Archive for January, 2007

The Launderette

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Trafalgar Road

I hadn’t visited a launderette since I was a student – and was rather looking forward to taking my two pillows (that I had been told were past it and had been urged to send to an animal sanctuary for bedding) along to find out what happens at one these days. I have been feeling rather guilty about our washing machine (no tumble dryer at least) and thinking maybe I could get rid of it and just use the local services for a while.

The Launderette (don’t you just love it when they DON’T give shops comedy names – and just call them what they are) along Trafalgar Road has that faint air of an Eastenders set – and is even rather cool in a clean, rough & ready sort of way. I brought my pillows in and asked the handful of pensioners where I could find the lady in charge.

When she arrived from the back room, I asked her what the best way of doing my pillows would be – and to be honest I jumped at the service wash option – I just didn’t want to sit around for hours on end – and let’s face it – there’s not a lot to do in that part of Trafalgar Road while you’re waiting. “£7 for two pillows – well – it’s a personal service – that’s fine if my pillows are going to be ok,” I thought.

I went off to meet a pal in Buenos Aires (doesn’t that sound more exotic than it is …) and do a little shopping. After a few hours of checking out a couple more places, I checked in to the Launderette to see if my pillows were ready. The lady was nowhere to be seen, but my pillows were in a plastic basket on top of a machine. I felt them and they were still damp, so I assumed that they were waiting for another whizz in the dryer and went home.

The next day, my partner went to the Fishmongers, so I asked him to pick up the pillows for me. When they came back, they had clearly NOT been put back in the dryer – they were STILL damp – the only change in them from the day before was that they now smelled of cigarette smoke. Oh and I didn’t get my little Tupperware box for washing sachets back either.

Frankly I think that animal sanctuary’s going to get a couple of pillows after all, and there’s no way I’m getting rid of the washing machine just yet.

Tumbling

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Tumbling was outlawed in 1857, just one of many robust Greenwich and Blackheath activities that had a stop put to them by Victorian prudes. Which is a great shame as far as I can see, especially with the Olympics coming up – now they’re getting rid of beach volleyball as an Olympic sport, they need something a bit saucy to perk things up.

Tumbling was a naughty game played by courting couples in cheekier times. A young swain would climb to the top of the hill in Greenwich Park with his lady-love, during the madcap days of the twice-yearly Greenwich Fair, then drag her, squealing – either with delight or sheer terror – down again, going at such a pace that she’d fall over, and roll the rest of the way to the bottom, legs and skirts akimbo, affording a splendid view to all and sundry.

It was quite a dangerous activity – accidents were an occupational (or should I say “recreational”) hazard. In 1730 one lusty young wench broke her neck, another her jaw bone and yet another her leg in a single day. The Victorians, of course, took a dim view and banned it (along with the fair itself.) Presumably nowadays they wouldn’t allow it on bloomin’ health and safety grounds, but I reckon it’s high time it was reintroduced – perhaps even as an Olympic sport. Of course you’d need the proper gear – ideally a crinoline skirt and frilly pantaloons – but it could provide hours of fun and exercise for all the family. Points would be awarded for the inelegance of the tumble and the amount revealed. For “Live TV” coverage, the pantaloons would be optional.

Stitches & Daughters

Friday, January 19th, 2007

There’s a scene in ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ where Alice walks into a shop owned, I vaguely remember, by a sheep who did knitting (entirely irrelevant to the point I’m making, but it might help you remember the bit I’m talking about.) It is full of the most delightful goodies – beautiful things on shelves up to the ceiling and bright shiny things that she KNOWS are just what she needs. The trouble is that whenever she tries to focus on anything the shelf she’s looking at is suddenly entirely bare (though all around the shop still seems to be full) and Alice finds herself supremely frustrated because she is desperate to buy something lovely.

That’s a bit how I feel when I go into Stitches & Daughters. I want so much to like this shop. From the outside it looks utterly beautiful – a cute little multi-paned window with lovely displays of Emma Bridgewater crocks and pretty greetings cards. I walk in the doorway, where there are some natty pieces of wrapping paper on rails and as I get to the main part of the shop my heart rises. The nice lady always says hello and I think “Today I am going to find something perfect.”

The Buena Vista Social Club are playing gently in background (I have never heard anything else) and all around me I can feel the presence of sparkly, feathery, fluffy, painty things. I’m in the mood to spend. But when I get down to specifics, there’s really nothing that particularly grabs me – not even as a potential present for friends even girlier than I am. There are usually some good quality, solid clothes – individual pieces or short-runs which I would describe as elegant items for ladies-of-a-certain-age – but nothing that truly catches my eye.

