Saturday, 29 May 2010

Eleanor Pritchard interview

One of our local designer-makers, the very talented weaver Eleanor Pritchard is interviewed in the Guardian weekend today as part of their 'disappearing acts' about indigenous crafts.

You can read the story here. There's unfortunately no mention of Cockpit Arts, but being a (very) amateur weaver myself and a great admirer of Eleanor's work, I recognised her studio and her work from the photograph.

If you haven't had chance to visit Cockpit Arts in Creekside, the next open studios is in a few weeks time. It comes highly recommended.

Royal Albert revisited

Myself and the geezer patronise the Royal Albert in New Cross fairly regularly (at least once a fortnight for dinner) - I've written about it before, way back in 2007, but felt it was time for a new review three years on!

A recent interview with the new manager on Brockley Central blog promised improvements to the areas I felt were lacking, especially guest beers. A new chef and new menu with more seasonal food was also on the cards. So what, if anything, has changed?

First, beers. Well Richard promised that the 'troublesome fourth pump' would be repaired and brought into service to allow more frequent rotation of guest beers. I recall that it was, temporarily, although the last few visits it seems to have gone back into retirement. It's great that they offer Brakspear's bitter at £2.50 a pint - it's a reliable and inoffensive beer that keeps the price of a round to a respectable level. There is almost always Landlord on offer, and almost always a Purity beer (Gold last time I visited). But I'm saddened to say that the guest beers have been fairly evasive. For a brief, glorious period they were offering Doom Bar on tap but now, after several visits with no guest beer in sight, I'm starting to wonder if I hallucinated it!

Perhaps there have been recurring problems with the hand pumps, or perhaps I have just been unlucky in turning up as the guest beers were drained, but I would love to see a better balance between guest and regular ales. Why not two regular and two guest? Or even one regular and three guest?

I am lucky enough to work close by the fabulous new Cask pub in Pimlico. Until fairly recently this was a fading and failing bar that was lucky to attract a handful of punters even at lunchtime. On Tuesday night it was rammed with customers, many of them sampling one of the TEN or so real ales that were available on tap. Although it offers food, only a few people were there to eat. 'Build it and they will come,' I thought to myself - even on a Tuesday night!

But I digress. If you are a lager or wine drinker, by the way, you will also find a reasonable choice of drinks.

As to food, the menu has definitely seen an improvement - it changes quite regularly and does include several vegetarian and seafood options. I chose the 'couscous and roasted squash salad with grilled halloumi' while the geezer had the seafood tagliatelle.

The salad was tasty, fresh and good value for money - but nothing like I was expecting. Call me old fashioned but when a dish contains multiple ingredients, I expect the description to start with the ingredient that makes up the biggest proportion of the dish, and continue downwards - a bit like food labelling.

So I was expecting a lot of roasted squash and couscous, a few slabs of halloumi, and a bit of green stuff. They got the halloumi proportion about right, but I certainly wasn't expecting masses of rocket, green beans and other green stuff with a scattering of couscous.

As I said, it WAS tasty, I just felt a bit cheated and might have chosen something else if I'd known - although there's the possibility that I would have been equally as disappointed.

Luckily I didn't choose the seafood tagliatelle - the geezer is remarkably tolerant, some might even say too tolerant, and very averse to complaining. If I'd been served this I would have taken it back.

I'm sorry guys but this is downright lazy. Ocean Stix or whatever they are called does NOT qualify as seafood unless you are running a fast food store. No amount of piling rocket on the top can hide the fact that this is basically pasta with mussels and chopped up Ocean Stix. What of the prawns? Any sign of a bit of fish or squid? Unless you ramp up the seafood aspect of this dish, at £9 it's risking being known as a bit of a rip-off.

Having got that off my chest, I feel I should finish on a more positive note. I do like the fact that although the pub shows football in the front bar, it keeps the sound low so the place doesn't turn into a no-go zone for me. Whether this will change during the World Cup I don't know. Hopefully the back part of the bar will remain footy-free.

