diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 17, 2018

This is Vittoria Wharf, on Fish Island, opposite the Olympic Park. It's a former Victorian warehouse, until recently used as artists studios. It's being demolished.

It's being demolished so that a new footbridge can be built. This new footbridge will replace an existing footbridge a couple of hundred metres upriver. The existing footbridge is less than four years old. The existing footbridge is to be replaced by a road bridge. It seems the London Legacy Company aren't particularly good at forward planning.

The new road bridge is needed to service the new neighbourhood of Sweetwater. Sweetwater is being squeezed into the space between the Olympic Stadium and The River Lea, south of the Overground and to the north of Old Ford Lock. All the land where Sweetwater will arise is now sealed off behind hoardings. A heck of a lot of new hoardings are going up at the moment.

This hoarding shows what the neighbourhood of East Wick will look like. East Wick will be squeezed into the space between the Olympic Park and The River Lea, north of the Overground and opposite to Hackney Wick. East Wick will have the same generic brick flats that everywhere else in London is getting. If this artist's impression is correct, its main shop will sell jumpers and handbags.

Workmen have been busy this month sealing off a long, thin section of the walkway across the centre of the Olympic Park, between the Copper Box and what will eventually be Sweetwater. This is so that a brand new road can be built, leading south from the Copper Box towards the western side of the stadium. Once that's finished, the existing Loop Road which runs closer to the river will be closed, and then built over. More riverside flats means more money for the developers, I guess.

The existing road curving down from the Copper Box to Carpenters Road will also be permanently closed. All traffic heading south will take the new route into Sweetwater, where another new link will be opened to the new road bridge that's currently a footbridge. This will allow vehicles to flow onto Fish Island. Here's more about the bridges, here's a map of the final layout, here's a map of the enabling works taking place over the next twelve months, and here's where more information will eventually appear.

Next time you walk between the south of the Olympic Park and the north, don't expect to see quite so many sweeping open spaces as before. This area was always intended for flats, so that's no surprise. But having transformed the road network hereabouts once for 2012, it does feel like someone's changed their mind since, and here we go again.

Cost to get from Zone 1 to Heathrow Airport by train

Heathrow Express*: £22.00 (off-peak), £25.00 (peak)
Heathrow Connect*: £10.30 (off-peak), £10.30 (peak) until 19th May 2018
TfL Rail/Crossrail**: £10.10 (off-peak), £10.20 (peak) from 20th May 2018
Piccadilly line: £3.10 (off-peak), £5.10 (peak)

* Oyster and Travelcards not valid.   ** Oyster and Travelcards valid.

Cost to get from Zone 1 to Heathrow Airport by road

Taxi: £48-£90
Coach: £10
Bus: £3.00 (or £1.50, if you play your Hopper right)
Nightbus: £1.50

Time to get from Zone 1 to Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Express: 15 minutes
Heathrow Connect: 30 minutes until 19th May 2018
TfL Rail/Crossrail: 30 minutes from 20th May 2018
Piccadilly line: 45 minutes
Taxi: 40-60 minutes
Coach: 40-60 minutes
Nightbus: 80 minutes
Bus: 120-150 minutes

Cost per minute (approx)

Heathrow Express: £1.50, Taxi: £1.20, Heathrow Connect: 34p, TfL Rail/Crossrail: 34p, Coach 20p, Piccadilly line: 6p, Bus/Nightbus: 2p

 Friday, March 16, 2018

I've had a go at walking round the Circle line.
That's the original loopy Circle line, not the extra spiral arm added in 2009.

It was a very interesting walk.
I wonder if you can guess how long it took?

n.b. I started at Aldgate, and walked clockwise.
n.b. I passed the 'main entrance' of all 27 stations on my circuit.
n.b. I attempted to follow the quickest walking route between stations.

n.b. I didn't run.
n.b. My walking speed is on the fast side of average.
n.b. I'm not averse to crossing a road on a red light.

I don't know if any of that changes your guess.


I thought I'd be able to walk it in one go. But somewhere around Notting Hill Gate I realised I'd been walking for ages without stopping and was quite tired, so I gave up and went home. I came back to walk the second half from Notting Hill Gate to Aldgate another day. This should mean my timings are more accurate, because I wasn't knackered and slower on the return journey. But blimey, it's a lot further round the Circle line than you think. Turns out it's a fifteen mile walk altogether. I wonder if that changes your guess again.

Here's a map showing how many minutes it took me to walk between each station. Times are in minutes.

You may be surprised how irregular all the timings are. Most of the gaps look roughly equal on the tube map, but real life turns out to be very different. Cannon Street, for example, is only three minutes away from the Circle line stations on either side. Meanwhile Sloane Square and High Street Kensington are about quarter of an hour away from their neighbours. The longest hike is from King's Cross St Pancras to Farringdon, which is well over a mile and took me 22 minutes. The average walking time between Circle line stations is nine minutes. Distances in the City and along the Embankment are generally shorter than elsewhere.

This geographical map gives a good idea of how irregular the Circle line actually is, and why the timings vary so much.

The Circle line is anything but a circle. Paddington isn't really the 'top left' station. Victoria is a lot further south than Embankment. Notting Hill Gate is actually the furthest station west, and King's Cross the furthest north. Walking from Farringdon to Blackfriars would be a lot quicker than catching a Circle line train. The long gap between King's Cross and Farringdon really ought to be filled by another station, if only TfL had an unlimited supply of money. The loop is really an amorphous wiggle. No wonder my Circle line orbit took so long.

Altogether my walk around the Circle line took me four hours and ten minutes.
That gives me a walking speed of about 3½ miles per hour.
A Circle line train completes the loop in approximately fifty-seven minutes.

I wouldn't get exactly the same results if I walked it again. The traffic would be different, and a long wait at a pedestrian crossing can really slow the timings down. Also, I was only recording the times between stations to the nearest minute, so some of them might round up a bit. I'd allow a margin of error of plus or minus a minute on all the individual figures. But four hours and ten minutes is probably about right overall.

You probably wouldn't get these timings if you walked it. You probably walk at a different speed to me. You'd probably follow a different route. Even crossing a road junction one way rather than another can add a minute on. There's no such thing as an absolute value.

But there are definitive walking times for how long it's supposed to take. TfL have a walking map they're very proud of, to encourage us all not to take the tube but to walk between neighbouring stations instead. How, I wondered, do TfL's official walking times vary to mine. The figures on this map provide the answer. The red numbers are TfL's times, and the blue numbers are my own.

Four of the times are identical, but generally TfL took a couple of minutes longer than me to walk between each station. Perhaps they were slower, or took a less direct route, or had worse luck with traffic and traffic lights than I did. Indeed, who even knows how they worked their figures out?

One of the more significant differences is between Embankment and Westminster, where I managed the simple Thames-side walk four minutes quicker than they did. Another yawning gap is Euston Square to King's Cross St Pancras, where TfL took a full five minutes longer than me (although that may be because I timed myself to the Circle line portal rather than to the centre of the complex).

Three of the larger discrepancies (Gloucester Road to High Street Kensington, Bayswater to Paddington and King's Cross to Farringdon) occur where I took a shortcut through the backstreets rather than sticking to the main roads. Meanwhile the only walk TfL managed quicker than me was Victoria to Sloane Square, which isn't the easiest of cut-throughs, so maybe they know a more direct route than I do.

TfL's figures suggest that a complete walk round the Circle line takes five hours two minutes.
That's a walking speed of approximately bang on three miles an hour.
My circuit was almost an hour faster.

Just know, it's a heck of a long way round.
And if you ever fancy a fifteen mile walk without leaving central London, follow the Circle line.

