Archive for October, 2011

16″ West

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A couple of months ago the Sammy Ofer Wing of the NMM was opened to much hoo-ha. I’ve refrained thus far from making any serious judgement on the museum itself as I just can’t believe ‘that’s it’ – empty space, ‘virtual’ objects and a single gallery of big-hitters dominated by a giant white block. The excellent Ocean Liners exhibition has been turned into a massive gift store, the whole of the former front closed off – there just has to be more than this. The boast in the first cabinet of the greatest-hits room claims over 2 million objects. When I was there the mutter around me was definitely of the ‘well let’s see some of them then…’ variety.

And my postbag’s reflected it. Pretty much everyone thinks the actual building is really good, but WestCliffGB sums it up when he says “beautiful, but not really, really working.’ As a museum it’s a great cafe, restaurant and gift shop.

But now I see there is a new gallery –  Traders: the East India Company and Asia – which I haven’t got to yet (I think it’s opened, but can’t be sure) so I have renewed hope that we’ll start to see some actual objects rather than massive open spaces with nowt going on in them.

So it’s about time I mentioned what is working – and working really well. The cafe downstairs is excellent, with friendly staff, good coffee and nice snacks. I’ve not dared have any of the fabulous-looking cakes, but the juices especially are fresh, tasty and actually pretty cheap compared with other places.

It gets a bit nutty in the afternoons – unsurprising, really, given the proximity to the park – and my only complaint is not actually with the cafe itself but with whatever idiot thought of creating a groovy water feature at kiddie-height that is forbidden to kiddies.

Don’t these people know that children are drawn to water like looters to Footlocker, especially toddle-deep moving water? There are now big stripy bands across the top and bottom to prevent paddling (as though that’s going to stop it…) which I’m sure the architect didn’t have in mind for the minimalist look of the thing, but I place any blame firmly at said architect’s feet.

Oh, bloody hell, I’ve gone off on one again and I haven’t even mentioned the subject of today’s post yet. Central Greenwich’s secret restaurant, 16″ West. It’s upstairs from the cafe and I suspect it’s going to suffer from the basic problem that you have to know it’s there, which is a shame since it’s becoming one of my favourites.

I actually visited for lunch on their very first day, but I was keen to go in the evening too, to see what the difference would be, so it’s taken until now to get round to it.

It’s in one of those big glass rooms just above the entrance hall, which means that you have to walk up the slope from King William Walk. At night this feels slightly ‘naughty’, as though you’re getting to go somewhere you shouldn’t normally be, though if you’re hoping for a quick sneaky at the three and a half exhibits actually on view forget it; it’s a dead-end, I’ve tried. So have sundry gaggles of teenagers who, periodically, during the meal mooch past the benighted upper level, only to mooch back again ten minutes later.

As it’s got glass walls you might expect a fabulous view of the park, and, during the day, you get a nice bit of green but not really a ‘view’ as such – not least because it’s set back, so there’s a three-foot concrete wall in the way. I suspect that this might improve in the winter when the trees shed and we’ll get glimpses of vista, though of course it will get dark more quickly and once it’s dark all you get is yourself reflected in the glass anyway.

As regulars readers will know, I’m no fan of minimalism in restaurants. 16″ West gets the benefit of the doubt because it’s a modern building which might look a bit weird if they added much plush to it (though personally I’d have given it a go…big white swags of gauze over the windows at night might make it feel a bit more homely) but all the same I could have done with a nice crisp tablecloth given the prices they’re charging – during the day I’m fine with the canteen feel; at night I want a bit of luxury.

But herewith ends the carping. Both times I’ve eaten here have been an absolute joy – the food has been excellent, but, even better, the service is fabulous. Friendly, solicitous and keen to please without being obsequious.

The potted Severn & Wye hot-smoked salmon with Irish soda bread is worth ordering just for the bread – the best I’ve tasted, though I confess to being greedy and shameless enough to ask for more when the tiny amount supplied ran out (doesn’t matter where I go there never seems to be enough bread supplied with pate – something I don’t get – surely it’s the cheapest bit of the dish?) I was looking forward to ordering it a second time when I came again, but word had got round and they’d run out, so I had the fishcakes instead, which were pretty good too. My pal’s plate of charcuterie was wolfed down.

