I’m Not Really Here

SlopesCoverFinal350I think it was the Ancient Babylonians who decided there would only be sixty minutes in an hour, sixty seconds in a minute, and sixty ways to leave your lover – no, wait, that was Paul Simon, and even he had to trim it down to fifty so it would fit on a 7″ (thereby depriving listeners of ten of the most esoteric/contrived ways – conspiring with the window cleaner to kidnap you while your inamorata was downstairs making breakfast always seemed particularly desperate, and only really worked if your windows opened inwards, or had sash cords). But, yes, it was those pesky six-fingered folk from Mesopotamia who bequeathed to us the temporal system by which our lives are now governed, and whom I therefore blame whenever anyone asks why this blog hasn’t been updated for a bit: there just aren’t enough minutes in the day.

This is particularly relevant at the moment, as I’m working round the clock trying to get a book finished. Possibly it would help if I moved the clock out of the way, but… I digress. Basically, over at Smoke (my, ahem, “day job”), we’ve been putting together a book about London’s response to last year’s Olympics, and it was supposed to be at the printer’s, ooh, about three weeks ago. So now I’m doing nothing else till it’s finished.

This, of course, as well as being an apology/explanation, is also a blatant plug for said book. But given it contains quite a lot about Greenwich, as you might expect from a book about the effect of the Olympics co-edited by someone living in SE10 who had a man with a giant foam hand stationed outside his house for much of the duration, I’ve no qualms. But I’ll let you know more once it’s actually published. In the meantime, here are a few words to tantalise.

Don’t ever get me started on the Ancient Sumerians, by the way, them and their bloody stick writing.

Oh, this too; taken yesterday in Mountsfield Park, Catford:

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Greenwich City Farm

Everyone’s been getting a bit exercised of late about the chainification of Greenwich’s restaurants. First it was Nando’s and Frankie & Benny’s down by the pier, then Jamie Oliver, bish bosh, moving into the old Bar du Musée, and now, this very week, comes news that Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n’ Biscuits has taken on the lease of the Rivington Grill for its first outlet outside North Carolina. Even so, I wasn’t remotely prepared for what I saw this afternoon, as I stopped to gaze wistfully at the locked door of Ristorante Soteri and wonder, not for the first time, just how special the Chef’s Special cottage pie had really been: a notice taped to the window bearing the unmistakable logo of Mudchute City Farm. Now, I never had Mudchute City Farm down as particularly expansionist; they always seemed perfectly happy over there on the island, serving up Tuscan sausages or vegetable crumble in a slightly ramshackle shed by the goat pens. So the idea that, even as I stood here peering at Signore Soteri’s sadly stripped interior, teams of Gloucester Old Spots might be tugging trolleys laden with seasonal ingredients and locally sourced vegetables through the foot tunnel to a new outpost in Greenwich, right next door to Goddard’s Pies, was a tantalising one.

As I was pondering this, three girls emerged out of the sun.

“Can we ask you some questions?” one of them said. “It’s for school.”

“OK,” I said, shielding my eyes.

“What did you think of the Olympics?” said the same girl, reading from a small strip of paper.

I pondered, trying – and failing – to place her accent.

“I liked them,” I said.

She turned and glared at the girl next to her.

“He says he liked them,” said this second girl to the third, who nodded, and wrote something down on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard.

The first girl turned back to me.

“Are you proud that England held the games?”

“Pleased, not proud,” I said. And I was going to go on to tell her why it’s not really possible to be proud of something you’ve not yourself actually done, in the same way that I’m pleased to be British, and sometimes relieved, but never proud, because proud makes no sense. But she’d already turned to stare silently at the second girl, who was relaying my reply to the girl with the clipboard.

“He’s pleased not proud.”

I shrugged inwardly, and waited for the next question.

“Do you know how much it cost?”

“How much it cost? No, not exactly, I…”

“He doesn’t know,” said the second girl to the third.

