Archive for June 2009
Hello kind reader! Just a quick note to say thank you for your support in making 853 the best weblog written by a slightly grouchy resident of Charlton, south-east London. (Well, maybe the second-best, anyway). It’s all barking at the moon without your considered responses.
Speaking of responses, I’ve introduced a comments policy, mainly because I’ve had to flex the moderation tools a little bit in the past week or so. Essentially, it’s don’t be rude, be nice, and don’t spam.
I’m also taking action to deal with a couple of sockpuppets – those who create multiple online identities. I don’t want to have to make all commenters register, so please, create one username, and stick with it – WordPress will reward you after a while by letting you skip the moderation process, and all will be happy. Don’t like it? Start your own blog, then.
I should point out that neither of the sockpuppets is a well-known Greenwich-based journalist who’s been accused of it – but one is somebody who’s used multiple names to personally attack that person. Yup, struck me as odd, too. Like I said – please, create one name, and stick with it. Thank you.
Another strange sight this weekend was musical act Glissendo cheering up a miserable (and rain-sodden) Cutty Sark Gardens with a mesmerising performance – think a brass band at a funeral crossed with a Daft Punk video – as part of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. I tend to find the festival publicity a bit off-putting, actually – it seems to have retreated over the years into promoting itself as a determinedly high-brow event, despite the fact most of its events provide pretty amazing spectacles for all to enjoy.
I remember a going to a circus event at Three Mills, Bromley-by-Bow in the early days of its current incarnation – an unlikely spot, but a brilliant night out. It doesn’t seem to leave Greenwich town centre or Canary Wharf much these days – a shame when there’s so much else going on nearby (like the Horn Fair in Charlton, or the open weekend at Trinity Buoy Wharf) that it could tie in with. If its tentacles could reach that little bit further out into the community, you could have a truly amazing event on your hands and deepen its appeal a little – although obviously someone’s got to pay for all this stuff since it’s free, so it’s understandable that it spends its money on what it knows and does best.
My gripes aside, though, it’s drawn huge crowds – I got stuck in one on Saturday night, and nobody thought to ask the Docklands Light Railway or Southeastern (itself hobbled after the storm knocked out signals in distant Kent) to put extra trains on. D’oh!
Performed by French art group Le Snob, Glissendo features men wearing skirts, on wheels, playing musical instruments. With fire on their heads. And a female ringleader who spreads some more fire around the place. Apparently I missed them perform a Led Zeppelin cover.
As for the rest of it, it has to be seen – and heard – to be believed…
Hailstorms and cloudbursts aside, it was a good weekend for getting out and about in London’s glorious south east. One of the quirkiest events was on my door step – the revived Horn Fair parade from Rotherhithe to Charlton. The fair itself (or Horn Fayre, as Greenwich Council insists on calling it now, despite it being held on Hornfair Road) is a modern-day successor to the traditional Horn Fair, banned by the Victorians for being too boozy and saluburious. These days it’s a much more sedate village fete, although the closeness of the beer tent to a set of stocks hints at a livier history. That said, it’s a fine way of passing an afternoon, and seeing dogs jump through flaming hoops just never gets boring. It was the first time I’d made it up there, despite living on its doorstep for nearly a decade. It’s one of those events that’s quite easy to miss.
But one aspect of the festival that hadn’t been revived until now was a parade from Cuckold’s Point, Rotherhithe to Charlton, which, in its day, took hundreds of revellers from the Thames and up to Charlton. But it has been revived by a group called Rediscovered Urban Rituals, which has also given new life to the Deptford Jack In The Green festival. So, yesterday morning, the parade kicked off by the Hilton hotel on the Rotherhithe peninsula, and moved through Deptford, stopping for lunch at the Dog and Bell, and paraded through Greenwich before coming up the hill to Charlton Park. They certainly caused a stir, and definitely breathed a bit of a life into the event; reconnecting the event with its neighbouring communities as well as its past, even if the MC at the event didn’t quite know what to make of it.
