Archive for December, 2013

The Phantom Waif Gets a Slap Up Boxing Day Breakfast

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

I’s only a littl’un, Sir. I been in the workhouse yonder since I was a wee nipper but it ain’t that bad at that.

I gets to sweep the crossin’ down by the Spread Eagle most Wednesday afternoons – me an’ Hobb’lin’ Herbert an’ Peg-leg Tom and Consumptive Charlie – you know, the other Phantom Waifs, Sir, we  shares the priv-lige and occasional-like a real Greenwich gent gives us a tanner which I slips back to me dear old Mam back in the Union.

1884′s going to be a good Christmas this year though and no mistake, Sir. That Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, you know, the vicar that wrote them poems in the Fireside News way back before I was born, Sir. No, I ain’t read ‘em, Sir, but they stirred up a right old hollerin’ among the toffs who like to do a bit of good this time of year.

They say he got one of them new-fangled ‘Christmas cards’, with a cock robin on it, all red-breast and chirpy-cheep, wishin’ him a Merry One, Sir. He wrote these verses, and I’m tellin’ yer, Mister, they must have been right pretty because next thing you know they’re startin’ these ‘Robin Dinners’ for the likes of me an’ Herbert and Tom and Charlie.

We gets a right slap up nosh, Sir and no mistake. They gives us tickets an’ we can eat and drink as much as we can. ‘Course, there’s a downside – we ‘ave to do prayers and sing hymns and listen to the vicar preachin’ on about the Baby Jesus, but fair’s fair – that’s what the people in big houses like.

Indeed, Sir. All over, they are. Up and down the country. Like wildfire it is, all that doin’ good at Christmas malarky. But last year the toffs up the hill in the big houses in West Greenwich, they had a bright idea – you know – to go one better – be a bit different, like. They come up with a new thing that no one else in the whole country come up with – Robin Breakfasts!

Last year there was about 600 of us waifs, Sir. This year old Toothless Albert reckons  there’s going to be eighteen hundred!

We gets to go in a big room all decorated by the ladies and gentlemen, with long tables and plates and cups and garlands made of paper and ribbons. And they’re all dressed up too and the ladies are cooing and saying how sweet we look which I reckon’s rich, given they sees us most days on the crossing and don’t take no notice at all.

A buttered roll at every place, Sir! Imagine that! An’ there’s dishes of oranges an’ buns an’ cakes an’ mugs of coffee – with milk! As much as we can drink, Sir! And there’s soup, though you don’t want to get there after Scabby Bob’s been up there with his dish. But then you don’t want to be many places at all when Scabby Bob’s been around.

‘Course ‘Robin’ himself can’t come – you know, the Rev. Bullock, God bless his soul, but he sends another gent, ‘Robin’s Friend’ to give us a sermon about how lucky we are and then we gets entertainment. Last year we had Professor Bentley Green who showed us ‘sleight of hand’ tricks, though I reckons he could learn a thing or two from Swift-Hand George who swiped the Prof’s pocket handkerchief out of his tail coat as he was pretending to take a coin out of George’s partner Harry One-Eye’s ear.

Then it’s back to the speeches again, Sir, which we tolerates well enough, given we’ve just eaten our fill and when it comes to the end we all hollers “Three cheers for the Robin Committee and Her Majesty” at the tops of our lungs.  Well, all of us except little TB Tim, the Weakest Waif in the Workhouse, who can’t holler on account of his not having much in the way of lungs.

As we all files out, we all gets given a little bag, all decorated by the ladies and pretty as a picture they are too. Fetch a good price if you’re quick enough. Last year mine had an orange, a bun, some sweets and a book. I ate the orange and the sweets and the bun but I took the bag down to the Uncle on Turnpin Lane on account of the fact as I can’t read.

Trouble was, I got waylaid by Percy Rickets and Nit-Noggin Wilf wanting my slot on the crossing which meant by the time I got to the brokers he told me to sling me hook  on account of his already having 247 identical little books that morning and he’d kick the next snot-nosed kid who tried to sell him any more I-won’t-say-the-word-he-used, Sir, “religious books”.

