Sunday, April 29, 2007

Eat London

» Copy an idea that worked well in Melbourne three years ago
» Divide up central London into 14 grid squares
» Gather together community groups from across London, and share out one square each
» Get each group to plan special recipes for the iconic buildings therein
» Bake a range of native and ethnic foods representing diverse cultures
» Ooh look, a Gherkin made out of grapes, Tower Bridge built from stacked samosas, and an Elephant and Castle chocolate fudge cake
» Mmm, the Houses of Parliament constructed from cucumber sandwiches and the London Eye as a giant pizza with red pepper capsules
» Pile everything up on 14 big trolleys and wheel into the middle of Trafalgar Square
» Make speeches, bang drums and take photographs
» Wheel sections back to tents around the perimeter of the square and feed to a ravenous public
» Oi, stop pushing in you annoying teenagers, there's enough for everyone
» Hmm, how long have these sandwiches and sausage rolls been left out in 20° heat?
» Hmm, all that spray from the fountains flying everywhere, surely that can't be healthy either?
» And the pigeons! Surely Health and Safety should have something to say about the pigeons
» I wonder how much of this food they'll end up throwing away at four o'clock
» Oh never mind, London's never tasted better

A slice of Elephant and a chunk of Castle (from edible grid square C4)

 Sunday, April 22, 2007

London Journeys: Last mile of the marathon

The final mile of the annual London Marathon is a visual treat for any athlete. Along the Embankment opposite the Eye, past the Palace of Westminster across Parliament Square, then round St James's Park to end in the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Inspirational.

But in six years' time, when the Olympics come to the capital, the summer marathon route will be very different. Athletes will still pass Westminster and Buck House, just rather earlier in their journey. The Olympic marathon has to end up at the main stadium, and if that means the 2012 race terminates in a rundown East London backwater then so be it.

The world's finest marathon runners will begin their final approach to the new Olympic stadium atop the Bow Flyover. From here, if they're not too busy panting, they'll have a grandstand view of the amazing multi-million pound transformation which has been wrought across the Lower Lea Valley. Ahead will be a short jog through the new Olympic Park past crowds of waving spectators, and maybe everlasting glory. But the view looks nothing like this yet.

Try to follow the final mile of the 2012 marathon today and you may be less than impressed. Stratford High Street is not yet a gleaming cosmopolitan boulevard. Its southern flank is lined by a motley collection of rundown industrial units and half-forgotten shops. Opposite, on the Olympic side of the street, the boarded-up factories are being slowly replaced by new riverside apartment blocks where incomers can 'Live the Lock Lifestyle'. A glut of 'For Sale' boards and a Porsche showroom hint that the area has already started heading upmarket, albeit painfully slowly.

The marathon route veers off from the main road atop the Northern Outfall Sewer. This Victorian engineering marvel supports a long-distance footpath called the Greenway (although, given the stream of slurry running beneath, 'Brownway' would perhaps be more appropriate). In 2012 this spot will mark the southern entrance to the Olympic Park, thronged with spectators lining up to be securely frisked. For now, however, it's just a smelly sewer-top path beneath two pylons, frequented by dogwalkers and the occasional underage moped rider.

Brambles and buddleia encroach upon the path as it slips through overgrown wasteland between the braided Bow Back Rivers. Soon the tracks of the Great Eastern block the way, barring access to a thin strip of railway sidings beyond. Until a new land bridge can be built across the railway (due 2011), the only way to trace the future marathon northward is to retrace your steps and follow an even quieter lower footpath beside the City Mill River.

Here, in reed-filled pools of vibrant green, moorhens glide and dip in search of abundant food. Here, in dark shadows beneath the railway arches, clouds of dragonflies dart across silent waters. Here, in thick undergrowth adjoining the riverside path, a community of small mammals live out their lives unseen beneath the rustling foliage. And here, in just a few months time, Olympic bulldozers will arrive on site to erase the lot.

