Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Walk Under The River

There are three accessible pedestrian routes under the River Thames. The Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels are both well known and well used, I've been through both of them on many occasions. The third one came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Work on the Rotherhithe Tunnel commenced in 1904 and it was opened by HRH  The Prince of Wales (later King George V) in 1908. Linking Limehouse  on the north bank with Rotherhithe on the south, it was designed to provide a means for pedestrians and horse drawn traffic to cross the river without the need to travel west to Tower Bridge or east to the Blackwall Tunnel on the other side of the Isle of Dogs. Obviously, horse traffic eventually gave way to the ubiquitous motor vehicle and it is still an important, and heavily used, route from north to south but I had no idea that it was still accessible to pedestrians. According to Wikipedia around twenty people a day still use the tunnel each day!

So, this morning, I joined two friends, Jane and Jen to check it out for ourselves. it was a remarkably stress free journey. The pavements (on both sides) are around four feet wide and the speed limit is 20mph so, all things considered, it was probably much safer than the average country lane. The lighting was a pretty good and there were signs, indicating how far you have travelled and how far you still had to go, at regular intervals. I have to admit that air quality was not exactly brilliant but was not as bad as you might expect.

After a walk of just under a mile and reaching a maximum depth below the river surface of  approx. 75ft we emerged into the sunshine and the (relatively) fresh air of the north bank. Overall, an interesting experience but probably not one I'd care to do on a daily basis.

It is a little known fact (?) that beer is the perfect antidote to a potential exhaust fume overdose and to that end we made our way to the Old Ship pub on the delightful York Square E14 (recommended, by the way) for a pint or three. A nice way to end a nice day in good company.

By the way, it was a good job that Jane had her breakdown before entering the tunnel as we didn't have a vehicle to return to!

More photographs to follow on Flickr soon.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Jack the Ripper.....Mystery Solved?

In the 2002  book Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed, Patricia Cornwell declared that her  conclusion was , after much detailed research, that Walter Sickert was JTR. This was not an original idea, his name had been associated with the mystery for many years. It wasn't even the first publication on the subject. In her 1990 book, Sickert and the Ripper Crimes, Jean Overton Fuller asserted that he was indeed the infamous serial killer. Earlier still, in 1976, Stephen Knight in his book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution put forward the theory that Sickert was an unwilling accomplice to the real Jack.

Now we have a new real Jack the Ripper, well not exactly new. This one has been on the Ripper list since the time of the murders. In yet another book on the subject, Russell Edwards (no relation) names  Aaron Kosminski as quite definitely, without any doubt, the real thing. Based on the DNA profiling of samples of blood on a shawl said to have belonged to, or have been associated with Catherine Eddowes who was believed to have been the Ripper's fourth victim (and the second to die under his hand during the infamous double event of Sunday 30th September 1888).

I am, of course, not qualified to comment on the accuracy of DNA results although it does seem fairly obvious that they wouldn't stand up in a court of law (not that that is relevant here). Firstly, the shawl was obtained under what would now be considered very dubious circumstances. Apparently, a policeman took, or was given it, once it was considered to be no longer important to the investigation, to give to his wife. Although why anyone would give a bloodstained shawl as a gift to his nearest and dearest is beyond me.

Secondly, even though it survived and remained in the hands of the same family for all of these years it can hardly be claimed to have been kept in a sterile and uncontaminated condition. Nevertheless, DNA testing appears to show that the shawl was stained with the blood of both Eddowes and Kosminski (comparisons were made with samples donated by present day members of the two bloodlines). It seems to me that without some other supporting evidence, the best that can be said to explain this is that at some time Kosminski came into contact with both Eddowes and the shawl. Given that Eddowes was a known prostitute and that it was quite possible that Kosminski had been a client, it leaves any kind of statement that he was the killer, or was even present during the event, on very shaky ground.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that we are probably no closer to knowing who dunnit. Authors and researchers will continue to reel out the name of the real JTR, usually homing in on one or other of the usual suspects. Interestingly, although the same names come up gain and again, someone once said that if you could line up all of the most "respected" Ripperologists, then throw back a curtain to reveal the man(or woman?) himself, they would all look at him (or her) and say "WHO?"