The staff are very friendly and helpful and the atmosphere in the bar is generally lively but not intrusive. It's still the best in the area for food, and hopefully the ale offerings will improve given time.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Deptford station: well blow me down!*

"Volker Fitzpatrick has been awarded a £7m contract for the construction of a new railway station at Deptford, south London. The station redevelopment includes part demolition of existing canopies, and new-build work, providing over-bridge glazing to both platforms. Client is the London Borough of Lewisham. Volker saw off four other bidders to win the contract."

*A much censored version of what originally went through my head when I read this.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Lewisham People's Day: the Beat

Forgive me if this is old news, but I was very excited to get the latest issue of Lewisham Life and discover that the Beat are headlining at Lewisham People's Day this year on 10 July.

I was a massive fan of the Beat when I was a teenager, as much if not more than the Specials and Madness. But I was too young to go and see them perform live and didn't have any older siblings who were into the same kind of music and willing to take me with them.

But last year I finally saw them play at the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham and it was one of the most lively gigs I've seen for some time. On one of the hottest days of the summer, Rankin Roger tore up and down the stage like a man possessed, singing as if his life depended on it and getting the (mostly) older members of the audience bouncing about in front of the stage. The young crowd were rather bemused by the sight of us middle-aged and somewhat portly peeps getting all shouty and jumpy!

Rankin Roger, who is interviewed in Lewisham Life, still fronts the band but now with his son Murphy 'Ranking' Jnr instead of Dave Wakeling, who tours the USA with a group called the English Beat.

At Wychwood they did all the old faves - Mirror in the Bathroom, Stand Down Margaret, Can't Get Used to Losing You, Hands off She's Mine, Twist & Crawl etc etc - so if that performance was anything to go by, Lewisham is in for a treat.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Deptford Arms planning applications

The demise of the Deptford Arms and its imminent resurrection as a Paddy Power betting shop has been discussed widely on this blog, and Deptford blogosphere neighbours Crosswhatfields and Transpontine. As a pub it did not do much to cater for my custom, with its uncomfortable furniture and lack of ale (both could have easily been rectified by a landlord with some vision), but as a music and arts venue it was a valuable part of Deptford's cultural life and has been for many years. Despite this, the owner clearly preferred to lease the building to Paddy Power bookmakers rather than putting in any effort to improve the pub to attract more regular business throughout the week.

Unfortunately as they stand at the moment, licensing laws permit change of use from pubs to bookmakers without leaving any powers for local authorities to prevent clustering of such businesses in target areas. Local authorities which reject licence applications from bookmakers are then likely to have to defend themselves against legal action from the applicant. With budgets at risk this is understandably not a position councils want to put themselves in.

Paddy Power's first planning application (reference DC/10/73357/X) for amendments to the building was sensibly rejected by Lewisham's planners. Although it is not a listed building, it is in the Deptford High Street conservation area. "The proposed alterations would adversely affect the appearance and character of this prominent building and would be detrimental to the character and appearance of this part of the Deptford High Street Conservation Area, contrary to Policies URB 8 Shopfronts and URB 16 New Development, Changes of Use and Alterations to Buildings in Conservation Areas in the adopted Unitary Development Plan (July 2004)," the planners said.

Here's a couple of clips from the original drawings, showing the proposed elevation on Reginald Road and the proposed illuminated sign (all of these can be viewed in full on the planning department's website, see details below).

The main point to note is that the application proposes replacement of the existing timber windows with aluminimium-framed windows (in lurid, Paddy-Power-corporate-green). The extent and colouring of the proposed signage is also unnecessarily overbearing in my opinion, and will have a very negative visual impact on the building and its surrounds.

Not surprisingly, Paddy Power appealed against the decision, but the grounds given for the appeal were rather lame to say the least. Such grounds include the suggestion that the internally illuminated signs it proposes are 'characteristic of the Conservation Area in its wider sense'. Whatever that means.

