Archive for February, 2007

Greenwich Pier

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Now. Let me get this right. Greenwich Council have just refused permission for a four-month experiment of a ferris wheel just outside of the Visitor Centre because it wouldn’t look nice.

So how come I read in the Mercury that in the very next week they’ve welcomed with open arms a proposal to tear down the cute little Victorian waiting room at Greenwich Pier just outside the Visitor Centre and replace it with a neo-brutalist monstrosity which will be permanent?

It couldn’t possibly have been approved because it was designed by Conran could it? Honestly – what was Conran going to say? “No – you have a dinky and much-loved little piece of history there – I’d recommend you keep that and add a few loos and a little cafe?” Of course not. He’s seen the pound signs and gone for it – and I don’t blame him. I blame Greenwich Council for not noticing that they’re not wearing any clothes.

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I’m NOT anti-development. I don’t oppose everything – each case needs to be taken on its own merits. But this is a WORLD HERITAGE SITE – where’s the heritage going to be?

From the picture in the paper, (admittedly – I haven’t seen the model, but I don’t hold out much hope for it) this copper and timber structure would just about do in a brand new site – like the old hospital. It’s vulgar but it presumably ticks boxes for ‘design’ and ‘facilities.’ But frankly I’d give the superloo next door more points for looks – and everyone knows what I think of that particular building.

Conran apparently thinks it has a “nautical feel.” Excuse me? Am I missing something? What sort of maritime world does Conran live in? It reminds me of a trendy church from the 1980s – which is hardly surprising since that’s exactly where Conran is stuck. This is 2007 not 1987.

There are going to be restaurants and balconies – which aparently are going to be “top class, yet informal.” So another average eating experience, then.

The only thing that isn’t entirely horrid about this is that at least SOMEONE thinks the Victorian building is worth saving. You’ll still be able to enjoy its delightful panelling and cute roof – if you go to St Kitts in the Caribbean. They, at least, have seen the merit in this little piece of history and will be transporting it lock, stock and cupola to a railway scheme on the island. The poor old thing looks a little sad and battered at the moment but I daresay St Kitts will give it the spruce-up it deserves.

Anyone seeing any parallels with the Old District Hospital here?

I can just see what’s going to happen in a few years time. There will be a climb down from the council who will admit that it’s one of the most hated buildings in Greenwich, pay a fortune to have the building demolished, then pay another fortune to St Kitts to get the old building back.

I shake my head in despair.

Dead Supermarkets

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Has it occurred to anyone else that we’re going to have an interesting time very soon?

Ex-Somerfields is closed pending M&S at the Standard.
Tescos in Trafalgar Road isn’t nearly ready to open yet
The Co-op is just about to close pending a refurb to meet Tescos head-on (hoorah)

Now. Whatever we think about the clashing of tusks that these great monolyths are going to do, and whatever we think about supermarkets in general, it’s going to be very interesting when the Co-op closes and we have no supermarkets at all for a while, isn’t it.

I wonder what will happen…

A word on Advertising

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

M32 was joshing with me today about my adding an advert for a restaurant that got a particularly favourable review.

I smiled because I was aware, even while I was writing the article, that I sounded like one of the magazines that drop onto our doormats who claim to be independent but write glowing reviews of everything – with an accompanying ad for the joint on the opposite page.

Let me tell you now. I will NEVER do that – that would just be reinventing the wheel. There are plenty of mags that do that already – and a total waste of space those reviews are, too. I could make a BIT of money doing it if I wanted to, I guess, and get the odd free meal. But I’m not doing this for the cash. I want good services and a nice environment because I live here – and the ONLY way to do that is to remain totally independent and totally anonymous.

But websites don’t pay for themselves – and what I may have to do soon will be to allow discreet computer-generated ads down one side to offest the cost of the actual site.

At the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, let me explain how this new type of advertising works, in case you don’t know.

I allow Google’s search engine to filter through my words, picking out the ones that are relevant to their advertisers. Their computer puts up random ads on my site which LOOK as though they’ve been specially chosen, but they’re absolutely not.

I have no contact whatsoever with the advertiser and they have no choice over where their ad goes.

So it’s entirely possible that I’ll pan some place – and there will be an advert for it next to it – that’s fine by me – they have no say in what I write so I can remain independent.

