Archive for March, 2007

Save The Children Fund Shop

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Trafalgar Road SE10

Is it just me or is the STCF shop on Trafalgar Road fab?

It was always quite a good shop – my best buy ever was a GIGANTIC, brand-new Le Crueset casserole – big enough to feed half of Greenwich – but just recently since its refit, it’s become BRILLIANT.

For starters, the people in there are great. They work long hours – often opening much later than other charity shops, and they really seem to make a big effort. True the stuff is not as cheap as some places but c’mon folks, this is for charity and I don’t care too much. It’s still ions cheaper than you’d pay for new stuff. They do different displays for seasonal occasions, just like ‘real’ shops and make a special effort at festival times.

There’s a constant supply of goods – possibly because you can park in the road next door for unloading – important if you’ve got boxes of items and it’s pretty good quality gear at that (I should know, half of it used to be mine…)

There is an excellent range of good clothes, usually colour-sorted rather than sized, but hey – half the fun is browsing. Just before Christmas I went in on a Friday morning desperately searching for something to make a pirate costume out of for a party the next evening, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be a one-stop-shop (albeit I spent the rest of the day and most of Saturday at the sewing machine.) I told the guys I was looking for stuff for a pirate party and they really got into the spirit of it, helping me to choose things.

The bric-a-brac is more of a lottery – but, depending on your tastes, there’s often a little something that might appeal. They have a good selection of curtains at the moment, but they also seem to be going fast. They sold two different sets while I was in there the other day.

I’m pretty sure there’s a book reviewer who lives nearby because there are often some really great ‘review copies’ of recent releases ,still with their press releases tucked inside, – again not rock-bottom cheap, but a good way of getting books and giving to charity at the same time. Most of them go back there anyway…

Support your local charity shop – you get good stuff at reasonable prices AND a charity gets helped. And don’t forget to bring your (good) unwanted stuff back to them.

Rivington Grill

Friday, March 30th, 2007

The Picturehouse, Greenwich High Road, SE10

Now here’s a place whose opening was almost as anticipated in this household as the Picturehouse itself. It was an empty space for so long after the cinema opened that we began to worry that it would stay empty forever. Even when we heard the opening date, when we walked past two days before the grand event, it was STILL empty.

They did manage to open on time (albeit the first night was a bit chaotic – but then what’s a first night without a spot of healthy chaos?) and I confess that this is one of my preferred restaurants in Greenwich.

It’s the South-Eastern sister of Mark Hix’s eaterie in – naturally – Rivington St, Shoreditch, and part of the swanky Caprice chain which most famously owns the Ivy. I slightly supsect that this is the poor relation of the chain – I can’t quite explain why – I just don’t get the feeling that it’s actually visited very often by the owners. I wonder if this is the beginning of a chain of “Rivingtons” rather than a quirky one-off (or, to be more precise, a two-off.)

That’s not to say it isn’t a really nice local restaurant. It’s bright and airy on a sunny Sunday morning, warm and cosy on a dark November’s night, with lots of glass doors and dark wood, plain walls and the odd antique (there’s a huge ex-railway-looking clock which sadly doesn’t work) which gives it a nicely timeless feel (literally, in the case of the clock.)

Downstairs at the bar there is a snack menu chalked up on a blackboard – modern twists on traditional British fare – in fact there is an extremely strong British slant on the whole menu and the list of suppliers is a who’s who of British Foodie Producers. The rest of the restaurant has an interesting menu which does feature the odd seasonal dish (a rhubarb creme brulee I once had was utterly divine and lingers in my memory as much as my waistline) but carries a basic repertoire which doesn’t seem to have changed since the place opened.

Not that I’m complaining. Dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Suckling Pig, Lyme Bay Scallops and my personal favourite, Smoked Haddock with Poached Egg and Colcannon are nicely presented and the wine list has some interesting bottles. One of these days I’m going to get a group together for one of their ‘banquets’ where a whole suckling pig or seasonal game birds are presented for the entire table.

The Rivington has two problems, in my humble opinion. The first can be easily solved, the second I’ll have to live with.