The Horn Fair was also used by Greenwich Council as one of its showcases for what it does, and also as one of its substitutes for actually talking to people; a smattering of local councillors (only one out of the three Charlton councillors showed, the same for neighbouring Kidbrooke with Hornfair) and other council types dotted around to talk about issues/ take the flak.
It also saw the return of the famous “speak your brains” board; where residents can put up suggestions so they can be roundly ignored. Among the pleas for more street cleaning, sorting out rubbish collection and better policing included “more police on Hallowe’en night,” “gay pride”, “CCTV to help teenagers’ anti-social behaviour” in Kidbrooke, and the statement that “terrorising the police” was the way forward. Wonderful work.
A small memorial to Michael Jackson has appeared outside the Dome, where he was due to play 50 dates starting next month. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the O2′s bosses’ minds were really on the thumping great loss of income they’ve got to face up to this summer – and the fiddly business of refunding hundreds of thousands of ticketholders.
It looks a bit incongruous out on windy Peninsula Square – and will it grow, or will it be quietly removed? It’s an odd sight, but it is a reminder of a summer that now never will be.
So, where was I when I heard, then? On the 11.40 train home from a night in a Soho pub, checking my phone for amusement, reading a few Twitter messages about hospital (“blah blah blah”), about cardiac arrest (“oh…”) and then finally, the passing of Michael Jackson.
Weirdly, I’d seen an old colleague from my past job as an entertainment news journalist earlier that evening – turns out I left three months short of the biggest story in the genre since John Lennon’s murder in 1980.
The striking thing I notice is the lack of shock – I remember during his child abuse trial being prepared just in case he didn’t make it through; and he’d been in terrible health for years. Eight years ago I stood outside the Oxford Union in the rain waiting for him to address the students there – a slight figure, bathed in lights, moving slowly through the courtyard. Even then, it was barely possible to associate this almost other-worldly figure with the consummate performer I remembered from growing up. Earlier this year, up at the Dome, things seemed no different; but I remember – watching on a TV screen this time – how he seemed to spring to life when he danced a little for his fans.
But this is a tragedy felt across the generations – while he was the same age as Prince and Madonna, his emergence as a child star guaranteed him a wider appeal. And while celebrity deaths are often a chance to sit back and remember great talent and fond memories, in Michael Jackson’s case it was never going to be so simple.
It was no way and no age for a man to go – for news of his death to be broken by the horrifyingly unprincipled (even by UK red-top standards) TMZ.com just seemed to show how far he’d fallen. Once the mesmerising frontman of a slick, lean marketing and production machine – one gloriously, and rightly upstaged by Jarvis Cocker in 1996 – he’d been reduced to hiding out in the Middle East, chopping and changing managers and representatives, and finally reduced to an uncertain appearance at the Dome, the “secrets” leaking out of his team like a sieve, where his convoy even managed to get stuck in a traffic jam on the way there. A long way from the man who once floated a statue of himself down the Thames. Sure, Jackson needed the money, but nobody really expected the “will he, won’t he” game to end like this, did they? Perhaps that might end up in a court room. The aftermath of his death could be even more undignified than his messy passing.
There’s going to be a lot of cobblers spoken today – I’m keeping the tennis on here, for fear of seeing Uri Geller on my TV – and in the coming weeks. But that said, there is an element of truth in the “it’s a bit like Diana” cliche – like the late princess, many of Jackson’s fans were troubled souls who found something to identify with in their haunted hero. The passion and enthusiasm of his fans always struck me as something special.
Yes, some of them were plainly bonkers. But that was never a crime. You know a way to win them over? Don’t ever call him Jacko. They saw a hurt human being where we just saw a soap opera. They were right.
Did he get a little bit too close to his legion of young friends? It doesn’t seem to have done their parents any harm. It definitely won’t do them any harm now he’s gone, and the market for “Jesus juice” stories will shortly show an upturn. He was found not guilty in a court of law, and that is the judgement we should abide by. Sadly, though the villain of the piece is still with us – Joe Jackson, the father that whipped, beat and bullied his children. He lives to enjoy the riches of Michael Jackson’s talents. It doesn’t seem that Michael Jackson himself ever enjoyed his riches. Hopefully, he is at peace now.
