The proposed Silvertown Tunnel will make south-east London “a more attractive place to live, visit and do business”. That’s what TfL say, anyway, adding that it will “pass under the River Thames and be built to modern standards” – the original idea of constructing an above-water tunnel by laying a large tube woven from reeds and withies over wattle and daub pylons presumably having been abandoned.
At first glance, it might seem odd to be considering a new crossing in this neck of the woods so soon after the last one opened. But the cable car, despite being a vital piece of transport infrastructure which, as Boris Johnson made clear when he agreed to make up the funding shortfall, could carry up to 2,500 people an hour across the river in each direction, something that would otherwise take 30 buses to achieve, has one basic flaw: it only works when the weather is nice. As soon as the wind gets up, it gets shut down.
Once the Silvertown Tunnel is built, though, this won’t be a problem; because, whenever it gets a bit blowy, thirty specially commissioned cable car replacement buses will be on hand to shuttle the people of Canning Town and Beckton under the Thames – yes, under the Thames, because it’s a tunnel – to the shops, bars and cafes of Millennium Village at two-minute intervals.
And in addition, say TfL, it will help alleviate overcrowding in the nearby Blackwall Tunnel.
In short, the economic case seems rock solid. And it’s inspired Greenwich Council to come up with a similar plan of their own, for a second foot tunnel under the Thames between Cutty Sark Gardens and the Isle of Dogs. Such a tunnel will, said a council spokesman, launching the campaign this morning with a promotional visit to the Island Gardens Cafe, help ease congestion in the present Victorian structure – which, after recent renovation work, is clearly showing its age – and unlock the huge commercial potential currently being stifled by the natural barrier of the river.
He added, wiping a crumb from his chin, that the Island Gardens Cafe serves excellent coffee and has a fine selection of cakes at prices that won’t hurt your pocket.
Since last week, there’s obviously been only one topic of conversation here in Greenwich: the opening of something so outlandishly bizarre and incongruous – something so, frankly, foreign – that most of us, despite the evidence of our own eyes, still can’t really believe it’s been allowed to happen. Ever since the planning application first went in, and we were asked if we had any objections, it’s been hard to take it seriously. This sort of thing was all very well in France, we said to each other, but… in SE10??? The idea was preposterous! Who on earth did they expect to use it? Especially with those prices.
But we were wrong. And so it was that, last week, behind carefully arranged barriers, Café Rouge duly unveiled their new pavement seating area, bringing a little slice of Continental-style café culture to the Royal Borough, possibly in a raffia basket with a small pot of jam.
And… you know what? Good luck to them, I say… because the thought of Greenwich’s Jean-Paul Sartres and Albert Camuses… Camu’s… Camus’s… sitting round small square tables at the bottom of Stockwell Street passionately wrestling with the great philosophical conundrums of our age is one that appeals to me greatly. In these dark days of TOWIE and Fearne Cotton, anything that encourages philosophical wrestling should be encouraged. The topic of debate isn’t important; what’s important is that debate is taking place, whether it’s about personal responsibility, the decline of Western liberalism, or what the point is of TfL telling us in its service updates whether or not either cable car terminal is out of action, given that a cable car with only one functioning terminal is, to all intents and purposes, a kite.
And, of course, this culture of debate, this desire to question the true nature of reality, will be infectious. As I passed by the tables this morning, for instance, on my way to get the paper, a stiff-aproned waiter was grimly stabbing some half-deflated red and white balloons with a steak knife – a prelude, I assume, to tying plump new ones on the railings in their stead. But, as he pierced the rubbery skins, one balloon broke free, and – caught by the July breeze – sailed off up Greenwich High Road. The waiter paused, his fist still tight around the knife’s thick shank, and an expression of existential foreboding passed across his face; it was like he was watching his own hopes and dreams slipping out of reach and disappearing, just like that balloon, in the general direction of Deptford Bridge.
A week ago, when they only had tables out on the veranda, I’m sure he’d just have carried on stabbing. He looked the sort.
In other news, they’ve just opened a cable car – I think I alluded to it earlier. And this is also a fantastic development, as it means I can finally visit my relatives in Silvertown.