The first is its smoking policy. It doesn’t have one. Despite having two very distinct areas which could be separated for smokers and non-smokers, anyone can smoke anywhere. Now I’m not a rabid anti-smoker, but I do object to trying to eat my food whilst surrounded on three sides by entire tables of people puffing away. They might be in between courses, but I’m not and they are less than two feet away from me. It’s hardly a conducive way to enjoy Mark Hix’s carefully-chosen menu. This would be more of a problem if it wasn’t going to be solved in July, but this to me is an example of my feeling that this place plays second-fiddle to the Shoreditch branch – we’ve had TWO YEARS of this non-policy when it could so easily have been sorted out so that smokers and non-smokers could have both enjoyed a meal in harmony. Nobody’s actually bothered to consider it.

The second is the prices. The food is good – and the sourcing excellent, but I can’t quite feel that it warrants the money that you pay for it. It’s just a teeny bit pricey for what you get. It tends to be a meal that we eat as an occasion in itself rather than as an accompaniment to the cinema – when you’re paying prices like that you don’t want to be rushed – you want to enjoy the place as a destination.

All things said, though, this is definitely one of the better restaurants in town. And it will be even better in July…

http://www.rivingtongrill.co.uk/

Belle

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

20, College Approach, SE10

A dinky little Ladies clothing shop that I DO go into, but always feel rather awkward inside.

Why? Well – it sells clothes for grown-ups for a start and while that is something to which I one day aspire, I never seem to quite get there. There is an unerring sense here of a certain class of style rather than vulgar fashion which somehow leaves me feeling a bit small and grubby, however dressed up I thought I was when I left the house.

Belle’s adverts in local magazines always include photos of beautiful Pre-Raphaelite-esque waifs looking wistfully into middle-distance, wearing boiled wool cardis with interesting buttons and timeless floaty cotton frocks with quirky detail. The clothes are not so much fashionable as classic – and I guess they ought to be at the price.

The shop, in the pretty-classic-itself College Approach is painted white inside, with plain floorboards and walls with Louis-style armchairs, rococo mirrors, scarves and jewellery draped casually across them which look wonderful until I catch sight of myself in them, spoiling the illusion entirely. Curiously, when I came to write this I couldn’t remember whether they actually have chandeliers and lacy drapery, but my impression is that they do. It’s that sort of shop. And any regular readers will know I am a big fan of chandeliers. There is a single table laid out with carefully folded knits, and a few rails with delightful skirts and jackets, each given enough room to be admired. Upstairs there are more mirrors and more rails of discreetly cute designer wear, never actually full, of course, darling. This isn’t a bargain basement, you know. Just a few pieces, each individually selected for cut and colour.

Nobody’s ever been snooty with me here – I always receive a friendly greeting and discreet offers of help, but I still don’t feel comfortable. I know it’s in my head, but I never feel quite right until I stop cluttering up this serene, exquisite emporium.

Duke Humphrey’s Tower Part I

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It could be said that the fabulous Royal Observatory on top of the biggest hill in Greenwich Park is the most elegant botch-job in history. It’s superbly classical feel and timeless frontage is a tribute to the ingenuity of Sir Christopher Wren who was given bugger-all to build it by King Charles II and was reduced to some, ahem, interesting sources for building materials (more about that another day.) Which is a great shame, as without the penny-pinching of the Merry Monarch, we might still at least have a few stones left of what was there beforehand, the notorious Duke Humphrey’s Tower…

“Good” Duke Humphrey of Gloucester was the kid brother of Henry V and fought with him at Agincourt. It was an age of testosterone and derring-do and the dashing Duke slashed and parried with gusto until he was cut down. The only way he survived was by the king standing between his brother’s splayed legs swashing, buckling and presumably making stirring speeches at the dastardly French until they’d all sunk in the mud.

On his return, Humph was a bit of a hero. Also known as “The Swan,” (from part of his mother’s coat of arms,) the power-hungry young swain fancied his chances abroad and married Jaqueline, Countess of Holland for her land. She was, unfortunately for Humphrey, already married, and her first husband unsurprisingly took exception to the match. Humphrey set off with an army to get his hands on as much loot as possible, but it all ended in tears when he was forced to turn back – leaving Jacqueline behind.

Humph doesn’t seem to have been hugely upset by the loss of his wife and he soon gained a bit of a repuation as a ladies’ man, though the scandals weren’t always straightforward. He cut poor Jaqueline off without a sous and married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, one of Jacqueline’s ladies-in-waiting. It was said that she was a witch, and it does seem that The Black Arts might well have been a bit of a hobby for the happy couple. But true or not, by this point they both had a few enemies who were delighted at any excuse to stick the knife in.

She was hauled over the coals (probably literally) for practising witchcraft against the new King, potty Henry VI, forced to perform humiliating acts of public penance in the streets of London, before being exiled to the Isle of Man.