The first girl smiled brightly.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

And off they trotted, leaving me staring once more at the poster for Mudchute City Farm. I like the thought of pigs in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College. Opposite the Old Brewery, perhaps?

I wonder if they were Brazilian, from Rio?


A Postcard from the Orion–Cygnus Spiral Arm

The worst crime a blogger can commit – well, other than poisoning a city’s water supply or working for the BBC in the 1970s or turning up at a six-year-old’s birthday party dressed as Michael Gove – is, of course, to get all self-referential and start apologising for a lack of posts, as if readers were growing shivery and itchy and not turning up for work on account of the silence. Also, apologising mostly requires an explanation and, personally, I’d rather you used your imagination, and pictured me, say, chained to a radiator in a drab apartment block on the outskirts of Bucharest, rescuing stranded polar bears from rapidly melting ice floes using nothing but a kayak, a length of nylon rope, and a large inflatable salmon, or being intimately probed in the hospitality suite of an orbiting spaceship by a race of shimmeringly beautiful but (sadly) anatomically incompatible space lovelies. These things can happen.

Or you can just assume I had to go to Düsseldorf again (see previous post).

No, by and large, it’s best to just get on with things, whilst quietly cursing the fact that it doesn’t seem possible to turn off the “date” function in the free version of WordPress.

HOWEVER – I think this time it does make sense to tell you why this site has kept mum on even such exciting SE10 happenings as the sudden departure of Ristorante Soteri and its Chef’s Special cottage pie, the imminent arrival of Jamie Oliver, bish bosh, and that secret gig Radiohead did at the Pelton Arms as a warm up for their O2 shows. Basically, I’ve been working on a book. I know, get me! A book! Just like what people used to read in the olden days. But actually this is a collaborative book, and it’s occurred to me that I ought to tell you about it, in case you wish to collaborate. For it is a book about the effect that this year’s Olympic shenanigans had on London. And, obviously, they had a bigger effect on Greenwich (and Woolwich) than on most parts of the capital, so… some of you may have tales or photos you’d like to share.

It’s called From The Slopes Of Olympus To The Banks Of The Lea and there are more details over at the Smoke website (that being my day job), but essentially we’re not looking for anything about the jumping and trotting, but about the impact – good and bad – the games had on the city. Anything from the original decision to award the games to London and all the faffing about in the run-up through to the shooting of the horses and the restitution of the Oyster card reader on Platform 3 at Greenwich station (which still hasn’t happened). It can be a single paragraph, a short story, or a photo – but the more imaginative the better. Our official deadline is the end of the month, but… given that only gives you three days notice, I’m prepared to be flexible.

Which is, oddly, exactly what I said to the incompatible space lovelies, but it turned out they weren’t, not under any circumstances.

Some parts of the Orion–Cygnus Spiral Arm really are very prudish. No wonder their people are dying out.

I use the word “people” loosely.

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

The Song Of The Olympic Binman
Ha Ha Road
A102(M)
Two Olympic Haikus
80,000 Cheers
Olympic Park, Hogwarts Gate

To Answer Your Question, Düsseldorf

Has it all gone? Is it safe to come out now?

You know what I miss? Seeing the Russian paralympic team having breakfast outside Café Rouge every morning when I walk up to Sabo’s to buy the paper.

That’s what I miss.

But now the Russians have gone – I saw them boarding a coach this very morning – and so has everyone else. And what have we learnt from the past six weeks? Well, mainly this: if you reconfigure the whole of Greenwich as giant one-way system, put pink and purple stewards with giant foam hands on every street corner, erect a seven-lane footbridge guarded by soldiers across Romney Road, close Cutty Sark station in case people try to use it, suspend all residents’ parking bays, re-draw the council refuse collection rota so that bins are emptied in the middle of the night, construct an extra exit from Platform 1 at Greenwich station and then put barriers along the length of Platform 2 to make sure that DLR People don’t collide with SouthEastern People (and remove the Oyster card reader from the DLR platform while you’re at it, in case it causes milling), divert all the buses and close half the bus stops… if you do all that, then a stadium holding 23,000 spectators – or 4,000 less than the number of people who went to the Valley to see Charlton play Stevenage last season – can function safely and efficiently and with very little actual loss of life.

