Archive for May, 2010

Knotty Stuff

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Here’s a lovely thing to look out for for all you people who are going to be doing Bank Holiday trips to the sundry DIY superstores in Charlton today. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been past this modern sculpture, meant to say something about it and totally forgotten, but hey – I’ve remembered at last. As you can see from the above photo, it’s on the wall surrounding the industrial estate containing the dreaded Macro, a place I have never entered.

What I really like is that for once, instead of doing something as cheap and nastily as possible, whoever it was built the wall thought ‘ You know what we need here is a bit of Art,’ and they went ahead and commissioned something unique. It’s totally appropriate for the area, and created in specially fired bricks, yet it ‘s simple and elegant - something a bit special to just happen upon. I love those moments…

For once, too, I didn’t have to spend too long searching for information about a modern work of Greenwich Art. It’s called, unsurprisingly, ‘Knots’  and it is, according to the artist,  John McKenna a “brick relief sculpture comprising of two large knots 7.5 m/24ft wide by 1m/ 3ft high, tied around a pillar, sited on the enabling road route to the Greenwich Millennium site, London.” 

In case you’re wondering, the knot on the right is a Carrick Bend, which is used for joining two bits of really heavy-duty rope together – the sort of rope that would have been used in the industry round here. It doesn’t get itself in a pickle even if the rope is soaked with water or carries really heavy loads. The rope on the left is tied in the slightly more familiar Double Sheet, which is used for joining two pieces of unequal weight or thickness together.

Just in case you’re buying rope – or anything else for that matter, at Wickes this weekend, then…

Win Friends and Influence People

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I’ve had several missives from new (and not so new) Greenwichians recently who are looking to find interesting things to do to get out and meet new people. None of them are looking to find lurve or go out on the pull – they’re just keen to widen their social circle and have asked me for ideas. Sometimes, because they’re new to the area, they don’t know anyone yet, sometimes they’re happy to go out as couples, sometimes they’re just looking for new challenges.

So I thought I’d give you a fairly random list of suggestions for stuff to do that is sociable but where you don’t look a complete nana if you turn up without ready-made pals in tow.

Rebecca asked about knitting groups. If memory serves, this is more the area of the Deptford Dame but Stitch and Bitchis very established. Another popular perennial is book groups. There are two that I know of. I had no idea when Kirstie started her Phantom Book Club a couple of years ago, that the Greenwich Book Group was already in existence. Email Jenny at  for the Greenwich Book Group; for the Phantom Book Club email Kirstie via me. If you’re really keen, try ‘em both…

I was told a long while ago about an unusual exercise group run by Emma at Greenwich West Community Centre on a Tuesday night between 5.30pm and 6.30pm – an adult hula-hoop class. In fact there are quite a lot of dance classes – both at the “West Greenwich Community Centre (which also does all kinds of other classes and groups), and the Greenwich Dance Agency which I think has recently been renamed to just Greenwich Dance. If you’re really into dance, there’s also the Laban Centre across the creek.

I’m intrigued by the Meridian Speakers – a bunch of folk who meet at the Spanish Galleon every other week to try to improve their public speaking skills.

The South East London Social Networking Meet Up is a group of people who do different things on a regular basis, but who are most definitely NOT a singles club or a lonely hearts.

If you like music, you might like to try the Thursday nights upstairs at the Mitre, which have a wide range of quality open-mic material. I should also point out that many people (myself included) have no issue with going to things like theatre and cinema on their own. I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who became a friend in an interval, but it’s still a good thing to do. If you like cinema and you’re not a member of the Picturehouse, sign up NOW. Get a direct debit on renewal and you get 18 months instead of 12 the first year. I rather wish that Greenwich Theatre had a similar system to Picturehouses. They do sometimes do discounts on combinations of tickets but it’s not the same. Greenwich Playhouse occasionally has interesting stuff on.

But back to sociable things.

