Archive for the ‘Favourite Haunts’ Category

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…)

Favourite Phantom Front Gardens (1)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Angerstein Lane, SE3

After yesterday’s agonies, I thought I go totally fluffy on you today and share one of my favourite secret local corners. It may be cheesy, but sometime’s CheddarVision’s just not enough…

Angerstein Lane (no prizes for guessing the provenance of that name) is one of those places that no one who stumbles upon it can quite believe is in London. A straight passageway behind the posh bit of Vanbrugh Park that curves round the edge of Blackheath – linking St John’s Park and Shooters Hill Road (ok, the A2, go ahead, smash my rustic fantasies) it is merely a dotted line on the map, but a delightful leafy retreat, complete with postbox set into ancient wall, lamp posts and overarching trees straight out of one of those postcards of ‘Old Blackheath’ you can buy in libraries. I would turn this picture into sepia except it’s so bloomin’ small already it would end up fuzzy…

Much of the back of it is garages and back entrances for the big houses on Vanbrugh Park, delightfully neglected in many cases, and there is a secret little path of modern houses (Langton Way) which is so embedded that you don’t notice it until it’s right upon you. But the rest of this path is totally empty – save for one tiny little roses-round-the-door cottage, Number 5, nestled in the only bit of clearing that the sun manages to break through. I can’t work out what happened to Numbers 1,2,3 and 4 – there is no sign that there was ever any other habitation.

At first it looks like it might be part of the giant Victorian building towering among the foliage behind it, and maybe once it was an outhouse, but it is very much a little cottage now. A low, white-walled building, it is cute in itself, but what really makes it is one of the loveliest cottage gardens I have seen in a long while. ‘Designed’ in that wonderfully hap-hazard style of the classic country garden, it has been clothed in traditional flowers and plants by someone who clearly spends a lot of his time out there – and who cares passionately about the bit of land that he’s reclaimed from the lane at the front of his house.

It’s clear the guy’s grown a lot of things from seed and cuttings, supplementing with bought specialities. The first time I walked past, he was out working and I spent some time chatting to him. A very friendly soul, he happily discussed planting ideas and pointed out his favourite bits (as gardeners usually do.)He is particularly proud of a peony he’s just acquired at great expense.

Though I would suspect this is not a totally new garden, it’s going to take a few years to fill out, but it’s already one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts. He’s created a tiny hawthorn hedge around it, though of course it will take years to get above knee height, and I suspect that he will always be delighted for fellow enthusiasts to enjoy it. And in the tradition of the true cottage gardeners, he’s generous too, leaving surplus plants at the gate with a note for anyone to take them.

I thoroughly recommend this little haven as a way to feel good about the world again after yesterday’s misery. Forget Chelsea Flower Show. This is real.


Friday, April 13th, 2007

Nathan Way, SE28

WG mentioned this a couple of weeks ago whilst we were talking about Greenwich Freecycle and I was really excited by it, so I thought I’d go and visit and find out what it was like.

Basically, it’s a way of recycling office furniture in which everyone benefits. Greenworks is a charity which clears offices – usually when they have a refit. This is often from banks, blue chip companies and City institutions, but also from hospitals, local government and, more worryingly, central government, many of whose departments redecorate every year.

Once Greenworks have collected the gear, they refurbish it. Most of the kit is hardly used – these companies chuck out some amazing stuff – but anything that’s truly dead gets taken to pieces and its components reused by people, often disadvantaged, who have been trained in refurbishment. The wood gets made into new furniture, the foam used as stuffing for kids toys (it’s all fireproofed, remember) – even the casters are broken up to be used in roadbuilding.

They then sell it. Everything from carpet tiles to desks, filing cabinets to box files. They do all sorts of services including a complete made-to-measure office fit, but they’re just as happy for you to bowl up and have a look around. They especially like not-for-profit companies, but everyone is welcome. It’s particularly good for people setting up a new business as the prices are excellent (and I get the feeling they’ll do deals if you ask very nicely.) The money goes to training the people, paying proper salaries and keeping the company going. Everyone’s a winner.

