Archive for March, 2014

Now You See Him…

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Photo: Michael Graham Smith

… and Michael for one is delighted and has sent me photos of the wandering prodigal.

For anyone who doesn’t know the shenanigans, Greenwich’s ugliest statue disappeared some time ago, not long before Greenwich Inc, who had taken over much many of Greenwich’s once-great eateries and run them into the ground, went bust.

All kinds of rumours abounded over what had happened to the sculpture, most of which surrounded its ideal candidacy for being melted down to resemble that Henry Moore piece on Millbank and its projected value in metal form. If you missed it all, Greenwich Visitor covers it nicely in its Jan edition.

But then suddenly last Thursday, Jonathan at the Greenwich Society sent me this:

Photo: Jonathan Chandler

…and all the cards were back on the table.

In a very short time, he was right back where he’d been upsetting me for several years.

Photo: Jonathan Chandler

So what the hell’s been going on there, then..?

If he was taken away for cleaning/mending/whatever why were Greenwich Inc so bloomin’ cagey about it? They could have saved themselves a lot of aggro if they’d just given us a bit of proof of Nelson’s continuing existence. Perhaps a photo of him tied up in the workshop with a current edition of Greenwich Visitor tucked under his arm?

Everyone knows what I think of this particular bit of ‘art.’I am entirely neutral about the return of the ugliest interpretation of one of history’s sexiest men, but I am pleased that at least it doesn’t appear anything sinister went on with it.

What I am much gladder about is what’s going on in the background. See that scaffolding? It’s about bloomin’ time – there were cracks all over the venerable building paint peeling and buddlia growing out of the roof. I’ve been hearing very encouraging rumours about who might be moving in there. Fingers crossed my source is right but the main thing is that money is being spent on the old girl for the first time in ages. Too late for the little nautically-themed bar that was lost under Inc’s ownership, but perhaps in time to save the rest of the historic building.

And so, for people like Micheal who sent me this, who like the statue, I leave you with another image of the returned hero. As he says – all kinds of rumours circulated but “What the Hell! Let’s rejoice at its reinstatement – welcome back Horatio!”

Photo: Michael Graham Smith

For the rest of us I leave you with the image of that scaffolding and a ray of hope for the Trafalgar itself.

Create Your Own Secret Sundial

Friday, March 28th, 2014

I know – this should really be in the Parish News section, but hey – my blog, my rules. Besides, I feel like a little bit of a midwife on this one as I helped play Cupid between the collaborators on this project…

Remember the fabulous Secret Sundial? Here it is again:

Well, after Cathy from Stereochron got in touch with me about said Secret Sundial, I put her together with the very splendid and generally-up-for-interesting-stuff Marek Kukula at the Royal Observatory, suggesting that they created a festival of sundials so people could learn to make their own and spread sunshine and time around Greenwich.

And they’re doing it! At Summer Solstice, no less!

Cathy is actually artisit in residence at Chisenhale Gallery in Victoria Park over in trendy Hackney which makes it all the cooler that ‘our’ happening is the grand culmination of the events for  her wider project. You can see all the events on the website, but this is the Greenwich one I’m puffing out my Phantom chest about…

Making Midsummer Solar Clocks
Saturday 21 June, 11am-4pm. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich Park, London SE10 8XJ
Sunday 22 June, 11am-4pm. The Hub Building, Victoria Park, London E9 5DU 

Immerse yourself in the vital link between sunlight and time by spending Midsummer learning how to make clocks from the shadows of ordinary objects. For Stereochron Island, Chisenhale Gallery and Victoria Park are collaborating with The Royal Observatory to run two day-long workshops over the Summer Solstice weekend led by Public Astronomer Marek Kukula. Both workshops explore how to tell time by the Sun, how the movements in the solar system affect shifts on Earth and how time in Greenwich Park is different from Victoria Park time.

These two day-long events are for ages 16 and up. They include moving about on uneven parkland. You may attend one or both days. 

I’ll be updating the regular Parish News this weekend, so listings in by then please…

Charlton Prefabs

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Carol over at Charlton Parks Reminiscence Project has a problem. She says:

We know that at one time there were prefabs built in Charlton Park along Canberra Road. I am now chasing this up, spurred on by a previous resident who lived in the prefabs as a boy, who has asked if we have any photographs of these buildings.

During the project we couldn’t track any down, can you or your readers help please? We would also like to add a photo, if any can be found, to the website as this was a frequently recollection by many participating in the project.

