Archive for February 2009
Recognise that thing on the right? It’s a long, long overdue arrival at Charlton station – an Oyster card reader. In fact, there’s a pair of them, carefully hidden under black covers. Finally, some concrete evidence that sometime before the world ends, Oyster pay-as-you-go is coming to Southeastern trains. Let’s party like it’s 2004!
The whole Oyster fiasco is one of those things which sums up the disaster that is public transport in this country perfectly – city government introduces nifty smartcard for its trains, but when it tries to get other, private trains to take its system, the private trains spit their dummies out and it takes years for them to be forced into line.
Even more aggravatingly, the only rail firms which take it now are all north of the Thames – I managed to go to Rainham, on London’s eastern fringes, using my ticket the other day. But even then, that didn’t stop rail firm c2c putting up stern signs warning of dire consequences if I ever set foot with the thing into Essex. Their slogan? “Making travel simpler.” So simple, I got a mate to pick me up at Rainham instead of risking fines by carrying on to Purfleet, which is where I was really going. Their loss.
Even now, it’s not certain when Oyster pay-as-you-go will kick in – September 2009 has been a widely-quoted start date, but according to a newsgroup posting, South West Trains don’t plan to start taking it until early 2010. How this affects our friends at Southeastern is not clear – we know they’re more concerned with the high speed trains in Kent we’ll never see – but they are determined that you won’t get a cheaper fare using an Oyster card. Can’t be encouraging regular travel now, can we?
Anyhow, I’ve a feeling Charlton’s two readers will get vandalised before anyone gets to use them – they’re positioned off the platforms, out of the light and maybe out of security cameras’ gaze. One’s next to a side gate which station managers have tried to close twice in recent years, the other’s where a cash machine got destroyed a few years back. The Oyster saga will probably rumble on for a while yet.
(A thrilling Thursday night update: There’s now four readers, one actually on the London-bound platform. The two near the other platform still lurk in the dark, but aren’t as close to where the burnt-out cash machine was as I thought they were.)
Blackheath Bugle mentioned Transition Westcombe a few weeks back – put bluntly, it’s an attempt to get ready for the day the oil starts to run out. Most successfully done so far in Totnes in Devon, the Transition Towns movement is all about communities living within their means. Probably the most high-profile scheme in London is in Brixton, but Transition Westcombe is bringing the idea to the Westcombe Park area of Blackheath.
TW’s first initiative launched today – an attempt to get around the lack of allotment space in Greenwich borough, called Patch Match. Got a garden with space for growing food? Fancy lending it to someone with green fingers? Patch Match could set you up with someone willing to get some dirt under their nails. It’s a terrific idea, and one that deserves to be a success. There’s also a Transition Drinks evening at Mycenae House (one of the area’s best-kept secrets) early on Wednesday should you want to find out more.
(There’s also a Transition Lewisham e-mail list and plenty of other grassroots inititatives like this across south London – my favourite is the Balham Composters, which could be a name for a band…)
I don’t know about you, but I had a splendid weekend of fun and frolics, only slightly overshadowed by getting my jacket nicked in the Amersham Arms in New Cross on Saturday night. Not quite sure why I didn’t do what I always used to do when it was an old Irish boozer with a great lock-in (screw the thing up and shove it on the windowsill) but when in Rome, it seemed worth doing what everyone else did and sticking it on the back of a chair. The tatty old thing’s gone, with, unfortunately, a couple of useful-but-replaceable things inside it; my current splurge on electrical things (there’s a post in the works about that) is going to have to stretch that bit further. Crime report filed to the Met, for what it’s worth, and while as a woolly liberal I’d clearly be against bashing the scumbag who nicked it with a cricket bat, I’d like to wish him a long, miserable life full of pain, nausea, weeping, loneliness, impotence, and embarrassing bleeding from unfortunate places. Maybe one that’d make him dream of a cricket bat in the face.
Behind the bar of the Amersham they’re very decent about the whole thing, but popping in there tonight I saw a tiny sign that I missed on Saturday about handbag thefts. Clearly, crime’s a problem in the Amersham – while I like what they’re doing there, it’d be nice if they got their act together and got some decent CCTV in; it’s only a little place and it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of security there. As for me, it’s bloody annoying, but thankfully I’m in a situation where I can get things replaced – which hasn’t been true all my life. To be honest, I’m a bit more worried about the fact that at another point in the evening, I agreed to go jive dancing at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley some day – what on earth made me say that?