I get some derisory amount every time someone clicks on the advert. I’m not allowed to ask you to click on any ads but if your mouse accidentally happened to hover over an ad or two from time to time I wouldn’t be at all upset.

As you will see I haven’t set this up yet, but it will probably have to come – merely to offset the costs of the website itself. Please bear with me – I will make it as un-gaudy as possible and let me repeat – I will never take direct advertising from anyone who would benefit from the words I write.

Underground Greenwich (1) Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Island Gardens end of the Foot Tunnel from a window of The Admiral’s House

A word to the wise.

Never try to walk South through Greenwich Foot Tunnel around 8.00am or North around 6.00pm if you want to live.

This is because it will be being put to its original use – as a conduit for workers to reach the Isle of Dogs and you will be very much going against the flow. Of course the workers themselves have changed – not too many cheeky cock-er-ney dockers these days – much more likely besuited bankers making their way to Canary Wharf, but the sheer momentum of bodies is still just as frightening as ever if you’re trying to move in the opposite direction.

The riding of bicycles is banned, which means you get two different types of cyclist. There are those who just ignore it, putting their heads down and just going for it who are truly terrifying, and those who think it doesn’t count if they stand on one pedal and freewheel. The former is slightly more dangerous than the latter but they are both deadly. There is a very rare third variety – the guy who actually gets off and wheels his bike through. If you see one of these shy, scarce creatures, shake them warmly by the hand and thank them voraciously.

Other dangerous troglodyte-types you might encounter below the Thames include the local teenagers who think it is Greenwich Footie Tunnel and happily kick their footballs straight at you, foreign teenagers who buffet you with their back packs, and the idiots of all ages who think they’re the first people on earth to come up with the idea of hooting as loud as possible to test out the echo.

I suspect it was ever that way.

Before the idea of digging underneath had ever occurred to anyone, there had been a ferry service across the Thames since 1676, but it tended to be rather unreliable and the workers had to pay for the privilege. Largely due to the efforts of the ex-docker MP Will Crooks, it was decided to create a tunnel to get the proles to work.

Sir Alexander Binnie was commissioned to design and oversee the project which would have cost £ 180,000 if the ferry operators hadn’t kicked up a fuss at losing their business. They were paid compensation, which seems like a good deal to me.

Digging began in 1899 – around the same time as huge amounts of new building was going on in East Greenwich and Charlton. The tunnel was opened in 1902, with some rather splendid lifts opening two years later. They were ‘upgraded’ in 1992, but they at least kept the wood panelling. There is a charming cupola at each end – one in Island Gardens, they other on Greenwich Pier, next to the Cutty Sark and Greenwich’s only superloo (yeuch.) Both glass domes are lit at night – the Greenwich side is usually green. Aaah…

For those of a statistical frame of mind of for pub quiz enthusiasts, there are over 200,000 white ceramic tiles lining the tunnel and it’s almost a quarter of a mile long. Statistics bore me, so if you want any more, go to the Pepys Centre and buy yourself an A4 double-sided paper sheetlet with all the number crunches you’ll ever want for 25p.

The Tunnel is regarded as a public highway, so it has to open 24 hours a day, but the lifts only work at civilised times.


Monday, February 26th, 2007

119 Brockley Rise, SE23 1JP

In a tireless quest for perfection in the field of South East London curries, we set out on an expedition to deepest Brockley in an attempt to witness the fabled Babur on the 25th February 2007.

The journey required two buses, stout clothing and a spirit of adventure. Luckily we were accompanied by two local guides fluently conversant in South East London transport lore. These two hardy souls had both actually lived in the wilds of the Brockley jungle for many years and were able to easily negotiate their way onto a 177 from Greenwich Town Centre to just outside Goldsmiths College and then either a 171 or 172 to the restaurant itself, for which the rest of us were entirely grateful.

Leaving the foothills of Deptford we found ourselves unwilling to lose sight of comforting Tube signs at New Cross Gate as we plunged into uncharted territory – The Brockley Interior.

At first we were caught up with wonderment at the superb late Victorian Houses with their dinky terracotta detail, not noticing how far we had gone. But as we passed a chilling cemetary on our left, we were forced to admit that this was somewhere few Greenwich Residents actually ever see and our chatter died to an awed silence.

We sighted the quarry from some distance. A gigantic crouching tiger, mauling a small, innocent rock. We approached with caution, checking our credit cards were cocked, ready for any eventuality.

