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The Lockdown Days – Footways

Let’s start with a couple of big numbers. The most recent TfL report from 2016 shows that, on an average day there are 6.3 million walk trips (where walking is the only mode of travel used) and 6.8 million walk stages (where walking was part of a longer trip using other modes) of more than 5 minutes made in London. (And, of course, this average day came in the ‘before times’ when there was no coronavirus pandemic).

That is a lot of walking.lovewalk-logo1

Despite this walking is often overlooked by transport planners and policy makers, but it is accessible to a large proportion of the population, does not require special clothing or equipment, and can ease pressure on public transport by reducing the number of stops people travel and changes they make.

Ease the pressure on public transport.5hLI_Vbw

Footways has been curated to connect major places with appealing and accessible streets. It’s a network of quiet and interesting streets, lanes and alleys for walking in central London. The places include mainline train stations, popular destinations and green spaces. It prompts Londoners and visitors to choose walking as the most enjoyable, efficient and healthy option.355G2Vfw

The brainchild of London Living Streets, the project has utilized the knowledge of many other partners, like the Ramblers, London National Park City Foundation, Go Jauntly, Sustrans London, Inner London boroughs, TfL, and many more, but especially urbangood. You probably know urbangood from their iconic London National Park City paper map, with its clean lines and excellent design and the prominence of walking20200512_090453 routes and green spaces, that encourage you to get out and explore London on foot. So far, the network covers all or part of the following boroughs: Camden, City of London, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster.

The idea over the summer is to plant the idea, get people thinking about walking longer and further, ahead of the launch of the printed map in September. I know that right now central London is beyond quiet but I can see the android app becoming indispensable for me in the future. So, check out https://footways.london/ and if you’re an android smartphone user follow the simple instructions and download the beta map. Follow the project on twitter and instagram. Engage and enthuse, all feedback is welcome. (Especially the positive comments.)

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walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

Kenny Loggins – Footloose

Regina Spektor – Summer In The City

Jon Allen – Keep on Walking

Saint Etienne – London Like A Distant Sun

Ralph McTell – The Streets of London

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The Lockdown Days – Searching for the Goldilocks coronavirus density

I’m writing this a couple of days after PM Boris Johnson announced his relaxation of lockdown rules and guidelines for England. To summarise pubs can re-open on Saturday 20200623_1336544 July, and from that date you no longer need to be 2 metres apart unless you can be, in which case don’t be 1 metre apart unless you have to but then be 1 metre plus where ’plus’ isn’t distance but precautions which is the same a s being 2 metres apart which is what you should be unless youbeach can’t… Or something like that. And did I mention pubs can re-open on Saturday 4 July. But then again who knows how long that will last given the current U-turn fever of the government, think free school meals during the summer holidays. And within those couple of days this is what Bournemouth beach looked like.

What we do know is that the government can’t wait for our world beating tracing app which is now unlikely to arrive until the autumn or the winter or maybe never. (Although if you accept updates automatically check the privacy settings on your smart IMG-20200623-WA0005phone and you’ll find the software ready and waiting to go that allows COVID-19 notifications under Bluetooth connections.) So, after mis-managing the health crisis so far meaning thousands of care home residents have unnecessarily died and we still can’t educate our kids, the government is turning its attention to saving the economy. To which all I can say is, God help the economy!

Changes to the furlough scheme, including asking people to isolate for 14 days, if they are somehow traced, without pay are already announced and as of today the recommendation is for those who can work from home to continue to do so if allowed. Meanwhile back in the real world local authorities in London, along with TfL, are busy changing our streets to encourage more walking and cycling.

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Before I give some thought to the City of London proposals it’s important to start with some numbers. It has just under 10,000 residents, 1 GP practice, 1 primary school and over 50 churches. Monday to Friday its numbers, pre-pandemic, are swelled by half million people arriving for work. So, Monday to Friday the City used to deal with over a million journeys on foot per day as people came and went on their commuting way. All that shows the City to be a unique borough not only in London but in the UK.

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Currently the few workers in the City seem to be on construction sites, NHS key workers, and some in shops, hardly a finance worker in sight. Notwithstanding the concerns over contracting the virus commuting right now is probably a dream compared to normal. So, we return to the conundrum of a public transport system running with drastically reduced passenger levels to a place that requires huge numbers to function. This is probably best exemplified by 22 Bishopsgate – the tallest of tall towers in London which was scheduled to hold 10,000 workers, which coincidentally the number of residents in the whole of the City. It is difficult, even under a best-case scenario, not to see acres of office space becoming vacant and more being re-purposed like the bike park now proposed at the afore mentioned 22 Bishopsgate.

I think the City have made a really good fist of their proposals. Of course, it helps if you had already done work before the pandemic and are in fact implementing a strategy you 20200616_143845broadly support anyway but it is definitely true to say COVID_19 has achieved in 13 weeks something that may have taken 3 to 5 years to accomplish under our normal incremental approach. Cheapside, with St Pauls Cathedral one end and the Bank of England the other, literally linking God and mammon, promises to be a wide boulevard with little or no traffic on it in the very near future.

Across the border in the City of Westminster the proposals also look very promising and who’d’ve ever thought I would say that about them. The plan to almost completely pedestrianise Soho is a bold innovative step. Again, it is eerie to walk around deserted streets that I have never known anything other than bustling but here you can imagine people returning, on foot, to the area to eat, drink and be merry. Maybe hedonism and 20200523_121300 (1)walking are not such strange bedfellows. I also hear rumours that a lot of Regent Street is going to become traffic free and surely that will pave (see what I did there) the way for the resurrection of the scheme to pedestrianise of Oxford Street. And this time with the added benefit of the surrounding streets being included and not just considered ‘rat-runs’.

Deep in the heart of suburbia Kingston upon Thames is also pushing ahead with ambitious plans. These plans look very good for walkers with an increase in space for 20200525_142713pedestrians and not just those queueing for the shops in many places. They’re beginning to grasp the nettle of their notourious one-way system as well as dedicating significantly more space to walkers and cyclists at the expense of cars on Kingston bridge. Much credit for this approach should go to Matt Hill, Assistant Director, Highways, Transport, and Regulatory Services, an example of what one person with vision can really achieve. I haven’t been able to check out Lambeth, Wandsworth or Croydon boroughs but I’m hearing good reports from those places. And Camden, Hackney and Islington are expanding the good work they were doing before the pandemic.