You’d have to be a real fan to go every week  to Theatre of Wine’s weekly tastings but it doesn’t matter which week you go – there’s always a bunch of friendly people (and for the most part non-wine snobs) to enjoy a drink or two with.

I confess I know nothing of local sports activities (save the Curlew rowing club, based in Crane Street), but if you’re into history you could try Greenwich Industrial History Society or Greenwich Historical Society.

There will be a whole load of other clubs and societies I don’t know, and would like to know about so do chip in if you’ve got any more suggestions.

In the meanwhile, while you’re deciding which to join, you can always go to fab one-offs as suggested by the endlessly energetic IanVisits

Then and Now (2) Pelton Road

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

You know it wasn’t until I started writing this blog that I realised just how often I find myself returning to the relatively modest Pelton Road, both physically – I find myself there a lot, for one reason or another,  and historically – I can’t count the number of times we’ve covered sundry aspects of what can only be a few hundred yards of street.  And believe me there’s more to come on other days.

But here we are again, this time with some rather fab pictures that Dave sent me. He tells me his neighbour’s father took these photos – presumably some time in the 1930s. The father owned a furniture shop in Trafalgar Road and kept a display of local pictures in the window to attract custom.

As so often happens, when the store closed, most of the photos just got binned; with just a few precious survivals. Dave scanned the originals for the neighbour, so at least there are a few odd images left. The one at the top of this post and the one here are two different ends of the same terrace:

In case you’re trying to work out where the hell these majestic, almost Bath-like terraces were, here’s a pic I took of what’s there now. If you look in the background of each, you can just see the Royal Standard.

Yes, indeedy – the very Flats of Shame, from which the Phantom was once water-bombed, causing deep embarrassment, and much giggling from the small boys concerned. Word to the wise – walk the other side of the road in summer, okay?

But how did we get from Black and White to Colour?

Well, completely independently of Dave’s photos, I’d been chatting with Stephen, from Blitzwalkers, who had been looking at the Greenwich ARP Incident Book for Pelton Road. He says

“Remarkably, considering the location of Pelton Road, it features only twice during the entire war. On 10th September 1940, no. 76 Pelton Road was badly damaged by two incendiary bombs, and on 29th December 1940 (a huge night elsewhere in London) 2 incendiaries fell in Pelton Road but did not ignite.”

So – the only bomb that did any real damage, was on Number 76. A quick look at streetview reveals number 76 appears to be missing, presumably where those flats are….

Sadly what I can’t make out what the terrace was actually called. Maybe someone knows? The other mystery to me is the adornment of the current flats. Was this a previous incarnation of Greenwich Borough’s coat of arms? It looks nothing like it to me…

The Way To Go Round Outer Space

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Folks, before I get to the Outer Space, I feel I should share a little secret I found the other day, in case you find yourselves in Tunbridge Wells at any point. If you happen to be a bookworm like me, you’ll probably already know there are at least two fantastic secondhand bookshops there - one in the Pantiles; one a little way further up towards the station. (There’s also an Oxfam books which often yields results.) 

But I bet you didn’t know about another one, just up Neville Road, more or less equidistant between the two shops. This, at first glance, looks a bit rubbish, but go in. It’s the ‘remainder’ shop from the one in the Pantiles – all the weird secondhand stuff they couldn’t sell. And since London is close enough for lots of people to have visited the place, but too far away for anyone to be interested in keeping their souvenirs of  it, that weird stuff has a lot of London books. 

Even better, because it’s a remainder shop, everything is £2 or three items for a fiver. Don’t say I never share things with you. 