The Duke was also arrested for treason a few days later, at Bury St Edmunds. It’s not clear why he died very soon afterwards, but it’s not unlikely that some skulduggery took place. Some say he suffered a stroke at the shock.

His supporters were mecilessly rounded up and done away with in the vilest possible manner, by being hanged, drawn and quartered.

But I digress. Humphrey, despite being a bit of a Duke-about-town who couldn’t keep his codpiece done up and enjoyed drinking the odd cup of cockerel’s blood, was also a sensitive soul who yearned to learn. He started corresponding with Italian scholars and collecting books. He inherited the manor of Greenwich (as you do) and decided that he was going to build a fancy new gaff with a massive library of splendid tomes.

He already had five other manors as well as Baynards Castle in London itself, but he craved a bijou country place all for his very own. He was granted a license to crenellate and crenellate he did – towers and turrets a-go-go. These were dangerous times and the Old Dover Road, from Roman times to Dicken’s age was a hotspot for dodgy characters, from mobs of revolting peasants to dandy highwaymen. Humphrey wasn’t taking any chances.

It was probably not just a fortress, though, but a rather nice house too. (He also had a place near the river called Bella Court or Plesaunce – from which Placentia grew.) Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester’s library was the talk of the age – volumes from all over the world, all hand-copied by scribes and monks from the great seats of learning of the Middle Ages.

Amazingly, the bulk of it survives today, as the foundation of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, “Duke Humphrey’s Library.” The Duke gave hundreds of books to the young university during his lifetime, though I confess I have never really worked out why…

More about Duke Humph’s Tower another time…

Quantum Cloud

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Antony Gormley, 1999

Greenwich Peninsula (North Greenwich tube)

Quantum Cloud is that strange-looking sculpture very close to the Dome which, if you first view it in winter from a distance you might mistake for a very odd tree.

It’s Antony Gormley’s tallest structure – 30m high – and yes, that IS taller than The Angel of the North (and by the way, Ken – we don’t NEED an ‘Angel of the South’ to let people know when they’ve reached London.)

It took months of arguing in our household to decide whether we could see a shadowy human figure depicted in the centre of this ovoid tree of what looks suspiciously like scaffolding bars, but there IS actually ‘someone’ in there – Gormley himself, apparently.

It’s all very clever stuff, based on algebra,where he programmed the shape of his own body into a computer, then created a random ‘cloud’ of squared bars of galvanised steel around it. The way the 20m figure is created is merely by having a greater density of the bits of metal welded together in the centre. At some angles the figure is quite clear, at others it just looks like a mass of tangled TV aerials, an ambiguity that Gormley intended, according to his artist’s statement at the time. The outer antennae are supposed to move with the wind, but I’ve never noticed.

Our Cloud at Greenwich is one of at least 11 different Quantum Clouds, I believe, with figures in various positions, but Gormley’s website despite clearly having spent considerably more cash than I have on this one, is not an awful lot easier to navigate around and eventually I gave up trying to find any more about it. I got the feeling from his statement that the one on the Peninsula was the first, but ultimately I guess I don’t really care. It’s one of my favourite sculptures in the area – or, indeed at all. It’s only when you get near to it (you can’t get really close as it’s slightly offshore) that you can really see how clever it is to work at so many different levels and angles.

Hooray for Public Art.

Channers

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Organic/Fairtrade coffee shop, Trafalgar Rd, SE10

This is one of those odd places that just spring up overnight without anyone noticing. I was actually on my way to test out Point Zero but, passing the site of that old record shop Decksterity and seeing a brand new place I’d never seen before was too tempting by half.

It’s a spartan fit. The people who did this up were clearly working on a very tight budget, and I can’t say it doesn’t show.

The white-painted walls are ever-so-slightly lumpy and some of the doors could really do with an extra coat of gloss. The ubiquitous laminate flooring (doesn’t anyone do anything else these days?) was cheaply furnished with IKEA-style tables and chairs, and the walls were virtually bare. It has the feel of somewhere that hasn’t been finished yet – and that may well be the case. There are some shelves with a slightly random selection of greetings cards and a few jars of something, a one or two framed Fairtrade posters and that’s about it.

But it’s not always the decor that makes a place and I’m happy to say that the somewhat odd style choices (there’s a sort of coat-of-arms on the shop sign) are not an indication of the service I got in this place. Lovely, friendly people, eager to please and talk, made me a delightful cup of coffee. It wasn’t quite what I ordered but it was made with such enthusiasm and it frankly looked so good that I kept it. It tasted good too.

