Arts, Sothebys [30 Jan 2007 to 13 Mar 2007]
Clicking through to the information page reveals that this is an evening course, run twice over three consecutive Tuesdays. It doesn't actually happen on a Saturday at all. It shouldn't be on the list.

Event 2: 7-11 Club, Kids/Family, St Giles Cripplegate [1 Jan 2006 to 31 Dec 2007]
Clicking through to the information page reveals that this kids club runs every Wednesday between 6 and 7pm. It doesn't actually happen on a Saturday at all. It shouldn't be on the list.

Event 3: A Condor's-Eye View: South American Archaeology From the Air, British Museum
Clicking through to the information page reveals that this was a one-off lecture which took place at lunchtime on 26th January. It's not scheduled to ever happen again. It shouldn't be on the list.

Event 4: Act For Fun, Lantern, SW20 [1 Jan 2006 to 31 Dec 2007]
Clicking through to the information page reveals that this is a paid-for theatre workshop which takes place every Tuesday evening in Raynes Park. It doesn't actually happen on a Saturday at all. It shouldn't be on the list.
Event 5 and Event 8 happen every Saturday, but you had to enrol your child several weeks ago. Event 6 happens every Tuesday and Event 7 every Thursday. Event 9 only happens on the final Friday of the month. And Event 10 isn't an event at all, it's the children's activity cart at the V&A. I don't know about you, but I've lost all interest in scrolling any further down the list. If there is an appropriate one-day-only event amongst the remaining 844 listed activities, I really can't be bothered to hunt it down.

The problem here is the incompetent design of the Visit London events database. Every event has been labelled according to its start and finish dates, not by the dates on which it actually happens. Most recurring events have been labelled "1 Jan 2006 to 31 Dec 2007" and so apparently happen every day for two years, even though they don't. And the database isn't being updated properly either. It's no good searching for events by date at all, because all you get is a sprawling inaccurate date-irrelevant list.

I rue the relentless rise of database-driven websites. No longer are we treated to carefully considered internet pages written by sentient humans, just computer-generated lists created from input search criteria. You can't just browse any more, you have to ask questions first. And the Visit London database can't answer those questions properly, and so churns out garbage instead. What a waste of a potentially very useful resource.

I wanted to contact Visit London to tell them what I thought of their wholly ineffective search engine, except they insist I register with the site before they'll let me email them. Stuff that. So I've had to find some proper special events happening in London tomorrow via other sources. Much easier. Here's five, if you're interested:

Switched On London (a lighting extravaganza across the Pool of London)
Collect: The international art fair for contemporary objects - at the V&A
Walking with Beasts opens at the Horniman Museum
Winter opening at the Chelsea Physic Garden
Big Brother 8 auditions at the ExCel exhibition centre

 Thursday, February 08, 2007

URGENT EMAIL ALERT TO ALL LONDONERS: Final snowfall imminent

London 00:00:
The Met Office has issued a warning that heavy snowfall is imminent across the Greater London area. Snow cover up to a depth of several inches is anticipated over the next few hours. This is expected to be the heaviest snowstorm seen in the capital for several years. And, thanks to global warming, it will also be the last.

That's right. Southeast England is getting warmer, thanks to the greenhouse effect. And this means no more snow, ever. Future London winters will be much too mild for the white stuff. We might get a bit of sleet maybe, but nothing more than that - nothing that'll ever settle. It's an absolute meteorological certainty, honest it is. No more snow.

It's your own fault, you know. You've been busy burning fuel and driving cars and heating offices and consuming goods and flying planes, and all of this extra carbon in the atmosphere adds up. Our climate is about to be altered permanently and irrevocably, and soon. Which means that today's snowfall will be London's last. You'd better use the day wisely.

Bow Church in the snowWe urge you to take the day off work. Come on. If today is London's last ever day of snow, you don't want to miss it. It'll all have melted by tonight, so this really is your last chance. You don't want to be stuck in the office when you could be outdoors enjoying the snow cover instead. Have one last snowball fight, perhaps, just like when you were a kid. Go stomp around on the pavement leaving deep crunchy footprints. Satisfy your creative urges by building a snowman on your front doorstep. Or knock together a makeshift sledge and go skidding headfirst down that treacherous slope in your local park. You know you want to. Take the day off and enjoy some 'proper' winter weather.

Come on, taking the day off will be easy. It only takes a single flake of snow for London's transport network to grind to a halt, and we're expecting several million flakes this morning. There's no point in going to the station or waiting at the bus stop because everything will be cancelled. And even if by some freak your service is running, just phone into the office and pretend that it isn't. They'll believe you, because it's snowing. And it's the last time you'll ever be able to use this excuse, so you'd better use it while you can.

