Archive for the ‘Debates’ Category

Students and Civvies

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

When I was at college there were two distinct sorts of town. There were the students – and there were the regular people who lived in the town. We virtually never met. We lived side by side and I although don’t recall falling out with anyone (though there was a rather good day when I went round to my next door neighbour to warn them I was going to hold a party only to have her pre-empt me with an apology about the amount of noise they were making themselves) we didn’t interact.

Greenwich is a bit like that. We have a massive student population – the univeristy, several colleges, Trinity/Laban and various business-y type colleges that I can’t keep track of – but we seem to have very little connection with each other. It’s not that we actively avoid each other, we just don’t have much reason to connect.

This seems to be a shame. And Alex, who is president of the university Student Union, agrees. He says “I love Greenwich and students love greenwich. I’m keen to work on more community cohesion.”

I don’t really know what we can do together but it could be fun to start thinking about it. Alex is keen to encourage people to contact him if they have issues they wish to discuss or any questions (his email is but maybe we should start a discussion about this.

Any suggestions for groovy stuff we can do without either side looking like it’s doing an ‘outreach project’? Whatever it is, it needs to be through a genuine wish to get to know each other.

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?

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…

Greenwich Theatre at Risk

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Folks – it’s been a few days – sorry – ridiculous amounts on the Phantom plate just now. But I think it’s about time we started chewing on a few rumours that have been circulating and while I’m not panicking just yet, the ball should at least get rolling in our minds.

I’ve been hearing rumours at Phantom towers – slips and drips of information that I think you should know and we should discuss. This is going to be long post – sorry – but it all needs to come out and I won’t be able to rest until I’ve shared my fears.

Before I even get started on Greenwich Council’s rather strange new policies re. the arts I want to take you back – as I have done several times on this blog, to the late 1960s early 1970s when Greenwich was in turmoil. There was serious risk of a massive ring-road type motorway-thing being driven through the town centre as part of ‘modernisation’ plans, which would have seen off pretty much all of our historic town. However little we have left now, believe me there would have been less had the good burghers of Greenwich not fought tooth and claw against wholesale destruction.

At the same time other doughty Greenwichians (many of whom I am sure were the same guys we need to thank for saving the town centre…) were busy saving Greenwich Theatre. They held old time music halls, raffles, fund-raisers, dances – whatever – and didn’t just save the theatre they rebuilt it, then turned it into a performance space that attracted not just heavy-hitter actor and producers, but massive hitters.

We have the cuts of the 80s to thank for the loss of a West End class theatre in Greenwich, but despite a hiatus a few years ago when the place was temporarily closed, it has, so far managed to survive. The panto, as everyone who reads this blog will know, is a superb, but superb night out and the rest of the year there is a programme which while not always to my personal taste (though I do go, of course) continues to keep the theatre alive.

The Council are currently bigging-up as a good thing their plans to turn the beautiful Borough Hall (we’ll get onto that one in a minute) into a new-fangled ‘arts hub’. For this read ‘All Things to All Men and Nothing to Anyone.’ They’re planning to dump all their cash into one building and make all the arts groups work out of that. Believe me no one benefits from a multi-purpose space – it’s fit for no one.

My immediate thought on this was – what happens to the theatre? The one that the people of Greenwich built, not the council?

Currently we don’t know, but that’s where the rumours have been trickling my way, from various sources, none of them certain, but all of them worrying.

Apparently there’s been a consultation going on. I didn’t know about this, maybe it’s common knowledge, I’ve certainly been busy recently and things have been slipping by. Let’s assume I’ve been asleep.

The consultation has been thinking about what to do with Greenwich Theatre and a few possiblities have emerged.

OPTION ONE: To invest in both Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre, work on the fabric of the building, improve front of house and generally make it all better. Of course this would be fantastic, but, call me a cynical Phantom but I’m not definitely counting on this one happening…

OPTION TWO: To sell both the Borough Hall and Greenwich Theatre on the open market and build a new-multi-purpose arts centre.

I will fight this tooth and boot. Both these assets belong to the people of Greenwich and it is not for an individual council to make a decision over a long-term asset. The Theatre, especially, would not exist but for the people of Greenwich. It is not theirs to sell.

