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.
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.
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.
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.
The other photos are of the surface-to-air missile battery by the TA Centre on Blackheath.
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.
When early inhabitants of Stratford and Walthamstow first paddled their goatskin coracles down the Lea and out into the deep and turbid waters of the Thames, what went through their minds, I wonder, as they warily eyed the squalid huddle of straw-topped huts on the muddy southern shore and saw emerge from within them several dozen squat, hairy trolls brandishing sticks and rocks and rocks-on-sticks? No doubt they simply shook their handsome heads and – after a bit more hunting and gathering in the upcoming Canning Town area – rowed back upstream to their Essex hearths to eat some steak and berries and count their blessings (counting having recently been invented by a short-tempered hunter from Leyton who kept losing track of what he’d gathered).
It seems a perfectly reasonable reaction and, over the generations, such attitudes tend to get encoded in the genes – which is why, when I was growing up in Leytonstone, most people were still of much the same mind about folk from across the water. “South of the river?” they’d murmur with eyebrows raised. “It’s all a bit Millwall over there, isn’t it?”
First impressions, to put it bluntly, are tenacious. Which is why people are currently making such a big hoo-ha about the slew of gaudy new restaurants under construction by Greenwich’s rebuilt pier. Nando’s, Zizzi, Frankie & Benny’s… all these, protestors say, give visitors totally the wrong impression of our town: such eateries should be stuck between World of Leather and a 10-screen multiplex, not blocking the sightlines at a UNESCO World Heritage site. What’s more, they add, whipping their hobby horse into a blinkered frenzy, they’ll draw custom from local independent restaurants.
Well, possibly. But are these people seriously suggesting that a tourist’s first vision of Greenwich, when he or she steps unsteadily off the Thames Clipper, should be not Nando’s or Zizzi but a new waterfront outpost of Green Village or Ristorante Soteri, each containing a solitary sad-faced couple in beige slacks trying to choose between the chef’s special cottage pie or the margherita pizza with salad and chips?
Plus a stall selling tiny frosted cupcakes at £3.50 a pop?
I must admit, I’ve never actually been in a Nando’s. As a vegetarian, I’m not really their target demographic. Our Spanish chums may regard the chicken as a herb and the pig as a garnish but here in the UK, thankfully, vegetarianism still means not eating things that can look up at you with big sad eyes and whisper “why me?” But my carnivorous chums speak very highly of the peri-peri chicken, and apparently the staff are treated pretty decently, so… if I have to spend the rest of my life in a silky cape Fighting Evil (for those who’ve ever wondered about my day-job), I think I’ll give Nando’s a miss and reserve my superpowers for Michael Gove.
I’ve never eaten at a Zizzi either, but I’ve just looked at their menu on-line and it all seems perfectly acceptable, once you’ve remembered that buffalo mozzarella doesn’t actually contain any buffalos. To be honest, it’s probably exactly what you’d want if you’d just had a sixty-minute boat ride from Westminster Pier on which the only refreshments available were Carlsberg and Twix. Just like Pizza Express was exactly what we wanted when we ended up in Guildford the other week and needed somewhere decent but efficient that would let us get to the theatre by 7 p.m. (I’ve no idea if there were sit-ins and effigy burnings when Pizza Express opened opposite St Alfege’s, by the way – it was before my time. My suspicion is probably not, though, because people like Pizza Express. Pizza Hut, of course, wouldn’t have done at all; if Pizza Hut had moved in, irate locals would have been hurtling down Crooms Hill in 4x4s to chain themselves to the salad station before you could say “sorry, you want to stuff what in my crust?”)
Oh, obviously it would be lovely if the tourists all piled into our local restaurants and bars; but then it would be lovely if our local restaurants and bars offered something worth piling into. Peter de Wit’s café may well be a Greenwich institution, for instance, but advertising an all-day-breakfast in your window makes little sense if, at 2 p.m., the sign on your door says SHUT. Obviously the great thing about being independent is that you have a perfect right to be as bloody-minded as you want, and to pull down the blinds at the very point in the day at which people most want to eat, just as you have a perfect right to ban astronauts or people wearing wimples, but… it’s clearly not a business model that the big chains have been tempted to emulate.
Which is why they’re big chains and not an endless source of frustration and bewilderment.
But, equally, we all have a right to protest, so… please, dear endlessly miffed people of Greenwich, rage on, rage on. Though I still feel that objecting to the coming of Nando’s by sacrificing a chicken in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum makes you look a bit, well, too much in touch with your pagan side.
But, then again, I am from across the water.
Three summers ago, after Ryanair had unexpectedly decided to add one final item to the list of “frills” they don’t provide, namely a working aircraft, we ended up stuck at Santiago de Compostela airport for six hours with no food or drink – nothing, in fact, but a creeping suspicion that, if we ever wanted to see England again, we’d need to find our own way out of Galicia. A quick internet trawl revealed that Iberia still had spaces on a flight from Vigo, fifty miles south – just not for another two days.
We’d not had Vigo on our original itinerary. Guidebooks had implied it was, at best, Middlesbrough with a Grimsby top note. What we found though, was a delight: a solid, working city that knows it can’t compete with A Coruña (not got the beaches) or Santiago (not got the mad pilgrims), so just gets on with doing what it does: fishing, building Citroens, and catering to the earthy needs of frustrated sailors. On our last evening, we climbed the wooded pathways of Parque Charlie Rivel, and watched the sun set over the deep-water cruise terminal far below.
Because that’s the one thing Vigo has got which A Coruña and Santiago haven’t: a deep-water cruise terminal. So when The World – the “largest privately owned yacht on the planet”, according to the brochure – visits north-west Spain, it’s Vigo, not Santiago or A Coruña, that its curious residents (not “passengers” – this boat is their home, and the voyage never stops), with their “endless thirst for knowledge and adventure”, get to “explore with a depth they never before thought possible”.
And when The World comes to England – as it did the other week – they get to do the same to Deptford. Obviously the brochure says “Greenwich”, not “Deptford”, but – until we get the new liner terminal on Enderby Wharf, the only place The World can actually moor round here is the mouth of Deptford Creek.
Still, nothing wrong with that. Deptford is the Vigo to Greenwich’s Santiago de Compostela and, as we’ve already established, Vigo is lovely. Besides, The World leaves nothing to chance: it has a “unique Enrichment Program [which] brings on board experts in all different fields (diving, wine tasting, world cultures)” to prepare residents for each port they visit, so it’s not like they won’t have known what to expect from Manze’s pie shop or the Dog and Bell. And, as the brochure says, residents of The World have a lifestyle they are “truly grateful to live each day”, so they’ll have found plenty to chat about with the locals.
[I wrote a bit more about Ryanair (48 Hours in Vigo) on my other blog, by the way, if anyone’s still undecided about flying with them.]