A very friendly Scottish guy invited me to sit downstairs in their “quiet” area – though to be honest, apart from a couple of French chaps the area upstairs was silent too. I walked down some quite sweetly silver-and-white painted stairs to a lounge with beige IKEA-style sofas and some little tables. There was a bookshelf with a fairly eclectic, but nevertheless welcome selection of volumes and a rack for newspapers – as yet unfilled. Here too, the walls could have done with a little extra paint, but these are people who are clearly doing their best on a shoestring. The guy told me they hope to have some nice gentle music (not radio) here soon, which would be welcome.

The Fairtrade /Organic label doesn’t usually come cheap, but these people seem to be trying to keep their prices down. I paid £ 1.50 for my coffee and the sandwiches and other simple snacks seemed similarly reasonably-priced.

I wish Channers luck. I’m hoping that soon they may be able to make the place a little less bare, but as long as they serve nice coffee with a big smile, in my book that’s already a long way to getting it right.

Point Zero

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Polish Cafe/Deli

Trafalgar Rd, SE10

I’ve been watching the progress of this place through darkened windows ever since the ridiculously-named “Yew Wood Knot Believe It” closed. At first I feared that it had merely been done up for the living accommodation above it, leaving the shop below to rot- and frankly I suspect it had been – there’s now a rather awkwardly-shaped entrance to the shop below as yet another minuscule flatlet has been created upstairs. But unlike others further along in Woolwich Road which have received the same treatment but are left all dressed up and nowhere to go, whitewashed windows the furthest you can see in, luckily someone decided to show a little faith and move in.

I guess I should admit right now that I don’t think this particular cafe is aimed at the likes of me. It is very much a Local Polish Shop for Local Polish People. And good for them. It’s nicely done on the whole and of course I don’t mind if a shop’s not really for me if it’s a credit to the neighbourhood.

And it’s really not bad to look at. They’ve obviously spent money on it – little recesses in the front with long mirrors, a curved glass counter with a large selection of Polish sausages, meats, cheeses and other cold goods, and, at the back, a series of arched wooden shelves groaning with imported Polish tins, jars and packet goods. They seem almost stereotypical to me – lots of pickles, sausages and root vegetable soups in the main, though there are some interesting-looking blancmanges and other dishes. I suspect this selection very much represents ‘comfort food’ for people far away from home – and, were I living in Poland, I would be delighted at a reciprocal store there.

The rest is fashionably plainly decorated – the omnipresent laminate floors, slung ceiling with inset lighting and white-painted walls, but it’s well done and suits the three simple round tables at the front with their wiggly blue glass vases filled with sprigs of spring flowers. The floor and window sill are filled with Polish fashion magazines (and one or two token English-language ones so the rest of us don’t feel too left out…)

Somewhat randomly along one wall lies a fridge of sundry cold drinks, and at the back there’s another with some interesting-looking cream cakes. As I walked in I was greeted by The Carpenters, a nice retro throwback – until I realised they were on the radio, which, one I realised it was a random choice, somehow didn’t seem quite so cool.

The staff seemed a little distant – but not unpleasant. Perhaps it was a language thing. They got my coffee order wrong, but changed it immediately with no fuss. I always think that getting something wrong happens to us all from time to time – it’s the way that people deal with mistakes that makes the difference.

I confess the coffee itself was a bit on the strong side for me, already suffering from The Mother Of All Hangovers. This brain-splitting brew was so thick that I could almost physically feel it travelling upwards to sear through my head as yet another punishment for the previous night’s indiscretions. I think even on a good day this would have been a bit dark for me, though as a cup of coffee to look at it was a thing of beauty – thick brown-white crema, almost entirely obscuring dark, dark coffee below. A medium cup cost £ 1.75

I’m glad Point Zero has opened. It looks good, sells interesting things and, I suspect, will stylishly fill a gap in the market for people a long way from home. But I don’t think it’s going to replace the Trafalgar Cafe in my own affections just yet…

See tomorrow for the other new caff along Trafalgar Road…

The Silk Route

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Greenwich Covered Market, SE10

Tucked away near a dark-ish corner of Greenwich Market where there are more dead shops and blank walls than anywhere else in the square, The Silk Route is a welcome flash of colour and exotic luxury. In some respects it almost doesn’t matter what it sells inside, the bright flashes of satin and sparkling fairy lights, the velvets and silks of the window display and the tasselled Thai umbrellas justify the shops existence in sheer joi-de-vivre.