Across the water, a large area of existing light industry also faces imminent demolition. Future marathon runners will cross the river through the middle of what is currently a long wooden warehouse guarded by a lone yappy dog. They'll enter the stadium to the cheers of tens of thousands of spectators sitting on top of a dismantled fish-filleting factory. They'll run the last few hundred yards round the track through the site of a former waste management facility. And they'll cross the finishing line beside the ex-forecourt of a Mercedes-Benz service centre. It's hardly the Mall, but it'll have to do.

Time is running out if you want to follow the last mile of the marathon for yourself. In July a big security fence will be erected around the perimeter of the future Olympic site and all public access will be closed off. Do try to visit this wild and unique landscape before then, if you possibly can, before the whole area is cleansed and sanitised in readiness for a billion-strong global TV audience. The Lower Lea Valley will look mighty impressive on your plasma screen in 2012, that's for sure, but some might argue it looks far lovelier today.

Originally featured in Time Out Magazine London [13 December 2006]

 Sunday, April 15, 2007

Random borough (13): Tower Hamlets

Time once again for me to take another random trip to one of London's 33 boroughs. I spent Saturday trawling around my own backyard, in the historic borough of Tower Hamlets. This is the traditional East End of London, stretching from the City to the River Lea and from the Regent's Canal down to the Thames. It's been the slum end of town for several centuries - where the poor have always lived and where immigrants have always settled. Much of this multicultural borough remains locked in relative poverty, although there are also several pockets of great wealth, especially in the modern financial powerhouse of Docklands. Tower Hamlets may no longer be full of Cockneys, Pearly Queens and people who go round saying "cor blimey guv'nor" all the time, but at least there's still room for a diamond geezer. Ahh, there's no place like home.

www.flickr.com: Tower Hamlets gallery

Somewhere historic: The Tower of London
Despite what you may have thought, the Tower of London isn't in the City of London, it's in Tower Hamlets. How else did you think the borough got its name? William the Conqueror built his great White Tower just outside the walls of the City, in a defensive position beside the Thames. This was London's first highrise building, standing nearly 30 metres tall, and dominating the medieval skyline. Over subsequent centuries the scale of the castle was enlarged, first with one high surrounding wall and then another, until eventually the structure contained a full 20 towers encircled by a deep protective moat [photo]. In Tudor times the Tower became less of a fortress and royal residence and more of a prison and armoury. But only seven prisoners were ever executed here - two of them wives of Henry VIII, and another the unfortunate nine-day queen Lady Jane Grey. Other, less high-profile, prisoners were executed in full public view up on the grassy hump of Tower Hill. And yes, that's (just) in Tower Hamlets too.

Visiting the Tower used to be a one-way ticket - shipped in at high tide through Traitors Gate and locked away in a dingy castle turret to await your fate. Now they let you out again afterwards, but you have to pay £16 for the privilege. Unless you're a Tower Hamlets resident, that is. We're allowed in for a quid, but only during the winter months and only on production of a library or leisure centre card. I didn't have time to go in yesterday, but I did pay up and venture inside 18 months ago if you're interested, and I enjoyed my visit far more than I was expecting. [top tip: arrive early and go straight to the Crown Jewels display - you won't have to queue]

For the cheapskates amongst us, the only way to see the Tower is from the outside. Start on the new sloping concrete plaza leading down to the entrance, where you can watch a genial Beefeater conducting bag searches and rifling through French schoolkids' rucksacks. The souvenir shop is probably best avoided, unless you have a burning desire to own a Beefeater Toby Jug or a Crown Jewels tea towel. You can walk along the riverside cobbles right beside the Tower, peering up at the paying customers on the ramparts inside, although you do at least get to see Traitors Gate for nothing [photo]. Nip up onto Tower Bridge but don't expect a decent view from the centre, not once the riverside avenue of trees is in full leaf. Instead head away from the river and join the hordes of tourists taking photographs from the raised pavement, across the moat to the castellated rooftops beyond. And don't forget to look down into the moat itself, where you should see the Tower seesaw, the Tower roundabout, the Tower climbing frame and the Tower swings [photo]. There's even a neglected Tower tennis court down there, presumably used by the Beefeaters and their families when they think nobody's looking [photo]. Those who've paid £16 don't get to see these gems, oh no, they just get eight ravens with clipped wings, some armour and a few big diamonds.

