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This time of year there’s always a ‘review’ of what went on over the past 12 months in whichever piece of media you care to read, and I don’t like being left out. I don’t usually get myself too embroiled with local news, so if you want a serious overview of kittens up trees and pensioners outraged at rubbish in parks, you’ll just have to check out the local papers. I thought I’d look at one or two of my favourite comings and goings of 2007. In many ways just as trivial, but it’s our trivia…
Comings and Goings
Frisbee in Greenwich Park So how’s that one going, then, fit folk?
The Spread Eagle The aggressive refit isn’t to everyone’s taste, and yes, if it were me I would have kept it as it was. But the food is good and Dick Moy’s paintings are fabulous.
The Alamo. Utter crap. See below.
Buenos Aires Restaurant A strong contender for my favourite opening of 2007. A superb restaruant. Shame it’s in Blackheath…
The O2 On first appearances this seems to be a success, even if for most of us, most of the time, it’s somewhere ‘other people’ go. What really needs some work is the transport infrastructure so that we can actually get on the buses during and after events…
Point Zero A perfectly acceptable Polish cafe.
Channers Almost next door to Point Zero and Alacosta and virtually opposite The Trafalgar Cafe, this seemed to be trying to reinvent the wheel, and as such, appears to have struggled a bit. A shame really as they really looked like they were trying hard. I was walking past the other day and noticed they were having a refit – within 6 months of their original opening. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen.
So Organic Does what it says on the tin. Organic Lovely Stuff.
The Fishmonger Ltd A fine addition indeed to the coterie of Greenwich Shops.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium Greenwich’s latest cultural addition. Not quite what we were promised, according to inside sources, but still well worth a visit. If you have any mince pounds left, go soon and get money off your ticket.
Bombay Bicycle Club The arrival of the upmarket curry delivery service was much-anticipated. It’s lovely food, a bit on the pricey side.
Bizili A new art materials shop from a slightly strange Chinese multinational. Could be good, but hasn’t reached anything like its potential yet.
The Rose and Crown A classy refit for this popular gay pub.
The Powder Monkey. An unpopular refit of The Cricketers. See below.
The Thames Clipper service has four new boats. I wouldn’t say I’m now a regular, but I’ve used it four times since November and it’s fab. Never actually seen the coffee bar open though.
The Post Shop in The High Road is a big improvement on its grey and dingy predecessor – bright and useful and full of stuff you might need. It should not have to replace all the other branches in Greenwich though. I understand they had to get planning permission to put the post box back outside, which I find staggering.
Ginza Now you’re talking. A Japanese restaurant at the ‘wrong’ end of town which actually rocks. Excellent food, beautifully presented with extremely (almost too) attentive service. Yessss.
IndigO2 A bad name for a good music venue. Expensive but classy new joint I will be more than happy to visit in the future.
Live Advent Calendar. A fantastic idea. I utterly loved the concept and most of the windows were amazing. I look forward to it becoming an annual thing – I can see a point in the future where getting a ‘date’ will be a huge honour and preparations will assume Rio Carnival heights – where people start planning their next year’s window on Jan 2nd… Come to think of it a carnival would be great too. Well done everyone – lovely stuff.
The Meeting House One of the big tragedies of my year was losing this honest little caff. What it has morphed into is hideous beyond belief.
Just the latest in a line of tiny secondhand bookshops tucked in little corners of Greenwich to bite the dust. It was only when all the books were actually carted out of there that one was able to see that it wasn’t that small a shop. Warwick Leadlay has taken over the place and opened it as a gallery which is definitely the least worst option. I like Warwick Leadlay’s shop and he actually gives a damn. If I can’t have a dusty little bookshop there then he’s the next best option. The guy in there told me that there were so many books stored in the basement underneath that if, by any slim chance, the floor had collapsed, it wouldn’t have gone very far…
The Alamo One of the most bog-awful places I have ever eaten at. Apparently the rest of the world agreed as it didn’t even last ’til the Christmas rush. Appalling. I just hope they don’t try again with something else. What would work there with a kitchen that size would be good quality coffee and pre-cinema snacks. Nothing bigger.
