Archive for December, 2010

Bench Marks

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Oh, those heady days of the year 2000 – when anything could happen and we were all starting our lives afresh. Some of us wrote down our hopes and ambitions for the twenty-first century - most of us in the privacy of our own diaries (yeah, not many of us had blogs then…)

But a few brave people took part in an ITV-sponsored Year of Promise” Millennium Project, sponsoring benches outside the Queen’s House, baring their souls and engraving their hearts’ desires onto plaques plastered all over seat backs in the grounds outside the Queen’s House for the rest of us to enjoy. And, ten years on, they’re still there. For a while, Stephen and I were a little concerned as, for reasons best known to themselves, the NMM put them all the other way round, facing away from the view:

But I’m happy to say they are now back facing the park and ready for action:

Some of them are very sweet “We will hug our daughter Alisha every day.” Others are noble ” I will give some of my time to a voluntary organisation.” There are a lot to do with blood doning. Some are ahead of their time – like the guy who was going to use his (at the time relatively rare) knowledge of the internet to help others, or the people who were vowing to recycle things – still pretty radical stuff in 2000. Some of them are just plain un-doable IMHO “I will go to bed at 9.15 every night,” though others are a little more realistic –  ”I will do most of my homework on the day I get it.”

So. Now it’s the end of 2010. I wonder how many of those earnest vows have been fulfilled, exactly ten years on. Lincoln Nurse – how’s your bank balance?

Patricia May Eaton – did you ever ”record those twenty years experience of our legal system’s anomalies?” I truly hope so – and if not, let’s have it now.  What about Patricia O’Sullivan – are you still volunteering? Saheed Rasoul, I doff my tricorn to you if you have managed to “drive within the speed limit” for an entire ten years. And Rita Ann Jillings, I am slightly scared to ask whether you did indeed knit “a jumper a month for the children of Kosovo” – I have a terrifying Sorcerer’s Apprentice vision of Kosovan kiddies disappearing underneath an ever-growing mountain of fair-isle patterns…

So, Brenda, how’s that cine transfer going? I have a horrid feeling it must be on its 19th format by now.

I find myself feeling for poor Paul McDonald whose pledge

 hasn’t quite paid off yet.

How about young David Rooke?

Of course that particular pledge allowed for plenty of illicit fags behind the bike sheds before you’re grown up – but – how’s it going? No? Nothing? Not one teeny tiny smoke?

One of my favourites has to be Philip Robinson, who pledged “I will raise awareness of the music of Marc Bolan.”

Well, Philip, I’m going to help you out on that one. Here, folks, is the T Rex song that seems most appropriate to today’s millennium theme:

I highly recommend a visit to the pledge-benches for a read of ordinary folk’s ambitions for the new millenium. Day dream, like me, about what these people might be doing now, how their hopes, ambitions, fears, lives and loves might be.

Jason – I truly hope you’ve got over evil David and found that someone special.

Alison - how’s that  missionary zeal going? Has it led to the swelling of many a dental hygenist’s books?

Sheila – I’m sure the premature babies are cosier for your pledge – and if you didn’t quite manage all of them I suspect those Kosovan kiddies might be able to spare a few.

I’ll leave you with a fabulous one, by Ruth Moore, which I think I may adopt as my own:

“I will exchange a smile with someone I do not know every day.”

I’ll be slightly scary-looking stalker-type grinning at you on the underground, okay…

Happy New Year, folks!

A Happy Christmas

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

I’m not sure why I chose this rather apocalyptic vision as my Christmas card to you all this year – don’t take it personally. As I am sure Miss J. Wilkinson of 69, Upper Stanhope St, Liverpool didn’t when she received it from her friend Maggie  ”with love and every good wish” in 1904. I can’t remember how it came to be in the Phantom postcard collection, but I can tell you it’s from a painting by Professor Van Hier of whom I had never heard before, and it’s called Moonlight over Greenwich.

Happy Christmas, folks.

Hell Alley

Friday, December 24th, 2010

About a year ago I got into the ghost stories of M.R. James. I became rather excited about the concept and thought I’d have a go at creating my own turn-of-the-last-century ghost tale for Greenwich. I then did what all authors do – I put it away in a digital drawer. I dug it out again a week or so ago. I haven’t any clue if it works or not, but I thought it would be fun to post it for Christmas Eve as it’s the traditional time for such things… 

I don’t make any claims for it being a) historically accurate b) scary or c) any good.