For mains, there’s a big old list of various things, all of which are sustainably and Britishly sourced, listed under ‘From the Farm,’ (meat)  ’From England’s Coastline,’ (fish and seafood) ‘From the Field’ (vegetarian.) Between us we had, on sundry occasions, the Lamb burger, Steak, Gnocchi and Sea bass, of which the lamb burger went down best, but all were enjoyable. The sea bass was particularly tender.

I don’t normally eat puddings, but I was intrigued by the cheese, one of which I hadn’t heard of. I eat all cheeses (even that stuff from Blackheath Market that stinks out the entire Phantom household) but my friend doesn’t like soft varieties, so we asked about the one we hadn’t heard of (the Rosary Ash, in case you’re wondering). A nice, hard cheese, we were told. The other one was soft, so we agreed to have the standard selection between us. Both cheeses turned out to be soft, which at least meant my greed was further assuaged.

When I pointed this out to the waiter, not in a way that was complaining (I was fine, thank you very much, I had two cheeses to eat…), more to let him know that his ‘hard’ cheese was actually more like Brie,  he was all apologies and ran off to take money off the bill without being asked. Then he brought extra crackers for no real reason other than niceness.

The food at 16″ West is very good – one or two teething issues; nothing that probably hasn’t been fixed by now. But the service is excellent, it’s a real pleasure to eat here. It’s somewhere I can take friends and parents and I’d be happy to book it for a special occasions, too. I just hope people get used to remembering where the hell it is, tucked away and secret as it is.

Three Men and a Plug

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Last week, on a rambling jolly, Our Dazza, Mr DotCoDotUK and Mr Full English Himself (I have this wonderful image in my head of the three of you together – I definitely want to know if you chaps ever start wearing blazers and boaters and decide to take Montmorency on a skiff down the Thames…) were intrigued by the little object above. No prizes for guessing what it is, of course, you can get ‘em from B&Q for a couple of quid – but  its location is slightly unexpected:

The Two Robs and a Dazza were highly curious as to what an ordinary domestic plug point was doing on a pillar of the wall along Park Vista. And I have to say that it does look splendidly incongruous.

Wearing my ‘tedious’ tricorn, I’m guessing that it’s just a little power-source for sundry hedge-trimming/leaf-blowing/litter-sucking equipment, and I’m willing to bet that 99% of the time it’s isolated.

But what if it wasn’t?

What would YOU plug in to this socket? (don’t go for cheap laughs, now…) I think I’d have to go for a very long string of fairy lights, that would encircle the park with twinkles on Bonfire Night, which, BTW, I am so excited about, delighted that Lewisham Council have decided to take a deep breath,  get some funding and go ahead, despite the recession and the curmudgeons on Greenwich Council, plugging the gap with bucket collections so everyone can still enjoy them for free. They can count on the Phantom tenner…

I’d love to see the park more involved with the fireworks. Oh, I know they can’t, if only because of the poor old deer, which much have terrible nightmares every November 5th, but it doesn’t stop me dreaming of a papier-mache ‘anarchist bomb’ (see yesterday’s post) stuffed with fireworks hoisted on top of the Observatory instead of the Time Ball for one night only to be exploded as the finale to the piece…

In the meanwhile I look forward to hearing more about Three Men and their jolly British adventures in Greenwich.

Greenwich Firsts (1)

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

The First International Terrorist Attack in Britain.

Greenwich gets all the best ‘firsts’ (well, okay, ‘best’ isn’t quite the word, but it does have some gooduns) so I thought I’d start a new occasional series with a literal bang – the first anarchist bomb in the country. Graham, who runs the superb site The Greenwich Meridian reminded me of it because of the rather splendid proto-SF invasion novel by William Le Queux we were talking about last week, The Great War in England of 1897.

Le Queux wrote the book in 1894 – though whether as a direct result of the bomb or a natural feeling for zeitgeist I have no idea. Certainly the incident directly inspired Joseph Conrad in his novel The Secret Agent where he pretty much dramatises the event itself, though of course with added conspiracy and sex (okay, so the bloke runs a dirty bookshop. It’ll do for me…)

The bomb, carried by 26 year-old Frenchman Martial Bourdin, was probably not intended to go off where it did – in the middle of Greenwich Park, forty-five feet away from what we can only assume was the intended target, the Observatory, but, as bombs have an uncanny knack to do, it went off in his hand at a pretty random moment.  I guess Victorian Londoners got off lightly – the guy had taken it on public transport all the way from Fitzroy Street, where he was seen by several people, any of whom would have been unable to tell the tale had his device exploded any earlier.