I had a long chat with the extremely friendly guy and his assistant in the office. He clearly loves his job, and is passionate about recycling. He told me horror stories of government over-spending – for example, he was called out to the Foreign Office to collect an entire consignment of office swivel chairs, but he decided to leave the chairs on the lorry as they were still in their wrappings – he thought he’d made a mistake. It would appear that they weren’t quite the right colour or something similarly trivial and the whole lot had been junked before it was even opened. That’s out taxes, that is. Without Greenworks, the whole lot would have gone into landfill. It’s enough to make you cry. Unsurprisingly, that particular batch sold very quickly…

He tells me it’s a little quiet in the warehouse at the moment as, being the beginning of the new financial year, the government haven’t got around to wasting our money yet, but he reckons that in the next month or so it will start to fill up with hardly-used gear at bargain prices.

I was astounded at what they sell – GIGANTIC boardroom tables and matching chairs, water coolers, magazine display racks, foyer seating – whatever might be in an office, chances are they’ll have it. I noticed some odd-shaped sofas, which had apparently come out of a recording studio. If they don’t you can ask him to call around the other branches in London or even further, and they’ll either bring it over next time they’re coming Greenwich way, or keep a look out for one and let you know when it arrives. And they’re truly friendly people who want to be helpful and enjoy the whole process of recycling and dealing with people.

I would highly recommend this for anyone who needs to kit out a new business – or even just find a filing cabinet for their home office. Oh – and there’s a splendid silver challenge cup there at the moment, which was once Nat West Bank’s Staff Suggestions cup. My suggestion for it would be a great champagne cooler…

Greenworks is A Good Thing. And for that, I’m calling it a Greenwich Phantom Favourite Haunt.

Check it out.

Mr Humbug update

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Matthew asks:

“What are the opening hours of Mr Humbug?”

An important question indeed.

You can indulge your sweet tooth every day except Monday, Matthew. On Saturdays and Sundays he’s open from 10.00am, Tuesday to Friday from 11.00am

He’s one of those delightfully organic small shopkeepers who officially closes at 5.30pm but if he’s still busy (usually at the weekend) he’ll stay open til 6.00pm.

Be careful though. This guy has the gift of the gab. Before you know it you’ll be the size of a train.

Greenlands Health Foods

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

The Covered Market

What a revelation. I had always walked past this place, dismissing it as a bit of a hippy honeypot for the Ethnic Hat Brigade only. The mere fact that it was almost impossible to pass by outside for the amount of dodgy-looking healthy stuff piled up on racks was enough to put me off.

But in the pursuit of finding out everything there is to know about Greenwich I stepped inside, presumably looking every inch like some green-skinned alien walking into uncharted territory. I instantly began to eat my diseased opinionated words. Sorry folks. I will never be so prejudiced again. Til next time, of course…

This shop is incredible. It sells every health food known to humankind, a cure for pretty much every ailment (if you’re into herbal remedies) and some splendid extras too – all in a boutique the size of my living room, which believe me, is not big.

The shelves climb all the way to the ceiling and are packed so tightly with goods of every healthy description that you fear to take something out unless the whole lot caves in on you. There are bags of grains you’ve never heard of, packets of seeds, boxes of curious foodie-type objects, tubs of sundry vitamins and supplements by the hundredweight – as well as all the usual stuff you’d expect. The central shelf stack is equally well-stocked and there are fridges for fresh stuff along the side. No wonder they have to spill out onto the pavement.

Beauty Without Cruelty. My goodness me. I used to buy that stuff in the 80s. Whatever happened to them? Well – now I know – they are alive and well, and being sold in Greenwich.

I am not totally sold on the efficacy of every health product ever known to man, but if you fancy a dabble, this is a fantastic place to dip a toe into the world of complimentary therapy. The people behind the counter (and full marks to them for actually physically fitting into such a tiny space) are friendly and helpful.