Without any doubt, the unsolved crimes of the person or persons known as Jack the Ripper are fascinating, innumerable theories and books have appeared on the subject and it's an absolute guarantee that just as many are still to come, but that fascination comes from the fact that we don't know his identity. Common sense tells us that, yes of course, the right thing is to find who carried out these horrific crimes and to close the case to the satisfaction of the law and the state............

.......but, a mystery is a mystery...........and people love a mystery!

For an introduction to the whole affair, take a look at Casebook: Jack the Ripper and the Wikipedia entry here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wet Feet

A few years ago the government of the day (I dont remember which government that was, not that it matters much) declared their intention of building on Britain's flood plains. Flood plains are so called for a reason but that does not mean that it is not possible to use them. Holland carries the term to an extreme as two thirds of the country is way below sea level and is not just subject to occasional flooding but would be permanently under water without the massive sea defences, permanent pumping and properly designed and maintained drainage systems. To be fair, without all of this there would be no Holland but given that their situation is different to ours in both scale and detail, they apparently only spend about twice as much as we do for all of this. Not bad value when you end up with a viable country for your efforts. 

Why is it that we always just dip our toe (excuse the pun) in to these problems. It is expensive to deal with but is there really a choice? Dealing with existing problems is a massive issue but moving on to the UK's flood plains is a whole different ball game. Without adopting the full Dutch approach it would be insane. Sadly that is the kind of financial compromise insanity that I can see our saintly politicos going for but, sooner or later, someone is going to need to bite the bullet and sign on the dotted line to make this happen. To cross our fingers and hope the problem will go away is not an option. Only a fool would take that route........but then again perhaps only a fool would go into politics in the first place.

Rant over.......for now!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Death In Notting Hill

Something very strange was going on in W11 yesterday morning (Monday 29th July). I left home at 5.30am and was making my way towards my car which was parked in Lonsdale Rd. The first thing I noticed was something very bright in the road at the junction of Lonsdale Rd and Ledbury Rd. Although it was warm and the ground was dry, it was still a bit gloomy, a carry over from the heavy rain that we had overnight. They were so bright that at first I thought they were some kind of lights but as I got closer I could see that they were vivid red and yellow flowers, either artificial or artificially coloured.

Closer still, I found that they had been scattered over the bodies of two dead foxes! Some of the flowers appear to have been in the form of a garland but that may have been just the way that they had fallen.

If I hadn't been running late (sorry I'm late boss, I got held up by two dead foxes, was never going to go down well) I would have gone back to get a camera. I would probably also have phoned the police, although I'm not at all sure how that conversation would have gone!

I didn't have time to forensically examine the corpses but a couple of things were obvious.

Firstly, if they were road kill, they had been moved from where they had been hit. They were laid neatly side by side and on their sides. .

Secondly, if they were road kill it is very unlikely that they were killed at the same time or on this spot. I spend half of my life leaving for work at that ridiculous time in the morning and I see a lot of foxes in the area but they are always solo. I never see two adult foxes together on the streets. I'm not saying it never happens  but  I've not seen it.

Thirdly, they appeared to be in good condition. The flowers covered quite a lot of the bodies but they didn't appear to be emaciated and their tails, which tend to get a bit ragged and threadbare as their condition declines, were clearly visible and were bushy and very foxy. There was a small amount of blood on the road by one of the bodies but they did not appear to be damaged.

Fourthly, they can't have been there for long. It was light, the road is never completely traffic free. Also, neither the foxes or the flowers were waterlogged despite the fact that it had been raining heavily just a few hours before (I know, because I had been lying awake listening to it!).

I now wish that I had taken some photographs to support this tale, even if only on my phone, but give me a break, it  was 5.30 in the morning, I was tired and I was dragging myself off to work. Also, I didn't know at the time that I would be writing all of this down, anyway, it's too late to worry about it now.

