Archive for November, 2012

Harry Porter

Friday, November 30th, 2012

I said I’d get onto the antics of Dreadnought Hospital porter Gerald Dodd’s mate Harry Glassborro (or ‘Glassblower’ as they used to call him), one of those guys that are created to brighten up the world, and today seems like the day to do it.

Harry and Gerald used to do night shifts together and Gerald says “you never knew what he got up to, mainly when I took out my camera. Being a young boy from the sticks in Wales I didn’t know very much about city life. ” Harry took Gerald under his wing. “Every shift we worked together was good, I looked forward to it. ”

As you’ll see from these pictures, Harry was a ‘prop-man’ – couldn’t take a photo without one. He is, of course, the chap with the sink plunger in the top photo – but you’ll never see him without some object (often involving beer, I note…)

Here he is as one of the tutors at Hogwarts, an amazing feat since the place wouldn’t be invented for another thirty-odd years.

I’m not entirely sure what he’s hoping to find in the gate porter’s cabinets, but hey…

Thing is, the guy just has a face for comedy – even just holding an apple he looks like he’s stepped straight out of a sit-com. Click on the image below and check out those cheeky eyebrows to see what I mean. I honestly have no idea what the hell he’s doing in most pictures – but that’s not the point.


Of course, just because ‘everybody liked Harry and Harry liked everybody’ didn’t mean he wasn’t above scaring the bejeesus out of the young, naive Gerald, who tells me of the time his mentor spent a nice long while talking about the gruecities of post-mortems over tea in the lodge then contrived ‘a job’ across the way that involved his young companion having to go to one of the labs in the Cooper Building just as one was starting. “Quite a shock to my system,” admits Gerald.

I don’t want to know what the bucket’s for here, but I’m rather taken with the winklepickers in the shot below. Harry was clearly a natty dresser too (and I’m guessing a bit of a hit with the ladies – cool shoes and making ‘em laugh…)

I guess all it is is making fun out of nothing – but I think there should be more of that sort of thing in life. Gerald admits “he made the long night shift go fast.” I can’t think of a better acolade for a co-worker. And now, forty-odd years later, he’s making us smile all over again. Hurrah for Harry Glassblower and his night-shift nuttiness.

Gerald lost touch with Harry – but would love to know if he’s still around or if anyone knows him. He thinks he was married, possibly with children, and lived in Peckham, but admits, ‘we rarely talked about things like that, we were too busy getting up to things…’

If you know (or even are) Harry, do drop me a line and I’ll pass you on to Gerald.

Actually, I’ve just realised that last photo was missing one of Harry’s signature props. Quick, I’d better supply him with one.

Ahhh. That’s better. So – tonight – may I propose a good old fashioned Friday Night Toast:

To Harry Glassblower – and his photographer pal, Gerald…

Stargazing Live – Free

Friday, November 30th, 2012

This would normally go in the Parish News but I understand tickets will be snapped up rather fast.

If you enjoy the BBC’s Stargazing Live you’re in luck. It’s back in the New Year and Greenwich is hosting a stellar event that means that you can get into the park AFTER DARK!!

It’s designed to encourage everyone – from the complete beginner to the enthusiastic amateur – to make the most of the night sky.

It’s on Thursday 10th January 2013 from 6pm-9.30pm at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. and there will be Planetarium shows throughout the evening up the hill in the Royal Observatory too.

It’s going to include thing for all levels of experience and all ages, including planetarium shows, live stargazing, telescope surgeries and astrophotography workshops from the Flamsteed Astronomy Society as well as Mission X activities from the NASA and UK Space Agency programme. Royal Observatory astronomers will be on hand to answer questions and perform space demos including meteorite handling; and there’s the opportunity to learn about the Mars Curiosity landing from a panel of Open University and UCL experts.

For opera lovers, there’s a sneak preview of Laika the Spacedog, English Touring Opera’s new space opera, step through a Lego universe, and have preflight health checks by the Classroom Medics plus the traditional ‘lots more.’

Entry is free but this is a ticketed event. Tickets will be available from TODAY Friday, November 30th at 6pm until midnight on Tuesday 11th December from the BBC Shows and Tours website. Tickets will be allocated by random draw.