Incidentally, strolling through the streets of SE14 tonight, I couldn’t help noticing the big changes at the once-grungy New Cross Inn – gone is the black interior, and the place has been whitewashed and you can see inside it! Shame, really, because I’d always meant to stick my head around the door of the old place, I’d only ever had one brief visit there. I know it’s under new ownership – in fact, the new owner is a pal of some pals of mine, it seems – but it seems like a drastic change. Is it for the better? We’ll have to wait and see. Mind you, considering the renovation of the once squat-like Goldsmith’s Tavern and the Amersham’s transformation from scruffy local to slightly self-conscious late night venue, it seems dramatic changes to pubs down that way are a bit of a tradition…
It’s not going to be a good couple of months to be getting anywhere around Greenwich unless you’re on foot, on a bike or going by rail. The A2 on Blackheath Hill and the start of Shooters Hill Road is closed Kent-bound for eight weeks so the carriageway can be improved – if you’ve ever seen the state of the little bit of the A2 that’s affected, you’ll see why it needs work on it. Cue terrible traffic conditions in both directions as motorists funnel through Greenwich and Lewisham town centres to get away from the closures. Hopefully the delays will ease as people get used to it – the spectacular Blackheath Hole closure of 2002 lasted seven months – but for now doing anything on four wheels around here is madness. I was in Greenwich at 8pm the other night and the traffic was still heavy then. And the traditional canaries-down-the-mine in these situation, the buses, have been suffering badly, with many turning short of their destinations. Want a 286 from central Greenwich? Forget it.
The 53 trunk route from central London, in particular, has been wrecked by the closure, after Lewisham Council objected to Transport for London using Lewisham Hill as a diversion route – denying people on the Greenwich side of the heath a bus service and simply shifting the problem to Westcombe Hill instead. Lewisham isn’t the only council to get all this wrong – the delays in Greenwich have been compounded by problems in Charlton as Greenwich Council decided to resurface Bugsbys Way, ruining journeys for motorists avoiding Blackheath, wrecking access to North Greenwich Tube and stopping people from taking the bus to the retail parks there. I saw a bus driver pull out of Charlton Church Lane this afternoon and make what appeared to be a last-second decision to divert away from his normal route to avoid blocking the junction. And that’s on a junction that’s already been screwed up by the endless Thames Water works.
It’s not good out there. Left hand, right hand… why don’t you get to know each other a bit better?
No, not the council newspaper (oh, you guys kill me) – but news that Greenwich Council is formally preparing to return to collecting rubbish it can’t recycle each week, instead of leaving it to once a fortnight. In practice, they’ve been collecting it every week (well, in theory at least) for the past few months, but according to Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher – the Eltham North representative is the only one out of 51 Greenwich councillors to bother keeping a blog – they’ve bumbled their way into making this official…
An interesting meeting tonight at the Town Hall (a sentence you don’t often hear). In evidence to a scrutiny panel, it was revealed that the Labour Cabinet last night performed a U-turn on rubbish collection services in the Borough. The controversial system, introduced last year, saw some types of rubbish being collected weekly, whilst others would be allowed to fester for two weeks.
Now it seems the Cabinet have proposed moving back to weekly collection of all rubbish, after ‘problems’ with a ‘significant minority’ of residents over the existing system. (more)
This is probably easier than the alternative course, which is taking action against people leaving rubbish festering in the street, which is what happens here in Charlton – as painstakingly documented by my neighbour Charlton Average. Indeed, the whole rubbish and recycling system badly needs a shake-up and more closer, local management – my own street is covered in litter, as is the little parade of shops at the Charlton Road/ Victoria Way junction.
It’s not helped by the laziness of many local residents – notably the council tenants a few doors down who leave their wheelie bins out to block the pavement and rubbish strewn all over their lawn. I suspect that, on the whole, the council is terrified of taking people on over this – particularly its tenants – for fear of bad publicity, so is happy to leave the streets filthy. I’ve complained to the council, heard nothing, seen nothing done, and so this is looking like another tedious exchange of e-mails with local councillors who really shouldn’t be having to tell the people they’re responsible for to provide a basic service.
