Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Deptford pool - latest news

From Lewisham Council's website, posted on 11 Dec: (apologies for any grammatical errors, they are not mine!)

"The works for the new pool remains on target in terms of practical completion. A defects period will then remain in force until 1.8.08 after which Parkwood Leisure will then take over and commission the facility with a view to opening the site for public use on or about 30th August 2008.

The contract build costs remain on budget. The build programme requires the facility to be closed twice. The first was to accommodate reorganisation of the foyer and took place from 1st to 26th April with as little inconvenience to the public as possible, and the second will take place from 3rd May to 20th August 2008, and this will be to join the new pool with the existing building. The opportunity will also be taken to carry out refurbishment works in the existing pool hall.

The creation of new offices and workspace within the library were completed on 4th July 2007. Works to form a mezzanine deck were found to be more intensive than originally envisaged, but in the main, the works did not cause any major problems to the continued day to day operation of the library or the services it offered.

Overall, the construction works have progressed significantly towards a watertight building, with the roof and internal blockwork walls and glazing to the Giffin Street fa├žade now complete."

One thing I am concerned about is the planned opening hours. Currently the pool does not open until 8am for its 'early bird' swim. (These birds will never catch the worm if they stay in bed that late!). This combined with the fact that it's primarily aimed at kids (very warm water, funny shape pool) means I'm rarely seen in there.

Since I'm usually on a train heading for Waterloo East at 8am, I am keen to see the new pool operating more appropriate hours to offer access for early swimmers. I have to cycle to the Arches leisure centre in Greenwich to get a swim in the morning, and I know at least one other early morning swimmer who passes Wavelengths on her way to the Arches every morning in her car.

I have asked the council's leisure dept what opening hours are planned, but all they could tell me was that it had not yet been decided, and there would be consultation carried out before the pool is ready to open. So far no sign of any consultation either on the council's website or at the pool, and I'm finding it difficult to get any more response from the leisure department.

Please please please, if you are listening, make the morning hours more sensible! If you are serious about improving swimming provision in the borough (I'm trying to pretend that the Ladywell fiasco was an isolated case) then take the simple step of giving us the chance of an early morning dip!

Greenwich peninsula


Sunday was a great chance to take the bike and scoot around the peninsula for the first time in ages. Great to find that some of the path that's been closed for ages is back open again, but disappointing to find other parts that have been open now closed.

It was sunny but bitterly cold, so nice and quiet especially on the stretch from the peninsula down to the Thames Barrier. I tried to remember what it was like here before all the redevelopment and found that some of these memories are fading well into the past.

Wished I had the time, daylight and flask of coffee that would enable me to extend my ride as far as Erith or beyond.

But the winter solstice is only days away, and after that, onwards to summer!!!

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Sunday afternoon blues


Sundays are very quiet for our car park patrollers. These guys are usually driving round the estate clamping unsuspecting parking violators and then charging them an arm and a leg to have the clamp removed. But we often see them parked up on Sunday afternoons in their vans, having a bit of a chat. Sometimes for several hours! I'm not sure if their extended breaks are costing 'the ratepayer' anything, perhaps the company's income comes from the fines?

Anyhow, it was rather wet last Sunday and this sight did make me chuckle a bit. I think it looks rather sweet....

Frosty morning in Twinkle Park

Monday, 3 December 2007

Safety in numbers

I braved the driving rain on Friday night to meet up with a group of random strangers in a pub near Catford. Well actually they weren't really random since they all had Lewisham roots of some sort or another, and some of them weren't even strangers! As for the pub near Catford, the Jolly Farmers, it turned out to be a gem! Fabulous real ale on offer, the guest beers being served straight fromthe barrels that were installed behind the bar. Sadly I was driving (courtesy of the appalling weather) so wasn't able to indulge as much as I would have liked, but did enjoy a pint of St Austell brewery's Proper Job.

Anyway, it was good to finally meet up with some of those folks whose blogs I've been reading for years, and to find out about blogs I've never heard of before! It was an impressive turnout:

old 'friends' were:
Andrew Brown
Kate
Max
Inspector Sands
and Robert

New finds were:
Andrew Milton
Paul
Clare
Wulf
Katy
and David

I'll admit it was much more fun than an evening with random strangers in a pub in Catford could have been; already looking forward to the next one!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

God watches over Deptford

This morning I noticed a hand-written sign on one of the second-hand stalls on Deptford market:

"We do not give discount on this stall by order of God".

You can't really argue with that.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Clean up the Creek!



Volunteers are being invited to help with a Christmas clean-up of Deptford Creek, this Sunday 2nd December from 1pm to 4pm. There will be mince pies and mulled wine on offer when you've washed the mud off your waders, as well as the satisfying glow of having done something worthwhile!

I'm gutted I'm going to miss it as I'll be away on Sunday, but recommend it to anyone who's got a few hours to spare. The staff at the Creekside Centre will supply you with waders and presumably some gloves too, and you can spend a happy couple of hours larking about in the mud. Seriously, it's really interesting to see Deptford from a different viewpoint, and it's also fascinating to learn more about this tidal creek. It really is much more than just a muddy drain.

While you're down Creekside, it's also Cockpit Arts' christmas open studios weekend. There will be plenty of top quality presents on offer, so it's a great place to look for inspiration. Friday, Saturday and Sunday - see the website for info.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Bill's pies



If you like meat pies, you can't go far wrong with Bill's pies from Wellbeloved Butchers at the bottom of Tanner's Hill. When The Geezer and I first started looking for a new home in Deptford, I remember one of the local estate agents raving about these legendary pies as a good reason for taking a place on Tanner's Hill.When we eventually moved in, it took us a while to get round to trying them since we ended up right down the other end of the high street.

Wellbeloved's is the best butcher in Deptford by far. Rather than heaps of chicken portions advertised at ten for a fiver, or whatever, Bill serves good quality meat at realistic prices. And he has pies. Great ones. Chicken & mushroom, chicken & ham, lamb & vegetables, steak & kidney, steak & mushroom... and if you go in at the right time, they are still warm from being freshly baked. Sometimes it can be difficult to resist eating them right away, even when you've just had a full English!

The pastry is flakey and crisp, the fillings are chunks of tender meat rather than minced, indistiguishable muck, and at £1.50 each they make a great Saturday night dinner with minimal outlay, either in time or money!

There is nearly always a queue at Bill's (painfully so on Christmas Eve, as we discovered last year!) and for all the right reasons. The service is helpful and friendly without being obsequious, he has the best black pudding I've found so far in London, and his hygiene is second to none. Order fresh and cooked meat, and you'll see him meticulously washing his hands between handling both, something I can't say I've noticed elsewhere.

Excuse me, all this talk of food is making me peckish....

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Eastern Promises


Greenwich locations are often used in feature films - the classic structures of the Old Naval College (now Greenwich University) make it ideal for costume dramas, and Greenwich Park has been used in various films, classic and contemporary.
But if you get chance to see David Cronenberg's new film Eastern Promises, watch out for the appearance of a shadowy Deptford location - not once, but twice in the film! The alleyway leading to the river on Watergate Street is apparently a very good place for getting rid of unwanted bodies. According to one of the film's shadier characters, "the current keeps the bodies under the surface until it gets around the corner"... cut to low tide scene next to Thames Barrier.