The Londoner’s River

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Lt. Comm. LM Bates,, Frederick Muller Ltd, 1949

A rather wonderful book I found in a secondhand bookshop in the West Country for a pound – it’s always worth repeating that some of the best London book bargains are found miles from the capital – there’s just not the competition for them and therefore the prices are much lower. In fact, if you mention it to the bookseller what you’re looking for they often say ‘I’ve got a load more in the warehouse at the back that I don’t display because no one buys them…’

But back to The Londoner’s River. I can find virtually no information about Leuitenant Commander LM Bates (I’m sure somebody will have the info – I love doing this blog…) save that he spent many years traversing the sixty-nine miles of the tidal part of the Thames, knew the river better than most, and observed at first hand the characters that lined its docks, ports and ships.

He wrote several books on the subject: the ones I’ve read appear to be collections of articles that first appeared in shipping journals. Some are more ‘Greenwich-y’ than others – understandable, really, there’s an awful lot of river to cover in shortish books but the anecdotes about London ‘characters’ and incidents are charming and the illustrations by ‘Stanley’ are both dramatic and from a world we just don’t recognise today, rendering them, IMHO, utterly wonderful.

Understandably, writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many of Bate’s tales are of the war – one book, Thames on Fire deals specifically with the war years (and I note is going from 1p on Amazon) but there are delicious little asides, told with a nice nudge-nudge, wink, wink feel and snippets that made me immediately start googling on tangents.

Take the Seven Seas, for example. Built in 1876, as the Emma Ernest, she was an unassuming wooden brig that spent her life trawling around the world with dull cargoes, being cut down and refitted every so often, usually so she could carry even less interesting goods.

Even during the first World War she only trudged coal to France, her most ‘interesting’ moment an unfortunate collision with a destroyer.  On a boring passage to Cornwall she got stranded, then rammed and ended up being towed home.

But like so many salty seadogs, Emma Ernest was to find a whole new lease of life as a land-lubber. She was moored at Charing Cross Pier, renamed the Seven Seas and became the plushly maritime headquarters for the social club of the British Sea Services.

Bate’s description of a guest night at the Seven Seas Club is delightful – even he reckons that it was ‘the kind of evening which Kipling would have loved to spend.’

…it’s haze of smoke, the yarns and chorus of shanties…watched over by the ship’s macaw, a bird whose plumage and repartee were equally brilliant.

The ship was full of nautical treasures, including a lifebelt, the only thing recovered of HMS Pincher, lost with all hands during WWI, a copy of The Times from Wednesday Nov 6t, 1805, reporting Collingwood’s dispatches from Trafalgar, a cannonball fired by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 and a ship’s lamp from the Arethusa, a training ship broken up on the Thames in 1935.

But the piece de resistance – and the reason I’m banging on about it today – a ship’s bell, inscribed Shakespeare- Liverpool. Apparently a club member, finding himself lying next to the ship Ferreira in a foriegn port was furious to see his dear old Cutty Sark reduced to flying the Portuguese flag. He stole onboard, and half-inched the ship’s bell in protest.

The Portuguese crew, in sort-of retaliation, pinched the bell from the poor ship Shakespeare, who happened to be lying the other side – and sailed with it for 19 years.

When the Cutty Sark was bought back by Captain Dowman in 1922, the original culprit returned her bell to her – and received in exchange the Shakespeare’s bell – not entirely sure what had happened to her – probably chime-less she got run into in fog or something. The bell was presented to the club.

Sadly the Seven Seas was badly damaged by bombs and was broken up. I have no idea what became of the Shakespeare’s Bell.

Not really sure why I went off on this one today – but you could do worse that seeking out LM Bate’s books of the Thames if you’re at all maritime-interested.

Alphabet of Greenwich (M)

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

The letter M is an absolute gift in Greenwich. Virtually everything is Maritime, Meantime or Meridian.

So I’m hoping for lots of lovely Greenwich things…

…whether they be Maryon, Marketing or Museum

Morleys, Morden or Moores…

Mercers, Marias or McNabs

….beginning with this most popular of letters.

Grubless Pub Food

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

I’d been hearing rumours for some time, then had it confirmed that Youngs have taken over the Cutty Sark Pub.

Now, I’ve always been quite fond of the Cutty Sark – it’s a fabulous place to sit outside on a summer’s afternoon and watch the water-world go by, a cosy place to snuggle in the winter when the weather’s like, well, like the sort we’ve got at the moment. And I like the food – big plates of, how shall we put this, unpretentious pub grub.