Find it here. I hope the link works – I think I spent longer trying to work out how to upload the damn thing than I did writing it.

Happy Christmas Eve.

The World’s Squarest Disco

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Scared of Chives sent me a whole load of links to various Pathe features about Greenwich, several of which don’t have any sound at all – just footage they never bothered using. I’ve had it for ages, but I can’t seem able to embed any of them, which is annoying (the whole iframes thing is weird – I keep getting ‘your browser doesn’t support iframes, even though I know it does….grr.)

So I have to send you to this piece of film from the 1970s, a double-whammy of dullness that is at the same time tedious and compelling viewing. I suggest you open it in a different window to this one for now. Another irritating thing is that this way you have to sit through a really bad drinks commercial first, so I suggest you switch it on and come back to this post while the ad’s cooking so I can direct you to something else that will help your viewing enjoyment later.

It’s from when the Old Royal Naval College was just The Royal Naval College and the first part of it consists of a lot of marching practice. I guess what I find most interesting about it is how little anything (save the occupants of the building) has changed, and if you’re a military or naval historian I’m sure it will be fascinating, but I will quite understand if you fast forward to just before half way through where there is a silent disco going on in the Undercroft. Of course it wasn’t a silent disco in the way we know them now, so you’ll need some music to go with it. My suggestion is this (for the full effect hit the ‘play’ button as soon as you see the dancers, no need to sync it with the dancing…):

Were all discos like this in the 1970s? Just British ones? Or just shindigs at British naval academies? Perhaps it was like this at Studio 54 and everyone just has a selective memory. But I love it. I love it for the clothes (the sort that never made it to the Seventies Revival), for the sense of un-abandon and for the complete lack of atmosphere despite the token candles. I think my favourite is the guy in the pork pie hat, but what I wonder at most is that these people actually seem to be having a good time, even though I’m guessing it’s been staged for the cameras. What did they put in those now-empty wine glasses?

The really intriguing question though, of course, is – where are these people now?

Advent Windows (23)

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Today’s window, “Escape to the Desert” (though ‘Escape to the Dessert would be funnier. Perhaps they could make the entire tableau our of puddings…) is at the Vicarage itself, 33, Park Vista.

A Gallant Greenwich Knight

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

A little tradition at Phantom Towers is to listen to my favourite Christmas stories as I wrap presents, write cards, eat mince pies etc. I keep trying different Christmas Carols – I haven’t found a truly excellent audiobook of it yet (this year I’m going to try Patrick Stewart even though I’ve already seen him give a curiously Max Shreck-alike Scrooge) but I confess to having a bootleg copy of the superb Ian Mackellen / R4 drama of Simon Armitage’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (the poet reading his own version just doesn’t cut it for me.) I don’t generally approve of bootlegs but it  isn’t available to buy anywhere so my recording will have to do for now – I promise to buy it as soon as someone releases it. 

All this is a clumsy attempt to bring the subject round to suits of armour. When Benedict and Mme Benedict moved from Greenwich to Canada a couple of years ago they took with them this splendid fellow, who they first encountered in the much-lamented Greenwich Village Market for a few quid, but who cost an arm and a leg (maybe I should say a gauntlet and a greave) to take with them. 

He now stands on guard outside their gaff in Toronto, a little piece of traditional Greenwich Armour (ish) in the colonies (tee hee – knew that would annoy you Ben…) And every Christmas he gets to wear this charming cap & cape ensemble, knitted specially for him by an Auntie. He lives next door to the Christmas Gnome who apparently has his own blog reviewing books (sadly I don’t have the address, but you can fill in your own book-title puns…) 

Thing is, however terrifying a suit of armour may look close up, I can’t help thinking of that Buffy episode Actual Size when I see the long shot:

Good to know there’s a little piece of Greenwich over in Toronto – and a suitably bizarre piece too. Oooh. I’m coming over all festive…

Advent Windows (22)

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

A mystery window will open today at 7, St Alfege Passage,SE10 9JS

You Can’t Polish One…

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

…but you can stick a Christmas tree in the middle of it.

