Monday, 31 December 2012

The Number 475 Route (not)

We can find no trace of a 475 bus route closer than Bury Lancs, or Ontario, Canada, so I will just mention that Arriva said in its recruitment publicity in October, that a driver can earn £475  in a five day week, and move on....

One of the Ladies Who Bus, Jo, has been compiling an annual Christmas Quiz for family and friends, not to mention ex-pupils who remember it from their schooldays, and their families, ditto. This has been going on for 41 years. (Pause for impressed intake of breath…) 

She accepts guest sections, and so, to fill in this latest non-route posting, here is a bus-related section contributed to the 2012 quiz by the husband of another LWB, the 63 Regular. 

In this section, all the answers contain (maybe in the plural or phonetically) one or other part of the name of London’s most iconic, if outdated, bus: 

1. The highway that winds from Chicago to LA 
2. A late play by Henrik Ibsen 
3. A 1950 John Ford film 
4. Alex Haley’s quest for his ancestors 
5. A novel by Patrick O’Brian, later filmed with Russell Crowe 
6. The golf tournament held annually in Augusta, GA 
7. An American soft drink 
8. A 1980 track by Stevie Wonder 
9. A 1963 protest song by Bob Dylan 
10. The Dragon’s Den contender behind a spicy cooking sauce 
11. An opera by Wagner 
12. A US Marshal who ended up as a journalist in New York 
13. The British actress who has played roles in both ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Persuasion’ 
14. The child’s toy for viewing 3-D discs, launched in 1939 
15. A novel by Mikhail Bulgakov 
16. The love of money… 
17. John Donne’s opinion of an elephant 
18. The protagonist of a series of children’s books by Gillian Cross 
19. A much-feared dental procedure 
20. The culinary TV show first aired in 1990 

 Answers, for those who want them, will be provided in a future blog posting. If anyone would like a sight of the full 250-question 2012 quiz, please let us know – with an email address – by way of a comment and we will forward you the PDF.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The Number 474 Route

Manor Park to Canning Town (Hermit Road)
Wednesday May 9th 2012

Due to poor communication on my part I leapt onto a train at Stratford, just catching it, while Jo, who had been waiting a while thinking I was going to be late, didn’t.  So in the end I arrived at Manor Park ten minutes earlier than she did – most unusually – and therefore had time to photograph the station and the corner of Wanstead Flats, which is the innermost ‘corner’ of Epping Forest and home to not a few water birds.   As I write this I am still not sure whether the Flats will be used as a so called ‘police hub’ for the upcoming Olympic games but as these will be well over by the time you read this it matters little. What matters more is that we were boarding a bold double-decker and the moisture in the air was somewhere between mist and rain. The countdown had said 6 minutes but the 474 set off more promptly than that.

Our only other upper deck passenger did Tai Chi for his whole trip. After passing the Blakesley Arms  (I have failed to find a family to go with their coat of arms), which at least looks open and has looked after its external plasterwork, we passed the Ruskin Arms (firmly shut) which billed itself as the ‘home of metal, rock and heavy music’and worthy of a pilgrimage? 

From here until East Ham the shops and businesses were almost entirely South Asian, interspersed with some shop-front mosques and also temples. As we had noted in other places the 99p shop looks as though it might have emerged from the cocoon of a former Woolworths store; their shops have a High Street Art Deco look.  Going south the bus routes veer round the back of the High Street and both markets The Queen’s and East Ham have delivery /transport access from the back, and seem very much to be at the core of this community.

