Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Red man walking
If you drive a car or ride a bike, you'll be aware that us pedestrians are less well behaved than we used to be. Especially at pelican crossings. We used to be much better at doing as we were told. When the green man was lit, we crossed. When the green man starting flashing, we hurried up. And when the red man appeared we waited, patiently, for all the traffic to go by. Not any more.
Pedestrians are now far worse at observing red lights than certain cyclists. Is the red man showing? Never mind, just dash across the road anyway. Is there a bit of a gap in the approaching traffic? Plenty of time to run headlong in front of a speeding car before it arrives. Or are the passing vehicles driving very slowly down the street instead? Even better for weaving through the jam in a madcap attempt to reach the pavement opposite. Oh no, we pedestrians don't like to wait at pelican crossings any more, we don't like waiting at all.
But some of the blame for this increasingly reckless behaviour must rest with the bureaucrats who appear to be reprogramming our pedestrian crossings. First they stopped our green men flashing. You had noticed that green men never flash any more, hadn't you? The flash was being misunderstood to mean "it's perfectly safe to start crossing", which was obviously extremely risky and had to be stopped. So now there's just a long blank pause between green and red, in the hope that if pedestrians don't see green they'll stay on the pavement. Fat chance.
And now, at least in certain spots in central London, the amount of "green man" time has been cut to a ridiculous minimum. If there's any risk that a hobbling grandmother might not quite get across the road before the traffic restarts, then the green light must be turned off. Law-abiding able-bodied pedestrians are expected to stand and wait, and wait, and wait, when they could easily have crossed the road in the time available before the red man lit up.
Here's how it works at the pedestrian crossing on Regent Street to the north of Oxford Circus...
10 sec Erm, the traffic stopped ten seconds ago. Why aren't we allowed to start crossing yet? We can all see that it's perfectly safe to cross already, but for some reason you won't let us yet. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 10 sec Hurrah! Chaaa-arge! Let's all swarm across the road towards H&M... 8 sec Bloody hell, was that it? It takes a good 15 seconds to walk across this road, but they've switched off the green man after just ten. It's inhuman. Surely it's a mistake. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 45 sec Erm, why is the red man showing already? The traffic on this side of the street isn't moving yet. There'd be no danger whatsoever in crossing to the central island. Why are we being treated like idiots? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 2 sec Oops, the traffic's finally starting up again. If we don't hurry we're going to get stuck on the wrong side of the road for ages. Well, 30 seconds anyway. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 23 sec Damn, the traffic's flowing past again. But we could definitely sneak between that lorry and that bus, couldn't we? Or nip between that motorbike and that taxi? If we run very fast. Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 2 sec Ooh good, the traffic's stopping. In a few seconds time the green man will light up. A few seconds early won't hurt, will it? Oh come on, we're going to step out into the road anyway. Why wait? 10 sec And repeat...
So, that's the green man lit for a measly 10% of the time, even though pedestrians think it's perfectly safe to cross for nearly three quarters of the time. It's no wonder that pedestrians learn to ignore pelican crossings, because they're set to be so risk-averse that we might as well cross anyway. So we do. Sorry. Can't wait any more. Just can't wait.
Monday, May 28, 2007
The latest edition of Smoke magazine is now available for purchase. Hurrah! This irregular London fanzine has now reached issue number 10, and offers the usual mix of "words and images inspired by the city".
Most of the articles have a definite literary bent, more descriptive than factual, and there's usually an arty angle to the images and illustrations. This time round you can read about the pregnant state of East Dulwich, see more of London's campest statues, reflect on the fading status of Chapel Market and enjoy various photographs of pigeons in puddles. Maybe take a walk along the Thames, or stride up to Ally Pally, or even hike halfway to Romford - Smoke has a reassuringly out-of-Zone-1 focus. Perhaps these snippets here will give you a better idea.
I've already paid my £2.50 (stockists here, mail order here), and I'm pleased to say that the end product is just as well-produced and collectable as ever. I wonder if they'll be giving away a free ring binder with issue 11?
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Stuff to do (even when it's raining): The Long Weekend
They're having a four day bank holiday knees-up at the Tate Modern, full of arty performance events. There's a mixture of free stuff and expensive stuff, of highbrow stuff and kids stuff, and of visual stuff and musical stuff. You've already missed half of it, but you can catch up today with a rare showing of Andy Warhol's extremely tedious 5½ hour film Sleep, and a spectacular (so it says here) Brazilian carousel cobbled together from found objects. Meanwhile middle class families will love The Great Turbine Challenge - an outsized boardgame played with giant dice and negotiated whilst wearing artistic headgear. Yesterday morning I stumbled upon a rather special audio event in the Turbine Hall where a French DJ was mixing futuristic electronic beats at a volume your parents wouldn't appreciate. I joined a growing crowd seated round a black curly spiral, and absorbed the incoming pulses with a broad grin. If only all dance music was like this, I'd go clubbing more often. And if only all "art" was like this, I'd go to galleries every weekend. Beats a room full of Rembrandts any day.