Plan in advance and it's even possible to visit the Tower for free. There's a catch - you have to arrive at 9:30pm and you can only stay for 35 minutes. But you do get to see the famous Ceremony of the Keys, performed nightly every single day for the last 700 years, before gruff Yeoman Warders eject you from the premises. One day I really must send in my name (and a stamped addressed envelope) and see if they'll allow me to attend. After all, I am local.
by train: Tower Hill by bus: 15

Somewhere pretty: a riverside walk
If you're seeking prettiness in Tower Hamlets, it's probably best to head for the edge of the borough. To Victoria Park or the River Lea, for example - much more scenic than an exhaust-choked stroll down the Whitechapel Road. I headed south and went for a walk along the Thames, from St Katharine's Dock to Limehouse (via Wapping). If you're interested in following in my footsteps, the council has an excellent leaflet to help you spot all the interesting bits along the way.
by DLR: Tower Gateway, Limehouse;  by tube: Wapping;  by bus: 100, D3

St Katharine's Dock: The westernmost of London's old docks, hidden beside Tower Bridge behind some of the ugliest hotels in town, now transformed into a marina for yachting millionnaires [photo]. Tourists come to ogle the floating wealth, to spend money in nautically-themed boutiques and to get a completely wrong picture of what British life is like. All the genuine locals are of course shopping at Waitrose, just round the corner.

Cinnabar Wharf: Every new riverside development round here is called "Something Wharf", in memory of the demolished warehouse on top of which 300 yuppies are now living. Pick the right apartment and there are some excellent views along the river towards Limehouse or Tower Bridge [photo]. But I'm not sure how residents ever get any sleep, what with the incessant river traffic and all the geese honking outside their windows.

Wapping: There are several faces to Wapping. At first glance it's all cobbled streets, old pubs and historic dockside warehouses. Look more carefully and you'll spot narrow alleyways leading down to the river, and forgotten churchyards, and converted pumping stations, and the river police heading out on another crime-busting mission, and some rather large council blocks just inland. I can see why people choose to live here.

Ratcliff: Once a notorious dockers' haunt, this original Tower hamlet has been wiped from the map. Slum clearance (and the building of the Rotherhithe Tunnel) ripped the heart out of the area so convincingly that you may never have even heard of the place. One survivor, in name only, is Free Trade Wharf - now a huge residential block which looks like a half-constructed brick wall [photo].

Limehouse: Narrow Street is one of the most sought-after addresses in the East End. Sir Ian McKellen lives here, as does Sir David Owen, and probably several other Sirs to boot. The street's famed for its old pubs and restaurants - and Gordon Ramsay's just moved into one at the southern tip of Limehouse Basin [photo]. Yesterday's menu at The Narrow offered cock-a-leekie pie and mash for £8.50, and braised faggots with peas and gravy for £9.50. I was almost tempted (although I prefer to pay less than £2.75 for my chips).

Somewhere famous: Canary Wharf
The centre of Docklands is pretty quiet on a Saturday. The offices in the skyscrapers are empty, the financial folk are elsewhere and it's even possible to get a seat on the Jubilee line. But it's not completely quiet, not like the City of London gets at weekends. The shops beneath One Canada Square are a great draw for the richer elements of the surrounding community, and the wharfside walkways and bridges make ideal jogging circuits for panting fitness freaks. The weekend brings out the tourists too, here to marvel at the alien glass and steel landscape, like a chunk of transplanted Manhattan. Few places in Britain have been transformed quite so radically as these few acres of former marshland.