Pizza Luna This, without a doubt was the worst restaurant in Greenwich, beating the Alamo into a cocked hat, but only narrowly missing Tai Won Mein. I am truly grateful to see it go, if only for the embarrassment I felt knowing unsuspecting foreign visitors were trying to eat there, thinking it was representative of Britain. Appalling.
The Powder Monkey. The perhaps unwise decision to try to trendy-up the gay scene after having taken away The Gloucester Arms saw the opening – and shutting of The Powder Monkey within a few months. It is now to be “The W Lounge” (wonder what the “W” stands for. Don’t go for cheap laughs, now…) We’ll see…
The Old Friends That this place has closed upsets me not one jot. But as a dead pub it is even more of a shambles than it was when it was alive. With the coming of the “Heart for East Greenwich” (I’m shuddering a little, but still have my fingers crossed) couldn’t someone take this place and do something lovely with it? Greenwich Meantime Brewery, perhaps..?
Not long for this world:
Flying Duck Enterprises The loss of this place will be a tragedy for the town – a seriously big nail in the coffin of quirkiness which already teeters on the grave of Greenwich’s independent shops. I don’t know the exact reason they’re going – but I understand the clientele of the hideous Wetherspoons (no chance of that being closed) has much to do with it. I hear rumour they’re going to Brighton. Frankly Brighton has so many of these shops already I think they’d do better just upping sticks a short way and opening somewhere else in Greenwich. But I wish them luck whatever they do. They will be sorely missed.
East Greenwich Post Office On its way out, after a lacklustre refurb.
La Salumeria A sad thing, losing a classic, untrendy, just-good deli. When I was in there on Christmas Eve though, I asked how long they thought they’d still be there and the lady laughed and said they way the sale was going they’d still be there next Christmas. They are currently trying to sell it as a going concern. I just hope someone bites…
Not Dead Yet:
The Cutty Sark The poor old girl’s in trouble, but she’s still just about breathing. It’s down to us to keep her going. I’ll be actively seeking out ways to support the fighting fund next year.
East Greenwich Gas Holder. One worth fighting for. If we lose this, we effectively lose pretty much all of our visible industrial history on the Peninsula (I’m not counting the businesses which still quietly go on along the river – we can’t see them from the new builds – and it’s important to be visually reminded where history comes from) and may as well just become another dormitory. I’ll be banging on more about this much more next year. You have been warned.
The Coffee Cellar The owner of this fine little cafe has been poorly recently, Scared of Chives tells me, and it’s been closed. So when it reopens, we all need to visit lots to cheer him up, or we’ll lose this little 60s gem too
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I’ve just met a bunch of young lads in a car park, putting leaflets under windscreen wipers. Being the nosey Phantom I am, I had to know what they were doing, and when I found out it broke my heart.
Their friend Joshua Beasley has been missing since Christmas Eve, when he was leaving Greenwich Ice Rink – about 5.15pm. They have no idea where he is and it’s totally out of character for him to disappear like this. So a whole bunch of them are pretty much wallpapering Greenwich, in the hope that anyone may have seen any glimpses of him. The least I can do is ask you lot for them.
He’s about five foot ten, slim/medium build, with thick, black, ‘slightly untidy’ hair. Both his ears are pierced and he was wearing black. I know that just about describes every 17 year-old, but do have a think. He looks like this:
It’s ever so slightly less unlikely that someone reading this has seen him – if you have, give Lewisham Police a call – 020 8297 1212.
I haven’t seen such worried-looking seventeen year olds for a long, long time.
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Jonny asks an interesting question. I’m no expert on this, and I would appreciate chippings-in…
I am thinking of buying a house off the Woolwich Road in East Greenwich – but it is said to be located within 250 metres of a flood plain. While this is no great surprise given the proximity of the river…it has made me slightly worried given concerns over the current state of the flood defences and the perceived need to upgrade the Thames flood barrier. I understand the barrier is regularly in use these days, more than ever before. The devastation caused by the summer floods in other parts of the country has also given me pause for thought! On the other hand, I understand there haven’t been any floods in London since 1953 – but I believe the Blackwall tunnel and parts of Greenwich were affected by historic floods. Am I worrying unduly? Are there any parts of Greenwich not within a flood plain? Would appreciate any advice you may have.