We were right. We sighed with relief as we realised the ‘tiger’ on the roof was indeed fibreglass, the ‘rock’ beneath it in no immediate danger. As we approached the door of this temple to Indian food, venerated by the locals for the past twenty years, we decided that despite its being in that region that is Near But Not Actually The South Circular, it was likely that these particular natives were friendly.

Inside the decor was bright and sassy, modern without it being tacky after a recent refurbishment. The lighting was bright enough to see the food, dark enough to feel intimate. Bare brick and wood-finished walls with muted, tasteful art works went just far enough in being contemporary to not just look cheap – so many ‘modern’ eateries think that clattering tables and laminate floors make them look cutting-edge.

It was festival time. The owner had recently been on a trip to the subcontinent and brought back 100 kilos of excess baggage in authentic ingredients and the atmosphere was exuberant. An exquisitely-dressed young woman brought gifts to the table, bangles and bhindis, and henna with which she decorated any hand proffered her way.

There was a special festival menu, and some of our party went for items on it. They had been matched with specific Indian wines. The food itself had a distinctly fusion feel to it – it was the first time I had ever seen rabbit or ostrich on a traditional Indian menu.

The food was excellent. The starters were intriguing and just spicy enough, the puppodums well-exectued and with interesting pickles. The coconut chicken was a particular favourite, but apart from a rather (read “very”) bony and slightly dry sea bass, it was all superb. My side dish of smoked aubergine was wonderful.

The wine was pretty good – not a traditional wine-producing region, India is catching up fast. I wouldn’t order a caseful, but it went well with what we were eating.

So. At the risk of sounding like Meridian Magazine, which never seems to find fault with anything, this is actually a really good restaurant which, if you avoid the sea bass, will almost definitely reward the effort taken in getting there.

They have a lot of festivals, apparently, and it’s well worth finding out about when they are as they do go that extra mile.

Fergus Noone Photography

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

15, The Market

Fergus Noone has moved about three shops from its position on the East side of the covered market to the vacant position left when the swanky dress shop shut recently. He does classy, pricey, mainly monochrome pictures, often of London and especially Greenwich. They’re nice pictures – wholesome and strongly photographed, and would look very handsome indeed on the wall of a business or luxury flat. I wish I was as accomplished (you don’t have to look at my efforts for long to see that I’m no photographer) and one day I might even buy a print or two. He also takes commissions for the usual weddings portraits and baby pictures.

The shop did just fine where it was on the East side of the market.

I’m rather disappointed, though, that the company has moved and turned that great shop on the Southern end with that wonderful wrought iron staircase and the dinky nooks and crannies into a rather sainitised, almost corporate blandness, losing the luxurious, slightly mysterious air it used to have. It’s very smart, now, of course, with lots of wooden floors and tasteful lighting, but – well – I guess it’s just not really my cup of tea. It’s all open and light – no room for surprises or reason to explore any more.

But hell – I’m not going to be too sad – this is a one-off, individual shop doing its best to stave off the chains, albeit by possibly disguising itself as one. And the pics are fab…

Dead Shops

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Can’t you just see YOUR lovely shop here?

Just for an albeit sick kind of laugh yesterday, I decided to count the dead shops along Trafalgar and Woolwich Roads. It was a depressing experience. It wasn’t an easy job. Some shops are so dead that it’s easy to miss them totally, blanking them out in your mind. Some are actually just about still alive but are so tatty I almost took them for empty. Some I couldn’t tell where one shop ended and another began. For the record I counted along what can be at most a third of a mile, 33 empty premises. THIRTY THREE. Now albeit I’m counting a couple of gigantic ex-offices which are total eyesores and the Caffrey’s joint but really – that’s terrible.

It wasn’t always so grim. The place must have buzzed once – only a few days ago I met a guy on Romford Market selling dress fabrics who said his old shop had been on Trafalgar Road. He said that the rents, the traffic and the lack of footfall drove him out.

There’s such opportunity here. With all the new builds coming – at the horridly-named “Selection” (how much precious and expensive time did it take the marketing company to find the letters “SE10″ in a word, I wonder) and its rather bizarre unnamed opposite number (am I the only person that thinks it looks like a bunch of portacabins stacked on top of each other?) not to mention whatever goes into the Old Hospital site, there are going to be loads of new people moving in – all of whom will need to buy stuff.

