Archive for September, 2007

The Phantom’s Favourite Front Gardens (6)

Friday, September 28th, 2007

The Fan Museum, Crooms Hill, SE10

Ok, folks, I’m being all fluffy again today and waxing lyrical about a lovely little secret corner of Greenwich which many pass by (its being slightly set away from the road) and yet adds, in its quiet way, a little moment of happiness for me – and, I hope, others who pass by. Aaahhh…

After yesterday’s entry which is more likely to be seen by locals than tourists, todays, I’ll bet, gets viewed by visitors and the rest of us only notice it when our mums are visiting…

As you will probably know by now I’m most impressed by front yards that have very little obvious potential, but which their owners have not given up on – the one in Angerstein Lane that has virtually no light, for example – or the tiny one in Maze Hill that most would think was far too small for a formal landscape – or even the one at St Alfege’s Passage that has no ‘garden’ at all.

Basements – however pretty the houses themselves might be – can be excuses for doing nothing – no one’s going to notice so why bother? So it’s double joy when someone does something good with one.

Now, admittedly, if you’re going to have a basement front garden, Crooms Hill ain’t a bad place to have it – but I always get a little frisson of pleasure whenever I pass the Fan Museum and look down. Giant sword ferns and potted evergreens jostle with hanging baskets of annuals and what looks suspiciously like an overgrown house plant. The little cast iron table and chairs(which may or may not belong to the people next door – I don’t care – it’s the overall effect through that arch that counts and if neighbours can co-operate to create a nice view for the rest of us I’m not complaining) looks wonderfully inviting even if no one ever sits in it and even practical things like the security bars at the window, the floodlight and the rolled hose are part of the pleasure of this place.

The Phantom smiles serenely.

Davy’s Wine Vaults

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

161 Greenwich High Road, SE10

Tucked away the “wrong” side of the station, I bet this little gem gets missed by the majority of tourists. The snob in me avoided it for a while because it was a chain (albeit one that’s been going since 1870) but it seems I’ve been missing out.

It looks so olde-worlde-cute that I had to ask if the decor was actually genuine. Apparently it is – and if it has been ‘enhanced,’ I buy it. The lady behind the bar told me that it was originally a wholesalers and the sloping floor (which is still sprinkled with sawdust – don’t let your coat touch the floor or you’ll have some very interesting ‘dandruff’ when you leave) was so that the barrels could be rolled around more easily. The floor’s rakish stance does mean that some of the simple candlelit tables and Windsor chairs are at an interesting angle – but you could always put it down to the number of pints of Davy’s Old Wallop, served in pewter tankards, you’ve had…

To one side of the main bar, there’s an old booth, that would have been used for making tallies and taking orders – there appears to be a little office in there now. Barrels are strategically placed, and there is a display of old bottles lit with a low light. It’s all very Dickensian – though more Mr Micawber than Bill Sykes, judging from the prices these days…

What’s really lovely about this place are all the nooks and crannies – little private areas and odd corners, often very dimly lit indeed. There are several tables just for a very few people, allowing private tete-a-tetes and intimate groups, as well as bigger tables in an adjoining room. Outside there is a yard with some old barrels and seating, which is good for a sunny day, but, considering the weather that’s just arrived, will soon only be fit for the most hardened smoker.

You have to step down into the bar, so I was surprised when the lady told me there was a series of function rooms underneath it, which can be hired. They have a separate entrance, so it’s not just like hiring the back room of a pub – and you get the whole floor to yourself.

Being underground, there’s no natural light of course, but the plan follows a similar pattern to upstairs so are several small/medium/largish labyrinthine rooms which open into each other. They are dimly lit which makes it all very mysterious, and you can decorate them as you wish (nothing permanent, ok?) and there is a funky sound system which will take your ipod. There are also some simple conference facilities – when I sneaked a peek there was a screen and projector set up in one of the rooms, with a flip chart and desks.

If your party’s quite small, you can choose to just use one or two of the rooms, though the price is the same however much you use. It’s £ 200 per night, which includes staff and the opening of the fully-stocked bar downstairs (the bar itself is fab – looking like a merchant’s chest, with dozens of wooden drawers built into it.) There are various menus – from canape to buffet – obviously at extra cost.

I think it would be best for winter celebrations (Christmas would be ideal) as it is very dark and cosy – I’d miss the sun in summer. The only celebrations they’re not too keen on are 18th and 21st birthdays as they’ve had trouble in the past and there can be problems with underage drinking.