The Phantom replies:
Have you been watching Flood by any chance? Or perhaps just been walking along the Thames Path outside Trinity Hospital and been a bit alarmed by the measure-markings on the wall…
I think we’re pretty much all “within 250 metres of a flood plain,” even if we’re uphill, here in Greenwich – though I stand to be corrected by residents of Royal or Crooms Hills. I suspect it’s a bit of a catch-all phrase that the Environment Agency uses to cover itself. But this is something worth considering even if only for insurance purposes. Let’s face it, there are flats in Woolwich already being built on stilts – though, of course, they are the other side of the barrier.
You don’t say which side of Woolwich Road you are considering. Pretty much all the roads south of it are uphill, so obviously the further up you are, the less likely you are to be drownded, though it may feel a bit close for comfort and you may not want to keep your dried-flower collection in your cellar if you’re near the bottom. Even north of the road, the land is on a slight gradient. And remember – if we’re underwater, the chances are that The Houses of Parliament will be as well – and by that point I suspect a national emergency will have been announced and Robert Carlyle will have to get heroic.
It would be interesting to know what kind of ground floor the new flats in Lovell’s Wharf will be getting – and perhaps indicative of what the developers are expecting (unless they’re going for the quick-sale option and don’t give a damn, in which case the government should…) Certainly I don’t see much panic in the streets around – a couple of years ago I noticed a planning application to dig out a basement in Ballast Quay – understandable, given the size of the buildings there, but a brave move IMHO. I have no idea whether it was ever allowed – but they must have been pretty confident they could keep water under control to have made such a leap of faith.
I wouldn’t worry too much about Blackwall Tunnel having had the occasional inundation – it’s underneath the Thames even at low tide.
It’s true that the Thames Barrier sees quite a bit of action these days, and yes, it does need updating at some point in the future. But it’s still doing a great job – if the barrier fails, it won’t be because it’s broken. I would guess the water is far more likely to flood the poor folk downstream – newly moved into John Prescott’s brainwave of an idea, the Thames Corridor, or as I prefer to call it, The Thames Ghetto. Did his geography teacher not explain why marsh land is, well, marsh land? Given that the Peninsula used to be called Bugsby’s Marshes, we might worry a little about that area too, but I’ve not heard much about it being a potential blackspot (though I guess they wouldn’t go on about it, given the amount of building they plan on doing there…)
If you’re really worried, why not try making a few trial applications for insurance? My guess is they’ll be far more worried about fire and theft than flood…
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Greenwich Church St
I confess that until about two weeks ago, I’d never set foot in this place. There was just something about it – part tourist tat, part seaside caff – which is fine on Southend Seafront, less fitting in the middle of Greenwich. Outside, dodgy paintings of seafood and a couple of sad-looking palm trees boded ill for the interior.
But in my quest to find out what every restaurant in Greenwich is like, it needed to be tested, so, after my mum and I had sat for a good fifteen minutes in Bar du Musee being eyed by, but not not actually attended to by two waiters (perhaps we didn’t look like the ‘right’ kind of diners) we left and determined to try something else. My mum’s not that easy to please, liking ‘British’ food – i.e. nothing spicy or garlicy, so fish and chips seemed the best option. Along that little bit of Greenwich Church St there are at least three chippys, but I wanted my mum to be able to sit down and, let’s face it, who hasn’t been just a little bit intrigued by Beachcomber on the corner?
It’s minute (well, downstairs, at least)and choc-a-bloc with genuine kitsch – so very uncool that it’s almost back to being so. Dark blue anaglypta dados and white-painted walls underneath a jungle of rubber plants, dodgy ‘oil paintings,’ mirrors, fake stuffed fish and, when we went there, groaning under cheap red and orange tinsel & fairy lights. The music was much the same – Christmassy, of the Slade variety. The paper-covered tables are crammed next to each other, and, since it was lunchtime, there wasn’t a spare seat. Clearly a lot of people like to go to this place for lunch – and that’s always a good sign. It could have been claustrophobic but actually it was all rather cosy.
