news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Archive for October 2009

Me at greenwich.co.uk – last night at the council

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After my last visit to a Greenwich Council meeting, I figured that some straightforward observations could be of value to someone, somewhere, so head over to greenwich.co.uk for last night’s stories from an SE10 perspective if that’s your bag. I hope it’s of some use.

One thing I’ll save for here, though, is that the council still doesn’t make it easy for the public to follow its meetings. Last time the list of members’ questions – what councillors have asked cabinet members, with their responses – hadn’t been given out in the public gallery, making it very hard to follow what was going on. The questions aren’t read out, but referred to by number, so if the councillor doesn’t want to follow their query up with a new question, then all you hear is the number of the question.

This month… still no lists of members’ questions up in the public gallery, even though they actually provide some of the more interesting and relevant topics on offer. And, for the journalist who doesn’t sit in the press seat, it’s where the stories come from, because its where senior councillors have to speak up for the policies they implement. I hope it’s just an oversight, rather than a fear of council tax payers actually discovering what’s being discussed down there.

Written by Darryl

29 October, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Capital Ring 8: West Hendon to Stoke Newington

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Most of my past Capital Ring wanderings seemed to make some kind of geographic sense to me. I can place Wandsworth on a map and know that if I keep going in one direction I’ll get to Wimbledon, and so on. Sure, getting there from Crystal Palace confused me a little bit, but that was about travelling between parts of south London which meant – and still mean – completely different things to me, and not being familiar with what lay in between.

Back to west Hendon
The M1 at Hendon

But six hours’ strolling on a gorgeous autumn day took me on a wildly diverse 11 mile walk, where I still can’t quite work out how I started in the morning close to the end of the M1, and ended the afternoon in Stoke Newington. Outer London to inner London, west to (almost) east, with a familiar stretch in the middle through Highgate. London doesn’t always seem small on foot; but for me, this stretch of the Capital Ring shrunk the city a bit.

Cheyne Walk, Hendon
Hendon Park
Hendon gnomes
Shirehall Park, Hendon

There’s not much to see in Hendon – unfortunately, the first couple of miles are dominated by the roar of roads. The peace of Hendon Park is put in context by noise from the M1, and a near-complete lack of signage (thanks Barnet Council) makes navigation through suburban streets tricky. The River Brent homes into view again, but the poorly-kept parks alongside it seem to be there just to offset the grimness of the adjacent North Circular Road. Two crumbling gazebos, remnants from a hotel demolished in 1974, seem to sum up the attitude here – cars first, people second. The ducks in the Brent have it better than they used to – the ponds in the Decoy, Brent Park (not to be confused with the retail estate in Neasden) were once there so they could be hunted. Not any more, and they seem to be the most content creatures for miles around.

Brent Bridge Hotel remains
Brent Park, Hendon
Brent Park, Hendon
The Decoy, Hendon
Dollis Greenway

The Brent splits in two here, and the path follows the Dollis Valley Greenwalk by Mutton Brook, underneath a CCTV camera and signs warning of pollution in the water. The noise from the A406 and A1 continues to dominate, until the route finally gets to Northway Gardens, Hampstead Garden Suburb. Once a brave social experiment in creating a classless community where all were equal, it’s now a highly desirable place to live. A Porsche pulled up alongside me as I wandered out of a Jewish mini-market bearing beigels and kosher chocolate, and people took tea in a cafe by the park. Immaculately-kept, big, suburban houses surround you here. Who lives in a house like this? Someone with more money than me, that’s for sure. The traffic noise fades here, as another form of transport starts to dominate thoughts.

Northway Gardens
Hampstead Garden Suburb
Lyttleton Playing Fields
Hampstead Garden Suburb
Hampstead Garden Suburb

Through an alley and into East Finchley station, looking as spotless as the day this big, bold building reopened in 1939, when the Northern Line first reached these parts. Above the Underground roundel, the lozenge of the LNER – whose steam trains last ran here from King’s Cross, Finsbury Park, Crouch End and Highgate in 1941 – remains in place, a reminder of the dramatic changes the Tube brought to these parts of north London. Above the platforms, an statue of an archer prepares to fire an arrow towards Highgate – but that’s something we’ll get to later. Next door is the surprisingly anonymous UK headquarters of McDonalds, strangely out of place in this aspirational corner of the capital.