25 years ago it was really quiet here, even on weekdays. The West India Docks had just closed, made obsolete by containerisation, and the entire Isle of Dogs looked likely to become a forgotten post-industrial backwater. And then in April 1982 the newly created London Docklands Development Corporation formally designated the area an Enterprise Zone, and set about convincing big businesses that the location had something to offer. A 50-storey central tower was erected (still Britain's tallest habitable building, and still wrecking my TV reception) and the Docklands Light Railway was built to tackle the area's poor accessibility. A property crash in the early 90s forced the Canadian developers into bankruptcy, but a new consortium finally made the place profitable, helped out by the arrival of the Jubilee line extension in 1999. Today they can't build new skyscrapers fast enough. City banks, insurance groups, big media players - they're all out here forming London's new financial nucleus.
full Canary Wharf history

I took the opportunity to wander round some of the newer bits of Docklands in search of public art and good camera angles. There are a lot of modern sculptures littered around the various walkways and plazas (this map shows you where to look), some of them vaguely humanoid, some of them more abstract. Many are by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj including a bandaged head outside the tube station and splendid centaur in Churchill Place [photo]. But my favourite remains Pierre Vivant's Traffic Light Tree - a mass of blinking red, amber and green lights sprouting between two plane trees [photo]. The artwork has been placed slap bang in the centre of a roundabout, but local traffic is wise enough to ignore it.

Down on the quayside at West India Quay I visited an old boat given a new lease of life as a "visual literacy centre" (if that's not a contradiction in terms). This is the SS Robin [photo], the world's last remaining steamcoaster. She was built in 1890 in Bow Creek, but spent most of her working life chugging coal around northern Spain. Now retired and restored, she houses an exhibition space below decks, complete with mini bookshop, comfy sofa and under-frequented bar. I was welcomed aboard and got to look around the latest exhibition of 24 photographs, each depicting a different hour of New Year's Day. And I was thanked on my exit a few minutes later, even though I hadn't spent long interacting with the facilities. Worth a visit more to see the boat itself than its contents, I thought.
by tube or DLR: Canary Wharf

Somewhere sporty: Bow Industrial Park
The 2012 Olympic Park straddles the corner of four London boroughs. The lion's share of the stadia, including the Aquatic Centre and the main Olympic Stadium, will be in Newham. Hackney gets the hockey and the handball. Waltham Forest gets a few specialist Paralympic facilities. And Tower Hamlets? We get the basketball. We're 'aving 'oops.

Only a tiny sliver of Tower Hamlets falls within the boundaries of the Olympic Park. The borough only has to sacrifice a thin strip of land, sandwiched inbetween two branches of the River Lea and the Silverlink railway (with the old C4 Big Breakfast house surviving unscathed at the southern tip [photos]). The majority of the land needed for 2012 is covered by the Bow Industrial Park - a very ordinary row of metal warehouse sheds like those you might find on the outskirts of any major town. I'd not dared to venture here before but, spurred on by my random-picked borough duties, I strolled brazenly past the security barrier and was promptly ignored by the guard. There wasn't much to see down the back of the warehouses - just a corrugated metal wall with tiny rear access doors, into which the occasional weekend employee disappeared. Across the road, behind another fence, lay the distribution centre for a nationwide wrought iron supplier. And round the front 30 major industrial units, each doomed to no more than three months of continued business. I spotted newspaper printers, timber merchants, glass manufacturers along with various other unidentifiable companies. Plus one quite surprising upmarket inhabitant - the Royal Opera House. A long pink lorry trailer was parked up outside unit 18, and on its side the Opera House's official gold logo [photo]. Presumably this is where the company's ballet costumes are stored, or where their operatic scenery is constructed and assembled. I hope they have somewhere else to go. Olympic shutdown begins in July, then five years of remediation and rebuilding before a brand new basketball stadium opens its doors on this site. Thirty industries relocated for the sake of a sport you probably won't even be watching come 2012. But hey, it's enough to make Tower Hamlets an Olympic borough. Slamdunk.
by train: Hackney Wick by bus: 276