So what is going on in Notting Hill. Is it satanists, witches, weirdos, vulpophobic aliens with florisitic leanings, animal sacrifice enthusiasts, hoaxers or simply someone attempting to show respect for two creatures that had died of natural causes. If the latter, then why lay them out in the middle of a road? How respectful is that? However, if it was any of the former group, then perhaps we are all in deeper trouble than even I give the world credit for!

Of course, there may be some (vaguely) rational explanation for all of this, but I'm buggered if I can figure out what it is.

Any thoughts or ideas gratefully accepted!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher....the Final Act

So, it's finally over. Margaret Hilda Thatcher has been despatched to meet her maker (if you believe in that kind of thing). Surely one of the most controversial and divisive figures in modern British history, her funeral has resulted in as much discussion as her entire political career.

We are told that she had planned her own funeral in minute detail (I doubt that she would have trusted anyone else to do it) and oh how that shows. The result was, in all but a few details, a State occasion.

After spending the night in the crypt chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster, she was transported by hearse to St Clement Danes, the RAF church in the Strand. Here she was transferred onto a gun carriage pulled by horses of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery.

If this had been a State funeral, the horses would have been replaced by a team of sailors, a tradition that dates back to the funeral of Queen Victoria. Apparently it was so cold on the day that the horses were extremely unsettled and there was a fear that they would bolt, which would have seriously shattered the dignity of the occasion. Luckily there was a group of underemployed sailors on hand who were (literally) roped in to save the day.

The cortege, accompanied by a military escort and the band of the Royal Marines, then made its way along Fleet St and up Ludgate Hill to St Paul's.

As to what went on inside the Cathedral, I have no real idea. I've managed to avoid most of the TV coverage but I'm pretty certain that that things were carried out in a serene and dignified manner. The thing that has been bothering me is was there much dignity in this whole show and the answer, to my mind, is no. A private ceremony for friends and relatives, perhaps followed by a Memorial Service, would have served the purpose perfectly well.

I freely admit that Margaret Thatcher was never my cup of tea, either personally or politically and that view has not been helped by the circumstances of this funeral. She was always a strong minded woman. Apparently, in 1948 she applied for a job with ICI. She didn't get it, having been deemed to be "headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated", the shape of things to come I think!

This attitude remained with her throughout her political career and manifested itself during her final act as self-aggrandisement of the worst possible kind. This was her last chance to show a little humility, but she chose not to use it!

One other thing should be mentioned, and that is of course, the cost. We haven't yet been told what the final bill is for this event but the most common estimate is upwards of £10,000,000. You can't blame people, who are being financially squeezed in the current climate, to be horrified at this figure. I don't think the news that, according to the Telegraph, the Thatcher family is expected to contribute about half the costs, is going to soften those views.

I suppose, in the end, what we have is an old woman, in poor health, living in care (in the Ritz, which has to be the most expensive, and most luxurious care home in the world!) who finally succumbed to a major stroke.

I'm uncomfortable with the street parties and those who have been freely declaring that they are glad that she is dead, but I can understand the strength of feeling in some communities.

She was controversial in life and remains so in death but she is unlikely to be easily forgotten. I think that would have made her chuckle.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fly the Thames

I get mountains, I really do. There is nothing quite like standing on the top of an Alp on a cold, bright, crystal clear day, where you can see further than the average city dweller can even imagine. Of course, it helps if there is a discreet little cafe up there with you, where you can sip a hot chocolate, perhaps dosed with a hefty slug of the local hooch, and accompany that with a decent sized slab of tooth rotting, waist spreading, sachertorte.

What I don't get is mountain climbing. Why would anyone subject themselves to the pain and misery of clinging to a sheer rock face, not to mention the exhaustion and the ever present danger of plunging hundreds of feet to your death or ending up dangling on a rope with several other climbers like party bunting in a Tim Burton film.