East Finchley station
East Finchley station
East Finchley station

The name “Dirthouse Wood” would sum up a couple of the places on this stretch so far – but not Cherry Tree Wood, which used to have that name and kicked off the change in fortune for this stroll. Children playing, couples strolling, rich autumnal colours everywhere. A little cafe was doing a roaring trade, and even though it’s a tiny little place, this park was enough to lift my mood. Better still was the words on a street sign upon leaving – “London Borough of Haringey. Finally, I could put the map back in my bag, because the Capital Ring signs were back again.

Cherry Tree Wood, East Finchley
Cherry Tree Wood, East Finchley
Cherry Tree Wood, East Finchley

Suddenly, familiarity. Six months ago, I’d met a pal for a walk along the disused Finsbury Park-Highgate Northern Heights rail line – where those old steam trains ran to East Finchley, as well as round to Alexandra Palace. We’d got lost in Highgate Wood and almost failed to find our way to Alexandra Palace. And here I was at the spot where we’d got stuck – at the entrance to Highgate Wood. I could definitely relax for a while. The approach to the wood passes over the old Alexandra Palace line, with the bridge turned into a mini-park. Peering down from the bridge though…. there wasn’t much to see. Now that was why we’d got lost.

Highgate Wood
Highgate Wood
Queens Wood
Queens Wood

Like much of the southern stretch of the Capital Ring, the northern stretch meanders through what’s left of long-gone forests. Highgate Wood was once part of the great Forest of Middlesex. Full of well-to-do families taking the kids for a half-term walk, it, and its sister Queen’s Wood, are wonderful places to wander around. The steep exit from Queen’s Wood certainly made me feel like I’d got some exercise. From here, it’s up a hill onto the Highgate Road, and then onto that disused rail line to Finsbury Park.

Priory Gardens, Highgate
Highgate station
The Boogaloo, Highgate

When the Northern Line was extended to East Finchley, and onto Edgware and High Barnet, the job wasn’t completed. Among the bits that didn’t get done were converting the Northern Heights line to part of the Northern Line, linking it up with the old Moorgate-Finsbury Park Tube service (which in itself became a mainline route in 1976). Tube trains from Moorgate to Alexandra Palace were meant to start running in 1940 and much of the work was already done – the old station at Highgate was rebuilt, and a start was made on electrifying the lines. World War II intervened, work stopped in 1940, and even the steam trains which were still running along the line were cut back. After the war, the Tube extension scheme was scrapped, and the old steam service limped on until 1954, when the line and its stations closed to passengers. The rebuilt Highgate station still sits derelict above the Tube station, an eerie monument to a future that never was.

Parkland Walk
Parkland Walk
Looking down at Crouch End
Tube concrete post
Crouch End disused station
Parkland Walk graffiti
Tell us about your visit

In 1972, the tracks were lifted, and the route was gradually adopted by Haringey and Islington councils as the Parkland Walk. Some of the fixtures and fittings installed by London Transport remain in place, the platforms at Crouch End are still there, and a never-used substation at Crouch Hill is now a youth club. But nearly four decades after it saw its last trains, shuttling empty to and from a depot, the Parkland Walk has gone back to nature. A group of children collected worms as joggers passed by. On my last visit it was crowded with Sunday walkers. On a Monday afternoon it was a peaceful oasis above north London. Given the choice between the Parkland Walk and having a railway back, I wonder what locals would opt for?

Stroud Green from Parkland Walk
Finsbury Park end of Parkland Walk
Finsbury Park
Finsbury Park
Finsbury Park

The sight of Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, looking like an extra-terrestrial invader to the south, was a reminder of how close to central London I was getting. Finsbury Park‘s somewhere most non-north Londoners only visit when there’s something on – like the late, lamented Rise festival – but this great slab of green is a terrific big city park; large enough to explore yet small enough not to get lost in. From here, it was across the road, into another borough – Hackney – and alongside the New River.