On past the Town hall and Library complex, the 474 comes quite soon to the park adjacent to the White Horse – it seems a very long time since our first trip to East Ham proper on the 115 and 58 but the pub’s closure predates that.   And today was probably the last time we shall pass this way.  East Ham Nature Reserve is essentially the old Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene Church . I am not a church goer myself though a frequent visitor for architectural gems but I liked the idea of being a  'mystery worshipper' as opposed to mystery shopper and I thought this seemed a fair description that combined both the faith and architectural aspects of church going. This very much marks the border between Victorian and Edwardian East Ham and the rather later origins of Beckton, built for the gasworks that functioned for about a hundred years between 1870 and 1970. The former slag heaps which now form the Beckton Alp were looking quite pretty today, covered as they were with cow parsley and other wild flowers/weeds all looking quite lively after our lengthy wet spell. Most of the bus routes round Beckton take care to go into the various estates to the left and right of the bigger roads but the 474 takes a direct route through to Docklands. We noticed that there were ample bark chippings surrounding some newly planted shrubs.  ‘All very well,’ said Jo (who has an opinion on most things), ‘they keep the weeds down but don’t half harbour the litter’.  Round the corner we came upon numerous young people doing just that – gathering up the litter on the bark shreddings.  The other thing we noted were bus stops/shelters with voltaic panels fitted – as they did not have countdown controls we were not sure for what purpose the stored power would be used? 

By now we were well into DLR territory with the stations coming thick and fast and the bus route passing under the overhead bits of the lines. Though well connected by both trains and buses the area still lacks local shops so most residents are obliged to use the big 3 supermarkets, which have divided up this area between them. 
(The next bit is very similar to previous post 473 so regular readers may wish to skip a couple of paragraphs)

The continuation of Woolwich Manor Way will get you, or in our case the 24 hour 474, to the Woolwich Free Ferry which runs every fifteen minutes or so and is one of the more leisurely ways of crossing the Thames. The run had been very smooth so far, by which I mean both few traffic hold ups and little bouncing, but from this point the road surface changed markedly. We had passed this way a few months ago and have not really been able to work out what all the roadworks are about except that they are extensive and run the length of the former railway lines  closed in 2006.

The tracks have now vanished but what is to come in their place is not clear. There was some discussion between us as to whether the Tate & Lyle Factory was still operating.  Jo said she saw smoke from the chimney though it hardly looked like a hive of activity, but according to their website over a million tins leave this factory each month.  Nevertheless the chimney stack has a very bright poster of the famous Golden Syrup lion, referencing the Old Testament riddle of ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’. The bus was on diversion by now and shortly to do another of its loops (it had already called in and out of Beckton bus station and the Ferry Terminal), this time into London City Airport. Positioned as it is on a former bit of Docklands it has only 1 runway so welcomes small jets. Lying below sea level it is also susceptible to fog and mist but there seemed to be just about enough visibility today.

Leaving the airport the road curves under the overhead DLR until it rejoins the North Woolwich Road. Our next landmark could have been the Thames barrier  but in  today’s mist meant this was unlikely. In any case there is significant building along the North Woolwich Road -  with over 500 homes being built.

Almost opposite is Caravansarai which would appear to be a fairly newly created would-be hub for local businesses and talent; however by the time we  came to blog this, seven months down the lien the website has folded?. Certainly there is a wide and empty stretch of road along here so the potential to create something more vibrant is certainly there. Already in place, rather to our surprise and said through tightly pursed lips as it counts as a ‘Boris Vanity Project,’ we saw the Emirates cable cars criss-crossing the road – on a test run we presume. Like most of Stratford there was much cosmetic work going on with diggers and landscapers making sure all would look beautiful for the Olympics – we just hope it is also sustainable. Certainly riding underneath the dangling cars – there must have been eight or so – we cannot imagine the view is that great, nor do the 2 places need to be linked that urgently. **

The 474 calls into Canning Town but the bus station is not its final resting place – this is in fact further on, round the still full-of-works roundabout and along the Barking Road. A measure of how the workers now think they own Canning Town is this picture of a Conway Operative holding up the last resting place of our 474.
This was quite an exhilarating route and like Brian and the football – a route of two halves: older East Ham, with all its shops and small businesses, and newer Beckton then Docklands still in the throes of being built.  The trip took us just 50 minutes.
** Wrong – see 100 routes back and the (Not) 374 for an altogether excellent view from the little pods. 

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Number 473 Route

North Woolwich to Stratford Bus Station
Thursday August 11th 2011

On a summer’s day that was more like spring in its unpredictability the 473 was our third bus of the day – we being on this occasion Jo, Linda and Sue G. We had arrived by water having taken the FREE Woolwich Ferry and sure enough walked straight off the landing pier to find a double-decker (I was sure it was to be an insignificant little thing) arriving and departing without a pause. 

