Thursday, 4 June 2020

Not the buses: elderly exercise instead

Wednesday 3 June 2020 

Linda and I have not been on a bus for months, and we feel it may be many more months before we do.  So here instead is the story of today's cycle ride: about an hour as recommended by our Great Leader for people in their seventies without underlying health issues.

Today's trip began along Brewery Road, rather an uncomfortable ride, as Islington is clearly economising on road repairs, then right into the Caledonian Road and left up Wheelwright Street.  Here, under the walls of HM Prison Pentonville, is the memorial mural to Henry Hicks. He was killed in 2014 by police officers in two unmarked cars, who were doing more than 50 mph, but were cleared of any wrong-doing. The Metropolitan Police apologised to the family early this year.

At the start of Hemingford Road there are 'works' which made easy to turn left and then right, to pass the attractive terraces of Barnsbury and reach the busy Pentonville Road, where traffic lights allow you a safe crossing into Amwell Street.

 Amwell Street is very pleasant to ride along, as it is steadily downhill, and I knew I would not have to labour back up this way. Near the bottom, where it reaches Rosebery Avenue, I turned right Margery Street, or, in cycle parlance, Q2 (Quietway....)

 The Quietway links to C6, the route from Kentish Town to Elephant and Castle, and takes you past the Post Office Museum and what was once the huge Mount Pleasant sorting office and delivery base, now being transformed into Postmark, 'an address like no other' where a ground floor one bedroom flat would set you back £950,000.  Work appears to be gently ongoing, despite Covid.

 Still heading downhill, you reach Farringdon Street, and turn right, with glimpses of London Landmarks old and new. The gradient is still friendly, of course, because you are on your way down the valley of the River Fleet, as crossed by the Holborn Viaduct.

The traffic lights get cyclists safely over Ludgate Circus, and down to Blackfriars Bridge, where I turned right, leaving C6 to join CS3, the East-West Superhighway.  

On the way down, John Carpenter Street is on the right, with the jolly 1983 sculpture, entitled 'Taxi!'  Not many people get to see it, I imagine, as it's rather a dead end for pedestrians.
I've somewhat given up travelling along the Embankment at weekends, because the segregated path is pleasingly full of families cycling, and therefore harder for distancing.  But it's always a pleasure as there is so much to see.  For example, the benches are supported by laden camels; and there is a distant view of the place where I shall leave the river, namely Big Ben.


Just before the cycleway leaves the City of London and enters Westminster, the benches stop being camels, and become winged sphinxes, possibly because Cleopatra's Needle is coming up soon.

There is an awful lot to look at along here;  let me reassure you that I got off my bike to take the photos. Here is one of the bases for the RNLI, saving the lives of silly people who imagine that the tidal Thames is a safe playground; also a plaque for Walter Besant, one of those prolific Victorian writers who have vanished from shelves if not from walls.


On the other side of the road is the Belgian Gratitude memorial, given by the government of Belgium in 1920 as a thank you for the welcome given to Refugees during the First World War. It's a bit ironic, given the current attitude to refugees, that a homeless person's pop-tent is now sharing the space.

The route is now passing the back of the Ministry of Defence, so there are lots of service memorials:  the RAF Eagle is on the river side, and across the road is the Fleet Air Arm Memorial, rather oddly (I think) depicting Daedalus, whose son tested (with disastrous results) the wings he had invented.  Also in the river side is the more recent Battle of Britain Memorial.

Slightly out of place among all this flying is the little memorial to the Chindits, part of the 'Forgotten Army' which fought in Burma.

So now CS 6 reaches Westminster Bridge, with a welcome British heroine after all these men, and crosses Parliament Square to head on westwards.  But I turned north,  up Horseguards Road.  I passed the back of Downing Street, and the open expanse of the parade ground (no Trooping the Colour this year). Opposite is the Guards Memorial, where you can see, though not in my photo, the shrapnel pock-marks which remain from the Second World War.

Turning right to go under Admiralty Arch, where 'works' have been going on for months, my route is on ordinary roads for a bit.  Charing Cross Road is sad, with theatres shut, and it is hard to see how they can possibly reopen.  The Tottenham Court Road is still very quiet, though I notice that Specsavers is open for business.

Then I turned right after Heal's, onto C27 to pass Tavistock Square, with a double bust of the pioneering doctor Louisa Aldrich-Blake, who qualified at the Royal Free in 1893.


 Next I turned left to pass Cartwright Gardens, where people were having tennis coaching. It's named for John Cartwright who was an 18th century campaigner for political reform (and whose brother Edmund invented the power loom).  It's also, by the way where the poet Wilfred Owen learned his drill when he first joined the Artist Rifles during the First World War.  

My route then crosses the Euston Road, to go up Ossulston Street, past the British Library and what must be the ugliest recent building in London, the Crick Institute.

And now I rejoined C6 to go up Royal College Street (named for the Royal Veterinary College) and so reach home.

London is really pleasant to cycle around at the moment, and I hope that all the people who have discovered this during lockdown will continue to take advantage of the ever-improving facilities once normality returns.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Number 87 Onwards

Clearly Linda & Jo will not be back on the buses for some time to come, and while we do have higher route numbers ridden, written and ready to go it seems wrong to abandon the Project at this stage.
While Jo is happily cycling round a traffic-reduced and much less polluted London, Linda is very much locked in with a vulnerable,  needs to be shielded  partner, so has not left the house for four weeks. Jo assures her that Regent Street is still there.

