Archive for September, 2008

Beside The Seaside

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

National Maritime Museum

I didn’t know this was on until a leaflet fell out of my copy of Time Out. This keeps happening. It drives me nuts that I have to find out about a local exhibition through a London-wide advertising strategy, when I walk past the place virtually every day.

Admittedly once I knew about it and had already decided to go, there was a poster for the show just outside the entrance – but most locals don’t make a habit of walking right up to the entrance of the museum. I know they have a limited budget – and they need to direct most of it at tourists, but it’s our museum too and a poster outside the gates where people actually pass wouldn’t break the bank, surely? (If there is one, I haven’t seen it…)

Beside the Seaside is an exhibition of photographs in the little exhibition area that used to house the Titanic stuff. It doesn’t quite deliver what it promises, but is still worth a visit, if only to see just how similar to each other British resorts looked around the turn of the last century.

The bulk of the pictures come from the Frith collection – when the company ceased trading in 1971, a large number of negatives found their way to the museum and this is an attempt to show a small fraction of them.

It’s billed as “snapshots of British coastal life, 1880 – 1950,” which I took rather literally – that it would actually be ‘snapshots,’ probably by amateurs, of holidays and fishing, piers and seaside rock, spread over that whole period.

Instead, it tends to be landscapes and portraits, almost certainly by professionals, mainly, it would seem, taken around the Edwardian period. And there’s no denying it’s interesting with some of the shots stunning indeed.

The pictures are grouped in geographical areas, usually one photo per resort/coastal town, and do really tell a tale of another world – grizzled fishermen mending their lobster pots, grizzled women, probably much younger than they look, gutting fish, ladies in long black skirts and crisp white blouses, gigantic hats perched on their heads, taking the sea air in groups, their nannies following at an appropriate distance with perambulators.

There is much to enjoy. I particularly liked the dapper gent in blazer and straw boater, drinking-in the exotic air at Torquay, surrounded by palm trees and cacti. And I definitely have to take a trip to Gravesend now, to find out what happened to that gigantic white castle of a building on the promenade.

There’s some fuzzy footage of newsreels and a couple of train posters – presumably to keep to the promise of the period reaching to the 1950s – and a case containing some Punch and Judy puppets for no other reason than, it seems, they were worried the pictures alone wouldn’t be enough of a draw.

But I don’t get the feeling that hearts were particularly in this exhibition. For a subject that should be uplifting and joyful – everyone loves the seaside, don’t they? – to me it has a curiously downbeat feel. It is neither a wholly photographic piece, nor a proper ‘exhibit.’ Was cash tight? I find that hard to believe – the NMM has to be one of the richest museums we’ve got. It is a temporary exhibition, of course, but it has the feel of a temporary exhibition. That it’s just filling in while they’re waiting for the main attraction.

And what is the main attraction? Don’t ask me. You’ll just have to wait for a leaflet to fall out of Time Out…

English Deli Blues

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Mick asks:

“I’m looking to open an English style deli in the market sq area,but am getting problems from planners, got any advice on way forward, they think ones not wanted by locals,any help will be appreciated.”

The Phantom is slightly surprised. I thought that they were desperate to open shops there, despite the big fat question mark hanging over the whole area re.development.

At the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck the proverbial, are you sure the usage of the store is allowed? I’ve noticed “A3 use will not be considered” on several leases there.

A3 normally refers to cafes and restaurants – the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises – or takeaways – the sale of hot food for consumption off the premises. Perhaps you intended to sell slices of hot roast beef or have a little tearoom at the back? That could be the problem.

It’s where several small cafes have fallen down – the glorious Royal Teas, for one. More recently, according to the sign in their window, the council have got sniffy about the Organic Cafe – and are forcing them to move opposite the cinema (where, frankly, I think they’ll do just fine – as soon as they fix that broken window – bad luck, guys…)

It does seem that the council wants to stop cafes (although I note they don’t seem to have come crashing down on any of the chains – presumably it’s easier to catch the small fish) but I wasn’t aware that they were preventing delis.