I spent fifteen quid in there the other day (the mathematicians among you will work out that that comes to no fewer than 9 splendid books…) and there’s stuff coming in all the time as they chuck things out of their main shop. I noticed a whole load of really obscure Woolwich stuff in the main shop – too expensive for me at their full price, but I’ll be surprised if anyone around Tunbridge Wells will be interested in it, so hopefully it will shuffle over to the two-quid shop ready for me – or one of you - to hoover it up…

One of the items I picked up was a brochure for the 1951 Festival of Britain. I got it mainly for my bulging ‘general London’ collection, not expecting anything about Greenwich to be  in there… 


It’s a fantastic piece of memorabilia, even if only for the wonderful space-age adverts for exotic things like tinned peas and a particularly gruesome, smoke-belching vision of Dagenham Ford Motor Plant, portrayed as some kind of Utopian dream. Just for IP, who requested it, here is that ghastly vision:

I enjoyed a flick through exhibitions on Modern Farming (how to get rid of all those pesky wild flowers and enjoy insect-free crops), Home Entertainment (two varieties, “by such devices as the radio, or one can entertain visiting friends”) and Transport (the joys of the steam engine) and turned excitedly to the next page The Way Around Outer Space:

Festival of Britain Brochure Cover

I find it extremely gratifying that the gateway to Outer Space in 1951 was Greenwich. At the very entrance to the Outer Space pavilion, the visitor encountered a life-size replica of the Greenwich Time Ball. The Astronomer Royal might have moved out to Herstmonceux  in 1949 but as far as the world was concerned, Greenwich was still the centre of space and time.

To be honest, there’s not much about it in the brochure, save an interesting use of tense in the blurb. “the famous Greenwich Time Ball, which used to give a time check at one o’clock every day so that ships in the Thames could regulate their chronometers.”

So does that mean that the time signal hasn’t been an unbroken event since its creation in the 1830s? I had assumed that the ball always dropped at 1.00pm, but this implies that the practice was stopped. Which begs the questions – when did the daily signal cease - and, more intriguingly, when and why was this charming practice  reinstated?

East v West

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

George (not his real name…) asks:

“I’d love your opinion of East Greenwich. I’m moving quite soon to Greenwich and can’t figure out if East Greenwich is the most fun part of the town or is just a little bit iffy for safety at night and overall safety. All I really want is a decent cafe close by, and perfection would also have a bookshop, and anywhere that is safe at night; I’m just not sure where offers all that.

Where would you say is safest but most fun to live in the town? I’m looking at Eastney Street, Colomb Street, Mauritius Street, and also at some places in West Greenwich in the Ashburnham Triangle, which are way pricier.”

The Phantom replies:

Generally I don’t tend to make value judgements between East and West Greenwich. They are different – very different  – but part of a whole. If  you care to get cliched about it, the Yin and Yang  of the town. Without West Greenwich, East Greenwich might be thought of as much the same as anywhere else in South East London (though when you get to know it, it’s anything but…); without East Greenwich, West Greenwich would be at serious risk of being a bit twee. Together, they make a vibrant, truly unique area of London.

Not that I won’t moan when West Greenwich gets something else cute and lovely and East Greenwich gets another bookies’, but in general, I’d just encourage people to come to Greenwich full stop.

As for which is ‘most fun’ – well – to be honest, they’re both residential areas – for ‘fun’ you’re probably looking at the centre of town.

The best concentration of good pubs is in West Greenwich – The Union, Tolly and Ashburnham Arms are just three of the goodies on offer. But that would be missing out the Vanbrugh, the newly-cool Pelton Arms and the Plume of Feathers/Cutty Sark in the East.

If you want decent cafes, you’re really looking at the West (Royal Teas is my fave) or prohibitively pricey house-wise centre (Nevada St  and Red Door take a lot of beating). What the East does do well is greasy-spoon types – the best of which (and which would probably be rather miffed to be described as such) being the Trafalgar Cafe (though I have a bit of a soft spot for the GMT caff way out east in Woolwich Road – it’s the gaudy plastic seats and doorstop sandwiches that do it.) There’s also a very good, friendly cafe (as long as you don’t look at the outside of it) in East Greenwich Pleasaunce, a really great little park.  An opportunity for a marvellous cafe is being disgracefully wasted on the waterfront, in between the power station and the Cutty Sark, where a new-build, waterfront venue  is just being used as an INC storage container.