 Fortunately, human ingenuity has come to the rescue, and we are able to ascend in various degrees of comfort thanks to cog railways, ski lifts and cable cars. Even more fortunately, we can descend without ropes and snow axes, or the need to slide down uncontrollably on planks of wood or sleighs the size of tea trays. I don't know why every mountain worth visiting isn't so equipped!

We're a bit short of Alps in London (except in Beckton, of course!) but we do have a cable car. Considered by many to have been another of the Mayor's vanity projects, it apparently would have the massive advantage of its proposed £25 million being entirely financed by private enterprise. In an alternative universe that may have happened. However, back in the real world, the budget kept climbing and in the end has cost the taxpayer in excess of £24 million. The rest has been coughed up by Emirates Airline who, in exchange, get a heavily branded, high visibility, animated advert and a plug on the tube map.

Anyway, whatever your feelings on the whole project, it is there and it is running, so we may as well use it. So a few weeks ago I did.

The northern terminal is just a short walk from Royal Victoria station on the DLR and is located alongside the Crystal, which is the extraordinary Siemens sustainability centre. It was quite busy on the day I was there and, unless you had an Oyster Card, there were two queues to negotiate before you were able  to climb aboard. The first was to buy your "boarding card" and the second to get into the terminal itself. Using your Oyster Card allows you to enter the terminal in the same way as you'd enter a tube station and has the added advantage of saving you £1.10 on the cost of a single fare. Sadly, Freedom Pass holders will have to buy a boarding card but they do get it at the reduced rate.

Although the queue was quite long, it moved quickly. The loading and unloading of the pods was efficiently handled by the team on the platform and you are very soon on your way. As you gain altitude you get a good view of the Crystal and over the sanitised remains of the docks on which, during my trip, there were a couple of guys water skiing using an overhead drag line rather than a powerboat. They were pretty good on the flat but useless over the jump. I say that as someone who has never tried his hand at this particular activity, but you don't need to be an expert to know that when you hit the ramp you are supposed to stay upright and not end up with your head under the water!

I recommend that as you approach the river it's best not to look down, this isn't because it's likely to trigger a bout of acrophobia (if that is likely to be a problem, then what the hell are you doing up there anyway?) but because it is just plain ugly down there. With all sorts of industrial stuff and piles of scrap, it can hardly be described as scenic! Anyway, there is plenty to occupy your visual senses. If you are on the Royal Victoria to Greenwich Peninsular leg, then most of the action is on your starboard side. Looking back you can see over to the Olympic Park and looking forward, you can peer down on the approaching O2 complex and beyond that the towers of the Isle of Dogs and on to those of the City. You could also see the Shard, but then again you can see that from pretty well anywhere. The weather was fairly miserable on the day of my visit, but it was still worth seeing.

Finally you plunge down towards the Greenwich Peninsular Terminal and the end of your "flight". Disembarkation runs smoothly and you are all too soon back on Terra Firma

I think that it is one of those trips that is worth taking several time, varying the direction, time of day and season of the year. I suspect that, given the right conditions, sunrise and sunset could be spectacular. In my case, a sunrise trip seems unlikely but a sunset flight is a distinct possibility.

A couple of other things to consider. If you travel at off peak times the trip will last a little longer, as they run at a slower speed and, if you don't like the idea of sharing your trip with strangers, for a mere £86.00 you can hire a whole pod to fill with friends, or if you are feeling completely self indulgent (and have more money than sense) keep entirely to yourself. 

Finally, do keep an eye on the weather forecast and check with the TFL website before travelling. This form of travel is affected by high winds, it is also a potential target for a lightning strike during a thunderstorm. Both of these conditions will lead to the service being temporarily suspended (no pun intended) which could force you to hang around (I meant that one ;-) waiting for your flight, not the end of the world if you are just sightseeing, but it could be difficult if you are either commuting or have a very expensive ticket to an event at the O2.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

More North Pole News

As a follow up to my last post, the North Pole is currently decorated with these signs following a gathering of protesters on Saturday. I'm slightly surprised that the banners were still there on Monday afternoon, but perhaps Tesco were not aware that a protest had taken place.