There is a glass case full of sparkly jewellery – but if I try to find a single piece on its own that I must have, I’m stumped. There’s the odd antique – usually a pretty kitchen or household item – but nothing I really want enough to move something out to make a home for. Some of the toys for well-heeled kiddies are fun – including some pretty china plates, and there are some rather nice little leather bootees – presumably christening or First Birthday gifts – but still – nothing that I really need or want.

In the end I find myself having to wish the lady a polite “thank you” and beating a blushing retreat. This is a lovely shop. What’s wrong with me that I can’t find anything I want to buy in it? Am I trying too hard?

I am pleased to say that SOMEBODY must like the goods in Stitches & Daughters because it’s been there a long while and shows all the signs of being prosperous. Long may it continue to be so. I’m going to keep going in there and one day, maybe one day, I’m going to buy something.

The Creaky Shed

Friday, January 19th, 2007


This is just the sort of shop that needs to be encouraged. A Royal Hill Lovely, the Creaky Shed is a little gem selling all manner of good quality fresh fruit and vegetables mainly on a seasonal basis. I adore going in there because it’s so well laid out – everything in neat baskets of overflowing plenty. Unusual vegetables jostle with more workaday favourites and there are also one or two interesting jars of accompaniments such as apple sauce and sundry jams and pickles. Outside the sweet little window is always a gorgeous display of abundance – flaming pumpkins and strange squashes in Autumn, jolly tangerines, nuts and shiny things in the run up to Christmas and shocking pink sticks of champagne rhubarb and giant naval oranges in the gloomy depths of January – just when you need a bright, cheery pick-me-up. That particular row of shops has to be my favourite in Greenwich, for colour and sheer cuteness.

The service is personal and friendly and I never feel embarrassed to ask for just one or two of anything or enquire what something actually is – and, indeed, what to do with it if I buy it. The fact that it’s rather dark inside would normally make a shop a bit gloomy, but the friendly atmosphere and the veritable cornucopia of jewel-like fruits and vegetables is such that it feels sumptuous rather than dim. The prices seem initially high – but you don’t have to actually buy a kilo of this or that – you can just ask for what you need and they’ll happily weigh it out for you. Frankly the quality is better than some of the frankly manky stuff I’ve seen at Blackheath Farmers Market on occasion. (I don’t mind odd-shaped or mudddy – I’ve got an allotment, goddammit – but some stuff is just plain poor quality.)

My only complaint is that there aren’t more of these places. The quality and variety of veg on sale here makes it a must – but it would be nice not to have to travel a couple of miles for everyday essentials. I place the blame partially at the feet of the supermarkets – but have to take some of it myself for having supermarket-shopped in the past. I now make an effort to buy local and small as much as possible to encourage more brave souls to start quality businesses. That’s not, by the way, to say I don’t actually go to Sainsburys at all – but wherever possible if there’s a (nice) local alternative I’m now trying to take it.

I guess it’s getting me out and walking off those Christmas pounds.

The Creaky Shed is one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

Train Topiary

Friday, January 19th, 2007


If you’re taking a stroll around the Westcombe Park area, then make sure you look out for one of my favourite front gardens in Greenwich. Not only does number 23, Foyle Road boast a splendidly nautical theme in the shape of an old rowing boat, coiled rope and other seaside-related paraphernalia, but there is a delightfully-cut topiary steam engine hedge, complete with buffers, engine and bell. A lovely, flamboyant surprise in a generally architecturally restrained area, and something for children to look out for if you have to walk that way.

I had been worried recently because on passing it a few times it seemed to be getting a bit – well- fluffy round the edges. But I am pleased to report that on walking up there a day or so ago it had been very well clipped, was sharply defined on boths sides of the boundary and just as glorious as ever.

At the risk of looking like some kind of tragic stalker, I have chosen this as one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

The Meeting House

Friday, January 19th, 2007

From the sublime to the ridiculous – Wednesday, I was in The Spread Eagle eating caramelised cod, yesterday I was in the Meeting House scoffing a jacket spud.

The Meeting House is one of my favourite cheap eats in Greenwich. Situated in the covered market, it gets stupidly full at weekends, but the rest of the time it just ticks by. It’s basic stuff – bright fluorescent strip lights, basic tiled floors and aluminium picnic chairs which don’t quite fit the marble-topped tables.

