Archive for March, 2011


Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Aren’t we just having the best sunsets just now?


Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Cathy asks:

Could anyone recommend a good chiropractor in the Blackheath/Greenwich area? I have so far been unable to find any reviews on the internet and I don’t feel inclined to let anyone manipulate my neck without a recommendation!

The Phantom replies:

I’m afraid I’ve never visited a chiropractor here or anywhere else, so I can’t help you, Cathy. But I bet someone here has.

Bleedin’ Canker

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Looks scary, huh? Specially when you see where it is:

And in some ways it is.

But this sinister-looking move isn’t anything to do with anything human – either the new museum extension or the Olympics. This is Mother Nature being cruel.  It’s Bleeding Canker, a very nasty disease carried by a miner-moth that will kill the tree and is contagious, much like Dutch Elm disease. Here, Stephen’s captured it in a fairly early stage:

but there are some fairly scary pics on the BBC website that show just how bad it can get, so clearly Royal Parks are taking some remedial action now to prevent it spreading any further. I didn’t realise there were any Horse Chestnuts down this part of the park, but since the disease only tends to attack that species I suppose this must be one.

For anyone worried that it might affect the ancient Spanish Chestnuts don’t worry – it’s a totally different tree and so far (at least) the conker canker hasn’t jumped species.

In other news, I’m told that the area around the giant steps has been roped off to try to bring it back to some sort of green-ness after it played host to so many splendid toboggan-moments last snow. I can’t help feeling that the claim that they’re using a ‘special acid grass mix’ could have been a bit better worded – I’m assuming they mean a seed mix that grows particularly well in an acid grassland soil.

Waiting Area

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

A few months ago this was a grassy area, then, overnight it was shingled over. Now we know why because Stephen’s found a sign to tell us. Has anyone ever seen this used as a waiting area? Mostly I just see confused tourists wandering around until they see some movement towards the jetty…

Pram Botherer

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I’ve been humming and haa-ing over whether to respond to this on the blog or not as I have a feeling it could polarise and turn into an unsightly slanging match. But hey, in for a penny…

Barbara says:

“As a fairly recent pram botherer, I lost the luxury of lazy evenings to peruse your site and enjoy the local gossip, political updates [mostly dodgy council decisions]; and most missed, cultural goings on [sleep deprivation & the going rate for a babysitter will do dreadful things to your desire to get out and about in the evenings]. Suffice to say, after 8 months at home I’m about to rejoin the working world and as I’ve recently employed a nanny as part of a nanny share arrangement, I thought I would check out your site for local recommendations for activities for her and the two children.

I was disappointed not to find any section dealing with recommendations from local mums for things to do and places to avoid, but mostly I was pretty disappointed to be dismissed as a “pram botherer” clogging up the local cafes with the selfish positioning of my pram, presumably causation of lengthy queues for the disabled loo’s and general noise pollution. It’s typical of the English attitude which bizarrely seems to detest children.Thankfully most local cafes are staffed by obliging and welcoming continentals who are quite happy to advise if we are inadvertently being an inconvenience.

I have to admit being from a large family I am more immune than most to the noisy protestations of the munchkin population but by and large I find that most locals and definitely all tourists and local proprietors are happy to share their space with Mums, Dads,offspring and their friends. I think if you surveyed most local businesses you would find that they depend on such passing trade during their dead periods to survive. We tend not to hang about in the cafe/bars in the early evenings [worse luck] and we’re generally on the road, hanging out for a strong coffee and some adult conversation by 9.30 when most locals are either at work in the City or just arriving at their place of work with a break later in the morning. If we overstay our welcome it’s generally due to difficulty in predicting exactly what’s next with a vomiting/hungry/cold/bored/ midget Greenwichian. Pram positioning is generally to avoid the screams of a “where is Mum” midget rather than maximising passing space [within reason obv.] Apologies for any vertically challenged locals if the use of midget to describe my short and very vocal offspring offends.