Stuff to do (but maybe not when it's raining): Paradise Gardens
Victoria Park, E3, has always been a pleasure gardens of sorts. But this weekend, along one wide strip down the centre, there's a proper 21st century mishmash of a funfair. At one end is Carter's Steam Fair - a traditional travelling amusement park with merry-go-round, coconut shy and big twirly overhead rocketships. Hand over a quid and you might win some cheap market knock-off, or a bagful of candyfloss, or just end up being horribly sick after a spin on the waltzer. Is there a better way to pass a bank holiday weekend? (Erm, maybe so.) Move on up the park, past the BBC Asian Network stripy dance tent and a big music stage where The Beat (yes, The Beat) got rained on last night. Perhaps stop off to buy a burger, or some noodles, or a burger, or banana smoothies, or maybe even a burger. And at the north end of the showground you'll eventually find some rather more arty exhibits. Drop in on headscarved housewives at the East London Design Show, or watch a bit of tented burlesque, or shell out on some designer ethnic trinkets. You can even stand out in the drizzle and rediscover the joys of swingball (honestly, you'd think children had never seen it before). Look around and you'll see that the more bohemian South Hackney residents have gravitated towards this end of the park, where the culture is, while the funfair'n'beer end is more the preserve of yer actual Tower Hamlets estatefolk. Typical of the posh half is a mechanical menagerie called Musee du Cirque des Insectes , while the common half relies on the rather more physical Joby Carter's Super Mighty Striker . One end may be heaven and the other hell (you choose), but that's paradise for you.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The *new* Greenwich Planetarium
It was a grim day for astronomy in the capital when Madame Tussauds revamped the London Planetarium as a Stardome, shifting their spotlight to the banal cult of celebrity. But now, at last, there's a proper interstellar alternative. The Royal Greenwich Observatory has just opened a brand new £15 million extension, the centrepiece of which is an architecturally striking planetarium. Which opened yesterday. And what do you know, it's damned excellent.
The new planetarium has been built beneath a granite courtyard, so that only its "dome" is visible from above . It's not actually dome-shaped at all, but a slanted truncated cone whose shape has been mathematically designed to uniquely match its location . The northern edge slants upwards at 51½° (the precise latitude of Greenwich), the southern edge points towards the zenith , and the top has been sliced off parallel to the equator. This elliptical face is mirrored to reflect clouds scudding across the sky , while the remainder of the cone's surface has been welded together out of 250 individual pieces of bronze (which get hot to the touch on sunny summer days). It is quite frankly, gorgeous, even if very few tourists yesterday afternoon were stopping to give it a second look.
Access to the planetarium is across the courtyard, through the ornate Victorian South Building. This splendid four-winged building has been given a new lease of life by the restoration project, and now houses the Observatory's astronomical galleries. The exhibits within are cutting-edge museum fare, designed to appeal to children with even the shortest attention span, but still with enough factual meat to satisfy the more scientific mind. You can get your hands on a 4½ million year old meteorite, or roll dice to decide the fate of star formation, or guide an electronic telescope across the heavens, or just marvel at the mysteries of the universe. All of the visual presentations (and there are several) include sign language interpretation - this is an impressively inclusive experience. Meanwhile the top floor of the building has been given over to school parties, while downstairs there's a cafe and a shop (because there's always a cafe and a shop).
Entrance to the Peter Harrison Planetarium is on the lower level, and a ticket will set you back £6. You might expect Mr Harrison to be a famous astronomer but no, he's just the kindly philanthropist who donated £3 million to the project (and conveniently gets his name splashed across the building in perpetuity). You can read a bit about his selfless life while you're waiting to go in, should you be interested. The Queen, meanwhile, merely merits a small plaque saying that she popped along on Tuesday to officially open everything.