Which makes me feel a bit stupid for having panicked and run off to hide in Düsseldorf.

Yes, that’s where I’ve been – Düsseldorf. Though I wasn’t really hiding, because – intelligence-insulting over-reactions and giant foam hands aside – the Olympics has clearly been a wonderful thing, better even than mid-afternoon Pflaumenkuchen, as all but the most joyless, unimaginative and self-interested member of NOGOE will now surely admit. But I still had to go to Düsseldorf and miss Mo Farah doing the Mobot, because… well, sometimes one just has to go to Düsseldorf. I really can’t go into details – it’s more than my life is worth. Which, thanks to the continued weakness of the Euro, is slightly less than when I left.

Düsseldorf was very nice, though, and – let me tell you – Greenwich Park looked absolutely fabulous on the TV in the corner of the bar of the Hotel Sankt Andreas. But… eventually, the endless sausage and emphasis on handball started to get to me, and I wasn’t sorry to come home.

Even if, when I got back, Café Rouge was full of Russians. Maybe the name reminded them of the old days?

But, as I say, even the Russians have gone now, so…

… a normal service will henceforth be operating on all lines.

Actually, before I disappear, there have been a couple more SE-related posts on the Smoke website you might be interested in, namely these:

Two Olympic Haikus
Because often, when faced with armed police and giant pink foam-rubber hands at the end of their road, people will find themselves seeking solace in ancient Japanese art forms. And then, once they’ve set fire to their origami model of Sebastian Coe, trying a bit of haiku.
The Beer Goes In The Pub
Because frankly there aren’t enough short stories set in Charlton.

I don’t know, I’ve never bunted

Obviously people have been up in arms about the fact that local residents won’t be able to get into Greenwich Park for the duration of the Olympics. And I’m sure they have a point, but… how about a little sympathy for those of us who were caught on the wrong side of the fence when the gates clanged shut? There I am, happily gambolling about in the rhododendron dell one afternoon, and the next thing I know I’m looking around thinking, “Where’s everybody gone, what’s with the big blue fence, and why is that horse staring at me?”

So, that’s why this blog hasn’t been updated for most of July. I’ve been digging.

Luckily, I soon tapped into Greenwich Park’s mysterious network of underground tunnels and, despite surprise encounters with some dinosaurs, a buried spaceship, and someone who may or may not have been King Arthur (he was asleep, and I didn’t like to wake him – or any of the blokes in armour he was with), managed to make my escape. And what a strange world I found waiting for me outside: a world of totally over-the-top road closures, massively over-staffed stations, and comically over-priced buffets at the Trafalgar (£40? For a buffet? In a pub?). It’s going to take me a few days to digest – all the changes, I mean, not the buffet, which I obviously wouldn’t touch with a three-foot spoon, any more than I’d pay six-fifty for a bit of cheese on toast (to pick from their regular non-Olympic let’s-rip-off-the-tourists bar menu) – but, in the meantime, here are some photos. Clicking on the thumbnails below the slideshow will bring up bigger versions, and informative captions.

Oh, when I got home, I was also surprised to find a letter on the doormat from Greenwich Council explaining that, in order to avoid upsetting Our Olympic Visitors and/or scaring the horses, they’d be emptying our bins in the middle of the night for the next three weeks; and another one, from TfL, saying that if I wanted to go to Lewisham first thing in the morning, I couldn’t. I responded to both these bits of information in the only way that seemed sensible: I rewrote the lyrics to Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman and posted them on the Smoke blog. If you want to sing along, you can find them here: SE10 Binman.

If you don’t… well, I’m not coming to any of your parties. Unless they’re being held at the Trafalgar, and you’re paying.