Anyone can comment on the appeal, you can do so online at this link, by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page (to documents) and then clicking through from the new page to 'comment on this case' but you must do so by 8 June 2010.

In the meantime, however, it seems that Paddy Power is not entirely confident of winning its appeal, and after a site visit with the planning officers, earlier this month submitted new planning applications for the changes to the building and the signage (references DC/10/74269/FT and DC/10/74268/X). This time they also included a 'planning, design & access statement' to support the application, which makes for interesting reading.

The changes to the shopfront proposals are subtle but show some progress. Instead of replacing the window frames, they will retain and make good the existing frames. The signage will be lit by external lights rather than internally-illuminated. The proposed external roller shutter on Reginald Road has been changed to an internal roller shutter, and the gaudy yellow sign is now hanging from a 'shepherd's hook' fitting. Cute touch but in my opinion still totally overshadowed by the gaudiness of the yellow and green of the whole signage system. (don't be fooled by the duller-looking shades of colour on these pictures, by the way, the colour reference numbers are still exactly the same as on the previous pictures. I suspect the colour balance in the file was adjusted somehow).

The accompanying design statement defends this signage, claiming 'the wholly appropriate given the previous signage on the public house premises'. Is it? I can't say that I agree at all.

'This corporate approach has been accepted by local councils across the country,' the statement goes on, 'including in Conservation Areas.' Which some might translate as 'we've got plenty of stuff to throw at you in court if you refuse' although of course I couldn't possibly comment.

The main defence of the designs is that it's better to have a betting shop here than vacant premises. The fact that the premises were not empty when the statement was submitted seems to have been overlooked.

Somewhat laughably the statement also defends the proposed development with the following comment: 'a bookmaker's use is a complimentary use to the retail function and adds VARIETY and vitality to the shopping area'.

How the applicant can include this statement with any serious intent, given that the new betting shop will be the seventh on the high street, is beyond me.

All the documents relating to these applications are available on Lewisham's planning portal, just by searching here using the application number.

Although it is too late to save the pub, protecting the look and quality of buildings within the high street conservation area is a central part of maintaining what makes Deptford unique and attractive to so many. The high street already has too many regrettable redevelopments that make me shake my head and think 'who let that through?'. If you care about retaining what's there, please take a minute to click through to these links and consider commenting on the proposals.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Submissions for Deptford X are now being invited

A range of opportunities for artists living or working in Greater London are being offered as part of the Deptford X festival which will be held between 24 September and 3 October 2010.

Artists can apply for the Renewal Award (five grants for site-specific works, two of which will be awarded to Deptford-based artists), the Photography Project, three artists' residencies, and the Deptford Fringe (restricted to artists in SE8).

Full details and briefs for Deptford X submissions are available here.

This year's Deptford X project is being led by artist Mark Titchner.

Free tickets to ride

If you fancy a trip to the East End or down to Croydon this weekend, why not try out the new East London Line for free? Hop along to New Cross/New Cross Gate, Surrey Quays or Rotherhithe and you could pick up one of the 10,000 free tickets being given out on Sunday when the line opens for full service. Here's the relevant extract from the press release (with Boris's self-congratulatory comments deleted I'm afraid).

"Ten thousand free tickets will be given out to passengers to travel on London Overground’s new East London railway on its first day of operating a full public service this Sunday (May 23).

Free tickets will be issued at stations along the line on a first come first served basis. Each station will be given a finite number of the tickets based on the number of people who use it. Each station will be limited to one ticket per person; they will be non-transferable, valid for Sunday 23 May only and limited to the East London route on the London Overground network. Passengers interchanging from other networks need to complete their first journey by touching out with their Oystercard."

More info about the line here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tidemill school progress

Taking some photographs of the progress at Tidemill School and the newly-erected hoardings and traffic lights sent me back to the architect's rendering to check that the big overhang was actually meant to be there.

