Archive for February, 2013

A Lick of Paint

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I’ve been chatting with Alan, (largely about tunnels and suchlike – for anyone new around here, Greenwich is a big old Swiss cheese, full of old tunnels, conduits, mines, secret passages etc. – check out the Underground Greenwich section in the Categories list on the sidebar) when the conversation turned to his job – he’s a handyman for Greenwich Council’s World Heritage Site Team “who basically paints anything that needs painting in and around the town centre and other odd jobs“.

He made an offer just too good to refuse – so I’m passing it on to you. “If there are any small issues around the town centre for example something you feel could use a coat of paint or tidying up please feel free to let me know.”

If you’ve got any suggestions for Alan, I will be happy to pass them on…

Orlop Street

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Scott asks:

I’m thinking of buying a little house on Orlop Street. The street looks quite quaint, but what kind of reputation does it have now? I know that the orlop deck is the lowest deck of a ship with four or more decks and wondered if that were still indicative of the area today, or whether things have gone more upmarket. The prices, although relatively cheap compared to other parts of Greenwich, would suggest the latter, which is quite ironic considering how little money the original inhabitants must have earned.

I’d also like to know more about eastern Greenwich in general, i.e. pubs, shops, people, community spirit, crime etc.

The fact that we’d be close to the river, train station and park, yet away from the touristy part has great appeal, but I’d love some reassurance that I’m doing the right thing from someone (or people in the comments) who know the area well. Coming from Finsbury Park, it feels like a massive change, and almost a different city.

The Phantom replies:

There were several streets round East Greenwich named after parts of a ship – spare a thought for the poor residents of Frigate Street who, in the 1960s had become so far removed from the concept of shipping that they thought the name was rude and campagined to have it renamed the much more genteel Feathers Place. As far as I am aware there is no Poop Street. Now there is a name I’d campaign about.

It’s true that the Orlop is the lowest deck of a ship and there was a time when this charming little one-sided back street, running parallel to Traf Road was home to some of the ‘lowest’ residents in Greenwich Society, though Charles Booth was apt to be a little kinder.

These days, like all of the Pelton Road area, it’s all got a hell of a lot more gentrified and therefore, as you’ve noticed, expensive. East Greenwich still has a long way to go before it reaches Royal Hill or Ashburnham Triangle fancyness, but I really like the rough-around the edges feel it still has and we may well start to see more shops and facilities opening when the Heart of East Greenwich development starts getting residents.

I love East Greenwich – the people are generally friendly, the pubs are good (especially the Pelton and the Vanbrugh, jury’s still out on the new-look King Billy, nearest you, the only time I ate in there the food was okay, but my pal and I were entirely alone for the entire experience and the lighting felt very harsh, but I’d be willing to try it again) as you point out you’re close to the rivier and transport.

I don’t know what the configuration is inside the houses – some of those below-street level basements have been filled in, others haven’t – no idea how it is on flooding etc, though there are basements on bloomin’ Ballast Quay, mere yards from the river; it can’t be that much of an issue.

The only thing I would want some confirmation on, preferably from someone actually living in Orlop Street or knowing someone who lives there, would be the effect of being one-sided with shops backing onto your front door, and how that would affect noise levels, commercial bin-emptying and, at night, chaps who’ve been ahem, ‘caught short’ on their way home from the pub…

So – Orlop Street experiences please, folks…

Cesar Chavez in Greenwich

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Still not really able to post just now, but I couldn’t resist this; perhaps the (on paper at least) least convincing setting for a film. Mike saw this on Saturday – filming a documentary about Cesar Chavez, a Latino American civil rights activist.

He co-organised the United Farm Workers Association against exploitation, using non-violent, public-relations-led tactics. He’s quite the hero in the States – ‘Cesar Chavez Day’ (31 March*) is a state holiday in California, Colorado and Texas – but what on earth is a documentary about his life doing in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College?

I mean Greenwich isn’t often mistaken for California. I can only assume it’s something to do with people across the world boycotting goods.

But hey – perhaps we’ll get a chance to find out – I don’t know if it will be screened over here, but it will probably be on YouTube at some point.

(*Perhaps I should have waited a month or so – but today’s as good as any, perhaps even more appropriate, given the NUJ strike by journalists currently preventing the Today Programme)



When Doggy Met Seal-y

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I do hope Nicola’s okay with my sharing this with you – Matt found it the other day and it’s really rather wonderful. It was taken on 2nd Feb this year (in some rare sunshine) near Morden Wharf and shows a curious seal (who appears from his tag to be a rehabilitated chap on holiday from near King’s Lynn in Norfolk) who can’t quite work out what Nicola’s dog’s intentions are.