I emerged some time afterwards with a bulging bag of interesting stuff. Being the Greenwich Phantom is occasionally an expensive indulgence…

BTW Linseed is revolting. But just to show I don’t hold this against them personally, I have chosen Greenlands as one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

Mr Humbug

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

The Covered Market

Hooray for a good old fashioned sweet shop that sells childhood goodies out of jars that line the shelves and windows of this diddy little sweet shop. I always felt that Greenwich needed one of these – I even considered staring one myself, but I don’t have the temperament or patience to deal with real live people on a daily basis, so I’m absolutely delighted that someone else has had the guts to do it.

I guess, being a kitsch-oholic, I would have made my version a little more cutesy old fashioned and gone for the full nostalgic experience similar to the delightful little sweetshop in Lincoln which makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. But I’m very happy to look past the modern downlighters and trendy fittings to the jars themselves and spend a cheery Saturday morning (yes, all of it …) choosing what to spend my pennies on. Clearly others do exactly the same thing – the queues in here on a weekend are frightening, with the owners showing a hell of a lot more patience with small children’s indecisions than I would. Mr Humbug is just one of the many reasons I love Greenwich and for that I have made it one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts.

The Creaky Shed

Friday, January 19th, 2007

This is just the sort of shop that needs to be encouraged. A Royal Hill Lovely, the Creaky Shed is a little gem selling all manner of good quality fresh fruit and vegetables mainly on a seasonal basis. I adore going in there because it’s so well laid out – everything in neat baskets of overflowing plenty. Unusual vegetables jostle with more workaday favourites and there are also one or two interesting jars of accompaniments such as apple sauce and sundry jams and pickles. Outside the sweet little window is always a gorgeous display of abundance – flaming pumpkins and strange squashes in Autumn, jolly tangerines, nuts and shiny things in the run up to Christmas and shocking pink sticks of champagne rhubarb and giant naval oranges in the gloomy depths of January – just when you need a bright, cheery pick-me-up. That particular row of shops has to be my favourite in Greenwich, for colour and sheer cuteness.

The service is personal and friendly and I never feel embarrassed to ask for just one or two of anything or enquire what something actually is – and, indeed, what to do with it if I buy it. The fact that it’s rather dark inside would normally make a shop a bit gloomy, but the friendly atmosphere and the veritable cornucopia of jewel-like fruits and vegetables is such that it feels sumptuous rather than dim. The prices seem initially high – but you don’t have to actually buy a kilo of this or that – you can just ask for what you need and they’ll happily weigh it out for you. Frankly the quality is better than some of the frankly manky stuff I’ve seen at Blackheath Farmers Market on occasion. (I don’t mind odd-shaped or mudddy – I’ve got an allotment, goddammit – but some stuff is just plain poor quality.)

My only complaint is that there aren’t more of these places. The quality and variety of veg on sale here makes it a must – but it would be nice not to have to travel a couple of miles for everyday essentials. I place the blame partially at the feet of the supermarkets – but have to take some of it myself for having supermarket-shopped in the past. I now make an effort to buy local and small as much as possible to encourage more brave souls to start quality businesses. That’s not, by the way, to say I don’t actually go to Sainsburys at all – but wherever possible if there’s a (nice) local alternative I’m now trying to take it.

I guess it’s getting me out and walking off those Christmas pounds.

The Creaky Shed is one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

Train Topiary

Friday, January 19th, 2007

If you’re taking a stroll around the Westcombe Park area, then make sure you look out for one of my favourite front gardens in Greenwich. Not only does number 23, Foyle Road boast a splendidly nautical theme in the shape of an old rowing boat, coiled rope and other seaside-related paraphernalia, but there is a delightfully-cut topiary steam engine hedge, complete with buffers, engine and bell. A lovely, flamboyant surprise in a generally architecturally restrained area, and something for children to look out for if you have to walk that way.

