Archive for July, 2008

Car Boot Sales

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Stephanie asks:

“Do you or any of your readers know of any half-decent boot sales around the area? I’m looking to sell off some bits and bobs but am slightly wary of naively turning up in a semi-decent car and seen as rich-pickings. Any hints or tips would be gratefully received.”

The Phantom has only ever tried car-booting twice – both were spectacular disasters. The first was in the multi-storey car park in Lewisham about ten years ago. It was a big commercial one and I seemed to be the only person not selling knocked-off designer handbags, miracle-wonder-gadgets or dodgy tea towels. It was horrid. I don’t even know if it still exists, but if it does, avoid it.

The second time was even worse – in a scrap metal yard just off Brick Lane. It was unspeakably bad – I was a lamb to the slaughter.

My friends tell me the best ones to look out for are the much more genteel table-top sales that churches and schools often hold – far more ‘genuine’ sellers and less hassle all round. Also the money you pay for the pitch goes to charity. Look out for them in the local paper.

Other people may have more positive impressions, but I for one will never car-boot again. Ebay is ok, though you’ll pay for absolutely everything. You can list stuff on Gumtree for nothing, and it’s gaining popularity over Ebay which is rapidly becoming a dealers’ domain – more like an online mall – great if you’re looking for stuff, but not as quirky as it used to be.

And if you need to get rid of things but not actually sell them, charity shops are always happy to have good stuff (Bexley Cottage Hospice will collect furniture, though they can’t take electric stuff, I don’t think) and Freecycle, though occasionally frustrating when flaky people mis-use it, is a fantastic way of keeping stuff out of landfill.

Money Talks

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Bob tells me:

“I work by the Dome on the new TFL headquarters. Today we’ve been treated to the Red Bull air race practice session. It was a stroke of genius having the turning point located so close to the waste transfer station. Only two seagulls were seen to be struck; one by a plane, the other by a helicopter…

I was looking on your site to see how it is that a footpath can be closed and the space sold to spectators. Are you aware of how the council is able to permit this? (I do hope the borough is paid handsomely).

What did see half an hour ago was the “relocation” of a tree. – No doubt others will be ‘moved.’ A lorry mounted with a large ground-penetrating hydraulic claw was in the process of moving a tree from the front of one of the newly erected grandstands. I suspect they will be returned but I don’t think it will do the trees any good.”

The Phantom replies:

I wondered about the whole closure of the Thames Path for profit thing last year when I had fantasies about some poor sod who had managed to walk the entirety of the Thames from the Cotswolds, only to find that it was invalid as he couldn’t walk the bit in the middle of the Peninsula…

I have no idea whether the council is harvesting any cash from this – I would like to think so. This is a commercial sporting event and people are making a lot of money out of it. We should be compensated for the loss of our liberty.

As for the trees – well – they may not be 300 years old and planted by Charles II, but they still won’t be much chuffed about being yanked out of the ground in this weather. Is this just to make space for spectators? They had better be paying BIG money for that – and supplying giant vases for the poor trees while they’re out of the ground, preferably cut-glass or with pretty flowers on them.

Will you let me know if they’re put back, and keep me updated on their health, Bob?

Oh – and people who are going – will you do me a favour? I thoroughly enjoyed the world’s worst commentator last year who came up with some absolutely hilarious guff. If he’s doing it again this year and he comes up with any gems, do pass them on…

Dancing Sailors

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I found the most extraordinary volume in a second hand bookshop yesterday. I thought it was fairly odd at the time, but it was only getting it home that I realised just how peculiarly encased in 1930s aspic it is.

Twice Round the London Clock, published in 1933, was written by one Stephen Graham, about whom I can find virtually nothing, but from his writing appears to have been a newspaper columnist, writing for The Sunday Chronicle. In the book, Graham goes to various bohemian parties in Belgravia, slums-it round the East End, and eats at old City establishments, making witty comment as he goes. The illustrations are by the Chronicle’s resident artist, Rick Elmes. The pair of them – oh, how they get into scrapes, largely surrounding Graham’s portly figure, and the gaping yokels they come across.

There’s nothing about Greenwich in there, chiz, but I was highly intrigued by the chapter entitled Dancing Sailors where Graham and Elmes visit a North Woolwich dance hall. I obviously haven’t a clue what Graham was really like; I imagine a tubby posh bloke with a cut-glass BBC accent condescending to talk to the hoi-poloy in an excruciatingly patronising tone…

“The interior of California in North Woolwich is something like part of a ship…perhaps that is why an otherwise ordinary public house has become one of the gay spots in Dockland,” he informs us. “The sailor ashore looks for something like a boat, and they are almost all sailors who dance there.”

