Archive for April, 2013

Mind the Memory Gap

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Ray’s been losing sleep for the past 20 years over one of those irritating, pointless mind-worms that work their way into your subconscious entirely oblivious that they are not worth the effort of being solved, but hey – who can tell how the human mind works?

He’s been bothered by a TV drama from the early 90s which he is almost certain featured No.1 Ballast Quay, “all done up and looking like your average Yuppie’s ’30 something’ house” and he’s been trying to work out what the hell it was – and whether or not it actually was in Greenwich.

Unfortunately he remembers very little about it and his ‘quick synopsis’ seems to be a – well, a quick synopsis of every TV drama in the early 90s:

Dude meets girl, they live together, dude gets violent, dude gets kicked out and begins to stalk girl, girl stabs dude to death in self defence.

Sounds like a laugh a minute…

Now – this might sound odd but I didn’t have a telly in the 90s, so I’m helpless here – but can anyone here help Ray with his half-memory? Hilary? Darryl?

Actually – Julian has just reminded me that it could have been our very own local soap Night & Day – which of course I didn’t see for the reasons stated above. Can anyone confirm that?

What Would The Phantom Do? #1

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Okay, an email I just got from – well, let’s just call him ‘Vigilante Vic’ – has prompted the first in a new occasional series on pithy Greenwich-based moral debates – What Would The Phantom Do?

Vic writes:

As one of the many residents living on Calvert Road, I am becoming really frustrated by the utterly selfish attitude of some customers who frequent the Wing Wah Buffet on a Sunday afternoon. Not only do we have to run the parking gauntlet from 2pm – 9pm every weekend, but we also have to clear up the rubbish left behind by those patrons who buy their “take away”, eat in the car and chuck the remnants onto the pavement before driving off. I know this doesn’t apply to all customers, only the selfish few, but I’m getting pig-sick of them causing a blot on our landscape.

So yesterday I took the matter into my own hands. As I was walking the dog (to protect the innocent I’m going to name said pooch ‘Fido’. I am yet to meet a dog called either Fido or Rover but would love to… TGP) I noticed a pile of chicken bones on the pavements right next to a car where the driver was coincidentally sucking on some spicey wings with his window open. Chicken bones are to dogs what fish bones were to the queen mother (ie, potentially hazardous) so fearing for young Fido’s life I picked up said bones and threw them back into the car. I may have uttered a few expletives too – my bad.

Unfortunately it didn’t end there. Two oiks got out of the car, sized up to me, yelling all sorts of threats, and then started shoving before finally pushing me over. Anyway, long story short, I hightailed it out of there with them continuing their tirade. Thankfully a neighbour saw it all and called the police, who visited an hour later to check I was ok. When I explained the situation to them one officer commented “Good work” – which was reassuring.

Nevertheless, it begs the question – What Would the Phantom Do? I really have had enough of the streets being littered with dirty nappies, takeaway cartons, chicken bones etc. But is it really worth risking your safety?

BTW – they drove away with the chicken bones still in their car.

The Phantom replies:

Blimey Vic – that was brave. But was it foolish?

I have been known to pick up litter I’ve watched someone tossed onto the street and hand it to them, sweetly saying ‘ I think you dropped something…’ I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to throw chicken bones into a car full of oiks.

I guess my question was – were you sure the chicken bones were theirs? Did you see them chuck them out of the window? I think my actions might have been based on actually seeing the act with my own eyes. After all – if there are so many people who are eating in their cars (and yes, I know there are a LOT – I’ve often seen them doing it – seems a bit odd really, I mean it’s hardly expensive to actually eat-in at Wing-Wah…) and chucking chicken bones out of the window, then how could you be sure that these oiks were THE oiks? That those chicken bones were THEIR chicken bones?

On the other hand, I note that you don’t mention their denying the chicken bones were theirs…

I totally get Vic’s frustration. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done the same – not because I’d be any less frustrated – just more cowardly. You never know what oiks that chuck chicken bones our of their car window might keep in their glove compartments…

I might have remonstrated with them in an ineffectually British sort of way if I actually saw them do it, but if it was just me and Fido v. a car full of oiks hepped-up on monosodium glutamate, my honest answer is that, I am ashamed to say, I probably would have just quietly seethed before writing an grumpy blog post about ignorant oiks.

Out of interest – have you tried talking to Wing-Wah about it? I can’t remember if there are any bins around there – but then I guess if these people are too lazy to get out of their cars to eat-in, they’re probably too idle to get out of their cars to dispose of litter properly.

So – that is the honest answer from me – but what would YOU do?