Not so good, from my inspection, are Richmond and Greenwich town centres. The temporary schemes look like a menace to all users to me and if they’re designed to try 20200606_113833and save the shops and traders there (an admirable and worthwhile desire) they could end up having the opposite effect as walkers don’t know where to cross and cyclists won’t know what lane to take and both groups will probably end up choosing other nearby alternatives to do their local shopping. Simply put, both boroughs know in their heart of hearts these sites ought to become car free and at the same time a safer environment for all users.

I hold no brief for the various disabled groups but even a cursory glance at most schemes suggests a group that has already been marginalised, if not to say deemed expendable, by both action and inaction, during the pandemic looks set to fare even worse as we emerge from COVID_19 and hopefully, they’re across all of these proposed changes.

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Making London easier for walkers and walking is no easy task whether we have 2, 1 or 0 metre social distancing. The 2 maps above show pavement widths which only goes to emphasis for me, that the most important thing, in this journey into the ‘new’ normal of walking as active travel in London, is to make as many of these routes as motorised traffic free as possible. Let’s consider one final set of numbers provided by TfL. Weekly Greater London sees 31.3 million journeys of which 6.7 million are walking. Just 700,000 are cycling but 9.8 million are by car. Over the last 10 years the number of car journeys has fallen by 1 million a week and this trend has been matched by an increase of 1.2 million walking. It is true those who choose to cycle has also increased by 400,000 but as also seen much more than a doubling in infrastructure investment. We have seen 3 times more people choosing to walk compared to cycling every day in London with virtually no extra investment.  The easiest, most environmentally sustainable and most cost-effective way to transition people away from public transport is to invest more in walking schemes. I’m trusting that the local politicians will stay strong in resisting both pressure from central government seemingly hellbent on hurling us towards waves 2 and 3 of this virus as well as the already noisy, but ultimately small in size, taxi lobby.

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 

 

 

 

Pkch – Goldilocks Zone

Imogen Heap – Hide And Seek

The Pet Shop Boys – Hoping For A Miracle

Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

Not Drowning, Waving – Walk

Francis & The Lights – My City’s Gone

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The Lockdown Days – Bashing the balsam

Is it just me or does each day on the lockdown seem a little less strange?

If you’ve ever walked on the Thames Path over the last few years you’ll have seen impatiens glandulifera. Commonly known as Himalayan Balsam it is a relative of the busy Lizzie, but reaches well over head height, and is a major weed problem, especially on riverbanks and waste land, but can also invade gardens. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly, smothering other vegetation as it goes.

Himalayan Balsam is native to the Himalayas, specifically to the areas between Kashmir and Uttarakand. In its native range it is usually found in altitudes between 2000–2500 m above sea level, although it has been reported in up to 4000 m above sea level. In Europe the plant was first introduced in the UK where it has become naturalized and widespread across riverbanks. Presently it can be found almost everywhere across thehim balsam continent. In North America it has been found in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. In the United States it is found on both the east and west coast, seemingly restricted to northern latitudes.

In the UK the plant was first introduced in 1839 at the same time as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed. These plants were all promoted at the time as having the virtues of “herculean proportions” and “splendid invasiveness” which meant that ordinary people could buy them for the cost of a packet of seeds to rival the expensive orchids grown in the greenhouses of the rich. Within ten years, however, Himalayan balsam had escaped from the confines of cultivation and begun to spread along the river systems of England.

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It is considered a prohibited noxious weed and the aggressive seed dispersal, coupled with high nectar production which attracts pollinators, often allows the Himalayan Balsam to outcompete native plants. Himalayan Balsam also promotes river bank erosion due to the plant dying back over winter, leaving the bank unprotected from flooding. Invasive Himalayan Balsam can also adversely affect indigenous species by attracting pollinators (e.g. insects) at the expense of indigenous species.

It might look pretty when it flowers but it is a bad thing. So, the other day I joined 3 chums from Kingston Ramblers and headed down to Petersham Lodge Woods, which is a small slice of land nestling up next to the Thames Path near Richmond. It might be a small patch of land but it’s certainly got plenty of Himalayan Balsam growing away alongside the stinging nettles.

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It’s best to get at it before it starts to flower, which it does between June and October, and to get it out you need to grip it hard at the base and give it a good yank. Then it’s a question of find and repeat. It rots down easily, so I’m told, which means you can just pile it up after you’ve pulled it out of the ground. There were 4 of us bashing away today which meant social distancing was no problem. And while you’re working away you find there’s a fairly constant stream of walkers who’ll stop and ask what you’re doing and chat away.

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I had a great time. Well except I made the schoolboy error of wearing shorts while bashing so my exposed legs felt the full impact of the stinging nettles which also thrive in this environment. You could hear the constant squawk of the parakeets overhead and because we were close to Petersham’s German School there was the chatter of a myriad of European languages coming from the playground. I love London.

If you want to get involved with Himalayan Balsam bashing you could do worse than check out the South East Rivers Trust for info. Or if you live in the Richmond area drop me an email cos we plan to do it again next Friday 26 June, meeting outside the Fox and Duck at 10 am. And as a real bonus I discovered the New Inn on Ham Common is open for off sales on Friday lunchtimes so I reckon I’ll have a beer after next week’s session.

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Balsam Range – The Rambler

Danny & The Champions Of The World – Parakeets

Veet Vichara & Premanjali – Balsam

Slow Meadow – Lonesome Summer

Field Report – Never Look Back

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The Lockdown Days – I’m not expecting to grow flowers in a desert

I’m not sure when it happened but these days my thinking seems more influenced by 80s song lyrics rather than philosophers like Joyce Mitchell Cook, and her theory of value, or John Rawls, and his theory of justice. That can’t be a good thing can it? (That’s a rhetorical question so feel free to use rhetoric when answering.)lovewalk-logo1

For most councils tree planting takes place between November and February. Trees are planted in the winter months when they are dormant, as this increases survival rates. Many London boroughs have ambitious plans to plant more trees. Kingston council, the London borough I live in, aims to plant at least 1500 new trees over the next three years and in the planting season of 2019/20, they planted 871 street trees and over 3,000 whips with the support of local communities in green spaces. (A whip is a young tree, without branches, approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter. A whip looks less like a tree and more like a long, upright stick. Once planted, a whip is trained through careful pruning to allow the optimal amount of sunlight into the tree’s canopy.)

Local people were invited to pick up to three places that they would like to see new trees planted in winter, as well as select their favourite tree species. 178 people had their say on planting locations and the council were able to fulfil every request we received for a new tree in an available planting location (roads with space for new trees in existing pits, suitable grass verges and local parks). A total of 255 trees were planted in locations chosen by residents. Qualified officers carefully assessed the local conditions of each site and determined which trees were best suited to each environment, with preferred tree species taken into account where possible.