Interestingly, despite it being 1933, Graham really does mean ‘gay’ in the modern sense. But more about that in a minute.

The California’s clientele is from around the world – Graham spends time describing the colourful array of costumes, skins and languages of the various Jolly Jack Tars whose ships have brought them to the port of London. He describes their conversation – their finding out about each other’s worlds, their customs, what they want in life – and there are definitely those who are there for the local girls.

“The barmaids are buxom, well-cared for and independent. Sailors treat them respectfully. But the dancing girls, in their smart stockings and shabby everything else would really be kept out of the public houses except that they bring more custom. “

They’re dancing to a “the shabbiest piano, with its top partly removed to let out more noise, and then to a one-man jazz band of the kind that used to be the wonder of children in the streets.”

Eventually, Graham works out that “the men did not get off with the girls at all;” but “danced together in the funniest burlesque style.”

Graham is not at all sure about This Kind Of Thing. He blames that very fast music Jazz, which has “infected ships by way of radio and, as, except on passenger ships, there are no women the “nancy boys” dance together.”

He gradually gets used to it all though, noting that “when there is shore leave one may see hundreds of couples of sailors dancing together,” especially at The California. Apparently, according to Graham, “the Navy dances much better than the mercantile marine.” He’s even worked out why – ” the Navy has more time for it and the discipline helps.”

Graham sits with a couple – a sailor and his new on-shore friend. When the friend discovers that the sailor is a butcher, he’s all for going back with a car and loading up with provisions from the ship. The sailor doesn’t seem particularly happy about this and Graham changes the subject – “he evidently hoped we’d forget – which we did for his sake.”
Graham and Elmes later pick up a couple of girls, just in case the reader was getting any ideas about him.

“The dancing ladies are by no means averse from sitting down to a plate of ham if they can find a man who is willing to pay for that form of entertainment.”

Watching women eat ham, eh. Whoooarrr. Of course, they have websites for that kind of thing these days…

So there you go – a curious little snippet, locked in the pages of a truly bizarre book hidden beneath a pile of dusty tomes in the musty basement of a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I’m not really sure what it’s saying – merely,perhaps, that there is a whole underbelly of History still to be discovered. In that one chapter, Graham touches on class, poverty, gender, sexuality and race-relations – fascinating to us seventy five years later. There is still much to be learned. Much to be discovered and discussed.

I thought you should see the pictures. The top one is of the California itself – check out the burly couple in the middle. But the one below gives me the creeps in its very smugness – a couple of East End girls overwhelmed by Lord Snooty and his motor carriage…

Here’s What You Could Have Won…

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Q:What do Greenwich Hill, Trafalgar Square and The Phantom Loft have in common?

A: They all once had space over which many arguments raged as to what to fill it with. In the case of the latter two, the arguments rage on…

When there’s a useful space, we just have to fill it. And there was Greenwich Hill, a lovely promontory looking out over the Isle of Dogs, without a statue to call its very own. Not that there haven’t been some kooky ideas over the years before settling upon the very splendid Greenwich Phantom General Wolfe design in the 1930s. And here’s the kookiest…

The year is 1799. Britain has just won the Battle of the Nile and everyone’s gone Nelson-mad, Mr Blackadder. The then Duke of Clarence (who will eventually become William IV) decides it will be a great idea to have some kind of triumphal sculpture to celebrate all things British and announces a competition for Something Nice to go at the top of Greenwich Hill.

There are a couple of half-hearted attempts – Old Father Thames and a bog-standard column being two of them. But nothing’s really cutting it.

Then sculptor/draughtsman/decorator of Wedgewood pottery John Flaxman, the Anthony Gormley of his day, decides to large-it with his literal Big Idea.

It is to be a sort-of Angel-of-the-South-East. Intended to do pretty much the same job as the Angel of the North, a gigantic, 230-foot colossus (is that correct terminology if it’s female?) of Britannia, the guardian angel of Great Britain, is to stand on the main road from the coast to London, framed by the two towers of the Naval College, to tell foreign visitors that they have arrived where the Art is.

Flaxman isn’t convinced that the little maquette he’s mocked-up will quite do the trick though – I mean how can he convince the powers-that-be of its grandeur when it’s only a yard or so high? So he writes a pamphlet, explaining all about why he’s decided to make her neo-classical (to be honest, not a hard sell, surely – can you imagine Britannia in any style other than neo-classical?) and gets his pupil William Blake to do a drawing for it.