I wonder if they still sing the old songs?
P.S. For more Greenwich-Café-Rouge-related fun, there’s a small post on the Smoke blog too.
Apologies for the lack of posts, but I’ve been in northern France – Cherbourg, Caen, Rouen, Le Havre, that general area – trying to track down supplies of a small, bread-like, sultana-bearing cake that was, I’d been told, absolutely delicious with cream and jam.
[Readers wishing to do their own punchline at this point can use the following hyperlink to go straight to the start of the next-paragraph-but-one.]
Sadly, my Norman scone-quest proved fruitless – I only found ones without sultanas – and I’ve now returned to SE10 a sadder and a wiser man, not to mention a man sporting the heightened facial colouring of one who’s lately been repeatedly slapped.
OK, none of that is true. But the truth is a bit dull, so I thought I’d jazz it up. Basically, since mid-May, I’ve mostly been wearing my other hat – the one with the built-in eyeshade and anti-poet alarm I wear when I’m editing Smoke magazine. Or Smoke magazine and website, as it now is, because – as casually mentioned a couple of posts ago – Smoke, like Greenwich station when the Lewisham extension opened, has gone multi-platform. Which is exciting, of course, but there’s also been a lot to sort out, and I find it difficult keeping more than one ball in the air simultaneously, especially when both balls are quite similar, which mine are.
Both being blogs about London.
The similarity of my balls has, though, given me the idea for this post. A few pieces on the Smoke website – and not just those by me – have, you see, been about south-east London, and therefore may be of interest to people reading this blog; so – at the risk of being accused of cross-pollination and self-fertilisation and a host of other things I’d not normally do without first drawing the curtains – I thought I’d make a little list. Clicking on the title will take you straight to the relevant page (it will open in a new window), where you’ll also find larger versions of the photos.
A short play set in Cutty Sark Gardens in which two pigeons discuss the ineffable beauty and infinite mystery of space whilst arguing over a discarded chip (possibly a hand made skin-on chip from Byron) and whether or not their relationship has a long-term future.
Have you ever dreamt that you’re on a Cornish beach and George Osborne is bursting lustily through the foam towards you? If you haven’t, but would like to, then the story of how we made the surprising discovery that our beloved chancellor has had himself immortalised in brightly painted wood for use as a ship’s figurehead, and is now on display below the Cutty Sark, might be perfect bedtime reading.
There was something rather heart-warming about watching the people of Bermondsey bond in the rain over Skol and bits of wet chicken while waiting to have their view of a boat not containing the queen blocked by someone’s umbrella. I mean, obviously it’s a shame they couldn’t have bonded while celebrating something more worthwhile, e.g. the introduction of an 80% tax band, the return of Michael Gove to his home planet, or the abolition of Fearne Cotton, but you can’t have everything.
A story written in the aftermath of last August’s riots and set entirely on board the Woolwich Ferry, but not entirely in 2012.
And then we have two stories set in Peckham, which isn’t SE10, I know, but… it’s still SEsomething.
Do you ever worry that Peckham might be the opposite of a penguin, and have a dark underbelly? If so, this tale of a playground assistant uncovering a portal to hell below the large apparatus in the school hall might strike a chord.
An unworldly woman from Bristol makes the mistake of catching a number 36.
Snow sure does odd things to people, doesn’t it? Suddenly, middle-class parents who’ve previously ruined perfectly pleasant dinner parties by expounding belligerently on the moral failings of those who let a child walk to school unaccompanied are to be seen gaily lashing their toddler to a tea tray and launching it down an icy slope across which burly thirty-five-year-olds with helmet-cams are already hurtling on snowboards.
To someone brought up on the broad majestic flood plain of the Lea – and who then spent ten years on the equally bumpless marshland of Vauxhall – the sheer number of tobogganeers out on the slopes yesterday was extraordinary: almost everyone in Greenwich, it seems, has not just an atavistic urge to hurtle downhill at the first sign of the white stuff in their genes, but also a brightly coloured plastic luge in their understairs cupboard.