Bookshops – well, you’ll whistle in East Greenwich (though I get some great bargains from the Save the Children shop – there must be a book reviewer round here somewhere as a lot of the books are review copies…) West Greenwich has the Maritime Bookshop in Royal Hill and Halcyon Books, but if you want new, you’ll just have to go to Waterstones in the centre. Gone are the days of many little bookshops dotted around town.

But you were specifically asking about the area of East Greenwich around Columb St and Mauritius Road. This is easily the prettiest part of East Greenwich, with little terraced cottages, some even with picket fencing and hollyhocks. Eastney St has Hardy Cottages, historic in their own way (I keep meaning to get around to talking about them); the area around Columb St  (north, not sure about the bit south of Trafalgar Road) is, if memory serves, part of the Pelton Estate. If you look at the houses down the road and they have a little iron shield on them, they’re part of the giant Morden College charity (much of Greenwich is owned by two ancient charities.)

I would be happy to live in either of those streets - and I don’t know of any trouble around there – certainly I don’t mind walking those roads at night – just exercise the sort of caution you’d use anywhere else. Occasionally Trafalgar Road can get a bit leery late at night – but heavens – so can the centre of town. Of any town. I have never been scared around there.

There’s no denying the Ashburnham Triangle is desirable. The housing stock is great, there’s a good community spirit and historians have exercised many hours researching it. I wouldn’t ever discourage someone who can afford it to buy there. But for my money, East Greenwich is gritty, honest and really rather lovable (as well as being nice and close to the river.)

IMHO, the roads around Mauritius street, such as Azof, are some of the best mid-price buys to be had around there. They’re quiet (cut off from being rat-runs with gates) nice quality (albeit with teeny tiny gardens, from what I’ve seen) and they’re close to the river. I guess there’s a little uncertainty about what will happen to some of the rather sweet Victorian warehouse/yards in the long-term future (no plans I know of as yet; they were always ring-fenced by Ken as industrial/wharf areas, but who knows now)

I can’t imagine I’ve been much help here, but other people will, I’m sure, chip in to tell you why their bit of town is best. Happy moving. Wherever of the two you end up, you won’t go far wrong.

I Scream

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

What does a Phantom have to do to get a decent ice cream round here? Out shopping with non-Greenwich pals in the market on Sunday we were suddenly struck by the desire for a nice cornet or, even perhaps, to push the boat out and treat ourselves to a 99. To my shame I couldn’t think of a single place that serves good ice cream.

Even now I can’t think of anywhere that does anything other than your bog-standard Cornettos (barring the theatre, which requires a small mortgage to buy a microscopic tub of Loseleys and even then you’d have to time your cravings for intervals.)

I vowed last time I bought a cone from one of the dodgy vans outside the Park which, as usual, collapsed within seconds, never to buy one from there again, but is there any real choice around here? Even the Victorians had their penny licks.

In my dreams there would be one of those Italian gelaterias in, oh, I don’t know where… the old Silver Street Sudios would be a great venue, or maybe the Cricketers/W-Lounge/Powder/Moneky/Tiki Lounge/Dead Pub. Or perhaps the nasty sandwich shop that closed down in Greenwich Church Street could be reinvented as an ice cream and soda parlour, 1950s, stylee. 

The Phantom Gelateria would have dozens of artisanal flavours, created by Nonna in the on-site kitchen,  ready to be scooped into little waffle-cones for saucer-eyed spectres.  On cooler days I’d sit inside, perched on a little stool with a knickerbocker glory almost as big as me, complete with maraschino cherries and petticoat tails.

I’m pretty sure I’d know if there was one of those knocking around, but are we really stuck with ‘newsagent’s choice’  – between a Magnum and a Strawberry Mivvi? And Greenwich calls itself a tourist town.