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I haven’t checked every London borough but I’d guess they all have similar plans. The Urban Tree Challenge Fund (UTCF) was developed in response to HM Treasury releasing £10 million in the 2018 Autumn Budget announcement for planting at least 20,000 large trees and 110,000 small trees in urban areas in England. The application window for Round 2 opened on 30 March 2020 and runs to 30 June 2020. This has, of course, been affected by the coronavirus. The Government have this to say: “The situation around COVID-19 is rapidly changing and we appreciate the uncertainty this creates. We are continuing to open Round 2 of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund on the 30 March 2020 as planned, but we ask that you bear with us if we need to reassess this in the future.”

According to Trees for Cities there are 10 reasons why we should plant more trees in urban areas. As well as producing oxygen and storing and soaking up carbon and carbon dioxide, trees clean our air and are good for our health and wellbeing. Not forgetting that urban sprawl is taking over. Eighty percent of us are now living in urbanised environments and there are no signs of this slowing down. It is projected that the increase in urbanisation along with expected overall global population growth, there could be another 2.5 billion people in urban populations by the year 2050. (Although I suppose these projections may now change in a post pandemic world.) Check out the full 10 reasons here.

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As well as planting new trees and whips the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham invite residents to plant flowers, herbs and shrubs – anything you like really – at the base of trees across the borough as part of our campaign to make streets greener and more pleasant. They even produce a guide to help you – See our short guide on planting tree bases.

And then along came coronavirus and everybody was told stay indoors, quickly followed by the hottest, driest May any of us have known. It was the sunniest Spring on record for the UK and all the home nations and the driest May on record in England. 626 hours of bright sunshine were recorded in Spring 2020 for the UK and have exceeded the previous high (555 hours, set in 1948) by over 70 hours. Spring 2020 also exceeds the sunshine amount for most summer seasons, with only three summers being sunnier (1976, 1995, and 1989). The figure for England is even higher. Spring 2020 recorded 696 hours of sunshine, exceeding the previous record set of 594.3 hours. Yes, you read that right. While most of us were stuck indoors we had more sunshine than most summers!

When new trees are planted councils always include them in watering rounds, but especially during dry weather they benefit from more regular watering, so please do water new trees on your street. Any watering is helpful, but please see below for general advice:

  • One big drink a week is best, but more often is fine during very hot weather
  • Ideally, try to give at least 1-2 watering cans per watering – although anything you can manage is great
  • Tap water, rain water or even dishwater is fine. Please make sure no chemicals stronger than washing-up liquid are in the mix
  • If there’s a black watering tube at the base of the tree, please use that, although if it’s easier, just slowly pour the water over the roots, letting the water soak deep into the soil
  • Ask your neighbours to get involved, especially if you’re planning on going on holiday over the summer
  • Try not to water when the ground is wet and soggy. Rainfall isn’t always enough to satisfy newly planted trees, but too much water can be as bad as not enough
  • If you use a hosepipe, do so safely – don’t leave it unattended or trail it across the road
  • The best time to water is either in the early morning or in the evening. Try to avoid the hottest part of the day, although water anytime is better than no water at all

For those riparian London boroughs the Thames Path is a popular site for new plantings. Hammersmith got in touch with the Thames Path National Trail about 10 elms newly planted near Mortlake cemetery and after popping down with @innerlondramb for a quick investigation, and to do some emergency watering, with the help of Richmond Ramblers we were able to get Putney Town Rowing Club interested in regular watering.

Even as lockdown eases week by week, I’m guessing it’ll still be a while before we’ll be walking in groups again or that the over-stretched London boroughs will be able to resume their normal duties and tasks, so it would be really helpful if walkers were able to pick up some of the slack. Check out your local area, check with your council and if you pick up some tree watering roles you might want to share that info with me. (It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to.)

You can see where new trees have been planted (and the species) in Kingston in the map below or you can search by road in the tree planting directory.

Kingston tree map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1Ulrm1C7tnQtu1XDRAAJIoXis9jgFpwqB&ll=51.39487850305738%2C-0.27768689999999596&z=12

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Big Country – In A Big Country

Isley Brothers – Summer Breeze

The Leaf Library – Slow Spring

Clever Girl – Elm

Jethro Tull – The Water Carrier

Michael E – Water Carriers

Sea Glass – In The Shade

Big Big Train – London Plane

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The Lockdown Days – People get ready

As lockdown eases and the rules become more garbled, right now, there are a plethora of walking and cycling schemes being proposed in London. They range from the ambitious to the just a little more than token. Have a look at the very ambitious and exciting proposals for a car free Central London emanating from the Mayor’s office. I’ve started some site visits here in London to see what they might look like on the ground.

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One of the many challenges in trying to run the rule over these proposals is that I’ve got no idea what kind of city we’re going to see on the other side of this pandemic. Today millions of workers are currently on furlough and millions more are working/zooming at home – some in summer houses, others in hastily re-purposed bedrooms and, of course, some with laptops perched on ironing boards (who needs them, anymore?) in crowded flat shares.

A vast majority of the ‘home workers’ are white collar deskbound office workers and it looks like not much will likely change for this group in the near future. After all, unlike pubs, restaurants and non-essential retailers, offices were not closed by government decree. From encouraging all those who could to work from home the government is due to issue guidance on how to work safely in offices. The main thrust seems to be, for now, not to.

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According to the Office for National Statistics around 1 in 20 (5%) workers did their jobs mainly from home in December 2019. When approached by the Economist, WillisTowersWatson, an advisory firm, forecast that in about a year’s time only around 25% of office workers will have returned to the office full time. I’ll let that sink in, and you can also try to match that up to the proposed scaling up of public transport to take20200523_121300 10% or 15% of its previous commuter traffic as lockdown eases. I realise not all public transport travellers are commuters, and that not all commuters are white collar workers, but now you can probably see that the shortfall in coping with this ‘new normal’ seems more do-able than before. It’s still a monumental task though.

So why are ‘walking’ and ‘cycling’ so often joined to each other in active travel schemes? Well they share many similarities, often summarised in these 6 bullet points:

  • Health benefits
  • Reduced congestion
  • Low cost
  • No air or noise pollution
  • Similar barriers – motor traffic, missing routes, poor funding
  • Similar basic needs

And now, I guess, we must add:

  • Needs must

All these help to lump walking and cycling together in some unbreakable double act like Ant and Dec, French and Saunders, or flat screen TV (even if this last one is absurd 20200521_185551nowadays as can you even buy a TV that isn’t flat screen ?!) But for me this is also the start point for why most of these schemes break down. If there are similarities, we also have differences and some of these differences are almost insoluble if we continue to couple walking and cycling together in a one size fits all approach. They go at different speeds, different efficiencies, different distances, with different take-ups, different demographics on different infrastructure provision.