(A short disclaimer - this film is not for the squeamish! There's a reason why it is rated 18, and that reason becomes clear from very early in the film. However the scene with the naked, tattooed Russian fighting for his life in a Turkish Bath is well worth hanging around for...!)

Friday, 26 October 2007

Housewives Cash & Carry

This has to be one of my favourite shops in Deptford High Street. Annoying, amusing, frustrating and delightful all at once, its whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

For a start, it has one of the most uninspiring shopfronts, offering no clue as to the delights that lie beyond. The view in through the huge glass frontage is mostly obscured by mountainous sacks of rice that are stacked up inside in great gravity-defying towers. Quite aside from its vaguely humorous name, part of its charm is the enigma of how to actually get inside. The shop front quite naturally has two doors; an entrance and an exit. More often than not, the entrance door is locked and all movement in and out of the shop has to be accomplished via the exit door, which opens straight into the back of the checkouts and is not best designed for such a use. Occasionally the management subtly signals the fact that the entrance door is locked by placing a trolley across it, but this seems to be only when they are feeling generous. Usually the only way you can discover whether it is open or not is by trying to get in.

But what about the most important aspect - the stock? Housewives' main stock is dry groceries although it does have a small fridge area at the back that occasionally has great yoghurt. But its great strength is the range and price of spices, beans and grains that are the staples in Asian, African and West Indian cooking. My particular favourites are the thai fragrant rice (one of about 30 different types of rice available in many different sized bags), the cheap and plentiful spices (even the best stocked Sainsbury's or Tesco's cannot compare in range or price) and the fact that whatever obscure type of bean or split pea your recipe demands, they will stock it! Want cashew or pistachio nuts without having to take out a mortgage? Housewives is the place!

Not all is cheap and cheerful - the shelves hide quite a few unexpected lines such as Dorset Cereals, organic olive oil, and herb and fruit teas. They have a good range of flours and baking ingredients, as well as standard tinned, dried and bottled groceries of all persuasions.

One of the things I like the most about Housewives - and also find the most frustrating! - is the fact that they don't really have standard lines. Apart from Asian staples, you can't always rely on them having the same thing on the shelves two weeks running - it's as if they go down the wholesalers and buy whatever takes their fancy. This is as charming as it is annoying - you might be irritated cos you're relying on them for your bread flour, but at the same time you're delighted by the discovery that have organic coffee on sale. And just because a supermarket stocks a certain line doesn't mean it always has it on the shelves.

The odd flash of eccentricity can be good for a giggle. Where else will you find tins of black pudding on the shelves beside tins of rice pudding! The mind boggles at what poor, unsuspecting customers think, the week they decide to try the black version of that lovely rice pudding they've been enjoying up to now...

Which leads me on to customer service. Or should I say 'customer service'! For this is not a strong point of our dear local grocery provider. Rather than investing in a proper security camera system, they like to position members of staff at the end of the aisles to stare at you while you shop. And I mean stare. These are not the same as store detectives. They do not pretend to be customers, drifting aimlessly round the shop with a basket while subtly keeping an eye on you as you browse the shelves. No, these are undisguised and slightly hostile individuals whose sole purpose is to make you feel like a career shoplifter. You may never before have entertained any notion of committing a criminal offence, but after a few minutes in Housewives, you're itching to stuff a bag of pasta up your jumper just to see what will happen! After shopping here for a couple of years, I've got used to this system and don't really notice it any more, but on the first visit it's almost comical to see how they blatantly move from the end of one aisle to the next in total synchronicity with the hapless shopper. It's actually quite an amusing game to act the indecisive browser, can't make up your mind what aisle you want to be on? Keeps them on their toes and stops them getting bored!

The checkout staff are almost as lacking in customer skills, although over the last few months I have noticed a slight thaw in the usual surliness. They've obviously now got used to me as a regular visitor, the one who brings her own bags and delights in trying to break the ice. I've even received a few returned smiles on recent visits. I have to add that there has been no direct rudeness, it's just a lack of the how-are-you-have-a-nice-day kind of thing you get in the supermarket. Which is not always welcome, especially if one is not-very-well-having-a-shit-day-not-that-you-care-thanks.

So why do I shop there? It's grubby, unpredictable, unreliable and has surly staff. I am now asking myself this very question. But somehow this place has a certain mysterious allure, and one thing for sure is that no two visits are the same.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Absent moments

I realise I have been a little remiss about posting of late. Much of my attention has been focussed over on my other blog, where knitting events and holidays have taken their toll.

Not to say that nothing has been happening in Deptford and surrounds, however, and I've been keeping up with the gossip on the other local blogs so that I can bring you the latest news.

Firstly news of great things afoot over at the south end of Deptford High Street. Our very own local bike makers Witcombs are having a big revamp. Far from planning to move out of the city, as was gloomily predicted in the Deptford Lives film I saw at the festival earlier this year, they have launched a new line of frames (customise the look as well as the technical details, courtesy of local lad and leading designer Tony), cleared out the shop, and there are even rumours of a cafe! Meanwhile, Barry and Ernie have now got a blog, so check it out and see what's happening over that neck of the woods.

Meanwhile I have also been following events over in Brockley, courtesy of the Coterie. Sounds like the monsters have been taking over with quite a degree of success. My little effort sadly didn't make it on time, mostly down to me not being able to get my arse in gear to organise a reasonable quality printed version in time. Hey ho, here it is all the same.


I'll admit to being quite pleased how the croc turned out, perhaps we will get over to Brockley to meet the other knitted ninjas in due course.

To the west, Coop Pepys has secured funding for a film club, to 'regularly screen popular and specialist cultural and ethnic films'. Screenings will take place at the Community 2000 centre, and are expected to start early next year after equipment has been installed. More details on how to participate, or suggest films to be shown, on the Coop Pepys site.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

New Capital Quay - with footbridge?

Some interesting images of the New Capital Quay development, which will be on the Greenwich side of Deptford Creek, opposite Millennium Quay.

The interesting bit is the footbridge. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that the mouth of the Creek is begging for such a connection - in fact I understand that Greenwich Cyclists are just one of the groups pushing for it to be included as part of the new development.

Although it is shown on one of the computer-generated images, it is notably absent from the site plan.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Love thy neighbour

Last weekend, the Geezer and I strolled down Deptford High Street for our customary Saturday breakfast before departing on holiday to Devon for a week.

Before leaving the 'hood, I drove to the local garage to fill up the car with petrol; it was at this point that I discovered the loss of my bank card. Gone, vamoosh, no longer in my wallet!

Thinking back I realised that I must have dropped it in the market after I'd taken some money out of the cashpoint. I vaguely remembered not having wedged it back in the wallet as firmly as I should have.

Hence my panic. I rushed back to the house, got on the phone to the bank and reported it missing, presumed lost. After taking my details, the chap at the other end cheerfully informed me: 'Oh yes, in fact someone's already rung in to say that they've found it!'

I rest my case.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

More Deptford X






Deptford X: the station looking a bit brighter than usual...







... half of the not-entirely successful installation by Helen Palling in Giffin Square. Despite their colour, the two items are rather dwarfed by the ugly colonade and the scale of the square..







... Via Dolorosa by Bea Denton - winner of the MacDonald Egan Award apparently. I haven't seen the benches by Leanne Bell but I suspect Via Dolorosa may prove the most impressive of a fairly underwhelming bunch. I'm not sure how the contenders were nominated, but I have to say I think some of the other things in the Deptford X lists were more deserving. This at least has the power to provoke debate...