The planetarium seats 120 people in comfy recliners, but aim for the rear rows for the best upward view. If you ever visited the London Planetarium in Baker Street you'll know what to expect - a curved overhead screen upon which the mysteries of the night sky are projected. What you won't be used to are stunning 21st century visual effects, as the 20 minute show transports you around the universe from the Sun's core to swirling black holes. The projected light show tells the story of the stars, from their birth within clusters of cloudy nebulae to their eventual implosion and death. I was very pleased by the wholly scientific presentation - there's no dumbing down here - and images are lifted from real observation data wherever possible. There's a fair amount of constellation spotting too, because that's what planetariums are for, although sadly there was no planet-hopping in this first set of performances. Maybe later.
As the night sky slowly brightened and the lights came back on, there was a ripple of spontaneous applause from an appreciative audience. Perhaps this was just a first-day reaction, but I like to think you'll be just as impressed when you visit. Do come (maybe once half term's over and the place calms down a little). A world-famous world-class attraction just got even better.
Planetarium admission details (performances hourly)
Weller Astronomy Galleries (admission free)
Friday, May 25, 2007
Unusual place for a picnic...
Village Green in Trafalgar Square (alas, rolled up this evening)
One of my favourite works of art in London can be found on the ground floor of the British Museum, just underneath the mummies. Cradle to Grave is a long display case filled with all the prescribed drugs a typical man and woman might take during a lifetime, all carefully sewn into a 13 metre-long strip of fabric. The tablets tell two parallel life stories - in her case featuring contraceptives and HRT, and in his case asthma, hayfever and (eventually) high blood pressure. Along each side of the artwork are a series of photographs depicting scenes from family life, and a few relevant artefacts such as a stubbed-out ashtray, a glass of red wine and a set of false teeth. But it's the multi-coloured tapestry of tablets that really draws the attention, creating a striking centrepiece to the museum's Living and Dying gallery.
Clipboard-clutching parties of schoolkids were skipping past the display case this morning, on their way to see the dead Egyptians upstairs. But older visitors were much more likely to stop, and to point, and to reflect. An elderly lady in a wheelchair sat smiling as she spotted some pills her husband used to take, while several tourists were clearly taken aback by the sheer volume of tablets laid out before them. That's 14000 tablets each - the average number of pharmaceuticals swallowed by a 'normal' Briton between birth and death. Tellingly, in the case of the average male patient depicted here, half of these pills are taken in the last ten years of his life - between the ages of 66 and 76. I've got a long way to go yet.
Until yesterday morning, I'd never swallowed a tablet in my life (and yes, you can read whatever subtext you like into that). I've been extremely fortunate thus far to have avoided serious illness, or any long-term medical condition, so my total number of prescribed orally-ingested pharmaceuticals has been zero. Lucky me. There was one occasion, thirty years ago on a school coach trip home from Germany, when I was ordered to swallow a shiny plastic capsule full of antibiotics, but I failed utterly, merely splattering those sitting nearby with a gullet-full of fizzy cola instead. Soluble aspirin I have no problem with, but me and tablets, we've never got on.
So yesterday, I fear, marks a minor turning point in my life. I'm only on one tiny little white tablet a day, for some initially unspecified period. My new prescription's not keeping me alive or anything serious, but it is all a little unexpected. I know that many of you will be wondering what all the fuss is about, having been used to swallowing tablets for health or pleasure for decades. But I've just stepped across a line I was hoping not to have to cross, at least for several more years. I've now got to remember to gulp and swallow every morning, whereas before I could just brush and go. My own personal Cradle to Grave artwork starts here, this very week. Two tablets down, and hopefully slightly fewer than 13998 to go...
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
London in pictuers (3)
Ice cream kiosk near the Tiltyard Cafe, Hampton Court Palace, KT8
Monday, May 21, 2007
As the Cutty Sark burns, we ask:
That was a bit careless, wasn't it?
Is this the least successful restoration project ever?
Can you ever protect town centre heritage attractions from arson?
So much for risk assessment, eh?
What are the chances they try to build a fibreglass replacement?
What are tourists in "Maritime Greenwich" going to take photographs of now?
Is it time to bring back Gipsy Moth IV?
Actually, did anybody ever bother paying good money to go aboard for a look around?
Are they going to have to rename the local DLR station?
Will the London Marathon ever bother to run round the 'Cutty Sark loop' again?
It's a damned shame, isn't it?
Anyone fancy a cup of tea?
London in pictuers (2)
Northwold Road, Stoke Newington, N16
Sunday, May 20, 2007
A London Crossword
Just one clue each, please
6:15pm update: You've completed the crossword. View the solution here.