It’s the usual stuff – big bird in flowing outfit and helmet, brandishing shield and trident, complete with rather-cute lion. Years later, in 1958, one Malcolm Campbell, writing in the Princetown University journal, is to be quite sniffy about the whole thing, accusing it of being ‘derivative’ – but Flaxman has second-guessed him and harps on instead about the sculpture’s symbolic value:

“It is to be remembered that the port of the Metropolis is the great port of the whole kingdom; that the Kent road is the ingress to London from Europe, Asia and Africa; and that, as Greenwich Hill is the place from whence the longitude is taken, the Monument would, like the first mile-stone in the city of Rome, be the point from which the world would be measured.”

Stirring stuff, eh? And the man’s not short on chutzpah. He reckons his work of art will last “as long as the Trajan Column, the Amphitheatre or the Pyramids of Egypt.” He points out, too, that “it will ensure the praise and admiration of succeeding ages.”

But here’s a thing. Flaxman wasn’t keen to have his colossal figure at any cost. He actually withdrew his suggestion in favour of an art gallery after a couple of years, when the Napoleonic wars started to hot-up again, and he was keen that if anything were to be built – his own or someone else’s design – it should actually be worthwhile.

“It would certainly be far better not to raise any National Monument whatever on the present occasion, than one upon which considerable labour and expense should be laid out, to be the scoff of foreigners, and the disgrace of the country as long as it should exist.”

I hate to bang on about the Olympics and Greenwich Park again – but wise words, don’t you think…

Blake’s picture of Britannia is in the Bodleian Library, but I read that the little maquette of the statue is in Sir John Soane’s Museum, and felt it needed visiting.

I received a serious ticking-off for the following picture – the security guard went absolutely berserk at me – but since I’ve already taken the pain, and to be frank it’s in the basement and, I’m not kidding, so very, very dimly lit that you actually can’t see it properly, I present it here for your delight and delectation. Sadly no lion – a second shot was out of the question – I’d have been hanged for it…

But imagine this, 230 feet high, astride Greenwich Hill and wonder what might have been. Would the images on those split-picture tourist postcards of London have included The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge – and the Greenwich Britannia? It’s a thought, isn’t it…

Moonlighting Chris?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Is our beloved Chris Roberts feeling the credit-crunch pinch? Is he having to supplement his Council-Leader income with a spot of extra cash-in-hand? This review, in London Lite yesterday (glad to see he’s writing for a classy publication…) seems to suggest just that. I hope he’s not using the Council Royal Box without announcing his interests…

Incidentally, “The Leader,” the name by which, I am informed by – well, an informer, actually, Our Chris is known among his senior staff, translates into German as Der Fuehrer.

Just thought you’d like to know…

Helicopters Again

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I’m feeling a bit lazy recently – I seem to have been allowing everyone else to write my content for me – but sometimes things are just so interesting I need to pop them in. Today, for example, I’m handing a mystery over to “K” who experienced strange happenings in Greenwich Park on Sunday night…

He writes:

“Last night (July 27th) I went to bed just before midnight and after initially falling asleep was awakened at about 1:30 am (this morning 28th) by the noise of a low flying helicopter over Greenwich Park, with a searchlight on, which is where it stayed until sometime after 4am.

I rang the park and they knew nothing about it. They referred me to the Met Police.

I rang the Metropolitan Police and they knew nothing about it. They referred me to Greenwich Police.

I rang Greenwich Police who were initially hugely reluctant to give any information at all, but who did ring back to say that a helicopter had been up from 03:19- 03:27.

This does not match with my observation.

1)Was anyone else kept awake by this invasive noise for an excessive amount of time?

I know the emergency services have a job to do and frankly I don’t mind paying the price of the odd broken night for the good it does in the general scheme of things. But I do think almost 3 hours of hovering about is excessive and unnecessary in the extreme at this hour of the night.

Trying to determine just who it was up there was not easy.

Did you know there is no one place, agency or body that regulates or accounts for all helicopter flights over London? (Two different police forces and the Greenwich Park office ALL told me that when I asked)

And unlike airplanes, apparently they don’t each have to file a flight plan either. (Again I enquired of this of all three of the above agencies) Or if they do, none of the three agencies that I contacted knew anything about it or how to find out.

Can anyone out there in Phantom Land lend any more credible information????”