.. and one of the many joke road signs dotted along Creekside. Some are genuinely funny, but the rest of them are a bit too clever-clever and obviously aimed at graphic designers.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Pink anchor




Just a little taster to whet your appetite for the weekend!

Wool and Deptford. What a great combination!

Deptford Design Festival/Deptford X

If you get chance to spend some time in Deptford this weekend, make sure you check out some of the events in the Deptford Design Festival. Unfortunately the website is rather vague about what is happening where - I couldn't find any kind of programme - but much of it seems to be focussed on Cockpit Arts and the Faircharm estate, so I would guess Creekside is the place to be.

If you can't get along this weekend, do try and make it to the Royal Festival Hall from 15th to 25th September, to see the outcome of the Deptford Design Market Challenge. This is an absolutely inspired idea from Raw Nerve, in which they took 27 objects bought from Deptford's junk market and asked 27 different designers to transform these discarded objects into things of beauty or function. They have come up with some fascinating results - some more successful than others - and even if you can't get to see the objects at the exhibition, the website is well worth a look. Click on each of the items and you get to see the 'before and after' makeover photos, sometimes several of each.

I particularly liked the sofa that had been transformed using old teatowels, and the jigsaw that was made fiendishly difficult by photographing the pieces and then making the photograph into a second jigsaw. Even my gran, the queen of jigsaws, might struggle with that!

***NEWS JUST IN - UPDATED DEPTFORD X WEBSITE lots of info about this weekend's events***

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Wavelengths progress



Take a look at these lovely glulam roof beams - while you still can! The roof of the new 25m pool in Deptford is up, I suspect it will soon be covered by some architectural equivalent of corrugated steel,and I'm not sure what length of the beams will remain visible when it is finished.

It's certainly cutting an impressive dash right now though - and making us all quite excited about the finished product.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Deptford lives

Thanks to the Ragged School Blog for pointing this out.

I saw the film Deptford Lives at the Made in Deptford festival, but for those who missed it, you can now watch it online here.

It's well worth a look - especially if your only knowledge of Deptford and its residents is via the BBC's documentary The Tower! This series of short documentaries gives a nice flavour of the people and places of the area, showing that it's not all drugs and yuppies...

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Project Brockzilla

I've been a bit slow on the uptake on this one for some reason. I think I missed the original announcement and it didn't really strike me until I was reading it this morning and had a moment of inspiration...

Well if time allows and the weather improves (currently pissing it down AGAIN) I may submit something. I would class myself more of a creative type than a full-blown artist; I love making crafty things that are practical or wearable, rather than struggling with concepts and reasons and explanations and so on. Luckily we seem to have lots of artists, creatives and crafters around this neck of the woods, so I feel like I'm in good company!

So come on folks, take a look and rev up your creative juices for Project Brockzilla!

Friday, 17 August 2007

First time for everything!



This lovely bike shed has been on Deptford station for several months now. The other day we saw a rare sight - bikes in the shed! I'm not by any means saying that Deptford station suffers more crime than any other station in the region - I would certainly think twice about leaving my bike at ANY rail station for more than about half an hour! Greenwich station has lockers for bikes (or at least it used to, don't know if they are still there) but you have to rent them, which is a pain unless you cycle every day. I prefer to skip the train altogether on the days I use my bike, and ride all the way to to work. I might have a different opinion if I had to actually cross the West End by bike though - my route ends just north of the river in Pimlico so it's quite a pleasant route.

A photograph was required as evidence that the shed actually gets used. Later I came back and the bikes were gone, hopefully still in the hands of their rightful owners.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Cake and creativity news


No time like the present eh? Just back from a very worthwhile trip to Deptford Properly, our new neighbourhood cafe; a visit which was notable for several reasons. Firstly, and of course most importantly for a cafe, it ticked many of the boxes for me in terms of tea and cake. And some of those were boxes that very rarely get ticked, I have to add - such as the presence of proper tea leaves, tea strainer, and teacup and saucer. I never make tea like that at home due to the inconvenience of having to clean out the teapot afterwards, but it marks out a proper cafe for me. I've long been a fan of Royal Teas in Greenwich for just this reason, but it is great to see tea leaves creeping over the borough border into Deptford at last!



As far as cake goes, I only got chance to try the lemon cake, but it was absolutely sublime and I have no reason to believe the other cakes on offer would not meet the same standard. You can also get light lunches (homemade quiche, humus, sandwiches etc) and a huge range of drinks, herbal teas, coffees and so on.

Secondly, I came out to two Deptford Dame fans! Deptford Properly manager/teamaker extraordinaire Sakura, who commented on my previous post, and Clare (aka Belle) Pressnell, whose textile art is currently on display at the cafe. Belle's show is called 'Deptford Stitched Up'; she has skillfully combined photography and textiles to create some very thought-provoking pieces commenting on Deptford's ongoing regeneration. If you have been following the local bloggers' discussions about developments on Deptford Creek, the Seager Distillery or the debates about The Tower on BBC1, you will recognise the themes in Belle's work. The black and white photographs are printed on fabric interfacing and then overstitched with bright colours, the tower cranes and building sites of the area appearing gaudy and out of place against the familiar facades of our street scenes.




I suspect I'm going to develop a real soft spot for this cafe, as it's the sort of place I would LOVE to run myself (if I wasn't so lazy...!). It is small but perfectly formed; there are a few tables inside and out, a large comfy-looking sofa, and it is decorated with all sorts of found items, many of them from the neighbouring junk shop or from Deptford market, according to Sakura.



And although it's only been open for a week, there are already discussions about starting a knitting group in the cafe! As some of you may know, this is a subject rather dear to my heart, or rather to that of my alter ego the Knit Nurse.

Nip down and catch the cafe on market days (Wed, Fri, Sat) from 10am till 7pm and for special events on Sundays (check on Utrophia).

Deptford Stitched Up will be on show for at least the next three weeks.

More Deptford Properly

A message from Sakura who runs the new Deptford Properly cafe:

"The first Sunday Special at Deptford Properly on 12 Aug will be
Kamilla's Hair Salon!! This will be from 11-7 - come along and get an amazing haircut for £10 and try some of our delights from the kitchen"

I am going to try and get down there some time in the next few days. Hell, why not go now? (*exit stage left*)

Monday, 6 August 2007

Deptford in bloom





Amazing how much you can cram onto a small balcony! As well as the herbs (chives, oregano, thyme, bay, rosemary, mint, tarragon and basil) there are quite a few flowers, and 12 tomato plants laden with fruit.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Deptford Properly

A new cafe is opening this Saturday 4 August at the bottom of Tanners Hill, opposite the south end of Deptford High Street.

I haven't even been up there to look at the building yet, but I am hoping to try it out at the weekend.

It's called Deptford Properly and is run by those irrepressible folks at Utrophia. See you there?!

Herb garden gig


I dropped into the McMillan Herb Garden on Deptford Green last night, at the bidding of Bob from Brockley, to see "the legendary Lol Coxhill and master Ghanian Drummer, Nana Tsiboe" in a modest gig.

I didn't stop long - the music was a bit too freeform for me and besides which I had a fruit cake in the oven - but it was great to see a little group of folks obviously enjoying themselves in these lovely surroundings. The vine was laden down with grapes and the garden was bright with colours and herbs. Around the musicians was a small group of appreciative fans, very into the music with tapping feet and nodding heads, and on the outskirts, a few other groups of people just enjoying the vibe and the surroundings. There were even a couple of students from the neighbouring blocks, drawn in by just hearing the music through their open windows.