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Non-illuminated Olympic Signage

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.

ALL THE WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE

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.

GEORGE OSBORNE BREASTS THE SURF

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.

NOT AS GOOD AS MR TUMBLE

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.

IS THIS WHAT PEOPLE DO?

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.

THE LARGE APPARATUS

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.

I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE NICE

An unworldly woman from Bristol makes the mistake of catching a number 36.

So there you go. Normal service will now be resumed, because there’s much to discuss. That new grandstand in the park, for instance – that’s looking very impressive, isn’t it? And then there’s the non-illuminated Olympic signage being installed on our road, about which I’m very excited, because I’m forever getting lost on my way to the park or station. The station itself will soon have a new entrance leading directly onto Straightsmouth, by the way – though heaven knows how the horses are supposed to get down the steps.
Oh, and apparently we’re getting one of these…


Victoria Wood and the Giant Purple Horse

Another week, another letter from the council. This one comes from Victoria Wood. Not that Victoria Wood, sadly, but her namesake in (deep breath) Development Control at the Directorate of Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills – I’ve no idea what that is, but I’m guessing it’s where Greenwich Council stores all its recently repossessed nouns. Anyway; Victoria, it turns out, is writing to inform me, completely out of the blue, that I have 21 days to object to the erection of a temporary sign, 15 foot by 15 foot, round the back of Greenwich station.

Now, usually when a woman draws your attention to a large and unexpected temporary erection, your best bet is to smile awkwardly and shuffle behind the sofa; unless you’re at a party and suspect she’s simply trying to break the ice, in which case suggesting she finds a steak mallet or small hammer generally makes more sense. Clearly, though, neither response was appropriate here. But what was? Vicky’s letter really didn’t give me too much to go on, and my immediate thought was that we were about to get something like this:

Big Boris is Mocking You

Or maybe something more parochial. Maybe every street in SE10 was to be blessed with a giant painted image of Chris Roberts, leader of Greenwich Council, beaming into the middle distance as, like peons in Pyongyang, we scurry beneath his beneficent gaze and marvel at the greatness of his works.

Clearly, I needed to find out more about Planning Application 12/0971/A. Which meant either a trip to Woolwich library, or going online. And last time I went to Woolwich I got chased by a man with very little hair and a very angry dog, eager to discuss their right to walk on a designated cycle path when there was a perfectly good pedestrian walkway alongside, so online it was.

And that’s where I discovered this mock-up of what we should expect:

Straightsmouth Horse

So, it seems like we’re getting a 15-foot horse. A purple and white horse, in fact (I don’t know why they’ve not used purple in the mock-up). It won’t be illuminated, either from without or within, and it won’t project more than 5cm from the wall. It will, though, be made of vinyl, so be easy to wipe clean, should it become… marked.

Obviously this is another Olympic thing, the thinking behind it presumably being that spectators, being barely more evolved than deep-sea sponges, aren’t capable of finding their way from Greenwich station to Greenwich Park without a 15-foot purple horse to guide them. But… if that’s the case, then… isn’t the horse facing the wrong way? So… maybe it’s showing them the way back to the station? Well, if so, it’s making a mockery of the Great Olympic Gyratory which, as I’ve mentioned previously, is going to completely disrupt my breakfast. Now, quite literally, I won’t know which way to turn.

I don’t think I’m going to object, though. Instead, I think I’ll just write anonymously to Seb Coe suggesting that drug testing be extended from the athletes to all members of LOCOG – or at least to all those who, when invited to brainstorm, begin gabbling about giant purple horses…


Seb Coe’s Torture Dungeon

Missiles on Blackheath
So, last week, this letter arrived from Chris Roberts, leader of Greenwich council. We may have heard, said Chris, that the Government was putting in arrangements to ensure the safety and security of the Olympic Games in London –