New River
New River
New River
New River
Dead rat by the New River
East Reservoir, Stamford Hill

First constructed in 1613, it takes drinking water from Hertfordshire into the capital. SIgns warn you that this is north London’s drinking water, so not to let your dog do its business on the banks. It’s unnavigable, still, and clear… and looks bleak on its raised banks heading towards Stamford Hill. It ends in two reservoirs by Lordship Road, where I was greeted by the sight of a dead rat. Just as unsettling – the Capital Ring signs had vanished from this stretch. I took a mini-detour trying to get back on track. A white minibus pulled up alongside me, deposited a very, very small orthodox Jewish boy by the side of the road, who then stood looking lost and confused as the bus drove off, before finally realising after 30 seconds or so that he was meant to walk home down Queen Elizabeth’s Walk. That was the way I should have gone, but I found Clissold Park all the same. I could have done without seeing the day’s second rat, alive and well and darting out of one of the ponds, though.

Clissold Park
Clissold Park
Clissold Park
Clissold Park
Clissold Park

It was only 4pm, but the sun was already low in the sky, treating hordes of families and kids to another array of autumn colours. A big cafe, built in a 1790s mansion house, was full of customers. From here it’s along Stoke Newington Church Street to end this section of walk at Abney Park Cemetery.

Stoke Newington
Stoke Newington
Stoke Newington
Abney Park Cemetery

This is a real hidden gem, chaotically laid-out and largely overgrown, with fascinating headstones telling stories of this area’s past as a haven for Protestant dissenters. The most notable graves are of Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth, just by the Church Street entrance. An unexploded World War II bomb is believed to be buried somewhere in the cemetery.

Abney Park Cemetery
Abney Park Cemetery
Abney Park Cemetery
Stoke Newington

Outside the cemetery, on Stamford Hill, nature was back at bay again. With the light fading, it was time to head home. The next leg would throw me into even more unfamiliar territory – before giving me a glimpse of home. But I’d learned more than enough for one day.

Capital Ring 7: Harrow-on-the-Hill to west Hendon

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It’s been a long time… um, since I actually did this walk. Well, about three months – after which I spent six weeks mostly travelling, and then over a month, er, forgetting to post this. But I’m digging my walking shoes out this week to have a pop at completing the Capital Ring, so it’s time to refresh my memory and show off what came before. In this case – off the Metropolitan Line at Harrow-on-the-Hill, a walk up a steep hill, through some woods, a graveyard, and back up to an amazing view across London.
St Mary's, Harrow-on-the-Hill
View from Harrow
St Mary's, Harrow-on-the-Hill
St Mary's, Harrow-on-the-Hill
From St Mary’s Church, Harrow-on-the-Hill, it’s down through the famous old school‘s playing fields, plotting an uncertain path through beautifully-kept sports grounds. From here, it’s out the across the only stile on the Capital Ring and around the back of Northwick Park Hospital, taking us into the borough of Brent, and the place where all London’s sparrows seem to be living nowadays.
Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School
Ducker Footpath, Northwick Park
Ducker Footpath, Northwick Park
And then it’s proper 1930s suburbia once again – through Northwick Park itself and underneath South Kenton station, shiny new London Underground signs not very well disgusing the fact that this used to be a manky Silverlink station. Before Preston Park station is the green space it’s named after, a pleasant and, once again, perfectly-kept little spot. The same can’t be said for the streets by the station, but then nestled between some semis is the entrance to somewhere quite extraordinary.

Northwick Park
South Kenton station
Preston Park, Wembley
Preston Park, Wembley
Preston Road
Fryent Country Park entrance
Fryent Country Park is the kind of rugged place you don’t expect to find sitting behind suburban homes. I’d never really thought of north-west London as being a particularly green area, but with open fields, ponds and woods, it’s an interesting place to explore. It’s easy to imagine getting lost here, although the rattle of the nearby Jubilee line shatters the illusion a little. From here, Wembley Stadium provides an optical illusion, with planes coming into Heathrow looking as if they’re flying under the arch.
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
Fryent Country Park
The back streets of Kingsbury beckon next – we’re still in the shadow of Wembley Stadium here, before St Andrew’s Church beckons. Moved from Wells Street, Fitzrovia, in the 1930s, it replaced an older church, which remains in a sorry state next door. The smashed-up graveyard was a heartbreaking sight.
St Andrews, Kingsbury
Old St Andrews Church, Kingsbury
Old St Andrews Church, Kingsbury
Welsh Harp
Another North London gem then appeared – the Welsh Harp reservoir, looking blue and idyllic in the sunset.
Welsh Harp
Welsh Harp
Welsh Harp
The Welsh Harp marked the point where the Ring enters the borough of Barnet – fiefdom of controversial Conservative London Assembly member Brian Coleman, currently its mayor. So here was where the signage started to dry up again, and a closed-down Barnet Council youth centre came into view. Once, this was probably alive with the sounds of young people learning to sail – I’d seen this earlier on the route in Wimbledon Park, a teacher good-naturedly pitting her wits against some lively kids. Instead, it was boarded up, presumably awaiting arsonists or vandals. Not the kind of thing you expect to see in a “regeneration area“.
Welsh Harp
Barnet Council shut down boatyard
Barnet Council shut down boatyard
West Hendon!
Finally, the day’s destination – the thrills of West Hendon Broadway. From here, I could have continued to Hendon station and got the train, but with Oyster pay-as-you-go still not accepted, it was easier to jump on a bus to Kilburn and pick up the Tube. Today, I’m returning there, picking up the Ring again.