I'm not sure who arranged the gig - in fact I don't even know who owns or looks after the herb garden - but it would be great to see a few more of these type of events. Well done, if you're reading this! And more please!

Friday, 27 July 2007

I decide!

Evelyn ward in Deptford has been chosen as one of two wards in Lewisham to benefit from a £45k tranche of money from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (the other is Bellingham). This is part of the participatory budgeting policy being piloted by Lewisham Council.

Local groups and residents are being invited to bid for funding for schemes that aim to meet one or more of the following criteria: encouraging volunteering, supporting young people, addressing community concerns, improving health and bringing together diverse communities. Awards can be anything from £50 to £2k.

In September there will be a special community day at which those who have applied for funding will have chance to pitch their ideas to an audience, who will then vote on which ideas will get the cash. Sounds like some kind of Deptford Dragon's Den!

Apparently only those people presenting ideas will be allowed to vote on the other proposals, although future participatory budgeting events will allow all residents to vote. I don't know the reasoning behind this decision.

Well, the closing date for applications is 15 August and if you have any ideas you can phone 020 8314 9061 for an application form.

I wish they had called it something other than "U-decide" though. I'm sure we already have enough problems with literacy in this ward without the council joining in.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

The Tower - latest from News Shopper

'Some people like it, some hate it'-story from Lewisham & Catford News Shopper. I particularly enjoyed the quote about some people being scared to go out after they had seen the programme. Do they go around with their eyes closed the rest of the time? Deptford has its share of problems like most places in London, but I think this comment insults the intelligence of our local residents.

Thames Gateway Bridge

Yes I know, a little bit out of my area but I confess a professional interest in this project as well as my local interest. The government has decided to reopen the public inquiry, thereby postponing a decision on whether or not to build this major bridge. They say that they want to further investigate information that has come to light since the inquiry closed last year, but it's just a fudge. The inspector recommended that the bridge should not be built. He said that the case for building it - that it would stimulate regeneration in the Thames Gateway - had not been sufficiently proven to outweigh the disadvantages.

The report says: "In my view, the key to this is the economic regeneration benefits claimed for the scheme. If they had been robustly shown, they might have been sufficient to tip the balance. But I do not consider the evidence to be strong enough or reliable enough to outweigh substantially the disbenefits of the scheme in terms of increased traffic, reduced safety, increased air pollution, and a shift against walking, cycling and public transport, in favour of the private car."

The environmentalists have got a very strong point on this; there is no way that Ken can promote this scheme while claiming to be trying to reduce pollution etc through congestion charging in central London. It can only serve to generate additional traffic and increase pollution in what is already one of the worst polluted boroughs in - is it the UK?

Just so you know - I DO support the congestion charge, I DO use public transport almost every day, I also cycle and walk regularly, and I also own a car!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Blast from the past


Before anyone starts accusing me of going all Andrew Brown on you and posting pictures of my dinner for no discernable reason, let me just explain.

Anyone who has lived in these parts for a more than six years or so may remember the legendary Heather's Bistro in McMillan Street, just off Creek Road. Heather's started off in a scruffy little cafe down on Trundley's Road in the New Cross wastelands; during the day it was a regular greasy spoon, but a few evenings a week, it was transformed into a vegetarian buffet which soon attracted rave reviews. Its location made it difficult to find, but kept it from getting too overcrowded.

When it relocated to a former pub in McMillan Street, not only was it more accessible but it was on much larger premises and was open six evenings a week. Having been meaning to try it for years, but never being quite sure how to get to the place, I started visiting the new premises fairly regularly.

The food was magnificent - even die-hard carnivores were forced to admit that this veggie stuff was quite tasty! It was also very good value - customers paid £14 a head to visit the buffet as often as they liked for soups, salads, main courses (usually a choice of several) puddings, home-made bread etc etc. In fact, here's the menu from 2001 just to give you an idea of the sort of thing we are talking about. They also had a great organic wine list (long before anyone else did) and I think this was the first place where I tried English wine, and was pleasantly surprised!

It was also memorable for me because of the lavender shortcake I tried there; the delicate, slightly perfumed flavour was a revelation to me, I hadn't imagined that something which was usually found in overpowering bubble bath could produce such a delicious taste.

Yesterday I decided to try and recreate it - having bought some 'culinary-grade' lavender from the Herb Garden near Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Here it is - a regular shortcake recipe (mostly butter, sugar and flour in unhealthy quantities) with a bit of lavender mixed in. I'm looking forward to a taste of it, and being transported back to that revelationary experience that night at Heather's.

Sadly, the restaurant closed down in 2001 when the owners decided to move out of London and couldn't find anyone to take it over. Writing this post has reminded me what a great place it was and how much I missed it. Although I'm generally of the opinion that change is a good thing - if places and people stay the same, they become stale and tired - but I would have liked a couple more years to enjoy Heather's!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Bloggers on parade!

Just in case you missed Le Tour, here's the views of various local bloggers, collected for you in one place! Compare and contrast the levels of excitement...

Charlton Average thinks the gendarmes' uniforms left something to be desired.

Greenwich Phantom agrees but was more interested in the mobile wheely bin.

Andrew Brown stepped into the Dame's territory for the day.

Smug Sheep was impressed by the speed of the riders.

Whimsy Chichi at the Greenwich Gazette thought it was a good dry-run for the Olympics.

The Inspector took up the challenge of following the tour with great determination.

Check out some great photos on the Flickr Greenwich pool.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Made in Deptford: the aftermath

After my rant on Friday, I decided to crash the party on Friday evening - as it turned out, there was very little crashing required. It was being held in 'the Cafe with no Name' - a tent and some tables in the old yard next to the station. Despite the fact that it hadn't been advertised anywhere sensible, the organisers failed to realise that in Deptford, stoking up a BBQ after 7pm is tantamount to taking out a double-page spread in the AA's house magazine (that's Alcoholics Anonymous, not the Automobile Association).

By the time I arrived, about 8.45pm, there was only water left to drink and every time a tray of chicken arrived from the BBQ, there was an unholy scrum as young creatives and hardened drunks competed for the spoils. I didn't stay long, just had a chat with Ozzi from the drycleaners, then made my excuses, as they say.

The tent and cafe stayed for the duration of the festival, intended to promote the new market that is planned for the station yard, apparently launching this autumn. It's going to be crafts, arts, collectables, fashion and food - presumably it will be more 'upmarket' than the traditional stalls in order not to compete. The new residential/live-work building and the station refurb are a little further down the line, it seems.



Well, this was the scene on Saturday in the disused car park on Hamilton Street. A fashion show of 'recycled' clothes designed by local students and sponsored by Chris Carey's Collections, one of the region's biggest employers. Ms Carey runs a clothes recycling business from the arches under the railway station, and is desperately looking for a new site for her business, where she can expand her currently £4 million turnover. Sadly, although there are some suitable premises locally, most of them are earmarked for redevelopment as apartments.

When I moved to Deptford, about two and a half years ago now, this car park was blocked off but still accessible on foot, and was a magnet to fly tippers and drug dealers. After about two years of constantly nagging the council, they finally agreed to fence it in, the plan being it would provide parking for businesses on the high street. This idea seems to have been abandoned - I know that the long-term plan for the site is to develop it for residential use - but it was great to see it actually in use this weekend.