I guess what it would be useful to know is who these planners are. Are they Greenwich Hospital (who I presume own the shops) or the council? If it’s the council, then a letter to your councillor might be a good start, asking for exact reasons – it’s hard to know how to fight a vague refusal. I find their argument – that locals don’t want one – fishy – I can’t see tourists bringing their shopping bags ready to lug home mushy peas and Cornish pasties. Is this their written reasons?

If you’re asking whether locals would want one – well – do you, guys? I think if it’s well done, an English deli – especially if it includes local food, would be welcome. But that’s just me…

Actually, now I can’t see the signs in my head it may be that A2 use is the one that won’t be considered – that’s financial and professional services, including bookies (heavens) – which I would absolutely agree with. And looking at it further, it would seem that a deli, unless it served food, would count as A1 anyway.

Hell, I don’t know. But I’d say the first thing you need to do is get exact reasons for their refusal in writing. You can’t fight a phantom (and I should know ;-) )

Speakers Anonymous

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Once again I have to apologise for the delay in replying to the post bag – it is, as always, wonderful to hear from you – but I’m getting a bit behind in replying. Sorry.

Matt has been telling me about Meridian Speakers – a local group I like the look of. They’re a bunch of people who get together every other week to try to get better at public speaking.

He tells me:

“We’ve got a pretty diverse membership which includes people who are downright scared of speaking in public and are trying to boost their confidence, through to quite accomplished speakers (often people start off as the former and become the latter!)”

They meet upstairs at the Spanish Galleon pub and they look like they’re fun. I guess you could just learn to give better presentations at work (yawn) but they look like they’re something a bit more than that. I suspect some of them might end up as after-dinner speakers or even don the white tie and red jacket ensemble and become toastmasters.

They welcome guests, and tomorrow night, 23rd September, they’re having their annual “Humorous Speaking Competition” between 6.45pm and 9.00pm. No need to book, you can just turn up, though I don’t know whether it’s all-comers for the competition. Probably need to book yourself in or something. Whatever – check them out here. Oh – and did I mention it’s yet another fab FREE thing to do in Greenwich…

An Act Of Royal Vandalism

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

“Goodness, what a lovely ceiling!”

“That old thing? If you like it so much do take it with you, My Dear.”

Don’t you just find yourself saying that every time you have guests round? It’s probably a good thing that Queen Anne, possibly one of the dullest monarchs and definitely the biggest Royal vandal Greenwich has known, didn’t spend much time at Greenwich, or we’d have lost the walls and floors of the Queen’s House too (we’ll get onto the name-’em-and-shame-’em commoner vandals on other occasions). It also points to the perils of painting beautiful ceilings onto canvas and pasting them onto the roof like Orazio Gentileschi did, instead of doing it properly by spending years on your back on a scaff-tower…

I hope you lot had a more productive Open House Weekend than I did. Of the six buildings I tried to visit on Saturday, I managed just one, largely due to sodding London Transport and sodding, sodding South East Trains who between them shut most of the tube and Maze Hill and Westcombe Park and North-sodding-Greenwich, and which meant it took me nearly an hour just to get out of Greenwich.

The one I did get to, though, I have been trying to visit for months.

Marlborough House, in Pall Mall, is a lovely place. One of the few remaining early 18th Century town houses in London, it’s a glorious Stuart affair, complete with extensive gardens and murals all over the place, but I can’t see that it would be much diminished had it had its own ceiling, instead of nicking ours.

Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, was a feisty woman, well-versed in the politics of her age, and afraid of no one. At first, the frankly wimpy Anne was impressed with her, and they played together at being ‘ordinary,’ taking tea together as Mrs Morley and Mrs Freeman, and giggling at the world. I’m not sure what Anne was doing visiting Greenwich – she certainly didn’t go there very much – but on one occasion she must have been accompanied by her Lady of the Bedchamber, who seemed to consider the Queen’s houses as her own personal shopping mall.