It’s waitress service, and the selection is huge considering the size of the kitchen. You can have your usual greasy-spoon fare – egg, bacon and chips, omelettes, fry-ups etc, your sandwiches with multi fillings and ever-so-slightly ‘exotic’ stuff like curries and bagels with interesting toppings, but for my money the home-made pies, dishes such as lasagne – and those jacket spuds – are the best. Specials are listed on the chalk board on the wall – but they don’t change much. If you get a jacket potato, it comes on a plate covered in so much salad it’s hard to finish it, and the toppings are generous to say the least. You will not go hungry here.

They have wine racks on the wall, but I have never seen anyone drinking alcohol. This is a place to enjoy orange ‘workman’s’ tea and Gaggia-made coffee.

We’re hardly talking cordon bleu cookery here. But you’ll fill up with something cheap and cheerful without having to lie down afterwards from the wallet-strain.

Service ranges from cheery to sullen, exemplary to indifferent depending on the day of the week, the time of day and the length of the queue.

The Spread Eagle

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Crooms Hill

Yup, folks – it’s the one you’ve all been waiting for…

A long one today – sorry.

I hadn’t intended to visit the newly-refurbished Spread Eagle last night – I had a dinner date in central London – but it all went pear-shaped so I decided to have a drink there – as a taster for visiting properly later. Somehow, though, once we were inside we ended up going for the works after all…

I hadn’t wanted to like the Spread Eagle. It annoyed me that yet another Greenwich institution had been corporatised by Greenwich Inc, which until the refurb had at least not done too much to the actual look of the place. I loved those little cubby-holes for private dining and the quirky décor. As soon as we found out that it was closing to redevelop, we went one last time so that we would have some sort of “control” meal to compare with the new-look S.E. It was good, interesting food, on the whole – we had the tasting menu, if memory serves, and it was perfectly satisfactory. I drank in the décor for the last time and “enjoyed” the splendid sink in the upstairs ladies’ loo (ask any girlie who’s been.)

Our other great loss was the ramshackle ‘antiques’ shop next door – which had originally been owned by the former proprietor of the Spread Eagle restaurant. I used to love that staircase leading up into gloomy labyrinthine bookshelves and down into even gloomier domestic paraphernalia. It was a “proper” antique shop – covered in dust and thoroughly enjoyable. It had a very long closing down sale and then one day it was gone.

We’ve been pressing our noses against the glass since then. For a while we started to wonder if they were actually going to bother re-opening – nothing seemed to be happening – then all of a sudden it was done. Swept away were the cubbyholes and the dusty antiques, brought in were giant chandeliers, downlighters and dozens of paintings on the wall.

And it’s those paintings which will be the main selling-point of the new Spread Eagle. I had no idea about this collection – built up by the former owners of the restaurant, the Moy family, including the eccentric Dick Moy, last in line. Presumably it was kept in their private house or somewhere else out of public view because yesterday was the first I knew about it. I’d heard there were paintings of Greenwich in the new restaurant – but I’d expected cod junk-shop prints and auction-house finds.

What is actually here is extraordinary. It’s a collection that easily outnumbers and perhaps outclasses that of the Queen’s House’s ground floor gallery, and what some of the earlier paintings lack in “Old Master”ness they make up for in quirk, local and historical interest and – well – sheer numbers. Each of these works is utterly fascinating – from a local person’s, a historian’s and an art lover’s view and although the tables get in the way a bit, if you go on a quiet day, you shouldn’t have too much difficulty walking around – every wall in the place is covered – yes – the corridors, loos, staircases too. The modern work is just as interesting – Dick Moy patronised a couple of local artists as well as the odd famous one.

What’s even better is that they give you a full-colour glossy catalogue with your meal so that you can contextualise the work while you eat. My favourite? I can’t decide between a delicate Tissot etching and a print of a strange-looking ruin in Westcombe Park that I’d never heard of. If you don’t read it all you can take the catalogue home as a gift.

But onto the restaurant. Yes, they’ve lost the cubby-holes. Yes, they’ve lost the quirk. Yes, they’ve lost the joyful antiques shop next door. But what they have lost in character, they’ve made up for in elegance. This is a HANDSOME refurbishment – the walls (what you can see of them under the paintings) a delicate shade of green, the coving picked out in white. Downlighters give it a modern feel and if there are a few too many tables set for my liking – it’s a little squashed – they are at least splendid.