We were lucky in that as we walked in, a table became free, and an effusive manager waved off the previous occupants and whisked us into their vacated seats with a single movement. It was all rather sudden, but after our being totally ignored in the previous place, it was quite nice to get the feeling we were actually wanted. He seemed to be a bit of a double act with the young waiter who was flirting with any woman under the age of 87, and being heartily ticked-off for it by the guy in charge.
The menu card is as big as the place is small. I always find massive amounts of things on menus a bit worrying – it smacks of jacks-of-all-trades, masters-of-none. I was slightly worried that much of it would be assembly-jobs, or reconstituted frozen stuff, so I decided to stick to something simple – the fish and chips.
The portions, like the menu, are huge. I couldn’t see my plate underneath the enormous lump of haddock, its accompanying chips and a walloping great dollop of ‘tartare’ sauce, brought in a dish and doled out by the waiter.
I have to say the food isn’t very tasty. It’s perfectly ok – both portions of fish were moist and with crispy batter, and definitely the best bit. The chips were big, and ok, but not enjoyable enough for me to manage very many of them. The sauce was a bit odd – more like onion-flavoured mayonnaise. But the mugs of tea were pleasingly orange, and it took us a long way to wade through both the tea and the food. The prices are about average.
So. A reasonable choice for a quick lunch in town, but definitely not a gourmet experience. I’m not sure I would ever visit for an evening meal, but I would go back for lunch again sometime – if only for the friendly, seaside-y experience. I had a peek in the upstairs room when I went to the loo – much the same as downstairs, but not open at the moment – presumably it’s reserved for the summer visitor influx – for there’s no getting away from the fact that it is mainly a tourist joint.
If you go, do take a peek at the photo at the bottom of the stairs, of the shop perhaps fifty years or longer ago. It was a fishmonger then, and the barrels of different fish and blokes in aprons are well worth seeing.
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As promised some time ago, a Greenwich Quiz for while you’re all sitting around too full to move. I’m told it’s impossible, but I accept no responsibility for any ensuing fisticuffs. Most of the questions should be do-able if you’ve been reading this blog long enough but answers can be found in the first comment….
1. Who wrote “I then asked the poor man if the distemper had not reached to Greenwich. He said it had not till about a fortnight before; but that then he feared it had, but that it was only at that end of the town which lay south towards Deptford Bridge“
2. How many ‘bobbles’ does the tower of the former Christ Church (The Forum) have left?
3 Where can this splendid fellow be found?
4. Who, or what, does the little memorial in the garden at Ballast Quay, outside the Harbour Master’s Office, commemorate?
5. Which notorious pirate came to a mutually-profitable agreement with Queen Elizabeth I at Greenwich?
6. Which town is twinned with Greenwich, and which country is it in?
7. Where was Crowder’s Music Hall situated?
8. Where was this picture taken?
9. Where was the Parthenon Palace of Varieties?
10. Who used to hang out at Gambardella’s Cafe at the Blackheath Standard?
11. What did Samuel Pepys hear on the 22nd April 1664? Was it
a) News that the Dutch were preparing to invade?
b) A nightingale?
c) Plague-ridden dogs barking at Deptford?
12. Which famous novel has a wedding feast set at The Trafalgar Tavern?
13. Which of the following people, real or fictitious, did NOT visit Greenwich?
A. George Cruikshank
B. Sherlock Holmes
C. Bella Wilfer
E. Andre Le Notre
14. Whose statue is plum in the middle of the four main buildings of the Old Royal Naval College?
15. At which soon-to-be-hotel-if rumour-is-to-be-believed could you see this badge?
16. Why would Sir John Evelyn have a hatred of wheelbarrows?
17. Which writer used the pen name Nicholas Blake?
18. What is the Five-Foot Walk?
19. Which American building was directly inspired by The Queen’s House?
20. Here is a piece of early advertising for fast food in 1684. At which event was the food served?
Kind master, drink you beer, or ale or brandy?
Walk in, kind sir, this booth is the chief,
We’ll entertain you with a slice of beef,
And what you please to eat or drink, ‘tis here,
No booth, like mine, affords such dainty cheer;
Another crys, Here master, they but scoff ye,
Here is a dish of famous new made coffee.