Ho-hum. Still, it’s good to see councillor Fletcher post something useful on his blog, although he too often sinks to the yah-boo-sucks nonsense which leads to Greenwich’s opposition councillors becoming dismally ineffective at holding an unimaginative, arrogant and tired administration to account. Still – one councillor out of 51 bothering to keep a blog is a poor show, especially when down the road in Lambeth, micro-blogging evangelist Onionbagblogger has launched a little widget so you can follow Lambeth councillors on Twitter. I suppose I should be grateful my local councillors know how to use e-mail, really…
Look! The weather’s started to get warmer, those three defiant blobs of snow on my way to to the station have finally melted, and look what came in the post today? My ticket to Primavera Sound, Barcelona’s finest rock festival that’s held in an outdoor arena to the east of the city.
Actually, it’s the first time I’ve done business here with the devil that is See Tickets – in the past it’s just taken a simple PayPal transaction (in Spanish, mind), and a print-out to get me into the Parc del Forum at the end of the past three Mays, but burgeoning numbers of British and Irish festival-goers saw a deal with See Tickets, and the collapse of sterling made it a safer bet for my battered and bruised pounds. But this bright yellow ticket will do for me as this year’s first swallow of spring.
The line-up’s announced on Wednesday, confirmed acts include My Bloody Valentine, Thowing Muses and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. I’m pretty lukewarm about the acts so far, but even if the line-up’s poor, it’s loud music next to the Mediterranean – in the sunshine. (Well, except last year when it pissed with rain on the final night. Remember that emergency poncho.)
So this week, my jobs will include sorting out accomodation in Barcelona and working out how long I can go for. But it won’t be my first visit to the Catalan capital this year – I’m calling in very briefly to change trains on the way to Valencia in a month’s time.
In less than four weeks I’m leaving my job – more on this nearer the time, but I’m leaving under my own free will and with a little bit of a goodbye payment. Voluntary redundancy seemed like a great idea before the bottom fell out of global capitalism – and in my situation, it’s still a great idea now. What’s changed since, though, are my thoughts about what to do next, and the woeful economic climate’s encouraged me take a break and reassess things, and see a few sights into the bargain.
One clause, though – I’m avoiding flying as much as possible. I hate hanging around at airports, and I’ve made a promise to myself that if I can get there by train, I’ll do it that way. I’ve done it a few times before, and found it a bit of an adventure. The InterRail pass might be my best friend this year. Eurostar, with its inflated fares, is going to be my worst. But that’s another rant for another time.
So, first up – an old favourite of mine, Valencia’s Fallas festival, where they burn things, let off firecrackers, and have a whale of a time. I suspect my potential travelling companions will let me down, but who cares when things like this are happening all over the city?
I’m schlepping out by train, I might as well make a little tour of it, so once the ringing in my ears has subsided, I’m heading onto Madrid for a couple of nights, and then across to Lisbon, then back to London.
At the moment, I’m wondering whether or not to make a stopover in France on the way home – it’ll be a 27-hour trek from Lisbon to London and a pause in Paris could be just the trick. It’ll all depend on available trains and whatever, but I might just gamble on there being enough to do for the solo traveller in Lisbon to stretch it out to three nights, and emerge at Ebbsfleet or St Pancras in a state a whole day later. We shall see – I’ll need to sort it out this week or Eurostar will make even more undeserved profit out of me (and the lovely person who bought me some vouchers last year).
But I’m pleased that ticket arrived today – because it reminded me that this long, long winter’s coming to an end; and something exciting’s on the horizon…
I actually managed to forget it was Valentine’s Day today until about 7pm last night, when I had to negotiate my way around scores of rose-buyers at the flower shop between Canary Wharf Tube station and the main shopping centre.
I was on my way to buy some batteries, which would make a good joke if I was a woman, but merely looks a bit crap as a chap.
For every enamoured couple ensconced in a duvet talking in faintly preposterous voices and every pragmatic pair staunchly eschewing today’s associations altogether, there are a dozen others whose relationships are buckling under the weight of imposed romantic expectation – and no stage of love is immune. (more)
As a member of the recently-single club, February 14 brings a measure of relief from that. But here’s some intriguing thoughts from Letters Have No Arms – what becomes of the broken-hearted’s mix-tapes?