The Evening Standard might have changed ownership, but its hatred of south-east London continues. Today’s paper puffs up Richard Branson’s latest wheeze – to change the route of the London Marathon. It seems we’re not good enough down here for Branson, whose Virgin brand takes on the race’s sponsorship from next April.
Speaking exclusively to the Standard, Sir Richard, who plans to run the Marathon for the first time next year, acknowledged that the current 26-mile, 385-yard route does not showcase London at its best.
He said: “I would like readers of the Standard to come up with a better route. We’re very open to ideas.” The change is one of a package of measures being considered to make next year’s race on 25 April “more fun and glamorous”.
Trouble is, anyone with who’s actually familiar with the capital will be well aware that you simply cannot make a 26-mile route through London “more fun and glamorous” without including some less sparkly bits. The current route, little altered since 1981, starts at Blackheath, runs through Charlton, then turns back at Woolwich, back through Charlton, Greenwich, Deptford, Rotherhithe, Bermondsey, Tower Bridge, loops through Wapping, Poplar and the Isle of Dogs before hugging the Thames through the City and Westminster, ending either at The Mall or Westminster Bridge.
Described as “magnificent” by its founder Chris Brasher, who died in 2003, the course was commended by the tourist board for passing the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s, the riverside, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. In fact, the route’s got more glitzy over the years anyway – the first marathon followed the closure of the east London docks, and much of the route was then an industrial wasteland. Now it passes through capitalism’s shiniest monuments, alongside historic landmarks and ordinary homes. Add the London Eye, Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern to the new sights over the past three decades, and you’ve managed the majority of “must see” sights you’d persuade a tourist to visit.
But the Standard’s consumer business editor (eh?) Jonathan Prynn writes: “The marathon begins in Blackheath and ends in The Mall, but for 24 miles runners are forced to pound the streets of east London [sic] where crowds are often thin and “sights” few and far between.
“Only small sections of the course are by the river or in parks and apart from Buckingham Palace, little of “tourist London” is seen by the runners.”
So, clearly, the problem is us. Blackheath, Greenwich, Charlton, Deptford, Woolwich, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey clearly are not good enough for Richard Branson. And are not good enough for the Evening Standard, either. “This newspaper takes a fundamentally optimistic view of life, of London and Londoners,” says editor Geordie Greig. Clearly not when it comes to south-east London, though.
For me, it’s one of the highlights of the year, a terrific community event which gets people out and enjoying themselves. It’s a great booster for local businesses; pubs are packed out at 11am, shops and cafes do healthy trade and the whole place smells of sweat and bacon sandwiches for a morning. It’s a real people’s occasion – something which marks it out from, say, the Lord Mayor’s Show or Trooping The Colour.
It’s mostly ordinary runners, passing the homes of ordinary people (and often, their own homes). For visitors, the race is also relatively easy to follow by public transport, with both local rail and Docklands Light Railway following the route – both offering unique views of the race you can’t get by Tube.
I don’t know if anyone wants to make Jonathan Prynn read an A-Z, but only small sections of London road are by the Thames – a marathon that used, say, Chelsea Embankment would still end up having to go through drab streets once Cheyne Walk swings away to Earl’s Court. And parkland doesn’t make for good TV viewing – or a decent atmosphere, as campaigners who’ve wanted to keep the Notting Hill Carnival in W11 will testify.
Maybe that’s where Branson wants the route to run – Notting Hill, the heartland of the Standard’s imagined readership and the tycoon’s old stamping ground. But you’d only end up swapping, say, Woolwich (with its distinctive barracks) for Shepherd’s Bush (with its Westfield shopping centre), and how would West End stores feel about losing a day’s trade because nobody can cross the road? Branson hasn’t thought it through properly – and nor has the Standard, which should know better than to jump on this with such glee. Clearly, though, the paper hasn’t changed its spots since the takeover, despite what its editor says.