Wrap up warm, grab your camera and go take some photographs of London in the snow. Drifts along the Embankment; Green Park beneath a carpet of white; swirling grey clouds viewed from Primrose Hill; Big Ben with frosty pinnacles; your house with flake-topped tiles; the lot. Take as many photographs as you possibly can. Take hundreds, thousands if necessary, because you'll never be able to take these photos again. Store them away to show your children, and grandchildren, because they'll never see London in white. And neither will you, after today.

Final snowfall is imminent. Make the most of it.

Disclaimer: It is just possible that estimates of today's snow depth may have been wildly over-exaggerated. Over-dramatic weather forecasts occur, all too frequently, for which we apologise. In which case you've already missed London's last proper snowy day, which was way back in December 2000. Sorry we forgot to warn you at the time.

 Wednesday, February 07, 2007

London's not an easy city to get the hang of, especially on foot. The London A-Z shows a myriad of intersecting streets, sideroads and alleyways - all extremely hard to memorise. Harry Beck's Underground map famously did away with the conventions of reality, reducing London to a simple series of lines and intersections. It's perfect for making linear tube journeys, but deceptive and misleading if used for finding your bearings on the street. How many tourists have hailed a taxi from Covent Garden to Temple when they should have walked, or tried walking from Barbican to Angel only to find the journey considerably further than it looked? What London's pedestrians need is a simpler mental picture of where places really are, and how to get from one to another.

And that's why a London Pedestrian Routemap [jpg] is now under development. This map condenses the complexity of central London's streets to a manageable network of colour-coded key routes. It's part of a 'spatial accessibility' research project put together by a Shoreditch consortium called Space Syntax, and may one day end up becoming semi-official. Highlighted routes include a main east-west axis from Notting Hill to Aldgate via Oxford Street, intersected by several north-south corridors. Parkland routes feature strongly, as do Thamesside walks and the Regent's Canal towpath. Overall the network is no more complex than the London tube map, giving it a good chance of being understood and internalised. Blimey, you might even find it useful.

The map is still work in progress, so it's easy to pick apart some of the design's current idiosyncrasies. The colours used aren't distinctive enough, for example, and too few street names are shown to help you to navigate around with any accuracy. But as a mental representation of essential London routes it does a fine job. If this new map encourages walking in the capital it can only be a good thing. And if it ever saves you from forking out a tenner on an unnecessary taxi, even better.

 Sunday, February 04, 2007

2000 days to 2012
Manor Gardens Allotments

a Manor Green allotmentSandwiched between the river Lea and the Eastway cycle circuit, slap bang where the 2012 Olympics will take place, is a thin strip of productive agricultural land. These are the Manor Gardens Allotments - an unlikely green oasis in the midst of a drab industrial backwater. The allotments are ecologically sound, carbon-friendly and fully sustainable. They encourage healthy living and are supportive of a multicultural community. Indeed, they tick almost every box that a "Green Olympics" facility ought to have - every box except 'location', that is. Because (according to the 2012 masterplan) a big concrete footpath is needed here instead, to guide spectators towards the Velodrome, BMX track and Fencing Hall. It wouldn't be acceptable to incorporate allotments growing cucumbers in the middle of a highly-secure Olympic site, obviously, so everybody has to move out. In less than two months time.

The allotment holders of Manor Gardens are mightily annoyed at having to abandon their cultivation to the bulldozer. And rightly so. These allotments have been here for 100 years, and were bequeathed 'in perpetuity', whereas the Olympic footpath will be used for just four and a bit weeks. There'll be no sustainable food production on site in 2012, just the usual corporate suspects peddling burgers, paninis and cappucinos. Not surprisingly the owners have been protesting loudly. They've established an angry but endearing blog and have set up an online e-petition which has already attracted several hundred signatures. A few weeks ago they held a locally-produced 'New Year Feast' on the allotment site, with a Sunset Barbecue lit by a fake Olympic flame. They don't stand a chance of standing in the way of imminent redevelopment, of course, but at least they're trying.

The entrance to the allotments is well hidden, down an unsignposted track off Waterden Road between a bus garage and an auction site. Access is via a dedicated footbridge across the Lea, then up a gentle slope into the allotments proper. It's a much larger site than you'd probably be expecting - fairly narrow but stretching off some considerable distance in both directions. Walk down the central trackway and you'll discover a motley collection of sheds and lean-tos amidst a patchwork of tilled soil, wheelbarrows and water butts. There's a definite feeling of a 'village' community amongst the 85 plots - you almost expect Arthur Fowler to come walking out of one of the sheds clutching a spade and a steaming mug of tea. It's a charming tranquil spot, even in midwinter.