I’m also curious to know what the new look is like, not least because I like the old look – the giant mis-matched tables upstairs, the giant half-barrels downstairs that, although not particularly authentic – I doubt it’s something Hilary Peters would remember from the 60s – feels right.

I know that they’ve been doing some refurbishing, but I haven’t been yet so I don’t know what, if anything, they’ve done to the place.

But I’m rather disturbed by an email I got yesterday from John. He, like myself, likes the place “for various reasons – great view from the first floor, decent selection of drinks, good food, friendly staff, even friendlier customers, and they welcome pooches of all varieties.”

He and ‘His Nibs’ (can’t work out if His Nibs is a partner or the dog…) went on Sunday with a couple of friends, hoping to get a nice Sunday Roast but discovered that Youngs have installed some new ‘systems.’

They now only serve food in what is known as the ‘first floor restaurant.’ To bag a table on Sunday you have make a reservation in advance – and they don’t welcome dogs upstairs.

No dogs in a restaurant? Fair enough, seems like a pretty easy fix – John and Co. could just have the food on the ground floor. They didn’t need anything fancy. “Can’t we just order some pub food downstairs?” he asked.

“Sorry, we can’t do that – we don’t do pub food anymore, only nice restaurant food” – replied the poor girl left to fend off the upset customers.

Not wishing to tie up poor old Nibs (or the dog) outside, John was unable to discover whether this is indeed, true and the new posh food is indeed, nice.

I guess the Pelton Arms, Plume of Feathers and Vanbrugh will be seeing even more droves if there’s only smart dining (with, I assume, matching prices) allowed at the Cutty Sark.

But I haven’t been there myself yet. I still don’t know if they still have the lovely old mistmatched tables and chairs, half-barrels or sightly cranky woodwork. I don’t know whether you really do need to book a table for the nice restaurant food or whether it is actually nice.

Anyone else been since the take over? I could do with some opinions here.

And There He Was, Gone…

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Stephen tells me that the inevitable has happened – Naffed-Off Nelson, just outside the Trafalgar Tavern, has gone. Whether he’s been half-inched or removed before he was half-inched I don’t know.

As regular readers will know, I didn’t care for the statue – I thought it showed a great naval hero, who was, by all accounts a handsome devil and popular with the ladies, as looking suspciously like a grumpy version of Kermit the Frog (also handsome in his way and popular with certain ladies with long swishy hair and pointy pink ears, but come on…) – but the very fact that we can’t keep public art on show for fear of it disappearing overnight is a really deplorable state of affairs.

The proverbial ‘something’ needs to be done.

Duke Humphrey’s Tower

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Vestal asks:

“We have some nice pictures of the Palace of Placentia, but do we know what Duke Humphrey’s Tower looked like?”

The Phantom replies:

Yes. The most famous picture is the one above, part of a drawing by Antony Van Wyngaerde in 1558 or the whole palace at Greenwich. Duke Humphrey’s Tower is on the hill at the back.

For anyone who doesn’t know the story of the tower that was there before the Royal Observatory, here’s the first part of something I wrote about it a good six years ago, with the background to the story. I thought I wrote the second part but I can’t find my way around my own archives and the bit where it gets gussied up as a girlie boudoir by Margaret of Anjou, used as a posh prison in Tudor times, for masques in the Jacobean era, target practice in the Civil War and finally as builders’ rubble in Charles’s day seems to be missing – someday maybe I’ll go back to it.

But back to the pictures. There are plenty that have it in the background:

but I only know of one that actually has the tower as the subject, by the delightfully-named Wenceslaus Holler, and even that’s probably part of a bigger picture (if it is I’ve never seen the whole):

Of course Holler was etching in the 17th century so it’s clearly less of the defensive tower Humph would have built and more of a residential palace by the time he was around.

There is a possiblity of another picture of it, which I’m very excited about. A few years ago a ‘lost’ 17th Century panorama of Greenwich was rediscovered in the library of Duke/Lord/ Can’t remember. It’s currently being made into a book with the original drawings juxtaposed with the equivalent modern scene by Peter Kent, with the history stuff by Neil Rhind and Julian Watson. It’s taking bloomin’ ages and I’m twisting myself into agonies waiting for it but it should be out soon. It’s of the Thames – but surely the artist wouldn’t have left out Duke Humphreys’ gaff on the hill?