Talking of the Mall, the Queen had already granted Sarah a large chunk of her grounds between the Mall and Pall Mall so that she could build herself a grand house. The piece of land didn’t go quite up to Pall Mall, though, and Sarah was too mean to buy the little strip of land between her new gaff and the road, something she would regret later…

She admired the paintings on the ceiling at the Queen’s House, and from what’s left of them, there was indeed much to admire. Designed by Gentileschi along with Inigo Jones who built the place, they were painted in 1635, with or without (but probably without) his daughter Artemesia, and, as I mentioned earlier, painted on canvas stretched across wooden frames.

The pictures were based on a famous textbook, Cesare Ripa’s Iconographia, which had models for classical designs. This particular set shows Old Testament scenes – The Finding of Moses, Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife etc., a sundry group symbolising the Nine Muses and, in four separate panels the Arts – painting, sculpture, architecture and music.

I have never come across anything that was so heavily patrolled by people stopping other people taking photographs, and once they discovered my camera in the bag-search, I was a marked Phantom. No chance of a picture. I can’t find one on the internet either, so you’ll just have to imagine it.

But back to the Royal vandal. Anne gave the ceiling to Sarah as a gift. The canvases were ripped down and transported to Westminster where – OMG – they were too big. No one had bothered to measure them first. No problem, they thought. Better too large than too small. They just got the scissors out. The ceiling was hacked back from 5.5sq m to 4.6sq m. Bish Bosh. Tidy job, mate.

And very nice it looks too. Lots of gold and overpainting, joined by lurid paintings on the wall of an almost opposite subject – the sundry wars that the duchess’s husband had been fighting in. Some of the pictures are really quite eye-popping – complete with dead bodies, the rolling eyes of horses and peasant women stripping corpses. I’m not convinced much thought went into marrying the two subjects…

Sarah and Anne famously fell out, and the Queen probably regretted giving her ceiling to the duchess. Much as the duchess must have regretted not buying that strip of land. A woman with a talent for falling out with people (she fought with Sir Christopher Wren over the building of Marlborough House and finished it herself) she later clashed swords with the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, who cannily built the 18th Century equivalent of a tower block between her and the road…

To cover up the edges, the ceiling was heavily overpainted, and bits added and subtracted. During the 19th Century, a minor royal wallpapered over the paintings (I’m not sure whether it included the ceiling or just those scary walls) but the place stayed a house of opulence and there’s no doubt about it, that ceiling does look good where it is.

But I can’t help feeling it’s wrong. The Queen’s House always seems so – well, austere, when it shouldn’t. It was designed to be every bit as fabulous as its later neighbour, the Painted Hall, and yet it is stripped. Elegant, yes, but denuded. There was a laser display panel which projected the ceiling until recently, when, presumably, it was commandeered by the BBC and redeployed for I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue…

There are two ways I can think of to see this ceiling. 1) You can become a head of state of one of the Commonwealth Countries – the building now operates as the Commonwealth Secretariat, or 2) you’ll just have to wait until next Open House Day. Sorry guys…

Free Stuff Going On

Friday, September 19th, 2008

I’ve been getting behind with the Parish News recently, guys. Much of this is down to people sending me whopping great press releases of which I can’t make head nor tail, let alone cut and paste neatly. Please remember if you want me to list your event that I can’t do very much with funky graphics or PDFs. It may seem to you that it looks attractive – and it does on paper – but on screen it’s an awful lot of work to translate into a listing and it gets me behind.

OK – grumble over. Because I am behind, and there’s good stuff going on over the next week or so, I thought I’d mention my favourites.

1) I already mentioned this – but the London Bubble are doing some incredible spectaculars called Urban Dreams over the next week or so. They reach Cutty Sark Gardens next Sunday.

2) This weekend 20th/21st is Open House Weekend. I singularly failed to get any of our favourites opened, I’m afraid, folks, but I’ll keep trying for next year. In the meanwhile there’s other exciting places being opened free all over the capital.

3) The Mish Mash band – a local blues outfit – will be playing from 3.00pm at the Star & Garter next Sunday 28th.

London Bubble – Down But Not Out

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Folks – things Chez Phantom are getting complicated, and I’m not going to make this one – but I really feel you should know about it.

Remember back to February when the Arts Council decided to pull funding from the London Bubble Theatre Company because – well, as far as I can see it wasn’t enough up its own arse? We all feared the distinctive theatre was going to become extinct.