Like many of Branson’s schemes, hopefully this will die a quiet death. As for the Standard, I suspect that fate is due anyway once its new owner’s money runs out. Time for another round of ‘Sorry’ billboards, Geordie?
It’s been over five weeks since cyclist Adrianna Skrzypiec died in a collision with a lorry underneath the Woolwich Road flyover in Greenwich. The ghost bike memorial, placed there by members of Greenwich Cyclists, remains.
The yellow police board went long ago, and by Tuesday morning nobody had yet been arrested in connection with Adrianna’s death. However, Scotland Yard says the investigation is progressing, and is still very much active.
I revisted the scene on Monday because I’d noticed something else had appeared since the last time I’d looked closely at the scene – a clutch of brand new warning signs for drivers; a couple hastily attached to lamp-posts, another on a long-disused sign pole. It looks like these appeared as a response to the tragedy; one of those sops that bureaucrats come up with to make it look like they’re doing something, anything to look like they’ve taken notice of this appalling event.
The ghost bike is a more striking reminder of drivers’ responsibilities to watch where they’re going – but what will happen when the bike is gone? I’ve a feeling these hastily put-up signs may not be enough – maybe something slightly more distinctive and unique to the junction would grab drivers’ attention; for these partly look as if they’ve been switched around the wrong way by pranksters. Even just a yellow background with some lettering below, something to make them stand out a little amid what’s already a forest of signs. I’m not sure whether this is Greenwich Council or Transport for London’s job – but I hope they’re working on it.
Especially when you don’t know, or have never met someone, it feels awful to hope that “some good” can some from someone’s untimely passing. But the Woolwich Road flyover has never been a good one for cyclists. It’s not even a pleasant one for pedestrians, either. When I was taking those photos at the start of Monday’s evening rush hour, I was struck by the number of cyclists using the footpaths rather than risking the road.
It’s an awkwardly-shaped junction – not originally intended to be a roundabout either (until about 1980 it was a complicated, traffic light-controlled affair) so it’s packed into a small space, a legacy of a time when the car was king, when the A102 was part of a grand plan to build motorways across London. There’s little room for big changes.
Adrianna Skrzypiec’s death touched many in and around Greenwich who never knew her, but were horrified by what happened. But if something can be done to make cyclists’ lives easier here, to give them a bit of space or to make drivers more aware of them; it would at least reduce the chances of this tragedy being repeated. Hopefully, the agencies in charge of this flyover are up to the challenge.
Anyone with any information on the incident is asked to contact Catford Traffic Garage on 020 8285 1574.
It’s my pleasure to bring you exciting news that’ll no doubt bring a sparkle to your step this summer’s day. Yes, I can announce there’s going to be a clean-up day in Charlton. Yes – the streets are going to be swept!
Well, not in my street. And probably not in your street either. But it’s nice to know that some streets are going to be given a belated spring-clean.
The initiative comes courtesy of the Charlton Central Residents Association, which represents a block of streets between the railway line, Victoria Way and Charlton Church Lane, but not actually including those streets. I wrote about them in 853‘s predecessor blog, the last bus home, last year when I tried to join. They weren’t having it – I didn’t live in their streets, so I’d have to go through some tedious procedure to get co-opted in there. Probably for administrative convenience, but despite the fact that I buy my morning paper in their patch, I walk through there to catch a train or a bus, and I trip over the same unswept rubbish they do. A strange do, but there you go. They did let me hang around their annual meeting, though; a fellow Victoria Way resident who was there who was also denied membership decided not to bother.
They even referred to me in their newsletter (PDF, 3MB): “The aim of the Association is to create a safe and friendly community, present a unified voice on local issues and promote social links between residents. Though the area covered may increase in time, at the moment we want to keep things small but beautiful with a “village feel”. Sorry, Last Bus Home, for any inconvenience caused!” I’m not sure how allowing a couple of residents of neighbouring streets to pay a subscription and keep in touch with the group, perhaps offering their skills and help to achieve a common goal, would detract from that, but there you go.
Anyhow, their latest newsletter (PDF, 3.4MB) trumpets their “big clean-up day” – on Saturday 4 July. Apparently, the council will provide vehicles and staff to help, and this will be followed up by “an intensive clean of gutters, drains and pavements” by council staff.