At first I couldn’t either and was rather worried about the barking – but when the seal kept coming back for more, and I saw the dog’s tail wagging, I realised they were just intrigued by each other.

I’m assuming that Nicola and Co. are from a Thames conservancy project or similar. Nicola – if you’re around, I’d like to know some more…

Just a heads up – Real Life is getting in the way again this week, posting may be patchy.

London Screen Archive

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Oh heavens – Michael has found us one hell of a time-drain. I’d heard of the London Screen Archive, but had assumed it was the usual grainy cine films of horse-drawn trams going over London Bridge from 1900 – which of course I love, but of which by now have seen quite a few.

But the films on this archive are much more modern – though still old enough to be utterly fascinating and nostalgic in a rather melancholy way for me. I’m going to include a couple here but really – you need to get on there and search ‘Greenwich’ to find a good fifteen or so videos – promos for the council (and otherwise) from the 1980s and 90s, little documentaries and odd information films. They are really interesting given we now know what actually happened after some of the ones that are ‘consultations’.

They seem to be adding videos on a very regular basis, so it’s worth checking every so often, though of course only when you have a good chunk of time to spare.

First Night Jitters

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Sir, I thought it had been better.”

Sam Johnson’s characteristically honest reason for leaving the room when someone started reading his only play, Irene, at a country house party in 1780.

Today playwrights around the world can take comfort that their fabulous, darling manuscript, perfect in every respect in their own eyes, might not be the collossus they thought it was but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will not turn out to be an incredible writer. Perhaps all they need to do is switch genre…

If you’d nipped backstage at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on the 6th February 1749, you might well have witnessed an aspiring playwright pacing backstage, nervously chewing his fingernails as he contemplated what the actors might do with his baby.

He didn’t have much of an opinion of their ability to do it justice. “Players, Sir? I look on them as no better than creatures set upon tables and joint stools to make faces and produce laughter, like dancing dogs.”

Given that Irene was a tragedy, and a big old heavy tragedy at that – one that would have gone down an absolute storm with Shakespeare’s crowd, who loved blood and guts – the idea of ‘dancing dogs’ poking fun at his work, Johnson probably had a point. He was particularly bothered about his leading lady, Hannah Pritchard, who he described as ‘a vulgar idiot.’

Of course, he might have disliked the concept of actors, but that didn’t stop him being mates with them – one of his good friends was David Garrick, whom he’d taught and who now was taking quite a risk in putting on Johnson’s play – it had already been rejected by its 18th Century equivalent of beta-readers. Garrick had insisted on a few changes that would appeal to the lighter moods of modern theatre, that Johnson didn’t approve of, but had to suck up if he wanted his show to see the light of day.

I find myself wondering whether Johnson, as he stood in the wings, awkwardly trussed up in scarlet waistcoat, gold lace and and fancy hat specially acquired for his first night as a luvvie, was rather wishing he was still in Greenwich Park, looking out over the river, sucking the end of his quill, trying to find the exact right words for the big death scene at the end. Whether he rather longed for that special time when the work is in progress, when everything can be changed and all will be fabulous.

We’re not really sure where Johnson lived while he stayed at Greenwich. He says it was at the Golden Hart in Church Street. Julian Watson suggests it could have been in the delightful weatherboarded row on the front cover of his (excellent) book (available at the Visitor Centre, last time I looked)

These houses are long-gone, not least because of the remodelling of Garden Stairs when the foot tunnel was built, but I’m guessing they’d have been approximately opposite the Cutty Sark.

If only his play had been any good. I recently went to a lecture at Johnson’s House where they were re evaluating the work, but although they come to the conclusion that it was not the utter flop History tells us it is, even the ex-curator (whose name escapes me and which I can’t look up because they annoyingly keep their website up to date…) had to admit it wasn’t a play she either recommended reading or ever putting on again.

It just wasn’t what the modern play-going public wanted. Johnson’s prose was dated, his plot clunky and his action heavy. But the thing the audiences hated most was the very thing that 150 years ago they’d have actually queued up for.

Johnson had poor Mrs Pritchard ‘strangled’ on stage, in front of the audience. Instead of lapping up the violence, though, they started hissing whistling and making cat calls that went on so long that in subsequent performances she had to exit and be murdered offstage.

Thing is, the play didn’t do as badly as many modern scholars think it did. True, it only ran for 9 performances between 6th and 20th Feb (there weren’t any shows on Wednesdays, Fridays or Sundays) but that was about average for new plays in those days. There actually weren’t many new plays as everything had to be read and passed by the Lord Chamberlain, so most shows were old classics that actors played in repertory, with the odd modern play squeezed in.