 Thursday, March 15, 2018

Random Station: ALL SAINTS
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
DLR, zone 2
Hinterland: 0.3km²

When I proposed my Random Station feature, someone asked how I'd cope when a DLR station with a tiny catchment area rolled up. Here's where we find out. All Saints is hemmed in by Langdon Park 500m to the north, Poplar 500m to the southwest and Blackwall 500m to the southeast. That doesn't leave very much space to explore, only an approximate triangle with an area of barely 80 acres. So here are twenty places of interest closer to All Saints than any other station.

All Saints' Church
All Saints DLR is named after All Saints' Church. This striking building in Greek style is almost 200 years old, and was originally erected to support the growing community of merchants around the East India Docks. The interior isn't quite what it once was, but its ministry still thrives, and the surrounding churchyard is a rare haven of peaceful undevelopment.

Hope & Anchor
Hidden down Newby Place, this is a proper little East End boozer, by which I mean plain frontage, an unwelcoming set of doors and a bloke sat out front smoking a fag. Officially known as Jack Beard's at The Hope and Anchor, the place screens European football as and when, and hosts live bands with a nostalgic bent. This Saturday at 7.30pm it's The Aces, a vintage Essex four-piece who only play songs that have been number one in the charts.

The Greenwich Pensioner
Tucked away in neighbouring Bazeley Street, despite its south-of-the-river name, this pub has a bit more going for it. It's prettier (the Georgian stock brick frontage means it's listed), it serves rock solid deliverable food, and the interior is an open space with bar stools and a pool table. That said, I didn't get the feeling from the beery gentlemen lighting up outside that I'd be any more welcome inside.

Robin Hood Gardens
This seminal Seventies estate based on 'streets in the sky' is much beloved by concrete aficionados. Alas, starved of maintenance it became less beloved by residents, the inevitable outcome being that demolition is currently underway. One of the two gargantuan wall-like blocks is currently in the firing line, the southern end still boarded up and broken, the northern half already smashed to piles of rubble.

Blackwall Reach
What's replacing Robin Hood Gardens is more generic brick vernacular housing fare. Eventually there'll be 1500 flats rather than 214, the majority technically affordable, although by no means all of the previous residents will be able to move in. This major regeneration project could be a lot worse, but the corner already finished epitomises bland, and there's no way it'd merit inclusion in a list of 20 Interesting Places ten years hence.

Blackwall Tunnel Approach
Half of the roundabout where the Blackwall Tunnel emerges falls into my area under consideration, a key distribution point carving deep across the local neighbourhood. Loops of carriageway swirl down from the East India Road while vehicles swarm (or queue) below, as a cautionary reminder of what much of inner London might have looked like if the GLC's Ringway zealots had had their way.

Blackwall Tunnel Roundabout subway
This subway was dug beneath the A13 to help pedestrians negotiate their way, specifically to access bus stops located on the lower carriageways. Some municipal department went to a lot of bother to brighten it up, lining the walls with transport-themed tiling. And then TfL rerouted the 108, making Bus Stop L entirely redundant, and removing all need for anyone to use the subway. Maybe one day someone'll come and remove the map in the shelter which suggests the bus still stops.

Balfron Tower
It's Brutalist Heaven round here, because looming high over the A12 is Erno Goldfinger's iconic Balfron Tower. It's in no danger of demolition, but all previous residents have long been decanted, and work is underway to reimagine the interior. It'll be respectfully refurbished, of course, but news that the utility tower will soon contain "a cinema, a play room and a dining room" confirms that the intended future residents are the smugly privileged rather than the locally needy.

Giant Chihuahua
Yes, that's absolutely a four-storey dog, brightening up the end wall of a block of 60s flats in Chrisp Street. It was painted up the side of Kilmore House a few years back by artists Irony & Boe, adding a dash of canine quirk to the neighbourhood, and somehow managing to target the acceptable side of cute.

Chrisp Street Market
Chrisp Street Market was the UK's first purpose-built pedestrian shopping area, knocked up for the Festival of Britain in 1951. At its heart is a street market slotted under a glass-panelled canopy, selling lowkey general goods like rugs and kumquats six days a week to a mainly subcontinental clientele. Across the square an office of suited men are coordinating toned-down plans to introduce Your New Market Coming Soon, via An Exhibition, Keeping You Informed.

Chrisp Street Clocktower
Another FoB favourite, part of the architectural display designed to lure Festival attendees out to the East End, this rusting tower consists of two twin staircases rising to an observation deck beneath a giant brick-faced clock. Once it would have been free to access, but health and safety kicked in early, and these days the doors are only unlocked for Open House (or similar very special events). I take advantage every time.

The Festival Inn
Another Festival favourite, obviously, given the name, which replaced the Grundy Arms in 1951. Its interior is decked out with tip-top Trumans decor, including wooden panelling and a long brass bar inlaid with grid-patterned marquetry. Again there's no hint that gentrification has affected those boozing within - think bitter and crisps - as old school Poplar continues to keep the cocktail crowd at bay.

Idea Store Chrisp Street
Any other local authority would call this Poplar Library, but Tower Hamlets went out on a limb in 2004 and started opening Idea Stores instead. This one was designed by David Adjaye, essentially a glass box with green and blue striped panels, plus a clump of trumpets plonked in the square outside. The internal escalator may have been switched off to save money, but the interior is still a hive of activity, and its RIBA London Award seems well deserved.

George Green's School
George Green's started out as an educational establishment on Chrisp Street founded by a wealthy shipbuilder. This peculiar Victorian confection is its 1880s upgrade, complete with clocktower and inspirational religious quotation above the main entrance. Bob Hoskins scraped a single O Level here in the 1950s. All the students moved to a new site at the tip of the Isle of Dogs in 1978, and the building is currently occupied by Tower Hamlets College.

Poplar Recreation Ground Memorial
Although we associate air raids mostly with WW2, the greatest civilian loss of life in WW1 was due to a bomb dropped on Upper North Street School in Poplar in June 1917. A German Gotha, returning from a raid over the City, released high explosives which fell into the ground floor classroom where 64 infants were being taught, killing 18 of them and injuring more than 30 others. This elegant memorial, depicting an angel on a column of Sicilian marble, was paid for by public subscription.

Woodstock Terrace
A lot of modern Poplar is housing estates, replacing slums and bomb sites, but here and there some splendid streets survive. Woodstock Terrace is a one-sided row of 1840s townhouses, once one of the most respectable streets hereabouts, whose residents included two clergymen, three schoolteachers, a wine merchant and two master mariners. Its modern tenants enjoy convenient parking out front, a view across to the recreation ground, and a conveniently brief commute to Docklands.

Cottage Street
But the next street along, behind the fire station, is much more typical. Blocks of flats accessed via external walkways is generic Tower Hamlets style, here specifically stacks of maisonettes (with a more recent tower dropped in at the end). These residents overlook a brightly-coloured plastic playground, an attempt at a wildflower meadow and a separate fenced off area for squatting dogs.

Poplar Coroner's Court
London has eight coroners courts, one of which is this cottage-like building on Poplar High Street. I particularly like the GLC lettering by the door, and the old wooden sign reading "Entrance to Public Mortuary" on the front. Around half a dozen inquests take place here each week - today's are for 70 year-old David and 43 year-old Robert.

Poplar Baths
A Thirties replacement for a former East End bath house, this splendid building provided a multi-level entertainment space for the local population until 1988, when it closed and fell into disrepair. Against all the odds it's been restored and reopened, again with a swimming pool downstairs, but with the dance hall transformed into a sports hall, and of course a gym squeezed in elsewhere. Two years on, Poplar Baths' facilities perhaps aren't yet widely known.