Examination of the relationship between these often conflicting challenges is complex and requires more space than this blog allows but let’s quickly glance at different demographics with the help of some numbers. If I’m understanding TfL’s 2018 figures correctly there are 31.3 million journeys in Greater London every week (a week here being 7 days). Of these 6.7 million or 21.4% are on foot and that number has increased by 1.2 million since 2000. At the same time cycling makes up 0.7 million or 2.2% of these journeys. So next time you read something like doubling the number of people cycling, remember this is significant but is another just another 700,000 thousand journeys. At the same time, just a 1% increase in people walking equates to the same thing. And while you’re at it, give a little thought to what it might cost in infrastructure build – a staggering amount – to achieve this increase for cycling compared to the price tag to boost walking – very little.

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Using these same numbers, 9.8 million or 31.3% are car journeys (not including taxi) and this figure has been slowly declining, a million down, since 2000. It is vital under these strategies that this is, at the very least maintained, and hopefully accelerated. I’ve said before that I see the removal or reduction of motorised is the single key most important factor in increasing the number of people walking and the figures are heavily weighted towards that being the most cost effective and immediate solution if you want to reduce public transport usage at the same time as maintaining a reduction in car usage.

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So, given that a substantial portion of the proposal for central London includes car free roads – for walkers, cyclists, buses and emergency vehicles (I’m not sure whether taxis are included) – makes this is an ambitious possibly a revolutionary proposal. I walked the 2 mile route from Waterloo to Blackfriars and broadly speaking this would work very well with a reduced commuter load and a few signs. Current social distancing of 2 metres will make any journey on foot a challenge and with all the shops open along the route queueing would disturb the dynamic. But as I say I can see this being a viable option.

I’ll be drilling down a bit deeper about some of these proposals in London, hopefully outer and inner, in a future blog, Searching for the Goldilocks density. Until then, next time you’re out and about count the cyclists and then see how many of those are men. On their own admittance cycling sees the lack of take-up by women as a major challenge, and while you’re at it you might want to count how many come from the BAME community. The existing demographic of walkers more accurately mirrors our society, so once again, it makes far more sense to adequately fund this form of active travel, which is already popular with a wide spectrum of commuters, over and above all others, in a post pandemic world.

As Jessie J didn’t sing: “We just want to make the world walk”

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Walk from Waterloo to Blackfriars: https://strava.app.link/0RXDdVHR06

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

Aretha Franklin – People Get Ready

Colin Hay – I’m Walking Here

Grace Potter – Eachother

Jackson Browne – Walking Town

Jessie J – Price Tag

Arcade Fire – No Cars Go

k.d. lang – The Air That I Breathe

Walking On Cars – Speeding Cars

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The Lockdown Days – Heroes and villains

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is a fairly well-known philosophical thought experiment that raises questions regarding observation and perception. So how about: Is a bridge over the Thames illuminated if there is no one there to see it? Well I’m going to be of little help answering the central question but before we get deep into Schrödinger’s cat territory I can reassure everybody that the 3 bridges over the Thames – Millennium, Southwark, and Cannon Street Railway – included in stage 1 of the Illuminated River project are still lit up in the evening.20200521_205426 Furthermore, that on a Thursday they are illuminated blue in support for our key workers across not only in the capital and the UK but also the world. You are never far from a reminder that London is proudly multi-cultural and the exemplar of a world city.

The Illuminated River is a long-term public art installation on an unprecedented scale: a scheme to light up 14 bridges of central London and transform nocturnal views of the city. An orchestrated series of light works that evolve at the stately pace of the river itself, Illuminated River draws inspiration from the spirit and history of the River Thames and celebrates the diverse communities that live along its banks. The project was developed through a collaboration between the Rothschild Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Mayor of London and a large number of stakeholders along the Thames.  Once complete, this will be the longest permanent public art commission in the world at 2.5 miles in length.

Last summer in collaboration with Inner London Ramblers and the Illuminated River Foundation I led 3 evening walks spotlighting the project, showcasing the bridges IlluminatedRiver walk with Inner London Ramblers, photo Milo Robinson (1)currently lit and discussing future proposals. These free walks were, flatteringly, popular and ‘sold out’ on the day of listing. They were immense fun to lead and in that tradition of learning as well as sharing knowledge I learnt so much about engineering, who can be awarded Freedom of the City of London and the brief incarnation of the Millennium Bridge as the ‘wobbly bridge’. Among the many personal regrets mounting up as we struggle our way through Covid_19 is the fact I will not be able to repeat these walks in the summer of 2020. I loved them and the public seemed to love them as well.

Right now, however, I’m working with the Illuminated River project on some remote commentary so you’ll be able ‘re-live’ these walks online. Watch this space and we’re hoping this’ll all be online by July.

Central London barely has enough people abroad to qualify for sparsely populated. I’m up here checking out, as much as I am able, the ambitious suggestions on offer under the car free Central London proposals. (See next blog, People Get Ready.) At 6pm for every worker, commuter, walker there are 2 joggers and all of us are enjoying the freedom and space and quiet in the realisation we will never experience the like of it again while at the same time painfully aware of the suffering and sacrifice so many have had to endure to arrive at this.

I pause at the Millennium Bridge on the north bank in front of Tate Modern. As is my wont I glance up to chimney to see if I can spot the roosting peregrines. I always look20200521_192229_2 although I know I’d need binoculars to clearly see them. I look at my watch and realise it’s going to be at least an hour before the sun goes down and that normally I’d be in the nearby Swan, the pub attached to Shakespeare’s Globe, which is one of my favourite Thames-side pubs in London drinking while staring at my phone scrolling the news.

Tonight, the news is all about the Government U-turn on the NHS surcharge, described by even flint hearted Tories as “mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty”. A £400 annual levy, rising to £640 in October, would be applied to workers coming from outside the European Economic Area. In an act of almost breath-taking political insensitivity alongside stupidity, this levy was to be applied to those currently working within the NHS. In what is fast becoming the USP of this shoddy Government just 24 hours after defending the policy in Parliament, the Prime Minister changed course after reflecting on the care he received while in intensive care recovering from coronavirus and asked the Home Office and Health Department to remove the charge “as soon as possible,” with details on how the change will be implemented due to be announced in the coming days.