Unlike most “pram botherers” I am not of the “it’s the best thing that ever happened to me’ variety but I have to say that after 5 yrs in the Borough, living here for the past 8 months on Maternity leave has given me a new perspective, appreciation and love of the area. I’ve criss-crossed the park daily, haunted the museum (not just for Paul), explored the smaller local green spaces and kiddy services [mostly under threat of closure due to funding], and frankly spent most of the winter clogging up the cafe’s drinking coffee, and breastfeeding somewhere with central heating and decent coffee for which I will make no apology.

Anyway – back to the coalface. It would be amazingly useful and informative if you had a section for local kiddies goings on, especially as so many places and local jobs are dependent on local government funding. From April, the guys can start to take more significant paternity leave too which will add an interesting dynamic I expect.

As ever, I enjoy your site and postings. Just would appreciate not being blacklisted for choosing to add to the local population and not immediately relocate to somewhere more welcoming.”

The Phantom replies:

I’m pretty sure I never used a phrase as inelegant as ‘pram botherer,’ but I have to confess that as a non-child-owner,  I do tend to head for places that don’t have large concentrations of prams and pushchairs, if only because it can be quite intimidating for someone on their own to be surrounded by a sea of buggies (if you want to know what I mean, try Paul of a weekday afternoon). I have been in places where I am the only character in the shop without a small person and, whether true or not, my paranoia convinced me everyone was looking at me as though the lone weirdo in the corner was eyeing up their child for potential grooming later.

Yes, I do prefer somewhere where it’s a bit quieter, surely that’s not such a terrible thing to ask for. You yourself say your youngster is ‘very vocal.’ But I don’t expect every venue to be Phantom-friendly (just one or two will do me, and, frankly, that’s all there is) and realise that, especially during the day, you’re right, Barbara – even with the rise of flexi-time, the majority of custom for most cafes during the day will be parental, much, I’m sure, as it has ever been.

I think of seeking out quiet places as being my choice – just as its the choice of parents to enjoy a coffee where they want to be, and it’s totally understandable that they would want to be with other parents. Personally I have no problem with the odd pushchair or pram in a place, one or two children can brighten up a place; for me the issues arise when there’s a whole army of them – and some of those buggies these days – well you can buy cars smaller, I’ll swear.

Greenwich is a fantastic place for children – there’s loads to do,  loads of places to play and it’s a generally safe area.When I first started the blog I did consider adding a ‘things to do for kids’ tab at the top, alongside the Parish News/bookshelf/weddings etc, even though it really isn’t my area. And if Phantomising was my job, it would definitely be there. But the sheer amount of time something like that takes (you may have noticed that not a single one of those tabs at the top is complete) is frankly prohibitive. It’s not just typing in the info, it’s finding out about the stuff, and borrowing a kid to check  places out (which yes, I have been known to do – singing The Wheels on the Bus in the library playgroup on your own will have you carted down the local nick.)

Maybe I should do it as some kind of wiki (as I have been tempted to do with the Parish News which I’m always behind on – I truly don’t know how Ianvisits does it.) But this is a personal blog and time is (very) limited. I find myself sticking to things that I have at least a passing knowledge on rather than venturing into the true unknown.

But what do other people think? Should I do a kid’s section? Perhaps  a Kid-O-Meter on cafe/restaurant reviews – with some kind of sliding scale as with  Phantom-Friendly at number 1 and Child-Friendly at number 10?

Frigate Street Feathers Place

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Sounds like a road name that’s been around as long as the pub, doesn’t it.  It certainly never occurred to me to question it. But when Old China was doing some renovation work, a whole bunch of newspapers the previous owner had used to line the carpets fetched up, along with a rather splendid f Humphreys Skitt ad offering a six-room house for £4,000,  this curious Mercury clipping, from 1967.