Click here for all the past Capital Ring posts.

Written by Darryl

26 October, 2009 at 9:44 am

So that’s what he’s upset about

Too many words said on this nasty piece of work already, so….

(Via cassetteboy)

Written by Darryl

23 October, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Posted in media, politics

Tagged with

Greenwich Park Olympics: 89% ‘not that bothered’

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(UPDATED 12:45PM with details of Lord Coe speaking to the London Assembly – see below)

Greenwich Council’s pro-Olympics propaganda is pretty laughable, we’ve established.

But this latest piece of anti-Olympics propaganda is even more laughable. Here’s Andrew Gilligan, banging on from his online bully pulpit on Greenwich.co.uk, and in his new berth at the Telegraph. Please, can someone wake me up when the grown-ups start to discuss what will happen in Greenwich in 2012?


So a London Assembly member surveys three wards which border the park – curiously neglecting the fourth, Lewisham’s Blackheath ward – and distributes 12,000 surveys. To reply, people have to fork out for their own stamp. Less than 11% of people surveyed bother to reply. Of which, 68%, say they are “not in favour of the equestrian event being held in Greenwich Park during the 2012 Olympics”.

So, in fact, of the people surveyed, and to be generous, 7.2% of people are against the Olympic equestrian events taking place in Greenwich Park. With 89% of people in Greenwich West, Blackheath Westcombe and Peninsula wards not bothered enough to return the forms in the first place, or ask for one to be e-mailed to them, it doesn’t actually mean very much at all, except for that up to 861 people were motivated and angry enough to buy a stamp to protest about something which is very likely to happen anyway, while up to 392 people forked out to support something which is, er, very likely to happen anyway.

Not exactly a scientific survey, is it? But good enough for Andrew Gilligan, who, like his polar opposites at Greenwich Time, merrily lets no facts get in the way of a good headline.

“It turns out that, in a less-than surprise development, both Greenwich Council and London 2012 have been talking out of their bottoms,” crows Gilligan. But he, by using this wonky survey, is joining the chorus of arseholes he depicts. It’s truly disgraceful, partisan reporting that even a child could see straight through, and illustrates the blizzard of bull which has dominated the 2012 debate in Greenwich.

“There is clearly very strong feeling about this,”
said Conservative AM – and Bexley councillor – Gareth Bacon, who conducted the survey. From the results of his poll, though, you could be mistaken for thinking nobody gives a toss.

Actually, I don’t think that’s the case at all. I suspect that outright opposition to the Games in and around Greenwich itself is at around 30-35%. There’s definitely a rump of people who aren’t happy. And there’s a great deal of concern beyond that about the park’s welfare which doesn’t manifest itself as opposition. Gilligan says “active, motivated enthusiasm for the Games in the Park locally is very close to nil” – well, active, motivated opposition wasn’t that far above nil if you’re going on the survey’s response rate. If you live in those areas and got a survey (or didn’t), I’d love to hear from you. My own suspicion is that there’s a lot of confusion and not much knowledge about just what will happen to our streets and our park in 2012, which, to be fair, Gareth Bacon goes on to point out. Unfortunately, the antics of Andrew Gilligan simply add to that confusion.

