Archive for November, 2009

Old Friends

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Yup – they are demolishing it.

I shed no tears for it when it closed – the just-shy-of-outright-offensive slogans outside (who can forget England – Love it or Leave) the regulars who used to hang around outside with an intimidating air about them, and the ever-more shabby feel the place had – but I’m not convinced the actual building deserved to die.

I always harboured hopes that someone would make a go of it when the New Heart for East Greenwich happened (I had my hopes pinned on Meantime doing a Union Two – well – a Phantom can dream…) but presumably the Hatcliffe charity which owns it just got fed up with paying people to live in it rather than let it turn into a crack den. They don’t need planning consent to demolish – it’s an old building but it’s not listed. I understand there aren’t any plans to build anything in its stead.

As I understand it (and I’m sure I’ll be told if I’ve got this wrong…) there are two local Hatcliffe charities – the Hatcliffe and Misses Smith, which owns the almshouses in Tuskar Street (most of the trustees are council and local church nominees) and the estate charity which owns the Old Friends, most of the shops in that parade and houses in Woodlands Park Road. The trustees of the second charity are people from the Greenwich and Lewisham churches, and there’s no one from the council on the board. Once a year it gives money to a charity in Greenwich and two charities in Lewisham. Maybe it will give the charities the money it saves from paying Camelot to house-sit for them instead.

The Old Friends wasn’t the most beautiful building on earth but what we will have there now is a lump of dead land – to go with the dead hospital site, the dead shops and the dead DHSS building (I think it was still the DHSS when it was open) with just a couple of tedious equipment hire stores to break the gloom.

East Greenwich is looking pretty sad these days. Almost makes me yearn for the halcyon days of Roger Romantic crooning his songs of lurve of a Saturday night. Almost.

The Old Friends in happier times – when the buffets were free and Gallic picnic tables roamed the streets of East Greenwich …

Greenwich Hampers

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Trevor’s had a good idea and he needs our help. He says:

“For Christmas we had the idea of making up small food parcels full of Greenwich goodies for people as gifts – India Pale Ale from Meantime; Chipolatas from Drings;. Mince pies from Nevada St Deli( do you do them Laura?).

Essentially things that celebrate Greenwich, and which demonstrate the uniqueness of where we have chosen to live. We are looking for other ideas to fill a small box, if you and your ever resourceful readers have ideas they are willing to share – we’ll even go as far out as Lea at a push for honey from ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’, but if there’s nearer that will do!”

I think this is a great idea for a Christmas present, though you may have your work cut out, Trevor – although we have loads of eat-it-now food around here (and especially in the covered market) foods that are traditionally ‘Greenwich’ are few and far between.

The only really traditional Greenwich dish is whitebait and I wouldn’t want to leave a load of little fish-fry under the Christmas tree (especially if you have cats…) But there are ways you can cheat.

Meantime is, I agree, the obvious choice and a truly local product. Next you you should be able to get their super-duper specially-aged-forever Greenwich ORNC beer, but for now there are still several choices.

If Nevada St Deli don’t do their own mince pies, there’s always Rhodes. Staying with the sweet stuff, the short-lived (hopefully to rise again at some point) East Greenwich Pleasaunce market there was a guy who was selling some of the best chocolate biscuits I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know if he was from Greenwich – but they were good.

I’m told the Scotch eggs are particularly fine at Drings so maybe you could add a couple to those chipolatas. While you’re in Royal Hill, you could see if the Creaky Shed has any Kentish cobnuts, or (a bit of a sneaky, this) you could get some chestnuts and, with your best ‘innocent’ face, claim you gathered them in Greenwich Park.

If the stall’s there this year, Blackheath Farmers Market will supply you with a very tasty Christmas pud in a jolly stripy bowl. I can’t guarantee that anything at the farmers’ market is particularly local – I’ve never really worked out the criteria – some stuff seems to come from a very long way away – the tomatoes, for example, come from the Isle of Wight (actually, it may be Jersey – but, whatever – somewhere that’s far enough away that I consider it to be holiday-worthy…) but I guess it’s more local than supermarkets, and much of the produce is very good. especially just before Christmas.