But no. They’ve rallied round. They received interim support from the Arts Council – and some more cash from Southwark (nothing from Greenwich, I note) and, although they’ve had to slice away at jobs and the park programme seems to be dead, they’re coming up with other shows, one of which is happening over the next week or so.

I have absolutely no idea what Urban Dreams will entail, but with Jonathan Petherbridge at the helm, you can guarantee that it won’t be what anyone expects anyway. Masks puppetry, projection and music – plus 150 Londoners. It might be rubbish. But it could just be really good.

It’s certainly free. And you don’t have to book. So if you’re looking out of your window this evening and thinking you’d like to go out, hotfoot it down to the Laban Centre for 7.30pm. And if that’s too far for you to go, it will reach Cutty Sark Gardens next Sunday 28th. Find more details here.

Oh – and if you make it do let me know what you think…

Queen Elizabeth’s Car Booty Sale

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Avast! ‘Tis International Tark Like A Poirate Day once more.

Ye land-lubbers at Greenwich saw their fair share of Pirates, usually hanging from ye yard-arm, or from the cages at Execution Dock. But Britain, being a nation of crusty old sea dogs, has always had an uncomfortable relationship with piracy.

Although Piracy was, of course, ‘illegal,’ the edges were blurred. Queen Elizabeth I strung pirates up for attacking her ships, and the ships of her citizens, but if those vessels belonged to other nations, preferably those she was on poor relations with at the time, she turned a blind-eye. Attacking any ships from countries she was on open hostility with was postively encouraged. And the boundary between private vessels and the Royal Navy seems slender at best.

By 1592 it was Open Season on the Spanish, and the amount of booty that had been plundered from sundry galleons was getting frankly embarrassing. Treasure was building up at an alarming rate. Drake, Frobisher and Hawkins, all of which I’ll get onto on another day, and who were arguably some of England’s greatest pirates (ok, ok, “privateers”) were hauling ‘em in so fast that they just didn’t know what to do with all the plunder.

Things reached a head when Raleigh* brought in a giant Portuguese carrack (think of those classic ‘ships’ you see in kiddies’ story books – and you’ll have it…) among other ships, called the Madre de Dios. It came into Dartmouth and its haul was so enormous, it was the talk of England. Here’s some of the booty:

  • Chests of jewels
  • Chests of pearls
  • Chests of gold and silver
  • Chests of amber
  • Rolls of exquisite silks
  • Chests of perfume
  • 45 tons of cloves
  • Fine tapestries,
  • 35 tons of cinnamon
  • 3 tons of mace
  • 425 tons of pepper
  • 3 tons of nutmeg
  • Chests of benjamin, ambergris and musk (bases for perfume made from – well – you really don’t want to know…)
  • 25 tons of cochineal
  • 15 tons of Ebony
  • Chests of porcelain
  • Chests of ginger

plus all sorts of strange items such as quilts, diapertowels (heavens) elephants’ teeth and drugs.

In other words, the sort of haul to make a man proud to be a cutpurse.

Queen Elizabeth may have had more jewels than she could shake an ostrich-feather fan at, but she was always on the lookout for more. She allowed privateering, as long as she got the lion’s share of the treasure. Problem was, this massive haul was in bloomin’ Dartmouth – in the Wild West of her realm, and she was in Greenwich. Somehow she had to get her booty to where she could flog it off for hard cash.

The sailors on board had already filled their voluminous pockets, and every thief, highwayman, cutpurse and wheeler-dealer in the land had flocked to the place, in preparation for a massive haul. When she had been brought into dock, Raleigh reckoned the Madre de Dios was worth half a million; by the time he had fought off the brigands (and his own sailors) it was about £140,000. Still not a bad day’s work, and Elizabeth was rubbing her hands…

Robert Cecil was sent down to record and direct the treasure being moved. He was so suspicious that he stopped everyone he met along the way and sniffed their bags to check they hadn’t pinched any perfume. Several smelly-bag owners were sent to the Tower.