If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, why do you ask all these questions? The Daily Chronicle Sir? Yes, I know it. Scurfy Sam sells it down on Stockwell Street. So – am I going to be famous then, Sir?

borrowed from Worcestershire Archives




Jim Four Photography

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Dear Phantom

All I want for Christmas is for you to ask your people who Jim Four was and why his shop ‘Jim Four Photography’ is a frozen time capsule.
from David
Jim Four’s old photography shop has been on Woolwich Road for yonks. For many years it had a large black and white photograph of Judi Dench with a cup of coffee, but now, David’s right – it’s not changed in what’s got to be six years.
Not much is revealed internet-wise – looks as though Jim Four is/was something important in Greenwich Yacht Club, but frankly, I don’t know anything more about him, though if he was taking chummy shots of celebrities I guess he is/was something important in the photography world too.
But since I rarely ask and fail to receive, I am sure there’s a Phantophile out there who can play Santa Claus for David…

Maze Hill’s Lost Sidings

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Thought I’d share a picture that our resident ex-hospital porter Gerald Dodd just sent me, of Maze Hill station before it lost its status.

Some things are the same – I’ve been using the little bridge over the tracks as a way of viewing it – the photographer is basically standing at the south west corner – where the main road sweeps down to the southern side. I’m always surprised by the hilly-ness of that little walk – don’t know why, really, but this shows it really well.

Maze Hill was, at one point, quite a major place for sidings to house ‘spare trains’. If memory serves the sidings went to the north side, too, where the tennis courts were until recently and those little boxy houses are now.

The nurse’s home is still there, though I doubt that if you stand now where the photographer stood that you’d be able to see it, because Seren Park (no actual park there, of course)  gets in the way. You can just see the edge of Woodlands, which  still exists, not least because it’s pretty safe from developers as there’s no access and a bloomin’ great gorge cuts through the middle of it (phew…)

The buildings are all gone – the new station stands there now, though the old one’s twin still stands north of the tracks, and houses Maze Hill Pottery.

Just thought you’d like to see it…


Secret Sundial

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Cathy from the A Storm Is Blowing blog is curious about this sadly-now-gone home made sundial in Vanbrugh Park.

It takes a moment to realise it’s there – someone has taken the time to work out where the numbers should be and painted them on the pavement. But who? Does anyone know who created this lovely, ephemeral moment in time?

It’s sadly not there any more, the paint has worn away, which somehow says something poignant…

Lady Beware

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Actually – not just ladies – everyone, folks. I was shocked to receive this very worrying story just now. The person this happened to has asked me not to reveal her name –  frankly she needs no more trauma in her life just now. I will leave her to tell you her story:

I am not really comfortable writing about this, but I realize how many locals read your blog and it might just keep some of them safe.

This happened last night when I was walking home; a very tall, athletic black guy on a bike stopped me and tried to grab me and push me off Creek Road to Horsferry Place (it’s much darker and was completely deserted at the time).

He first asked for money then he attempted to violently attack me. He veered off of his bike and attempted to pull me to the side of the road and verbally abused me and shouted to me that he would rape me.

Luckily for me a couple approached and this was enough to scare him away from the scene (or actually gave me enough time to run away).

This is unacceptable behaviour which I have since reported to the police however I want to make this dangerous man known to as many people in the area as possible.

I would very much appreciate you posting this on your well known blog to warn other female commuters travelling alone in this area.

Unacceptable behaviour? Hardly – this is CRIMINAL behaviour – and I am really glad she has been brave enough to report it to the police. I hope they can do something about it. It wouldn’t surprise me if they already know of this man.

I am disturbed by this and echo our anonymous friend’s sentiments – be on your guard folks – and keep an eye out for each other too. It’s easy this time of year to assume that aggressive behaviour is harmless horseplay by inebriated revellers – but there’s a very nasty undercurrent too and we need to watch each other’s backs. This happened around 11.15-11.30pm – the streets of Greenwich should not be a no-go area for people alone.

I hope our anonymous lady is surrounded by good, supportive friends – and wish her some peace over the coming festive period.

And folks – be on your guard.

Greenwich Revealed

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Neil Rhind, Julian Watson and Peter Kent

Blackheath Society, 2013


I’ve been waiting for this book for what seems like ever. Ever since I heard about a ‘lost’ panorama of 18th Century Greenwich’s ‘ordinary’ buildings I’ve been desperate to see what messrs. Rhind, Watson and Kent would do with it. I didn’t pester. No. Not at all…

It has been a long time coming – logistical issues, and a backlog of the authors’ various other books meant this one kept going on the back burner. But then this year has shown me a few things about back burners too…

The importance of the discovery of a bunch of photocopies of a then unknown ‘townscape’ in 2006 wasn’t immediately obvious. It had sat, unlabelled, in Wiltshire’s County Records Office. The originals were in a collection at Wilton House – not the obvious place to look for panoramas of Greenwich, especially if you didn’t know they existed.