All Saints DLR station
And finally back to All Saints DLR, or All Saints for Chrisp Street Market as the station nameboards have it. Prior to 1926 this was Poplar station, on the London to Blackwall Railway, but was repurposed and reopened for the DLR in 1987. It's one of a handful of stations to retain its original curved glass canopies (and, annoyingly, two-car southbound trains always stop at the far end of the platform, spurring a mad dash by everyone waiting back by the stairs). Its catchment area may be tiny, but it packs a proper punch.

 Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Yesterday the Treasury launched a consultation on the future of cash, asking whether any tweaks are needed in light of the advance of digital payments. One issue they've raised is the fate of copper coins. Apparently 60% of 1p and 2p coins are used only once before they leave the cash cycle (either set aside and saved or, in 8% of cases, thrown away). Nothing's been explicitly stated, but there is a heavy hint that 1p and 2p coins might ultimately be withdrawn from circulation. So this post is about how that might work.

If you remove 1p and 2p coins from circulation, various amounts of money suddenly become impossible to pay. £1.38 can't be made, £2.71 isn't chargeable, and £4.99 would disappear from our shelves. Instead the smallest value coin would be the 5p piece, and every price would have to be a multiple of five. To lose the penny as our basic unit of currency would be to break a history stretching back over a thousand years. But perhaps its disappearance is long overdue - a single penny back in 1978 was worth more than a 5p coin is today.

So my suggestion, for the day copper coins ultimately die, is this. Overnight the only amounts anyone could pay would be £0.05, £0.10, £0.15, £0.20, £0.25, etc. Without 1p and 2p coins, there are only twenty possible prices in every pound. So let's ditch the penny and reintroduce an old-favourite unit which was always based on twentieths.

The shilling was introduced in Tudor times, and twenty shillings made a pound. Effectively the shilling disappeared in 1971, but decimalisation ensured it lived on as the 5p coin. Reversing this equivalence would mean every amount in a copper-free economy could be precisely paid in pounds and shillings. Switching back to the old money would be seamless, plus it would perfectly embrace the backward-looking Brexit zeitgeist.

A 50p Creme Egg would cost 10/-. A £1.20 newspaper would cost 24/-, or more likely £1.4s. A flat white might go from £2.35 to £2.7s. The National Minimum Wage would be rounded up from £7.83 to £7.85, and then translated to £7.17s. Using shillings would be simple and convenient... and best of all the over-55s still remember how shillings work, so there'd be no need for a massive programme of re-education which our old people would find difficult. Bring it on?

Yesterday TfL published its draft budget for 2018/9. It's packed with figures for all modes of public transport, and confirms that things aren't great but they aren't awful either.

I've chosen to focus on two statistics - how much a journey costs the average passenger, and how much each journey costs TfL. In economic terms, that's Average yield per passenger journey and Operating cost per journey. What follows is data for the current financial year.

Average yield per passenger journey: £1.94
Operating cost per journey: £1.87

The average passenger making the average tube journey pays £1.94, but that journey only costs TfL £1.87 to run. That's good news for TfL, it means they're making 7p on every journey. Technically TfL don't make a profit, they pump all the extra back in as investment, but it's good to know the tube is "paying its way".

Average yield per passenger journey: 65p
Operating cost per journey: 96p

Bus fares may be £1.50, but the average income from the average passenger is less than half of that. That's partly thanks to the Hopper fare, but mostly because older people pay nothing. However, funding each bus journey costs 31p more. It means TfL are financing London buses as a public service, rather than as a profit-making enterprise.

Average yield per passenger journey: £1.85
Operating cost per journey: £3.17

Crossrail's not up and running yet, so the average yield refers to TfL Rail - a single line out to Shenfield. At present that's raking in approximately the same amount of money per journey as the Underground. But the operating cost is much larger, and next year it increases even more, up to a whopping £5.19 per journey. TfL says this is due to "the growth in services and, in particular, the introduction of central section access charges." Nevertheless, Crossrail will be feeding a lot more passengers onto other services, and TfL expect its overall financial contribution to be positive.

Overground: Yield £1.23, Cost £1.46
DLR: Yield £1.41, Cost £1.13
Trams: Yield 85p, Cost £1.23

The Overground loses money. The DLR makes money. Trams are essentially expensive buses.

Bike Hire
Average yield per passenger journey: £1.16
Operating cost per journey: £2.41

It's an open secret that TfL's bike hire scheme is losing money. Hiring a bike costs a minimum of £2 a day, but riders are clearly enjoying several journeys for that money, hence the average take is lower. Meanwhile maintaining the infrastructure, and especially "moving the bikes around to where they're needed", is relatively much more expensive.

Average yield per passenger journey: £4.31
Operating cost per journey: £2.63

This may be the surprise. The cable car has one of the highest operating costs per journey, but also by far the highest yield. £4.31 is a massive take, and strongly suggests that the majority of passengers are willing tourists (paying £4.50) rather than Brits using contactless or Oyster (£3.50). Every upsell of that miserable sponsored museum must help too. And next year the figures are predicted to get even stronger, "because of a new retail village at the O2", with the yield up to £4.82(!) and the operating cost down to £2.34. The Dangleway's passenger numbers may be on the slide, but TfL have faith that their highest yielding mode is looking up.

 Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Evening Standard relaunched yesterday. Editor George Osborne described the new look as "a modern, refreshed, exciting paper for a modern exciting city." I'm sure you'll be able to see the difference when you compare Friday's paper (left) with Monday's (right). And I hope you'll have your copy in hand as I take a look through the new paper, page by page...

Page 1: The paper is no longer called the London Evening Standard, simply the Evening Standard, because the editor wants it to have a greater resonance outside London. Neither of the two stories on the front page are London-based. The word London still appears in small letters, top left, after the word Free.
Page 1: Eros has returned to prominence on the masthead, inbetween the words Evening and Standard. Originally Eros only appeared to indicate the final edition of the day, but these days the paper always goes to print before lunchtime. The first edition of the day is labelled 'West End Final'. Any subsequent pre-lunch changes merit a 'West End Final Extra'.
Page 1: The font's changed. You can see this most clearly by comparing the two mastheads. The new font is called Standard, and is a bit narrower.
Page 1: The front page now has more room for splashes, and less room for news.
Page 1: The lead story has been spun from an interview with the Home Secretary (on pages 24 and 25). It remains a mystery how the editor of the Evening Standard managed to obtain an exclusive interview with one of his former Cabinet colleagues.
Page 1: I have a theory that, more often than not, the Evening Standard tries to include a large photo of an attractive woman on its front page. Today's paper does not disprove my theory.

Page 2: The first column lists highlights to be found within, and introduces the new colour-coded sections.
Page 2: The weather forecast now features an emoji to sum up the day's weather. This Thursday and Friday are summarised by a turd emoji (which today's weather probably deserved). Inventive, or crass?
Page 2: The first news story is about austerity and Brexit - two of the former Chancellor's pet topics.
Page 3: A long story about a good Ofsted report, a short story about good news in Walthamstow, and a short report on a knifing in Wandsworth (which focuses on the victim's aunt, Liz Hurley).
Page 4: Spy scandals, nerve agents and acid attacks.
Page 5: A big story about a family feud over a £2m property - prime Standard fodder.
Page 6: Two stories about tube violence, and one about Justin Bieber wearing lime green trousers.
Page 7: A Chelsea-based fashion label has gone bust. "The news follows the closure of vegan blogger Ella Mills' Deliciously Ella cafe in Herne Hill and deli in Marylebone after less than a year."
Pages 8/9: Results of an exclusive poll on Brexit, which basically shows the public agrees with George Osborne.
Page 11: Obituary for Sir Ken Dodd, including nine of his best jokes lifted from a list the Daily Telegraph published at 5am.
Pages 12/13: In-depth report into violent youth crime. Also, moped robberies.
Page 14: Wealthy socialite dies in plane crash on way home from Dubai hen party (4 paragraphs). 40 die in Nepal air crash (1 paragraph).