I went to a class at GDA the other day and it was a pleasure – a superb floor, unencumbered by dents, nicks or spills because it is a dedicated dance space. Once a space starts to have to be ‘multipurpose’ it starts being not good for anything.

OPTION THREE: Sell Borough Hall and move GDA into a new dance space on the roof of Greenwich Theatre. The words ‘quart’ and ‘pint pot’ spring to mind. A ridiculous idea. The loss of such an asset is extremely short-termist.

OPTION FOUR: Sell Greenwich Theatre and move everything into Borough Hall. This seems to be what they’re planning to do – and trying, through Greenwich Time etc. to make it look like a good thing.

I repeat – if not actually, morally Greenwich Theatre is not the council’s to sell. It belongs to the people who saved it. We must not lose this facility.

I walked past the ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ the other day with a friend who was asking what would happen to the swimming pool at the Arches – I told her that we would be swapping two specialist swimming pools for one general pool with two shallow ends and no diving. We are actually going backwards with our sports facilities. We cannot allow this to happen with our arts too.

But the rumours continue – and not just rumours either. How about this planning application the council is applying to itself for? To add a Barratt-Homes-style extra storey on the top of Borough Hall? No drawings available (oddly… I’m sure they’d have asked anyone else applying for planning permission for a few elevations…) – but this is a beautiful late-art-deco building, balanced and fine. What the hell are they planning to do?

Worry, good citizens of Greenwich. Worry.

Greenwich Inc

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me why I have made no comment on the ongoing and frankly messy demise of Greenwich Inc and this morning I got yet another request to discuss it, so hey, here we go.

The reason I’ve not mentioned it is not sinister, I promise. Basically I heard rumours a long while ago, but couldn’t talk about it for legal reasons until it became official. Then Rob over at started a thread and I don’t like to tread on toes if there’s a good old ding-dong going on elsewhere as it tends to water down discussion. You can read that discussion here.

Greenwich Visitor (the only local paper actually worth bothering with these days, IMHO) also covered it well and I’m not particularly into reinventing the wheel, however splendid a wheel it might be.

But hey – I’ve been asked once too often now, so yes – let’s look at it.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock for the past few months, Greenwich Inc. has gone into administration, Frank Dowling, its main man, is being investigated for fraud and it’s all looking rather grim.

Sounds to me like the classic expansion too far, and however serious the schadenfreude might be, for many Greenwich people the main questions will linger around what this means for the town.

Few people liked what Greenwich Inc. did to – well, Greenwich. Interesting, cute restaurants turned into bloated monsters, historic interiors ripped out and replaced with plush fakes, quirky menus switched for generic pap.

It was often quite a downer visiting the places too – I remember asking a waiter about the tips and him saying ‘I don’t care how you pay it – I don’t see it whatever form it comes in.’ After that I always slipped them cash.

Of course Greenwich Inc wasn’t just in the town centre – it expanded to the O2, the Isle of Dogs and ever the City. For me, I care little about what happened elsewhere, even over at the O2 – it was a new venue and he could do what he liked with it, though that Indian restaurant that was there when it first opened was marvellous, and his takeover of that was a real pity.

But what we’re left with in the town itself is a worry:

The Trafalgar Tavern – in a dreadful state and under threat of a godawful hotel thrown up next to it. There’s buddlia growing out of the roof, cracks in the stucco small creatures could set up mansion in and a general air of melancholy. I’m told this is still controlled under a different management, but it’s one of Greenwich’s brightest jewels and it’s not glittering as it might. Having said that, it’s not all bad – that ghastly statue of Nelson has disappeared, some say mysteriously. I was sent some photos of it being loaded onto a van…

(c) Townly Cooke

The Bar du Musee – a delightful, quirky French restaurant by an antiques shop, expanded and bloated until it became a ghastly monster with zero character and dreadful food. Still not sure how that kind of over-expansion was allowed, but it was sort of hollowed out over the years, like the chalk mines under the heath. Jamie Oliver has it now and it’s okay for a chain, but I’d have the old Bar du Musee back any day.