Portermore (7)

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Thought it was about time we saw some more of Gerald Dodd’s photos today. This batch are a little on the fuzzy side because they are actually stills from Gerald’s 8mm movies – which must be wonderful little time capsules. Any time you want to YouTube them, Gerald… ;-)

These are all exterior shots of Dreadnought Hospital in Greenwich, where Gerald was a porter in the 1960s and 70s and, unusually for the time, had a camera (and now, we discover, a movie camera…) and brought it into work. These are mainly pictures of his mates – we’re beginning to get to know them now – Dave, George, Mr Davis and, of course, hospital wag Harry Glassblower – and they’re fascinating for that – but even more fascinating are the backgrounds that Gerald caught in the background of his candid shots.

Take this one for example, of Harry who is walking around a corner with mischief in his grin:


I’m guessing its the bit where the University bookshop is these days, in between that and the new/old Brewery. If it is, it looks pretty much the same as ever. If not – I have no clue.

I also have no idea what he’s carrying. (UPDATE: It’s the clock used for the security walk – that would have been an afternoon shift…)

Out in the car park is a little easier to spot:

See what I mean about booze never being that far away from these photos?

I just love the old cars behind them – take this one for example:

Or the ambulance caught in this little scene of patients and staff, enjoying the sun and if other photos are anything to go by, sharing a crafty nip of something just out of shot…

Those benches are still around – or very similar, anyway.

Is it just me or does everything seem so much more relaxed – you just don’t see patients, doctors in white coats and porters in their brown sitting outside enjoying the sun together these days (not, I suppose, that we see much sun either…)

Back to interesting backgrounds and here’s Harry just about to ride one of those little Mini Moulton bikes that were all the rage in the 70s:

and actually riding it:

The bike was Gerald’s – and Harry’s trying to offer him cash for it.  Despite being turned down, he rode it anyway – that’s the hospital grounds in the background with the Naval College (as was then) behind him.

But this is my favourite shot. As porter, Gerald got to go where few others did. This was the front of the nurses home roof, looking towards the main road. Bet not many people get this view even now…

So – there are 8mm movies of Greenwich around too. Whatever will fetch up next. As always, Gerald – thank you – we’re loving these shots. And folks – yes, there are more to come…

School of Architecture

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Simon and Mrs Simon are doing a photography course at Greenwich Community College (pretty good, apparently – a basic grounding on how to use a digital SLR camera – almost tempted myself…) and they go out on field trips for practise. Of course you don’t have to go to far to find something interesting in Greenwich and they just wandered a couple of streets away to Nevada St.

They were just taking pictures of this rather splendid ‘projection’ on the wall of Greenwich Theatre (where panto rehearsals are in full swing, opening tomorrow if memory serves; a Thanksgiving treat for any Americans that might actually get what’s going on – though it’s unlikely they’ll get a turkey) when, like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, Olivier from Oliver’s Bar appeared.

Sadly they didn’t get a photo of the man himself, though thinking about it, I think I’d like to start an occasional series of portraits of cool Greenwich people like him, but he did say they could take some photos from the balcony upstairs at the back of the bar…

…which looks out onto the building site for the new University of Greenwich School of Architecture, to give us a view we probably haven’t seen before.

I always have a peer in to see what’s going on, but it’s great to get the view from the ‘back’. I didn’t realise just how close it all is to the buildings in Nevada St – should have, really, I guess. I find it really odd to see the modernity of steel and concrete with St Alfege’s and the Mitre behind it in a historic backdrop.

Of course the first thing I wanted to do was stitch up the pics to make a night time panorama of the scene:

Thanks Simon and Mrs S.

Boom Bang-A-Bang

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

I don’t know – first it was the mystery siren of olde Greenwich towne (which of course turned out to have a purpose), now we have a mystery explosion…

Roger says:

For the last week or so we have been hearing booms like large firework noises around 6.30/7.00 in the morning. We live in on a road on the North East side of the Heath in fact one of the L’s in last Alphabet of Greenwich. Has anyone a clue as to what the noise is, there were at least 3 booms this morning Monday 19th November.

I confess I’ve heard those bangs myself and each time put them down to some bland reason or other – but who knows – maybe they’re blasting under Black heath for diamonds and hoping we won’t notice…