On Sunday it was the home to Company of Cyclists, who brought many weird and wonderful bikes for us all to try - including the eight-seater I was so hoping for! I was one of the first on - and we were taken up and down the high street with a few sharp turns and many bemused glances from shoppers! I did come to grief on one of the recumbent bikes, and I found my legs were too short to safely attempt the Penny Farthing, but it was great fun, for kids and adults alike!


I made the effort on Sunday morning to stroll down Evelyn Street at about 9am and see what was happening. The French market was already flogging its wares, looking oddly out of place on that scruffy triangle of shops next to the John Evelyn pub, but people were milling about and enjoying the music, the sunshine and the sense of occasion.

The trail of sponsors vehicles came first throwing out freebies and blasting out loud music, tooting horns and generally being annoying to anyone who was hoping for a lie-in. This chap wandered out in his carpet slippers, clutching a pint of beer -not sure if it was last night's leftovers or if he was starting early.



I got chance to go home for a cup of tea before the riders came along - but it was very much a case of 'blink and you'll miss it'. They were sandwiched in between endless vans and motorbikes with flashing lights, and the phalanx of cars with racks of spare bikes on the top. By now, the streets were quite crowded, and most people wandered back up the high street to check out the other festival events. There was very much a chilled-out vibe in the town centre, it was great to see that people were enjoying themselves, and enjoying Deptford!

Incidentally, Chet were very good! Look out for them...!

Zut alors!


Le Tour comes to Deptford! And so does the summer, at last!

Full report later.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Considered reactions

Well, Bob from Brockley asked, reasonably enough, what we all thought of The Tower.

I managed to catch the second episode last week, having been out of the country and missing the first one, and have to say I was rather underwhelmed. There was a lot of the stock documentary fare of 'here's several very diverse people living with severe difficulties, some of them are striving to improve their lot, others are dealing with the situation with humour but little hope, and others are just resigned to life but hoping for better things for their children'. There was also a gaggle of blonde women who formed the marketing team for the developers of the new tower. They specialised in inane comments and giggling, and in this episode were organising an event (in central London) for prospective buyers. The closest these buyers were going to get to the tower was a boat trip. So far, so predictable. Sadly, the programme never got any better and there was very little attempt to dig beyond the surface of the story. The oddest thing was that as far as I could make out (forgive me if I missed this, if it was in the first episode..) the local residents they were following didn't even live in the tower, they were in neighbouring buildings. I would have been more interested in seeing how those who'd been rehoused were adapting, if their lives had been made better or worse by the move etc.

I will continue to follow it when I get the chance, it might improve - who knows? But I won't be making an effort to stay in for it.

What about the rest of you?

Very interesting!

I came across this site via some torturous route that started when I was looking at photos of Deptford on Flickr.

This site is created by the developer Cathedral, which is responsible for the planned redevelopment of the old carriage ramp and site right next to Deptford Station. This is a competition to think of a name for the development, and the winner will get a hand-built bike from Witcomb Cycles.

I mentioned the old station redevelopment/Richard Rogers' proposed live-work and residential block on my post about Made in Deptford. At last year's Made in Deptford festival the architect told me that work would start later in 2006. Since then, nothing, and the yard has only been used as a storage area for all the gubbins that the contractors need for the water main replacement work.

But looking at this, it seems that things are more advanced than I thought, although giving it a name proves nothing, I guess.

What really irks me, is that the only way I found out about this was through some creative arts network called RSVP that's having a party there tonight. Apparently Cathedral is laying on music, food, drinks, marquee etc, for those creatives whom I guess might become future buyers of the live-work units.

I'm not suggesting that they should have invited all the local residents to the party, they obviously have their own agenda - but I am sure I'm not the only one who would like a chance to win a new bike by choosing a name. Have I seen this competition advertised anywhere locally? Have I buggery!

So much for engaging with the local community. Pah. Excuse me while I go off and wrack my brains for the winning name..!

PS shall I see you there?

Things to do in Deptford when you're..at a loose end

It's great to see that this year's Made in Deptford festival is moving a little further north; instead of being centred round the Albany/Giffin Square and the south end of the High Street it is extending right up to the northern end of the borough, with quite a few events in Evelyn Street and surrounds.

Of course this is largely due to the fact that on Sunday morning, a gaggle of muscley blokes in Lycra will be cycling along Creek Road to Greenwich for the start of the first stage of the Tour de France. Whatever the reason, we think it's something to celebrate - Evelyn and Pepys estates make up a huge chunk of Deptford's population and often get sadly neglected.

I have been researching some facts about Evelyn ward, which I will post in due course, but in the meantime, the Deptford Dame's preview of this weekend's Made in Deptford festival has the following recommendations (in no particular order):

1. Made in Deptford Market/Deptford Market. Saturday 9-5/8-4. Let's face it, Deptford wouldn't be Deptford without its market. Flash 'Arry tells me that when his mum first came to the UK, she used to travel all the way from the upper reaches of Lordship Lane to shop at Deptford Market on a Saturday, as it was the best place to buy West Indian ingredients. Now, of course, Peckham Rye is a rival to Deptford in terms of shopping opportunities, but in my opinion, Deptford wins for its sheer range. Where else can you get your hands on ingredients for English, West Indian, Asian and African foods in just a kilometre of high street? I still mourn the absence of good cheese and the miniscule range of wines available, but this inconvenience is more than made up for by the fact that you can ALWAYS find ripe avocados and the bundles of fresh coriander, mint, parsley and so on are about five times the size of the supermarket packets. This weekend, as well as the regular market and the junk market, there will also be the chance to buy limited-edition 'Shop Local in Deptford' bags and Tour de France/Made in Deptford T-shirts. On Sunday there will be a local arts and crafts market.

2. Feast your eyes, Laban Centre. Saturday (11-1 and 6.30 onwards) and Sunday all day. The cafe at the Laban Centre has recently been taken over by the Ethical Catering Cooperative, whose food is as wholesome as their name. I've lunched here a couple of times - they offer a small but daily-changing menu of sandwiches, meat and veggie main courses, soup and salads, as well as cakes and a good range of organic fruit juices, teas etc. The light and pleasant cafe area is a lovely place to sit and muse, never too crowded but always with a good buzz. They are promising sculptures, music and performance (fire-eating on Sunday evening) and market themselves quite imaginatively as 'the only cafe by the river in the whole of Deptford'. They do have outside picnic tables too.

3. Wavelengths Library Celebrations. Saturday 9-4. I will be mostly avoiding this, as it involves 'a full day of fun for all the family'. However it does feature multi-cultural craft making and food, and makes no mention of face-painting, so it can't be all bad! They are offering books of recipes by local residents, which I am keen to obtain.

4. Deptford Creek Experience. Saturday at 12.30, Sunday at 2.30. Booking advised.
Another chance to don thigh-length waders, grab a big stick and slosh along the Creek.

5. A Taste of Deptford. Saturday and Sunday from 12 onwards. More food - have you spotted the theme yet? Ahem! Anyway, this is a chance to check out various restaurants along the High Street and sample traditional food from England, Malaysia and Nigeria, among others, for £1 a go. Look for the posters in the windows.

