Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Industrial chic comes to Clapton

The new pedestrian footbridge by the river Lea is officially... open! And a thing of beauty it is, too - and wider, more accommodating than the last one. No more forcing pedestrians to the wall as you cycle past. No more dicing with lorries as you dash across the Lea Bridge Road. Smart.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Clapton to Dalston is go!

This, two days after my recent post, from the Transport for London website:

"From Saturday 4 June bus route 488 will be extended from Clapton to Dalston." Read more here.

For a map of the new route, click here.

Salad days in Clapton

Thanks to the unseasonaly warm spring, my edible balcony's coming along nicely. Bit too nicely, perhaps.

It's not even June yet and I'm already overrun with salad - trays of rocket, spinach, mizuma and cornsalad. It's all going woody and about to bolt.

Which is something of a revelation, given it's still May (just...), and my northeast-facing balcony gets limited sun (from dawn till about 10am), and it can get gusty up there.

On the recommendation balcony gardener extraordinaire Alex Mitchell, author of a terrrific book The Edible Balcony, I've been more thoughtful about the varieties I've planted this year.

I've got miniature carrots on the go in terracotta pots, and various hardy types of chard. The beetroot didn't amount to much - I ate the leaves before they could develop, and the kale shows signs of cropping nicely in its pots, despite the shade.

To attract bees, I've grown wildflowers from mixed seed (packets picked up from the wonderful Garden Museum in Lambeth), and bought copious alliums and silver lavender from nurseries and plant fairs. Even if the bees don't drop by, the display looks great from the kitchen sink.

At Alex's suggestion, I've gone for smaller varieties of tomatoes. We don't want a repeat of last year's bounteous but unriped crop; there's only so much green chutney you can give away as gifts. So Big Boy and Gardener's Delight make way for Supersweet 100s and Totem, bought from the Sunday farmer's market on Chapel Market, Islington.

Despite the limited sun, I've also gone in for strawberries - the two Cambridge Favourites already have a handful of fruit on each. At Alex's suggestion, I've also invested in a couple of fruit trees. The Victoria plum has so far failed to flower, but seems happy enough in its pot. The thornless loganberry is faring far better, with its great hairy fruits plumping up nicely.

Just wait till I get the wormery up and running - the vermiculture will give everything a turbo-boost. Bring on a summer of mellow fruitfulness!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Now arriving in Clapton: the 488 bus to Dalston

It's been on the cards for years - Transport for London held a consultation back in 2009 - but all the signs suggest that the 488 bus will finally be arriving soon in Clapton, destination Dalston.

Look, the bus stops have finally been installed. I took this picture of a new bus stop on Rendelsham Road this morning. Yes, I felt a twit doing it.

Of course, the 488 bus has been a Hackney fixture for years, starting and terminating around Clapton Pond. But from there it only used to head in one direction, through the badlands and backstreets of Homerton and Hackney Wick on its inexorarable (read: 29-minute) journey to Bromley-by-Bow.

But from next Saturday, June 4 - if the whispers are to be believed - the route will be extended the other way, all the way to Dalston Junction station. I'm giddy at the prospect. You can't beat a new bus route.

Or can you? I'm not interested in the rights or wrongs of the new multi-million-pound bus terminus at Dalston Junction that, according to reports at the time, will only cater for passengers on the 488. (It's done, it's built - time to use it or lose it).

I'm more interested in whether the new bus will be more frequent and quicker in getting to Dalston Junction station than the 56, which goes via the Pond, down Cricketfield/Pembury Roads and past Hackney Downs station. Along busy, fast-moving main roads.

My big bugbear is that 488 is a good idea in principle, but the chosen route - along Kenninghall Road, Rendlesham Road, Downs Road and Shacklewell Lane to Dalston Junction - will mean it meanders through backstreets, and create problems.

As someone who cycles along the Rendlesham Road rat-run every day - around the time that school-run mums drop off their kids at the various schools along it - I know how tight it can get, with room for little more than traffic in one direction.

Getting past the parked cars at the best of times is a challenge when there's oncoming vehicles. The variegated speed bumps lining the road only seem to encourage white van drivers to hit their accelerators, in an attempt to beat you to the humps and make you swerve out of their way.

Traffic also gets stuck behind the lorries and diggers building the new flats in the area. Stick a few buses-an-hour onto the route, and I wonder how far the tailbacks will be - and how long before a child goes over the bonnet of an angrily-driven van.

I wonder if the lollipop guy by Hackney Downs minds the sound of beeping car horns, and is any good at mouth-to-mouth?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Blood on the tracks

You think getting to work on National Express's joke of a railway is murder? Hackney was - somewhat inevitably - the location for Britain's first train killing, in 1864, the gory details of which are detailed in a fascinating new book.

Historian Kate Colquhoun has picked through archives recently released after 100 years spent gathering dust in the Kew archives to write 'Mr Briggs' Hat'. It unpicks how the murder of Thomas Briggs, late of 5 Clapton Square, came to scandalise the whole of Victorian society.

It's a rollicking story, involving his body being thrown from a first-class compartment of a North London Railway train onto the tracks somewhere between Bow and Hackney Wick; a societal fear of foreigners (the suspect, later convicted and sentenced to death, was German); and class war. In those days, carriages were not adjoining, so the first class compartment was a sanctuary inaccessible to the hoi polloi.

So affronted by the murder and its implications, the Daily Telegraph asked: "If we can be murdered thus, we may be slain in our pew at church or assassinated at our dinner table." Or, today's equivalent, shot randomly outside a Turkish social and sports club.

A coda. If you're wondering about where the railway in question ran before it was decommissioned in 1922, click here for more - much, much more.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Makes me sick

File this under "Well, duh..." if you like, but, boy, there are some fucktards out there.

This homemade sign appeared recently on the Lea Navigation towpath – by the bridge between the Princess of Wales pub and the footpath onto South Millfields – and reading it turned my stomach. Who, in the name of fun, would pelt to death a nest of just-hatched chicks and its mother? A few telltale stones were found next to their broken bodies.

Sickened as I was, I was also cheered - that somebody cared enough to put up the sign in the first place. Without it, the birds' murder would have passed me by. Without the intervention of a concerned Claptonista, I doubt our local paper, the 'Hackney Gazette' - ensconced in its offices in not-very-local Ilford - would have spotted it either. For what it's worth, you can read its report here.

But that notice is a testament to Clapton, a reminder that, for all the scumbags in the area, there's an active right-minded majority.

It might just be worth troubling to 'Gazette' with a letter, to remind the police that the thug/s who did this need to be caught.

UPDATE: there's a more detailed news report by Hackney Citizen here.