However the real point of this is to say how sorry we have been to hear about the death of several London bus drivers and their garage colleagues. It has always struck us that they are very much unsung heroes doing (even under normal circumstances) daily battle with traffic jams, irate commuters, diversions, troublesome passengers, lost tourists, buggy vs wheelchair clashes – and that’s only during the day.

If lucky they have a 2 minute break at the turn-around point. It never seems to be a very healthy job – much concentration and patience required and little opportunity to exercise or eat healthily – but on they go keeping to their heavily monitored time-tables.  Then of course there are all those germs that the passengers pass around, again even under normal circumstances.

So it is not entirely surprising that so many drivers have been killed by this terrible virus, as yet without cure or prevention, so we feel we should say not only thanks for all the safe journeys we have made but thanks to those drivers keeping going, and our heartfelt condolences for the families and colleagues of those who have not made it.

(This longish article takes you behind the scenes and the headlines)

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The Number 87 Route

Thursday 28 March 2019

This was a remarkably straight route, but none the less interesting for that.  We started from outside Somerset House at 10.10, somewhat later than we had intended.  But then who would have thought that a bus ride from Camden to Aldwych would take virtually an hour.

We set off along the Strand, pleased that the bus lane was helping a bit, and went past a number of handsome buildings along what we are learning to call 'Northbank'. We noted particularly the Army and Navy clock, and the sleek glass of Coutts Bank. This is clearly not for the likes of us, as it is a private bank, with a website which says 

'With insight and judgement shaped by working with wealthy individuals, we appreciate the subtlety and complexity of the lives they lead. Expert in the drivers of wealth generation and the intricacies of international and ultra high net worth individuals, we are well placed to understand your needs.'

Past Charing Cross Station and its Eleanor Cross, and we came to Trafalgar Square, where we turned left, to travel down the tourist hotspot that is Whitehall.  Among the many sights are the Adam screen in front of the Admiralty (I had suggested to Linda that it was Wren.... Doh), and the Horseguards.  It was the Blues and Royal who were mounting guard (no, I did not recognise them, I looked them up when I got home) . We did think that the contrast between sleek horses on a London pavement (guarded by armed police, by the way) and tanks and armoured cars in nasty parts of the world was striking

Then we came to three leaders of the Second World War, Slim, Alanbrooke and Montgomery, on one side of the road, while the other was occupied by the Foreign Office and the treasury.  

These buildings, presumably full of agitated public servants preparing for who knows what*, hardly advertise themselves.  They could learn from John Lewis and Next about branding.

*by the time you read this, we shall know, I suppose.

Next we turned right outside the Houses of Parliament, where demonstrators were active, and the press and media were encamped, in case something happened.

Straight alongside the river, we passed a pleasant playground, as well as Tate Britain, as well as the derisory blue paint which denotes the so-called Superhighway 8. Then we turned left to cross Vauxhall Bridge. This was only the third turn we had made since leaving Aldwych, by the way.

There seemed to be building works going on in the river alongside Spies-R-Us, or the MI6 HQ as it is sometimes known.  Whether this is to do with the Tideway sewer, or merely an extension, we don't know.

Straight over the bridge and into Vauxhall Bus Station, where we paused for long enough to admire the hanging clock at bus stop G, before heading straight Eastwards, again.

This is the area which is becoming known as the Nine Elms Neighbourhood, with enormous amounts of building going on.  Development is driven partly by the Battersea Power Station, and partly by G W Bush's planned new US Embassy. We bus users think that the outside decoration is reminiscent of Stratford Bus station.

We passed what Linda remembered as a post-16 Educational establishment, but a charming gentleman overheard her and told us it was now closed.  It appears to be a private gym now.
We also passed a restaurant name the Lusitania. This is, in a way, not odd, because that is the Roman name for Portugal.  On the other hand, the sinking of the SS Lusitania in May 1917 was one of the events which brought the USA into the First World War, so its proximity to the Embassy gives the name an added interest.

In among the former breweries, and huge new apartment blocks, some of the older houses do survive.  We were also rather taken with the fact that Premier Inns had renovated a strange and decorative building, rather than simply occupying a brick and glass block

We enjoyed the Christian story on a mural, cramming in the whole of the life of Christ as happens during a calendar year!

Next we came past the Battersea Arts Centre, which continues to serve its community despite all difficulties. And the Falcon Pub, named for the Falcon Brook, as well as boasting the longest bar in the world, is also thriving as far as we could see.

Given how large and important Clapham Junction Station is, we found the entrance unprepossessing in the extreme. The St John's Therapy Centre was rather more striking, though

Now we came to Wandsworth Common and turned left (the first turn since Vauxhall Bus Station) to head into Wandsworth and pass the enormous Town Hall, before turning into Wandsworth Plain, where this route ends, at 11.00.

We had had a sunny and interesting ride, through an area which is changing beyond all imaginings.  Given that property prices in London are falling quarter by quarter, we wonder how many of these apartments will be occupied.