There’s one shop in particular I’ve had my eye on for some time. My next door neighbour and I fantasise about setting up a really good quality cafe and cake shop a la Buenos Aires in the old Wavy Line store (see above) It’s a fab little shop – with a side entrace for vans/ horses and carts. I have no idea what it’s like inside as it’s got filthy windows and net curtains and it seems to have been shut for ever, but it must be similar to the others which are a fair size. It was recently painted (probably part of the little push to brighten things up a bit round East Greenwich)and it wouldn’t take much, I’m sure, to make it really exciting.

It’s also got those lovely coloured ceramic tiles either side of it, nearly intact and little cast iron ‘parapets’ above the side entrance. There are several shops down this road with fabulous little quirks and flights of fancy, often in a dreadful state of repair or even painted over in vibrant colours (see the little obelisk-ball things over the newsagents next door to The Old Friends, a pub I won’t discuss just now) for a particularly vomit-inducing yellow colour.) I’ve never understood why shopkeepers don’t cherish these little bits of decorative history the way that homeowners have started to. I can only hope the trend back towards keeping original detail within homes will start to permeate the retail emporia of historic towns…

Together my neighbour and I dream of having lovely mis-matched furniture – squashy old sofas and wooden tables and chairs, proper crockery and good quality coffee (Union Roasters, natch…) The cakes would be under big glass domes and very much of the homemade variety – you know the sort of thing. My own favourite addition would be a secure buggy park in the back bit where the vans used to go so that there would be lots of room for pushchairs. There are plenty of schools and nurseries around – I’m sure there would be the clientele – and the rents must be dirt cheap for shops shut for so long, but I really can’t do it.

Anyone who actually knows me will tell you that I haven’t the temperament – I have patience neither with regular hours nor the General Public. I would be the original Grumpy Old Phantom – and would be forced to do a Very Bad Review Indeed of myself.

So my idea’s up for grabs, guys. Someone must find the challenge attractive? I’ll be a regular customer, and so will my next door neighbour, for starters…

If you don’t like that shop there are 32 others to choose from – some in appalling condition; others recently refurbished. I got all excited recently when a shop a few doors up from my dream shop was totally gutted and refurbished – only to find that it had merely been done to give the flat upstairs a separate entrance so it could be let out on its own. The brnad new shop has whitewashed windows and an extremely dead feel to it. Depressing stuff indeed.

In case you don’t fancy a coffee shop, here’s my East Greenwich Wish List:

What we need:

A greengrocers (though for now the little market stall by Rick’s Place is an excellent substitute)
A GOOD bakers (sorry – I just don’t count Greggs)
A butchers
A bank
A GOOD QUALITY cafe down Woolwich Rd end
A stationers
A cheesemongers (well, a phantom can dream…)
A lovely sweetie shop (still dreaming)
A fabric emporium (dreaming on)
Anything interesting and quirky
A small Woolworths (sorry – a particularly peculiar personal perversion of mine – we all have our faults, please bear with me, I’m getting therapy)

Oh, and a truly GOOD restaurant.

What we DON’T need

Estate agents
Bookies’ joints
Sandwich bars
Dodgy fried chicken shops
Estate Agents
Pizza delivery places
Takeaways – of ANY variety
Tool hire shops
Dodgy electrical appliance shops
Estate Agents
Funeral parlours
Hairdressers – have you SEEN how many hairdressers there are down these two roads? There might even be more hairdressers than estate agents, though at least the hairdressers do a useful job)
Amusement arcades
Tatty pound shops
Strip clubs
Did I mention Estate Agents?
Travel Agents
Recruitment Agents
Insurance agents
Any other kind of agents ESPECIALLY Estate Agents

Perhaps congestion charging will encourage more people to walk along these currently scruffy rat-runs for out-of-town traffic. They could be a valuable local resource. They’re currently a depressing experience, but who knows what the future could bring.

Unofficial Dome Photos

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I’ve just been directed to a fab site with some extremely unofficial photos taken on top of and inside the Dome (yes I’m STILL refusing to call it anything else)

You really need to check these out. Thanks, M, for the tip!