The 473 takes its first turn at the remnants of  North Woolwich Station, not used since 2006 and now sadly not even a heritage museum as it had been briefly. There was some rumour of it becoming part of Crossrail but I find that difficult to believe. There is a complicated history and even more complicated future which I will not go into as this is a bus blog not a train blog  The tracks between here and what would have been Silvertown station (named for a Mr Silver not the precious metal) have been removed and the wild life, mainly buddleia at this time of year, has taken over in strength. 

With much of the industry defunct and departed the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery still dominated the area (cane and beet delivered by water – sugar and syrup moved on by train I suppose) and the housing eventually provided for workers.

From dereliction to modernity: the bus arrives at the King George V dock, which now has been given a new lease of life partly through the water sports but mainly through the arrival of London City Airport . The dock is a fairly recent one with a short history. 
The 473 route looks as if it is about to cross the Connaught Bridge but first swings under the DLR which looks pretty futuristic from below and nips in and out of the City Airport.  Having  used it we thought it unlikely the typical profile flying passenger would deign to use a bus but presumably it  provides transport for airport employees. It is an exciting take-off and landing due to very short runways but gives fantastic views because of the steep ascents and descents. Opposite the airport is the jolly and colourful campus of the University of East London.
The bus does then cross the Connaught Bridge. (Until I saw this I was not aware it could open,.and there was an equivalent tunnel also) and suddenly we joined a variety of other bus routes that serve the Excel centre and the hotels that have sprung up nearby.  Even more of a surprise was a glimpse of some quite extensive allotments out to the left.

By this time we were heading firmly north up Prince Regent Lane (this part of London seems very historically royal – don’t you yearn for streets to be named after dockers** or at least engineers, not the same old royals again)

Newham has tried to renew facilities where it can and in addition to the library there is a newish Sixth Form centre, hospital and CTRG (short for Canning Town Recreation Ground) park with its wrought-iron gate. 

Less new is the access to the Greenway, which is the grassed over walk and cycleway effectively over Bazalgette’s Northern outfall sewer, the green aspect occasionally tempered by the odd whiff of – yes you’ve guessed it – sewer.

Well, Plaistow was not going to be left feeling like the poor relation to ‘Olympic Stratford’ and today we captured Newham’s baskets (pic) at their very best – it seemed even the chaps from the station were coming out to have a look, or have a break.

The former Plaistow YMCA, built in 1919, was rescued from dereliction and is now renamed Greengate House but still stands out along this road where in the main buildings are unremarkable. There was an undertaker, as usual on the corner for easy side access of the coffins, which led to a discussion of the rising popularity of wicker coffins. Sue swears she has seen a knitted coffin, and indeed this may be a historical fact and more Northern speciality. Jo likes to have a knitting project on the go and since she has likely exhausted the small garments for grandchildren it might be time for a bigger project.

Talking of bigger projects the 473 passes the Olympic Park Legacy Offices. By the time you come to read this the Olympics will be well over and it should be possible to look more closely at the legacy, especially for this part of London.

What is certain is that Stratford will get a renewed bus station linked in with the Westfield Shopping centre; we have been going through Stratford one way or another for over two years (make that four years)  and seen huge changes – today the bus station (pic) was in some disarray awaiting the official opening of the shopping centre. I shall add a postscript in 2012-3.**

This is a comparatively recent bus route, and is short and to the point. 

**Westfield and the Olympics unqualified successes, Stratford now has 2 bus stations; one where it’s always been in front of the station and the other tucked alongside Westfield. This can be quite confusing and you need to allow about a 10 minute walk between them.  The Olympic site is being transformed into the Queen Elizabeth II Park and the Athletes’ flats into ‘affordable housing’ …apparently.

Go further into Beckton and  Docklands and there are streets and buildings named after dockers.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Number 472 Route

Thamesmead Town Centre to North Greenwich
Monday December 20th 2010

This was our first trip to Thamesmead (though obviously one of the later numbers) and we were rather surprised to find that ‘Towncentre’ comprised half a bus station and a library. In fact Thamesmead seemed rather short on the facilities that daily living requires such as shops and cafes or pubs, though generously endowed with buses. When they extended the Jubilee Line Thamesmead was hopeful of getting its own underground stop, but Stratford won that particular prize and it does seem incongruous that an area housing up to 50,000 people does not have its own station.  There are as noted, however, several bus routes – including this one, which runs on a 24-hour basis. 
All we had needed to do on this very cold day was to get off our previous route, cross the road and immediately we were in our customary front seats on the top deck.