I guess the issue is that there aren’t too many people who take pictures of prefabs. In retrospect, yes; at the time, when film was expensive and not many people had cameras anyway, less likely.

But maybe someone here has something?

Gold Rush

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

I just couldn’t resist this photo by Jon – a double rainbow over Greenwich Park, bringing us all hope for Spring, that at last this ghastly wet weather is coming to an end.

The prize for whoever can work out the exact spots where it hits the ground: a double pot of gold. Maybe enough to bring us the Cycle Scheme. Or put a deep end in the new swimming pool. Or keep a few trees. Though maybe all of that isn’t really down to money, just the will to make it happen…


Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Wyl asks:

Would like to know if you have a view on why Greenwich has no access to the London bike scheme and has not been included in any expansion scheme.

The Phantom replies:

Why yes, oddly I do, Wyl, thank you for asking. I think the answer’s simple: cash.

Bascially if they were to include Greenwich, they would have to send those little trucks trundling all the way round from the town centre via one of the bridges or the tunnels to bring bikes/take them away and by road it’s a bloomin’  long way.

I often see people bringing Boris bikes over to Greenwich and think ‘ you poor things, you do realise you’re going to have to take ‘em right back afterwards – there’s no dock to be had here.

It would be great to have a dock at the Cutty Sark so people could bring their bikes over to see the sights or even for us to bimble around home town but to do it in isolation would be hugely expensive, and to roll it out all the way from London Bridge to us, via Bermondsey/Rohtherhithe/Deptford, desirable as it might be, nigh-on ruinous.

I know – it seems such a short distance from Island Gardens, but with the Thames in the way and no viable river crossing that doesn’t involve a heck of a long way round I can’t see any expansion happening soon, much as I’d like it.

But maybe someone else has a different idea? Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and it wouldn’t be that pricey after all?

Wood Wharf Studios in the 80s

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Folks – a Phantom First today. Actually, probably a Phantom One-Off as I don’t want to make a habit of it, but I enjoyed this so much I’m making an exception here. I bring you a Guest Phantom.

No – not one of those ghastly things I keep being sent offering to write a blog for me on any subject I choose, all they want is to put a few cookies in it, I promise (though I confess the temptation to give them ‘a subject’ and see how they get on with it is strong…)

This, dear readers, is Phantophile Raymond Dunthorne’s experiences as aspiring drummer, gofer and Sandwich Maker to the Stars at the fabulously chaotic Wood Wharf studios in the days of music legend Billy Jenkins. It’s wonderful.

My only regret is that Raymond was so bloomin’ busy making craven images of idols in bread form that he never managed to take any photos. Not even of the sandwiches. He (and I) would love to see any that other Phantophiles out there may have (photos that is, not sarnies). Enjoy…

Wood Wharf Rehearsal Studio was next door to the last working barge yard on the Thames. In the day I would heave backline and drum kits from studio to studio to the sound of welding and some sort of barge-specific panel beating that involved the 6’6 curly-headed, bargeman repeatedly wazzocking the side of a barge with a sledge-hammer. At night local children would scamper over the barges leaping from one to the other, prompting yet another call to the river police, who eventually got sick of my misplaced concern and advised me – off the record – to get an air rifle and shoot near them.

The morning melge of industrial noises would be subsumed by the quiet sizzling of one of O’Hagan’s Sausages in the cottage kitchen, under the grill and watchful eye of Billy Jenkins. He – quite rightly –took his sausage seriously. I’d spend a lot of time in that kitchen, across the alleyway from the main studios, next door to the windowless back one, which sounded like you were rehearsing inside a shipping container. The upper floor of the cottage was where Billy, Annie and the twins lived.

When I wasn’t clearing studios, emptying ashtrays, not-recycling the empty Baltic lager cans (those were the days) and moving pre-booked gear from room to room while systematically failing to stop it getting stolen, I’d be cooking two huge turkeys for the week’s sandwich sales.

The catering really was one of the main earners and Annie oversaw it enthusiastically. I don’t know if a slip-up actually would have been more than my job was worth (£100 for 7 days a week, 11am to11pm) but I couldn’t afford to find out and I didn’t want to let Mark Ramsden, who had got me in the door, down.