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As the clapping for key workers began at 8pm it was not hard to imagine members of this tawdry Cabinet piously standing on pavements and ostentatiously applauding these very immigrants at the same time as dreaming up ways to penalise them. We don’t have to look very far these days for examples of the mask slipping.

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Well if I thought that was ‘shoddy’ I was in no way prepared for the circus that developed over the next couple of days. We all know the barebones of the Dominic Cummings Durham episode by now and, surely, all decent people must be scandalized by them. But the response from senior members of the Cabinet alongside the Prime Minister truly beggar belief. Even an old cynic like me who expects little better from those in power has been shocked by these revelations and the responses engendered.

A world where Church of England bishops call Johnson’s defence of Cummings “risible”, accusing both of having “no respect for the people” and “lacking integrity” and IMG_20200525_181855suggesting they could decline to work with the government during the crisis “unless we see clear repentance, including the sacking of Cummings.” And Daily Mail headlines scream: “What planet are they on?”. And the official UK Civil Service twitter feed tweets: “Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters.” As a few examples of responses to the Boris Johnson hosted news briefing, is truly a world turned upside down.

The Bank Holiday weekend was rounded off with a 10 Downing Street Rose Garden press conference for today’s modern pantomime villain Dominic Cummings. This despite the UK code of conduct stating: Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy, through any form of statement whether in speeches or letters to the press, or in books, social media, articles or leaflets. They must observe discretion and expressdomc comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks, and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department. His frankly risible explanation of his family trip to Barnard Castle delivered alongside no apologies or regrets was accompanied by a veritable stampede to our coast and other beauty spots by a population desperate to enjoy the sun.

The fallout from this will likely mean thousands more people will lose their lives needlessly, an economy which is going to need immense care and attention to detail with sure handed responses will be further torched and burned and, perhaps even more seriously, the actions of all who are everyday heroes have not only been visibly held in contempt by those supposed to be in charge but will be obscured by the selfish deeds of those few. It is shameful.

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

The Beach Boys – Heroes And Villains

Mary Chapin Carpenter – Heroes And Heroines

David Crosby – Hero

Little Feat – Time Loves A Hero

Bonnie Tyler – Holding Out For A Hero

David Bowie – Heroes

Édith Piaf – No Regrets

M People – Sight For Sore Eyes

Downshire Brass – Barnard Castle

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The Lockdown Days – We need to talk about trees

The Urban Tree Festival 2020 launched at the weekend, it’s online and runs from Saturday 16 May to Sunday 24 May. This year, for obvious reasons, it is wholly virtual, and I’m sorry to not be able to lead my City of London Tree walk originally scheduled for this week. Go online, follow on twitter & Instagram, check out all the great things they have to offer and get involved. It’ll be a treat with lots of surprises – you’ll love it.

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I was an urban walker before lockdown. People who know me, have probably heard me say so many times that your walk starts just outside your front door. Urban walkers20200517_093211 more often than not think of their walks as first walking to a form of public transport, riding to your start point and walking. Even with that mentality I was probably so familiar with the walk down to the Thames Path, which for me is very close, that I didn’t always notice the trees or birdlife or flowers on this stretch. Well lockdown as changed all that. I take a lot my notice of all the things just outside my front door these days, including trees. I’m not sure how much my tree knowledge is improving – it still probably hovers at novice – but my interest has definitely blossomed.20191006_142803 (1)

A couple of times, over the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting street tree walks with Paul Wood, aka @thestreettree, and I really recommend his books, London’s Street Trees and London is a Forest, as well his talks and blogs. They’ve been a lot of fun as well as informative. These walks allow the space and time to talk about the trees in situ and perform a sort of field study. Sadly, these opportunities are not available to us right now. But trust me, once we are able to meet in groups again, I’ll get something going out there on the streets. Until then when you’re out and about local walking remember to check out the trees.

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Round the corner from me is a highly influential 1950s development of flats and houses, but mostly flats, by the pioneering architects/developers Eric Lyons and Geoffrey Townsend, the Parkleys estate. As well as the architecture, the tree planting is spectacular. It is integral to the landscaping and if you know anybody who deals with landscape, they will tell you some simple solutions adopted at the start of any property developing will improve the outdoor world immensely and is the most cost-effective time to adopt it. This estate is such a delight because there are so many different trees, I don’t really know what a lot of them are but it’s fun trying to find out.

I’m experimenting with different identifying apps with differing results and have so far found one of the better ways to walk with trees in mind is to visit the TreeTalk website.20200515_151543 You can enter your postcode and get a walk from your door with the trees of note listed. Me and Clare, aka @innerlondramb, did one of these the other week that was incredibly enjoyable. There’s also an app TreeTalk that you can use when you’re out and about. It’s pretty self-explanatory and well worth a download and, of course, you can follow them on twitter but I don’t think there’s an Instagram account.

As well as Parkleys, a little further away from me is the Ham Riverside Lands estate. This time this is predominantly a 60s built estate of 2 or 3 storey houses with off street parking for the cars. (Probably not enough parking for the number of cars but20200515_143930 that’s for another day and maybe another blog.) There is plenty, perhaps defined in today’s terms, a ridiculous amount of green space with trees, shrubs and flowers planted. And I can’t wait to ‘do’ a TreeTalk walk around here even if lockdown gets lifted tomorrow. (Lockdown won’t get lifted tomorrow though.) If you like, or think you’ll like, tree trails try @ticlme on twitter. For those of you familiar with walking in the City of London, especially visiting their pocket parks, you might have noticed the tree trail. As well as being informative it’s also easy to follow and playful.

As the lockdown evolves, with its now even more confusing and often conflicting information, I’m being encouraged by the Government to drive to exercise. At the same time many of these places that might be potential sites to visit are urging me to stay 20200515_143144away. In London, I see buses, trains and underground trains empty or sparsely passengered, rattle by all day but I’m discouraged to ride them, but I could drive, on my own, adding car journeys and pollution if I wanted, even outside rush hour. I’ve never been convinced by this ‘all in it together’ guff and daily it becomes more clear that the poorer you are (and trust me I’m very privileged) the worse lockdown is for you but probably nothing compared to the horror show you’ll have to endure on the journey out. It looks like local walking is on the agenda in London for a good while longer, so why not take more note of the trees as you wander around and then lobby your council to plant more and better ones.

Don’t forget – please have a look at Urban Tree Festival 2020.