6. The Tour! Sunday from 8.30am! Have your breakfast at the Albany from 8am, or the Laban Centre from 10, or just skip the baguettes and cheese, and nip down to the Harp of Erin or the John Evelyn pub for a front-row seat and a French beer. The Albany will be screening the Tour in the cafe, if by any chance it rains and you don't fancy being outdoors.

7. Dr Bike/Company of Cyclists. Hamilton Street, 11-3. Come along to the Dame's front yard to continue the bike theme - get your own bike checked out by the doctor, or try out some of the weird and wonderful bikes owned by Company of Cyclists. The Dame is personally hoping they bring along the amazing 8-seater she tried several years ago at another event. Believe me, it's freaky!

8. Find out about plans for Deptford. Galliard (Sat/Sun 10am onwards); Deptford Station Market meet & greet (Saturday 12-2); Recycle it! (Saturday 10-2); Emergency Deptford (Sunday 9-4); East London Line Information (Sunday 9-4). With any luck we'll be able to find out what's happening with the new market. Apparently due to launch 'this summer'. At last year's event, the developers told me that work on the station/carriage ramp/live-work units was set to start later that year, so don't believe everything you hear...! You also get chance to meet your local plod, find out about progress on the East London Line extension - north to Dalston and south to Croydon - and whine to the council about how badly their recycling facilities compare to those in Greenwich....For those who don't know, Galliard is the developer working on the Old Seager Distillery. Have a look at their site for a laugh. See if you can find any pictures of Deptford.

9. Punk band Chet at the Bird's Nest, 8pm. I've no idea what the band are like, I'm jut fascinated by the thought of a smoke-free Bird's Nest! In the past I've done my best to support this pub and its live music (of hugely variable quality, it has to be said!) but it was always the worst-ventilated, most smokey bar I know. I suspect it will still stink, but perhaps it might prompt a bit of a refurb...! If you've got your dancing feet on later, there's 'Out-Dance' at the Albany from 11pm-4am - a new club night for the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community, but welcoming all with open minds. And if you've got the energy, your ticket will also get you into the after hours party (2am till 8am) at Two 8 Six on Lewisham High Street. Phew, I need a lie down just thinking about it...

10. Grand Finale: Mimbre; The Bridge. Laban Centre, Sunday 7.30pm £7/£5 concessions.
With this story of three women and a bridge, 'the performance and impressive set will transform the open air amphitheatre into a world of humour, energy and visual poetry'! Best bring your brolly as it's outdoors.

A few other things that are worth a mention.

ART
Open days at Creekside Artists at the Faircharm Trading Estate (Sat and Sun 12-6), the APT studios on Creekside (Sat 12-5 and Sunday 9-5); 21 Tanners Hill (Charlotte Pearson and Robert McLeod); Deptford Arts Network (shops on the High Street - see what you can spot!).

FILM
Deptford Lives at the Albany. Showings throughout the day Friday, Sat and Sun. See a 15 minute film by the Community Channel about some of the characters of Deptford, from our very own crazy Artmongers to the rag and bone traders.

There is much, much more - lots of kids stuff, jazz and other music events, there's even face-painting, karaoke and tombolas if you want it, so check out the festival website for full details.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Sue Godfrey Nature Park


If you happen across this little pocket-handkerchief-sized square of land while walking to the Laban Centre, or cutting through towards the river, you would be forgiven for thinking it looked like a spot that was ripe for redevelopment.
It doesn't exactly have the old sofas and other fly-tipped debris (perhaps it's under the gaze of CCTV cameras?) but nevertheless it does look as if it's just waiting to be sold off for luxury flats or something.

In fact this is the Sue Godfrey Nature Park, which according to Lewisham Council is now recognised for its wildlife value in the council's unitary development plan in 1996.



Apparently it was originally the site of the Gibbs & Canning pottery works from 1682 until 1967, after which it spent some time as a fly-tipper's mecca before being saved by local campaigners, one of whom was Sue Godfrey.

According to the blurb, some 200 different types of flora have been recorded here over the years - it's hard to believe when you stroll across the gravel path that cuts through it, it just looks like a lot of long grass and some bushes. There doesn't even seem to be much variety in habitat, although I've never stopped to study it closely. The council did some work on it about three years ago, at about the same time that I was looking at flats in the neighbouring Crossfields estate, and from what I saw of the before and after, I don't believe there was any improvement. Possibly quite the opposite.

I hope I'm wrong, and that it still is a valuable wildlife site. Even without its wildlife value, however, it is great to see little slips of land like this being retained for public access. There is precious little real green space in Deptford (I'm not talking about the strips of grass between the council estate blocks either) and it is very important that these sort of resources are safeguarded for the sanity of present and future residents.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Tonight on BBC1: strong language

Don't miss the first episode of The Tower - an eight part documentary based on the Pepys estate in Deptford. If you're a regular visitor or resident of these parts, you won't have failed to notice that the once-grubby residential tower which perches next to the river, making a strident contrast to the classic beauty of the Deptford Strand buildings, has been transformed into.. go on take a wild stab in the dark.. yes, luxury apartments!

Where once there was despair, now there is security on the door and a tidy little car park. The developers who bought the block from Lewisham Council have added a few penthouses to the top of the tower and extensively refurbished the rest of the block for private sale. I don't know how much the council got from the sale, or what they did with it (perhaps it paid for the redevelopment of other parts of the estate, which they have done rather nicely) but I'm hoping to find out from this programme. Let's hope the Beeb lives up to my expectations.

Apparently strong language is forecast. No shit sherlock!

UPDATE:
It was a steal at £11 million, according to Coopepys. This blog contends that none of the proceeds has been spent on the Pepys Estate.

Read Keith Parkins' take on the refurbishment on Indymedia UK, posted before the refurbishment. I'm not sure of the reliability of all his facts, but it paints a pretty sorry picture.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Made in Deptford: At last!

Made in Deptford festival is in two weeks' time - 7 and 8 July. The festival programme is finally up on the website - so take a look and start making plans! It's less ambitious than last years' event - only two days rather than three - but hopefully there will be better weather! Naturally the Dame will be present; she may even be making things...

Monday, 18 June 2007

Twinkle Park



Hidden away at the bottom of Watergate Street - even more tucked away than the Dog & Bell, which is just up the road - is this charming little park. This part of Deptford is a strange backwater with cobbled streets that seem to meander purposelessly around the old wharves and housing estates without actually leading anywhere.

Of course the layout of the roads round here is a legacy from Deptford's shipbuilding history. Just across the street from Twinkle Park, in fact, and inaccessible behind a high wall most of the time, is the master shipwright's house, built in 1708 for Joseph Allen.

Before its redesign in 1992, Twinkle Park was reportedly a derelict and unloved area of public space. Now it houses a children's play area, which doubles as a school playground during school hours, and small but pretty little pond, full of irises and surrounded by wooden decking and flower beds.



Between the two areas is a stainless steel 'bandstand' structure, which consists of hinged seats on wheels. During school hours, the seats are intended to divide the park in two and provide security. At evenings and weekends they are rolled back and open the space for use by all the local children.



I was taken by surprise the other day when I passed Twinkle Park and saw someone sitting on one of the benches in the wildlife area. It's not often that I see anyone in this part of the park, although the play area is usually packed with kids, shouting and tearing around to their hearts' content. But the pond is usually deserted - the moorhen and her tiny chick were the only occupants the day before, picking their way between the pond weed and water lilies.