The least successful bit, IMHO is the first room – the bar – which has the tables set around the walls like a cross between a public bar and a waiting room, which, I suppose, is exactly what it is. They’ve kept the lovely cast-iron staircase and I noticed a little piece of what must be the original wooden fittings behind it that they’ve left bare – a nice touch. The bar at the back remains the same in essentials.

The main dining room downstairs feels very classy and they sat us in the unchanged bay window – my favourite position – though I suspect it was more to make the place look full than to please me. The paintings dominate, of course, but are not by any means an unwelcome intrusion. Next door, the private dining room in the old antiques shop ground floor is splendid – a fine place for a special birthday meal. The central chandelier is as sumptuous from inside as it is from the street. Upstairs is another little room – also cute, and the main dining room is much the same as downstairs – but worth making the trip to see just for the art works.

The service is friendly – though virtually nobody spoke good enough English to make anything other than basic orders – certainly questions would have been hard work, though the guy in charge seemed a bit better than the general waiting staff.

The menu looks very similar to the one before the refurb. We didn’t bother with the tasting menu as it didn’t look different enough, and went for the two-course option instead. My scallops were nicely done – not rubbery, though rather swimming in sauce and the sliced vegetable they came with was unidentifiable. It was cream and tasted of absolutely nothing but was very crunchy so had been clearly included for the texture. I thought it might be Jerusalem Artichoke, so I chewed very thoroughly (they’re not called Jerusalem Fartichokes for nothing, you know) but it wasn’t nutty enough to be that, so I’m plumping for celeriac. It wasn’t unpleasant – and the crunch was welcome. My companion (note the restaurant-critic-speak) chose seared tuna which was divine.

The mains were also perfectly good. My Companion (there it is again…) chose the beef, which was enjoyable, if accompanied with rather chewy pancetta. I had the cod – which tasted wonderful – but not like cod. Or indeed any fish. It was juicy and succulent, and flaked beautifully. Caramelised and gorgeously browned in all the right places it was utterly lovely – but not anything like cod. I’m not sure what it tasted like actually. Sweeties, I guess. Yum.

There’s an odd mix here between cutting-edge and curiously old-fashioned cookery. It’s presented in a modern enough style, but some of the techniques seem to mask the actual flavour of the food. We didn’t have desserts – but they seemed standard fare – the usual crème brulée-type options and the omnipresent pot au chocolats for the addicts. I will also watch with interest to see whether the menu ever changes.

I didn’t dare ask for any wine advice – there didn’t seem to be an obvious sommelier on duty – whose opinion I’d normally ask for a tricky combination of white fish and beef. So we plumped for a red Sancerre – light and fresh, but not, perhaps, worth the £38.50 they were charging for it. Frankly, I’d preferred the bog-standard Viognier I’d had with the first course at 3.95 a glass.

I am still in the dark as to the tipping policy at the Spread Eagle. I asked our waiter about the service charge but his English was so poor he couldn’t make himself understood. We decided to send back the bill and get the service charge removed so that we could give cash as a precaution, and the guy in charge came to speak to us. He tried hard to explain, but I still don’t get it. It seems to be ok but it’s difficult to be absolutely sure. More research is needed.

Much as I hate to say it, the Spread Eagle is still the best restaurant in town. It’s not going to get any Michelin stars in the near future, but the food is good, tasty (if somewhat unexpected sometimes) and well-presented. The place itself looks fantastic and it’s worth a visit if only for those paintings. If I were visiting for the first time and hadn’t known what was there before I’d say it was wonderful. It’s only with the benefit of knowing what was there before that you get the slightest uncomfortable feeling that something has been lost…

Check out Andrew Gilligan’s review in the Standard for another resident’s view of things.

Oh – and that sink’s still there upstairs in the ladies’ loo…

The Fishmonger Ltd

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Trafalgar Rd

So. Here it is at last, and very pleased many of us are to see actual quality fooderies finally coming to East Greenwich – aw- c’mon – it’s hardly far for you Westerners to trudge across the park in your green wellies and barbours… ;0)

It’s all clean and bright, and though some of the shop has a distinctly “unfinished” feel to it – there’s a tantalising Global knife cupboard and price list but no knives and several empty shelves in the display cabinet, I guess the main priority is to get the place open – niceties come later.

The one area which WAS absolutely stuffed to the gills (oops – sorry…) was the main event – the fish counter. Julian, one half of the young couple who are bravely setting out in the pescatorial world, is just getting himself acclimatised to the daily 4.00am visit to Billingsgate – there are no dark circles under the eyes yet, but with opening hours that currently go to 7.00pm, that will only be a matter of time. He confessed that he had been nervous that Billingsgate would be having an “off day” on Fishmonger’s debut, but from what I could see, his worries had been for naught. There was a fine display – from eye-bright bream to shiny monkfish, giant king scallops to scarlet sashimi tuna, all beautifully arranged on the classic bed of ice.