And, well, I’ll stop you right there, Chris. Because, at the risk of setting in course a train of events that will end with a crack squad of LOCOG goons turning up on my doorstep, hauling me off to Stratford in the back of a black people carrier and tossing me into a dank oubliette beneath the EDF “Magic of Electricity” pavilion with only Coca-Cola, Big Macs and a picture of Seb Coe dressed in leather and wielding a large whip for sustenance, I think the Government’s role should actually be to ensure the safety and security of, well, me… rather than a two-week jamboree of running, jumping and splashing. But no; if evil-doers do their evil worst come July and/or August then, with Chris Roberts’ blessing, the people of Greenwich will, after a short prayer to St Alfege, be sacrificed so that the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Centre and the Basketball Arena might live on – ironic, really, as the Basketball Arena is only supposed to be a temporary structure.

Here’s a story you may have missed. Just under three weeks ago, tens of thousands of people descended on Greenwich and occupied the park. They came early one Sunday morning, when many of us were still in our beds. Some came on foot, and some came by car, but most used common sense and came on the DLR or took a train from London Bridge. Some, I don’t think it’s too melodramatic to say, were fanatics, and wore outlandish dress. Because that’s the sort of people the London Marathon attracts. Nearly 40,000 runners plus families, friends, well-wishers, casual observers, TV crews, medical staff – rather more in total, I suspect, than the 65,000 expected to visit Greenwich Park on the busiest day of the horsey stuff, when dressage fever will be at its height. And yet the transport infrastructure didn’t collapse, there were no outbreaks of panic or looting, and nobody went home saying that all the day had lacked was someone being accidentally shot in the back by paranoid paramilitaries.

And, of course, back on November 5th, over 100,000 people managed to make their way up to Blackheath in the dark, and by themselves, and despite a complete lack of road closures or travel restrictions, to see a series of high-velocity ballistic missiles packed with explosives being launched from, I believe, giant milk bottles (I know I’ve already mentioned this, but I thought it was worth saying again).

My point being… and this applies not just to Seb Coe’s meddlesome minions, but also to all those joyless souls whining that ever since the games were announced their lives have been barely worth living… are we not all overreacting, just a tad? At this rate – as I said to the woman queueing beside me in the Co-op the other week, tutting at a copy of the New Shopper – we’ll wake up one morning to find batteries of surface-to-air missiles by the TA Centre on Blackheath and a massive great aircraft carrier moored at the mouth of Deptford Creek.

She laughed.

HMS Ocean
So, anyway, last weekend, this massive great aircraft carrier moored at the mouth of Deptford Creek. She can’t pull right up to the pier, because she’s too big – largest warship in the Royal Navy, apparently – so she sits out in mid-river, and little boats – lighters, I believe, is the correct boaty terminology – ferry visitors back and forth. How they’re ever going to sail her up the Lea when the fighting starts, I don’t know, but – well, despite the hat, I’m not an admiral of the fleet, so what would I know about naval strategy?

Other than slightly more than I did before this Bank Holiday Monday when, in a well-run piece of PR, us newly expendable denizens of SE10 were allowed to go and have a go on her, for free. And great fun it was too. We sat in helicopters and played with assault rifles and got our faces painted with camouflage paint just like real soldiers and generally moseyed about and noseyed around as much as we pleased, even up on the flight deck, around the perimeter of which – deep breath – there’s no guard rail, because… well, it’s an aircraft carrier. A guard rail would get in the way of the aircraft. They have some nets to catch anyone who absent-mindedly walks off the edge, but that’s about it.

“What about Health & Safety?” joked one of my fellow residents to a smiling sailor. “Oh, we don’t worry about Health & Safety in the Royal Navy,” came the reply.

No, they don’t. And nobody died.

That’s all I’m saying.

POSTCRIPT 1

The other photos are of the surface-to-air missile battery by the TA Centre on Blackheath.