Splinter Woods

Monday, April 29th, 2013

We’re used to seeing murals round here – mainly created by Greenwich Mural Workshop and dating back at most to the 1980s. This one isn’t by GMW and it’s much older. The other awkward thing is that it isn’t actually in Greenwich. It’s not actually even in England. But it does give me one more reason why I want to visit the Orkney Islands.

It’s by a chap called Albert Ryecraft ‘Splinter’ Woods, born in Gravesend in 1877, died in Deptford in 1950 and for much of his life – and both World Wars – Piermaster at Tower Pier, for the PLA.

So what the hell was he doing painting a mural in the mess hall of a WWII gun battery in Orkney? That’s the question Andrew, who leads tours round the extraordinary-looking Ness Battery at Stromness, would like to know.

A job like Woods’s wouldn’t have seen him being called up but he was a part-time Territorial in WWI, manning machine guns on a roof in Deptford Market. In his fifties by the time WWII broke out, he became a Sergeant in the Home Guard, but always working on the Thames. Here’s a picture of him and his dog Peter:

In 1942 Woods wrote a book about his experiences in both wars – I Guarded the Waterfront – and was a minor celebrity at the time, even broadcasting on the wireless – but ask anyone round here now about him and you’ll get blank looks. In Orkney, though, he’s an intriguing man of mystery that many know about and have been searching for.

Andrew tells me the book makes no mention of his time in Orkney, and there is no record of his ever having been there other than his signature on the mural itself, which is one of the highlights of a visit to this most odd of 20th Century monuments (How odd? Well wouldn’t YOU want to visit a place that looked like this?)

Andrew wonders if Woods came to Orkney with equipment requisitioned for use by the Navy, such as floating cranes, barges and the like, which we know came from the PLA – in fact, the remnants of one of the floating cranes is still being scrapped as we speak. His experience in the Merchant Navy and as a small boat-man on the Thames may have made him a useful volunteer to escort those small craft up here. Speculative, but possible…

Research has come to a bit of a grinding halt though. The PLA lost a lot of records in the war and know little beyond the fact that Woods retired in 1947. The house where he died at Amersham Vale in New Cross has long gone for a health centre. Woods had children but Andrew can’t find any living descendents who might be able to shed light on why he went to Orkney and how long he spent there (must have been some time – that mural’s pretty big…)

So he’s trying a long shot and asking whether there are any Phantophiles out there who might have anything on this intriguing gentleman and his acrobatic dog.

I guess it’s worth an ask. Stephen? Mary? Anyone?

Here to Stay

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Maya asks:

I want to take my boyfriend for a day out in Greenwich. I want to stay with him in the area so we don’t have to race home. The stranger the better. He is a big history buff and likes anything from the 18th century. Do you know of anywhere we can stay?

The Phantom replies:

For somewhere that’s such a tourist attraction we seem to specialise in bland chain hotels. If you love the Novotel/Ibis/Premier Inn type place you’re well-in but if you’re after somewhere a little more cosy, there’s only really one place I’d wholeheartedly recommend.

Robert Gray’s quirky guesthouse at Number 16 St Alfege Passage should do the trick nicely – literally round what looks like the back but which is actually the front of the 18th Century St Alfege Church (hint: turn off your speakers before you click on the website.) Robert is a fantastic host and true Greenwich character, and the B&B is right bang in the centre of town.

Hmm. Places to visit that have an 18th Century bent… Well, there’s the obvious big hitters – The Old Royal Naval College and St Alfege Church, but you should also walk up to Ranger’s House, an English Heritage property which has very arcane opening hours but is well worth the trip. I say ‘walk up’ because there are lots of interesting Georgian Houses on the routes up ther e- Crooms Hill, Hyde Vale etc.

If your boyfriend is a Hawksmoor buff, don’t miss the old Conduit House in the park. It’s not open to the public but is a nice example of his less grand work. At the top of Hyde Vale there’s also a little conduit head and in the park, that thing that looks like a hobbit hole near the kiddies’ playground is also Conduit.

He should also take a look at Vanbrugh Castle on the other side of the park – again, not open to the public but worth a look for the castlellation.

I am sure other Phantophiles will have good suggestions for both places to stay and 18th Century things to see.

Dreary But Hey…

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I’m going to cheer up this post with lovely pictures of spring, like Stephen’s daffs, in a vain attempt to hide the depressing nature of the actual subject. Thought I’d better get it out of the way while the sun’s still shining…

James asks:

Sorry for the rather dreary request, but I was wondering how your readers in the Gibson/Caradoc St area have been getting on with the new black household/garden waste recycling caddies we were offered recently when the council decided to do something about the usual Monday morning rubbish apocalypse.