It was an exciting operation: slicing peppers, radish, cucumber, carrot, stuffed olives and lettuce, all to extremely close tolerances, under the cormorant’s stare of Annie, who’d give me a Thatcher-like lecture if she spotted me risking the economy by buttering both slices of bread (one slice got the cheap catering margarine) or if I put so much as three blades of cress too many on a plate, before cling-filming it and writing the recipient’s name on it in marker pen.

I was an aspiring drummer relatively new to London and the cash was tempered with free studio time, plus all the turkey sandwiches I could eat. I think they said open access to turkey was part of the deal.

The place was relentlessly busy. Four bands in the day, generally someone you’d heard of, someone signed or about to be, or just various pros getting something into shape. Four bands in the evening, generally someone you hadn’t heard of and almost certainly never would. If you’re in a band, rehearse in the day. You’ll never make it otherwise.

Anyway, I made sandwiches for the lot of them.

Sometimes even if none were ordered. If they looked hungry and Annie wasn’t looking.

The big studio, with multiple soundproofed windows directly on to the river had just gone up not long before I started in 1980-something (I don’t want to think about it) just after Dire Straits and Kate Bush had been regulars in the next-biggest room. The owner of the land was an ex-magistrate and knew enough about planning law to ensure that all the building work was done at night, so nobody noticed.

This big room had a stage and Squeeze would book it out for a fortnight or more to get ready for a tour. The drummer, Gilson Lavis would park his camper van in the alley and live in it for the duration.

This struck me as peculiar.

They would all head out from about 4 in the afternoon and I’d practice on his kit in my downtime. Loose Tubes were regulars, which always meant a big sandwich order. I’d get the prepping done well in advance and was pretty quick, getting the salad arrangement down to such a fine art, I could do the face of whoever’s sandwich it was, the meager half-slices of things and stuffed olives making Raymond’s Sandwich Faces an obvious way to go.

There was one band I had a 100% success rate with. No need to write the name: the singer had a red beard (shredded carrot) the bass player was bald (easy) and the keyboard player was Chinese (obvious).

There was what looked like modern art on the walls of the second biggest room also directly fronting the river. These were large, abstract oil paintings by the owner’s wife. I can’t describe them, except to say that she must have been very angry about something. I tried to sell them of course. No takers.

There was a fairly idyllic flat above this room that no one ever lived in; it was for the owner’s ‘occasional use’ and stuffed full of statues. There might have been a chaise lounge. If not, there should have been. I’d have to dust and clean the flat prior to him flying in, almost literally once. He’d got clearance to land his float plane on the Thames and moor at Wood Wharf, but conditions weren’t favourable on the day. Whenever he did make it, there’d always be a brown envelope stuffed full of cash waiting for him on the coffee table.

You could get on to the roof in between the small studio and the second biggest: ‘No High Jinks on the Roof Terrace’ said the sign.

I’ve retained a few other things that mattered to me at the time. Don Henley booked in for a month, only to disappear after three weeks without paying the studio or the musicians. ‘Are you sure it was actually Don Henley?’ Annie interrogated. It wasn’t.

Billy thought this was hysterical. Django Bates laughed out loud at a Buddy Rich arrangement I was listening to in the office, quite rightly too. Bill Bruford stopped to enjoy some live Jan Garbarek I had on. I told Simon Napier-Bell to move his car (I didn’t ask, I told him) he laughed too. Then moved it.

The only person to treat me like I wasn’t doing something useful was a bloke who pulled up in his Porsche when I was looking after the place by myself for a few weeks. ‘How much do you want for this lot? A million do it?’ I said it would do it. He gave me a look over: ‘you’re the cleaner aren’t you?’ I said yes, even though I wasn’t.


Tree Felling in Greenwich Town Centre – and Greenwich Park…

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Sorry folks – a depressing one today. I bring you, courtesy of Rod, a set of grim pictures of Bardsley Green, which is about to be green for not much longer…

After a long fight, the developers are moving in after all.

I’ve lost track of the scope of the demolition – whether we are to lose Up the Creek Comedy venue completely or just everything but the front – I suspect we won’t see that thinking chap sitting on the bog much longer if it’s to be luxury flats…

…or whether the delightfully eccentric Greenwich Bookplace and its equally delightfully eccentric owner will finally be homeless.

I seem to remember the Lord Hood is safe now…

But if anyone can fill me in on exactly what’s going on, I’d be grateful. I sometimes wonder whether one of the most powerful weapons in developers’ armory is to string everything out and make things so confusing locals just get confuddled and give up.

