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.

The Unbelievable Niceness of Penge

Ampere Way

I’d intended posting something warm-hearted and sentimental here just before Christmas – a festive gesture, to wish you all merriment and good cheer. But that was before the damn fairy light business threatened to quite literally take a shine off the whole tinselly caboodle.

Oh lord. I’ve not told you about the fairy lights, have I?

OK. Come December, most people – even those who are mostly disposed to be crabby and curmudgeonly – find bubbling up within them a fancy for fairy lights that’s lain dormant throughout the preceding eleven months. And if I ran a shop that sold fairy lights, which I don’t, I’d take this into account, and make sure I was fully stocked with illuminating baubles till 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve; surely we can’t be the only people, after all, who – on going up to the loft to retrieve the old set – suddenly remembered that they moved house last January and that the loft they were thinking of is, unlike them, still in Vauxhall.

But B&Q clearly thinks that any fairy lights left unsold on 24th December will go off, like a rashly defrosted turkey, and couldn’t possibly be put into storage till next year, when there’ll almost certainly be another Christmas. Thus, their vast warehouse out on the Peninsula had been thoroughly scavenged by light-seeking hordes a good fortnight before the last window in our advent calendar was slated to open, and up on the Old Kent Road there was nary a glimmer, not even a glimmer that pulsed in seven different modes including “random”. Argos in Lewisham would’ve sold us a set mounted on a frame in the shape of a nodding reindeer, but if we’d wanted that sort of thing in our house then frankly we would’ve moved to Lewisham. Kidbrooke Homebase had long sold out, and Wickes appeared to be taking a deeply rationalist approach to Christmas that even Richard Dawkins would have found worthy of almost biblical awe: in Wickes there were no fairy lights, and never had been.

Finally, a desperate on-line search of South-East London uncovered a set in Homebase in Penge. None of the other five nearest branches had them, but Penge had one box. So we clicked “Reserve and Collect”, and I saddled up my bike.

At this point, the phone rang. On the other end of the line was a soft-spoken man from Penge Homebase, apologising profusely in what I think was a Dundee accent. Apparently, it was all a lie: the on-line database hadn’t updated overnight, and the promised box, just like Father Christmas or the London New Year’s Day Parade*, did not, in fact, exist. While I was still coming to terms with the full and dreadful import of this – we had a deadly rival, a stop-at-nothing fiend who was, even now, scouring South-East London for tree ornaments, having already uncovered Penge as an unexpected source of light – the Affable Young Pict (as I now incorrectly, ahistorically, and somewhat offensively thought of him) offered to ring around other Homebase branches south of the Thames, and get back to me.

By this stage I was badly in need of a cup of coffee and a sit down, so I said that would be brilliant, apologised profusely for Culloden, and let him get to work. Half an hour later, he rang back to say that a set had been detected in Croydon. Even more impressively, he’d apparently refused to get off the line till someone in Croydon had walked to the shelves, physically ascertained that the lights were actually there, and then removed them – again physically – to a place of safe keeping.

The lights were ours, he said, for a price. Specifically, £12.99, as they had a 50% deal on all Christmas items.

I could’ve wept. In fact, I think I did.

Knowing that our Arch Nemesis was engaged on a similar quest, we obviously didn’t want to take chances; so, as soon as I’d finished telling the AYP that I’d always had a fondness for Irn Bru, a soft spot for Brechin City, and an almost painful lust for Alex Salmond, we dashed round assembling hats, gloves and Thermos flasks, ready for a trip cross-country to Croydon.

And, while you’re waiting for us to get ready, perhaps you’d like to dwell on the fact that these events are taking place on the Sunday a week before Christmas. Not Christmas Eve, but a whole week before. And, although I’m not a betting man, I’d happily have an each-way accumulator spread (look, I told you I wasn’t a betting man…) on the demand for fairy lights tending to peak in December, and tending to drop off pretty much to zero in those months that don’t start with the letters D-E-C-E-M-B-E. Christmas, to put it bluntly, is somewhat seasonal. So why do the managers of DIY shops all, to a man or woman, insist on behaving like a Grinch with no business acumen?

It’s madness.

BaubleI’d never been to Croydon Homebase, so wasn’t entirely sure where it was, but past experience told me to head to Purley Way. Matalan, Screwfix, Sports Direct – they’re all out there, in vast great windowless sheds beside the A23. Purley Way, not to beat around the bush, is where IKEA is; and IKEA don’t do town centres.

For those of us without cars, trips to IKEA are always a bit of an adventure. When we were living in Vauxhall, we tried them all: Neasden (aka Wembley), Edmonton (aka Tottenham), Croydon (aka… Croydon). Neasden was on the Jubilee Line, but getting back to the station meant walking through the basement of a multi-storey car park, across a field, answering three riddles posed by a troll that lived under the North Circular, and fording the River Brent – not easy, if you also need to keep a flat-pack Billy, Ebba or Nyberg above your head. Edmonton was actually just a single bus ride away, once you’d walked fifteen minutes to the bus stop and realised that the mystical Angel Road Superstores at which the 341 poetically claimed to terminate was just IKEA and Wickes, but the journey took forever and meant lugging your Grönkvist, Svartman or Tord Grip upstairs on a double-decker.