I didn’t make it to the market on Sunday, for probably the same reasons as all the other wussy people who took one look out of the window and went back to bed, but I understand that there’s a new guy there who uses foraged fruit and stuff from neighbours’ gardens to make preserves. He’s based in ‘South London,’ though whether that’s Greenwich or Richmond, I have no idea.

If you don’t mind things from a little further afield, Rochester Ginger Wine is very festive and has one hell of a kick to it. I’m sure I’ve seen it in the covered market. Staying with beverages, London Coffee Roasters are based in Charlton (they’re the guys who used to have Beehive) producing a fine blend of their own, and, just as good, Union Coffee Roasters are just across the river.

I’m sure that other people will have some ideas to add to your fantasy hamper, Trevor – and perhaps, even, some quirky suggestions for what you can put all the goodies in…

Don’t Deck The Halls

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Okay – so what the hell’s going on here then? This used to be a quiet little corner of native hedgerow – hawthorn, holly, elder etc. between the craziness of the A106 roundabout and the choc-a-blockness of the Sainsbury’s petrol station.

I’m guessing someone went to the trouble (and expense) of planting it at some point, since I doubt there was much left over after various developers had had their two-penn’orth. Someone who had clearly deliberately chosen the shrubs for their indigenousity (is that a word? If it isn’t it should be…) – presumably to encourage wildlife and gladden the hearts of the approaching shopper.

Whenever I walked by it seemed to have worked – it was full of squabbling birdies (and yeah, okay, a few crisp bags) and was a nice little bit of eco-greenery in such polluted mayhem.

I don’t recall this being in any way in the sightlines of anyone – car, van or pedestrian – it was behind a wooden fence and well off the road. But when I walked by yesterday morning, I saw these guys – hacking off the mature shrubs with about as much skill as Jack Ketch. Even if they don’t get some kind of horrid disease, I doubt these hedges will be troubling the minds of plant-haters for some time.

Still – it’s not all bad – at least I get to enjoy the broken stumps – and to look at the glory that is the queues at the petrol station. I mean – who’d want to look at greenery when they can enjoy Sainsbury’s?

Latest On Restell Close Footpath

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Not great news on this, folks, unless you’re planning on buying a place in the gated community of Seren Park (soon to declare independence and start printing their own postage stamps, I understand…)

Michael, our man in Tom Smith Close, who has his ear to the ground, tells me there’s been a tiny bit of movement from South Eastern but not in any really useful way for local people. He says:

“The essence is that South Eastern have said that they see no reason why the pathway can’t be reinstated as long as the cost issues for Oyster readers and security can be addressed (which Seren Park, I am sure, are more than happy to pay for!) So, with the details yet to be formally agreed it looks as though early next year the new shortened, more direct path will be opened under the lock and key of Seren Park residents.

However, I understand from long-standing residents that there has never been ‘official’ access for non-Restell Close residents and that it has never been a public footpath, so it still looks unlikely that a short cut will be possible from Vanbrugh Hill, to the disappointment of many I am sure.”

Me too, Michael. So, guys, if you’re dragging a pram up and down the hill and two sets of stairs at Maze Hill, or pushing a wheelchair all the way round Woodlands Park Avenue to get to the station via Tom Smith Close, don’t expect to lose those extra muscles you’ve gained any time soon…


Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Novotel Hotel, Greenwich High Road, SE10

I first ate here two or three years ago, but when I came to write about it, even a short while afterwards, discovered that I’d totally forgotten the experience. I hadn’t been particularly heavy on the alcohol, I just couldn’t remember it.

So I thought I’d better try it again. The second time, I worked out why I’d had such a blank about it.

The first thing to remember is that this is a restaurant attached to a hotel. It’s a middling, chain hotel and the restaurant, although bright and smart, can’t help but reflect that strange, impersonal, just-passing-through feel that kind of place attracts. The staff make every effort to counter this with almost stiflingly solicitous attention, but ultimately those high ceilings with their bright downlighters and the tasteful corporate furnishings, complete with little metal corner-covers on the walls to prevent chips in the plaster just feel a little soulless.

I’d say all the other customers on the night we went were staying at the hotel; most were single business(men – there was one woman) and a table that seemed to be people who’d be having a formal meeting the next day.