Thamesead North was large and densely populated enough without thinking about the other three points of the compass – in good socialist fashion the roads and some of the blocks are named after lots of DW(EE)BS (Dead White Britons): Dickens, Lister, Fleming, Bentham and Hawksmoor, a few of them more local boys than others; the list goes on. Off to the side there was a patch of wildlife naming – Curlew and Fieldfare leading us to wonder whether the increasingly ubiquitous green parakeets would soon get a street or development named for them? Parakeet Pass perhaps?  Anyway the town houses and newer flats were nicely arranged along little waterways – today all frozen, leading to some rather confused looking ducks and geese sitting on the ice rather than dabbling as they usually do. I imagine it can be quite pleasant to stroll along here on warmer days. Not surprisingly the bus was taking its journey quite carefully and quietly, given the narrow clearance it had between snow and slush banks, and it took on many passengers.

After emerging onto the main road, the bus then serves Thamesmead West, which is in fact an industrial/business estate that presumably offers employment to some of the residents of Thamesmead North.  Many of the businesses seemed to be to do with either car repairs or parcel delivery services – at this time of year there were plenty of vans nipping in and out of different units. Again we were not sure where the workers round here went for lunch as there seemed to be a great lack of eating places except for one McDonalds.  ‘Iron Mountain’ with its simple triangular logo was one of the main warehousing agents round here, but on looking into what services they might provide it seems they manage ‘data protection’ out of rather more upmarket addresses in town than a slab of metal warehouse in Thamesmead – can this be where all the confidential re-cycling waste actually sits then?? As ours was the only bus route trundling along Nathan Way there seemed little risk of having too many visitors anyway.

Our last bit of back street driving then finished by merging into the busy riverside main road between Plumstead and Woolwich, and we stayed Thames-side for the rest of the trip. Even from the top of the bus it is quite difficult to work out what you are passing on the opposite riverbank. By the Woolwich Ferry the last of Tate & Lyle was steaming/smoking away opposite and there was a strange array of huge satellite dishes much bigger than the domestic sort leading one to wonder where data protection ends and spying starts?? Having recently flown into City Airport at night it was good to see the river landscape by day. 

Talking of river landscapes we suddenly realised that the Royal Arsenal housing development  we had been passing on so many routes actually had some completed blocks behind the hoardings – not very inspiring was the conclusion, just oblong greyness …
( I promise I am not an agent for Berkeley but as developers go they at least rehabilitate existing sites of interest) 

We zipped along the riverside route quite smartly, with its reminders of seafaring past such a Hope and Anchor Lane,  and Horizon Way, and then turned off into Bugsby’s Way, which turned out to be our undoing. ( I think Bugsby must have been like Mr Gallion and family who owned stretches of the river down from the more expensive mooring in central London - a 'reach' is as far as a ship 'reaches' on a single tack .... apparently.)

We guessed there might be some kind of malfunction in the nearby Blackwall Tunnel as there seemed to be traffic everywhere but going nowhere so halfway down our driver evicted us onto the frozen pavements to wait for the next bus along. We were only within 6 minutes of finishing this route and getting home so it seemed a bit unreasonable but I suppose timetables are timetables. I suggested to Jo we might take the next bus along whatever the number, given that the routes were the same, but this is clearly ‘against the rules’ even in sub-zero temperatures. As it happened the next bus along was a 472 so we could complete the trip as it should be done.

Given the milling hordes it took longer than six minutes but we eventually left the Blackwall scrum behind and sailed past the gasworks/dome and housing mix to arrive back at North Greenwich where we had set off some four hours earlier.  By now the inside of the bus was like paddling due to the snow coming off passengers’ shoes but the 472 had taken us safely through the narrow and snowbound streets of Thamesmead back to the Greenwich Peninsula.