On the supplementary questions, some 90% of the 1,267 respondents hadn’t had any communication from organising body LOCOG – this was before last week’s Seb Coe letters started thumping onto doormats – and 78% said they hadn’t been invited to any public meetings – despite the fuss over Greenwich Council’s stage-managed meeting at the O2 in December. If you can read anything into the survey, it’s that people are feeling uninformed and maybe taken for granted. Not a great surprise in an area without much local media, but it does suggest that LOCOG have some work to do.

More importantly than any of this, LOCOG’s formal public consultation is now under way with a shop in College Approach open until Sunday (and again from 28-31 October) and a website full of information. Whatever side of the Greenwich Park debate you’re on, if you care about Greenwich, find out what it’s about, and tell them what you think.

12:45PM UPDATE: Lord Coe spoke to the London Assembly this morning, and was questioned about Greenwich Park by Gareth Bacon, the Conservative AM who put together the survey. Bacon played down the “huge majority against” line peddled by Andrew Gilligan, and instead concentrated on the consultation about the Games in the park.

Bacon asked Coe what would change about LOCOG’s consultation with local people, adding that a lack of discussion with residents had resulted in “Chinese whispers building up over the past couple of years”. Lord Coe, who is LOCOG’s chairman, said he was not surprised at the figures in Bacon’s survey.

“The broader point is that you’re right,” he told Bacon, adding that LOCOG now felt comfortable enough to launch a formal consultation, which is starting with today’s launch of the shop in Greenwich Town Centre. “Of course we know we have to communicate. Having worked closely with the experts, we feel we are now properly researched enough [to begin the process].”

“As an organisation, we take very seriously the need to explain what we’re doing,” Coe added. “The legacy of having an Olympic event in the borough, encouraging young people who propbably know little or nothing about the sport in question, is a very important part of what we seek to do.”

Bacon made the point that LOCOG’s consultation had so far simply asked people to “buy in” to the idea of having the equestrian events in the park, adding that the amenity societies did not represent the local population.

“I am aware people tend to be motivated by what they’re opposed to,” he admitted. “But the numbers are so opinionated, it shows there’s been a problem with the consultation process.”

Coe said LOCOG’s consultation could only start once the body had spoken to the amenity societies and other interest groups. “I don’t think we could have got to that point without having gone through that process,” he added.

Evening Standard lowers itself to a bully’s station

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The Jan Moir outrage continues to bubble, with the Daily Mail’s Irish edition distancing itself from the London paper’s columnist this morning, and some of the media’s smarter minds putting to the test Moir’s claim that the fury over her column was actually “heavily orchestrated”. Not like the Mail to orchestrate any campaigns, of course, oh no sireee.

Friday’s regional news version of online outrage – the anger over Tube station worker “Ian from Holborn” being caught humiliating a passenger in front of a platform full of people – has meanwhile, become last week’s dead pixels, with, one presumes, his bosses getting ready to quietly dispense with his services or move him somewhere where he can’t call paying customers “divs”. Which would all seem fair enough. Except… oh look, an orchestrated campaign against him!

Evening Standard, Friday 16 October – Tube man suspended for ‘little git’ rant at trapped passenger: A Tube worker has been caught on camera abusing an elderly passenger, calling him a “jumped- up little git”. The employee lost his temper when the man politely complained about getting his arm stuck in a door for several seconds as he tried to leave a train. Mayor Boris Johnson said he was appalled by the incident. TfL today suspended the worker while it launched an investigation.

Splashed all over the front page of the later editions following the video being passed all around the internet, and Boris’s press officer deciding to intervene on Twitter.

Evening Standard, Monday 19 October – I’m an easygoing Jedi, says Tube worker in abuse row: A London Underground worker accused of launching a foul-mouthed tirade at an elderly passenger describes himself as an “easygoing” type. Ian Morbin, 25, was filmed at Holborn station calling the man a “jumped-up little git” after the customer complained about getting his arm stuck in a Tube door…. On his Facebook profile, which has since been taken down, Mr Morbin describes himself as an “easygoing guy”. The customer service assistant writes: “My future will be in either the driving of Tube trains or trucks. I’m often mistaken for unfriendly because I tend to be quiet, but don’t assume that means I hate you, or that I’m bored!” Mr Morbin says his religion is “Jedi” and his interests include “hauntings”, clubbing, rock music gigs and trucks.