Seems like it is, and the hoardings are just protecting site staff who need to gain access to all sides of the building as construction progresses. Annoyingly it means that the traffic lights are going to be there until at least January 2011. Apologies for the two views being from opposite ends of the street, by the way; the sun was in the wrong place this morning to match the view up with the rendering!

Construction work next to the railway line is progressing so rapidly that it's now impossible to see on site from the station platform.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Urban screen 19th May: SUS

Urban Screen at the Albany Theatre in Deptford is showing the newly-released film SUS in a special screening next Wednesday.

"1979 Election Night, as Thatcher comes into power. SUS takes place on that very night, when Delroy (Clint Dyer: Unknown White Male, Sahara) is being interrogated about his pregnant wife who has been found dead in a pool of blood. With all the evidence stacking up against him, Delroy continually refuses to confess. He suffers a night of callous humiliation at the hands of two racist coppers (Ralph Brown: The Crying Game, Withnail & I, Rafe Spall, The Calcium Kid, Hot Fuzz), both high on the impending Conservative landslide victory, and more concerned with the outcome of the election than establishing the truth.

Written in 1979 by Barrie Keefe (The Long Good Friday) and based on a true story, SUS is a powerful cry against institutional racism, which is as relevant today as ever. Instead of SUS ("suspect under suspicion"), there is "stop and search" under Section 44 of the Terrorist Act of 2000."

Urban Screen will be showing the film in a special screening on 19th May @ 7pm at the Albany in Deptford. The event includes a panel discussion with main actor Clint Dyer, Barrie Keeffe (tbc), Duwayne Brooks and Benjamin Zephaniyah.

Eat Meet supperclub

'Deptford borders' (New Cross/Brockley if you're being precise) is getting its own supperclub as from next month, when Julie & Sophie will be hosting the first 'Eat Meet Supperclub' at Julie's house.

If you're not familiar with this phenomena, where have you been? Basically it involves members of the public opening up their homes to cook meals for total strangers; usually at a very reasonable price compared to eating out at a restaurant. Blackheath's Savoy Truffle Supperclub even made it into the top ten supperclubs as voted by the Times last year. While the idea of being a host leaves me cold, the prospect of someone else cooking me dinner while I get to have a nosy in their house a la Come Dine With Me, is rather more attractive.

Anyway, here's what Julie says about Eat Meet Supperclub:

"It happens monthly in my home in Brockley / New Cross / Telegraph Hill. It'll be for 'everyone' one month, and for singles the next. Each event will be food-themed and the £25 donation includes three, four or five courses (depending on the cuisine), a cocktail on arrival and you can bring your own booze (no corkage). If the weather's good, it'll in in our sunny garden.
It'll be on Saturday nights, and we've just released the first two dates, so to book, please email Sophie at"

Forthcoming dates are:
Saturday 26th June – everyone welcome (foodie theme 'summery euro mash-up')
Saturday 17th July – straight singles (foodie theme 'Abigail's party retro classics')

Like any self-respecting venture these days they have a blog and a facebook group

If you go along, do feel free to report back!

Margaret McMillan Park

Today being the first sunny day I had the chance to wander freely with my camera, I took the opportunity to spend some time considering the newly-reopened and redeveloped Margaret McMillan Park.

My first observation (albeit with some reservations, about which more later) is that it is a HUGE improvement on the previous situation. The designers have achieved their aim of improving visibility and sight lines through the park and opening it up to become a much more cohesive space, but without making it sterile. There are a lot more paths which increase accessibility through the park from all sides, encouraging greater use.

Although many of the shrubs were removed to improve visibility, the mature trees were mostly retained. They counterbalance the fresh just-planted look of the borders and new shrubs, and were being fully exploited by local birdlife during my visit.