As anyone who has ever made a successful mixtape can attest: making one is not just a matter of collecting a few random songs and pushing record/burn.
The truth is that, unless you shuffled it, you’ve put some thought into it. And chances are, if you were successful and achieved what you set out to do, you probably put (at least some of) your favourite songs on it… So you’re fucked right? (more)
Thankfully, I’ve received more mix-tapes than I’ve made them – but even though a good few years has passed since that particular time of my life, perhaps today isn’t the day to revisit those songs…
Thanks to Transpontine for giving me something to do this evening when both trains and Tubes started to snarl up – a walk organised by the South East London Folklore Society, an organisation I’ve been meaning to catch up with for a long while.
It was a “love stories in reverse walk featuring headless queens, golden castration devices, deceased lovers and phantom ex-wives” taking in both London Bridge and Tower Bridge as well as the riverside walks in between them.
Oh, and not forgetting a couple of facefuls of wet snow and being thrown off a riverside walk in the City by some miserable South African security guard – hey, these Square Mile institutions know how to regain the love of the public, eh?
Led by author Chris Roberts (no, not that one, but a walking encyclopedia of folklore and offbeat history), it was a cracking way to spend an evening, and I’ve learned the power of a good ghost story – and a very good yarn about sewer workers who dreamt of a rat who’d turn into the woman of their dreams…
Crossing London Bridge, the snow combined with the floodlights at the PriceWaterhouseCoopers HQ to create this appropriately spooky effect…
SELFS meets on the second Thursday of each month at the Old King’s Head on Borough High Street – after my trip out in the snow with them, I think I’ll be back to see what else they can spook me out with… Chris also edits a “penny dreadful”, One Eye Grey, full of yarns about an alternative London, and is well worth a look.
Oh dear. If your organisation is caught unawares by bad circumstances – and heaven knows, it can happen to anyone – then don’t, under any circumstances, try to pretend you did a good job. Especially if you’re Greenwich Council’s propaganda week-… oh, too late….
Yes – “council does job” shocker! Not, of course, that they did it very well – to be fair, Greenwich Council doesn’t do a bad job of the roads, but does a crap job of pavements, as many a sore local arse would testify last week.
“Pavements were also gritted in key areas,” parrots the paper, “outside health centres, bus garages (since when did buses run on pavements?) and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich.”
But not steep hills, or approaches to railway stations. Especially the steep hill leading to Charlton station, allowed to become a slippery mess until nature took its course at the end of last week.
Council leader Chris Roberts told GT: “We apologise for the disruption to refuse collections, and for the fact that our gritting teams weren’t able to get to some minor roads and residential streets.”
Minor roads, eh? Good to know we feature so highly in his priorities. Sadly, none of this tosh is online so people outside the borough can’t see it and appreciate what a load of old cobblers our council tax is paying for.
Another feature in this week’s issue depicts Cllr Roberts talking about his appreciation of the borough’s small businesses – and offering them free ads in the paper. I’m no fan of the freesheets which attempt to serve the area on meagre resources, but that’s parking the tax-funded tank even further onto the lawn of the Mercury and News Shopper, which depend on those ads for survival.
It isn’t just me that’s bemused by the coverage about Boris Johnson using some industrial language to a Labour MP, is it? (No, it isn’t.) I’ve got a funny feeling that maybe this is the dear old Evening Standard’s way of telling the mayor that it won’t be his lapdog anymore – it’s been bought out, has a new editor, and the new management wants to free it from the shackles of being the Baby Mail. So how better to mark your independence than by pouring a bucket of the brown stuff over the man you’ve so slavishly served for the past couple of years? In any case, it means the penny’s finally dropped at Stunted Towers that the 2008 mayoral election finished months ago…
It’s sad, and peculiarly British, to pull politicians up on things like this – one of the successes of the London mayoralty, whatever your political colours, is that it has attracted two colourful men who aren’t afraid to disregard the party line. Hounding them for effing and jeffing will just rid of the mavericks we need to make London’s desperately dull politics even slightly bearable.
Anyway, the real reason I said this is because I heard a good joke about the mayor tonight. “Snow day provided a vision of the glorious future we all face under Boris – all white and no buses.”