Archive for October, 2012

Through the Coffin-Shaped Window

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Somebody told me the other day that Nicholas Hawksmoor, being a lover of all things grim, liked to put memento mori into his designs just for the sheer hell of (or hell-avoidence) of it. They cited this window, on the first floor of the Queen Anne Building in the Old Royal Naval College, in the shape of a coffin (rather beautifully mirrored across the courtyard through said window).

I don’t know if I believe them, but it’s a great story, plausible with what tradition (and Peter Ackroyd) hand down to us about Hawksmoor, and the windows, suitable for a pensioner of considerable girth, are fantastic, whatever the tale.

Of course the building being part of the uni these days, it doesn’t escape one or two of the privations of academic institutions, not least the unfortunate positioning of the fizzy pop dispenser in front of such a grand orifice.

Dreadnought Hospital Wards

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Some more great photos from Gerald Dodd today – a selection of snaps (from so many he took) around the wards of Dreadnought Hospital in the 1960s.

Many of Gerald’s shots were candid – as porter his domain were the corridors, basements, back alleys and secret places of the hospital – but as a mad-keen photographer, he just couldn’t resist a few of the wards.

This one, for instance, of Outpatients. I confess it reminds me most of Carry on Matron or something that Leslie Phillips might be wearing a white coat in. I just love the uniforms – the starched aprons, the little white caps, the upside-down watches…

But I think what I like best about these photos is (and I see this particularly in Gerald’s other pictures of him and his mates in the hospital’s underbelly – you’ll be seeing them soon) is the sheer number of bottles of beer that keep turning up (at least I think it’s beer – could be sauce bottles or something in this pic of nurses and patients, I guess – no doubt in other photos ;-) )

Nurse! The screens!


Gerald, these pictures are great – and show a side of  the NHS in the 1960s that’s beginning to be forgotten now. You and your mates must have had fun. Thanks for sharing them with us.


Brixton Murals

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Okay – I have the slimmest of reasons to feature this – it features Jane Gifford who painted the mural on Creek Road (the one opposite Greenwich Book Place in St Peter’s school yard, if memory serves). But it’s an utterly charming docco about the people who make London murals and the people who preserve them. Makes me wonder if it’s about time we applied for some Heritage Lottery cash for the (surviving) Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich murals and mosaics…

Smoke – An Olympic Peculiar

Monday, October 29th, 2012

As longterm readers will know, I am quite a fan of Smoke – A London Peculiar, a now-online-but-used-to-be-proper-print literary magazine. I miss both it and One Eye Grey in their physical form, but hey – I get it. I can hardly snark, since I’m online myself…

Matt, the editor (who has his own Greenwich blog, Beware of the Trees) tells me the Smokers are putting together their latest magnum opus, From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea, inspired by London’s response to the Olympics. Matt tells me:

Not all the sporty running and jumping stuff, the other bits, positive and negative – everything from first hearing that we’d beaten Paris through to watching the stadiums being taken down, via the closure of the park, the takeover of Cafe Rouge by the Russian paralympic squad, and the removal of the Oyster card reader from Platform 3 at Greenwich station in case it caused dangerous levels of milling.

They’re currently looking for contributors, and, if past publications are anything to go by, the odder the better. Matt continues:

We’re looking for words, photos, fact, fiction, anything from a single sentence to a short story – but the more oblique and offbeat the better. 

If you’ve got something cool, fun – or just weird – contact Matt at or drop me a line and I’ll pass you on…


The Ghost of the Great Eastern

Monday, October 29th, 2012

The other day I was cycling along the north side of the Thames Path (so much easier now that the foot tunnel’s (occasionally) back in operation. No such luck for her Woolwich sister…) and I chanced upon something I’ve been looking for for years which reminded me I hadn’t told the last of the ghost stories that Aliyahgator illustrated.

As you come blinking out of the foot tunnel and turn left out of the park, there’s a sign pointing to the launch-place of the Great Eastern, I.K. Brunel’s last ship, The Great Eastern, his ‘Great Babe’ - the ship that pretty much killed him with overwork. She was ill-fated from the start, and lurched from awkward failures and bad luck to rumours among the superstitious that she was cursed.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been along that stretch of path looking for the launch place, and failed to see the wood for the timbers. I know it sounds mad, but I was always looking along the river’s edge. It never occurred to me to turn my head to the right and the unassuming little patch of green grass by unexciting modern flats that, had I walked to the other side of the path, would have revealed this:

As you all know by now, my soul might be ethereal, but I have feet of very heavy clay indeed…

Mind you, Stephen got a couple of pics of the launch site at low tide – so clearly if I’d been there at the right time of day I’d have  seen this:

But I digress – again.