Monday, 24 December 2012

The Number 471 Route (Not)

Well, after quite a good run of actual buses round Coulsdon, Croydon and Epsom we come to another unused number, at least by TFL. There is a 471 that runs between Woking and Kingston, so could easily be joined to several of our recent expeditions.

Without any pretence at being PC I will go with the season and talk about Christmas decorations. In your home each to his own – you may be an OTT sort with garlands from every light fitting; you may be a minimalist, with two white painted twigs and a single silver bauble; you may greet the world, or at least the street, with Santas climbing the side of your home, sleighs across the roof, the odd reindeer in the front garden and a Piccadilly Circus-worth of outdoor lights; or you may choose to have a tasteful ‘wreath’ by the knocker… But spare a thought for our councils and local authorities who, with cut budgets and more austerity coming where no-one has had a pay rise in three years, still try to instill a little Christmas spirit along the shopping streets of London. Each borough must have the equivalent of a box in the loft or under the stairs where they keep their lights and garlands and bring them out each year, for that is surely what they do. Though we occasionally laugh at the results, I think we need to salute their efforts and celebrate the fact that they try to brighten corners of London where the gloom comes not only from the weather and short days, but the economic climate too. 
Trees usually fare best - the familiar shape, colour and outline instantly conjuring up Christmas. Shop windows can be dazzling; I can remember special trips as a child to see the themed ones that Selfridges produces, and even the most modest local shop can manage some tinsel draped across the produce and products.

What we can capture from a bus is often limited to what is hanging from the lampposts and across the roads, and these are often the least successful, coming into their own more when daylight fades.

Cribs are comparatively rare; you can see some in catholic Churches and occasionally outdoors too, but on the whole the more domestic nativity set remains a continental rather than UK custom. 

I have noticed a growing trend for ‘German’ style markets with identical little wooden huts selling warm wine and sausages; I have not yet had the opportunity to see what else is on offer. In case you want to see what a real German Christmas Market looks like, see below.

Anyway whatever style of decoration you do or don’t opt for enjoy those on offer for free and ALL GOOD WISHES to our many (or at least over 150) followers for the upcoming HOLIDAYS.

Nativity Scene Shop Window Display courtesy of Karstadt, Munich

Christmas market from the Rathaus, Augsburg.

Rothenburg ob der Tauer

Decorated bus for Christmas circa 2010

Kingston craft Fair, 2011

Enfield's Christmas Decorations 2010

Modern twist on Christmas Trees

Teddington (Richmond?) attaches its trees to lamp-posts.

Lambeth's lights near Waterloo...

The ultimate Christmas tree decoration...

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Number 470 Route

Colliers Wood Station to Epsom Town centre
Wednesday December 19th 2012

The last bus day before Christmas, and probably the last bus day of the year 2012, brought us to Colliers Wood where the three of us had assembled following different approaches to the Northern Line. The 470 stop was easily visible from the station and we duly waited about 15 minutes for the twice-an-hour service. This new, spruce double door single decker clearly has a loyal fan base as for almost its entire length we noticed how the passengers knew each other and even moved seats to be able to chat more comfortably.

Heading south from Colliers Wood, our first encounter was with a series of roundabouts and large industrial units – some having shops while others were of the storage variety and we noted quite few visitors doubtless wishing their stored goods the compliments of the season – or perhaps it’s the one time of year when you use the extra chairs?

The first landmark was the Merton Abbey Mills - for along here the River Wandle was used by earlier industries; today the industries are more of the cottage and tourist variety, though no doubt attracting a good crowd at a weekend.  Later on Morden Hall is another attraction, this time run by the National Trust.  Though the ‘Prince of Wales’ is a recently refurbished Young’s pub it was a bit difficult to tell from the pub sign which Prince was intended: the pub was too well established to be the current incumbent, and the picture looked too thin to be the Prinny one, so that leaves about 19 other possibles but Jo  thought it might be Fred, the one who never made it?