Several things surprise me about this – not least that the Eastney Street, like Park Row, once continued across Trafalgar Road, implying it’s older than Trafalgar Road (the old Woolwich Road runs along by the power station) despite the newness of pretty much everything along it. I’m assuming that the bomb that destroyed the old Park Row Police Station did for the middle of Eastney Street, making way for what Pevsner describes as

a rare example of work by Stirling & Gowan for the L.C.C. (1965-8) a quadrangle of four-storey maisonettes with a carefully balanced, not quite symmetrical front to the road, with the ingenious motif of upper balconies passing through projecting wings. The monumental expanses of plain brickwork, the rather self-concious corner windows, and the play of cubic volumes recall, no doubt intentionally, the workers’ housing of the early Modern Movement on the continent.

I really must get a picture of the Trafalgar Estate to go with that (and indeed Feathers Place, which, at the Plume end still has some very nice old places).

The  other thing that surprises me is that people from Greenwich, who, surely in 1967 would still have had very strong links to all things maritime, would have been ignorant enough not to know what a frigate is – to the point where they thought it sounded a bit like a (not very) rude word.  Seems an eminently sensible name – after all we have Ballast Quay and Orlop Street – Frigate Street sounds rather good to me.

In the event, I agree that Feathers Place is rather grander. Perhaps it was more that the people wanted to be associated with Greenwich’s toffs than her sailors…

Crossing the Line (1)

Monday, March 28th, 2011

It’s the classic shot of Greenwich. It may now be one you have to pay for, but people still do it – the fascination for standing with one foot in the east, one in the west will always be irresistible. And I’m guessing that it’s been done ever since 1884 (officially) and before that (unofficially).

But what happens to all those cheesy snaps? Where do they end up? At the bottom of a shoe box, in an album, on the mantlepiece – or even, perhaps, they languish still in a roll of film, unprocessed, or in negative (My various family members always had far more unprinted in the days before digital than actual prints – the cost and/or effort required often outweighed the picture).

So I thought we could start a little occasional series of historic shots of people astride the Meridian line. It could be at the Observatory, or, frankly, anywhere in the world at 0° longitude, at any time, though the older the better. I wonder how old we can get? At first I assumed that it would be just since the Observatory was opened, but it occurs to me that even astronomers aren’t immune to the joys of standing with one foot in each hemisphere, so it could go back as far as photography or even line-drawings will allow.

I’d love to see a jolly astronomer enjoying a lunchtime sandwich in 1923 astride the line. Of course the Holy Grail would be Sir George Airey himself dancing a little victory jig after the International Meridian Conference or Ruth Belville, skirts akimbo, but I’d be just as happy to see your Uncle Ernie and Auntie Gladys on their holidays in 1958. I wonder if there are any French equivalents on the rival line in the Paris Observatory

This pic, of Lucya and her dad Toni, was taken in either 1962 or 1963 – given that she must have been all of two or three at the time I’ll forgive her for not remembering the exact date. What’s interesting is that the only thing that really gives us any sense of time at the ‘home of time’ is the clothing – the background has remained constant.

Actually, since I wrote this post I’ve been reminded of local historian Graham’s site The Greenwich Meridian which is all about – well, I think the name says it all…

Spray Anything

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Matt asks:

I know you prefer the old stuff, but there’s some intriguing graffiti around Greenwich. I’m thinking of the tennis player alongside The Arches or the boy playing in the grime on the Greenwich hotel (picture attached). Any chance you can tell us more about these unappreciated bits of culture?

The Phantom replies:

Well, the whole idea of these bits of street art is that they are supposed to be anonymous, so I’m afraid I’m as in the dark as you are, Matt, but the one thing I’d put solid cash on is that they’re not by anyone famous.

Of the two, I like best the little chap on the side of the old fire station. I’m willing to bet it’s someone local who did that, someone who went past often enough to know the gutter is blocked, creating, at first, an impromptu shower every time it rained, and now, just green slime. It’s not fabulously executed, but it’s got a spark that makes me smile if I pass. I particularly like the cake of soap. And of course it reminds everyone that the gutter is still blocked. Perhaps it’s a frustrated resident hoping to shame the landlord into doing something (it certainly needs it – for one of the loveliest buildings in East Greenwich it’s falling to pieces in a disgraceful way.