The Spread Eagle – oh, the Spread Eagle – a charming old coaching inn, next to a couple of funky little Dick Moy junk emporia. Again, ripped out, hollowed out and blandified – how was this even allowed? But at least it had one hell of an art collection, bought by Dowling from Dick Moy, as I understand. Now, it’s part of that fraud investigation as The Greenwich Visitor will tell you at length, all of that art has disappeared. It was a wonderful collection, and I know it was private – but I’d love to see it saved for the people of Greenwich – if they can find it, of course.

The Cricketers – a nice old codgers’ pub on the south east of the Market. First the appalling Powder Monkey – a taste-free, purpose-built ‘gay bar’ created as some kind of ‘replacement’ for the Gloucester Arms. The local gay population took one look at the hideous urinals and voted with their feet. Then it was the least exotic Tiki bar you’ll ever come across, followed by the dreary W Lounge, then the smelliest fish and chip shop in town. It’s now Goddards Pies. Don’t get me started on why Goddards should never have moved from their original place (where Gourmet Burger Kitchen is now) but I guess it’s the best of the bunch.

The Admiral Hardy – a pub turned into student bar. I don’t know much about it as it wasn’t one I knew well enough to comment on. I believe it’s still owned by an independent company.

The Clarence Music Hall – This was a music hall above the entrance to the market. To be honest, I have no idea what this was like before Greenwich Inc moved in, but I do remember the ‘erotic’ wallpaper and being laughed at when I got the proverbial fly in my (v. expensive) cocktail. I never returned. Wouldn’t it be a cool replacement for Greenwich Playhouse? Of course that will never happen…

The Gloucester Arms – a nice, quiet gay pub, replaced with a generic modern bar in many forms, most recently the Greenwich Tavern. I don’t hate it, there’s nothing specific to hate – but it is all part of the blandification of Greenwich.

The Coach and Horses – the pub in the south west corner of the market, completing Greenwich Inc’s total ownership of all four corners. I heard terrible stories of how it went downhill ‘backstage’ getting, I am told, into a terrible condition. I don’t know if it still is.

I don’t know what will happen with Frank Dowling and Greenwich Inc, but I am concerned about the state the debacle has left Greenwich in. These buildings, without exception, are historic, and need attention from, ideally, lots of different people so that this wholesale degradation cannot happen again should an ‘empire’ go bust.

Wanted: Quirky, passionate individuals (with bottomless pockets and/or energy) to create something cool out of Greenwich Inc’s ashes…

What’s in a Name?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

That which we call Bugsby’s Reach
By any other name would smell as slightly seaweedy when the tide goes out…

…but why would we bother? What real benefit is there in changing the name, however curious, to the somewhat prosaic Watermans Reach? To me it sounds like one of those fake ‘ancient’ names they give to new-build housing estates to try to give them some character.

But Bugsby’s already has character – and although I’m not going to man the barricades over the PLA’s alleged plan to change the stretch of water’s name to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Watermen, I confess that changing something old, mysterious and Greenwich to something that although alluding to something else old and mysterious is, frankly a bit bland.

No one’s imagination is going to be sparked by seeing that name on a map – we all know what a waterman is.

Nobody knows who Bugsby was. I like to think he (or even she, wouldn’t that be cool…) was a smuggler who brought good old fashioned contraband like French brandy, jewels and silks through the underground passages of Greenwich Peninsula to the Pilot Inn ready to stash in the rafters there.

Poor old Pilot. I have a horrid feeling those historic rafters aren’t going to exist much longer – they may even have already gone in what I suspect might not be a totally sympathetic bunch of building work going on there just now. I don’t know what they’re doing but my phantom gut is telling me big and inappropriate. Yick. There’s an interesting (and depressing) article here on why this ancient pub isn’t listed (the last paragraph gives yet another reason as to why Mary Mills rocks) and why Fullers essentially can do what they like to it.

They’d be fools, of course. People go to the Pilot for its historic nature and the whole Thames Pubness of it. Lose that and you have another average pub. Naturally it may turn out okay and they might be doing something that won’t make it hideous, but I’m definitely keeping a wary eye on it (no pic as I’m always on the bus when I go by, trying to crane my neck to see what’s going on – sorry…)

But I’ve gone back to bad habits and am digressing yet again. I was on the shadowy figure of Bugsby. When I suggested to Mary my fantasy about the Mysterious B as a smuggler she said

there is some story of a pirate hiding in the bushes but I went right though the (very difficult to read) Wallscot minutes and there was nothing – although they seem to be able to record every bramble bush on the peninsula from 1620 onwards.

