Barmy bridges – 3

This week saw the opening of a new river crossing, the London Emirates Air Line Cable Car, with its 34 cabins which soon no doubt will be renamed ‘Boris Buoys’ in keeping with London’s tradition of giving new transport a Boris prefix:

‘Boris Bikes’, ‘Boris Bus’ and had Boris got his way a few years ago a ‘Boris Bridge’.

It would have been the first time London had a bridge with residential and commercial properties since 1832 when the medieval London Bridge was pulled down. That famous bridge completed in 1209 in the reign of King John, contained dozens of packed-in houses and shops which as the bridge became further developed congestion meant crossings could take more than an hour.

[T]he ‘Living Bridge’ was first mooted in 2009. The £80 million crossing was to have been constructed between Waterloo and Blackfriars. Based on designs by the French architect Antoine Grumbach shown at the Royal Academy’s fine exhibition of Living Bridges 16 years previously.

They envisioned a bridge suspended from twin 35-storey towers on the north side of the river, containing flats with views over the city with a residential tower at one end, and shops cafes and bars along the middle, with a greenhouse at the far end.

Called the Living Bridge, it also included proposals for hedge, trees and greenhouses, alongside spaces for live concerts and a ‘topiary café’.

Not so much the elegance of Florence’s Ponte Vecchio with its shops more an upmarket garden centre.

Bee-ing aware

Bee suitYou know the amazing thing about London is that any hobby that takes your fancy can be found if you dig deep enough, somewhere in the Capital there will be an enthusiastic group of like minded individuals.

Now take apiarists (bee keepers to you and me), you would have thought they would be pretty thin on the ground in London, not so as I found out last weekend. You see I’ve been interested in bees since I were a lad and apart from extolling a bee’s beneficial work pollinating over 70 per cent of our crops, I’ve been droning on to my children about the bees decline (over 16 per cent last year) and the calamitous harvests coming our way if this trend isn’t stemmed.

Well in an attempt to shut me up once and for all my family sent me off on a bee aware experience.

There I discovered that amazingly there are over 1,500 registered hives in London, Fortnum and Mason even have a webcam of the hives on their roof.

The Lancaster Hotel has over half a million bees on its roof and last year hosted the first London Honey Show and was named by the AA Eco Hotel of the Year.

For me my bee day started with the obligatory talk about the benefit of our little friends followed by having to construct a hive super. These are the vertical trays where the bee constructs its honeycomb, then a discussion on the correct apparel to wear. They will even make to measure your protective outfit.

Bee dinnerOur bee themed lunch was followed by a walk around the West Lodge Park Hotel arboretum. This was followed by the highlight of the day. Dressed as if we were off to Chernobyl two hives were opened. There were thousands of bees flying around us. We even managed to see the queen taking a break from laying the hundreds of eggs she lays every day. You know the strange thing was that under the supervision of our tutors having thousands of bees flying around your head, when dress correctly, it’s rather therapeutic.

Will get my own hive, Err No. Lots of commitment and experience are needed before I fly at that hobby.

Barmy bridges – 2

The first crossing of the Thames were by boat, but it did not take much thought to realise that it was more convenient, a safer, to build a bridge to across the river.

The first known crossing over the River Thames was near the MI6 building in Vauxhall, where archaeologists have found the remains of Bronze Age bridge piers some 3,500 years old.

[O]ver time a more robust material was sought, no doubt after the wooden London Bridge collapsed, giving rise to the well-known nursery rhyme. Stone would seem to be the material of choice to build sturdy river crossings – that is unless you manufacture glass.

The 1960s was a decade of change teenagers not dressing like their parents, men with long hair, even the word teenager was relatively new. So into this brave new world stepped a group rejoicing in the name ‘The Glass Age Development Committee’.

They proposed building a bridge not far from the early Bronze Age one in Vauxhall. The ‘Crystal Span’ was to be 970 feet long and 127ft wide. Provision for motor vehicles on its lower deck, while above were to be seven levels comprising shops, an extension to the Tate Gallery, a hotel, skating rink all topped off with a roof garden and an open air theatre; a modern vision of the medieval London Bridge.

That all sounds great except for one small design fault, costing an estimated £109 million at today’s prices it was to be built of – glass.

This piece of blue sky thinking was not their only brainwave. Taking their inspiration from the Crystal Palace with its glazed panels (before it burnt down) the committee had wanted to clean up the shambles that was, and still is, Soho. Thankfully this earlier proposed was also abandoned.

Mind you one of their schemes had some merit, they wanted to demolish Staines and build an entire glass city call Motopia.

An icon’s swansong

FairwayThe other day my cab broke down – gearbox in case you were wondering – and I found myself driving, as a replacement, an old Fairway of the type American tourists love. It’s hardly surprising, if your vision of London is of a rather quaint city that is still stuck firmly in the 50s, then the classic Fairway fits the bill for our colonial visitors.

Little changed from its launch in July 1958, few vehicles have matched its longevity. Although the indicators were moved from their original position on the roof (giving them the sobriquet ‘bunny ears’) the vehicle still has the little round indicators last seen on a car being driven by Jack Regan in The Sweeny.

Manual sliding rear windows locked by means of an ineffectual metal lever, no intercom, brakes fit for a go kart with 2 tonnes of momentum to slow down, top heavy necessitating roundabouts need to be negotiated at half the speed of a modern car and its acceleration beyond 30 mph is almost impossible especially when travelling up a hill. Clunking doors which open the wrong way – the driver can reach out and open the offside passenger door without leaving his driving seat. Oh yes! and plastic seats.

[I]t was a trip down Memory Lane. The hardwood 3-spoke steering wheel, imitation walnut trim to the doors and a top speed of 60mph. Many passengers could not fathom out how to open the doors and with its stiff buttons on the outside handles ladies needed strong thumbs to open the door. Inside the chrome door handles have a plastic guard, presumably an early health and safety requirement.

For all its faults driving this London icon has been a privilege, evocating days when London changed little and we worked at a gentler pace. I’m not the only one who loves this cab. Tourists love its quaintness, choosing it over the more brash upstarts. I’ve even had a guy chase me down the road offering to buy the vehicle. Apparently they are very much in demand abroad and a rather enterprising cabbie buys them for export to of all places Saudi Arabia.

So it looks like the old girl might have a second life after being taken off the road by the Burgers at the Public Carriage Office who following the dictats of Europe have decreed that cabs over 15 years old must die.

Or she might stay in England many owners like them some even write blogs about them.

An urban idyll

At long last plans for the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony have been unveiled. Eastenders it ain’t, looking more akin to Larkrise to Candleford, with bucolic scenes of synchronised sheep herding, parallel ploughing and no doubt a pageant of pedalling policemen riding their bikes – let us just hope Midsomer Murders are not to be recreated.

Taking inspiration from London’s old quaint street names such as Farm Street and Covent Garden the ceremony’s artistic director Danny Boyle could have created a vista of London in days gone by.

Haymarket would have a carnival of cabs each with their obligatory bale of hay protruding from the boot.

[I]nstead of bankers wearing their Saville Row suits walking down Milk Street in the City of London, a parade of milk floats would set the scene of how we want to be seen by the world.

The alleyway north of Covent Garden called Floral Street could be the inspiration for multiple Mary Poppins selling posies with a Dick Van Dyke chimney sweep.

Then there is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Stable Yard, Chalk Farm Road, Coram’s Fields and Garden Road . . .