Archive for July, 2007

Safety

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Emmeline has just asked me an interesting question. She is considering coming to live here and wants to know if Greenwich is a safe area. What do you lot think?

I’d have thought that generally it is pretty safe – you have to pay a bit of attention at night in some bits, but that would go for anywhere in London. I have never felt really edgy here – but then I don’t tend to wander round silly places on my own in the dead of night. I’d value your thoughts on this one…

La Cucina di Soteri

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Nelson Road, SE10

This is a classic example of a place that promises slightly more than it delivers, IMHO. It looks fantastic – perched on the corner of the road opposite Nauticalia and Dreadnought Library and painted a jaunty yellow, this family-run Italian really looks the business.

I always get just a little excited when I go in – and yes, I do go in on a reasonably regular basis (given that trying to test out all the eateries in Greenwich doesn’t allow much in the way of return visits save for the excellent Kum Laung.) The welcome is always friendly, the interior bright, modern and promising in bright shades of yellow and blue, the menu also quite interesting, usually with a special that actually changes.

And the dishes are quite good. The pasta’s fine and the pizza is freshly made and not bad. But in my humble opinion, that’s all it is. It isn’t fantastic, which it really could be. Obviously it’s better than somewhere like Pizza Luna, the worst pizza I have ever eaten, but this is a family-run Italian restaurant – the pizza should be amazing, not just not bad. There is something truly wonderful about a superbly-made pizza, however simple the topping – that skinny-thin, slightly bubbly, unevenly-shaped dough, covered with truly tomatoey, well-made sauce (guess who’s on a diet just now and can’t have any) and baked to perfection. Sadly, La Cucina’s version just doesn’t do it for me – it’s almost there – but not quite.

One thing that La Cucina is good for is group meals – something at which they excel – and virtually every time I’ve ever been in there it’s been full of parties – birthday, work and anniversary-style. Everybody always seems to be having a good time and there is plenty of bonhomie from the staff and space for such occasions (including an inexplicably large empty space downstairs where the loos are.) For that reason it’s not really the best place for intimate diner-a-deux.

I will keep going to La Cucina di Soteri – it’s good for pre-cinema visits and lunchtimes – but I really wish they’d up their game on the food. Just a little more effort and they could be stunning. Sadly a cry that could apply to so many eateries in Greenwich…

Free Guided Walks

Monday, July 30th, 2007

David passed this onto me – a series of free blue badge guide walks this week – worth a gander, don’t you think?

http://www.eastlondonguides.com/

Red Bull Air Race

Monday, July 30th, 2007


Anyone would think I actually liked sport, the amount of international sporting events I’ve gone to this year. The truth is that I like international sporting events when they’re on my doorstep and The Red Bull Air Race is just the latest event that’s been attracted to Greenwich.

From last Thursday onwards you could hear them warming up – the noise those tiny little planes, designed to do things planes should never do, is really quite remarkable.

We had tickets (standing only – did you see the price of them?) for the Saturday qualifiers and a large bunch of us bowled up reasonably early round the side of the Dome to wait for “the show” to begin…

I felt rather sorry for any determined walkers – I imagined some poor sod who’d taken the last three weeks to walk from Clayfurlong Farm to the Thames Barrier, never deviating. This, in my fertile imagination, was their last day. All they had to do was make their way around the tip of the Peninsula and get to Woolwich to be able to say they’d walked the Thames Path. The proper route around the Dome was totally shut (was this legal?) and my imaginary hiker would have been forced to cross the Peninsula and never officially finish their journey. They’ll just have to come back next year when, presumably, the path will be closed off for the International Synchronised Swimming finals…

But back to the race. As you walked up you could see pictures of the pilots with various not-very-vital statistics. They all looked pleasingly grizzled – it’s rather good to see sportsmen who are neither about 18 years old and ridiculously muscular nor, if not the former, darts players. No food and drink was allowed in (which I thought was a bit off – they could hardly use the excuse that people might throw things at the pilots – I’d have given a prize to anyone who’d actually succeeded, given the speed they were going at) which meant you had to buy the usual overpriced festival food (nice to see Greenwich Inc cashing-in – always good to know we have our own local overpriced festival food) though at least it gave you something to do while you waited for “the show” to begin.

When it finally did begin, I rather wished it hadn’t. We had been hoping for a display of aeronautics or at least something to watch, but it actually consisted of the world’s most ignorant commentator (who freely admitted he wasn’t yet up to speed) yabbering on about utter crap, occasionally joined by an American who was at least enthusiastic and knew one end of a plane from the other. Just in case any of you lovely people weren’t there, I’ll give you a taster. Here are just some of the amazing facts I gleaned whilst waiting for flying to begin. I’d hate you to miss out…

1) London is 1100 years old. It could be even older.