Strange as it may seem, Twinkle Park is actually in Greenwich borough. For some peculiar reason Greenwich extends across Deptford Creek and encompasses this section of what should naturally fall into Lewisham borough. Perhaps at the last carving up, Greenwich did a swap with Lewisham for a bit more river frontage (although what they might have swapped is beyond me!).

And don't be fooled by the quiet and peaceful surroundings - the area is not without its controversy. Last year there was outrage when it was revealed that Councillor Margaret O'Mara, who is the chair of the Twinkle Park Trust, had failed to declare her interest when sitting on the council's planning committee and considering the application to demolish Borthwick Wharf, directly opposite the park. The Creekside Forum, which opposed the demolition and associated proposals to build a new block of - yes, you've got it - luxury apartments, called on the council to quash the decision to approve the application. The Trust stood to benefit from payouts from the developers.

However the committee (minus Ms O'Mara) eventually approved the proposal when it was re-submitted, and Borthwick Wharf is no more. I look forward to seeing how the trust will spend its windfall - the park is looking a little shabby and could do with another injection of cash. Let's hope the new residents appreciate this tiny area of green space to its full potential.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

See it while you can


Instrument of Death or Defender of our Freedom? Whatever you think, worth a look at the Ark Royal while it's here, if only to see the scale of it. Not strictly in the Dame's domain, but only just across the Creek!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Deptford Creek; low-tide walks



From the River Thames as far upstream as Lewisham Bus Station, the River Ravensbourne is tidal. The lower part of the river, from Deptford Bridge to the Thames at Greenwich Reach, is known as Deptford Creek, and is a fascinating tidal habitat unlike any other in London.

I cross Deptford Creek several times a week - usually via Ha'penny Hatch Footbridge - and am always fascinated by the river. Every time you cross it, the tide is at a different level, presenting an ever-changing view, and governing the type of wildlife that you see.

Ever since I came to Deptford I've wanted to try one of the low-tide walks that are run by the Creekside Centre, but last year they were frustratingly rare. This year, however, I finally got my act together and last weekend I set out with a small band of other eager walkers, and our guides Nick and Jill, to explore the secrets of the creek.

First step was to get togged up with thigh-high waders and a big stick. Slightly disconcerting, but don't be put off - the guides will help you skirt the deepest mud, and most of the route is along the shallow river, or over the stoney edges. The big stick is useful for prodding the mud now and then to find out how deep it is, and for turning over stones in the river bed to see if they are hiding any wildlife.

The walk, which costs £5 for adults and £3 for children (aged ten and up), takes two hours and involves trips both up and downstream from the entry point - the purpose-built Creekside Centre which is right next to the Ha'penny Hatch.



First find was a crab cast - this one from a Chinese Mitten Crab, whose 'mittens' were still visible on the end of its claws. We saw a lot of these casts during the walk, evidence of the extent of the population here, but according to Nick this immigrant species is not a problem in the Creek in the same way as it might be in rivers with soft banks. Extensive erosion can be caused by the crabs making their burrows in sandy riverbanks.

We learned that the Creek is home to about 100 different plant species, including the deadly hemlock water-dropwort, and the edible angelica; we saw tiny stickleback and flounders darting about in the shallow water; we were shown some of the measures that the Environment Agency has put in place to try and create other types of habitat to attract kingfishers, or to provide shelter for the tiny fish. Apparently shopping trollies offer good places for baby fish to shelter, but they obviously don't look so great when the tide goes out, and the intention is to try and use piles of wood to create habitat piles for the fish instead.



The Creek is home to several houseboat communities as well as a number of derelict boats such as this one, just sitting and rotting. Development along the Creek has been slow, with the only notable construction so far being the Laban Centre. Luckily this means that the knowledge and legislation is now in place to ensure that future developments are sympathetic to the needs of the Creek habitat. Piled walls for the banks are being designed with stepped levels to provide a variety of habitats for wildlife, rather than as cheap and cheerful sheet piles.



For me, the best part of the experience was seeing the Creek close up and personal, and getting chance to explore the hidden corners that aren't really visible from land. Occasionally you might catch a glimpse of this part of the Creek from the DLR as you round the corner towards Deptford Bridge, but actually being in it was really something. Seeing all the weird and wonderful rubbish that accumulates on the river bed - from TVs to DIY tools, from a suitcase caught on the edge of one of the rotting boats (containing who knows what?) to the jawbone of a cow or horse that was fished out by a previous walker.



Times and dates of the walks vary according to the tide - check the website for details. It really is a great way to spend a couple of hours, and it's fascinating to find out the secrets of this historic river.

The Dog & Bell



The Dog & Bell is something of a Deptford/South East London CAMRA institution, so it is surprising how many people in the area have never been there, or have heard of it but don't know where it is. That being said, the pub is very well hidden. I had lived in Greenwich for about 8 years before I visited - although I'd heard many good reports and was keen to try it out. I actually stumbled on it while cycling along the Thames path one Sunday afternoon - it's tucked away on Prince Street, sandwiched between the high brick walls of Convoy's Wharf and a housing estate. You have to know where you are going in order to find it - there's no sign of it as you walk down Watergate Street, until you are almost on top of it.

Its location is probably both a blessing and a curse. For regulars it means that the pub is usually quite quiet, there are plenty of seats to choose from and it's got a real feeling of a 'local' (in the nicest possible sense!). But I'm sure it's something of a curse for the owners, I imagine they struggle to make a living, although the fact that it has survived here so long suggests it's not impossible.

When I first moved to Deptford, it became my local - not the closest pub to my house, but the closest with real ale and certainly the closest with a genial atmosphere! Since it was taken over a couple of years ago by Adam and Annamolia, little has changed. They still offer three guest beers as well as London Pride and Fullers ESB, a wide selection of bottled beers (including things like raspberry-flavoured if you are so inclined) and they still offer a range of good food.

In fact when I say little has changed, the main difference is in the menu. They used to offer pub staples (some combination of meat/fish, chips/potatoes, salad/veg) at ridiculously low prices. Now they offer a mixture of pub staples and more unusual options at reasonable prices (around £7 per main course). Favourites are the freshly-made fish and chips (the fish really does melt in the mouth); chicken curry which is served with rice, poppadom and pickles (they also do a chick pea version for vegetarians) and Flash 'Arry likes the ham, egg and chips. These are all regulars on the menu; there are occasional specials such as belly pork, fishcakes and so on.

The food is consistently high quality, but I have one MAJOR gripe. Where are the vegetables?! On average we eat here about once every three weeks - but we would come more often if there were more vegetables or salad on the menu. For instance the chana masala (chick pea curry) is just that. Chick peas in (an albeit delicious) curry sauce. Yes, I know it contains a large amount of fresh coriander, but the addition of a few vegetables could only enhance the dish - likewise for the chicken curry. And how much trouble would it be to offer peas with the fish and chips?

I'd love to see a regular salad special, or something just a teensy bit more healthy on the menu - that's what it would take for us to visit more often. As it is, I fear we may start splitting our local nights out between the D&B and the Royal Albert, which has a better range of food.

Having said all that, the Dog & Bell still can't be beaten for its real ales. In terms of variety, quality and price, I know of no other pub in London that comes close.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Stephen Lawrence Centre


A recent query to the Greenwich Phantom asked what was the 'funky new building' being built at the end of Brookmill Park. I had forgotten that the new Stephen Lawrence Centre was being built so close to Deptford, and decided to go down and see how close it was to opening. When I got there, I was rather non-plussed to discover that a) it's finished as far as I can see; b) there are no information boards or any kind of publicity about its purpose, its predicted opening date, or even its designers and builders!