4) Terminal destination (8,7)
8) SE suburb found in open geography (5)
9) Lost Lambeth river (5)
11) Links Luton to the Thames (3)
12) It's 2000 years old, near enough (6)
14) 2 down and 12 across, for example (7)
17) Nash thoroughfare carved out in 1825 (6)
19) Gateway to the South (6)
20) Converted to oxygen (4)
21) New lad could be current (6)
22) SW suburb - revolutionary in the morning (5)
1) A long wait to enter the gardens? (3)
2) Keep white (5)
3) Creates Thames art (9)
5) NW suburb - then don't take part (6)
6) Florid novel (6)
7) Surrey pitched up here (4)
8) Metroland skewer (6)
10) Fast ships, long buried (5)
13) Rebuilt their town by the Thames (5)
15) Was their comedy genial? (6)
16) Hampstead's PM (5)
18) Looks round on the South Bank (3)
19) East End weapon (3)
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The Cup Final returns to Wembley
08:30 Wake up in hotel room in Cardiff. Damn, should've been a little more optimistic when booking pre-final accommodation this year.
11:39 Arrive at Paddington. Wave scarf aloft and chant like a monkey.
11:48 Pay £4 to sing drunken songs in squashed carriages on the way to the new Wembley Park tube station.
12:31 Join massive crowds pouring (very slowly) down Wembley Way towards the new stadium. Resist buying a Heavenly Hotdog.
12:46 Finally enter the hallowed portals of the vastly-expensive over-budget ridiculously-late New Wembley Stadium. Try to ignore these facts and look to the future.
13:16 A trained snifferdog pokes around inside your rucksack and confiscates your illegal packed lunch.
13:19 Someone semi-official rips the stub off your £95 ticket and points the way through three concrete tunnels towards seat QQ43A-21b.
13:30 Ooh, just in time, the entertainment's starting. Some old men walk across the pitch and wave.
13:50 Some more old men walk across the pitch and blow trumpets. Maybe this would be a good time to go and buy a souvenir programme and a burger.
13:58 Ah, maybe now wouldn't be a good time to go and buy a souvenir programme and a burger, not without taking out a mortgage first.
14:05 Prince William walks across the pitch and waves. He introduces a "lost child" public information film on the big plasma screen, and then ties a yellow ribbon to the FA Cup so that the News of the World can take photos.
14:15 Next on the big plasma screen are edited highlights of this season's FA Cup qualifiers. It's just like watching Match of the Day at home, only further away and considerably more expensive.
14:45 The Red Arrows fly over the stadium, drowning out Abide With Me. One of the planes flies underneath the arch, just for a laugh.
15:00 The football match begins. Two dull over-rated teams are playing, so we'll not go into detail here.
15:49 It's half time. Quick, make your way to one of the extensive banks of urinals before the queue builds up. The queue for the single hand-dryer, that is.
15:58 Microwaved pie and a plastic cup full of frothy pumped lager? For £8.50? Er, no thanks, I think not.
16:05 Second half. There's a red goal and a blue goal, but maybe not in that order. Grown men yell and scream. Jose and Sir Alex glare at one another.
16:56 Extra time. Well, at least that's 33% better value for money.
17:33 Penalties! Somebody in the royal box turns to the person next to them and asks what the rules of this bit are.
17:47 We have a winner! Grown men cry. Doctor Who is going to be half an hour later than scheduled now, you bastards.
17:53 The winning team are still climbing the steps to the royal box to collect the cup. Come on, hurry up! Jose and Sir Alex are throwing clods of pristine turf at one another.
17:58 The winning captain runs up to the nearest block of spectators, puts the cup on his head and grins. Like nobody's ever done that before.
18:37 Still trying to get out of the stadium, through hordes of drunken cheering beer monsters. Which is a right miserable thing to have to do when your team just lost.
22:00 The Chairman of the FA smiles, locks the takings in the safe and drives home. At last, the new Wembley Stadium is truly open for business.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Sorry, this ticket office is closed
You didn't want to buy a ticket from the ticket office, did you? Sorry, but by the end of the year that won't be possible at one-sixth of the stations on the London Underground network. TfL is bringing down the shutters, permanently, at another 40 lesser-used tube stations, to match the five ticket offices they shut down last year. You can blame Oyster cards for these latest closures. Now that most of us swipe and swish our way around the tube, there's no longer any need for people to sit behind glass screens waiting for us to ignore them.
There'll still be TfL staff at these 45 stations, of course, but they won't be able to sell you a ticket. They can direct you towards a ticket machine, or point the way to a newsagents down the road where they have an Oyster card reader, but they can't physically give you a piece of cardboard in exchange for money. These displaced staff will probably end up guiding mums with pushchairs through the sidegate instead. Or sitting in a back room watching 75 CCTV cameras. Or getting sacked. Such is the price of automated advancement.