2) Canary Wharf was ‘regenerated’ for the Olympics.

3) The Dome (“Tony Blair’s White Elephant”) was specially reopened for the Red Bull Air Race.

4) The Thames was closed for the race (that will explain all the flooding. The water had to go somewhere…)

But onto the race. Basically there was a series of inflated pylons making up the course, that the pilots had to fly through at various angles, doing loops and turns and flicking the plane from side to side for the slalom bit without getting penalties for “improper flight attitude” (mooning out of the window, perhaps?) It was, actually, quite exciting – and this is from someone with NO interest in aeroplanes, races or flying displays. Each of the pilots did a test flight round the course, and at this point the American who actually knew something was very useful in telling us who was who, and the planes were different enough to be able to remember.

It was actually quite easy to be able to tell who was going faster than anyone else and how they were doing (they went one at a time, of course – when you’re flying at speeds of over 400km you don’t want to clip a wing) so you could actually root for individuals.

To be honest I really rather enjoyed it – the only thing that drove me nuts (apart from the commentator) was the noise pollution. I’m not talking about the planes, of course. I’m talking about the god-awful cliched rock ‘music’ that blasted over the speakers every time a pilot began his little race for glory. Were they scared that some bloke risking his life to fly between tiny little pylons at stupid speeds wasn’t exciting enough? I’m getting so sick of the generic rock that clutters everything we have to listen to – from radio traffic bulletins to any kind of ‘extreme’ sport. It devalues both the concept of music – and whatever this rubbish is supposed to be ‘enhancing.’

It took until the second round to see what I’d really secretly hoped would happen – someone flying into a pylon. It exploded with a satisfying bang and the poor pilot was disqualified (though not hurt – it was effectively only a giant balloon bursting.)

But they’d made such a fuss beforehand about how quickly the teams could change a pylon I was desperate to see them in action. It took about two minutes to completely rebuild one. Most entertaining.

For the record an American called Mike Mangold in a souped-up aerobatics plane won (is this the equivalent of drug-taking, I wonder) but the British guy is overall leader of the series. But frankly I didn’t care. I just liked seeing planes going very fast round a circuit. Little things please little minds…

2nd Annual Metro Drag Race

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

I don’t often do ‘previews’ but this one sounds such fun I thought I’d let you know about it. I thoroughly approve of New Traditions.

Paul and Darren have kindly reminded me that at 7.00pm on 11th August, you can, outside the Rose & Crown, meet the contestants for the 2nd Annual Metro Drag Race. The race begins at 8.00pm.

Don’t worry – it’s hardly the Marathon – just down King William Walk, around the market, round the Powder Monkey where there is the small obstacle of knocking back a shot (think of it as a hurdle) and back to the R&C – but then would YOU want to race 26 miles in a fabulous frock, wig and high heels?

Last year’s winner, Xana Xanax (the only palindrome drag queen from the Antipodes) is favourite, naturally, but there’s plenty of opportunity to challenge “The Fastest Thing on Heels.” If you don’t think you’ll manage to be fastest, there is also a prize for Best legs and Most Expensive Drag (the one that earns most for Metro Centre, the charity supported.)

If you fancy joining in, call 020 8265-3311 – or just turn up to cheer the racers on…

So Organic

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Turnpin Lane, SE10

I was rather sad to see the art gallery on Turnpin Lane close a couple of months ago, and with the unsettled nature of the market just now I had assumed it would be just another empty shell for the next few years.

So I was delighted to hear from Stuart that the dead shop’s boots had been filled already by a local internet company branching out into the real world. So Organic has been featuring in the women’s glossies for sometime, supplying mail-order health, beauty and household goods and with a fairly big internet presense but it didn’t have a shop where you could actually go in and see the stuff for yourself before buying.

It’s all very light and airy (not always an easy task in the gloom of Turnpin Lane) and modern-feeling. When I first heard about it I was worried that it might compete with the fabulous Greenlands Health Foods but actually I think that although there is some crossover, they generally compliment each other well. Greenlands focuses on what you put inside your body, So Organic’s shop seems to be more interested in what you put on your body.

The main shop sells cosmetics – all organic, cruelty-free and brands I didn’t really know. Friendly, enthusiastic staff take you through the different lines with an almost exhausting exhilaration, but it is quite infectious and although I needed a nice cup of (herbal) tea and a sit down afterwards, they did succeed in making a considerable sale out of me.