Somewhere retail: Brick Lane
I was spoilt for choice trying to select "somewhere retail" in Tower Hamlets, because this East End borough is famed for its street markets. Except on Saturdays, that is. Spitalfields market is open every day except Saturdays. Columbia Road flower market and Petticoat Lane market are only open on Sundays. Whitechapel market, Roman Road market and Chrisp Street market are full of cheap tat whatever the day of the week. And Brick Lane market, that's another Sundays-only experience. So I ignored the street markets and went to Brick Lane anyway.

As it turned out, I'd timed my visit well. A brightly-bedecked parade of children and adults were making their way up the street in celebration of the Bangladeshi New Year - Pahela Baishach. They wore white tunics and pinky-red saris, some sporting paper hats, others floral garlands. Several waved colourful placards depicting animals, birds and other festive symbols [photo]. The snaking crowd burst into song, bringing the shopowners and curryhouse proprietors of Brick Lane out into their doorways to smile and take photographs. The procession paused briefly outside the Jamme Masjid - the plain brick hall which, during its 250 year history, has always reflected the dominant immigrant group of the times [photo]. It's been a Huguenot church, a Methodist chapel and a Jewish synagogue, and is now a thriving mosque capable of accommodating 4000 worshippers. But never a Hindu temple. The parade headed off down a narrow sidestreet, and business in Bengali Brick Lane returned to normal.

Further north, the retail function of Brick Lane changes somewhat. There are fewer spicy restaurants and more cafe bars; fewer shops selling cheap Bangla staples and more boutiques pandering to tourist taste. A side alley through the Old Truman Brewery caters to an almost exclusively non-Asian clientele, dispensing designer clothing, unnecessary art and shiny scooters. Here the trendy 20-somethings gather to chatter excitedly and gobble down piles of noodly falafel goodness while sat at long collective tables [photo]. I'm more a fan of the pie stall in the courtyard of the Vibe Bar nextdoor, where the Mr Porky pie (with minty peas, mash and gravy) is to die for. But not on this occasion.

I headed on, past the road works, past the abandoned tube station, and past the pavement where every Sunday shameless bike thieves recycle their ill-gotten gains back to gullible members of the public. Right to the the top of Brick Lane where there's a unique fast food takeaway adored by generations of East Londoners. We're talking beigels, and more particularly we're talking hot salt beef bagels - the meat hacked on a chopping board by the window while you wait. On Saturday afternoon the queue was the shortest I've ever seen, and I managed to buy my beigel (and stodgy chocolate fudge cuboid) in one minute flat. Normally the queue stretches all the way down the counter, past shelves stacked with cakes, rolls and loaves, bends round in front of the open bakery at the rear, heads back up the opposite wall and spills out onto the street. Even at three in the morning (in fact, especially at three in the morning) there's usually a motley crowd of eager beigel connoisseurs lined up here in eager anticipation of an inexpensive hole-some treat. But be warned - there are two beigel shops here in very close proximity. Both are equally well-established, but one serves adequate fare while the other sells perfection. Brick Lane's like that, I guess, across a surprisingly wide range of international cuisine. Oh yes, there's so much more here than just curry.
by tube: Aldgate East by bus: 8, 388