If you like the flavour of this blog why not try: https://talesfromhansonstreetw1.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/the-state-of-soho-lockdown/

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The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 

 

Snow Patrol – Talk To The Trees

If Trees Could Talk – The Giving Tree

The Leaf Library – Eyes In The Trees

Legends of Country – If I Knew What I Was Doing

Flowers – Young

Young Romance – Room To Breathe

Jetstream Pony – It’s Fine

The Field Mice – September’s Not So Far Away

Charlie Myles – How The Trees Talk (To Me)

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The Lockdown Days – Manifesto

According to Transport for London (TfL), prior to lockdown there were 4.6 million car trips on an average day in London and 1.4 million car passenger trips. Many of them were for short journeys. And when TfL say short, they really mean short!

  • 14% were under 1km (0.6 miles)
  • 21% were 1 – 2km (0.6-1.2 miles)
  • 15% were 2-3km (1.2-1.7 miles)
  • 10% were 3-4km (1.7-2.5 miles)
  • 7% were 4-5km (2.5-3.1 miles)
  • 33% were over 5km (3.1 miles)

Half the car trips, or 2.3 million, in London, go less than 2 miles!!!

I’ll leave that there for it to sink in.

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When the London National Park City conducted its audit of space in London it discovered 48% could be defined as green or blue. A number that not only surprised a lot of people (including me) but is one that London should be proud of. It’s high compared to other world cities and a very decent platform to work from to increase that percentage. For me the most effective way of visualising this is the excellent Urban Good London National Park City map.

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As you would expect a closer examination of the figures revealed even more surprises. One of them was that there are a lot of golf courses in London. They are undoubtedly green open land used by the public but it is reasonable to ask the utilitarian question, if they provide the best use of this land for as many people as possible? A question that more people have been asking during lockdown.

So, leaving aside where you stand on the question of green and blue space usage let’s start with a good news story.

Alerted by a Ramblers Surrey Area Facebook post, me and Clare headed to Coombe to check out the arrangements made by Coombe Wood Golf Club during lockdown. I think the golf club should be applauded for their stance. In many ways it would have been20200426_145922 easier for them to maintain a private property, no trespassers stance, which they are entitled to do. Or they could have allowed partial access, which physically because of the layout of the course they would have been able to do. Or they could have turned a blind eye to the odd dog walker or member strolling around at different times and challenged others as they chose. Instead they elected to open up the whole course to local walkers and advertise the fact, albeit locally, with plenty of unambiguous signs round the edge of the course. And the day we visited it was very well used, with all the folk we saw able to maintain social distance with no problem, strolling about and treating the course with respect. We also got to see Gallows Tamkin, that used to be part of the Hampton Court water supply.

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I’m vaguely aware of other golf courses doing the same but would be very glad for some firm information about this sort of lockdown access. This isn’t shared use in the traditional sense but perhaps we might consider it shared use in a lockdown sense. So if you personally know of any similar arrangements ‘comment me’ at the bottom of this post or drop me an email to walkingclasshero@gmail.com or leave a message on my twitter or Instagram accounts. I’m intending to contact Coombe Wood Golf Club to thank them and ask how the experiment went in their view.

Following the Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, appearance at the coronavirus briefing Saturday 9 May to announce the Government’s Walking & Cycling strategy, Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s commissioner for walking and cycling, tweeted: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities… …in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling”.

Is this the moment when active travel – walking and cycling – returns in considerable numbers? In London, the mayor‘s existing transport strategy is to get 80% of all journeys to be made by public transport, walking or cycling by 2041. There were four million Tube journeys a day before the lockdown, now it has dropped to 200,000. There were even more bus journeys at 5.5 million, falling now to about a million journeys a day. What a public transport service running at 15% of capacity does to those projections is anybody’s guess.

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I believe the best set of circumstances to create a meaningful environment for urban walking includes either drastically reduced motorised traffic or zero motorised traffic. Whichever set of figures you choose, or if you use your own personal experience, you can see there is plenty of scope to achieve this if there is the political will to do so. If you don’t believe me investigate the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s approach to better streets.

Having nailed my colours to that particular mast let me now say I hold no brief for cycling, it seems to me they do a pretty good job without any help from me. I also hold no grudge about cycling, or cyclists, but I see my position to advocate for walking. So, although nearly all walking and cycling proposals seek to arrive at a position of reducing motorised traffic, or minimising the impact of motorised traffic, not all walking and cycling proposals necessarily result in a better environment for walking.

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Any quick scan of daily stories/statements about how the world plans to emerge from this pandemic has news of urban ‘walking and cycling’ schemes to take up some of the slack. You don’t have to get far into these reports to realise these ‘walking and cycling’ schemes are mostly just cycling schemes. From a headline that says ‘Walking and cycling…’, the substance of the various stories talks of cycle lanes, bike sale increases, more people cycling (very few women taking up cycling as a solution as far as I can see) and ‘walking’ soon just becomes an occasional ‘…and walking’ inserted into sentences.

Last week, Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “With IMG_20200204_215045London’s public transport capacity potentially running at a fifth of pre-crisis levels, up to eight million journeys a day will need to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, London will grind to a halt,” Who could disagree with that? The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and TfL have unveiled their London Streetspace programme which will rapidly transform London’s streets to accommodate a possible tenfold increase in cycling and a fivefold increase in walking when lockdown restrictions are eased. This prompt response should be applauded but I’m intrigued where TfL are getting their fivefold increase in walking figure from, because in my experience they have no idea of the total numbers walking pre-pandemic only estimates and best guesses. Let alone why, and where to and from. As I say, they have some estimates but the emphasis is heavily on the estimate here.

Walking has plenty to offer in this discussion but not as just an add on to cycling. Walking as active travel is not the solution to commutes of over 10 miles but then, for different reasons, neither is the car or cycling, that is why we have public transport. Walking, invariably offers the best and cheapest options, when we want to look at reducing the 67% of car journeys in London, which are currently under 5km (3.1 miles).

So, with John Shaar‘s quote in the forefront of my mind – “The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” – I think it’s high time for a Manifesto for Walking in London.

Here’s some initial, not in any order, thoughts from me:

  • Walkers count – let’s start actually counting them
  • The Government, the mayor, the boroughs to ask, and keep asking, everyone to not drive journeys that can be walked in 30 minutes or less
  • Temporary widening of pavements at scale and for long distances to support more walkers making more journeys
  • Enforcement against cars parking over pavements
  • Longer crossing times at all forms of automatic crossings
  • More zebra crossings
  • Better signage on London’s iconic walking routes
  • Development of signed green walking routes to parks & green spaces

There’ll be more ideas, lots more ideas – if you think the idea of a manifesto is a good one, drop me an email with the things you’d like to be included.