We were greeted, seated and given menus almost instantly, and from then on we enjoyed a veritable parade of waiting staff, including the occasional stalk-by from the manager, checking to see if we were okay. It became almost funny – we didn’t manage to take a single bite before being asked if the food was acceptable, and we were checked up on at least three times in each course. I’m not sure what they’d have done if we’d actually had anything real to complain about, but at least the spirit was willing.

So. The food. It’s perfectly acceptable. Just entirely unmemorable – even as I write this I have to really strain to recall what I had – and not cheap enough to justify its being so. The starters were small but well-enough put together. A Ceasar Salad was crisp and with plenty of Parmesan, though served in a bowl that I’d have called a factory-second if I didn’t know about the inexplicable fashion for weird-shaped crockery that’s happily beginning to wane these days. My fishcake was miniscule, but the salsa was tasty and it went down fine.

After a few more check-ups that we were enjoying ourselves, seemingly by every single member of staff (though not by any chambermaids or maintenance men. Don’t they care about their customers?) the mains arrived. Again – small, but generally okay.

My sea bream was a bit dry, as was the asparagus it was on, and the braised lettuce was just plain weird, but it was all made up for by the butternut squash raviolli that came with it. My companion’s beef pie was very enjoyable indeed – meltingly long-cooked meat and crusty pastry – even if it should have been served with a magnifying glass. The chips were very good. Everything arrived in peculiarly-shaped crocks.

All in all, this was an okay meal. It was all edible and some of it was very pleasant. But even as I write this, the memory is fading, and I’m not sure the forty-quid price tag just for the food was really justified. I can’t say I’ll be going back for a third attempt.

The Advent of Advent

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Out a-haunting last night, I spotted the cherry-pickers out in force, putting up this year’s Christmas lights. None of the upside-down squiggles of last year, jolly as they were, this year’s look to be globes of festivity. It all seemed to be going quite well; I reckon it will all be in place for Friday’s big switch on.

The usual minimalist Christmas Tree will brighten up the windswept gloom on Cutty Sark Gardens – its simple maypole of fairy lights is a winner for me (I know not everyone likes it.)

I didn’t get a pic as it was still in pitch darkness, but I did briefly pass it as I wanted to get a nosey at the River Bar and Grill, which I’ve heard rumour is opening this weekend.

The bar area is definitely in place and there are some chairs and tables in random-ish sort of arrangements, though there’s also still some scaffolding up there. I can’t get any more information as I have searched in vain for any kind of email/website for the place, though if the food and atmosphere work, this could be a stunning venue, especially in the summer months.

I remember a long while back that Kieron who’s behind all this, promised to invite Phantom readers to the opening. I can’t email you Kieron – but you know where I am – and we’re all gagging to know what this place is going to be like (hint, hint…)


Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Sometimes it takes a ‘foreigner’ to spot something we haven’t noticed ourselves. Mark of Ealing asks:

“In the middle of Greenwich market, suspended from the ceiling was a clock, which I wish I had taken a picture of. Anyway, the clock is not there any more and has been missing for maybe two years or more. It can’t take that long to repair a clock so I was wondering if it has gone walkies and never to come back. What do you think?”

You know – I do remember that clock – albeit very vaguely; I try not to look at that roof if I can help it, though the swags they hang from it at Christmas are always rather jolly – and I went through my photos (no easy task now they’re all in random files after a bit of a computer disaster) and I can’t find any pictures of the mystery four-sided timepiece, which in my mind has classic Big-Ben style faces and a lot of black and gold. I even asked a few people if they had any pictures too and – nix. No one appears to have captured this piece of Greenwich ephemera.

I seem to remember it as being rather grand, but other people remember it as being a bit of a dodgy kit-clock affair. Since we’re all so vague about it, I’m asking you guys. Do you remember this feature? Was it a paragon of master clock-makery or a bit of a cuckoo? Anyone got a photo? And do any of you know what happened to it?

Nice swags, but no clock…

Transport Ups and Downs

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

So – from today we can use our Pay As You Go Oysters on the clippers, which gets us a 10% discount on the fare. I’m really pleased about this – it joins up the transport system much better even if it doesn’t follow through that the Clipper counts on the daily travelcard-capped fare which would have been the ideal outcome (of course…) You can find more details here.