If you run the name Bugsby through the web it is a commoner name in the West Indies and America than here. Remember that bit of the peninsula is opposite what was the East India Co. depot and there would have been lots of big ships anchored there – so its possible Bugsby was someone a bit exotic. The first mention of the name is – I think – 1715ish – before that it was Podds Elms or Cockshutt Reach.

So Bugsby’s isn’t the first name for this stretch of water.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve got anything against Watermen. Far from it. I love ‘em. These are the guys who wear brilliant hats, have a great (original) livery hall and bring you Doggetts Coat and Badge Wager every year. And I am only too happy to let them have a stretch of water all of their very own.

And since I don’t want to be a Phantom NIMBY my suggestion is the other side of the Peninsula. ‘Greenwich Reach’ is a ‘nothing name.’ We know who we are, we don’t need to be reminded. Greenwich Reach doesn’t spark any romantic fantasies – it’s merely geographical.

In the Phantom Book, the Watermen would be only too welcome to change Greenwich Reach to Watermans Reach – actually, I think that would be an excellent idea. Just leave poor Bugsby, whoever he/she was alone…

The Green, Green Acid Grass…

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

I’m a bit disturbed by a little piece in Private Eye this week.

It basically claims that the Sports Turf Research Institute (sounds grand enough, doesn’t it…) who was put in charge of reinstating the grass in Greenwich Park after the Olympic Equestrian events did sow a special mix of seed suitable for acid soil over in the west of the park, but despite being told by Natural England not to water the soil with alkaline mains water (anyone who’s got a kettle round here will know just how alkaline that is…) they proceeded to do so for weeks on end and consequently nothing at all grows there.

The watering was, apparently, approved by Jeremy Hunt who was culture secretary at the time.

PI also claims a ‘surfactant’ (whatever that is) that contains chemicals that killed every living thing to a depth of a metre was also applied. I can’t imagine why they’d do that, but hey, that’s what it says. Traces will apparently hang around for 50 years.

Now, generally, I think that the Park’s come back together pretty nicely – it’s looking utterly gorgeous at the moment.  But Private Eye reckons ‘a lot of turf still needs to be reinstated at the foot of the park‘ – I haven’t actually noticed that; I thought it was all done and dusted down the bottom.

But this is about the acid grassland. PI says that ‘campaigner Rachael Mawhood (from NOGOE – TGP) has sent Natural England photos she took last month of the track on which nothing now grows.’

I was shaken by this so, for once – and I’m not known for verifying my facts before I write about things – I decided to take a peek myself.

TBH I couldn’t find anything much wrong at all. The acid grassland looks gloriously golden and Autumnal, speckled with hawthorn and rowans laden with berries, chestnuts laden with – well, chestnuts and a whole bunch of parakeets waiting to pounce on all of them before the humans get there.

I didn’t really see much bare soil at all – though of course I could have missed that particular bit – I’d be keen to see photographic evidence of bare soil. Some of it was a bit scrubby:

What I did see, though, was this:

Trouble is, I can’t remember the exact route the course took. If it was up here, past Knife Edge (which is also looking good just now) then there is an area in amongst the acid grassland that is just bog-standard turf – which would indicate that if it has been watered with ordinary water, the acid-loving plants have died, leaving just ordinary grass.

Can anyone remember if the course actually covered this area, or if the boring grass has just encroached over the years?

If it is a recent thing I guess  it might be worth scrubbing it up again, re-sowing with acid-loving plant seed and hoping the rains come before it all gets too far gone but I get the feeling this is quite old.

There’s still a fair amount of acid-grassland  and it does look wonderful just now. Shame those poor old Anglo Saxon tumuli get flatter every year…

Pun-Free Headline about Plane Noise

Monday, May 13th, 2013

James asks

I have noticed that a lot more planes are now flying over Greenwich, which wake up my girlfriend and I at 6 in the morning. I know there was a trial that London Heathrow ran a few months ago, but it does seem that the number of flights over Greenwich have risen over time.