As you can see from the whopping great timbers above, the ship was not small – she was 100,000 tons – at the time, the biggest ship ever. So big, in fact, that they had to launch her sideways and she still got stuck on the launching dock, embarrassing for the great I.K. since, against his wishes, the company directors had sold 3,000 tickets to the public who thought it all highly entertaining.

However awkward she might have been, the Great Eastern carried a whole bunch of  ’firsts’ within her new double-skinned hull, a concept which is now compulsory for health and safety reasons, but was revolutionary at the time. Tuck that one away in your ‘for later’ head, folks.

She wasn’t a happy ship. The money ran out, several trips to the States were beset with problems and ‘stuff’ happened. A ventilator exploded, killing one and scalding others. The next month IK died of a stroke. She was caught in a storm, and badly damaged, then sailed over some uncharted territory and tore open her hull. Happily, if you recall, she carried the new-fangled double-hull which now proved its worth. No one died but superstitious sailors started to whisper about a strange knocking sound that could be heard coming from the very heart of the ship itself. The hammering was so loud that it could even be heard over the noise of sea storms.

As the century wore on, she lost what glamour she’d had in her youth and poor old Great Eastern ended up laying transatlantic cable before ending her days as a floating music hall and being broken up for scrap.

As she was being dismantled, a skeleton was found within the double hull. It was the master shipwright, who had disappeared mysteriously one day during construction and had, apparently, been trying to get out for the past 32 years.

Ghost stories. Go on – you love ‘em…


I’ve had an email from Charle, who works in the cable industry and is also a Master Mariner. He says:

After reading the article I started to wonder about the space available for the build and the sideways launch and what the Great Eastern would look like if it was there today (see above – TGP). I located a plan image of the Great Eastern and then pulled it into Google Earth along the Isle of Dogs shoreline. The attached shows the result. The photo of the timbers does not do the slipway justice! I was surprised at how much of the shore would have been occupied by the build. Measurements checked several times and it is correct!

Presumably the timbers have decayed over the years but that picture’s pretty incredible – what must it have been like to have that along the banks of the Thames for so many years. We had Ocean with us for a few months. Fascinating. Thank you, Charles…

The Holy Barnacle of Failure

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Gwladys Street sent me this – it is, as you can probably see, on one of the pillars on the coal jetty at Greenwich Power Station, and not particularly unusual in itself – there’s quite a lot of ‘sticker art’ around these days. Most of it’s pretty inane – there was some under the A102M flyover recently that was so dull I actually wondered why someone had gone to the trouble of creating it.

But this one’s curious. It’s a scene from a not-even-cult-at-the-time 1970s strip by the doomed comic publisher Pearl, which appears to be enjoying a comeback among underground comic readers – and writers.

The artwork is a real blast back to the seventies but I’d never heard of this guy – or, indeed the company. Surely a
creation as splendid as the world’s crappest superhero, who was dreamed up by bored ex-beatnik cartoonist down on his luck seemed almost too meta to be true.

I found myself fascinated by the work of this guy, Jeff Lint. Clearly a misspent childhood reading comics had not been mis-spent enough, for I had failed to read…

The Caterer.

A character of such depth, such force, such mercurial energy, such sagacity, that Pearl Comics gambled their very existence on the success of his adventures, dreamed up by eccentric genius Jeff Lint.

Part Beat-visionary, part wise-man, part braindead, this guy seems to have reinvented the world of comics, flown as high as printing techniques of the seventies could take him, discovered that like Icarus he’d flown too high, and tumbling back down to earth entered into a spiral of doom not dissimilar to the fate of his own creation. A lengthy legal dispute following an episode where the Caterer runs amok in Disneyland (I believe the few copies of that particular issue – Issue 9, in case you happen to have a copy knocking around the attic – that weren’t burned by The Mouse are now fetching stupid money on certain auction websites) saw the end of Lint, his misunderstood character and Pearl Comics themselves.