Even more useful for those of us who use the Southeastern trains, we’ll soon be able to use our PAYG Oysters on the main lines too – the machines which were shipped in several months ago will, apparently, be turned on on the 2nd Jan 2010. I guess it remains to be seen whether we still get to have actual human beings in the stations after the demand for paper tickets drops…

Where I’m also less clear is what the hell’s happening with Southeastern’s new timetable. We’ve been warned that we’d get no through trains to Charing Cross in the new edition but from my (albeit brief – I hate reading timetables online – must get a proper paper one from the station – if there’s a human there, of course…) perusal of the new version, there do still seem to be the odd one or two through trains. I know nothing about what’s going on there.

I’m going to test out my Oyster on the Clipper ASAP. I’ll report back.

Ho Ho Ho

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Rachel asks:

“I’m wondering if you or any of your readers could recommend a good place in or near Greenwich where I could take my wee daughter to see Santa and have a picture taken. Ideally I’d love to not have to queue for hours on end. Any help with this would be great.”

The Phantom replies:

I’m glad you asked me that, Rachel, as it gives me an excuse to use another of Rich’s jolly images, this one very festive indeed.

The obvious place to go is the grotto that’s part of the market celebrations. The grand switch-on of the lights is next Friday, 27th November – with the Mayor and the cast of the always-fantastic Greenwich Panto (if your daughter’s old enough, I thoroughly recommend it.)

According to the website, the festivities begin at 3.00pm when the lantern parade weaves its way through the market, making the lights switch on – Good Lord – as if by magic! Father Christmas must be sprinkling extra magic Oofle Dust. Between 12.30 and 7.30pm kiddies can visit Santa in his grotto while the adults drink mulled wine and eat mince pies.

To be honest, if I remember from last year, it was a bit of a bunfight (or should I say pudding fight) to get into the grotto on the day of the switch on itself so you might prefer to take your daughter to enjoy the general fun of the event, and visit His Hollyness separately another day. He’ll be receiving young visitors on the weekends of the 5th and 6th, 12th and 13th and 19th and 20th December between 11.30am and 5.30pm.

Other places I know Santa turns up for include the Westcombe Society’s Dickensian Fair – you’ll have to get your skates on though – it’s today, at Blackheath High School in Vanbrugh Park between 11:30am to 4:00pm (I vaguely remember that they provide a Rent-a-Santa service where he does special home-visits in the last week before the Big Day – the gen will be in next month’s Westcombe News – if, like me, you don’t get it delivered, you’ll be able to find it online here (there’s a small item about it in this month’s edition, in the ad about the fair.)

Another event to look out is the Friends of East Greenwich Pleasaunce, who for the last few years have had a Christmas event with Father Christmas bowling up to his grotto in the park in ever-more exotic modes of transport. I’ve looked on their website but can’t see any sign of one being planned this year. They’ve had some rotten luck with weather in the past; maybe they’re hedging their bets and waiting for the last possible moment.

I confess I don’t know of any more places he’ll be turning up this year – but it’s entirely possible someone else does.

Alternative Domes (4)

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I honestly don’t know what this is/these are. I’m guessing the framework for some kind of gazebo, but in truth your guess is as good as mine.

It’s in the back yard of the rather ornate building between Mauritius and Azof Roads, which the eagle-eyed Julian Watson informs me is Rothbury Mission Hall. Darryl Spurgeon describes it as “An extraordinary building of 1893 with a quite fantastic roofline of cupola, thin spirelets and dormers,” and I guess that just about sums it up.

Pevsner has nothing to say about the place, but Julian tells me that “according to LAJ Baker in his ‘Churches in the Hundred of Blackheath’ it was built as a Baptist church and was bought by the Congregationalists in the 1890’s.”

By the time Life and Labour of the People of London 1890-1900 was written, the final volume of which I found in the “everything £1″ box of a secondhand bookshop (you do always check those, don’t you…) it had become that Congregational mission.

Charles Booth describes it there as having “a pauperising influence and not effective from the religious standpoint; the Sunday school the principal piece of work, eight hundred children in average attendance; a good deal of money spent on social work.”

I can’t remember what it is now, but a bell is ringing in my mind that it’s a children’s nursery or play club or similar – which seems rather fitting. Must get some more pics of the place.