Page 15: Comment: Trump is funny. Emma Watson finds love. Mothers Day controversy. I saw a nice musical.
Page 16: Editorial: The Home Secretary is fab. Our relaunch is exciting. We miss Doddy. Also, pro-Remain article from cross-party MP twosome.
Page 17: Comment: Conservative Culture Secretary praises newspaper run by former Conservative Chancellor. Cartoon ridiculing the current Conservative Chancellor.
Page 17: Notebook: Dinner parties can be hell. What I call my basement flat. I use my mobile in the bathroom. I read some research about upper/lower lip ratios.
Page 18: The Reader: Revamped letters section, which includes one fewer letter than Friday's newspaper. Only two of the letters are from 'ordinary readers'. George Osborne replies to the letter from the important businesswoman.
Page 19: Interview with director of new West End musical. Four star review of aforementioned musical.
Pages 20/21: The Londoner (formerly Londoner's Diary): Oprah has tea at Claridges. Roads Minister in driverless prang. Jacob Rees-Mogg is moving house. Windsor version of Monopoly may be played by Queen. Chief Whip keeps spider on desk. Two female designers spotted in India. Mayor discusses avocados. Tory slogan to be glued to wall at next conference.

Pages 22/23: International news from the US, South Africa, Sydney, Afghanistan, Austria, Greece, Ireland and India.
Pages 24/25: Positive interview with Home Secretary Amber Rudd. Advert for London Live.

Pages 26/27: The A-List: Donatella Versace loves Annabel's. Several well-dressed music stars attended an awards ceremony in California. James Corden has a film to plug. Steven Spielberg has a film to plug.

Pages 29-32: Life & Style The usual Monday lifestyle section. This week's features online dating, energising workouts, Aperol slushies, fine dining deals, handbags, detox packages, exercise tips and "selfie-ready" foundations.
Page 32: London Love Stories: The twenty-something owner of a vegan search portal and her macro-strategist partner from Battersea reveal all about their relationship and upcoming marriage. I look forward to seeing a wide range of ages, social classes and ethnic backgrounds as this feature unfolds in future weeks.

Pages 33-35: Arts & Culture (sponsored by a home insurance company): Several Brits are playing on Broadway. British Museum exhibition is OK. Two concert reviews. Also "10 must-see shows for the week ahead". To attend all ten would cost £280, and occupy at least six of your evenings. Two are sold out.
Pages 36/37: Tonight's television: In a shock move, London Live's listing has been demoted from the first column to the last. The lead TV preview is for a show on BBC1. Three are for shows on London Live. One is for a chat show on Sky Atlantic, in a 'Pick of the Day' section sponsored by Sky.
Pages 38/39: Puzzles & Games: Now across two pages rather than one, along with a Kipper Williams cartoon and the latest air/river pollution reports. New puzzles include Battleships and "The Tube Quiz", a somewhat restrictive format based on cryptic clues to names of Underground interchanges.

Pages 41-43: Travel: The Standard's reviewers enjoy Venice, Johannesburg, Tanzania, "hipster hubs in Africa", Bali, Madrid and Luton.

Pages 49-54: Business (now on salmon-tinted pages): Over 20 stories about shares, markets, companies, deals, property and entrepreneurs. The Standard always has far more stories about the City than about Outer London.

Pages 55-65: Sport: Eleven pages of Cheltenham racing preview, sponsored by Paddypower. Also includes adverts for Betfair, Coral, Sky Bet and Ladbrokes.
Page 66: Sport: Three opinions on why England are currently rubbish at rugby.
Page 67: Sport: An Arsenal player talks, a tennis player fails, a cricket player is on trial.
Pages 68-70: Sport: West Ham stadium unrest - one in-depth report, and two opinion pieces.
Page 71: Sport: Injured Spurs player awaits scan. Quick crossword. Sudoku.
Page 72: Full page advert for Betfair, because adverts pay better than sports news.

 Monday, March 12, 2018

Location: Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU [map]
Open: daily from 10am (reduced opening Nov-Mar)
Admission: £19.40
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle
Four word summary: fortress on the white cliffs
Time to allow: up to a whole day

Few sites pack in Roman, Saxon, Medieval, Tudor, Georgian and 20th century history, but Dover Castle manages just that. That's mainly down to its position at the closest point to France, our country's key defensive location, which is also why it's the largest castle in England. Its success can be judged by the fact it's still intact, which helps explain the lofty price of admission. There is indeed a lot to see for your almost-twenty quid.

The Roman bit is a lighthouse, essentially a tall tower with open windows which used to contain fires to help guide ships across the Channel. Just to see a building dating back two millennia is pretty amazing in itself. Immediately alongside is a Saxon church, this time 'just' the one millennium old, featuring an arched doorway (now bricked up) that's England's oldest. If you ever fancy getting inside Dover Castle for nothing, turn up on a Sunday morning and say you're going to St Mary in Castro, then join the other 30 worshippers for the morning service.

The castle proper dates back to William the Conqueror, begun pretty soon after he invaded, although most of what we see today is courtesy of Henry II. He had the place enlarged, originally to impress visitors from across the channel, but a more defensive role became necessary after relations with the French broke down. His Great Tower is the centrepiece of the design, one of the last rectangular keeps to be built in England, and also the most expensive. It's also enormously fun to explore.

Within the tower are numerous large halls decked out with period drapes and replica medieval objects, and very few intrusive information panels. It's very much the place to take a selfie stirring a giant cauldron, or to queue to snap a photo of your beloved children sitting on a throne, rather than learning dry facts. But best of all is seeing where all the doorways lead. What initially looks like a few rooms up a few steps turns out to include two proper spiral staircases linking ground level to the roof, with all sorts of chambers and anterooms to delve into, and a dark passageway leading round the gallery at upper mezzanine level. For once you don't need to imagine what the inside of a castle would have looked like from its ruined shell, this is the real thing.

Accessed elsewhere in the inner courtyard are Arthur's Hall, a 13th century survivor containing a historical exhibition, and the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment Museum, especially for those who like weapons and regalia. I may have skipped the latter. I also skipped the coffee shop, not least because a bunch of French schoolchildren were inside hiding from the drizzle, and didn't spend long in the shop either. Instead I nipped back into the Great Tower for another Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and to look down across all sides of Dover from the lofty platform on its drizzly roof.

The castle's other big draw is going underground. The Medieval Tunnels are easily missed, but a spiral staircase in an outbuilding leads down into a steep passage ducking underneath the outer walls. At one point there's a choice between continuing past the cannons or descending down yet another staircase to deeper tunnels, which then branch in three directions. I felt like I should have brought a 12-sided dice to decide which way to go, and hoped I really was the only person down here and there wasn't a balrog in the gloom around the next bend.

But the underground spaces most want visitors to see are the Wartime Tunnels. On busy days you may have to queue, but damp weekdays in early March aren't generally affected. A guide will lead you deep into the chalk cliffs where an unfolding audio-visual extravaganza tells the castle's WW2 story. These tunnels, or casemates, were first dug during the Napoleonic Wars to act as a secret barracks from which artillerymen could have dramatically emerged to repel cross-Channel aggressors. When the threat switched to Nazi invasion, military chiefs with telephones moved in and hid instead.

Operation Dynamo - the retreat from Dunkirk - was coordinated from a gloomy chamber at the rear of this labyrinthine complex. A nicely-done dramatic recreation is projected onto its walls, the images familiar to anyone who's seen the film Dunkirk, but without boasting Oscar-level special effects. It really does bring the whole story home. Once you've finished the official bit you're left to explore the remaining casemates at your own pace, before walking out through the cliff face to look down over the ferries plying their way out of the harbour (and then nipping back in, to the cafe and gift shop).