Ticket offices to close by the end of 2007 (or already closed)
Bakerloo: Regent's Park
Central: West Ruislip, Ruislip Gardens, South Ruislip, Perivale, West Acton; Barkingside, Fairlop, (Grange Hill), (Chigwell), (Roding Valley), Buckhurst Hill, Debden, (Theydon Bois)
Circle: Temple, Mansion House, Cannon Street
District: Chiswick Park, Ravenscourt Park, Wimbledon Park, East Putney; Upney, Becontree, Hornchurch, (Upminster Bridge)
Hammersmith & City: Goldhawk Road, Latimer Road, Royal Oak
Jubilee: Canons Park
Metropolitan: Chesham, Chorleywood, Croxley, Moor Park, Northwood Hills, North Harrow, West Harrow, Ruislip, Ickenham
Northern: Totteridge & Whetstone, West Finchley, Mill Hill East
Piccadilly: Sudbury Hill, Park Royal, North Ealing, Boston Manor
Look at some of those stations whose ticket offices are permanently closing. The list includes 10% of the Circle line (including a central London rail terminus), two-thirds of Ruislip and most of the eastern end of the Central line. Then there's Regent's Park, currently closed for redevelopment, but which will be reopening in the summer with its ticket office designed out of existence. I'm particularly sorry to see Croxley station go, because I bought scores of tickets there as a child. And that's not the end of the closure list. Some stations with more than one ticket office, such as Seven Sisters and Oxford Circus, will be losing one of them. They're even closing the eastern ticket office at Canary Wharf - the gleaming new ticket office beneath the Canada Square entrance, opened a mere three years ago - which now seems like a ghastly waste of money. And then there's weekends...
Ticket offices to close at weekends (or on Sundays)
Central: Sudbury Town; Wanstead, Hainault
Circle: (Baker Street), (Great Portland Street), (Euston Square), (Barbican)
District: Bow Road, Bromley By Bow, (Dagenham Heathway), Dagenham East, Elm Park
Hammersmith & City: (Shepherds Bush), Westbourne Park
Metropolitan: Chalfont & Latimer, (Rickmansworth), (Watford), (Northwood), (Pinner), (Northwick Park), (Eastcote), (Ruislip Manor), (Hillingdon)
Northern: Mornington Crescent, Goodge Street
Piccadilly: South Harrow, (Alperton)
More than a quarter of London's tube stations will be ticket-office-free on Sundays by the end of the year. There won't be a single ticket window open between Harrow on the Hill and Amersham on the Metropolitan line, or between Barking and Upminster on the District. These are all ticket offices which no tourist would dream of using, of course, frequented by limited numbers of everyday Londoners with online-purchased Oysters. Should anyone else hope to visit, I just hope that a local newsagent is open instead.
And there's more. A further list of stations will also see their ticket offices closed on weekday afternoons when demand is lighter. Take my local tube station, for example, which serves more than 3½ million passengers a year. The ticket office at Bow Road will soon be closing between 10am and 4pm, in addition to early mornings, and evenings, and all of Saturday, and all of Sunday. Spot the difference...
2005 2007 2008 Mon - Fri all day 0600-1930 0600-1000
Saturday all day 0700-2030 closed Sunday all day 0930-1930 closed
» Full closure information at tubeworker's blog
» Check current opening hours at your local station on TfL's interactive map
» Petition against London Underground ticket office closures
Thursday, May 17, 2007
London in pictuers
Arnold Road, off Bow Road, E3.
Monday, May 14, 2007
26 weeks later
It never takes long for the past to disappear. Six months ago Greenwich's finest pie shop served up its last plate of pastry and gloop, closing the doors on a family business dating back over a century. As owner Jeff Goddard commented here at the time, selling off the shop came from "a genuine desire for some work-life balance", allowing him and his brother to spend more time with their small children. I do hope he's enjoying his retirement, and his pay-off, and that his proposed online pie service (the one he was planning for Easter) finally materialises.
And now Goddards is gone . A New Zealand burger franchise has stepped in, as threatened, and given the 19th century shop a 21st century makeover. The tiled serving area at the rear of the restaurant has been removed, and the church-hall-style pews and tables replaced by something a little more IKEA. The gnarled glass panels in the front window have been upgraded to something flatter, and the display of fine fruit pies has vanished in favour of a blu-tacked restaurant review. Check the menu today and you'll discover that traditional beef pie and mash (£2.20) has been replaced by Garlic Mayo burgers, falafel and chorizo (£7+). Try not to cry.