In past summers these allotments must have been a riot of colour and growth, but at present they lie fallow and pale in doomed hibernation. A handful of diehard gardeners can still be seen tending their patches, pulling up the weeds and preparing for the season ahead. I do hope they've planted something which harvests before Easter.

lifeisland - the Manor Gardens blog
Juliette's (charming) Manor Gardens Allotments A-Z
• the Manor Gardens campaign story (and photos)
Manor Gardens Allotments petition
touching BBC London documentary about the threatened allotments (8 mins)

 Saturday, February 03, 2007

A map of London's Starbucks by postcodeNW1 NW1 NW1 NW1 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW3 NW4 NW6 NW6 NW8 NW9 NW11 NW11EN2 EN5

N1 N1 N1 N1 N1 N8 N10 N12 N21
RM1
W2 W2 W2 W2 W2 W4 W4 W4 W5 W5 W6 W6 W6 W8 W8 W8 W9 W11 W11 W11 W11 W11 W12

UB7 UB7 UB8
West End W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1 W1West End WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC1 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2 WC2City EC1 EC1 EC1 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC2 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC3 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4 EC4E1 E1 E14 E14 E14 E14 E14 E14
SW3 SW3 SW3 SW3 SW4 SW4 SW4 SW5 SW5 SW6 SW6 SW6 SW6 SW7 SW7 SW7 SW7 SW8 SW10 SW11 SW12 SW13 SW15 SW18 SW19 SW19SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1 SW1SE1 SE1 SE1
SE1 SE1 SE1
SE1 SE1 SE1
SE3 SE10 SE10
TW1 TW6 TW6 TW9 TW9 TW9 TW12 KT1 KT1 KT6SM1CR0 CR0   SE22BR1
dg 2007)

Starbucks store locator
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 Thursday, February 01, 2007

When you leave the office tonight, don't pick up a London freesheet from those crazed thrusting guys in the street. Save the planet's resources by printing out today's special diamond geezer post on a single sheet of paper instead, and enjoy a fantastic read on the train home.

the London Litter
CELEB SPOTTED IN SOHO BAR
exclusive photos!!

We spotted a nearly famous celebrity in a central London bar last night. She was out drinking with her mates, and she was looking a bit rough. Her make-up was smudged and she had a tiny blemish on her cheek. We think her classy image has really taken a tumble. We were shocked by her imperfection, and we think you will be too. (photos page 11)

PROPERTY HOTSPOT TUMBLE
Fears are growing that home owners in Kensington and Chelsea may see their assets rise in value by only 40% this year. Estate agent Pamela de la Cruz told us "Detached five bedroom villas are no longer the get-rich goldmine they once were."

MAYOR DENIES ROCK BAND RUMOURS
Ken Livingstone has denied that he intends to form a guitar band with other key members of the London Assembly. "Ken has no plans to show off his strumming skills at the Olympic opening ceremony," a spokeswoman said, "and anyway, U2 are already booked."

SOME REAL NEWS HAS HAPPENED
Something very important was announced by the government today. It will have major political repercussions and may also lead to higher air fares, according to something we read on the Sky News website.

LATEST TUBE DISRUPTION
Piccadilly line: Minor delays due to pigeon
Jubilee line: Family of tourists blocking escalator at Bond Street
Victoria line: A bit squashed in the second carriage

TONIGHT'S WEATHER
8 degrees - dry with damp bits.
Don't forget your galoshes.
PRINCE HARRY'S BALD PATCH
see page 7

NEW BROCCOLI HEALTH SCARE SHOCK
Russian scientists have confirmed that eating broccoli may not reduce fine lines and wrinkles, even though a Dutch survey yesterday said it did. Instead broccoli may help to cut the risk of heart disease, although only in hamsters, according to yet another survey we read in the Daily Mail this morning.
LaVitae Broccoli Capsules, £39.

News in brief: A Chinese grandmother is recovering in hospital after being hit by a fish.

RESTAURANT REVIEW
We've been to a really expensive restaurant in Mayfair that you couldn't possibly afford to dine at, but we were on expenses and it was fab, and we saw lots of celebs (well, Patsy Kensit), so there.

YOUR TEXT MESSAGES
• "I think taxi drivers should be castrated at birth."
Samantha, Putney
• "People who play loud music on buses should be shot. I'd volunteer."
Colin, Surrey
• "Can anyone recommend a good halal butcher in Dulwich?
Penelope, SE21

MINI-SUDOKU
3 6
  8 2
4   7


SPORTS NEWS
Your favourite London football team have been involved with transfer deals recently, and they have an important match coming up soon, and the manager says they have every hope of winning, but there are injury rumours, and their disappointing league position may not improve.

Please dispose of this London freesheet responsibly


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