Another smaller set of tunnels are open separately, once used as a WW2 hospital annexe, and again with an audio experience to guide you through. I made the mistake of going in with a tranche of French schoolchildren, whose teachers tried their best to keep the group quiet, but whose muttering made it very difficult to hear the dramatic recreation. Pick your time carefully when you go down. Thankfully the tunnels were never needed as a seat of government during a nuclear war, but given Dover's place in our national history it would have been a fitting way to go.

And yay, that's five English Heritage properties I've visited so far this year, and my Annual Membership has already paid for itself.

 Sunday, March 11, 2018

When I started liveblogging my birthday on Friday, I wasn't expecting a crime drama before breakfast.

I popped out for a newspaper, and thought I'd top up my cash reserves because I was getting low. Here's the cashpoint I went to.

It's at the former National Westminster Bank on Bow Road, a lovely old building on the corner with Fairfield Road. Nat West closed this branch last year. There used to be two cashpoints, but one of the pair has since been covered over. I used the other one. I've been using it since 2001, and never had any trouble... not until Friday.

Nobody else was using the cashpoint when I arrived. I remember being pleased that nobody else was around. I looked into the slot before I used the machine, like you're supposed to, to see if anything suspicious appeared to be attached. It didn't look suspicious. So I put my card in.

First I entered my PIN. I attempted to cover the keypad, but not so scrupulously as to block it from every angle. It's always hard to know what angle to shield it from, be that from above, or to one side, or from someone stood immediately behind. I didn't think there was anybody standing behind me - there hadn't been when I moved in to use the machine - but of course anything could have happened in the few seconds I hadn't been looking.

I requested some money. The machine whirred a bit, then seemed to be trying to eject my card from the slot. It failed. It tried again, and failed again. It tried again, and failed again, at which point an Out of Order message flashed up on the screen. Damn, I thought, that's the last I'll ever see of that card, and how am I going to get any cash now, and happy birthday to me.

A young man appeared behind me shortly afterwards, or maybe he'd been there for a while. We had a conversation which consisted of me saying the machine was out of order and him saying something I didn't understand. He went away. I waited. Nothing happened.

A different young man appeared and we had a similar conversation, both incomprehensible and brief. He too went away. I'm being helpful here, I thought, telling all these would-be users not to bother.

I did what you're supposed to do and rang my bank. Unfortunately I haven't rung my bank from my mobile for several years, and the number in my phone was incorrect. A recorded message told me what the correct number was, but I didn't have anything to write it down with, and I couldn't type it into my phone because I was already using that. OK, I thought, this'll be easier done from home. Home's less than four minutes away, what's the worst that can happen in that time?

I took a photo of the machine, because I thought that might be useful, and headed off. Walking back past the supermarket, I noticed the second man I'd spoken to standing outside. I can still picture him - about twenty-ish, medium build, below average height, dark hair. I looked at him and he looked at me, but I only realised the second part later. And home I went.

I Googled the telephone number you're supposed to ring in case of a lost card, which is a lot easier to do on a laptop than a mobile. I rang the number, and was annoyed when the first minute of the call was taken up by a message about fraud and how important it was to avoid it. I'm trying to ring you as quickly as possible, I thought, and all you're doing is increasing the chance of the thing you're warning me about actually happening.

The first thing I was asked for was my sort code and account number. They're written on my card, I said, which I no longer have. I nearly remembered them both, but not quite, which wasn't good enough. Thankfully I was at home so could go and look them both up on a bank statement. Had I still been standing in the street, this would have been rather trickier.

The nice woman in the call centre swiftly cancelled my card, so that was good. What wasn't going to be good was waiting 5 to 7 working days for the arrival of a replacement, because that potentially meant two cardless weekends. Don't worry, she said, you can go to a local branch with photo ID to get money out, and was there anything else we can help you with? Indeed there was.

During the call I'd fired up my account online, to check what was going on, and spotted several unexpected transactions dated 9th March. First there was the money I'd been trying to take out, which had been deducted from my account even though I hadn't received it. Then there was a withdrawal of £80, which I hadn't made. Then there was another withdrawal of £80, which I hadn't made. Then there was an attempted withdrawal of £40, which had been refused. And finally there was an attempted withdrawal of £10, which had been refused. What's all that about, I asked.

Had I been looking at my mobile during this call I'd have seen that my bank were trying to contact me. They'd sent a text message ten minutes after I put my card in the machine, and another one minute later detailing suspicious activity on my account, and then tried ringing me 10 minutes later, and they'd left an automated voicemail message. By this point they were ringing about a card I'd already cancelled, but I can't fault them for a) noticing suspicious activity b) preventing the third and fourth withdrawals c) informing me about it.

The bank's text message included considerable detail about what my skimmer had tried to do. He hadn't used the cash machine I'd lost my card in, he'd used the cash machine twenty seconds walk away outside the supermarket. He'd been making those withdrawals very shortly after I'd left to walk home. He was clearly trying to withdraw money strategically in chunks, nudging closer to my daily maximum limit. Once it was clear the machine was refusing his requests he went straight inside the supermarket and tried to use the card there. I don't know what costs £56, but my bank refused that transaction too. Thwarted, he went back outside and tried for £10 and that also failed, at which point he must have given up.

We'll try and get those rogue payments refunded, said the nice woman on the phone. Some of them should be straight forward, but our fraud team might also be in touch, so please tell them what they need to know. And that was that.

Obviously what I did next was to go back to the cash machine. Oddly it was no longer Out of Service and seemed to be operating normally. I had a look in the slot, which looked normal, and took another photo for good measure. Then I went into the supermarket and asked what they knew, but the man behind the counter said he hadn't been on shift at the time, and if CCTV footage was ever needed I'd have to contact their independent security company.

I wish I'd taken a better 'before' photo, because it's a bit blurry, but it does look like there was 'something' inside that slot. It's some kind of thin plastic sheet, with a lighter coloured strip in the middle like a piece of folded tape. I didn't notice it at the time, and I think that's because I never knew what 'normal' was supposed to look like. Having been back, normal is an angled slot top and bottom, all in green plastic. But I had no means of comparison, and never spotted the subtle infill, and so poked my card in as normal.

You tell me this device is a 'Lebanese loop', a plastic or metal sleeve inserted into the slot which causes cards to be retained. All is normal up to the counting of the money, but when the ATM tries to eject the card it catches against a flap, possibly repeatedly, and is then drawn back into the machine. To the user it appears the card has been retained, but if they walk away it can be retrieved later and the loop removed. So long as the PIN has been noted, somehow, the card can then be used to drain the account, at least until someone notices.

Within a couple of hours I managed to get some cash out from a branch of my bank in Stratford, so that was fine. Both of the fraudulent £80 withdrawals were refunded to my account before the end of the day, which was great. What I haven't yet had refunded is the amount of money I was trying to take out of the machine in the first place, but it's early days. And I remain cardless, possibly until Tuesday of next week, which is cramping my ability to buy stuff somewhat.

And I mention all of this in case it prevents the same thing happening to you. Take a good look at what a 'normal' card slot looks like, next time you use a machine, so you'll be better able to spot when something isn't right. Be sure to screen your PIN as you enter it, even if you don't think anybody could be watching. And make sure you have an up-to-date number for your bank in your phone - ideally the special number you're supposed to ring for lost or stolen cards. A heck of a lot can happen while you're walking home and Googling a phone number, so best be prepared, and wide awake.