The seating is excellent and plentiful - consisting of a combination of big slabs of stone (vandal-proof if a little cold on the bum) and some very good quality, solidly-made park benches. The children's play area also has a couple of heavy wooden picnic tables - not the removable type, I hasten to add. These are solidly connected to the ground!

The play area has been rebuilt with a variety of equipment, although some of it does seem to be missing - hopefully the swings are yet to be erected, and haven't been pinched already.

One of the climbing frames also seems to be missing a ring.

At the New Cross end of the park, a couple of carved tree trunks have been erected. I'm not really sure about these - firstly whether they fit, secondly how they will weather over time. One is carved with some seemingly random patterns, a horse and some numbers, the other is inspired by the McMillan sisters and their contributions to Deptford's history. The latter has been rather inconveniently sited next to a bed of lavender, and in order to read the wording, which spirals round the trunk of the tree, you have to trample through the bed.

Despite my misgivings about the carved sculptures, it's good to see new benches and marble seating at this end too, encouraging people to linger and use the park rather than it just being a cut-through to New Cross Station.

New signage at each end of the park, including stone blocks carved with the name of the park and new sign posts, reinforce the new image of the area as a park - somewhere to go to, not just to pass through.

And what of my reservations? Firstly, what's with the sticky things? Interesting at first glance, but ultimately rather pointless. I feel that they detract from the nice natural landscaping that has otherwise been achieved. I fear they will act as graffiti magnets and will prove neither vandal-proof nor durable. Since they are 'planted' at regular intervals, it will only take the loss of one of them to upset the balance.

Three bike racks in the middle of the park. I hear the deafening sound of a box being ticked, and suspect that these racks will never be graced by a bicycle. The only possible reason someone would want to lock their bike up in the park would be if they were bringing their kids to the play area - but the play area is so small it is easy enough to lean your bike against one of the blocks of marble/picnic tables and keep an eye on it. If you are sitting on one of the benches you would lean your bike up against the back of the bench. If you are going to the town centre, you would use one of the bike racks closer to the shops.

Overall, a vast improvement with just a few minor niggles. Work on Fordham Park is now under way, we'll be keeping an eye out to see how this pans out.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Supermarket Shakespeare

I wouldn't normally encourage my readers to go to the supermarket, but if you are looking for a more stimulating trip to the aisles this weekend, try putting a bit of Supermarket Shakespeare into your trolley (metaphorically speaking of course).

"Inspired by Sonnet 23, six performers will create contemporary characters that have intertwining stories and these will be performed all around the supermarket," it says on the Teatro Vivo website.

If I hadn't stayed up nearly all night watching election coverage, at this point I like to think I would be able to insert some clever puns and witty banter connecting the two.

As it is, you'll have to make do with the bare facts:

Sainsbury's New Cross
Friday 7 May, 7pm
Saturday 8 May, 12pm and 6pm
Sunday 9 May, 12pm and 3pm

Sainsbury's Lewisham (in the shopping centre)
Tuesday 11 May, 6.45pm
Wednesday 12 May, 6.45pm
Thursday 13 May, 6.45pm
Friday 14 May, 6.45pm
Saturday 15 May, 12pm & 6pm
Sunday 16 May, 12pm & 3pm

And the winner is...

..don't hold your breath for the results folks, they only started counting the votes at about 6am.

As with many constituencies, turnout was up on previous years meaning more votes to count; of course the need to separate the three sets of ballot papers first adds more time (although that's why they are different colours isn't it?!).

*update at 9.30am: as expected Joan Ruddock has held the Lewisham Deptford seat with a massive majority.