Well – I said it was hard…
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No one wants to read loads of stuff on Christmas Day, so today, I’ll just leave you with a selection of seasonal Greenwich pictures.
Happy Christmas, All
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You know, of all the periods of Greenwich’s past, comparatively modern times are the most difficult to pin down. I can find stuff out about Henry VIII with virtually no bother, but try winkling out anything at all about how ordinary people celebrated during, say, Edwardian times or the Blitz, and all you meet is a blank. Twenty years are a virtually empty book. At some point, I’ll trek all the way up to Colindale and trawl through crusty, yellowed copies Ye Olde News Shoppere c.1830, but for now, we’ll just have to content ourselves with snippets…
Once the King had left Greenwich for palaces west of here, the town started to become more industrialised. Now servicing Greenwich Hospital and The Observatory rather than the court, the town became more commercial too – as well as doing what it had always done – fishing.
I can’t find much out yet about how the pensioners celebrated Christmas (try googling “pensioner,” “Greenwich” and “Christmas” and you’ll see what I mean) so More Research Needs To Be Done. But for now, I’m assuming they got an extra tot of rum (the authorities reckoned that since these old sea dogs had lived on rum for their whole lives it would be unfair not to let them continue to live a sozzled life on land) and I did find reference, from John Evelyn’s diary 1705, to Christmas carol songsheets in pensioner’s cabins. Images of hearty sing-songs, possibly not with all the original words, gladden my heart.
There’s a slightly sickly picture from a 1905 Pears Annual to be seen here, which depicts a Greenwich Pensioner saluting a bust of Lord Nelson – somewhat fancifully, since they were disbanded in 1865 – and presented with the same gooey sentiment that brought us Bubbles. Rather oddly, the accompanying description doesn’t seem to fit the picture at all, telling us the pensioner is in front of Nelson’s funeral barge and only has one leg. There are two legs. Count ‘em, Jim. Two.
After the pensioners got booted out, the place became a royal naval school. Again, not much on Christmas, but I did find this, from the Illustrated London News 1848:
Great attention is paid to the dietary, which consists of cocoa and bread for breakfast; for dinner, meat and pudding on alternate days, with beer and potatoes; and bread and milk for supper. On each of the four annual festivals, and on Christmas Day, the Boys have roast beef and plum pudding.
One more snippet of Christmas trivia before I have to draw a veil over my research capabilities. On Christmas Day, 1886, at a meeting in the Royal Oak pub next door to Woolwich Arsenal station, it was decided to change the name of the Dial Square Football Club to Royal Arsenal.
But of the 20th century, so far, I have nothing. If any of you older folk out there have any fab Christmas memories to share, I would LOVE to hear them.
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The last outing for the Great Advent Window Experiment. And I have to say I will miss it. There have been some fabulous windows and some not so fabulous, but all have been intriguing and made with a good heart. And not a chocolate in sight. I hope they do it again next year.
Today, as with December 24th in all great traditional advent calendars, is the crib scene. It is, of course, back where it all started, in St Alfege’s church, ready for tonight’s candlelit midnight mass.
It apparently has ‘a difference,’ and is created by the appropriately named Jon Bishop.
Well done, windowers, and thank you…
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Now. This one’s a bit complicated. Let me see if I can get this right.
For a festive walk around the windows, gather at 4.30pm this afternoon ‘under the Christmas Tree’ at St Alfeges (I’m assuming ‘around’ the tree will do just as well…) Merry caroling there will take place then the walk will take us to
The next meeting spot is at 6.00pm, at 58 Royal Hill, where we can see today’s window The Sky at Night, and warm up with some drinks and hot soup courtesy of the window dressers. next comes
At 7.15, the carols will take place at
88 Ashburnham Grove then drinks until 8.00pm in the Ashburnham Arms
Still following this? I have no idea whether this marathon will still be on schedule by 8.00pm, but assuming it is, next will be
Followed by, at 8.30pm
And at 9.00pm
And if you’re still standing after that lot, they’re planning to repair to the Trafalgar Tavern for drinks afterwards. Feel free to just go to some of it rather than the whole event, and wear sensible shoes, ok? Oh – And don’t forget your lantern…
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