 Saturday, March 10, 2018

Route 53: Plumstead to Whitehall
Location: London southeast, inner
Length of journey: 13 miles, 90 minutes

It's traditional around every birthday that I take a numerically significant bus journey, so here I go again. Eleven years ago I took the 42 to Dulwich, ten years ago the 43 to Barnet, nine years ago the 44 to Tooting, eight years ago the 45 to Clapham, seven years ago the 46 to Farringdon, six years ago the 47 to Bellingham, five years ago the 48 to Walthamstow, four years ago the 49 to Battersea, three years ago the 50 to Croydon, two years ago the 51 to Orpington and last year the 52 to Willesden. This year, with the most high profile destination yet, it's the 53 to Whitehall.

Route 53 is a southeast London stalwart, conveying residents of the borough of Greenwich into the heart of Westminster since time immemorial. Specifically that's since 22nd October 1952, before anyone pops up in the comments and tells us that, plus yes I did know it used to run all the way to Camden. These days it begins near Plumstead station, conveniently close to the bus garage, which is useful because it'll avoid us having to wait around somewhere en route for a change of drivers, despite the journey being an hour and a half long. In bad traffic it's more like two, I'm told, which is bad news for those using the 53 to commute into town to save on train fares.

Orchard Road isn't Plumstead's finest, a dogleg backroad where tyres get fixed, and men with cars park up and shout at other men with cars. The local restaurant is Cafe Deluxe, which looks like a scout hut bedecked with garden centre trellis, so must have pretty amazing interior design to live up to its name. The first man to join me at the bus shelter is very old, and doddery enough that he has trouble stepping up onto the kerb. He takes out a large gold crucifix and clutches it to his chest as if desperately attempting to ward off evil, and maintains this position as he waits for the bus to arrive. Mum and Nan have checked on their phones and don't think it is coming, so fill the time discussing how direct debits have made them broke, while in her buggy little Liana (Leah-Anna?) slurps on a very pink drink.

And we're off, for what's initially a slow meander round the heights of Plumstead. Griffin Road is a straight ascent lined by late Victorian terraced houses (which might have been a little better looked after had they been elsewhere). Normally I tut inwardly if anyone dings the bell at the first stop, but in this case they're pregnant, and we have already climbed a fair distance up the hill, so she's allowed. Crucifix Man waits until we're nearly at the summit, by the Baptist Church, before continuing his pilgrimage falteringly on foot. Plumstead Common is a hidden treasure, a long elevated swathe of green with deep gullies to explore, a former windmill (which is now a pub) and a clocktowered building (which now flogs carpets). A lot of people are queuing to board our bus, the local minimarts and chippies being insufficient for their needs, and we are to be their direct connection to the delights of Woolwich.

I suddenly realise why all this looks familiar, and that's because my birthday bus ride two years ago followed the same route. This time, thankfully, there are no schoolgirls organising dates on the top deck. It's not long before we head back down, with our descent providing a good view of central Woolwich's multi-coloured newbuilds, as well as lowrise Dagenham across the river. We splash through evidence of a leaking water pipe, pass the ends of the platforms at Woolwich Arsenal and reach the boxy towers around the Crossrail site. The town's been evolving fast since my passage on the 51, with a fresh flank of incomer housing facing off against lowly nailbars and takeaways the new inhabitants won't be frequenting. That said, I'm sure they'll be delighted that the former Public Market is now a food court, with Caribbean no longer a speciality.

Finally we've reached Woolwich town centre - had I taken a direct bus I could have got here in four minutes, but our detour through the hillside suburbs has taken twenty. As we pull up outside the DLR I'm jolted by the number on the back of the bus in front - a big white 54. It turns out next year's birthday bus starts here, and worse, follows exactly the same route as our bus from here to Blackheath. I'm going to be reminded of the relentless turn of the years for the next three miles, as our driver keeps trying to overtake the 54 in front, but never quite succeeds. Forgive me if you get a sense of déjà vu when you read next year's report.

Much of central Woolwich is in flux, as peculiar glassy carbuncles erupt amid older brick-faced stock. It's good to escape. I've been joined at the front of the top deck by a woman keen to munch from a bag of caramel crisps, which I'm OK with until her phone goes and a half-hour conversation begins. We reach the Royal Artillery Barracks, essentially a housing estate for the military, edged with barbed wire that's seen better days. On the opposite side of Wellington Street the railings have been cleared of banners commemorating Lee Rigby, but a few floral tributes have reappeared on a junction box, and a film crew are shooting some (probably disapproving) video footage on the pavement.

Our next destination is Charlton, passing first a closed pub, then a closed corner shop, then a pub closed but reopened as a supermarket. At long last our driver is able to pick up the pace a bit, partly thanks to the 54 in front picking up most of the passengers, but it always manages to be indicating to pull out every time we catch up. Charlton Village is rather livelier, dotted with places you might still want to eat or drink, with a shoal of cars parked by the lawns outside Charlton House. The towers of Docklands can be seen between the tower blocks along the top of the ridge, while a single red weatherboarded cottage hints at simpler more rural times.

We cross the deep gash of the A2 dual carriageway before nudging into Blackheath, the traffic island near the Royal Standard bubbling with colourful crocuses. The last time I rode the 53, six years ago, the bus stopped outside a genuine formica-enabled refreshment room called Gambardella, whose regular customers perched on moulded plywood chairs. Today I can only gaze down into another branch of Boulangerie Jade, an "artisan French patisserie" whose tables are resolutely ketchup-free. Best we drive on, we're already seven paragraphs in and there's still half the journey to go.

The finest part of the route is probably the dash across Blackheath proper, where even bus stops in the middle of the heath have passengers waiting to board. The 54 we've been trailing finally makes a break for it and heads south, while we continue relentlessly west round the back of Greenwich Park. I'm pleased to see the legendary Tea Hut is open, with two gentlemen staring reverently into its glowing portal while another stuffs something bread-based down his throat. And then it's time to prepare for our descent into Deptford, with the villas at the top of Blackheath Hill in sharp contrast to the rough and tumble at the bottom. I think D'Luxx is an African restaurant. I am less certain about the G Bless Jerk Centre.

We exit Greenwich for Lewisham at Deptford Bridge DLR, with the River Ravensbourne flowing silently beneath. This borderline is where the 453 begins, a route introduced in 2003 to parallel the remainder of the 53, and to cut back its northern terminus. We're busy enough on board as it is, which means I now have a gentleman sharing my front seat for the first time. I note with a smile that Deptford's anchor is back in place at the foot of the High Street, and with less of a smile how many of the retail units hereabouts are shuttered and To Let. The bus lane through New Cross does its job well, allowing us to queue-jump a considerable line of traffic towards, and then around, the one-way system.

It's strike day at Goldsmiths College, and the lecturers (and students) are out in force with banners strung up outside the main entrance. Our Pension Axed, reads one, Against The Slow Cancellation Of Our Future another, plus The University Is A Factory. Nobody honks their horn, as requested, but then again none of the passengers can. New Cross Bus Garage proves the most popular stop en route for passengers to disembark, with several of these clearly just about to sign in for a shift driving buses of their own. We continue through what used to be Hatcham, with its winding parade of one-storey shops, plus a faded Nestlé's Milk ghostsign painted on a side wall.

Here begins the long ride up the Old Kent Road, well served by several bus routes in the total absence of any stations. This end of the lowliest thoroughfare on the Monopoly board seems to be mostly flats, retail warehouses, evangelical churches and places that fix cars. Some idea of the locale can be ascertained by the fact that Lidl have pasted up a big advertising poster outside Aldi. The large car park outside Toys R Us is almost empty, which may help explain why the business has slipped into administration, and may also make it easier for TfL to demolish (eventually) to build a new station on the Bakerloo line. One hour down, half an hour to go.