The back room has the slightly less glamorous but equally interesting household-y-toiletry side of the business. Simple white shelving sells everything from recycled stationery – rulers made out of plastic cups and notebooks recreated out of juice cartons – to smelly gifts for teenage girls. There’s a tiny men’s section, a somewhat larger baby collection and some organic bedlinen which was not open to feel but is possibly something they should consider since it looked lovely and unbleached but a bit – well – scratchy.

At the back of the shop, huge vats of various Ecover products lie in wait to refill old containers – something to be applauded indeed.

The massively friendly staff were at pains to point out that there were MANY more items on the website; that there just wasn’t enough room in the shop to display everything (and one glimpse at the site will confirm that) but for me, the shop still felt a bit empty. I’m not suggesting they fill it to the gills, but there was definitely a spot more room (in my book) for lovely displays to keep me in there. It didn’t take long to see what they had, buy some of it and leave. I know it’s a small shop and they presumably don’t want to encourage too much extended browsing, but I do like shelves with stuff on. Never call me a minimalist. Give me an Aladdin’s Cave any day.

www.soorganic.com

Thames Gateway Bridge

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Oh Bloody hell. Is there ever going to be an end to this one way or the other?

Knit Nurse very kindly told me (and now it’s just been on the local news) that the government has passed the buck – once again – and been unable to make a decision about the Thames Gateway Bridge proposal. So. More delay, expense and uncertainty while we fork out for yet another inquiry.

This way no one’s a winner (well – I guess the guys doing the inquiry make a few bob.) Friends of the Earth don’t get the decision they wanted (to ditch the scheme) TfL doesn’t get the decision it wanted (to go ahead with the scheme,) and the rest of us certainly don’t get the decision we wanted (which was basically just to have a decision so we could take it from there.)

It’s a political hot-potato and the government don’t want to be the ones holding the steaming spud when the music stops, as they were when the Dome was first mooted. But this can’t just go on and on, surely? To have years and years of indecision helps no one – not Friends of the Earth who can’t be sure they are ever going to win, not the people in Thamesmead and around who are desperate for investment. And those Blackwall Tunnel queues we’re suffering on a daily basis are here to stay while Central Government sits on the fence.

If you want the depressing detail, you can find it here. But don’t expect to enjoy it…

http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1512063

Danson Stables

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Have you ever had one of those Sundays where you’re desperate to “go out” but don’t have any real set plans? You know there are good places out there that you still haven’t visited yet, but somehow the weather’s not that great, your energy’s not that high and besides – you’re hungry?

That was us last weekend. I like to go out and do stuff but I’m not always quite as wired and targetted as I could be. “Let’s go and find a nice country pub we’ve not already been to,” we said, and set off with no plan at all in our heads.

This is always a bad thing. With theoretically all the time in the world, I reject places on the stupidest grounds. One pub is too noisy-looking, another is too rural. The next is too urban; I don’t care for the windows-or the hanging baskets-or the 4x4s- or the local herberts in another. “But do they do food?” I whine about the next, “Yes, but it’s family fun day” about the next (something I avoid at all costs.) And the weird thing is that the hungrier I get, the more pointlessly fussy I become.

We drove round and round – pretty much literally in circles until we had virtually decided to just come back to Greenwich or Blackheath, when it occurred to us to try the pub at Danson House

Danson Stables are just that – the old stable block, built just after 1800 from the remains of one of the wings of the house which had been demolished, all set in Capability Brown gardens – turned into a really not-bad-at-all pub. It’s kept the compartmentalised feel – there are lots of different rooms so that it feels quite nice and cosy – it’s a nice balance between bright and modern and traditional homely and a pleasant way to spend a lunchtime.

I get the feeling that this used to be a chain – there is something ‘corporate’ about the signage – but there is absolutely no indication of any kind of name, so I’m wondering whether it has been taken back into private ownership, just keeping the signs. A website I found said it was Bass, but it seemed out of date and I can’t find anything about it anywhere else. I asked a waitress and she didn’t know – a sure sign that there isn’t any big corporate owner, I’d have said.

The food is predictable pub grub, but no less enjoyable for it. The portions are large – almost too large – and generally well-cooked. The gammon steak was huge and came with so much veg you couldn’t see the plate. I suspect that my linguine had been made several hours beforehand and was the scrapings out of the the bottom of the pan – crispy and oily, but actually I confess I really enjoyed it – even the scrapy-bits. I felt sort of guilty for this since it was all the naughty oily cheesy sundried tomatoey bits and I should have complained – Gordon Ramsay would have had quite a lot to say about it – but frankly however ‘old’ it was, it was actually very yummy. So I have no taste. Shoot me.