Seriously, hats off to you people. Though not literally, as it’s bloody freezing. My only slight worry is that, should anyone from LOCOG have been in the park yesterday, we might soon find Greenwich going head to snow-goggled head with Trondheim in a bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, with plans being made for an SE10 version of the Cresta Run down Crooms Hill and for the Blackheath Tea Hut to receive a bit of a makeover in order to provide more of an après ski ambience.
Seriously, after the cable car, I’m not dismissing anything.
The park did look very fine, though, with an impressive array of snowmen, and possibly snowpigs – I’m really not sure about this one on the right, but it definitely seems to have a pig’s nose, so I’m going with snowpig.
Incidentally, speaking of pigs’ noses – which I rarely do, so hopefully you’ll forgive a small digression now I’ve got the chance – I sometimes worry that the pig is a pretty solid argument in favour of God/Intelligent Design, being clearly the work of someone who’d completely run out of ideas, i.e. someone, or possibly Someone, who simply made a big shapeless blob for the body and then, when it came to the nose, punched a couple of holes in the middle of the face like a minimalist pepperpot and said, “OK, peeps, that’ll do, six bloody days I’ve been working on this thing, I need a rest. I’ll leave finishing the naked mole rats till Monday.” Evolution, let’s face it, would never come up with an animal that basic in a million years. Or however long it takes. OK, I have digressed, and now I’ve stopped – apologies. Though I think we should all pause and look at a photo of a naked mole rat before continuing.
OK, back to the park. Or, rather, to the Plume of Feathers for a Sunday roast and a few pints of Harveys, after which we trotted off to the Old Royal Naval College in order to get ourselves embroidered on History’s Rich Tapestry (I’m afraid I often get embroidered after a few pints of Harveys) by witnessing Greenwich’s official gaining of the royal imprimatur, just like we were Tunbridge Wells or Berkshire or a packet of overpriced biscuits.
Now… I don’t want to come across as a royalist, any more than I want to believe that pigs were designed by an omnipotent deity on an off-day, but… there was actually something quite lovely about standing in the snow outside the ORNC watching Chris Roberts, leader of Greenwich Council, run back and forth between milk bottles to light the blue touchpaper on the rockets he’d refused to let Lewisham play with on 5th November, while a screechy PA broadcast Side One of the mayor’s slightly scratchy copy of Now That’s What I Call Patriotic Volume 35: yes, Thomas Arne’s Rule, Britannia!, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, Blake’s Jerusalem, Skrewdriver’s White Power/Smash the IRA, all were present and correct (except possibly the last); in fact, once I’d got over the feeling that I’d walked into a Daily Mail Monday-morning pep talk, I really enjoyed it, even if I still can’t listen to Jerusalem without wanting to mutter “No” after every line of the first two verses (“And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?” “And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?”) and “Get them yourself, you lazy sod,” after every line of the third (“Bring me my bow of burning gold!” “Bring me my arrows of desire!”).
And then, feeling suitably roused, I took it upon myself to convince various of the bemused tourists present that this was something we did every Sunday evening here in Greenwich – got together by the river and listened to patriotic music while watching fireworks.
I hope that’s OK with the rest of you. I’m thinking it will play well with the IOC when we launch that 2022 bid.
So suck on that, Trondheim!
As my mother used to say.
So, this cable car. You know, the one they’re building to connect the end of one of the service roads behind the Excel Centre to somewhere within reasonable walking distance of the Dome – that one. It’s been in the press again lately because the escalating costs – by which I mean the constantly rising prices, not how much you’ll be charged for using the escalators (providing sponsors can be found, no one will have to pay to go on the escalators) – have led people to start questioning the general value-for-money-ness and raison d’être-ness of the whole project, given that:
(a) Excel is on the DLR, North Greenwich is on the Jubilee Line, and Canning Town is on both and has escalators connecting the two (free escalators, I again emphasise – nobody, absolutely nobody, is – at this stage – suggesting we’re going to be charged for using the escalators)
(b) there’s very little overlap between those who love Dolly Parton and those who love cluster bombs, as the following Venn diagram demonstrates.