I’ll leave the story of how it was found, what it was doing in Wiltshire and why the Earl of Pembroke might want a bunch of, to be honest, rather sketchy drawings of a town in Kent to the book, which takes the reader through it all step by step, answering questions logically and without the hysteria I probably would have plunged into had I been the Phantom to have made this particular discovery.

No – it’s not definitely Hawksmoor’s work – no one can be definite about these things. But the authors put up a spirited argument for his having a hand in it – after all, he was Clerk of Works at Greenwich and he did make other plans of the town.

Whether or not it is in Hawksmoor’s hand is, frankly though, less exciting than what the drawings actually represent. All the main buildings of Greenwich in the early 18th Century, even down to the humbler dwellings that no one usually bothers to record.

If you check the drawings against the buildings that still stand it’s clear the images are pretty accurate, so it’s worth taking a punt that the sketches of ones we’ve lost are also correct. They’re not works of art – they’re just quick line drawings for record purposes – but they’re better than nothing which is what we had before.

So – back to the book. What the authors have done is take each section of the panorama and study it in detail. Peter Kent has created then-and-now drawings in his inimitable style (there’s never going to be any question about HIS work in the future…)  so it’s easy to see what was where and Neil Rhind and Julian Watson have filled in the historical details, and added photographs. To be honest some of the photos don’t really have much connection with the drawings save to create context but that’s hardly surprising. The whole point of this discovery is that something has been found where before there was nothing.

It’s written in the detailed, accurate yet easy-on-the-eye style that  historians have come to expect from these three Greenwich heavy-hitters. I gobbled it up in an evening, but it still sits on the Phantom coffee table for repeated dips.

An important book in the local history armoury – not so much recommended as required.

Puss In Boots

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013


WARNING: In the following review I may appear to be raving about this show. Sorry. I am.

Is this the best Greenwich panto yet? Beauty and the Beast runs a close second, and Jack & the Beanstalk was pretty darn good (I think that was the one with the most ridiculous version of Bohemian Rhasposdy I’ve ever heard)  but this one – oh, this one, is just wonderful.

Perhaps it’s because so few people know the Charles Perrault original which means that the result this year is bafflingly obscure – most adults in my party were totally lost (the kids got it completely) but, much like the other Perrault story with no real plot, Mother Goose, it gives so much leeway for – well, anything really, that the end product is anarchic, surreal and without any of that ‘that’s not what happened’ moments that come with some of the better-known interpretations.

It’s the most densely-joke-packed Greenwich Christmas offering so far – if you don’t like the gag  currently onstage, don’t worry, there will be another one along in a second you will like even less. I have this image of Andrew Pollard spending the rest of the year living in a Christmas cracker factory, surviving on discarded paper mottoes scraped up off the floor…

In fact a lot of the jokes are so fast, you almost miss them. One ‘Behind You’ opportunity was so throwaway the entire audience missed it. Some are delightfully topical – I got the feeling that one had been put in that very night as a  ’hmm…slightly iffy –  let’s put it in and see if it flies…’ Guys – it did.

My Christmas wouldn’t be right without Andrew Pollard’s Dame (Fruity Fifi – this year…) and Paul Critoph’s jolly Baron-character – without either of them it just wouldn’t seem right. Pollard gets panto (which is more than I can say for the writers of at least one other I’ve seen this year)

The Carry On naughtiness, the silly fun for the kids, the topical gags for the adults, the spurious scenes that have no relation whatsoever for the plot: ‘Oh – I seem to be a bit early for the picnic. Think I’ll go for a swim…’ the fact that everyone can sing, dance and act (not always a given, I have discovered elsewhere…) the range of songs – chart hits and oldies – the delights of a well-delivered slop scene and plenty of audience participation. Yes. That’s panto.

I had been slightly worried when I discovered that Anthony Spargo wasn’t to be in this year’s show. He’s a relatively recent addition but I had already got used to his gangly evilness as villain-du-jour. But I have to say that Robert Andonis Anthony fills those ridiculous sparkly boots extremely well. I loved the way that he made me a bit nervous when he first came on – I thought ‘ Oh, no – this guy actually takes himself seriously’ – then as soon as a certain word was uttered (repeatedly, tee hee…) the face, noise and posture he took made it abundantly clear that if he’s a serious Shakespearian thespian during the rest of the year, he’s on holiday at the moment.