BTW I’ll soon have a special “contact the phantom” button for these splendid tips – I’ll keep you posted…

Stewart John Antiques

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

The Phantom works best undercover (cue for much cloak-swirling, moustache-twirling and cackling of hideous laughter) so, its being tiny and my being not the kind that looks as though I buy antiques, even though I occasionally do, I waited before going into Stewart John Antiques until there was a family who was clearly interested in buying something that I could latch onto the back of and thus case the joint unnoticed…

From the outside, it looks tiny – situated on the south side of the covered market, its minute glass frontage is crowded with good-quality, high-priced items of dark wood furniture, golden clocks and crystal chandeliers – I was particularly taken with a pair of early electric candelabras. The family ahead of me was filling up the shop by themselves, so the guy directed them downstairs – somewhere I wouldn’t have noticed had it not been for them disappearing. I, of course, followed, chatting to the poor people as if I knew them.

Downstairs the furniture was less grand – but more practical. The guy told us (well – the family I’d adopted, anyway) that they make furniture to order and that this was merely examples of the kind of thing they do. The family seemed less impressed – and it did look fairly – well – ordinary to me. The quality seemed very good indeed but the designs I have seen time and time again.

The family seemed ready to climb back up the the stairs so I skulked behind them, so I could earwig. The guy told them that they’re a family business who have been going for 50 years. They have a warehouse out in Charlton on an industrial estate that the public can visit, where they keep the bulk of their stock. He told them that he wasn’t the kind that piled ‘em high, flogged ‘em cheap, and he was happy to wait for the right buyer. Fair enough.

The family was making moves to leave, so I nipped past them, grabbing a flyer with the address of the warehouse on it, and darted outside.

I went to the warehouse the next day, Sunday. The estate was eerily empty and although the map on the flyer was good, I still didn’t immediately find it due to some gates being closed.

Their bit of the warehouse is a couple of flights up. I wandered in to the abandoned room, filled from floor to ceiling with wardrobes, desks, bedsteads and bric-a-brac. Most of them had little labels with the price “restored” – they do their own restoration on the spot and only, it would seem, after you buy something, presumably so that they don’t waste time restoring things that don’t get sold. Dusty chandeliers hung from the ceiling and shelves of house-clearance-y bits and bobs lined the walls.

Those odd, strange items you always find in these places such as shop fittings and outsize theatrical props teetered on top of each other, jostling for position on the floor. It wasn’t all fabulous stuff – some of it would be better labelled ‘second-hand’ rather than ‘antique’ – but the good stuff was certainly worth checking out if you’re after something in particular – especially if you have a large house to furnish – there’s a lot of big stuff in there.

I was just about to leave when the guy in charge of the warehouse arrived – he’d obviously been having his tea break, hardly expecting anyone to actually turn up. A very friendly man, he made me welcome and told me that they make one-off pieces of furniture and, indeed, entire rooms full of items to commission, including upholstery – their upholsterer is well into his 70s and slower than he was but still an extremely fine craftsman. I got the feeling that it wouldn’t be cheap – but it would be good.

It’s not Bonhams. But it’s worth a peek, and though you’re probably not going to find a bargain, you may well discover something rather interesting.

Don’t forget to check the view out of the windows as you leave.

Mary Mills

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Local Councillor

This woman deserves a medal. Whatever political persuasion you are, whatever you think of the rest of Greenwich Council, Mary Mills is gold.

Why? Because she actually gives a damn. She lives locally, and the things she has to decide on directly affect her.

I have lost count of the anecdotal accounts of people for whom she has gone that extra mile on a personal basis – from major issues to tiny details – if you email her, she’s onto your case immediately (and I mean immediately – someone I know told me she once replied within five minutes,)and even if she doesn’t entirely agree with your cause she will make an effort to understand and help, burning shoe leather where necessary.

She’s active in the Greenwich Industrial History Society and, I believe, the East Greenwich History group and has written countless articles and books herself, including a history of the Woolwich Ferry, making her an extremely knowledgeable historian and tireless activist in cultural matters to boot.

It’s a shame that she’s part of the Labour Party, really. Presumably she occasionally has to toe the party line from time to time where she wouldn’t normally choose to (I can’t tell, naturally) but that’s not the real reason.

No. Frankly I suspect her membership may affect her status in the next election which is a great shame. This really isn’t a party political issue. Mary Mills is a fine local councillor who cares what happens in her community – something which it could be argued possibly throws some of her colleagues into unfavourable relief. All power to her elbow.