But back to the wine bar. They have a large wine list, but I confess I must have chosen poorly. I had a glass of White Burgundy (with which I generally can’t go wrong) which was the ‘best’ of the wines by the glass. Writing now, almost a week later, I can’t actually remember anything at all about it – it had very little aroma – or even taste. It wasn’t awful – but I would have expected better for £ 5.95.

Davy’s do wine tastings on an occasional basis. I will endeavour to visit one (the things I go through for this blog, eh. Darling, it’s hell - but someone has to do it…) and report back. The other thing that requires an entry by itself is the separate Davy’s Wine Shop just round the corner – but that’s also for another day.

Post Shop

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Greenwich High Road SE10

I know it’s been open for a couple of months now, but it’s taken me this long to get around to actually needing to post a letter from the main office – sorry Post ‘Shop’ in Greenwich High Road.

Gone are the grey carpets, gloomy outlook and sullen staff behind grimy counters, arrived is a slightly odd mix of newsagents, groceries and stationery supplies – of the office variety – photocopier paper, box files, in-trays and bubble wrap. The actual post office is right at the back, with new, open counters and cheery staff – but one thing hasn’t changed.

The queues. One, giant Queue of Doom, in fact, snaking through the stationery isles, finally fizzling out about halfway down the store’s length. So that’s where all the people that have mysteriously disappeared from Woolwich Road have gone. I only had a letter to send but it took a good fifteen minutes to get to the front.

My only compensation was the jolly man who served me. An absolute joy, he was friendly, articulate and very helpful indeed. And as I left I got a happy smile from the lady at the desk too. I’m easily pleased…

On a different note, Geoff, our postman, who is the living embodiment of that Viz character Postman Plod the Miserable Sod, but of whom I’m rather fond, tells me that he’s going on strike on Friday. I’m glad he warned me. I might not have noticed otherwise…

Does anyone else not get their post before 4.00pm at the earliest on a Friday?


Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Laura asks:

“Phantom, I wonder if you could ask if anyone has had any experience of the Greenwich Natural Health centre based in Royal Hill, in particular the acupuncture side of things?”

The Phantom Replies:

I’m sure someone has – but it ain’t me. Eurgh. Needles (The Phantom comes over all woozy and has to have a cup of weak tea and a lie-down)


Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Lorna has a worrying question:

“I’m really concerned about the apparent stabbing that happened in the park behind St Alfege’s last week. I’ve been told that it was two school kids, but I can’t find anything in the news about it. The police have put notes through the door asking if anyone saw anything and are referring to it as a “serious assault”. I walk through this park every day on my way to and from work and am now concerned about how safe it is…”

The Phantom Replies:

I haven’t heard anything about it. It’s amazing what goes on that we never hear or read about – I once witnessed a major police stakeout and it didn’t even warrant a couple of inches in the News Shopper. Anyone got any insider info?


Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Donovan says:

Aaargh, I’m trying to fit new lights, and whoever the coyboy (do you mean cowboy – or was he really coy? ;-) I have a fabulous image of a blushing bodger…TGP) was that did the conversion in my flat way back in those crazy 90s wired up the circuit in his own special way. To say I was an amateur would be overstating my understanding of electricals, but I thought that just copying what was there might work. Lo and behold, no it doesn’t. Thusly, and with further ado, I have rendered my flat a dingy cave and am in need of a good local handyman to sort out my foolishness. Any recommendations?

The Phantom commiserates:

Are you really down to candles? If you look at the back pages of The Westcombe News there always seem to be handymen advertised there, though I can’t recommend anyone as the last person I got in was definitely a cowboy (no blushes – he was a brazen bodger…)

Just because they’re advertised in the Westcombe News doesn’t make them good – so do check credentials and make sure you get them to give you references (I speak from bitter experience.) Better still someone here might be able to give you an actual name.

It occurs to me that if you’re doing electrical work you may also have the added headache of having to get a qualified electrician – the law changed last year which means that you either have to get a qualified spark or a certificate from the local authority that says your own work is up to scratch (possibly quite difficult to obtain just at the moment under the circumstances…)It’s a real pain and yet another example of Nanny State.

There is definitely a big call for GOOD handymen/builders etc – and an awful lot of bad ones around. I wish I could be more helpful.