There’s no denying that Greenwich is a total mess at the moment – building sites, hoardings, rubble, broken foot tunnels (I note there’s not going to be any way of walking or cycling across the Thames east of Rotherhithe this Christmas Day – the council refers to it as Christmas ‘arrangements’) and  cuts we haven’t seen for a generation, but we do have a giant Christmas tree. 

And what a fine tree, too. So much better to have a huge, real fir tree than that rather odd teepee of lights that we’ve had the past few years – but to be honest with all the cutbacks I wasn’t even expecting that. I’ve been trying to get a picture of it by night, but my camera isn’t having any of it, so here it is in the day time bearing an uncanny resemblance to this year’s Tate Christmas Tree (I’m not convinced commissioning someone who hates Christmas decorations was a great idea, but then they are the Tate, I guess…)

I absolutely love it but a tree this size won’t have cost twenty quid down at B&Q. I’m guessing that Greenwich Council didn’t fork out for it, given they nixed the fireworks. But if they didn’t, who did? Greenwich Hospital? The Greenwich Foundation? The Cutty Sark Trust? Sammy Ofer? Frank Dowling? Some other individual? I think we should be told – so we can shake them by the hand and thank them heartily.

Advent Windows (21)

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

St Alfege Advent Window Number 21 will be unveiled at 6pm on Tuesday, 21 December. Paul and Lucy invite you to  come over at 6pm for mince pies, mulled wine and assorted beverages.

This year’s theme is A Voice In The WIlderness. Window 21, Move On Up, is themed around the lyrics of Curtis Mayfield, the civil rights supporter, songwriter and visionary. Over the last year it’s easy to believe his civil rights message of moving up, achieving a higher consciousness, has faded away. But it still lives, sampled subliminally or obviously in recent rap tracks by Kanye West, Jay Z, Erykah Badu and many others. In the same way, Window 21 will present his messages, sampled with the aid of lights, lettering and sticky tape. Please come and join us!

Neptune House

Monday, December 20th, 2010


Not to be confused with Neptune Hall, which used to be part of the National Maritime Museum, or Trident Hall, which used to be the lecture theatre for the naval college.


Nicholas asks:

“From my terrace I have a perfect view on “Neptune House” (now a alternative medicine center) which  is a very big big house (70 Royal Hill best seen from google map). I would be curious to read anything about it (what is linked to the old railway that run at the back of it? Was it a private house?)”

The Phantom replies:

I’m convinced that it is to do with the old Greenwich to Nunhead railway line – though I have no proof save the tell-tale Victorian ‘railway building’ architecture and the fact that it’s actually on the old line - that particular part of it is now, after a gallant war against the developers, Prior Street Allotments (the post also has a good picture of Neptune House from another angle).

The idea of a railway line between Nunhead and Greenwich may seem a bit odd at first – not unlike, say, a cable car between Greenwich Peninsula and Albert Dock, but it was the born of the same gleam in a transport owner’s eye – the hope of bringing attractions to the masses – or maybe the masses to attractions. Nunhead wasn’t a million miles away from Crystal Palace, and there were handy ways to get there from Nunhead, and, IMHO, slightly more importantly, it provided a way for the infamously death-obsessed Victorians to get to their own local Magnificent Seven cemetery (you haven’t been yet? Shame on you. It’s fabulous. Get there pronto – I bet it looks brilliant in the snow…)

I don’t really want to get into the history of the Greenwich to Nunhead branchline today – if I’m honest I’m a bit scared of all the railway historians who will jump all over me if I get a rivet of it wrong –  but there’s a brief history of it here

I don’t know what the building in Royal Hill is. It certainly wasn’t a station – there wasn’t one between Greenwich Park Station (which stood where the Ibis Hotel and its accompanying car park are now) and Blackheath Hill (there are some good but sad photos of that here) so I’m wondering if it was offices – or even the private residence of the owner – I’m guessing that even the station master wouldn’t have been able to afford to live somewhere as smart as that. 

It’s all guesses though. If this was SE3 I would have just been able to consult my copy of Rhind. Sadly this is SE10 and to my knowledge no one has done such a thorough study of Greenwich. None of the railway sites I’ve been looking at mentions the building at all. 

Of course it’s possible it’s nothing to do with the rail, but I’m doubting that. Any more info will not only be gratefully received by Nicholas but me too.

STOP PRESS: I am receiving information that it’s NOT a railway building but something else entirely. Watch this space.