Elsewhere in the shop are lemons, limes and fresh herbs in wooden crates and racks with spices and dressings. There are various cookbooks – some of which are clearly for sale, others – vintage, by the look of it, are more for getting ideas from. I am sure that as the shop matures, it will fill out with other accoutrements.

As you go in, there’s a gorgeous old vintage dining table stacked with crusty bread, which has been locally sourced (not, I am glad to say, from Greggs…) fish kettles and other paraphernalia. It also has a collection of “Fishmonger Ltd” bits and bobs – good to get in there quick with the merchandise, I always say. You can get reclaimed hardwood chopping boards with the Fishmonger Ltd logo stamped discreetly in the corner (make sure you scrub that bit well, eh?) and some snazzy Fishmonger aprons so you don’t get guts down your gut.

Of course you don’t need to get anywhere near guts if you don’t want to. Julian gutted and scaled my fish for me while I (and, ahem, a bit of a queue behind me) waited. I am sure it will speed up with time – and it was beautifully done. Presumably his partner will come in for busy times – once they know when those will be – at the moment the opening hours are long, but they intend to revise them once they’ve been open for a while.

They plan to have tasting sessions and fishy-type classes – I hope they do this soon. I’ve suggested they get together with Theatre of Wine for occasional evening sessions – champagne and oysters, anyone? They should also put suggested wine at the bottom of their recipe cards, IMHO. Incidentally, don’t miss the lovely marine-inspired display in Theatre of Wine just now, created, presumably, to welcome the new kids on the block…

I’ve just realised that this reads a bit like one of the advertorial articles in local rags that I’m always going on about how much I hate. This is pretty much unavoidable just now – the place is so new I can’t really say much other than the fish is good and the rest looks as though it will come given a few weeks. I’ll revisit in those few weeks to give a more detailed critique…

Update: This shop goes from strength to strangth. They are friendly, helpful people, doing their best to make a truly exciting business. It’s now full of shelves of itneresting foods, equipment and books – not to mention a giant bowl of daffodils. This has already become one of

The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

The Fishmonger Ltd

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Trafalgar Rd

So. Here it is at last, and very pleased many of us are to see actual quality fooderies finally coming to East Greenwich – aw- c’mon – it’s hardly far for you Westerners to trudge across the park in your green wellies and barbours… ;0)

It’s all clean and bright, and though some of the shop has a distinctly “unfinished” feel to it – there’s a tantalising Global knife cupboard and price list but no knives and several empty shelves in the display cabinet, I guess the main priority is to get the place open – niceties come later.

The one area which WAS absolutely stuffed to the gills (oops – sorry…) was the main event – the fish counter. Julian, one half of the young couple who are bravely setting out in the pescatorial world, is just getting himself acclimatised to the daily 4.00am visit to Billingsgate – there are no dark circles under the eyes yet, but with opening hours that currently go to 7.00pm, that will only be a matter of time. He confessed that he had been nervous that Billingsgate would be having an “off day” on Fishmonger’s debut, but from what I could see, his worries had been for naught. There was a fine display – from eye-bright bream to shiny monkfish, giant king scallops to scarlet sashimi tuna, all beautifully arranged on the classic bed of ice.

Elsewhere in the shop are lemons, limes and fresh herbs in wooden crates and racks with spices and dressings. There are various cookbooks – some of which are clearly for sale, others – vintage, by the look of it, are more for getting ideas from. I am sure that as the shop matures, it will fill out with other accoutrements.

As you go in, there’s a gorgeous old vintage dining table stacked with crusty bread, which has been locally sourced (not, I am glad to say, from Greggs…) fish kettles and other paraphernalia. It also has a collection of “Fishmonger Ltd” bits and bobs – good to get in there quick with the merchandise, I always say. You can get reclaimed hardwood chopping boards with the Fishmonger Ltd logo stamped discreetly in the corner (make sure you scrub that bit well, eh?) and some snazzy Fishmonger aprons so you don’t get guts down your gut.

Of course you don’t need to get anywhere near guts if you don’t want to. Julian gutted and scaled my bream for me while I (and, ahem, a bit of a queue behind me) waited. I am sure it will speed up with time – and it was beautifully done. Presumably his partner will come in for busy times – once they know when those will be – at the moment the opening hours are long, but they intend to revise them once they’ve been open for a while.