Maybe I’ve had a total brainstorm and I’ve forgotten the obvious Gelateria Paradiso of Greenwich High Road. But if I haven’t, a business opportunity beckons for a Nonna with tutti-fruitti skills…

Gottle of Greenwich Geer

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Methers just told me that Ray Alan, the ventriloquist that anyone who was a kid between the 1950s and the 1980s will remember from childrens’ telly, has died. I had no idea that he was born (18th Sept 1930) in Greenwich and went to Morden Terrace School. He started out, Wikipedia tells me, by appearing at his local Gaumont cinema. I wonder if that’s the one that the young Christopher Fowler used to hang around up at the Standard?

Alan started his career as a call-boy (not nearly as rude as it sounds) at Lewisham Hippodrome- not the Broadway, the Hippodrome – an amazing building - just look at it , sadly demolished in 1961. He worked his way up the variety circuit, and found himself on the same bill as Laurel and Hardy.

He was most famous for Lord Charles, the aristocratic drunk who always scared the bejesus out of me as a kid, but I always insisted on watching him, if only to delay bedtime for a few more minutes. 

Alan inspired a generation of dodgy 1970s  ventriloquist acts, but there don’t seem to be too many around these days. I suspect it will take at least a couple of generations to flush Orville, Cuddles and Nookie out of our systems and look back with any kind of genuine nostalgia to the dapper days of Lord Charles.

To scroll or not to scroll, that is the question

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Hi folks — Phantom Webmaster here.

I have tweaked something that I hope should fix the “occasional non-scrolling” problem. If you’re still being affected by it, could you please clear your browser’s cache and try again?

If, after a cache-clearing and possibly a browser restart, you’re still seeing the problem, could you please email and let me know:

- whether you are running Windows, a Mac or some species of Linux;
- what browser you are using (including the version, which you’ll usually find under Help -> About)
- whether this is happening on the front page, a category page, an article page or some combination of the above

Please email rather than commenting here as it’ll help me keep track of what’s where and stop the Phant’s inbox from being deluged.

Ta ever so,


Heated Arguments

Monday, May 24th, 2010

As I was trying to unwedge myself from Greenwich Market yesterday afternoon (I’d gone to buy an art pad from Bizili, but the place had closed, replaced with a slightly surreal Elephant Parade gift shop) I heard a cacophony of sirens. Now that’s not unusual in itself in Greenwich, so, even when I finally popped out of the scrum at Turnpin Lane and saw a flotilla of police vans, I didn’t really take much notice. But Brenda has just told me what happened,  in case you were curious too.

Depressing scenes in the Park yesterday,” she writes. “A large group had gathered – about 40 of them. A water fight escalated into two boys having a full on punch up then one running away and being chased by about 20 others. He stopped then threw a few more punches and then ran off… right in amongst families having a picnic.”

Brenda escaped to the Plume of Feathers’ garden, and the sirens began shortly after that. But she wonders “Are there still Park Police as we didnt see any all afternoon? I’ve noticed this happening quite a lot now – such a shame as its not relaxing.”

I’m pretty sure there are still park police, but I guess they tread a delicate line over how obvious a presence to be. I mean I wouldn’t want some copper breathing down my spectral neck every time I bit into my egg and cress sandwich or tried to get a kite to fly. On the other hand I expect  them to be there when tedious people have too much to drink and decide to fight each other all over my picnic blanket. It’s my guess that yesterday they were in the shade somewhere. Can you imagine how hot those bullet-proof vests get?

What’s the answer, guys? Cheery plods on the beat, wandering around the park? More cameras? A van on patrol?

Summer Chores

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Now that the sun’s finally out, and Greenwich folk are emerging, blinking into the light of day, they’re discovering the truth about some of the ghastly things that happened to their houses during the long, long winter. So I’ve put two houseproud readers together for this one, and, not having any suggestions  myself, hope you good people can help out here… 

Susan asks:

“The outside of our house needs a coat of paint and my husband is scared of heights so we really need a professional.
Can anyone recommend a good, reliable local decorator who doesn’t charge crazy prices?”

And Roofless:

“Over the winter our house lost a couple of slates. Can anyone recommend a local tiler who will just replace a couple of tiles and not try to persuade us to get the whole lot done?”

Any ideas, guys?