Although Cecil was beaten in the race to get there before the town was tipped off, he was largely unexpected and an outraged Cecil caught several shop owners red-handed, openly flogging the plunder that had been pinched on behalf of Her Majesty.

Hell – even the chest-sellers were having a good time.

No one was allowed to leave Dartmouth and Cecil arrested two dodgy innkeepers, a move that it was reckoned would have saved twenty thousand quid if he’d done it a week earlier. At another place he discovered a golden amulet and a fork and spoon set in crystal, which he popped in his pocket ‘for the queen…’

Give or take the gold, he hated his stay in Dartmouth. He reckoned he never met fouler weather, more desperate ways, nor more desperate people “As for rats,” wrote his secretary dismally, “they have them both black and white, the drink smells like smoke and he has little provision.”

It took ten freighters to take the haul up the Thames, and that was after the lighter and more valuable stuff had been taken out and transported by land. London was in one of its periodic plague times, so everything was brought to Greenwich, where Elizabeth held a giant car-booty sale in the palace grounds.

The Sarf London dockers were made to wear special canvas doublets with no pockets when unloading the gear.

I suspect that no table top, car boot or jumble sale like it has been seen since. I wonder what they got for the twenty-two thousand papal indulgences intended for the guilt-ridden conquistadors in South America that were captured from a Spanish ship at the same time…

*Raleigh was in disgrace at the time, having married without the Queen’s permission, so he was keen to make a good impression…

Party On, Dude…

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

…but at Matalan? Who’d have believed it.

People who know me find it highly amusing that the only chain I actually miss in Greenwich is the very wonderful Woolworths. I have always loved Woollies – ever since I was a kid – the pick & mix racks, the plastic picnicware, the chart CDs, the toys, the mop-and-bucket sets…

I can’t really explain why Woollies garish strip lighting, bright colours and cheerful tat have always held an almost mesmeric attraction for me – and let’s face it, I’m alone in this. Hell – the store announced £100m losses only yesterday as it slipped further in the public’s affections.

OK – They’ve made mistakes – remember when they tried to go up market a few years ago with ‘designer’ chocs and celebrity cappuccino-whisks? No? Nor does anyone else. But I still have a soft spot for Woollies and my mates always know where to find me if I go missing in a strange town…

But – well, we haven’t got one and that’s that. I have to go to Eltham or Lewisham if I want a Woolworths fix. In a jam, Wilkinson will do – in fact, even for die hard Woolworths fanatics like me Wilkinson is beginning to represent what Woollies used to be, but there ain’t one of them in Greenwich either.

Sorry. I just had to get that off my chest. And I am receiving therapy for this embarrassing affliction. But there is a reason why I’m wittering on about Woollies. Because that’s where I used to go to find bargain party stuff. I remember a couple of years ago trudging to Lewisham and buying a charming string of pumpkin Halloween fairy lights, that looked from a distance like a row of orange lollipops. I may even still have them. There’s therapy for that too.

But I have found a pretender to the party-throne.

Some clever person at Matalan – purveyor of cheapo clothing that falls apart the day after you buy it – has hit on the perfect product. Party stuff that dresses your home, your kids and yourself, which doesn’t matter if it falls apart the day after you use it.

The section started out small, with just a few balloons and paper chains, then it got in banners and a couple of hats. Since then it has been slowly getting bigger and bigger over the past few months.

Now it’s pretty large, selling happy-tat to decorate your home in any style you like. 70s disco? No problem. Western Saloon? It’s yours. Haunted house? We aim to please.

Large paper posters that give the impression of panelled rooms or cacti, a graveyard or a princess’s castle. Lanterns to hang from the ceiling. Balloons a go-go. Costumes (albeit not of the very top quality and mainly of the ‘sexy witch/nurse/cheerleader’ variety) for adults and children (less sexy for the kiddies, thank god) accessories that outshine the pathetic selection in Angels (which I was in yesterday but will not bother with again – now there’s a place that doesn’t care about its customers – rude, unhelpful staff, piss-poor selection (no better than Matalan and very much of the Smiffy-sort) and outrageous prices – avoid them, guys…) cards, badges, party poppers, make up, wigs – you name it.