I have been in two minds about rehashing the story as it’s been so well documented already – there’s a really excellent account of the very gruesome tale (the bomb wasn’t very powerful and only blew the guy’s hand off. He died at the scene, but not instantly – eeek) at the NMM website and Graham sent this article from a magazine at the time which I’ll share now. No point in reinventing the wheel…

Anyone else get a certain image in their head when the words ‘anarchist bomb’ are mentioned? Even the anarchists themselves can’t take it entirely seriously – this from Anarchist News Dot Org.

I have no idea if bombs ever looked like this. Perhaps someone here (from whom I will keep a safe distance) will know. I mean – how big were such things? What was it made from? It was apparently in ‘a parcel’ but what does that mean? Wrapped neatly in brown paper? Disguised as a hat box? The odd wire sticking out of it? Was it ticking? No one ever tells us stuff like this.

And why the Observatory? It wasn’t anywhere near big enough to do any damage to the building – the pic below  has a teeny white mark where a bit of shrapnel hit it. Apparently no one knows what caused the choice – some say Bourdin was on his way back to France and needed somewhere to dump it. Conrad is far more romantic, saying that Greenwich is the very source of time and therefore civilisation – and an attack on it would create a true intellectual threat to the establishment. Others say that Bourdin was duped into carrying it by agent-provocateurs.

Perhaps it was a secret plot to undermine the credibility of the Observatory by dastardly, moustache-twirling French astronomers, still furious that Paris wasn’t chosen as the Prime  Meridian. Yes. I’ll go with that one…

Rotunda Update

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Sorry, folks, as you may have noticed from lack of posts last week I’ve been a bit distracted. I hope to resume service as soon as possible. I AM aware of all the things that need to go into the Parish News – some of which were for this weekend – sorry to anyone whose event has been and gone. I’ll try to update asap, but things may take a while to readjust.

In the meanwhile lots of people have been asking about what to do about the Rotunda’s predicament and I thought I’d let you know what two people have already done – and give you another address.

Capability Bowes has written to, among others, the Georgian Group. They have replied, saying they’ll look into it – but the more emails/good old fashioned letters they receive, the more priority it will get. He has also written to the Folly Fellowship (which has a fantastic collection of photos on its website).

Paul has taken a different tack and written to Save Britain’s Heritage Buildings at Risk Casework Officer, Rhiannon Tracy, who has said she’ll be looking into it too.

But ultimately this is MOD property and people have been asking me for the address to whom they should write to bring this matter to the attention of people there. Well – Secretary of State for Defense is at

Ministerial Correspondence Unit
Level 5 Zone A
Main Building
Horse Guards Avenue

I would suggest you could write to Nick Raynsford who’d have to pass it onto Liam Fox, but he’s probably already got his eye on bulldozing the lot and sticking a tower block on it. No – actually, that’s unfair. He probably would be into saving it as it needs a load of remedial building work. So yeah – write to him, too…

If anyone wants to get together and co-ordinate attacks, I’ll be happy to pass on details to each other – just tell me if you’re happy to have your details shared with others.

The Fastest Milk Float in the West (of Greenwich)

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

There aren’t many milkmen who inspire their own memorial plaque, but back in August we talked about much-loved milkie Dough Mullins who has a plaque on the corner of Royal Hill and Burney Street. I wondered at the time about his famous red and white milk float – a step up from his dad’s old cart.

Well, I’m delighted to say that it’s still going. Even rarer than milkmen with plaques are milk-float-fanciers but we have one in Len Stevenson.

Graham’s been telling me about Len, who worked for Graham’s father, Keith Deering, since the age of 15, and whose passion is for electrical vehicle repair. When he was offered Doug Mullins’s old Morrison D4 in pretty poor condition, he leapt at the challenge. Here it is before Len’s loving hands healed it in 2005:

and here it is again, in its restored form:

A sight to gladden the heart, don’t you think? Hooray for Len and all the milk float fanciers of the world, who are as modest as they are cheery. As the creators of Milk Float Corner admit “We are not experts on the subject of milk floats – we just like them.” And while the world still has people like MFC and the Milko webring: “Milk Floats! We Love ‘Em!” then I cannot despair of humankind.

Len keeps Doug’s Float in his workshop in Surrey with his family of other electric vehicle projects but if you ever want to see it in action, it’s a fixture at the  Dunsfold Wings and Wheels show. Sadly Graham’s email got lost in the cyber post and we’ve missed it this year, but look out for it in 2012…