As usual I have failed to come to any grand conclusions about the state of the world.
Once again less touring of the DLR than I vaguely planned, in this case because their turned out to be a Thames Clipper running from Woolwich Arsenal.
I did think of changing my mind and going North, and 'doing' the Midlands Metro, but suspect Birmingham in the rain would not have been over-inspiring either.
(Walks not necessary for the transportation of the weasel omitted, notes below)
1. Drive to Aylesbury Vale Parkway station
2. Minibus from Aylesbury Vale Parkway station to Aylesbury (non-vale, non-parkway) station (note a)
3. Train from Aylesbury (NVNP) station to Marylebone station
4. Walk to Baker Street station (note b)
5. Circle line to Tower Hill station
6. Walk to Fenchurch Street station (note c)
7. Train to Tilbury Town station
8. Bus to Tilbury Riverside non-station (note d)
9. Ferry to Gravesend (note e)
10. Walk to Gravesend station (note f)
11. Bus (Fastrack) to Dartford station (note g)
12. Train to Woolwich Arsenal station
13. Walk to Woolwich Foot tunnel
14. Walk through Woolwich Foot tunnel (note h)
15. Ferry back to Woolwich (note i)
16. Walk to Woolwich Arsenal Pier
17. Thames Clipper To Embankment Pier (note j)
18. Bakerloo line to Marylebone
19. Train to Aylesbury Vale Parkway (note k)
20. Drive back from AVP
(a) Aylesbury Vale Parkway station is quite attractive. Marred only slightly by the lack of actual train. A people carrier taxi was summoned for the passengers, including the woman running the small shop who shut down the shop after I bought a coffee and was going to take the train in order to work in the corresponding shop in Aylesbury NVNP station. The taxi took me past the house my mum was born and grew up in, which is not far from Aylesbury NVNP station. Did you know that  the etymology of Parkway for stations in the UK is a sort of bizarre back-coinage, Bristol Parkway was named after the M32, the 'Bristol Parkway', Parkway being an American term for a sort of freeway, then the other Parkway stations were named after it with the back-coinage of 'park and railway' i.e. a rural or suburban station with a big car-park?
The new housing development opposite is called 'Paradise Orchard' which suggests to me someone taking the piss, or more likely someone making the suggestion as a piss-take and it not being recognised as one.
(b) heavy drizzle, inadequate sign-posting
(c) heavy rain
(d) Tilbury Riverside is a strange non station that still exists on some level in national rail timetables. The bus from Tilbury Town is free if you have a rail ticket. I had a bit of a walk round Tilbury, it is pretty grim, probably the grimmest town I have seen in the South-East. This may of course say more about my sheltered existence, but whilst I have seen grimmer bits of towns, I think this is the grimmest town as a whole from what I saw. Obviously the rain did not show it at its best. The route from the station to the port takes you though a bizarre edge-land with lots of horses (plus a sign saying that the land they are on, or some of it anyway, is private land and the horses will be towed away). Lots of horses, including 4 in what looked to me to be a fairly normal set of allotments, apart from the horses.
Tilbury is another reminder that not all places in the South East are at all prosperous. I do wonder if Essex suffered because (prior to the regional development agencies and assemblies being abolished by the Cameron-Clegg Dunningite-Krugerist regime, due to their being seen by the Gordon-Brown-Gordon-Clown-More-Like-Ha-Ha tendency as being an agency of control and fragmentation of England on behalf of the blue mind-control lizards in Brussels) it was in the East of England region, therefore having poor places in a poor part of the country, rather than poor places in a rich part of the country. You can recognise poor places in rich parts of the country because they get painted in bright colours, bright coloured murals are a particular give-away.
It was unclear to me from the internets how much one could see of the remains of Tilbury Riverside (basically they kept the building for offices and community things, got rid of the platforms and moved the road) and the London Cruise Terminal. The answer is not very much. I also think that photos of the terminal tend to be very tight angle and carefully taken to make the building look much nicer than it is. You will notice that in the promo video available on the front page of the website http://www.londoncruiseterminal.com/ the terminal and the station are both shown with a very tight angle. The website seems a bit desperate and somehow the text on the passenger facilities and parking pages give the hint that it would all be kind of grotty if one experienced it. Certainly anyone having a cruise to 'London' and then being taken by the bus to Tilbury and the train to Fenchurch Street would not get a good impression. Maybe an accurate one, though. I think Southampton will continue to win out here, sadly.
[I should also mention that the fort was shut, had I realised it was closed on Wednesdays and open on Thursdays I would have probably gone on another day - I didn't want a day off on Thursday this week. It didn't occur to me to check, as I don't
remember any English Heritage sites being open on Thursdays but not Wednesdays].
(e) having realised that I wasn't going to get to see much, I sprinted for the next ferry (having been at the river side for half an hour and had a walk round to see the river wall and the closed fort). The ferry is not large, had about 10 seats in it, and about 8 passengers, I think about 3 locals and 3 tourists, including me. I wonder if it will survive.
(f) Gravesend is considerably more pleasant that Tilbury, though anywhere with special wrought iron gates to a 'heritage quarter' is clearly struggling a bit. It seemed pretty dead for a weekday. It reminded me a lot of Aylesbury for some reason, I think mainly in having been over enthusiastically redeveloped in the 60s and 70s and clearly regretting it but having the odd pleasant bit left. Like Aylesbury, and unlike many places, the new shopping centre in the centre was quite cheerful.
(g) I came to mock the busway but actually I was quite impressed in terms of how they had managed to carve out bus only lanes, in some cases essentially bus only roads and in other bus-lanes with genuine priority for the buses (i.e. as the bus comes along the traffic lights on the other lanes turn red to let the bus through) i.e. unlike in many places the bus lanes just don't disappear at the precise points they are needed. If you look at the website http://www.go-fastrack.co.uk/ there is a certain air of 'if they come we will build it' (rather than vice versa) i.e. we have buses but when things pick up we will get longer, nicer ones. They seem to have abandoned the already installed fare machines to save money - obviously paying the driver instead slows buses down, and the information screens on the buses and off weren't working, which is all a tiny bit shit really. But at least on some level they are trying.
(h) Like Mr Diamond Geezer I cannot really see what they have spent the money on in refurbishing the foot tunnel http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/capital-ring-15x.html The lifts are still out of order, and the entrance hard to find. Oh well.
(i) bizarrely, foot passengers have to go below decks whilst the ferry crosses.
(j) The Thames Clipper timetable at the pier was rather bizarre, I think someone copied and pasted a line from the timetable including all the ferries that DON'T go from Woolwich Arsenal (off peak ones start closer to the centre of London), thus the timetable has lots of --.-- in it, which serves to make it look as though the 2nd line is arrivals so it wasn't clear to me if there were any boats leaving - fortunately there was an LED display, even though it didn't agree with the timetable :-) There weren't that many people on the clipper. They didn't seem terribly interested in taking people's money, I asked if they wanted some money, not so much out of honesty or whatever, but to avoid a possible 'oh, you should have asked me' argument on exit. This is I think the first time I have been through the Thames Barrier by boat. The view of Docklands is very impressive though vaguely oppressive in the gloaming.
(k) Wanted a sandwich by this point, didn't want to miss (hourly) train. Pleased to say that this train DID go to Aylesbury Vale Parkway. Still quite a few cars apart from mine in the car-park, presumably people getting back on the two trains after the one I got.