I already knew something of the project, being connected with the world of architectural journalism, so I set out to try and discover more.

The project is being promoted by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and according to its website, is intended to "provide young people living in poverty with information, training, advice and guidance. The centre will also act as a hub where industry, community organisations and educational institutions can exchange information on the latest skills and needs in urban design and regeneration. This will help to build a new model for vocational training and business development."

It was inspired by the fact that Stephen Lawrence's ambition was to become an architect; the centre's purpose is not only to provide help for young people with similarly ambitious dreams, but also to give support and encouragement to those without such firm future plans.

Fittingly the building features the work of two prominent black Britons - architect David Adjaye is responsible for the design of the building, and artist Chris Ofili has designed the large glass windows that adorn the main facade. Unfortunately there is precious little information on Adjaye Associates' website about the project - and I understand that the practice has put a ban on all publicity about the scheme until it is open to the public (a very short-sighted approach by the architects, assuring that it is likely to receive little or no publicity in certain sectors of the engineering press which are largely interested in writing about its construction and structural engineering aspects. *gets down off hobby horse*)



This would not be a problem if the opening had taken place as planned - originally it had been intended to open earlier this year, but I have been told by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust that this will now take place 'hopefully' in October. Apparently there will be more information on the website within the next couple of weeks, so watch this space. No reason has been given for the delay - although I have asked the question and will let you know if I get a response. I believe there were problems with racist graffiti/vandalism but that seems to have been sorted out as I didn't see any on my visit. That might explain why there are no project boards or signs, or perhaps I'm just putting two and two together and making five. The pictures show that the glass facade is still swathed in green netting, but I couldn't see any damage to the glass (although admittedly I was peering from the other side of the fence, in the rain...).

Whatever the reason, it's surely a mistake. If the centre is to become a valued part of the local community, the sooner local people feel like they are being invited to take part, the better. I don't know whether any local consultation took place before the construction started, but right now this mystery building feels and looks like it has landed here from outer space, an impression reinforced by the fact that it has no sign boards. Hopefully this will all change soon. The structure itself is an interesting one - the steel mesh cladding and glass facade give it a modern - yes, even 'funky' feel - and I'm sure it will attract praise and criticism alike when it finally makes it into the press. I'm itching to see inside and check out the interior spaces, after which I will be posting an update. Hopefully October!

UPDATE: According to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust "The delay around the opening of the building was caused by a delay around the completion of the building. This is no longer the case, and we still intend to open the building in October."

Ah. That's crystal clear then.

Friday, 1 June 2007

The Royal Albert

I have been frequenting this pub, which is on New Cross Road at the bottom of Florence Road, on a fairly regular basis ever since it rose from the ashes of what used to be the Paradise Bar.

When I first moved to the area, probably 20 years ago now, I used to come and see bands at the Paradise Bar, which was essentially a rather scruffy pub with blacked out windows and a stage. Some of the bands were excellent, many were fairly good, and a few were appalling. In the last years of its existence as a music venue, it seemed to go downhill quite rapidly and I hadn't been much at all in the few years before its final demise.

But last year it was reborn as the Royal Albert, and it was quite a revelation on visiting it for the first time to realise that many of the fine old features had been there all along, they had just been obscured by the stage or the darkness.

The front windows are magnificent - large and generously curved; the bar still retains a lot of its Victorian grandeur, and the old pillars have lovely decorated capitals. The new owners (who also own the East Dulwich Tavern, among other pubs) have painted it in stately tones of olive, avocado and such like, and populated it with a jumble of auction room furniture and pictures, some amusing, some frankly awful. As a whole, however, it creates a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

In the winter it could seem quite gloomy (or you might just as well say 'cosy') but now, with the lighter nights, the area behind the bar where there is a large skylight, has really come into its own. What's more it's non-smoking (not that that will make any difference in less than a month - HURRAH!)

The range of drinks on offer is good, if rather pricey. They usually have a couple of real ales on (albeit regulars like Youngs and Landlord); they have various continental lagers, cider and strawberry-flavoured lager (don't ask me why). My only gripe would be that their rose wine offering is the rather unsophisticated Rose d'Anjou - when there are so many great roses around these days, why pick something that reminds me of being 15?

Best of all, they have just started doing food! This has been promised since well before christmas, but has finally been introduced in the last month or so. Tonight Flash 'Arry and I decided to sample the menu, as an alternative to our other local - the Dog & Bell (some other time...).

They offer a small range of sandwiches, a soup, and about 10 or 12 main courses ranging from shepherd's pie to homemade haddock & prawn fishcake, or tuna steak, as well as homemade burgers. There are a couple of unusual veggie options too - and most priced at between £7 and £9 for a main course.

Flash had the burger and I sampled the fishcake, which came on spinach, with a creamy parsley sauce. Both were huge, evidently hand-shaped, and delicious. Everything is cooked in the kitchen area at the back, which is open to view - in fact it's practically part of the pub itself. Next time I intend to leave room for pudding!

All in all, a welcome addition to the area's eating/pubbing establishments. At the moment it tends to get quite smokey in the front area, but this will not be a problem soon. Oh, and refreshingly free of Sky!!!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A park and a half


In the course of researching a future post, I found myself wandering through Brookmill Park between Deptford and Lewisham on a rainy weekday. I rarely get chance to go through the park - and I'm usually on my bike when I do - but all the same, I've long thought of it as a real little gem.

For me, it's a park and a half although in real terms it's barely half a park when you look at its dimensions! It straggles along between Brookmill Road and the Ravensbourne River, from the site of the old Thames Water station to the Elverson Road DLR station. It averages about 100m wide, at a guess, is squashed between a busy road and the DLR line, and yet it manages to feel like a really secret, special place away from all the hustle and bustle of London.


One of the main things it has in its favour is that it is not a very well-used park. People pass through it on the way from the DLR to St Johns or Deptford, but they rarely linger. Much of the side of the park that faces the road is protected by a wall or hedge, and the other side where the Ravensbourne flows is gloriously overgrown, lending it a real feeling of sanctuary. The park itself has a formal garden area with benches, pergolas, and a fountain; this leads through flower gardens to the modest children's play area, which in turn gives onto the pond, currently rather overgrown and murky-looking. The remainder of the park, which narrows down towards Elverson Road, is dominated by the river banks, which are left to grow wild, home to many native tree species including elder, currently heavy with flowers. This is my favourite bit, and the place I generally spot the best birds. I've seen goldfinches on the seeding grasses in late summer, herons, various wildfowl and even kingfishers. The fact that the river is quite sheltered and set back from the path makes it ideal for the local bird life.

Today in just a quick visit I saw mallards, the ubiquitous moorhens, a glamorous mandarin duck, grey wagtail, young robin, and a family of young great tits being fed by their parents.
Star spot was this beautiful heron; I caught sight of him just as he was trying to stalk into the bushes on the other side of the river. We both stood still and eyeballed each other for a few minutes while I fumbled with my camera, then I left him to his fishing and moved on.



At the end of the park you see the real contrast; two views, both taken from the bridge over the river but in opposite directions.




If you get chance to go down there (and assuming you get better weather!) look out for the mysterious little footpaths that lead off up the raised area at the end of the park, and down to the river banks. Get a different view on Deptford!