It’s a tragic fable of wretched excess, misplaced ambition and human frailty dubbed by Alan ‘Watchmen’ Moore as ‘ the holy barnacle of failure,’ so it seems only right to have a reminder of it encrusted on a pillar to be washed by the Thames every high tide.

Steve Aylett – you made me look.

I might just even have to read the book and start a campaign for a screening of the documentary of Lint’s life at the Picturehouse. For as the Caterer says:

Reading time is like sticking a knife in the river.

Wise words indeed.

Sunday Morning Fry Up

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Here’s an interesting one since I’m having one of those crowd-sorcery days.

John asks:

I was just wondering if you know of anywhere in the locality that is open on a Sunday morning, early, for a fry up? There are approx 15 of us cycling from Deal to Greenwich overnight this Saturday night and we will be finishing at the Cutty Sark, all tired and hungry at about 0730. If you have any knowledge of where might be open that would be fantastic!

Now the only place I can think of off the top of my head that’s definitely going to be open at that time is the Blackheath Tea Hut (along the A2, on the heath, in between the park gates and Rangers House) , which is open 24 hours a day for tea and simple snacks. Of course it’s open-air – but it is an institution. I mean there aren’t too many tea huts that get their own documentary…

Here’s the trailer for the film Tea Time, which I heartily recommend as a wonderful little indie docco.

But are there others? Jamie’s Diner, perhaps, on Tunnel Avenue (I really hope that the new Jamies Italian isn’t going to kick up a fuss about the name – he was here first…) There are usually bacon sarnies available at Blackheath Farmers’ market but that’s much later.

To my shame, I’m rarely up and active at that hour on a Sunday (blush…)

Of course if you don’t mind waiting until 10.00am, you could get the cable car across the Thames (they fold up the seats for cyclists to get their bikes on) and go to Fat Boy’s Diner, an original 1950s airstream diner located inside Trinity Buoy Wharf a little further up river.

But then by 10.00am you can pretty much take your pick.

Squiffy Nelson

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Since it seems to be ‘that sort of day’ on the blog, I’m sending this one out into the ether too.

Lindsey asks:

What’s happened to the statue of Nelson outside The Traf. Tavern?

I live near Greenwich and was walking passed the statue yesterday. As we approached, we could see all the taping and wooden struts holding him up. As we got nearer it was clear that all was not well and his feet had somehow been ripped of its base. Foul play we imagine.  We were joined by an Australian chap and his wife who said they had heard there had been an attempt to remove it for scrap purposes!! How very dare they! We love this statue and Nelson is one of our heroes. Have you heard anything?

The Phantom Replies:

I PROMISE that any attempts to remove Nelson were nothing to do with me, despite my hating it with a passion. Of course it could just be a Nelson-lover who can’t bear to see a statue that looks more like Kermit the frog than a national hero;-)

I haven’t heard that someone tried to nick it and melt it down, but it would be an ideal candidate for thieves since it’s at the end of a cul de sac, with easy vehicluar access and gets pretty quiet at night. This metal-theft thing is getting utterly ridiculous. Two of my three recent long railway journeys have been disrupted/re-routed/cancelled half way through for metal theft and we recently lost dear Alfred Salter a little further up the river.

I’ve never made any secret of my dislike of this statue but clearly there is at least one fan – and there is no excuse for metal theft – something really has to be done and so far the Government has been extremely slow and ineffective at putting in even simple precautions.


Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Someone who works for Alcatel has just told me staff have received a message:

“Please be advised there is an ongoing incident close to the Site and Police have advised us to stay in the buildings until advised further.

We will put out another notice when there is an “all clear”. 

Latest in is just rumours but that it was a drugs bust at a house in either Christchurch Way or Mauritius Road. Also rumours that the police had a sniper on the roof of our factory. Makes sense – the police have been doing several raids round here.

Apparently all is clear now. Thanks Oh, Anonymous One…

Smallest Room- Biggest Job

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Capability Bowes is “desperately in need of someone to do a bathroom refurbishment after having been left entirely up the spout and down the drain by a firm of compete incompetents.

I know that feeling only too well. The problem with the bathroom is that it’s not just a decorating job, but a plumbing and electrics issue too.

Any suggestions?