By now we were coming into the altogether more familiar Morden where the station is helpfully central to the High Street. What leapt out (of the deep gloom it has to be said) were the La Lavella CafĂ© and Relate, the latter with its sign cunningly showing two heads ‘talking it through’. This was a charity shop but may also have been a branch offering services. Once through Morden came the series of roundabouts and our option – Central Avenue – cut across the St Helier Estate quite neatly, one of outer London’s more ambitious social housing projects.  “The main building work being apparently done between early 1929 and the end of 1934. It was built by C.J. Wills and Sons for the London County Council, who had acquired for the purpose 825 acres which had been farmland, both arable and pasture. Much of this land had, in fact, been used for the local lavender and herb industry, to which the estate was more or less a final death blow.”  The planning did include 18 schools, a hospital and cinema with several areas left as open spaces.

Those early residents now have their own memories site which is quite evocative. It must be said, and this is true of the trip as a whole, that if 37% of current Londoners were born overseas on this trip the passengers definitely came from the remaining 63%. It is a very patriotic community and when last here, during the World Cup, all the St George’s flags were flying; today it was rather more muted with quite subdued Christmas decorations though a large flag for ‘the Help for Heroes’ charity.  Some stretches were ‘Hail & Ride’

Glenthorne has a football academy and approaching yet another roundabout we spotted a new library, economically though pleasantly built of metal and wood – Jo reminded us that it’s the staffing that costs, not the bricks and mortar (none of that here). This was but a brief interlude as yet more residential areas continued alongside Sutton Common Station and Sutton Green, which signalled our arrival at Sutton Town Centre. We progressed south round the back of the High Street as usual emerging at the top of the slope by the police stations and main station. Here we lost most of the passengers who had been with us from Colliers Wood including a chap who was off to see ‘his mates in prison’ this being the place to change onto the Route 80 prison bound.

Our route out of Sutton was more westerly, serving the very pleasant residential roads that merge effortlessly between Sutton and Cheam. If your main image of Cheam is based on Tony Hancock and friends in ‘Railway Cuttings East Cheam’ think again – this route took us past substantial detached properties well set back on leafy (not at this time of year, but you can tell) and largely quiet streets. Some of the houses had been turned into residential homes and this was seemingly the first site for the Christian Foundation of Eothen homes. By now we were into our second ‘Hail & Ride’ section. This is the only number route effectively between Sutton and Cheam and the locals took advantage of it to get them home from the shops.  The approach to Cheam Station is very narrow and controlled by one-way traffic lights so it is no surprise there are only 2 buses an hour passing through.

Cheam feels compelled to highlight its Tudor connections (see Nonsuch Park) and the High Street shopping parades are suitably half-timbered in tribute to the links with Henry VIII. To be fair the shops in Cheam do offer a more individual shopping experience than most suburban malls. Leaving Cheam, the roadside green space is variously Cheam Park but more properly Nonsuch Park, where  Henry VIII planned for a hunting palace, but died before it was completed. Its later history is equally louche with the property passing to Lady Castlemaine, the Royal mistress remembered mostly for her indiscretions as recounted by the inimitable Samuel Pepys

The Ewell Road offered yet more residential delights with even some new homes under construction – however at close to £¾ million each property we won’t be moving here in a hurry, though clearly the South East is more prosperous than many parts of the country. Smaller apartment blocks always signal there is a station nearby and sure enough we passed Ewell East, just outside Zone 6 and doubtless subject to imminent fare rises.

Grand houses, some again now residential facilities for older people, line the main road in and out of Ewell village, and the joy of both the park and these homes was the sight of so many mature trees, splendid even in the winter gloom.

The route into Epsom was somewhat depressing with at least three modern office blocks empty and for letting. Traffic funnels towards Epsom High Street and Jo, who was in photography mode, decided to snap a female driver texting on her phone.   Because the light was low the camera flashed (and actually failed to capture the scene) and we got in return the kind of ‘looks could kill’ stare. She returned to her phone though. Epsom has a one-way system so we swung round the back of Debenhams, Waitrose and the Playhouse Theatre before pulling up alongside the clock tower and our next, even rarer, bus. But you have already read the entry for the 467.

To be fair this had been billed as a 75 minute ride, and that is how long it took, but was a much more realistic estimate than they often are. It also had come from a station not yet at the end of the Northern Line to a town in Surrey well beyond Zone 6.