The other one Matt mentions, which took me ages to find even though I ‘knew’ where it was is the Athena-poster tennis girl (for the record it’s half-way up the building along the Maze Hill side) I find less easy to love. I guess if it was going anywhere the Arches is a witty enough place to be, but it’s pretty crude stuff, really – the bit that bothers me is the cleavage in her back. Still, someone went to the effort of creating a stencil and spraying it, which is a step up from tagging, I suppose.

There is a third piece of stencil painting though I don’t have a picture of it. It predates the other two by some time; shame it doesn’t work. It’s on the side of a building in Coleraine Road and depicts some sort of bird in flight. It would seem the artist did the body and the wings and had started the head but got interrupted or ran out of paint (or perhaps the will to live) just as they got to the beak. It’s cut off half-way across, with just a bunch of distressing-to-ornithologists paint dribbles slicking their way down the wall in a way that makes me wonder what it would have been if it had ever been completed. Perhaps someone else needs to finish it off for them, to make it a bit more pleasant to look at.

When street art is well-executed and witty, I love it. My favourite, Born To Kill’s I Feel Downtrodden has sadly gone – though whether nicked by an art lover or removed by the council is uncertain (any time you fancy replacing it, BTK, I’d be delighted) and Greenwich is still waiting for its first genuine Banksy.  I’m not sure the town is much enriched by work like the tennis girl, though I can’t moan – it’s given me something to write about today…

Old Vicarage, South Street

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

For years this gothicly-gloomy looking building on South Street, next door to the John Penn and Widow Smith  Almshouses, has languished loveless, waiting for its moment in the sun. I’v always wondered about it, about how it came to be in such a state and what would happen to it next.

It’s the vicarage for  St Paul’s church in Devonshire Road, which was never really finished, until the Seventh Day Adventists took over the remains in the 1990s and restored them (it looks as though the vicarage wasn’t part of the deal). The church was built during the big religious boom in the 1860s by one of the Teulon brothers (it’s unsure whether it’s the relatively well-known Samuel Sanders or the less-famous William Milford). It’s more clear that William Milford Teulon built the vicarage (before, surprisingly, the almshouses next door, whose style make them look much older than they are.)

I have a feeling it was always rather forbidding-looking, but certainly the spruce-up that’s going on just now is making it a hell of a lot better, revealing its brighter stock-brick colours and some of the detail that would have originally softened the building. I don’t know what it is being spruced up for (don’t even know if it’s still owned by the Church of England), but I’m assuming flats, since it was divided into apartments before. Frankly as long as it looks loved again, I’m happy to see it not bulldozed.

But I’ve had a brain-lapse. Stephen, who took these pictures, asked me what the strange monogram on the quatrefoiled panel means, and although I’m sure it’s probably obvious I just can’t think. It can’t be the architect because neither Samuel not William have the initials, in any order, HDT. It can’t be the Rev. George Blisset who’d stumped up the cash for St Pauls (as, he had for St Peters; must have been one wealthy guy) so I’m wondering if it’s either some CofE body or the initials of a biblical phrase or name in Latin.

Any thoughts?

For Balance

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Stephen took some photos of the non-crowds on the first day of charging at the Observatory. For balance, he went back last week, at the same time of day, to see how things were faring.

To be fair, it would seem from this picture at least, that tourists are beginning to return after the shock of going from no pence to ten quid overnight. Not in the numbers they used to be, granted but perhaps now it’s the ones who do actually want to see the exhibits rather than just pose for a cheesy snap. Let’s not forget that practically anywhere else in the world you have to pay to get into pretty much anywhere even slightly visitor-oriented. I’m sure people are just used to coughing up.

There are still a fair few though, who can’t or won’t pay just to straddle an imaginary line. Stephen says that this picture reminds him of Billy Bunter, his nose pressed to the tuck shop window with not enough money in his pocket for a single gobstopper.