This has got to be a good thing – but doesn’t this let the council off the hook? Surely this organisation – whose chair is a former Labour councillor – should be asking the authority why it doesn’t keep the gutters, drains and pavements clean in the first place; and demanding an assurance that once clean, they will stay clean? And making sure the three local councillors, who belong to the ruling Labour party, are pressing for just that?
Even the CCRA’s own poll suggests that its own people are unhappy with the way the council neglects the streets of SE7. A community clean-up day will, at least, get the street clean, but it is also, to an extent, doing the council’s job for it. I wonder if the participants will get a small council tax refund?
Here also lies the problem with Greenwich Council – it simply can’t deal with individual residents, it prefers to deal with friendly organisations. Unless you know the names of council officials and can bypass its call centres, you’ve got a problem.
A couple of years ago, a residents’ allocation of free tickets for the Red Bull Air Race were not handed out directly to the public – as organisers had intended – but given to residents’ organisations first. If you don’t live in an area that’s covered by one, you’re effectively disenfranchised. And if your nearest residents’ organisation won’t allow you to join because you live a few yards outside their territory, then you’ve a bigger problem.
Over at The Greenwich Phantom, commenter Valley Girl said of her own road: “The gutters have not been swept in so many weeks that there’s foot high weeds growing in the mud that’s accumulated. They used to be swept regularly every Tuesday morning, but I no longer see anyone doing the job.”
And you know what? She’s right. Eversley Road (the top two photographs) has been left looking a mess. And the weeds are breaking out all over neighbouring streets. In Tallis Grove, Charlton (below) and Farmdale Road, Greenwich (above), they look set to take over. The weeds are a living, breathing example of Greenwich Council’s neglect of our streets. And without a friendly residents’ association to work through, none of these streets photographed will get any help whatsoever.
And even some of the council’s more hard-working and diligent souls don’t seem to understand how their assumptions about how people live can be part of the problem and not part of the solution. Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills, who represents the northern end of my street, read my post last week about the council dumping wheelie bins in the street and commented: “Note blogger 853 moaning about people leaving their bins on the pavement – round here people take them in for neighbours who are out!” It’s nice to know she lives in a place where people are in all day – unfortunately, in a street where most of the houses are divided into flats occupied by people who are working all day, that just isn’t going to happen.
Yes, local residents have their part to play. But they pay a tax to the council to provide a service – and when the council doesn’t provide that service, or communicate with individuals honestly and effectively, they shouldn’t have to fill the breach themselves. These things should be a partnership – and it’s about time the council pulled its finger out and fulfilled its part of the bargain.
(All the photos here were taken between 4pm and 5.30pm on Monday 22 June.)
If you’ve got a weak stomach, you might want to avoid a spectacular bit of whining in today’s Sunday Times from Anna Mikhailova, the journalist who “outed” Girl With A One Track Mind author Zoe Margolis three years ago. This all follows the outing of the author of the Night Jack police blog, which has led to journalist Patrick Foster getting some pretty ripe abuse.
Mikhailova, together with ST news editor Nicholas Hellen, took a lot of abuse in the summer of 2006, and later when Zoe reprinted a e-mail from Hellen threatening to reveal her mother’s identity and profession.
The phrase “more front than Harrods” springs to mind. I’ve worked as a journalist, and the likes of Mikhailova make me ashamed. Journalists can be powerful people if they want – even relatively lowly ones. To be able to dispense information is a wonderful privilege. The best news stories move people to action; whether it is to rise up against corruption or to queue up for a concert ticket. It’s a trade that can touch people’s lives.
Unfortunately, Mikhailova seems not to realise this. She takes no notice of the effects her actions had on Zoe, who fled her home and lost her career. Instead, Mikhailova paints herself as the victim.
The naming of Richard Horton, the Lancashire officer, has prompted an online debate that has been seen as a fight between “old” and “new” media, coupled with vicious slurs and personal attacks on the writers involved. It’s a nasty business and one I know all too well.