Turnover is fast, so don’t count on any particular thing being there when you go. At the moment, it’s all Halloween stuff – loads of frankly horrid gore and unidentified plastic creatures with red lighting-up eyes – perfect for scaring the kiddies – I assume that as Christmas approaches, different fancy-dress stuff will supplant the horror. But I first noted this section back in May – so I think it’s going to be permanent.

I don’t know whether it’s a general thing with all Matalans or whether the buyer at the Charlton store is some kind of genius, but this to me is a great first-stop if you’re having a party. You MAY end up trekking into town for that extra-special piece of sparkly rubbish – but, if you’re having a bit of a do, do check at Matalan first. What it loses in quality, it makes up for in fun.

For somewhat better quality I’ll be looking at Prangsta another day…

Syral UK – You Heard It Here First, Folks…

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I have received the following from someone calling themselves only “The Mole.” Take special note of the last paragraph…

(The company is) “currently Syral UK, originally Tunnel Refineries – taken over by Amylum, taken over by Tate & Lyle, sold to Syral (last year) part of the Tereos group.

(It’s a) plant processing wheat flour into starch, wheat proteins and glucose syrups, there is also a distillery (opened by Dennis Thatcher, no less) attached, manufacturing pure alcohol for the drinks industry. (Beefeater Gin, for one – TGP)

Appreciate these many chemical processes cause many interesting and varied smells. But many steps had been taken over the last few years to address the problem.

Anyhoo, the fact of the matter is that most of the products we make are in direct competition with yer bog standard sugar. The price of sugar until recently was fixed artificially high with all kinds of EU subsidies etc, which have now been been reduced hence the price of sugar falling. Couple that with our costs rapidly going up with the spiralling cost of wheat (our basic building block) and increasing energy costs. It wasn’t looking good. In addition, under the ownership of Tate & Lyle, little or no investment was made. It has now reached the point where the plant is almost falling apart and needs major investment to rectify. Syral own around another 5 units in Europe, making similar products, none of which are running to full capacity – lack of demand etc.

So it looks like they’ve chosen the Greenwich site for the chop and supply customers from
the continent. Don’t think being situated next to one of the most god awful traffic bottle necks in the country helped either.

As I said before, on Thursday it was announced that we had a max of 12 months left (various legs of the production could be wound down sooner). Like you and others, I’m still surprised no official announcement has been made – nothing on the internal web site either. They are now entered into negotiations with the unions in order to bash out redundancy packages etc etc. Apart from that it’s business as usual.

Another interesting fact is that we actually rent the land off Morden College, and think it is stipulated that the land must be returned back to the flower strewn meadow it probably once was.”

So, there you have it, guys. The only information I’ve been able to find out (and, indeed, as I have heard from others in more of a position to be able to discover stuff like this, that anyone has been able to find out.) I wouldn’t hold your breath for the flower-strewn meadow, but hey – it’s a thought…

Nosey-Hole at the Cutty Sark

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Folks – Simon’s told me about a brand new viewing window at the Cutty Sark. It’s on the west side, in the middle, and it’s not always open – I went there on both Friday and Saturday specifically looking for it and couldn’t find it, but the door was open today. It’s the white door right in the middle of the blue wall.

The door goes through to a teeny tiny shop with the usual tea towels, kiddies’ t-shirts and a really rather nice-quality model of the ship at the astonishing price of £9.99 (British-made too…) and a big glass window, through which you can spy – well – not very much, as yet. The wraps are still firmly on, and all you can really do is spot intriguing movement from behind the tarps, but as the work goes on, and the sheeting comes off it will get more interesting.

As will Simon’s own webcam, from which I pinched the above pic (hope you don’t mind, Simon…) He lives in the flats opposite and has most generously set up a 24-hr camera so that we can watch proceedings without actually being there. At the moment it suffers from similar problems to the viewing window – those tarps are fairly impermeable to the naked eye, but as soon as they’re off, it will be great.

My favourite bit is the first FAQ –

Q: “All I can see is a grey blob! What’s wrong?
A: There’s a pigeon on the window sill.

Rock on, Simon. Thanks for sharing the view…