POSTCRIPT 2

I know this is a blatant bit of self-pluggery, but… as some of you might know, in real life I’m the editor of Smoke: A London Peculiar, and we’ve just relaunched after having a rather long sabbatical while we decided what to do about the collapse of the publishing industry. In our new guise, we’re going (unsurprisingly) to have both web and printed elements, and one of the projects we’re working on is a book about the London Olympics. So, if you feel you have anything to contribute, or just want to have a look at what we’re up to, go to http://smokealondonpeculiar.co.uk, and then look under New Book Projects to find out about the Olympic stuff.

Missiles on Blackheath 2


Suck on that, Trondheim!

Snowman in Greenwich ParkSnow 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.

Snow Pig in Greenwich ParkThe 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.

Naked Mole Rat

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.

Inexplicably.

Greenwich Observatory in snow


The Croom’s Hill Melee

I hadn’t expected to be writing a follow-up to last week’s post, but I’m sure many of you were just as shocked as I was by the terrible scenes here in Greenwich last Saturday after the firework display on Blackheath. In retrospect, it seems incredible that, at a time of day which can only be described as “night”, more than 100,000 people were not only allowed to make their own way from houses, pubs, stations and bus stops throughout the borough to a piece of largely unfenced and unprotected grass, but were then allowed to repeat this act of initiative when leaving afterwards, despite by this stage having had their emotions roused by impressive pyrotechnics and possibly a burger from the Blackheath Tea Hut (which, in what seems like an act of complete irresponsibility, remained open throughout the proceedings, despite having no council-certificated bouncers, trained first-aid staff, or information point with multilingual brochures).

At approximately fifteen minutes after the launch of the final firework, I can report, crowds were so thick on Croom’s Hill that cars attempting to drive up or down the road – which, in what would appear to be another inexplicable and potentially lethal oversight by Greenwich Council, had plainly NOT been closed off since midday with all parking bays suspended and traffic diverted via Norman Road, Deptford Church Street and Catford – were forced to proceed very slowly, possibly even in first gear, in order to avoid hitting people.

Remarkably, some participants in what can only be described as this high-spirited and chaotic melee had chosen to bring children with them, some clearly under the age of sixteen. Many of these youngsters were manifestly not being prevented from writing their name in the air with sparklers, despite the obvious risk of distracting the pilots of passing helicopters, while others, too young to walk for themselves, were being pushed in what can only be described as pushchairs. If the organisers had carried out even rudimentary preliminary surveys of Croom’s Hill, produced a detailed consultation document, and then held a properly publicised public meeting, they would have quickly been made aware that Croom’s Hill contains several speed bumps which, if not temporarily flattened or cordoned off, could cause a small child on wheels to temporarily lose control of its Mousey and/or Igglepiggle, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

I do not like to use phrases like “free-for-all” lightly but, as I passed the Greenwich Theatre, it became obvious that the Rose and Crown public house was full of people enjoying a spontaneous drink: no security staff or marshals appeared to be present, there were no safety railings in place for those who chose to smoke outside, and anybody wishing to enter in a wheelchair would have needed someone to hold the door open for them. Similar scenes could be observed further on at the Mitre, and I’ve since heard reports of people enjoying unpremeditated drinks in pubs of their own choosing all over Greenwich, Blackheath and Deptford.

I am now clear in my own mind that the events of last Saturday should be a wake-up call, as it is absolutely imperative that there be no repetition of these shamefully shambolic and dangerous scenes during next year’s Olympics, when the eyes of the world will be upon us. For the duration of the Games – and let’s not forget that up to 65,000 people may be trying to get to the Park in broad daylight on Cross Country Day – it is vital that, at the very least, all stations and bus stops in Greenwich be closed, and all spectators driven to the arena in specially adapted minibuses from holding pens behind North Greenwich station, where they can be efficiently checked for suitable footwear, given protective helmets, some Kendal Mint Cake and a whistle, and then allocated their own personal marshal who will escort them to their seat and buy them a soft drink and a choc ice, provided they have a signed letter from their GP confirming that it’s OK for them to eat dairy.

It’s not too late for this still to be an enjoyable and fun day out for all the family.