Quick photo of a local wildflower – the Deptford Pink:

Still with me? James continues:

My experience has been putting mine out once and finding that it had been stolen by the following morning.
Aside from being forced to draw the rather depressing inference that one of my neighbours has been so cretinously base as to steal something that is easily, legitimately available for free, and while I await the council’s response, I would be interested to know if this has happened to anyone else and what, if anything, they have been able to do about it.

Random moment where the Phantom adds a picture of lovely cherry blossom. Inconveniently, St Alfege is getting murdered underneath it, so clearly I took the picture 1001 years ago last Friday:

So, folks – what is your experience of bin-theft? I haven’t had any bins nicked myself but I have come across it – yes, even the big wheelies. I have no idea who the hell could be bothered to pinch what James points out as being free anyway – I mean it takes effort to cart ‘em away or hoist them up onto trucks. And if they are taken by people who intend to sell them on – who to? Maybe the little caddies are pinched by kids?

I guess some people do leave their bins out all week, even if they have somewhere inside their gates to keep them (usually shared property, perhaps everyone thinks it’s everyone else’s job) and all the bins I know of that have been nabbed have been from shared property.

Better have a nice picture of some tulips from Benedict:

I guess I’d be (mildly) curious to know how many bins actually do get pinched each year, what it costs the council and what their response is.

One last picture of spring to brighten up the post. Can’t remember who sent me this, but here’s hoping that when the weather gets colder after today it doesn’t end up like this:

Open Day at Ballast Quay

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Moving on from the dreariness of yesterday’s post about what’s happening to Lovell’s Wharf now, something a little cheerier. This fabulous photograph was sent to me my Hilary Peters, who long-term Phantophiles will know was the one-woman driving force behind saving the stunning buildings along Ballast Quay (where the Harbourmaster’s Office is, next to the Cutty Sark) and the creation of the cutest garden in Greenwich.

She has been writing a history of Ballast Quay, which I am dying to read, and I won’t have long to wait, as she’ll be selling copies on a special open garden day in June.

Put the 8th and 9th June in your diaries, folks – and get the chance to walk through that usually-locked gate (and meet the wonderful Hilary…)

Greenwich Wharf

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I don’t like to bang on about similar subjects on two consecutive days but hey – my blog, my rules.

Sadly it’s also hardly the first time we’ve talked about this either. We’ve been through all this before – and yet again the goalposts are being kicked at by developers who, I can’t help finding myself wondering, possibly never had any intention of sticking to their original, agreed plan.

Today we are talking about yet another bland whitewash of Greenwich history – Greenwich, formerly Lovells Wharf. I don’t know of anyone who’s been a fan of this from the start – anywhere that bulldozed rather than incorporated Greenwich’s history,created a dull nothing of a development, closed off the Thames Path for bloomin’ years then diverted it to its own marketing suite isn’t going to win many local fans but at least we had the lure of a few amenities. A lovely clinic. A creche. A – heavens, really going upmarket – boat club. That sort of thing. There was also talk of a hotel and some offices to bring a bit of mixed use into the area.

Yeah. In our dreams.

A ‘new’ application has been slid under the door of the council planning department and, cynical Phantom that I am, I can’t help wondering if this was Plan A all the time.

Suddenly we’re saying bye-bye to mixed-use, community and social amenities and ‘hello’ to 246 extra flats instead. Except, of course, they don’t call them flats – they’re ‘units’ – commodities to buy and sell.

Of course, in order to build that many more ‘units’, just getting rid of a kiddie’s play area and a doctor’s surgery’s not going to cut the developer’s mustard. The whole development needs to get higher. We’re now talking tall. Thirteen storeys, if I read it right.

I note that, at present, there will be no extra parking, which I can’t see being popular with potential buyers. I am assuming there will be another application sooner or later, requesting more parking – even more cars round the Pelton Road area.

As usual there is a very short window of comment-time for this application – so if you agree that this isn’t on – then you don’t have much time to comment on the proposal. Of course, if you disagree with me and think it’s a great idea then you need to make your thoughts known too.

In order to object (or, indeed, shout ‘Hurrah, I love tediously-named flimsy new-builds in the sight-lines of the Old Royal Naval College – bring it on…’) you’ll need to register with the council first – just the once, after that you will be on the system if you want to comment on anything else.

By they way – the pic is one I’ve used before and I like because it’s the only ‘nice’ image I have of the development – Jamie’s photo of the yarn-bombed window. A little breath of humanity.