I had been worried recently because on passing it a few times it seemed to be getting a bit – well- fluffy round the edges. But I am pleased to report that on walking up there a day or so ago it had been very well clipped, was sharply defined on boths sides of the boundary and just as glorious as ever.

At the risk of looking like some kind of tragic stalker, I have chosen this as one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

The Fishmonger Ltd

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Trafalgar Rd

So. Here it is at last, and very pleased many of us are to see actual quality fooderies finally coming to East Greenwich – aw- c’mon – it’s hardly far for you Westerners to trudge across the park in your green wellies and barbours… ;0)

It’s all clean and bright, and though some of the shop has a distinctly “unfinished” feel to it – there’s a tantalising Global knife cupboard and price list but no knives and several empty shelves in the display cabinet, I guess the main priority is to get the place open – niceties come later.

The one area which WAS absolutely stuffed to the gills (oops – sorry…) was the main event – the fish counter. Julian, one half of the young couple who are bravely setting out in the pescatorial world, is just getting himself acclimatised to the daily 4.00am visit to Billingsgate – there are no dark circles under the eyes yet, but with opening hours that currently go to 7.00pm, that will only be a matter of time. He confessed that he had been nervous that Billingsgate would be having an “off day” on Fishmonger’s debut, but from what I could see, his worries had been for naught. There was a fine display – from eye-bright bream to shiny monkfish, giant king scallops to scarlet sashimi tuna, all beautifully arranged on the classic bed of ice.

Elsewhere in the shop are lemons, limes and fresh herbs in wooden crates and racks with spices and dressings. There are various cookbooks – some of which are clearly for sale, others – vintage, by the look of it, are more for getting ideas from. I am sure that as the shop matures, it will fill out with other accoutrements.

As you go in, there’s a gorgeous old vintage dining table stacked with crusty bread, which has been locally sourced (not, I am glad to say, from Greggs…) fish kettles and other paraphernalia. It also has a collection of “Fishmonger Ltd” bits and bobs – good to get in there quick with the merchandise, I always say. You can get reclaimed hardwood chopping boards with the Fishmonger Ltd logo stamped discreetly in the corner (make sure you scrub that bit well, eh?) and some snazzy Fishmonger aprons so you don’t get guts down your gut.

Of course you don’t need to get anywhere near guts if you don’t want to. Julian gutted and scaled my fish for me while I (and, ahem, a bit of a queue behind me) waited. I am sure it will speed up with time – and it was beautifully done. Presumably his partner will come in for busy times – once they know when those will be – at the moment the opening hours are long, but they intend to revise them once they’ve been open for a while.

They plan to have tasting sessions and fishy-type classes – I hope they do this soon. I’ve suggested they get together with Theatre of Wine for occasional evening sessions – champagne and oysters, anyone? They should also put suggested wine at the bottom of their recipe cards, IMHO. Incidentally, don’t miss the lovely marine-inspired display in Theatre of Wine just now, created, presumably, to welcome the new kids on the block…

I’ve just realised that this reads a bit like one of the advertorial articles in local rags that I’m always going on about how much I hate. This is pretty much unavoidable just now – the place is so new I can’t really say much other than the fish is good and the rest looks as though it will come given a few weeks. I’ll revisit in those few weeks to give a more detailed critique…

Update: This shop goes from strength to strangth. They are friendly, helpful people, doing their best to make a truly exciting business. It’s now full of shelves of itneresting foods, equipment and books – not to mention a giant bowl of daffodils. This has already become one of

The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts

The Greenwich Picturehouse

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

THE grand opening of last year was Greenwich Picturehouse, the latest in the slightly-arthouse chain which is gradually taking over/saving our smaller indie cinemas. It was certainly well-anticipated in this household and we were among the first to take up membership before the place had even opened. Naturally we didn’t go for the ‘foundation’ membership which, at £ 400 seemed a bit steep for benefits which largely amounted to being able to choose the wine that was served in the bar, but the ordinary membership seems excellent value and we’re making full use of it.