The new establishment is, of course, heaving with patrons. The centre of Maritime Greenwich is a renowned tourist hotspot, and many of those walking the streets have no knowledge of the renowned stodge palace formerly trading here. People are tempted inside by the franchise's deviously brilliant name - Gourmet Burger Kitchen. See what they've done there? Diners often feel guilty about their love of cholesterol-dripping burgers, so here the word is sandwiched between two blatant hints at sophistication and wholesomeness. And people are tempted back inside when they discover that the burgers are actually rather nice. But they're not pies, so I'll not be sampling them myself thanks.
I'll leave reviewing the new restaurant to local blogger The Greenwich Phantom, who seems at least ambivalently positive about the experience. But I still miss the opportunity to clog my arteries with piecrust, dollops of potato and mushy peas. 2006 already seems so long ago.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I've just spotted my perfect taxi
(apart from the fact that it's green)
(and is covered in ugly adverts)
Seen in Lauriston Road, Hackney
(parked outside a restaurant)
(just north of Victoria Park)
But don't bother checking regfind.com
(I saw TAX5Y the other day too)
Thursday, May 10, 2007
How not to write a press release
London Assembly Liberal Democrat Dee Doocey yesterday issued a perfect example of how to not to write a press release. You might want to have the offending article to hand as we proceed.8/10 OF LONDON'S TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS WILL LACK DISABLED TUBE ACCESS FOR 2012 GAMESLet's start with a lie...
12.07.15pm BST (GMT +0100) Wed 9th May 2007Liberal Democrat research has revealed that eight of London's top tourist attractions will not be accessible to disabled visitors by the time of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.Now, stop me if I'm wrong, but top tourist attractions such as the London Eye and the National Portrait Gallery are already fully accessible to wheelchair visitors. What Dee's really talking about is the lack of step-free access at the nearest tube station. But that doesn't make for quite such an arresting opening sentence, does it? She makes exactly the same error in her next sentence.Top sites identified by Visit London, such as the Tate Galleries and the British Museum, are not on the programme of refurbishment to include disabled access until 2020.In the full version of her press release, Dee helpfully lists the top 10 tourist attractions she's talking about. Unfortunately it's not the same list given on the Visit London page that she links to. She's included Tate Britain, which isn't one of the top 10, and she's missed out St Paul's Cathedral, which is. Well done Dee.Commenting on the findings, Liberal Democrat Olympics Spokesperson on the London Assembly, Dee Doocey, said: "In six years time, London will be hosting the greatest of all sporting events.Oh dear, Dee. Let's try some elementary arithmetic. It's currently five years until 2012, not six. Unless there's some big event happening in 2013 that none of the rest of us know about.The Mayor talks a lot about an inclusive London, so why isn't he working flat out to get key stations like Charing Cross and Tottenham Court Road accessible to all passengers?Maybe because it's bloody expensive, Dee. Have you visited either of those two stations? They're sprawling underground warrens with deep level platforms, carved out beneath our streets more than 100 years ago with scant regard for 21st century accessibility legislation. Much as I'm sure Ken would love to install lifts here, there's no easy way of doing so without drilling down through subterranean infrastructure beneath existing buildings. And that costs. How much higher would you like our council tax to be?Disabled athletes and visitors to the Games travelling on the Javelin trains from Stratford to St Pancras will not be able to continue their journey into central London to visit the capital's top attractions because most of the Tube stations either have steps or escalators. They won't even be able to use Piccadilly or Oxford Circus.And here's Dee's greatest deceit. Disabled athletes and visitors to the Games will be able to continue their journey into central London from St Pancras - just not by tube. The number 10 bus goes from Kings Cross to the museums in South Kensington, the 91 to the National Gallery, the 45 to Tate Modern and the 17 to St Paul's. Riding on a bus may not be as comfortable as taking the tube, but it's not an impossible journey. TfL have spent millions providing London with a fully accessible bus network, providing greater mobility across the capital than upgrading 275 tube stations ever could. It's patronising drivel to suggest that disabled access to major tourist attractions should be based solely on facilities at the nearest tube station.The Mayor plans to make 27 Tube stations step-free by 2012 - most of them are in outer London. It is time he ordered a major re-think on priorities and got work started on the stations that will really matter for the Olympics."No Dee, how dare you impose your misplaced priorities on the people of London. What's wrong with creating accessible stations in the suburbs? It's where most of us live, and a few well-spaced accessible hubs could have just as much long-term impact on capital mobility. There really is no point in spending millions of pounds on a handful of central stations purely because they happen to be located next to ten tourist attractions you found on a list on the internet. And certainly not just for the benefit of four weeks' worth of tourists who'll probably be watching sport in the Olympic Park anyway. And who could always catch a bus.ENDSAll of us support increased accessibility on the tube, but no magic wand can achieve this overnight. There's definitely a cause to champion here, but Dee's campaign has missed the point. Her imaginary 2012 deadline is an illusion, her disregard of bus travel is a deliberate misdirection, and her insistence on prioritising tourists is an insult to London's million-plus disabled residents. Still, that's how not to write a press release. I hope you found it illustrative.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Good news for the cyclists of London! From next Monday you'll no longer need an official permit to cycle along canal towpaths. What do you mean, you never knew you needed an official permit in the first place? Oh yes. Canal towpaths aren't a public right of way, so previously you were supposed to request a Cycling Permit from British Waterways before venturing onto the towpath. I'd be amazed if anybody biking around London ever bothered, or if any official ever checked. But no more. British Waterways have recognised that the current regulations are unenforceable, and are withdrawing the need for unnecessary documentation. Hurrah! Except that in its place they're introducing another unworkable scheme for cyclists, called Two Tings...