Thames Clipper

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Commuter Service

It’s the one form of public transport no one remembers – yet it’s only recently fallen from favour. For centuries it was the quickest way to get around town, and it’s still the most civilised. I’m not talking about the pleasure boats here – though I’m going to do a trip soon, just for the kick of it – I’m talking about the river bus, designed for and used by people going to work each day.

I have been meaning to join a commuter clipper at rush hour for some time now – and yesterday I actually managed it. I took a train to London Bridge and walked to Bankside Pier (just outside the Globe Theatre.) The little booth was shut (of course) and the signs seemed to imply that everything stopped at 4.30pm. That surely couldn’t be right? But the place was empty and there was no traffic at all on the river. It’s all part of the British Tourist Disinformation Service, clearly.

I was just about to give up when I saw a determined-looking guy with a briefcase striding down to the deserted platform. He clearly knew what he was doing so I hung around. A minute or two later, a small launch appeared up river and suddenly half a dozen people with briefcases materialised out of nowhere. Perhaps it’s uncool to be seen queueing if you’re one of that elite band The River-Rovers…

It’s all very matey. A jolly chap in shirtsleeves hooks a rope over a bollard, and the boat bumps gently into the row of tractor tyres against the pier. He holds the launch close to the edge and greets you as you enter. A jolly young conductor in a suit and tie welcomes you aboard. In fact it’s all – well – jolly.

And that gives me a great idea. I’ll Make A Million. I can just see it now. I’ll pitch it to CBeebies as a new TV programme for the under-fives – Jim and Ben the ClipperMen. Jim and Ben will be made out of foam rubber and will have merry stop-motion animated tales helping the commuters of London get to work. There would never be anything so uncivilised as terrorists or srikes on something as civilised as the Thames Clipper, of course. Perhaps one day a kitten will get stuck on a branch in the river or a naughty thief will try to steal a big diamond from the Savoy. Jim and Ben will come to the rescue. There’s a hit Christmas single in it too-
(-that’s enough children’s TV – Ed)

So I got on board. Many of the seats were already taken by people with laptops or reading the paper. (Yes, London Lite has permeated even here. Whatever next? The Reform Club, perhaps?) No one was paying any attention to the view, except a couple of EXTREMELY fat tourists who kept complaining about how small the seats were (they were fine.)

Mind you, to be honest there wasn’t much view to be had. The boat sat low in the water and the windows were so filthy with spray that it reminded me of buses in the 1970s whose windows were so caked with dirt you couldn’t actually tell where you were. But this is the River. It’s to be expected. And if you’re not looking for detail there’s still plenty to be seen – and from an angle you wouldn’t normally get to view London from.

The river bus stops a lot more than I had expected. There is an express service, but being a rank beginner, I couldn’t work out when it was. The website does help – but of course I hadn’t bothered consulting it first. The commuter service goes all the way to Woolwich but it doesn’t stop at the Dome – you have to get the designated “O2 Express for that.” Jim comes round to clip your ticket – ever wondered what happened to the bus conductors of Olde London Town? They’re on the river, folks.

I was surprised by how many people got on and off at each stop. The clipper really did fill up (though we are talking about 5.30pm – bang in the middle of the rush hour) and it seemed to be with people that do this every day. It takes longer – about 40 minutes from Bankside to Greenwich – and costs a bit more – £ 4, or £ 2.70 if you’ve got a travelcard, but you get a seat, people are polite and it’s a much more visceral experience. You bob about on the water, you see curious and interesting things through the murky glass (it’s not that bad, honest) and, cheesy though it may sound, you get a sense of continuity with the millions of Londoners who have used the river for the last thousand or so years. Besides – you get to meet Jim and Ben… And that view of Greenwich as the boat turns the bend in the river is one that I will never tire of. The Naval College, the Observatory on the hill – even the poor old Cutty Sark in her undies – wonderful.

As we were approaching Greenwich, Jim – or was it Ben – brought round newsletters for everyone. Apparently they’ve just taken delivery of four fab new vessels which will be much bigger and higher (better views, too, I hope) and will have cafes and bars. They’re also expecting to expand the service. It read a bit like gobbledegook to me who was on the service for the first time, but what it boils down to seems to be including the Dome (oops, O2) from November and to be more frequent at peak times.

Give it a try, folks. And look out for those new launches – from the pics, they look damn fine.