There was music but it wasn’t overbearing, the service was friendly and the beer not bad. Generally all good things.

As luck would have it there WAS a family fun day going on in the grounds of Danson House, but the pub itself was large enough to cope and despite there being lots of families it didn’t encroach on us adult drinkers and the balance worked very well. The sheer number of people who had chosen to bring the kids indicates that the child portions are a hit.

I’d say this isn’t a bad place to while away a Sunday lunchtime – just avoid the linguine if you don’t get off on pan-scrapings. Me? I’d have exactly the same thing again…

Buses

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

One of the ‘free’ newspapers that REALLY gets up my nose is The Londoner – a really rubbish collection of mayoral propaganda that does nothing except big-up stuff we either already know or just don’t need to hear. It truly annoys me that I indirectly pay for this extremely poor ‘journalism’ and blatent publicity machine (whether I support him or not is irrelevant – I would disapprove of this bloomin’ useless waste of trees and ink whoever the mayor was.)

But when it drops through the door alongside the other free newspapers I do always give it a brief flick-through in case there is ANYTHING worth knowing.

The headline today says that bus fares are going to be 10p cheaper. Initially I thought “oh goodie” – for about ten seconds. But the thing is, I don’t think we actually need to persuade people to use the buses any more – most are happy enough to give public transport a go. What we do need are a few more actual vehicles to take all the passengers who have been already converted to bus travel.

Take last night – pretty typical. I came out of North Greenwich Tube – not late – maybe 10.45/11.00pm. There were NO buses of any variety at any stops. Plenty of would-be passengers though all hanging about waiting for – well – any form of bus. Eventually a 108 bowled up, so I thought I’d get that and walk the rest of the way rather than waiting for anything more appropriate.

Trouble is, that’s exactly what everyone else had thought too. I didn’t expect to get a seat, but I DID hope to board the bus. Actually to be fair, I did manage to, just about, squeeze on, by asking people if they’d mind moving up a bit, which they did, albeit grudgingly. The guy drove like the clappers, ignoring red lights on the peninsula left, right and centre, though at least we couldn’t be thrown about too much as we were all packed so tightly.

I’m obviously not moaning at a drop in fares. But encouraging more people to use a bus that’s already too full seem crazy to me. Far better spend all those extra 10ps on a couple of extra buses, IMHO.

Hortus

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Blackheath Village, SE3

This is the kind of yummy, rather posh gardening shop that it’s unlikely we’ll see in Greenwich just at the moment, the nearest equivalent being the lovely florist in Royal Hill, though it’s not quite the same. It is extremely tasteful in every respect ( a tad too tasteful, possibly?) and I wander around it like a little girl in Claire’s Accessories, dazzled by all the finery but wondering whether my pocket money will actually stretch to anything at all.

To be honest that’s not a very good analogy at all. Claire’s Accessories sells cheap tat and even the poorest little ballerina can normally afford something. But cheap – in any sense of the word – is not what Hortus is about. Quality is the name of the game here, and though you’ll pay for it, there is no doubt that whatever you pick up here will last longer than one party for under-10s. (That’s enough dodgy analogies – Ed.)

OK, back to the gardening. Outside Hortus sits a selection of beautiful, fashionable plants, ranging from the simple to the exotic, and another selection of lovely, lovely pots to put them in. I am always particularly taken with the blue-and-white ceramic pots that come pre-weathered. I WILL buy one of those at some point.

Inside, there are lots of gardening accessories that I would say are intended more as presents – either for friends or as a personal treat – than as basics. Gorgeous gloves, pastel tools, curious ornaments and objets d’art. Not sure about the terracotta ‘slug catcher’ (because if it works, at some point it needs to be emptied – yeuch) but all the unusual gadgets and pretty versions of old Victorian curios are perfect for a gardening friend.

If you’re not into gardens but you like being IN gardens, there is loads of ‘outdoor living’ stuff – barbecues, picnic gear and dozens and dozens of candles and candle holders. Once again, this is no bargain basement, but it’s all LOVELY and lovely has to be paid for.

Out back there’s a tiny gravel area with all the architectural plants, fibreclay and cast iron planters in traditional and contemporary designs and curious ornaments. I particularly like the potting bench (obviously not for sale) which really feels like it gets used.

Back inside again, they have a little selection of cheese and wine accessories – like labels for cellars, decanters and cheese knives. There’s a small selection of books and other gifty-type things – everything beautifully and tastefully displayed. It’s somewhere to visit for birthday presents. And one day I will actually buy something for me…

Apparently they also do floristry, landscaping and garden maintenance, though the website is a bit minimal on detail…

www.hortus-blackheath.co.uk