Now what about the mayoral/borough results?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election communication

Just to prove how many of them made it up the stairs. Well done you lot; even though Gemma Townsend's 'In touch' leaflet should have been renamed 'In touch once every four years' at least she made it up the stairs three times. People Before Profit proved themselves the most fit, although they cheated slightly by giving us three copies of one of their leaflets (in the same delivery) and the Greens stuck to their principles by sending us only a solitary leaflet for their general election candidate. Although I have a sneaking feeling that they, like the Lib Dems (oh Lib Dems why are you avoiding us?!) are concentrating their efforts in the leafy heartlands of Lewisham Deptford.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Lewisham mayoral candidates

It's that time of the year again when the postal vote papers come plopping through the door and my spirits take a huge dip as I survey the democratic duty/opportunity (delete as you wish) that lies before me. This time it's even more dispiriting/exciting in Lewisham borough as we have no less than THREE ballots to participate in. Hurrah/oh shit!

Today I'm going to take a slightly cynical but hopefully fair look at the candidates for the post of Mayor of Lewisham. This is probably the ballot that offers local voters the greatest direct influence on how their lives will be run in the coming four years, given the powers that the mayor holds. Ironically the vast majority of the electorate are not aware of true extent of the mayor's powers, for a number of reasons, the most influential of which, in my opinion, is the title.

He's called the mayor. Isn't that just the longest-serving councillor of the majority party, who gets to wear a big gold chain and attend posh dinners for a year? Why on earth they couldn't come up with a new title is beyond me - voters are confused about why they now have to vote for a mayor. If you too are confused, take a look at the Wiki entry for elected mayors, and educate yourself to what Steve Bullock is hoping to continue doing for the next four years, at your expense.

Or read this rather cosy explanation from Lewisham Council's home page:
"Steve leads the Council and proposes the Council’s budget and policy framework, unlike many authorities, where the role of Mayor is ceremonial. Once the framework is set, the Mayor then implements these policies and takes all day to day decisions to run the Council except those that have to be taken by full council by law (such as changing the Council’s constitution)."

As well as the opportunity for the ultimate power trip, the mayoral post currently attracts a salary of almost £80k.

Although the Labour government introduced the option of directly-elected mayors more than 10 years ago, only 12 local authorities chose to follow this model of governance (not counting the Mayor of London) and Stoke-on-Trent subsequently voted to abolish it. Each authority was obliged to hold a referendum to ask its electorate if they wanted a directly-elected mayor. Turnout in these referendums was generally appalling - in Lewisham only 18% (yes you read that correctly) of voters bothered to tick a box. Of these, the vote was very narrowly split, with 51% voting for, and 49% against.

In the first mayoral vote in 2002, Steve Bullock polled well ahead of the other four candidates, taking 20,000 of the first choice votes and 4,500 of the second choice votes. The Tories scraped second place with Lib Dems and Greens not far behind.

By the second vote in 2006, the incumbent was holding on strongly with about 22,000 of the first choice votes, but turnout was clearly much higher with the Lib Dems surging to 12,000 and the Tories bringing up the rear with 10,000. The interesting part about this vote, however, was the allocation of second choice votes. While Steve Bullock only got 3,000 of the second choice votes, Chris Maines for the Lib Dems added more than 6,000 extras with the second choice votes, bringing him up to 18,000 total. He was still well behind Bullock's 25,000 total but it's an interesting reflection on the voting procedure, which is not just the usual 'first past the post' system.

The lesson is to think carefully about where you place your first AND your second votes. You can't vote twice for the same person, by the way, although you don't have to put a second choice down.

So who are you going to choose? You have probably received your booklet from Lewisham Council by now, which includes statements from all the mayoral candidates.

They are listed in seemingly random order in the book, so I'm going to take them as they come.