Johnny Rocket

Monday, September 24th, 2007

10, College Approach, SE10

I have a friend who, after many years of happy marriage (or we thought so anyway) suddenly announced it was all a sham, split up with her husband and got divorced in record time. She went underground for a (very) few months so when we finally got together I thought I was going to spend a lot of time dispensing very gooey cake.

Instead she seemed quite chipper. She’d been dating, she told me. Great, I said. Anyone interesting? Well, there was one, she supposed. She didn’t seem particularly bothered.

We had a nice cup of tea and cake (well – I wasn’t going to give up the cake opportunity, was I?) and I suggested we meet the next week. She apologised. She couldn’t make next week as she was getting married.

To the guy she’d only just met? Was she sure? Did she love him? Well, he was the best of the bunch and she didn’t want to waste any more time…

She told me she needed a ring, and pronto. By Sunday, in fact. But she didn’t want any old plain gold band – she’d already done that. She wanted something wild, to celebrate the New Her.

Frankly, there was only one place that sprang to my mind for such an item. A woman with newly-found gay abandon, lots of cash and an impending marriage?

Johnny Rocket is a jeweller and retailer. From what I can tell, they do their own range of interesting pieces, and they sell the work of up, coming and arrived contemporary designers, some of whom I’ve actually even heard of.

In a selfish kind of way I was grateful to my friend as up until that point I had only ever pressed my insubstantial phantasmagorical nose against the glass of the little boutique in College Approach. This gave me an excuse to have a nose around at first hand, while my friend bought herself the ultimate funky love token.

It’s a tiny little jewel of a place itself. Classic glass cabinets in dark wood, filled to the gills with twinkly things – both individual sparky one-offs and items from designers’ core ranges. A blood-red velvet sofa sits below an ornate rococo-style mirror and the almost obligatory chandelier, and a little staircase leads, presumably, to Mr Johnny Rocket (John Pearce, I believe, who works with his mate Niall Paisley) and his magic workshop. Was it from down those steps that he created Jamiroquai’s headdress and half of Kylie’s jewel box? Probably not as he’s only been here since 2005, but it’s good to dream.

You have to press a buzzer to get in, so browsing is strictly controlled – individual service is the name of the game. That’s perfectly understandable given the value of the goods on display, of course. Goods that range from a single, understated, elegant statement to the show-stopping kind of geejaws that need the sort of occasion I don’t get to go to very often to set them off.

It harks back to the days of proper service. Someone actually takes the time to find out about your occasion and help you find something special for it – though of course not everyone has to wait for an occasion – while we were in there someone came in for a fitting for some individually-created piece who had a cosy familiarity with the staff (and Mr R. himself) others reserve for the greengrocer or the baker. It’s now of course, an ambition to add Johnny Rocket to my weekly shopping list…

My only possible complaint is, perhaps his own success. While we were in there, it filled up with gossipy regulars, whose chatter, toddlers and sheer presence somewhat put me off my stroke. Suddenly I felt ever so-slightly abandoned, though that may well have had something to do with the fact that I was only there as “supportive friend” anyway.

Will my pal’s new marriage last? Who can tell? But that ring. That ring is here to stay…


Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

How did it go, folks?

Do I need to get my frilly phantasmagorical cheerleader costume out yet? Altogether now…

Ra, Ra, On your marks
Have some larks
With the Cutty Sharks!

Ra, Ra,
When you’re in the Parks
Watch your backs
It’s the Cutty Sharks!

Ra, Ra
If your dog barks
He wants to join
With the Cutty Sharks!

Ra, Ra-

(that’s enough “sharks” rhyming – Ed.)

Greenwich Market Consultation

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Methers has very kindly pointed out a date I didn’t know about – which makes me think that quite a few other people won’t have heard about it either.

Greenwich Hospital Trust will be having a two-day exhibition of their plans concerning Greenwich Market Friday 5th and Saturday 6th October. It’s at 3-4 Nelson Road, next door to Warwick Leadlay Gallery. I think it must be the empty shop that used to be Bear Mad.

See the flyer here:

Most annoyingly I am away for those two days (just those two days, which makes it all the more infuriating) so I won’t be able to make it. You’d think they could leave it up for a week or so, wouldn’t you. But then maybe the idea isn’t to let as many people as possible see what they plan to do in case they actually get feedback.

So… I need you lot to let me know what the plans look like, and what you think of them. You’ll have to be my eyes on this one. If there are any good pics to be had, I’d love to see them too…