Of course there were a few teething problems that night – turning an old, non-profitable cinema into a multi-screen picture house is always going to present a few hitches – on opening night there were lots of bits of cardboard which said “I am a plasma screen” or “I am a ticket dispenser” and the ladies’ was flooded – but generally, once all the fuss died down, the Picturehouse began living up to expectation. A wide and interesting programme of events which don’t always include screenings – comedy and music are both scheduled there, and a lovely bar area (with equally lovely bartenders – both attentive and friendly) make it most definitely a destination in its own right though I think the promised “views of the river” are a little far-fetched unless they start providing periscopes.

There’s a gorgeous mini screening room downstairs with very squashy seats (they slide out so that you’re virtually horizontal – it’s like watching a movie in bed) and a bar, and I even like the chandelier in the foyer (though it’s just asking to be plaited by bored teenagers…)

The sliding seats (even though they don’t go quite as far as those in the screening room) get top marks – as does the Picturehouse’s attitude – hooray for a cinema that treats you like an adult.

Splendid events in the Screening Room downstairs include “Future Shorts” collections of short films by up-and-coming directors. Avoid Thursday morning screenings if you want to be able to actually see the movie – it’s their weekly “Big Scream” screening where people with children under one year old can go along and ‘enjoy’ watching a film surrounded by a hundred other screaming tots being changed by doting parents. I think it’s a brilliant idea – it means we all get to see the film – and I thank them for letting me see my version in peace…

Other great innovations are the “Silver Screenings” for over 60s before 6.00pm on a Thursday and the Kids Club on Saturday mornings with games and activities as well as a film so that you can park the little darlings with Someone Else and go off and enjoy the market in some peace. There are even specially-loud screenings for the hearing-impaired and specially-quiet screenings for autistic people.

If you’re counting the pennies, on Monday nights all tickets are a fiver, but it’s still worth mentioning you’re a member when you call, then they don’t charge a booking fee.

The tapas bar serves a variety of classic recipes, somewhat erratically presented (that’s a kind description.) We’ve had very muddled service which has missed out some dishes completely. The food is of varying quality too – sometimes ok, sometimes really rather poor – barely cooked potato in the omelette has happened a couple of times now, and I find myself wondering what the large quantities of cream in some dishes are hiding…

I might add that I don’t believe the Tapas Bar is anything to do with the actual Picture House except that it occupies the same building.

On the whole, Greenwich Picturehouse gets my thumbs most definitely UP. Filmworks, though geographically closer, will have to work hard to get my personal custom back.

Last night, one year on from all the furore, we decided to visit the Picturehouse again. It’s all much as it was – still shiny and new-feeling – though frankly now the mists have cleared from my eyes there are a few improvements they could make – like unplaiting the chandelier (why didn’t they see that coming?) and – more urgently – either finding a way to install more ladies loos or at least staggering the endings of films so the queue doesn’t reach the Cutty Sark.

That we walked out of A Scanner Darkly isn’t really the Picturehouse’s fault. I guess it’s down to us to ignore the gushing accolades in the brochure – after all even the Picturehouse can’t really be totally honest about movies that they are going to show. We picked badly – any film that has to be dressed up with groovy graphics must have something wrong with the plot and when after just half an hour I realised that even the Picturehouse’s famously comfy seats couldn’t slow down the numbing of my backside, I was grateful when my companion (note newspaper reviewer speak) whispered that he was bored and we quietly left. I noticed some other people doing the same behind us as if they were just waiting for someone else to do it first.

So – to sum up, the Picturehouse is still fantastic. A Scanner Darkly probably never has been. A tedious tale of ‘great trips I have known’ dressed up in cartoon form with a rotoscope to try to make up for inadequacies of the plot, it is the first movie I have ever walked out of.

Greenwich Picturehouse is one of The Phantom’s Favourite Haunts.