Somewhere random: Lou and Andy's house
When Matt Lucas and David Walliams were filming the first series of Little Britain, they brought Andy Pipkin and his wheelchair to Tower Hamlets. Because most Tower Hamlets residents don't live in shiny skyscrapers or refurbished wharves. They live in council blocks, ordinary terraces and social housing. All of which made Globe Town, halfway between Bethnal Green and Bow, the perfect spot to place the imaginary community of Herby. It's here, amongst the tower blocks on the Cranbrook Estate, that all of Lou and Andy's domestic scenes were filmed.
"Tower blocks were introduced in Britain in the 1960s and were an instant success. People loved the sense of social alienation, entrapment, and the stench of urine in the lifts." (Tom Baker, 2003)
There are six tower blocks clustered on the Cranbrook estate, surrounded by lower flats and terraces in a sort of figure-of-8 shape around the perimeter. Some council architect, in an attempt to give the estate some "character", has nailed identical green rectangles all over the buildings in a starkly geometrical fashion. This may not be high class design, but it gives the estate a peculiarly collective style.

I didn't manage to find and photograph Lou and Andy's fictional residence whilst wandering around the Cranbrook estate at the weekend. I did track down a few likely candidates, but was frightened off on each occasion by the appearance of the man of the house in the front garden. One bloke was busy emptying his flat into the back of a truck, another taking his ferocious runty hound for a walk. A third was visible only from his bull-neck upwards, crouched on the concrete tinkering with the remains of a motorbike. Elsewhere three kids kicked a football across the threadbare grass, while a bored child threw bread out of St Gilles House in an over-successful attempt to attract pigeons to his windowsill. I passed a couple pushing a premature pushchair towards Victoria Park - he broad of belly, she wide of hip. But of a lank-haired carer pushing an ungrateful liar in an unnecessary wheelchair there was no sign. What a kerfuffle.
by tube: Bethnal Green  by bus: 8, D6

 Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Covent Garden centenary

Covent Garden stationToday is the 100th birthday of one of London's smallest, busiest and most pointless tube stations. Covent Garden station first opened on Thursday 11th April 1907, a few months later the rest of the central stretch of the Piccadilly line. This was only a small station, with a single staircase for entry and exit, sufficient to serve the local fruit and vegetable market and surounding West End backstreets. Leicester Square station was only 300 yards away, a mere four minute walk, but the line's owners still thought that opening a station at Covent Garden was a smart business move. They were right. Other "too close" stations on the Piccadilly line have long since closed (Down Street and York Road in 1932, and Brompton Road in 1934) but Covent Garden survives, and thrives.

tiles at Covent Garden stationTourists love to travel to Covent Garden station. "Ooh," they think. "How wonderful that the fruit and vegetable market has been converted into a shopping centre full of expensive trinkets. We must go there straight away and see the gold-painted mime artists and the juggling unicyclists." And then they get out their tube maps and spot Covent Garden station, and then they take a train there - despite the fact that it would very probably be quicker to walk. Whenever a Piccadilly line train stops at Covent Garden station, unnecessary hordes of tourists rush for the doors and pour out onto the platform in large numbers. They don't stop to admire the original custard and marmalade tiling on the walls. Instead they shuffle along the platform to queue for the lifts (or, if they're very silly they take the 193-step spiral staircase up to the surface instead and drop dead of exhaustion halfway up). Most Londoners know that this is one of the deepest stations on the tube network, and that exiting here is sheer folly. But not tourists.

Covent Garden station is used by 18 million people each year. It's the busiest station on the network not to have escalators and it's a real bottleneck, especially in the evenings and at weekends. In fact it's so bad that Transport for London are running a major campaign to try to persuade people not to use Covent Garden station at all. They'd rather we all got off somewhere else and walked the last bit of the journey instead. Maybe off at Holborn, to be followed by a nine-minute walk through hard-to-follow uninteresting backstreets. Maybe off at Charing Cross, to walk up the Strand and through to the southern edge of the market area. Or maybe off at Leicester Square, to make that 300-yard four-minute walk up Long Acre. There are special "Don't Follow The Crowd" notices on trains, "Don't Follow The Crowd" posters in stations and even "Don't Follow The Crowd" leaflets at ticket offices. It's a ridiculous idea - please walk a bit further because it might be quite interesting - and only a particularly stupid tourist would fall for it. But, as we know, tourists are stupid enough to take the tube to Covent Garden anyway, so it might just work.

 Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bus's, train's and apostrophe's

Sign on the old museumThey're dropping apostrophes at the new London Transport Museum. When the building in Covent Garden closed for redevelopment 18 months ago it was called London's Transport Museum. This wasn't exactly a catchy title, but it conveniently sidestepped the fact that London Transport isn't called London Transport any more. When the Museum finally reopens in the autumn its 's is to be dropped, and presumably the big gold sign on the front of the building will have to change too. As a prelude to this rebirth the new museum shop opened at the weekend. That's the London Transport Museum shop, you understand, not the London's Transport Museum shop. Do pay attention.

The new shop is no longer inside the Museum but nextdoor, inside a renovated cafe. It's a shiny glass-fronted store on two floors, much lighter and brighter than before, with a spacious atrium. The front of the store is given over to "stuff for kids" (crayons and Underground Ernie, anyone?), behind which there's a rather more tourist-targeted section. It's simple, they've just thought of a normal product (like a wallet, a bag or a set of cocktail glasses) and then slapped a London Transport roundel on it. This is why TfL's lawyers fight so hard to maintain their client's brand identity - so that the company can flog roundelled aprons, roundelled mouse mats and roundelled teapots at inflated prices. If you want a Tramlink-green mug, or some Victoria Coach Station flip flops, or a pair of Mind The Gap boxer shorts, you know where to come.

dodgy drawersLondoners in anoraks may feel slightly more at home upstairs around the shop's mezzanine. This is where the more specialist transport-related ephemera is located, with shelves of books about old branch lines, stacks of Routemaster DVDs and piles of four-wheeled diecast models. There's also a large moquette-covered seating area, although this was roped off at the weekend and its ultimate purpose wasn't clear. And then there's London Transport's famous collection of historic posters. These are stored within a long row of drawers along one wall, each labelled with the name of an old station and coloured accordingly. It makes for a strikingly effective display which is intriguing to scrutinise. Ongar and Quainton Road are long closed, aren't they, and ooh look that's on the DLR isn't it, and doesn't Barbican look nice in yellow? But hang on a second, someone's not done their research properly. Here's a snapshot of a small section of the wall, featuring five different apostrophied station names. Four may be correct, but the other is just plain embarrassing, isn't it? Hopefully some of the profit the new shop makes on selling pink PVC shoulder bags can go on replacing this offending thin strip of plastic, quickly, before anyone else notice's.

 Monday, April 02, 2007

Catchup: Manor Garden Allotments
Manor Garden Allotments
After 100 years of history, today's the day that the Manor Garden Allotments at the heart of the 2012 Olympic site are finally closed. Or at least that was the plan. The London Development Agency wanted everybody (and their vegetables) off the land today so that the site could be levelled and transformed into the central concrete walkway down the spine of the Olympic Park. But, what do you know, the allotments have had a reprieve. Until July. It's only another three months, but that's better than bulldozing several acres of fledgling potatoes and carrots before they've even had a chance to grow.

There have been several legal wrangles over the site, not least of which involves the LDA's complete inability to find an alternative allotment site for the Manor Gardens contingent. The initial plan was to relocate everyone to Leyton, but Waltham Forest Council put the kybosh on that. So yesterday's farewell 'Spring Party' at Manor Gardens turned instead into a muted celebration of temporary survival. Will the horticulturalists now manage to persuade the LDA to leave them in peace while the Olympic site is constructed all around them? Will London's 2012 Games take place with a central island of sheds, watering cans and cucumbers? Or, more likely, will the bulldozers be back in July to destroy all this year's crops just before they're ready to be harvested? Watch this space.

lifeisland - the Manor Gardens blog
Amanda's (49) photos of the Manor Gardens Allotments (give a real taste of the place)
my last report from Manor Gardens
Manor Gardens Allotments petition
map showing how the allotments fit into the Olympic Site

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