You can almost see the planners' pencil hovering over the central stretch of the OKR, whose big sheds and shabby parades would be ideal for rebirth as stacked flats. For now, and probably for a fair while hence, cheap burgers, dry cleaning and Union Jack toilet seats can still be easily sourced. Burgess Park provides a brief glimpse of green, and then it's back into a more concentrated sequence of foods from many nations - be that Lebanon, Poland, Cyprus or Nigeria. The Old Kent Road is bustling, at a low-key commercial level, as passengers dripfeed onto our bus to lug their shopping home. Tesco is by far the biggest draw, but never underestimate the Lidl just before the Bricklayers Arms.

Next weekend 53s travelling in the opposite direction will be rerouted over the flyover, in an attempt to permanently speed up the outbound journey. But we're still heading round the squareabout, then bearing left up the New Kent Road past the site of South London's greatest housing debacle. Where the Heygate Estate once stood, its residents long since decanted, the shell of Elephant Park now rises. On our side it's mostly diggers, piles of earth and the beginnings of foundations, but further across are the first apartments, flogged abroad at prices way above the "market price" those kicked out were paid, and marketed with weasel words about community and heritage. I'm pleased we don't linger long.

Elephant and Castle now has a non-gyratory system, traversed by sweeping tarmac curves, with pedestrians scuttling across the void as signals allow. Another tower seems to have shot up close by every time I pass. We lose several more passengers here, but some of us stay on past the Imperial War Museum, taking advantage of another well-sited bus lane. If you've ever wanted to look down into the Bakerloo line's secret southern depot, the top deck of a passing bus is the place to be. The COI's drab office block opposite Lambeth North station has been recently replaced by a Park Plaza Hotel. Duck beneath the Waterloo platforms and another Park Plaza fills the centre of the roundabout, with yet another immediately across the road. There's money in beds.

The female crisp muncher who joined me an hour ago finally disembarks here - perhaps she's been commuting to St Thomas's Hospital. I hope she minded the new cycle lane as she stepped across to the pavement. Half a dozen of us are still aboard the 53, about to cross the Thames on what's normally the glorious span of Westminster Bridge, but lacks its usual wow with Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding. That said, numerous tourists are still busy taking photos of each other with the sheeted tower in the background, and it's no hardship waiting here above the Thames for the lights ahead to change.

The bus from lowly Plumstead now terminates on Whitehall, just past the Cenotaph, at the very heart of the nation. I spy a medium-sized group of demonstrators with EU flags massing at the end of Downing Street, some in blue top hats with yellow ribbons, others in blue berets with yellow stars sewn erratically round the rim. The requisite number of policemen are keeping an eye. Civil servants rush by with lunch. International tourists stand around nearby trying to work out which hotspot icon to visit next. None of them seem too keen to go to Deptford, Woolwich or Plumstead, which for anyone living there may not be a bad thing.

Route 53: route map
Route 53: live route map
Route 53: route history
Route 53: route history
Route 53: timetable
Route 53: The Ladies Who Bus

 Friday, March 09, 2018

06:04 I was born at four minutes past six. Sometimes I wake up specially early to experience the precise anniversary. This year I'm sleeping through.
06:54 Rouse from epic dreams. Put kettle on for first mug of birthday tea.
07:01 Check to see if the weather forecast has got any better. It has of course got worse.
07:20 I have four birthday cards to open. All were posted second class on Tuesday and arrived yesterday. Everyone who sent one passed the age of 53 last century.
07:36 Thank you, readers, for your birthday greetings. I have also received two birthday greeting text messages, one birthday greeting Twitter DM and one birthday greeting email.

07:51 Pop out to buy a newspaper and withdraw some cash. The cashpoint whirrs and splutters and fails to return my card, then flashes up 'Out of Service' on the screen. I have £11 in my wallet.
07:54 A young man approaches to use the cashpoint, then walks away when he sees it isn't working.
08:00 On the phone to my bank to cancel my card. They can get a new card to me in 5 to 7 working days. Cheers, bank.
08:17 I am listening to a lot of hold music.
08:28 Apparently in the few minutes it took me to walk home from the cashpoint, someone made two £80 withdrawals using my card, then failed to make two further withdrawals, then visited the nearest supermarket and attempted to spend £56 but the card was declined. The fraud team are onto it.
08:43 The cash machine is 'working' again.

09:12 Second mug of birthday tea.
09:15 Checking the list of birthdays in the paper in case any new and interesting people have been added since last year. They haven't. Bill Beaumont is 66, Maggie Aderin-Pocock is 50 and Martin Fry is 60.

09:57 I have been thrust a copy of the last ever printed NME. I can see why it's folding.
10:02 Standing in the queue at my actual bank, clutching Photo ID and a recent statement. I also have a cheque to pay in.
10:23 Today I have been the annoying customer holding up the queue. However, I now have several £10 notes. The cashier laughed at my attempt at an electronic signature.

10:52 On the train to the seaside.
11:11 There is a crying baby in the carriage, as a timely reminder that we were all young once.

11:52 I am at the seaside. The sun is struggling to break through the clouds.
12:00 Seagulls, vaping, the smell of chips, yappy terriers, walking-sticked shoppers, guest houses with No Vacancies, furry hoods, leggings, Union Jacks in windows, people successfully using cashpoints.

12:21 I am at the castle. So are several foreign students.
12:40 The rain has started. There is a murky view from the gun battery. Those foreign students are proving more troublesome that expected.
13:45 I have been walking around underground tunnels for the last hour. Inside some cliffs. This is the way to spend a birthday.
14:11 Enjoying a bag of Golden Wonder pickled onion flavour crisps beside the lighthouse.
14:43 On top of the Great Tower in the drizzle, watching the ferries, while the Germans take selfies. France has disappeared.
15:01 Back underground in the medieval tunnels, pretending to aim the cannon at a sheep, and nibbling a KitKat.
15:16 The drizzle is more convincing now. Bailing.
15:32 Proper seaside chippy chips. A birthday first.

15:54 On the train from the seaside. The view out to sea is a chalky white (appropriately).
16:28 It seems the weather forecast 14 days ago was bang on.
16:50 Stratford station has embraced full-on pre-weekend rush hour mode.
17:03 That cashpoint is working perfectly.

17:09 I have two more birthday cards to open. Both were posted second class on Wednesday, and one has a letter inside.
17:16 Third mug of birthday tea (and a Wagon Wheel).
18:00 Both of the illicit £80 withdrawals made by my nefarious card skimmer this morning have been refunded to my bank account. So that's good.
18:47 Getting togged up to go out for a birthday meal at a Thames-side pub I've always wanted to visit. My outer layer needs to be waterproof.

19:13 The pub in Narrow Street is narrow, and buzzing. Its downstairs clientele seems settled in for the night. The owner, sadly, is not in attendance.
19:41 The upstairs restaurant has two dozen covers, and a view across the river to the dark skyline of Rotherhithe. The tide is high.
21:35 A fine starter, that pate. My steak wasn't quite so enormous as everyone else's lamb shank. But the apple pie (proper, in a proper tin, with proper pastry sides, smothered in a jug of proper custard) proper finished me off.
21:58 Any further socialising for the rest of the evening is postponed in favour of a long lie down.
22:36 I may sleep straight through 06:04 tomorrow morning as well.

 Thursday, March 08, 2018

Bromley-by-Bow is the Underground's 73rd step-free station.

It's taken ages - planning permission was agreed three years ago - but this week we finally have lifts.

One lift faces the main entrance, and leads down to the eastbound platform. The upper entrance is through a short attractively glazed passage. Due to the constraints of the site, the lift isn't especially big. It can hold 13 persons. You exit on the opposite side to the way you came in. I've already seen a happy mother with a pushchair taking advantage.

The other lift is at the far end of the footbridge, and leads down to the westbound platform. It's almost twice the size inside, and can hold 21 persons. It descends to the very far end of the platform, where passengers alighting from trains might never notice it. A few 'Lift' stickers have been stuck around the platforms to try to make it more obvious.