Ting your bell twice...
...pass slowly, be nice!
Use a bell and ring it twice when approaching a pedestrian. This will provide a signal that you are there and waiting to pass when it is safe to do so.
Yes, it's a whole new towpath etiquette based on bell-ringing. But that's never going to work, surely? As a pedestrian my natural instinct is to interpret bell-ringing cyclists on towpaths as rude and impatient, not polite and courteous. Why is he double-tinging at me, the self-obsessed two-wheeled speed demon?! Only if I've been paying attention to British Waterways publicity will I realise that I now have towpath priority, and that this cyclist merely wants to detour slowly around me as soon as a "safe opportunity" arises. I'll believe such angelic behaviour when I see it.
In another sudden change of heart, London's canalside pedallers are now permitted to cycle under bridges. They always used to cycle under bridges anyway, gleefully ignoring all the "dismount" signs, but from Monday they can ignore these with impunity. Just as long as they ting twice before
careering headlongriding slowly into the darkness.
British Waterways are piloting a completely new Towpath Code of Conduct in London, aimed at both cyclists and pedestrians. Essentially this is an exercise in canalside civility, with all towpath users being asked to be jolly nice to one another and to say thank you every time they pass someone. There's a 1950s-style innocence to the regulations, as if they were written by a cub scout leader or Blue Peter presenter, but also a recognition that the Two Tings concept is fatally flawed.
Cyclists: Be aware that some pedestrians may have visual or hearing impairments and might not hear your Two Tings.
Pedestrians: We advise you not to use headphones at peak times so you can hear a cyclist's Two Tings.
So cyclists can't rely on their tings being heard, and iPod-plugged joggers are taking their life in their hands every time they run along a canal towpath. That's not clever, is it? These are over-optimistic guidelines, relying on every bike having a bell (which they don't) and every towpath user knowing the new rules (which they won't). But I thought I'd let you know. Just in case you wanted to rip up your old British Waterways cycling permit and start tinging.
London's Towpath Code of Conduct (pdf)
Attend a Two Tings Awareness Event (the next one is tomorrow morning in Islington)
Apply for a British Waterways cycling permit (still needed on towpaths outside London)
further comment from Granny Buttons
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
A clickable map of London blogs (one per borough)
Waltham Forest Redbridge Hillingdon Harrow
Ham & Fulham
Ken & Chelsea
Barking & Dag Richmond Wandsworth
Bexley Kingston Sutton Croydon Bromley
(blogs must recognisably represent their home locality)
Sunday, May 06, 2007
London Journeys: Around the Dome
Six years ago, after 366 not-quite Amazing Days, the Millennium Dome closed its turnstiles to an underwhelmed public. The twelve themed zones were stripped out, the talented trapeze artists sought employment elsewhere, and the site was turned over to a handful of lonely security guards. Since then southeast London's biggest tent has been silently mothballed, awaiting imminent rebirth as a sponsored "entertainment hub". But it's still possible to walk or cycle around the fenced perimeter to view what remains of all that misplaced 21st century optimism.
It takes at least half an hour to circumnavigate the Dome on foot, around the tip of the North Greenwich peninsula. But the start of the route isn't easy to find. Emerge from the purple-tiled bowels of the vast Jubilee line station and stride ahead across the bus station. Beyond the coffee kiosk is Millennium Way, a woefully untrafficked dual carriageway, and beyond that a small opening in the fence signposted to the "Thames Path". This way please.