1. Graham Dare, English Democrats: At the last London Mayoral elections I reviewed the policies of Graham's stablemate Matt O'Connor as being 'stop giving money to the Scots and give us a bank holiday on St George's Day'. It seems things have moved on since then, as Graham has a list of promises and priorities that cover a whole page in small writing. But reading them puts me in mind of being in a slightly dodgy pub late at night observing a load of pissed-up white-van-driving middle aged men having a bit of a rant. Phrases like 'zero tolerance' are scattered liberally through the list, and he's very keen on scrapping 'politically incorrect non-jobs', 'seeking out waste' and cancelling funding for things such as translation services, ethic history months, gay pride marches, the Olympics, huge pay offers to council managers, twin towns, extensions of tram systems....what? He's going to cut the number of councillors (doesn't say how or by how many), cut the mayoral salary (doesn't give a figure) and cut the council tax (this gets two mentions - presumably saving the money from all the things he's going to cancel). His election photo does make him look quite friendly, but it made me rather curious as to whether he was wearing an England rugby shirt or had adopted Martin Bell's white suit as a sign of trusty independence.

Graham has had a chequered past - he doesn't seem to be able to find a party that really suits him. Nor a constituency, since he's also standing for the Croydon Central seat in the general election. At this point his opposition to extensions of tram systems seems to make sense, he's clearly using the same election address for all his bids for power. His experience: "Medium and spiritualist healer. Croydon councillor 1998-2002, originally for the Conservative party but defected to the Liberal Democrats 2001. Contested Croydon South 2005 for Veritas, Barnet and Camden 2008 London elections for Veritas. Contested London in 2009 European elections."

And in case you don't remember Veritas, here's a link to their 'core values' for your delectation.

2. Tess Culnane, British National Party. Tess likes pithy statements. It's time for common sense, she says. We're not afraid to tell it the way it is. She is a voice for the silent majority, mostly about immigration, anti-social behaviour and crime which are all out of control she says. Naturally her three 'policies' involve deporting people, clamping down on floods of asylum seekers, and suspending foreign aid. As extensive as the powers of Lewisham Mayor are, I don't believe they exert any influence on national immigration policies. In her publicity photo Tess is fixing the viewer with an expression that is part friendly, part quizzical, and part confusion/squinting into the sun. However she does present herself as 'Lewisham Candidate for the London Mayoral Election' which suggests that confusion is central to her campaign.

Tess can't be arsed with the rest of the BNP's policies, she just wants to get rid of all those nasty foreigners - having stood for the National Front in recent elections, she probably regards the BNP as a bit namby pamby, perhaps even too left wing for her liking. But the BNP have actually gone to the trouble of developing a full 'manifesto' for this year's election and it would seem a little churlish not to read it. I particularly enjoyed the argument that stopping immigration and hence reducing the population would solve our environmental problems. 'The BNP is the only party to recognise that overpopulation – whose primary driver is immigration, as revealed by the government’s own figures – is the cause of the destruction of our environment'. While I'm inclined to agree on the overpopulation argument, haven't any of these clowns heard of birth control? They also say that they will allow an airport to be built in the Thames Estuary to relieve pressure on London's airports. This is under 'environmental' policy, don't forget!

3. John Hamilton, People Before Profit. Despite his appalling colour choices and rabbit-in-the-headlights publicity photograph, I admit that I see John Hamilton as a credible independent. For a start, I like the fact that his two top priorities are to scrap the mayoral role (although since only a referendum can do this, so he is reliant on the electorate to agree with him), and to take a salary of just £24k, the average salary in the borough. He's been putting in the legwork by getting out on the streets and meeting people, and apart from our local councillors, is the only candidate who seems to have been campaigning in Deptford. His policies are very Lewisham-centric, as I would expect from a mayoral candidate, and he does seem to have given serious thought to particular aspects of the job, mostly education and facilities for children. However there's a rather endearing naivity to some of his pledges, for example that the council will build housing using its own direct labour department. With the best will in the world I struggle to see how he's going to achieve this in just four years.

4. Simon Nundy, Conservative. As you might expect, we're back on predictable territory with our Tory candidate - despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact that he runs the New Cross Inn. Cash and crime are top of his list, the usual Tory attempt to woo voters with financial gain while promising to save them from murderers. Simon's going to cut council tax next year and then freeze it till 2015, and he's going to create a police liaison office to ensure a coherent approach to crime. He also says he will keep up pressure on the government to ensure 'proposed tube extensions go ahead'. Let's just hope he's not referring to Crossrail, as the Tories have already said they can't promise to build it if they get in.