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As one incoherent contradictory Government coronavirus statement follows another – go to work, don’t go to work, don’t use public transport, go to work, don’t go to work, wear facemasks, facemasks don’t work, wear facemasks on public transport, don’t use public transport, go to work, it’s fine to sunbathe 2 metres from a perfect stranger, don’t picnic with more than 1 friend 2 metres away from you, go to work, don’t go to work… and so on, continues to be the order of the day we can expect little clarity, or thought, on active travel. Let’s face it a Government whose care home strategy led to hundreds of unnecessary deaths is hardly going to be able manage to get people out walking safely. Whilst not ignoring regulations and guidelines perhaps it might help if we all adopt one overriding principle when we’re outside sharing the various means of getting around – be more kind.

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Frank Turner – Be More Kind

The Ting Tings – We Walk

U2 – Summer of Love

Fischerspooner (featuring Caroline Polachek) – Togetherness

Pete Astor – Walker

Saint Etienne – London Belongs To Me

Roxy Music – Manifesto

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The Lockdown Days – The Long Way Round

If you are a keen walker, or have become a keen walker, lockdown, with its confusing instructions, has forced you to be inventive. Once a week I have been combining a fairly long walk with shopping. I have been alternating these trips – once a fortnight to Richmond, while the other week I’ve been exploring other locations.

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My walk to Richmond takes me through Richmond Park, along some of the Capital Ring and a little stretch of the Thames Path. Going home I do more of the Thames Path then cut up by Ham House through some of the Ham Riverside Lands estate bordering Ham Lands to home. A shade under 7 miles in total which takes about 3 hours including the actual shopping.20200506_125122_2

I’m absolutely loving walking through a car free (and almost bike free, as only key 20200506_125937worker cyclists are allowed right now) Richmond Park. The route I use for this walk isn’t really affected by roads but the lack of traffic noise not only allows you to hear birdsong but also woodpeckers drumming away in the trees. There’s an overall quality of feel that the park is getting back to what it was originally intended for – people strolling around admiring the flora, like the rhododendrons and fauna, like the deer.

It’s a joy for walkers and I really hope that the Royal Parks think long and hard about how they can remove, or reduce significantly, motorised traffic in the park and then put adequate measures in place to ensure the cycling is monitored and regulated. As a charity, surely their mission is for park users not cars and vans using the roads as a through route. It must be possible, and relatively easy to do, to reconfigure the road system to prevent this. My question would be: If not now, when?

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I exit using Petersham Gate and follow the Capital Ring which runs down the side of the Dysart. As we were considering traffic, I have to say that over the last 2 weeks I’ve noticed a gradual increase in car numbers. Don’t get me wrong it’s still nothing like a ‘normal’ day but it’s becoming increasingly odd to see buses trundle by with a couple or more usually no passengers on board with a stream of traffic behind. People in south west London are already relaxing their ‘lockdown’ rules and car usage is creeping up. It is a worry that one of the few benefits we seem to have reaped from this approach, markedly improved air quality, is being eroded day by day. Two weeks ago, I could easily exit via the gate and cross the road straight away with barely a check left and right. Now I have to briefly detour to the crossing and press the button to wait for the ‘green man’ like the old days. Not much of a new normal here.

The Capital Ring takes me to Petersham Meadows where I join the Thames Path. It has to be said that although the route is wide here it is undoubtedly crowded with all sorts of users. Usually it would gladden my heart to see walkers, families with buggies, kids on bikes, and joggers weaving in and out of the folk eating ice cream. It all just about works at the moment but you can see the distress on some people’s faces as they’re not sure what to do to maintain a safe distance and trying to work out who, if anybody has the right of way. When I keep reading and hearing about all the people who are scared to go out, it’s this picture I see in my mind. I’ve varied my route every time on this part of the journey to avoid this congestion because even the act of observing it is changing the dynamic.

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After a visit to the shops, Marks & Spencer Food Hall this time, thanks for asking, I head back home along some of the Thames Path. I used the pavements, not very wide here and a problem even before social distancing, as far as River Lane and follow this down to the Thames. The path is very wide here and copes exceptionally well with walkers, joggers, family groups and cyclists. I leave the path at Ham House, the local authority car park by the river is more crowded than a normal work day at this time but although this is a shame because again it points to increased car usage it is sort of understandable given my comments above and the fact that there is a lot of green space round here.

It is my understanding that, pre-pandemic, according to TfL, 68% of car journeys in greater London were 3 miles or under. I’ll be writing more about this in my next post but it would be such a lost opportunity if a combination of lockdown relaxation and a need to restart the economy with reduced public transport led to an increase in this already horrific number. We should be aiming for a drastic reduction.

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Thinking about inventive. David Fathers, author of London’s Hidden Rivers and Bloody London (Ramblers’ members in the south east can look forward to my review of this20190502_130941 (1) book in the upcoming South East Walker) amongst other titles, is using the lockdown to walk every street, alleyway, highway and byway in N12. You can follow his progress on @thetilbury or his Instagram account. In the interests of full disclosure, he is a Spurs fan but unusually for that tribe his follow through is total and if he’s started, he will see this through to successful conclusion. He’s an illustrator and I recommend his books not only as walking guides but also to spot the Spurs references, he artfully (see what I did there) slips into the drawings. He’s also become a good friend of mine as we co-host walks regularly and we had big plans for 2020. Curses – shakes fist at the coronavirus.

And while we’re on inventive. As part of the Government’s ‘test, track, trace’ strategy, this week it soft launched its smartphone app on the Isle of Wight. So, I’m no data expert but I am wedded to my smartphone and this is how I understand it, with thanks to friends who know more than me about this. Tracking and tracing comes in 2 approaches – centralised and decentralised. The decentralised model is supported and recommended by the major suppliers and providers of mobile operating systems. You know, the ones who have made $billions in the last decade or so and deal with this stuff every single minute of every single day. The centralised path takes you to a permanently accessible database of your data. This system will be built by the UK Government via NHSX (and who knew this lot actually existed until a couple of months ago) and the Government have, it seems to me, never developed and built any system to budget or timetable or has actually worked.

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Unsurprisingly this Government has opted for the centralised model despite most other countries choosing the decentralised route. (And I don’t know, but the contract has probably been ‘given’ to one of Dominic Cummings’ mates, who didn’t do anything like abuse the use of personal data in the Brexit referendum debacle, did they?)