Sorry, is it just me, or does that look a bit like… no, OK, it’s just me. Though I might give it a different title later.
Where was I?
Ah, yes. My point was going to be that, in the ongoing debate, the question I really want to ask is a much more basic one than “What’s it for?” or “Is it worth it?”. What I want to say is: “Sorry, they’re building a fucking CABLE CAR in GREENWICH – a cable car???” Which admittedly isn’t, syntactically speaking, a question, but I challenge any of you to say it without your intonation rising at the end like you’re a 16-year-old Australian who’s just sat on her mother’s much-fingered figurine of Jason Donovan in his pomp.
Because this really isn’t just another misguided pitch by the Norfolk Mountain Railway Company, or the people behind the Inverness Solar-Powered Ski Lift, these are genuine plans for a genuine cable car. Like the one that rises to the top of Table Mountain, a kilometre above Cape Town’s blistered streets. Or the Caracas Aerial Tramway, swooping through the wooded ranges that ring Venezuela’s capital city. Or the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway in Takayama, which dandles those with a head for heights up the third-tallest peak in Japan.
Just like those. Only in Newham.
So… it’s an idiotic idea, yes? The accidental by-product of some all-too-literal blue-sky-burbling by bumbling Boris?
Heck. I’m not so sure. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fellow to carry any sort of torch for our esteemed mayor – I wouldn’t know what he’d been doing with it, for one thing. And a cable car is, on the face of it, just as big a misuse of public funds as the impending Borismaster, despite TfL’s highly specious claims that it will connect local communities by carrying up to 2,500 people an hour across the river in each direction, something that would otherwise take 30 buses an hour to achieve – there aren’t any local communities and no one, as far as I’m aware, ever suggested laying on 30 buses an hour as an alternative, any more than they suggested laying on 400 elephants with 4-man howdahs, even though they could probably also do the job if they didn’t get spooked by the Blackwall Tunnel; it’s a cable car or nothing.
But… that’s the thing… it’s a cable car! And wouldn’t that be just bloody fantastic?
Bear with me for a moment while I digress.
As a Leyton Orient supporter, I have very little interest in top quality sporting activity being pursued by talented and skilful athletes in peak physical condition. BUT: I went to school in E10, and every Friday morning at nine-thirty we’d be sent off to play football, rugby or hockey on some dismal, damp and desolate fen beside the old Temple Mills marshalling yards, just across the river from Hackney Marshes; and the idea that those neighbouring tracts of scrub and marsh beside the Lea – those barbed-wire belts of burnt-out cars and angry dogs through which, let’s be frank, no resident of Stratford or Leyton ever gambolled, despite what the internet placard wavers and petitioners now say, because they were GRIM – will, for two weeks next summer, be the focus of the world’s sporting gaze, is just really really EXCITING.
And anyone who says it isn’t has no imagination. And is, perhaps, also a little bit selfish, a little bit dog-in-the-manger, because I suspect that rather more people are going to get genuine enjoyment out of the Olympics – and, yes, out of visiting Westfield, catching the revamped North London Line to the newly landscaped park, and maybe even renting a poorly plumbed one-bed flat in the Athletes’ Village once the putters of shots and lifters of weights and testers of drugs have moved on – than ever dug an allotment on Waterden Road, assembled something provocative in a Hackney Wick squat, or plodded moodily up the Bow Back Rivers with a half-read copy of Lights Out For The Territory in their rucksack, shooting moody monochromes of pylons and sneering that they’re not interested in sport.
Yes, of course all that money could be spent on other, more necessary things, but… necessity isn’t everything. And, yes, of course a cable car across the Thames is a ludicrous use of the transport budget, but… won’t it also be absolutely glorious? It is, after all – as I think I said earlier – a fucking cable car!!!
Though I’d still like someone at TfL to confirm that all cabins will have some sort of built-in buoyancy tank for when they fall off the wires, and perhaps a box of flares and a map of the Belgian coastline.
A guarantee that we won’t have to pay to use the escalators would also be nice.