Although the exterior looks like bricks, it's actually thin sheets of cladding stuck on to look like bricks. The very top of the lift towers includes a subtle triangular pattern using glazed and unglazed 'bricks', which adds a bit of interest.

All of this is part of a major redevelopment of the station to help cope with the several thousand new homes being built in the area. The ticket hall is currently under scaffolding while a new 'lantern' is built above, making the grotty 1972-style entrance a lot more welcoming. All the planning notices are here, if you're interested, and the architect's project page is here.

Eventually Bromley-by-Bow will be getting its ticket barriers back, so passengers won't be able to go for free rides like a lot of them do at the moment. Perhaps we'll even see a member of staff in the ticket hall again, or maybe that's hoping for too much at this most disregarded of stations.

It's not like TfL to keep silent about successes like this, so maybe the congratulatory press release is being held back until Sadiq can find a spare morning to cut a ribbon. But for now, rejoice that the tube has another step-free station, on the long slow road to transport accessibility.

Ten special types of prime number

Palindromic primes: Primes that remain the same when their digits are read backwards, e.g. 101, 383, 929, 14741, 71317, 143787341, 999998727899999 and 1234567894987654321.
Emirps: Primes that become a different prime when their digits are reversed, e.g. 13/31, 107/701, 149/941, 3257/7523, 943849/948349, 102435679/976534201 and 1301476963/3696741031.
Circular primes: Primes that remain prime when their digits are cycled, e.g. 113/131/311, 197/971/719, 199/991/919, 337/373/733 and 193939/939391/393919/939193/391939/919393.

Left-truncatable primes: Primes that remain prime when the leading digit is successively removed, e.g. 317/17/7, 853/53/3 and 62467/2467/467/67/7. The largest is 357686312646216567629137.
Right-truncatable primes: Primes that remain prime when the final digit is successively removed, e.g. 293/29/2, 599/59/5, 31193/3119/311/31/3. The largest is 73939133.
Two-sided primes: Primes that are both left-truncatable and right-truncatable. The only two-sided primes (over 100) are 313, 317, 373, 797, 3137, 3797 and 739397.

Repunit primes: Primes containing only the digit 1, e.g. 11, 1111111111111111111 and 11111111111111111111111. The next have 317 and 1031 digits.
Pandigital primes: Primes containing all 10 digits, e.g. 10123457689, 10123465789, and 10123465897. No pandigital primes are 10-digit numbers.

Beastly primes: Primes including the number of the Beast, e.g. 6661, 96661, 700666007 and 6660000000001.
Belphegor's prime: The palindromic beastly prime number 1000000000000066600000000000001, with 666 at its centre, surrounded on either side by thirteen zeroes.

Prime 'wordsearch'

30 different prime numbers are hidden in this grid. How many can you find?

 1  7  9 
 1  5  3 
 3  4  7 

All answers now in the comments box.

...which begs the question. Is it possible to cram more than 30 prime numbers into a 3×3 grid?

 Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Where's your London antipodes?

That's the point in London directly opposite where you are.

Imagine walking in a straight line to the centre of London, and then carrying on for exactly the same distance in exactly the same direction. That's your London antipodes.

n.b. I've taken the centre of London to be the King Charles I statue at Charing Cross.
n.b. I'm aware that the word 'antipodes' technically only refers to opposite points on a sphere, but it'll have to do.

Here's my London antipodes - Lonsdale Road in Castelnau.

It's exactly as far away from Charing Cross as my house in Bow, and extraordinarily different. To get your bearings, Castelnau lies on the Barnes peninsula, inside a great meander on the Thames, and grew up after the opening of Hammersmith Bridge in the mid 19th century. The flamboyant villas of Lonsdale Road are a delight, owned by fortunate upper middle class families who've never needed to transform their homes into flats. My precise antipodes is opposite the entrance to St Paul's School, outside a villa now used by the Czech/Slovak community which has two entirely unofficial blue plaques stuck on the front. The locale is quiet, leafy and comfortably white, very much not like Bow E3 at all.

The Olympic Stadium lies 1km north of my house, so its antipodes are 1km south of Lonsdale Road. It turns out the precise opposite of the Olympic Stadium is the Red Lion pub in Barnes, by the 5-way junction at the turn-off for the London Wetland Centre. As for the antipodes of Stratford station, that's at the other end of the High Street, on the waterfront immediately alongside Barnes Bridge. Gustav Holst lived here, in an elegant cottage on The Terrace, but moved out just before he wrote The Planets. Again this well-to-do Thameside backwater is a huge contrast to Stratford's bustling cosmopolitan hub, but that's geographical opposites for you.

So how do you find your London antipodes?

The simplest 'old school' method is to get a map of London and a long-enough ruler. Line up your house with Trafalgar Square, and then measure exactly the same distance in the opposite direction. One catch is that you may not have a map large enough, and another is that you may no longer own a paper map, because this is the 21st century grandad.

Measuring lines on digital maps is harder, because that's progress, unless you happen to have tools for drawing lines on your screen. I opened up a Google map and plonked a marker at Trafalgar Square, then tried to draw a single straight line from my house so its midpoint landed on the marker.

Or if you like maths and geography you could play around with latitude and longitude in a spreadsheet using a clever formula. To help you get started, the centre of London is at 51°30′26.41″N, 0°7′39.56 W (or 51.507335, -0.127655 in decimal), according to the Wikipedia page for Charles I's statue.

Some more examples.
» The antipodes of Buckingham Palace is the Royal Courts of Justice. It's exactly as far east from Charing Cross as Buckingham Palace is west.
» The antipodes of the Houses of Parliament is Tottenham Court Road station. It's exactly as far north from Charing Cross as the Palace of Westminster is south.
» The antipodes of St Paul's Cathedral is Knightsbridge.
» The antipodes of the Tower of London is Kensington Palace.
» The antipodes of Kings Cross station is Nine Elms.
» The antipodes of London Zoo is Camberwell.
And that last one is why I find this concept fascinating. I always picture London Zoo as being within central London and Camberwell outside, but it turns out they're both the same distance out. Admittedly the West End runs more to one side of Trafalgar Square than the other, but the overall concept still holds.

Let's head out a bit further out.
» The antipodes of Stratford is Barnes.
» The antipodes of Brixton is Gospel Oak.
» The antipodes of Wimbledon is Walthamstow.
» The antipodes of Greenwich Observatory is Harlesden.
» The antipodes of Wembley Stadium is Lewisham.
» The antipodes of Penge is Finchley.
And a bit further into the suburbs.
» The antipodes of Chingford is Motspur Park.
» The antipodes of Hampton Court is Hainault.
» The antipodes of Croydon is Cockfosters.
» The antipodes of Heathrow Airport is a large area south of Hornchurch.
» The antipodes of Romford town centre is Feltham Young Offenders prison.
» The antipodes of Orpington is Bushey, Herts.
Again what's interesting is the number of times you think "Oh, I never realised it was that far out" (or "not that far out", depending).

And we can go further.
» The antipodes of Harlow is Dorking.
» The antipodes of Gatwick Airport is near Stevenage.
» The antipodes of Southend is Reading.
» The antipodes of Cambridge is Worthing.
» The antipodes of Oxford is Canterbury.
» The antipodes of Ipswich is Southampton.
And further still.
» The antipodes of Birmingham is on the French coast at Le Touquet.
» The antipodes of Paris is in North Lancashire near Carnforth.
» The antipodes of Swansea is on the island of Zeeland in the Netherlands.
» The antipodes of Londonderry is near Strasbourg.
» The antipodes of Edinburgh is in the Loire Valley.
» The antipodes of Stornoway is in the Alps near Grenoble.
London is very much in the corner of Great Britain, and a lot of the continent is much nearer to us than a lot of our own country.

And that's quite enough.

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