And Johnson made money. The whole idea of putting on plays in those days was to attempt to put them on in batches of three. The first two nights the profits went to the promoter; if the show lasted to a third night it became a benefit performance to pay the author, and after that every third night was the author’s night – another reason to put on plays by dead playwrights.  Johnson made £236 after the house fee, which was pretty decent cash.

Nevertheless, Garrick still needed to tweak the show in order to keep the audiences coming, not least so his mate Sam could make a few more quid. Johnson’s tragedy lasted to the sixth night before Garrick slipped in a nice cheery farce at the end and there is mention of a ‘Scotch Dance’ that would have also been a splendid crowd-pleaser to get people to come so Johnson’s play limped to its ninth performance.

Nowadays Irene is often described as ‘a poem’ and it’s quite hard to come by. It’s not a classic (though some (who haven’t read it; I confess I haven’t either, so I rely on the ex-curator’s opinion) assume it must be because Johnson wrote it, but neither was it the total turkey that other scholars have claimed. And hell, it if is a total turkey, it’s our total turkey.

Rear Window (26)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Not the world’s most difficult Rear Window today, from John, but one of the most fascinating we’ve had for some time. This view must be changing daily – John, I hope you’re keeping a record of this – in the future, it will be a really valuable piece of documentation.

In fact – if you have nothing else to do, I’d love to see a record of this over, say, a year. It would make a really interesting photo-doc.

Do I really have to ask if anyone doesn’t know where this is?

Thanks, John – as with all Rear Windows, you are giving us a view into Greenwich we don’t normally get to see…


Monday, February 4th, 2013

Wanna save yourself thirty quid? Watch Mike’s video, taken a couple of hours after I was up the Shard, when there was actual sun and actual view beyond a mile or so.

He videoed the whole experience – from the queue (it will be interesting to see if people are still queueing in a couple of months – certainly they do for the Empire State building – but is the Shard our Empire State? I suspect not…) through the annoying compulsory photo (just walk straight through if you don’t want yours taken, don’t let them bully you. Do they really charge £50 for a print?) to the lifts, to the view, to the top floor…

The Shard

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Today possibly wasn’t the very best day to experience London’s newest tourist attraction, but it was the first one (official, anyway, apparently there were a bunch of the usual rent-a-crowd celebrities up there last night) and The Phantom Webmaster and myself managed to be some of the first proper punters to see it.

Actually, that’s not quite true, for we were there because I’d won a competition* – a very, very rare occurrence for me. It was a challenge to suggest a place that you can see from the Shard but most people would miss. The ten winners have had their suggestions included in the groovy digital telescope things at the top, and here’s my (winning, tee hee) entry, already programmed into the viewfinder:

Not that you could see even the vague area in which Severndroog Castle might be spotted today – the rain was lashing down and the black clouds seemed to completely surround Shooters Hill. You couldn’t even see Greenwich, though I’m told that you can at least see the Old Royal Naval College, Observatory and Power Station on a good day.

It’s a fun experience, and on that mythical ‘good day’ I am sure you can see far into the distance. As it was I still had fun, staring down and spotting fun stuff like the little shelter from the old London Bridge that sits in Guys Hospital, and the Globe Pub which, you can see from above, really was built around to create the new lines out of London Bridge station.

But it does have to be that ‘good day’ if you want to do anything beyond enjoying St Paul’s Cathedral and a charmingly model-like Tower of London.

It costs £24.95 for an adult (though at the tills they all said £29.95; I don’t know where they get that figure from,) or £100 if you want to go up there and then so to get your money’s worth, it will be worth waiting for better weather (they tell me it’s pretty much fully booked anyway until April) and then watch the weather forecast and book accordingly.

I can see this becoming one of those ‘things you have to do’ when you come to London, but those prices are squeakingly high for everyday folk, and that’s before you even hit the gift shop where they must be thanking the marketing gods for ‘Romeo,’ the fox who lived up the Shard for two weeks while it was being built and thus giving them a cute animal as the tower’s first resident to rurn into cuddly toys (not literally, of course…) to go with the rest of what I have to admit are generally pretty un-tacky souvenirs.

So – the Phantom likes – but make sure you get the weather right…

*if you’re wondering how I managed to get in without being spotted, I have to thank Will, the guy who organised the completely anonymous tickets – cheers Will – I was the short, fat, tall, skinny one in the red/green/black/blue cloak and tricorn…