Thursday, 4 March 2004

As I was Travelling Home Today

I sat on the 141 bus from London Bridge, the traffic getting out of the station was appalling. And having been trapped in a hotel for a day and half my mind wandered.

Lots of 60s and 70s buildings are looking shabby and out of date with their window casements rusting and filthy and their nasty vertically slatted blinds. Buildings built without thought given to window cleaning (too high for the average window cleaner but no ledges or roof suspended cages to travel up and down in), ventilation or heating (lots of sliding inner windows, condensation covered corners). Lacking the charm of the really old and the futuristic design of the contemporary or well-designed (not all this age of buildings are as bad as the one that got me thinking all this). Made of prefabricated bits they have dirt-streaked concrete and cheap glazing.

The traffic turned out to be terrible because at the lights to turn into the main street a bus had broken down at the lights turning right. We were sent on a diversion jolly in the opposite direction all the way along Borough High Street to Elephant and Castle roundabout in order to turn round and come back the other way to cross London Bridge.

Borough High Street was a hive of activity this lunchtime.

Plain clothes police car screeching down the road, blue light stuck to the roof & flashing, weaving in and out of the standstill traffic. Coming the other way a Police Support Unit, an officer jumped out and ran over to direct traffic out of the way, holding traffic back at the lights to enable the un-marked car's passage.

A dodgy-looking big blue van had been pulled by some traffic police, it sat on the side of the road looking really lopsided as the driver was interviewed - whether that was due to bald tyres, an uneven load or something to do with the suspension I wouldn't know but the back right wheel arch looked far too high up to me.

A stream of office workers filed back into their building, some with coats, some without, presumably on a fire drill. Only, after I saw them going back our bus was stopped by a fire engine arriving outside, firemen piled out and went inside. I thought it was usual in these cases where the fire brigade came that the evacuation wasn't over until after they had inspected. It all seemed a bit backwards. Further along the road 2 further fire engines were wending their way through the traffic, sirens blazing - one with a huge crane on the back for recovering people from the top floors.

And by the time we came back level with London Bridge station they had towed the broken-down bus out of the way and all the traffic chaos was gone (and our diversion had taken us about half an hour).

Flying through Bank and Moorgate (congestion charge really has reduced the amount of traffic in town) I was struck by the number of women in black flared trousers and stillettos, older men in classic city attire and younger men in sharp suits with wide-knotted ties and loud shirts (footballer chic, untrustworthy looking mobile phone salesmen stylee).

Joined on the bus by a man who couldn't quite clear his throat, he had a niggling closed-mouth cough thing going on that started to grate on my ears - wish he would just COUGH OUT LOUD and get it over with. Fortunately he got off at Old Street.

The amazing looking apartments built on the Gainsborough Studios old site are nearly finished, some people have moved in already. Wooden cladding, huge open space outside with trees, huge metal balconies the full length of the apartments. Managed entry halls. They stand next to some council flats now looking shamefully in need of care and attention next to their spanking new neighbours. Attempts at modernising with royal blue paint have been graffittied over in that way that speaks volumes about the environment - both council's ability to manage the environment and the disaffected youths' engagement in their community. I wonder how long it will take before the Gainsborough Studios residents will be the target of neighbourhood angst - GS lived in a similar development in Bow in the east end - one factory developed into exclusive apartments (it actually sits on the same canal as the Gainsborough Studios apartments) surrounded by council housing, the kids from the estate next door used to take pot shots at the windows with air rifles. Very difficult in areas where visible affluence sits next to run down council estates - visibly the haves and the have-nots living in a not too comfortable mesh. The problem being the lack of true meshing I suppose.

Roadworks. They seem to be digging everywhere at the moment. End of the financial year underspends coming to light in the transport and environment departments of councils all over London leading to a million projects getting the go ahead all at the same time, new road surfaces, road layouts, pedestrian crossings, pavements happening all over the place. Covered in road cones, temporary traffic lights, builders, diggers. Beautifying the environment. Maybe. Sadly feel that within a couple of months some cable or utilities company will be along to dig it up again for some other reason. Oh for some joined up planning across local authorities and companies. Maximise effort and minimise disruption.

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