The Phantom is curious. I’m mildly surprised that they don’t have to file flight plans – I have a pal who’s a helicopter pilot and he had to leave our place early on Saturday evening so he could compile a flight plan for Sunday morning – though of course he’s civilian. It was also necessary as helicopters fly at the same height as the airship just now and we don’t want any accidental pops.

If it was the MOD (and we get a lot of them) I doubt they’d cough up a plan even if it were required and the police – well, aren’t they the ones who’d have to compile such reports?

I certainly didn’t hear any such helicopter activity – but I’m too far away from the park to have really noticed it. Did anyone else hear anything?

What I AM hearing at the moment is the practicing for the Red Bull Air Race. Might see if I can get over there at some point to watch, since I missed out on the free ticket bunfight…

Tapas Time

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Hannah wants to know:

Is there a decent tapas restaurant in Greenwich?

I still need to do some work here, as although I’ve tried San Miguel (and I love the extremely kitsch decor) it was on my own, sad Phantom that I am. Tapas is not to be consumed alone so I had the paella. I wasn’t wildly impressed but I was told that the regular chef was away. I keep meaning to get a posse together to try it properly.

One place I frankly don’t have much time for is the Organic Tapas Bar at the Picturehouse. I’ve eaten there a few times and they’ve either been very slow indeed, missed out dishes or brought completely different ones (or a mixture of the above.) I also worry about the amount of cream slathered over everything. I find myself wondering what’s underneath that they have to coat it all so thickly.

One place you might like to try, albeit in next-door Charlton is Cattlelya in Charlton Church Street. It’s a tiny little place and although I’m not convinced that their idea of registering Thai-Med food as a trademark wasn’t just a tad OTT (it’s less a fusion between two cuisines than two different sections of a menu – half Thai, half classic tapas) it’s all very tasty, served pleasantly and ridiculously cheap. Go there on alternate Sundays for acoustic blues music. The trick is working out which alternate Sunday. Check here.


Monday, July 28th, 2008

Katja asks:

“Can you or anyone else recommend laundry/dry cleaning services in Greenwich, which do duvets as well?”

The Phantom replies:

I can never quite remember what it’s called (I think it’s something original like “Greenwich Dry Cleaners”) but the one along Woolwich Road, opposite the old hospital site is the one I always go to. The guy can often be seen sitting in the window, doing repairs on his ancient sewing machine, a large rack of colourful reels of thread behind him. He has never done anything other than a very good job on my dry cleaning and duvets, though, bless him, I always say hello and he never remembers who the hell I am, despite my being a regular. No matter. He’s friendly and his prices are good. Never tried his repairs, but he seems to be popular. He must get terribly hot in there – it’s South-facing and those places are warm at the best of times.

I had a miserable time the day I decided to get some pillows done on a service wash at The Launderette in Trafalgar Road. I don’t recommend it. A shame, since it looks like something out of Eastenders and I was hoping to have found a gem.

Anyone else got a pet dry cleaners?

What A Difference Eight Years Make…

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Adam thought we’d be interested to see how a single view has changed in just eight short years. Click on this image to make it larger, then wonder…

A Decent Chinese?

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Neil is a worried man. He says:

I was pretty dismayed to see Blackheath’s Laughing Buddha has shut up shop after 25 years of trading. A while back we also had the much-missed Treasure of China in the centre of Greenwich, but now we just have the tourist fodder of Noodle Time and similar even-faster-food establishments. Is there anywhere in the area offering quality Chinese food these days? I know only of Mr Chung’s, which is impossible to park outside even if you’re just picking up a takeaway.

The Phantom agrees.

It was a sad day when I walked past that golden belly and saw that Laughing Buddha was no more. And we have bloomin’ little other choice. Frankly I wouldn’t even put Noodle Time as being good enough to be counted “tourist fodder” – I’d say that was far too kind. Now the execrable Pizza Luna and the unaccountably-awful Alamo have gone, IMHO it’s slid into second position for “worst restaurant in Greenwich,” just behind Tai Won Mein which defies description (from me, at least.)

But onto the good stuff. Yes, Mr Chung is very good indeed. Parking isn’t great, granted, but there’s always Christchurch Way opposite – not ideal, but do-able. The other place that always was good was the Peninsula restaurant at Holiday Inn – an unlikely setting, I’ll grant you. They get very, very packed out for the weekend lunchtime dim sum. I have heard rumours that it is no longer what it once was, but I haven’t been for a while. I would welcome opinions from anyone who’s been recently.

To be honest I haven’t done nearly as thorough job of testing Chinese restaurants and takeaways as I have with Indian (I just love curry…) so please pitch-in here and give Neil some ideas…