Ditto the slightly-worried bit when I heard Luke Striffler’s American accent – but he is marvellous as the YRL Sam – gently ribbed by Fruity Fifi and if he may have to get a grip on himself with the corpsing if people want to get the last train home it’s hardly the worst crime at the moment – at least his giggles seem genuine where I’ve noticed recently a habit (on the West End stage, shockingly) of ‘staged corpsing’ that just leaves a nasty taste in the spectral mouth.

From the delightful shadow puppets, through the ridiculous French cliches (oui, no possiblité left unplundered there…) to monstrous set-pieces this is a delight. Crepes, dancing shoes, space-cats, pugilism, Liberace, Les Dawson, Les Miserables, vegetables and a ‘bikini’ that has been seared on my retina for life (thanks, chaps…) it’s just fantastic.

If I had to tweak it just a leeetle, I’d have started with more lives left and enjoyed a few more Road-Runner style deaths, given the chorus a bit more to do (though can I have one of those walkdown hats, please..?) had a singalong song I could have actually sung and – yeah, sorry – that probably was a bikini too far for me…

But that’s teeny, teeny stuff. Overall this is one of the very best pantos I’ve seen – and believe me – I’ve seen a lot.

I’ve actually only seen one other panto so far this year (it’s early days…) which was utterly, utterly dismal. I won’t reveal which it was as I really like the theatre – they used to be one of the best shows in town – sadly on the evidence I saw they aren’t any more – totally magic-free and with a cast that could neither sing, dance nor act,  but  I try to get to see at least the big indie favourites each year.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that when it comes to this particular subject I’m not being my usual parochial Greenwich-is-the-best-at-everything self. I do actually know panto pretty damn well and Greenwich is still the best in London as far as I’m concerned – and I promise you I would tell you if I’d seen anything better.

I think it’s pretty much sold out – but if you can get a ticket you won’t be disappointed.

That Niggling Feeling…

Friday, December 6th, 2013

… when I read the latest edition of Greenwich Time.

When a newspaper that is the unashamed mouthpiece of the council uses such weasel words as “the borough is also working with the [Greenwich] theatre to explore the future of the building” without even attempting to jazz it up, alarm bells start ringing in my spectral ears.

They’re somewhat clumsily trying to make it look like a good news story – a ‘boost for the arts,’ no less – bigging up the old borough hall as a new hub for the performing arts – which to me just reads as’a way to close down the theatre by pretending to move it into the old borough hall.’

I mean – c’mon – if it was a good ‘future of the building’ Greenwich Time would have been all over the lovely, exciting possiblities like a particularly virilant rash. It’s the sin of omission, GT – when you’re desperate to make everything the council does look good, missing something like that out sounds bloomin’ ominous to me.

Back in the 1960s the people of Greenwich – not just the posh ones – everybody – went to incredible lengths to not only save Greenwich Theatre but to rebuild it and create something quite extraordinary – a force to be reckoned with in 1970s and 80s theatre, attracting major, A-lister stars. Just google within this blog and you’ll find loads of references to the recent history of the place – it’s impressive.

Sadly, thanks to the savage cuts of the 1990s and beyond it’s no longer able to keep up the kind of starry presence it had, but Greenwich Theatre is still an important venue. We owe it to the residents who saved it for us, to keep a close eye on what the council intend to do with not just the theatre but the building – if not for ourselves, for the generation that comes after us.

At the moment, this is just a niggle at the back of my tricorn. But I – and many other residents, if my postbag is to be believed – will be watching this story closely. If there is the slightest whiff of anything – well – how shall I put it…evil…I’ll be manning those barricades faster than the entire cast of Les Miserables.

Panto Quandary

Friday, December 6th, 2013

By rights this should be in the Parish News section, though I confess I’ve not touched it for a long time – sorry folks – things have been very, very hectic recently.

But this one is really worth asking.

Do you know anyone who might be alone on Boxing Day who might like to go to Greenwich Panto with a family?

Basically a long-term phantophile told me today that his father-in-law has passed away suddenly. Along with all the other ghastly things that has to happen when a loved one dies, they have realised that they will be sitting in a theatre on Boxing Day that’s rammed to the gunnels with happy, excited people – with an ominous empty seat looming next to them.

Greenwich Theatre won’t refund the ticket, so the family would really like to take someone who might otherwise be alone that day (sorry I don’t know if it’s a matinee or evening perf…) If you know the warden of sheltered housing or something like that, please do ask them, and contact me – I will pass your email on.