Croydon, though, in the days before the Tramlink, was the worst of the lot: I remember once struggling down Purley Way in the rain with a pine-effect bookcase, our sights set on distant Waddon station, when salvation suddenly appeared in the wheeled shape of an abandoned Sainsbury’s trolley wedged in the roadside mud like, well, like an abandoned Sainsbury’s trolley. But once the Tramlink was open, with the platforms at Ampere Way nestling at the foot of those blue-and-yellow-ringed chimneys, Croydon became the IKEA of choice, and remains so, even though we’re now in Greenwich.

You still have to actually get there, of course. And here I’m going to let you into a little secret. A route from central Greenwich to Croydon IKEA that doesn’t involve going into Zone 1 or (on the return leg) clambering up and down footbridges and subways. Do you have piece of paper? Good, then write this down. DLR to Lewisham. Train from Lewisham to Elmers End. Tram from Elmers End to George Street. Tram from George Street to Ampere Way. Cunning, huh? The only catch is that (a) trains on the Hayes branch only run via Lewisham every 30 minutes and (b) trains on the Hayes branch only run via Lewisham every 60 minutes if SouthEastern decides to cancel one for no apparent reason and despite the fact it’s raining.

So, while you’re waiting for us to take a train from Lewisham to London Bridge, just to catch one back from London Bridge in the opposite direction (only this time by-passing Lewisham), why not entertain yourself by trying to work out which of the items I listed earlier are actual pieces of IKEA furniture, which are characters from Wallander, and which was formerly assistant to England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson?

But anyway. We got to Homebase in the end, got our lights, refused to pay extra to insure them for three years despite the fact that, as the assistant told us, you can’t replace the bulbs these days, because they’re LED, and then decided to celebrate by nipping across the road to IKEA itself and buying a 2×2 Träby for behind the sofa and having Sunday lunch in the restaurant – something of a regular family treat in these parts, we discovered, as we wheeled our trays of gravadlax and Christmas Pudding cheesecake between toddler-strewn tables heaving with meatballs, cream sauce, and lingonberry jam.


* come on, have you ever seen it???

Spot the Train

Hello and welcome to Spot the Train, our great new game inspired by all those classic newspaper “Spot the Ball” competitions and also by SouthEastern’s Dartford to Cannon Street via Greenwich service.

Spot the Train competition

Above is a photo of platform 2 at Greenwich station (click on the image for a browser-size version). All you have to do, using your own skill and judgement and past experience, is nominate the square you think most closely approximates the point at which the last door of the rear coach of the 0819 to Cannon Street will pull up next Wednesday (2nd November).

Closing date is 6 p.m. on Tuesday, 1st November, and all correct answers will be placed in a hat.

You may find the following information helpful in making your decision.

Proposed time of Departure from Dartford: 0745
Proposed time of arrival at Cannon Street: 0835
Weather (based on current Met Office predictions): overcast
Mood (based on current mood): downbeat

This competition is not open to employees of SouthEastern Trains or their families, and the driver’s decision is final.

Good luck!!!

Greenwich House of Soap

Rather a lack of posts at the moment, I’m afraid, because, with the end-of-October tax deadline looming, I’m bogged down in accounts. Did you know that a pre-2007 Excel spreadsheet can only handle 65,000 rows of data? No, neither did I, till yesterday. Did you know that it’s actually possible to have more than 65,000 rows of data? Well, trust me, it is. I only had about half that number last year, but one of the curious things about accounts, as I’m sure anyone else who’s self-employed can confirm, is that the more your annual income falls, so the time it takes to do the requisite sums increases.

Anyway, speaking of impending financial distress, this caught my eye the other day.

Foxtons advert

Yup, that’s right. Twenty grand for a garage. A one-room, 100-square-foot, garage. Albeit one that’s only moments not just from Greenwich station, but also from an excellent selection of A roads for quick access in and out of London.

And this has got me thinking, vis-à-vis the aforementioned financial distress. We live quite near Greenwich station too – certainly as near as any jumped-up shed on Roan Street. And, though we don’t have space for a car, we do have a shower. We also know that quite a lot of Greenwich commuters, after a 13-minute journey from Cannon Street at the mercy of SouthEastern trains, are a bit sticky and harassed, and in no fit state to greet spouses, children, pets or internet dates at Cafe Rouge they strongly suspect will be well out of their league, because they always are, they always are.

So, here’s what I’m thinking. Trains are every 10 minutes, and a shower takes roughly 5 minutes. Add on 5 minutes for getting dressed, and that works out quite nicely – we could sell 10 minute slots specifically tailored to coincide with SouthEastern’s timetable.

It’s just an idea at the moment, but I reckon it’s got legs. Not quite sure of prices, so if anyone has any ideas, please let us know.

I’ll attach a photo of the shower.