It’s a shop that lifts my heart when I walk past. Inside, the rich-red glow of silk lanterns and the twinkle of fairy lights continues as neat shelves of Far-Eastern goods line the walls of this tiny shop. Bolts of cloth, embroidered cushion covers, satin bags and little brocade pouches are the mainstay, though there are lots of little dishes of beaded fripperies and various clothes.

Wall hangings and beady curtains, pincushions in the shape of a circle of Chinese children, the odd wooden box, most of these things are not unfamiliar to us these days, but it would be churlish to imply that that makes them any less enjoyable to see. They do have some different stuff – there are currently some lovely satin umbrellas (much more classic-Occidental in style than the traditional parasols outside) – and I’d say it was well worth a look – though at weekends, like the rest of the market, it does get a bit full…

"Capability" Bowes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I don’t really want to get into doing ‘plugs’ for things on this site that I don’t have any experience of, but Russell Bowes looks like the sort of guy I like, and I think he’s Worth Knowing About.

Russell’s a Garden Historian, who gives lectures up and down the country to places as far and wide as The Eden Project, The National Portait Gallery and Waddesdon about various topics from Capability Brown to gardens in painting. Locally, he can do consultations on a freelance basis on creating a garden appropriate to their period property.

I don’t know Russell personally, but he seems like a Very Interesting Local Person, and I like interesting local people. Check out his website at

www.capabilitybowes.com

and if you’re into theatre, take a peek at his reviews too…

Freecycle

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I was going to write about something totally different today, but Russell sent me a mail which reminded me that I hadn’t actually mentioned Freecycle yet.

I am astounded at the number of people who don’t know about this fantastic piece of logic. It’s a win-win situation for everyone – except the manufacturers and purveyors of tat – and let’s face it – are we going to weep for them if they don’t sell an extra nasty cheap item at a vastly inflated price?

In case you don’t know what Freecycle is then make yourselves comfortable, children. All your storage/waste/eco-guilt problems are solved – not to mention that you might actually get something fab yourself.

Freecycle is a Yahoo group which aims to keep useable rubbish out of landfill. It starts with someone posting up something they want to get rid of. It can be an old TV, a bicycle tyre, a microwave, children’s toys, clothes – you name it, people post it.

Everyone who’s signed up to the list receives info about what’s on offer. Since there’s bound to be someone in London who wants it, the next thing is that someone arranges to come and collect the item as soon as possible. There is only one rule – no money can change hands.

Everyone gets a result. The person giving away their own particular “piece of old tut” is relieved of having to drag it to the dump, the person receiving their own particular “lovely treasure” gets something they want for the price of collecting it and the local tip has extra room.

I love Freecycle. I have personally got rid of an entire kitchen (someone came and collected it from Woolwich in installments in a Ford Fiesta) a microwave, a fridge, a stereo – plus many other items – all of which were perfectly good, but had just been upgraded and I no longer needed. Russell tells me he has got rid of some Lloyd Loom chairs, a pasta maker and various dodgy Christmas presents. What he has got, though, is amazing – but pretty typical – a double bed from someone who couldn’t be bothered to sell, a flat-screen monitor for his PC – you name it you can find it here. From the sublime – a bag of rubble – to the ridiculous – I’ve seen cars listed and, once, an AGA…

It’s not just big stuff. You can offer (or get) spare seedlings for your garden, the free DVDs that come with newspapers – anything (that isn’t alive.) It’s worth putting slightly broken stuff up there too because a lot of artists use it to get ‘unusual’ materials. I’ve seen things like “offered – TV – broken” – and then seen, a few days later “taken – TV- broken.”

I particularly love Freecycle because I’ve always had a problem with throwing things away if they’re still good. If they can go to a good home I can declutter without guilt. The one thing you must remember is that everything has to be free. If you want to sell something, take it to Greenwich Auctions or Ebay.

I have always used the London version of Freecycle – partially because I want my stuff to go and I can never be absolutely sure that anything smaller is a big enough catchment area.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/freecyclelondon/

Russell tells me there is now a local Greenwich one. I have no experience of it, but since the more local people are, the less chance of no-shows, I would probably now advertise my stuff on that one first. I have had a few problems finding it though – maybe you could post a URL, please, Russell?