They plan to have tasting sessions and fishy-type classes – I hope they do this soon. My bream was a total disaster – and I pride myself on my culinary skills. The fish itself was fabulous – only I could have made the pig’s ear of it that I did. I’ve suggested they get together with Theatre of Wine for occasional evening sessions – champagne and oysters, anyone? They should also put suggested wine at the bottom of their recipe cards, IMHO. Incidentally, don’t miss the lovely marine-inspired display in Theatre of Wine just now, created, presumably, to welcome the new kids on the block…

I’ve just realised that this reads a bit like one of the advertorial articles in local rags that I’m always going on about how much I hate. This is pretty much unavoidable just now – the place is so new I can’t really say much other than the fish is good and the rest looks as though it will come given a few weeks. I’ll revisit in those few weeks to give a more detailed critique…

Glenister Green

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Woolwich Road

This has to be one of the wierdest open spaces in the area. Surrounded on three sides by housing, edged by the “iconic” (ahem) Mr Fast Fry and every inch of it clearly visible from the road, it is, inexplicably, one of the creepiest parks I know of.

I have definitely never ventured in, for a very good reason, which I will explain in a moment, but I walk past it on a regular basis and I can now confirm that I have NEVER SEEN ANYONE ELSE IN THERE EITHER. I have a theory about that too.

Could it be because it’s poorly lit? Certainly not. It was part of the grand “improvements” of East Greenwich which I suspect somebody’s Section 106 paid for, and which gave it random paths (I went to the “consultation – ha-bloody-ha – and listened to the “consultant” who designed it talking about what the paths all meant – the usual arty bullshit which makes you nod in puzzled agreement at the time and think “what the bloody hell was that all about” later.) As far as I can make out, the paths make people walk in specific directions which deliberately avoid the quickest route so they can enjoy the open space, which frankly gives more of a labyrinthine feel than any kind of pleasure of the countryside.

The consultant also gave it copious lighting – halogen, which are very low and directional – presumably to prevent light pollution, which I am actually very much in favour of. The “transformation is completed with suspicious-looking litter bins and the re-erected mural that used to be on the wall of Greenwich District Hospital. I’m all for saving it – and am glad to see it back, but they’ve put it together again with such gaps between the panels that it has an odd, disjointed feel about it. They’ve saved the trees, the place’s best (read “only”) feature but there is no grass – merely large patches of ankle-height weeds, which are at least green.

It’s taken me a long while to work out exactly why I find this place so eerie – especially when it is SO visible and SO well-lit. Then it struck me – it’s the transformation itself that’s done it. There’s something deeply unhealthy about those low pools of street light – where anything can happen – where you could find yourself, not being able to see beyond the light into the darkness, swallowed up into some nightmarish vision – a parallel Universe of Doom.

If I were to walk in there might I reach some kind of mythical centre and disappear for ever into a dimensional timeshift bigger than the one in Cardiff? Could I one day actually witness an unsuspecting stranger walking through the park and suddenly disappear off the face of the earth or even spontaneously combust? I calm myself with the thought that no one would voluntarily walk into this trap.

I guess it’s possible that Glenister Green doesn’t exist at all – that it’s a hologram – hiding a portal to another world. Perhaps that mural is merely a cover for a control panel – press the sailor’s duffle bag and you’ll find yourself on the operating table of a visiting alien ship.

I find it hard to believe that anywhere as small, weedy and, well – visible – could be so sinister but somehow that place makes my blood run cold. And I can’t be alone in this – no one goes there. You might think it would be a meeting ground for the local youth – but even they steer clear. One of these days I will, saveloy in hand, lie in wait in Mr Fast Fry watching for unsuspecting mothers with pushchairs, men with dogs or teenagers with spraycans to walk into the Venus Flytrap that is Glenister Green. If I see them come out again, whole and un-gibbering, I will feel it is safe to venture in myself. If they disappear before my very eyes I will become a full-time conspiracy theorist and start staking out the Superloo next to the Cutty Sark. Only if I hear grating sounds and see a police box materialise under those halogen lamps I will relax.

Until then there is something deeply wrong down Woolwich Road. I intend to keep walking on the other side of the main road, well away from those innocent park railings and creepy pools of harsh neon light.

The post office opposite has just been refurbished – I am told there is to be a basement “internet café.” A likely story. It’s clearly the public front of the Greenwich branch of Torchwood monitoring the activity at Glenister Green.