Has anyone else noticed this to be case? Do you know of a group that is currently organising protests against this?

The Phantom replies:

Perhaps a little – and I guess as the weather gets warmer and we keep our windows open at night it’s going to get more intrusive. Certainly there are a load of helicopters that hang over us, circling in the holding pattern waiting for permission to enter London-proper. Occasionally when they hover directly overhead I panic and assume an escaped serial killer is hiding in the back yard. And those Chinooks can be damn loud.

Thing is, I find it really hard to get worked up about this one. We live in a city and cities create noise. Yeah, I get woken up occasionally by a plane, and quite a lot by helicopters. But I also get woken up by neighbours’ parties, tipper trucks, dust carts, the ex-mysterious siren, police cars, teenage boy-racers and the warehouse depot near Phantom Towers where the trucks seem to be in permanent reverse mode. They are all irritating, even rage-inducing, but when we live cheek-by-jowl with each other I don’t really see any real way round it.

It’s not like Greenwich used to be a quiet haven of tranquility. It’s always been noisy – whether you’re looking at dinosaurs crashing their way through the primordial jungle, the glassworks, the armour workshops, the factories, the trams, the aggregates yards or the constant foghorns of the ships that have been replaced by the aircraft.

Our government is convinced that the only way ahead for Great Britain PLC is to increase airport capacity – and frankly they are not going to stop until they get their way. As a vaguely green-leaning enviro-Phantom I detest the idea of a fourth runway/new airport – I don’t believe that if we aren’t the giantest air-hub in the universe people will forget we exist and stop trading with us.

So, personally I do actually oppose extra flights/ runways/ airports, but more as a general thing – and not because of the noise. While the Chicago Convention of 1944 remains in place and the world continues to subsidise aviation fuel, air travel will continue to fly asparagus from Peru in September and French beans from Kenya in January, and I find that difficult to deal with, not the noise.

I know I am alone here and that many are getting really angry with the aircraft noise, but it’s a Monday morning, I’m in a right old mood and it’s my blog.

In the interests of balance, however – and to acknowlege the fact that I’m on me tod here, yes, there is a pressure group – HACAN Clear Skies who campaign across the South East against aircraft noise in general and especially around Heathrow.

I guess I’ll get a lot of flack from this one – let the turkey shoot begin…

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:

Health & Safety Gone Maaaaad

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Paul says:

According to The Greenwich Society newsletter The Cutty Sark Tavern are seeking planning permission for a safety rail for their famous and fabulous wall where people like to sit dangling their legs over the river, while supping pints and watching the world go by.

Surely this is one of the worst mistakes a Greenwich pub could ever make? Isn’t the point of this pub that you can sit on that wall?

Other changes in the pub have been positive, well refurbished, with a good new menu, and feature evenings (even though we miss the uncomfortable barrel chairs!).

The Phantom agrees. Whatever happened to the concept of personal responsibility? If you’re old enough to hold a pint in your hand, you’re old enough to take care. If you’re responsible enough to have a small child with you it’s up to YOU to make sure said small child doesn’t fall in the water. It’s not someone else’s problem. Sea and river walls have been around for centuries – yes, they can be hazardous but it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of humans to just use a bit of common sense and not take stupid risks.

I guess the pub doesn’t want to be sued if some idiot falls in. But if I recall there’s already a notice whereby they take no responsibility for stolen items etc. I don’t see it’s their problem if someone across the road from them does something stupid. I guess they could put up another ‘at your own risk…’ type notice though I seem to remember there’s also already a ‘danger’ sign. Stating the bloomin’ obvious, of course, but frankly enough as far as I’m concerned.

IMHO a safety rail is totally unnecessary. We shouldn’t be whinging to others the second we do something silly and Bad Stuff happens. It ISN’T always someone else’s fault. This wall isn’t intrinsically dangerous if it’s treated with respect. We shouldn’t be turning our riverfront into a fortress.

If you agree, do email the new managers Andy and Monse at and let them know what you think. If you don’t, tell me here ;-)