Simon's got some very interesting statistics on his pages, claiming that 'only the Conservatives can stop Labour on May 6th'. His graph showing the split of the votes in the last mayoral election suggest that Labour polled 37% while the Tories got 24% and the Lib Dems only got 9% with the Greens coming in at 4%. I had to check my figures again before I realised that these figures came from the 2008 Mayoral Election......that for London mayor! I can't help thinking that this is not only rather hopeful, it's also a bit underhand - while he's not claiming anything incorrect, labelling the graph with '2008 Mayoral election: how Lewisham voted' is in my opinion designed to mislead. Clearly a man whose glass is always four-eighths full.

5. Dean Walton, Green Party. Both Simon Nundy and Dean Walton decided that the best place to pose for their election photos would be in front of Lewisham Town Hall, presumably to give the electorate the opportunity to judge the aesthetic possibilities of electing them as mayor. Whereas Simon's photo exudes a confident smugness, you might say bordering on sleazy, Dean has the air of a cheeky schoolboy daring his best friend to take the photo for a laugh. Ironically Dean is probably much more familiar with the Town Hall than Simon, having been a local councillor in Brockley - centre of Lewisham's Green revolution - for the past four years since the Ladywell Pool debacle caused a major threat to the Labour majority. As well as offering some good solid measurable pledges relating to composting and insulation, he throws in a few (not so easy to measure) crowd-pleasers about schools, policing and the elderly. Although there's no bar chart, Dean's also chosen his statistics carefully to prove that the Greens can win it! Apparently in the 'most recent borough-wide elections, last June, Greens came second across the whole borough'. In case you're wondering, that's the European elections. Remember them? Me neither!

6. Steve Bullock, Labour Party. By this stage of the booklet I'm starting to flag a little, so it's probably time for a little photo to keep me going and remind me why I'm reading all this crap.

Ah, that's better, although I can't help wondering what's going on in this picture. Perhaps the photographer forgot to bring a wide-angle lens so has had to ask his subjects to crouch slightly so he can get them all in.
I'm sure I don't really need to tell you about Mayor Steve, as he likes to be known - clearly keen to cultivate a cuddly image. He's used his two pages to remind us what he's done so far and make some rather wishy washy pledges such as 'prioritising those with the greatest need' which of course can vary depending on what angle you're viewing it from. I can't say I think he's been a particularly bad mayor, but I do think he is guilty of taking the electorate for granted in many ways, and failing to engage as much as he should.

7. Chris Maines, Lib Dem. It's quite a relief to reach the end of the booklet, even though Chris has done his best to wake me up with his choice of lurid colours and badly-laid-out pages. This is one of those times when I realise that not all of the things we have gained with greater access to computers are necessarily good.
But it's worth hanging on for Chris - he's a credible candidate if perhaps a little colour blind. He's also got a bar chart, but this time it's a relevant one! He is the only candidate in the booklet able to claim that he came second last time - in this poll. He is a strong local candidate with good support in the area, and could be carried further forward on the tide of Clegg mania. His top pledges are to freeze council tax for two years and to build some new council housing, although he doesn't explain how he will fund the latter while maintaining the former. On his website he also says that he will campaign to abolish the mayoral post, although this doesn't appear in the book. A cynic might infer that this was added later in response to the positive reaction to John Hamilton's pledge, but I like the idea, so I'll let him off this time.

So there you go. My votes are cast and in the post by now (it's taken me more than a week to conquer my lethargy for long enough to finish this!) and Chez Dame is drowning in election literature, which suggests that all the main parties are slightly nervous about the outcome.

If you've had enough cynicism and want to read some more mature election coverage, I suggest you hop over to Brockley Central where they have been working hard to give the main candidates some tough questions in their virtual hustings.