Greenwich Square Marketing…

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

So today I’m curious to hear from people who went to Greenwich Square’s ‘Opening Event.’ In the interests of openness, I was asked by Hadley Mace, but I can’t go to events when I’m specifically invited – the paper bag really gets in the way, and I feel less able to just ‘slip in’.  So I’m very interested to hear whether your experience was anything like that of Jon’s.

Jon lives locally and wasn’t actually planning to buy – he just wants to know how the development will affect him and his neighbours, and I suspect that this event wasn’t really for him. He tells me:

Their first question was ‘can you afford a deposit to be placed today?’ – before even showing us anything!

I can see why he was irked that the Site Manager kept referring to her boss as a VIP who knew nothing and went on to make us feel unwelcome though to be fair, he probably IS a VIP to her, and it’s not unusual for bosses to know nothing, though making theoretical potential purchasers unwelcome is unusual.

Jon reckons (and I’m assuming he means the sales team here)  They lied about the history of the site. No mention of the hospital one bit.

Now, I suspect this could just be ignorance, rather than deliberate lying. Why would they know about the history of the site, they’re trying to sell what it is now. Bet they didn’t mention it was the old workhouse, either… ;-) It’s not something  that can be twisted for the purpose of sales into anything romantic:  ’the old schoolhouse’ ‘the old bakery,’ the old dog biscuit factory’ – ‘the old workhouse’ doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it.

And I can’t for a moment think why they rejected the name the old place used to have, according to Mary Mills – ‘Catsbrains’. That, for me would be a deal-sealer…

I note that the proposals for new street names are beyond bland and out the other side, namechecking generic hedgerow plants – no mention of Greenwich, or anything to do with the site’s (fascinating) history, which is a real shame – anyone would think this was a new-build town in the middle of the country with no past whatsoevr. But is it really a deliberate attempt to obliterate the past. I doubt it. I don’t think they’re actually lying about the history- perhaps more ‘not caring…’

Jon asked about parking and was told there will plenty of on-street permits available. Jon believes (and I remember this too) this is something the developer was refused Jon asks who who is lying here? Calvert road is already full of traffic from Wing Wah buffet without adding to it.

It all seems to have ended rather badly.

I challenged them with issues known about the site such as the trees, the services being provided i.e. leisure centre and then the parking. We were almost pushed out of the door so as not to raise the alarm for other prospective victims.

I am worried that the whole site is going to go in for retrospective planning permission to cram more houses on there than initially agreed and the parking is a major concern.

Blimey. I really rather wish I had gone now. But this is just one person’s experience. I would love to hear from other people who went along. Was the evening really this combative? Were you able to raise concerns and actually have them answered? Or did you find it all rather exciting and feel yourself reaching for that cheque book?

Reasons to Sit on the Top Floor of a Bus (2)

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Is this not a fine sight? Something you’d only see from the top of a bus – the 188, actually, spotted by JR, who describes it as “a thing of beauty surrounded by a whole heap of ugly”.

Developers demolished the old buildings on the corner of Blackwall Lane and Trafalgar Road a few months ago, and I have to admit that I assumed this wonderful mature magnolia that used to be in a little playground was done for.

And of course it might still be – but unlike the shower across the road at the newly-named Greenwich Square, who thought nothing of felling several fine, fine limes (very quickly, before an inconvenient preservation order could be made) the outcome for this particular development  is rather different.

Earlier, I managed to  imply that the developer of the site had made a big effort to build a protective barrier around it. I now need to amend that.

I understand that the glory – and the thanks for leaving us with some magnificent blossom – goes not to the developer (how naive was I for even thinking that that might be the case?) but to our very own Mary Mills.

Thank you Mary – and everyone else who supported you. A small part of East Greenwich is a nicer place for your efforts.

4G/Freeview Compatiblity thing

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Have you had any weirdnesses with your Freeview yesterday? I meant to talk about this last week and – well, you know me at the moment…

Basically, boffins are testing 4G services at the moment to see, among other things, whether sending it out at 800MHz will disrupt Freeview, which runs in a very close bandwidth.

They’re concerned that aerials, amplifiers, digital tuners and TV signals might not be able to block out mobile phones and they’re using our area (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets) as a guinea pig. Why these (pretty basic) tests weren’t done before they sold 4G is beyond me.

We were supposed to get information through the post. I don’t know about you but I haven’t had anything yet. So, if you’ve lost any of your Freeview channels (check your subscription on Adult XXXX before embarrassing yourself, eh…), sound (gasping on Adult XXXX isn’t an intermittent fault…) or got blocky images (pixilation on Adult XXXX doesn’t count…) here are the ways to contact people who can make it all better:




Or just talk to a real human being at the call centre: 0333 31 31 800