In the meanwhile I also hear that there’s a planning application going through at the moment that will allow St Mary’s Lodge Cafe just inside the gates of Greenwich Park to start selling alcohol.

I confess that I don’t personally have a big issue with enjoying a nice glass of wine on a summer’s day in the park and I disagree that it’s going to lead to any more drunken disruption in the park than might already happen given the number of straightforward pubs in the area – if you really want to get tanked before you go through the park gates you only need to cross the road (and I can’t see that the drink on sale in the cafe is going to be anything other than the usual overpriced fare on sale in Greenwich Park venues) – but what concerns residents is that the application also makes provision for after-hours drinking for private events which would involve security staff at the gates etc. They’re concerned that the noise will be intrusive.

I’ve heard rumour that the park keeper is planning to clear away trees and shrubs there – presumably to increase the drinking area so it looks as though Royal Parks is supportive of the plan. I am assuming that the trees and shrubs concered aren’t going to be fabulous specimens given the way they did actually protect important trees during the Olympics, but I’d be keen to be sure of that and if they include those amazing limes that smell so heavenly every May/June I’ll erect the barricades myself.

I shall be interested to see how Greenwich Council deal with this application. I know they’ve been turning down applications in the centre of town because of potential disruption and disorder – I wonder if they’ll be dazzled by the gilding on those park gates and give the Park itself special treatment…

There’s only a week to object (if you do) but although I have seen the application I can’t find it on Greenwich Council’s website and I don’t have time to attach it as a PDF. If you want to know more email me and I’ll pass you onto the residents who are organising objections.

Parking Revenue

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Richard has sent me the figures for parking revenue across the capital thanks to the HC Transport Committee’s evidence (sorry about the poor quality of the image, my fault entirely, but click on the image to get a slightly better view):

These figures are a bit odd because you have to take into account how much the various councils are spending on enformcement of their regulations – so while Croydon made £11.9 in car parking last year, they have a hell of a lot more traffic wardens than us – they spent £10.5m on making drivers cough up. Given how many wardens we seem to have Croydon must be swarming with chaps in blue anoraks sticking notices on windscreens

So – Greenwich made a £1.5m profit in its car parks. Now, call me controversial, but I am ambivolent towards this. I don’t like paying to park outside Phantom Towers and I don’t care for the prices charged in car parks, but I find myself thinking it’s my choice to drive and if they didn’t get £1.5m through charging people on choice-things, they might raise the cash through things where people poorer than me might have no choice.

What I’m less sure about is what they’re going to spend that £1.5m on. I’ve been a bit unimpressed with the Council’s choices recently, not least in the rumours I’m hearing about the theatre.

Anyway – just letting you know we appear to be doing pretty well on the parking revenue side. I suspect other Phantophiles may not be as forgiving as I am on raising cash this way  - what are your thoughts?

The Phantom Comedy Group

Friday, March 14th, 2014

After searching in vain (even on this blog) for a comedy writing group in the area Anne, clearly a masochist of every stripe, not only wants to start one herself, she’s willing to organise it too, calling it the Phantom Writers Group, which is a bit of a joke really, given I couldn’t stand up and tell a gag if I tried.

Her suggestion is to meet up with people in the cafe in the Pleasaunce, which given the weather just now seems like a fine idea. If you’re interested drop me a line and I’ll pass you on to Anne.

I don’t know if she’s planning to just write stand up, drama or even comic novels. If they did the last they could be read by the highly sucessful Phantom Book Group and pop would eat itself…

Renaming Bugsbys Reach

Monday, March 10th, 2014

We talked about this a few months ago – the plan to rename the part of the Thames currently known as Bugsby’s Reach to Waterman’s Reach. It’s in honour of the 500th anniversary of a statute regulating water traffic on the river.

In truth I have no real objection to the idea. But why choose Bugsby’s Reach? It’s quirky, local and historic (it’s believed Mr B was a local market gardener, but I love the mystery – I like to think he was a smuggler in his spare time…). The PLA could have had, certainly with Phantom blessing, the stretch of water next door, Greenwich Reach. I’m relaxed about the name ‘Greenwich Reach’ – we know where we are – it’s geographic, nothing more. Bugsby’s is personal. Let’s keep it that way.

You can read the consultation here

If you agree with me that renaming Bugsby’s Reach is a cheap target, write to and tell him that he’s welcome to Greenwich Reach but hands off Mr B…