And, even more unsurprisingly, having launched Tuesday 5 May by Thursday 7 May the Government were said to be ‘pivoting’ to the decentralised course. We used to call this a U-turn. You really cannot make this stuff up. No news on the 20,000 actual tracers that will need to be employed to make all this effort worthwhile. Guess that contract will go to SERCO or Group4 or another those multi-nationals who have trousered £millions not delivering services to the UK population. Same as it ever was.

My exercise/shopping walk combination on Strava: https://strava.app.link/505oQqsa55

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Dixie Chicks – The Long Way Round

Supertramp – Take the Long Way Home

Bonnie Raitt – Can’t Find My Way Home

Stephen Stills – Go Back Home

Anne Müller – Drifting Circles

Faces – Richmond

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The Lockdown Days – Keep on running

I take supplements these days. There’s the glucosamine with chondroitin recommended by Mark from University College of Osteopathy (formerly the British School of Osteopathy) that helps me keep the chronic arthritis in my left knee at bay for as long as possible. There’s the organic turmeric which is an anti-inflammatory recommended by my friend Nadia. And there’s the 50+ vitamins and minerals for us olds. Since lockdown started I have now reached a point in my life where I spend more per day on these tablets than I do on beer. WT actual F – where did it all go wrong?

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There are days when I’m sure the stretching, strengthening exercises I do before going for a run take longer than the run itself. Since lockdown started I’ve now reached a point where I’m not sure what I miss most, parkrun or the pub. Well that’s not quite true but I miss parkrun so much more than I could ever have imagined.

It all started at school. I probably cherish the memories more fondly than the actual experiences at the time of ‘cross country runs’ in PE from my school in Blackheath. We’dpagoda go up Heath Lane and just before reaching the heath we’d swing left past the Pagoda. Then loop back to the school. The first part avoided roads but the return route certainly encountered traffic. Notwithstanding the serious issues surrounding air pollution in London pre-pandemic in the 21st century, I can’t imagine anything like this being countenanced today. But hey it was the Sixties. (I recently asked @running_past if he would duplicate some of this run. He was more than happy to and if you’re interested you can check out his twitter feed or instagram for more info. Actually give him a follow anyway because the posts are a super chronicle of modern city life in south east London.)

Next came a few abortive attempts to establish a running routine while I attended the LSE but although I can recall very little of the routes I took I vividly remember the Dunlop Green Flash footwear I used in those days. Ah the innocence and the naiveté of dunlopthose pre-Nike days in the UK. So, I can probably date my running life beginning back to working life in the Eighties. I worked shifts in what we called, data processing back then, for a high street bank. (That bank, NatWest, now supplies the pension that enables me to live this life of Riley.) Having taken the decision to invest in, what seemed at the time, an incredibly expensive, pair of Adidas trainers, I decided to stick with it.

Blimey, this post is turning positively Proustian.

When available, workplaces with shower facilities helped me shift a lot of my running to lunch times. The innovation that made the most difference to me wasn’t a 20200104_085349‘kit’ development but the arrival of the ipod and similar devices.  With the dawning of the 21st century I worked in ‘Charity Towers’ next to MI6 with showers and was able to carry an almost infinite supply of music in my pocket. Now I could with stand the boredom of running more than an hour. Soon I was entering events like the Cabbage Patch 10 as well as other 10k’s, 10 milers and then half marathons. My training regime for a half marathon was run most days and just not drink the night before the race.

After running a half marathon in Fort Collins, Colorado in 2005 I entered for the Adirondack Marathon in upstate New York a year later (doesn’t everybody celebrate turning 50 by running 26.2 miles?) The race motto is: “The most beautiful 26 miles 385 yards you will ever run.” Well as it’s round a lake and in the mountains that is probably true but defying the laws of physics most of it seems to be uphill! I finished, with no walking, in a little under 5 hours but that was the start and end of my marathon career.

For the next few years I did the occasional 10k or half marathon – I highly recommend 20200202_120122_2the Royal Parks half marathon and I wonder when others will be able to run these events again? Injuries from years of contact sport began to catch up with me. My left ankle went from being an occasional problem to a near constant issue when running or walking. (I can’t understand how that happened playing footie ‘cos I really only used that leg for standing on.)

Then came smart phones and running apps like nike run club+ and strava. I ran on and off, nursing my way through various aches, pains, strains and sprains but became more of a jogger than a runner. Then 2 years ago I decided I’d try again and do more than amble round the block. I ran regularly and gradually increased distance. I ran through pain and in this world of running apps wondered how on earth I managed before without knowing how far I’d run, how fast, average pace and so on. Forgive the virtue signalling but I can tell you on 9 October 2018 I ran my furthest – 15.86k; 25 October 2018, I ran my fastest 5k – 23 minutes 42 seconds; and had run my fastest 10k of 49 minutes 57 seconds on 30 September 2018.

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All these are times and distances I’ll never see again because on Saturday 1 December 2018 it all came, quite literally, to a juddering halt at parkrun Harrogate. I pulled up after a mile with what I thought was a hamstring problem in my left leg. That hamstring was actually sciatica, which was followed by 3 months of pain and not being able to walk let alone run some days. It hurt to stand, to sit, to lay down and to move. Putting my sock on my left foot on my own was a thing of the past.

One comeback programme after another came and went. I remember running parkrun 20200118_094850in Weymouth on 22 June 2019 with Clare. I had to get a coach back to London because of a rail strike. I hobbled off the coach and my left knee has rarely been pain-free since. After been diagnosed with chronic arthritis as I wasn’t able to get any physiotherapy on the NHS (which is fine but rather confusing if you ask me) I visited the British School of Osteopathy and that worked wonders. Right before lockdown I was getting back to running parkrun regularly, albeit in a time of 35 minutes which will take some getting used to but it’s great to be able to.

There is still a runner in the house though. Two years ago Clare took up couch to 5k and has now done 50 parkruns, one 10k event and is training (in hope) for the Royal Parks half marathon in October. We haven’t run as many parkruns together as I’d like but she loves running now and continues to exceed all expectations.

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Well Dear Reader, this has turned into a much longer, more indulgent post than I’d anticipated so if you’ve made it to the end… THANK YOU. Apologies, it isn’t meant to be a cautionary tale of the dark side of running, the complete opposite in fact. During these days when we are sure of very little, running has not only been a constant it is also a tremendous comfort and consolation to me.

 

The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:

spotify

 Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running

Emmylou Harris – Long May You Run

One Direction – Ready To Run

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas – Nowhere To Run

Gil Scott-Heron – Running

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Jackson Browne – Running on Empty

Leona Lewis – Run

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