Three summers ago, while on work experience at The Sunday Times, I wrote a story outing a sex blogger, Zoe Margolis, who had just turned her online collection of back-alley exploits into a book titled Girl with a One Track Mind.
“Back alley exploits”? What is this, the 1950s? It’s a blog about shagging, for crying out loud. Do you know what is, Anna? Find it filthy, do you? (The original story referred to Zoe’s interest in sex as “shameless”.)
The writer’s anonymity was used as a marketing gimmick…
…er, really? The fact that someone might want to try to protect the identities of those they wrote about was a “gimmick”? Writing off someone’s concern for their life as a sales ploy? Very, very odd.
…and the piece was the first high-profile “exposé” of an online writer’s anonymity; I promptly became public enemy No 1 in the blogosphere.
Oh, those pesky bloggers. Mikhailova did get some nasty threats, but what seems to have irked her most of all was the creation of a fake blog which portrayed her as a prudish hypocrite.
Of course it was created (and for some six months updated) behind a veil of anonymity. As I was still a student I didn’t take the attacks too seriously and while it’s not pleasant being pilloried as the embodiment of journalism’s faults, it isn’t the end of the world. Over time, though, things worsened: my tormentors gave details of where I studied and lived, then posted a photo of me.
That’d be a photo from Oxford Student, her past publication, that was in the public domain, if I remember correctly. Not the hardest of Google Images searches at the time. Of course, Mikhailova and Hellen also threatened Zoe with a publication of an unflattering photograph taken secretly, as well as details of not just where she worked and lived, but that of her mother too. But that doesn’t seem to have entered Anna’s head.
It was only when I started full-time work that I realised how deeply I was being damaged. I would turn up to a meeting with new contacts and be greeted with a hesitant: “I’ve seen your blog.”
Cue an extensive effort by the Sunday Times legal team to take it down — successfully, thank goodness.
Well, isn’t it lovely when you’ve got a legal team to back you up? Shame Zoe didn’t have one when you bullied her, eh? Night Jack did, but his efforts failed last week.
Then cue a whine about “the anonymous, many-headed beast of the blogosphere” and “people who think Chicken Yoghurt is an appropriate pseudonym”, whatever that’s meant to mean. Hey, Anna, if you go to Chicken Yoghurt, and click “about“, you’ll not only find the name of its author, but his photograph too! What a cowardly custard!
Zoe’s replied to it in the best way possible – by reprinting the e-mails that Mikhailova sent her in the lead-up to the story running in August 2006, reminding us how she works. “If you can’t hack it, don’t write it,” she says. She also makes the point that the Night Jack ruling “was not a bloggers vs. journalists battle. Instead, it was simply a reaction of disgust that journalistic standards have sunk so low”.
Herein lies the nub. There’s a lot of bollocks talked all over the place about the “blogosphere” and “bloggers”. But behind each of those blogs is a real person. Real people who live, breathe, eat, drink, shag, and maybe even buy the Sunday Times. And all they’re doing is expressing their opinion. Expose members of the BNP, crooked MPs, bent bankers – they’ll back you all the way. “Expose” someone for doing nothing more than write about their life – and you’ll get a bucket of shit poured over you. The spoof blog, the abuse, they are expressions of anger about a media which has drifted away from the public, which makes up its own rules – and cries like a baby when it gets caught in the act. When papers rightly expose freeloading MPs, public anger is judged to be A Good Thing. But when journalists are caught bullying people, suddenly public anger is an outrageous, unjustifiable and unaccountable attack. The only industry that journalists don’t really scrutinise is their own – and they get jumpy when others start to do it for them.
I can only assume that Anna Mikhailova has led a sheltered life and simply doesn’t get it. There’s plenty of those types in the media – rarely straying outside their own circles. But she almost makes a point at the end of her whine. While defamation and threats of violence can never be excused, if journalists were made aware of the public anger over their worst excesses, and made to face up to the consequences of their actions. then arguably they would be just a tiny bit more careful. So perhaps the occasional bit of grief is just the level of control that the journalism community needs.