Access Drawdock Road by strolling brazenly through a long-abandoned security barrier. Once this was the tradesmen's entrance into the Millennium Experience - now it's just a deserted lane descending into the Thames down a litter-strewn cobbled ramp. The surrounding ex-industrial landscape is bleak and barren, although compulsory purchase orders pinned to surrounding lampposts hint at the imminent arrival of unaffordable highrise housing. A large concrete mushroom reveals itself as "Ventilation Shaft 4" for the Blackwall Tunnel immediately below. Through the blue fence to your right are hard-hatted workers preparing for another busy day inside the old Dome constructing new cinemas and coffee shops. And all the time twelve spiky yellow masts dominate the skyline.
At the river's edge pause and peruse the broad sweep of the meandering Thames. Directly opposite loom the tall glass towers of Docklands, intermingled with cranes where one day will rise further financial foothills. Boats and waterfowl glide through the grey-brown waters. Mini-jets departing from City Airport interrupt the silence, visible overhead through a web of guy ropes. Occasionally a keen cyclist might speed by, or a puffing jogger stagger past, but otherwise expect to have the whole glorious waterfront to yourself.
Soon, through the buddleia, comes a first glimpse inside the grounds of the old Dome proper. Here, across a forlorn fenced-off piazza, the Greenwich Meridian slices through the farthest edge of the Millennium site. The zero degree line was marked in 2000 by a red laser emerging beneath a giant mirror set in a green "Living Wall". But the red light has long been turned off, the mirror reflects little but grime and the dead wall is slowly becoming a weatherbeaten pile of concrete slabs. No longer can visitors stand beside "Kodak Photo Point 18" to take cherished souvenir snapshots (nor, I suspect, did they ever bother). Four metal meridian lines remain, for the time being at least, edged by inspirational international poems etched in granite. Had the government awarded its super-casino licence to the Dome's new owners, the whole of this derelict area would have been wiped away by an ugly multi-storey hotel complex. For now, however, this ground level millennial folly survives.
The meridian enters the Thames at Ordnance Jetty, a ramshackle pier transformed into a haven for estuarine wildlife. Saplings and grasses have established themselves on this windswept platform, along with two more sinister stalks atop which security cameras monitor passing miscreants. Downstream is moored the central cross-section of a cargo ship - a dramatic millennial sculpture entitled Slice of Reality. Along the next stretch of waterfront an extensive wetland environment has been created, complete with beautifully-crafted information panels detailing wildlife to watch out for. The Dome's developers succeeded in making this outdoor area both attractive and ecologically sustainable, only to see their efforts condemned by the failure of the interior attractions.
But now these forgotten riverside gardens have become part of an enormous building site. As the deadline of July's re-opening approaches, so lorries and JCBs have encroached upon this reedy grassland. Piles of palletts and pipes and poles lie stacked up around the perimeter of Richard Rogers' scalloped roof, each programmed to become part of some restaurant, club or boutique. A whole streetful of buildings in the new "Entertainment District" must be fitted out before Justin Timberlake sings, lest hordes of adoring fans have nowhere to buy handbags and knock back vodkas after his first show. How much of this wetland environment will survive the grand opening it's hard to tell, but one would hope not all will be swept away beneath some outdoor terraced café-bar.
The Thames Path continues south past Millennium Pier, a striking blue jetty with pasta-shell canopy. At the pier's tip, directly across the river from the scrap mountains of Silvertown, stands a beguiling metal sculpture. Anthony Gormley's Quantum Cloud conceals an illusory character deep within its steel-barred heart (perhaps a ferryman still waiting for the flood of passenger traffic that never materialised). In the distance, beyond bobbing yachts and acres of prime undeveloped real estate, the river opens out towards Woolwich Reach and the Thames Barrier.
Eventually a sideroad leads back to the tube station, past the temporary hangars of the David Beckham Academy. Pause in the disused coach park to absorb one last close-up view of the Dome's exterior, across the repaved plaza that will shortly become "Peninsula Square". Here the new owners have chosen to erect a 45 foot stainless steel spike, as if somehow the Dome's original dozen rooftop spikes weren't quite sufficient on their own.
They have strange ideas, the new owners, not least of which is that Londoners will choose to rename this revamped white elephant after a tiny oxygen molecule. I'm sure fun-seekers will arrive in their droves when the security fences come down in two months time, and I look forward to the successful reopening of this iconic site. But, no matter what revenue-raising sideshows they lay on for me within, I suspect I shall always prefer the walk around the edge.
Originally featured in Time Out Magazine London [17 January 2007], slightly revised