Basically, nothing new has happened, but the Standard managed to peek at his Facebook profile (they weren’t the only ones) and discovered the guy’s a bit of a geek. The Pulitzer Prize is on its way, guys.

And then it goes on… this, I’m reliably informed (the ES is now barely-available in SE London), is today’s early front page lead:


Evening Standard, Tuesday 20 October – Angry passengers: Sack the rudest worker on the Tube: Passengers called today for an abusive Tube worker to be sacked after more commuters came forward with complaints about his behaviour.

As if they hadn’t on Friday?

BBC employee Andrea Lee told the Standard she now avoids the station after Mr Morbin — who claims to be an “easygoing Jedi” on his Facebook profile — once screamed at her: “You’re my f***ing problem.”

Ms Lee, 26, had complained about his treatment of another elderly passenger but said Mr Morbin turned on her angrily and “started screaming and chased me down the platform”.

The “really frightening” incident last month reduced her to tears. She said: “I work in customer services and there’s no way that somebody like him should be working in a job where he has to interact with the public.”

Security officer Liam Felton, 29, said he was told to “walk under a bus” by Mr Morbin earlier this month.

I do wonder if all these concerned citizens had complained to Transport for London before going running to the Standard. And, hold on, I could have called the Standard under a false name, and told them he’d insulted my mother. This isn’t news reporting at all, it’s a campaign to get a man sacked. I had to deal with two rude twerps on the electrical counter at Waitrose in Canary Wharf the other day, but I’m not going to devote blog post after blog post to trying to get them fired. But then the Evening Standard has never liked Tube workers, and here’s a good chance to extend hostilities.

Sure, it doesn’t look as if Mr Morbin is particularly suited to the pressures of dealing with irate punters day in, day out, but the Standard’s massively over-reacting to a single incident that’s only been partially captured on film. Ian Morbin hasn’t killed anyone, he’s not stolen millions of pounds, he hasn’t injured anyone, he’s just, it seems, acted like an idiot and been filmed doing it. This is like trapping a fly under a glass and watching it until it runs out of air and dies. This isn’t responsible reporting, it’s a witch hunt. Even more so, when you open your website pages up to comments like these…


Of course, the stupid thing is that this campaign could make it harder for London Underground to dismiss him – he’s well within his rights to claim he’s been harrassed by the media. Even if Tube bosses were to allow Morbin back onto the platforms – and it’s their call, not the Evening Standard’s – the paper’s campaign would make it impossible for him to do so. How much would it cost London taxpayers to find him a new role, or to train someone new to replace him?

“We will remain the only London newspaper committed to a tradition of high quality journalism,” Standard editor Geordie Greig said when it was announced the paper was withdrawing from south-east London going free. If his idea of “quality journalism” is picking on an easy target again, again, and again, then the Evening Standard is clearly in worse trouble than I first thought.

Written by Darryl

20 October, 2009 at 3:17 pm

The people versus the Daily Mail

with 6 comments

It’s been a fascinating week for watching people use the internet to attempt to right injustices. Monday night saw law firm Carter-Ruck take out an injunction against The Guardian, solely because it was going to report that an MP was going to ask a question in parliament about an oil company which is alleged to have dumped toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Within 12 hours, Carter-Ruck’s client’s name was all over the internet as users merrily broke the injunction themselves with freely-available information. The name Trafigura is now shorthand for how England’s repressive defmation laws was overturned by several thousand unhappy citizens. Indeed, this was British law being overturned by the British sense of fair play. “Now look here, old chap, this is not on…”

The main instrument they used was Twitter. Its 140-character messages and “trending topics” chart kept the complainants’ fire burning, and the simple “pass it on” nature of the service saw anger spread rapidly. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is right – it’s an episode that will be referred back to in years to come. But it would have been nothing if people weren’t outraged by his paper’s gagging.

Come Friday, and there were twin outrages. Firstly, the tale of the Tube worker caught on video insulting a passenger at Holborn station – not necessarily a open-and-shut case, but it appealed both to the spirit of fair play and the widespread prejudice that London Underground employees are all bone idle and overpaid. By the afternoon the worker had been suspended, the video had been everywhere and the Evening Standard decided to lead with it, on the grounds that it’s easier to lead with something it got off the internet that everyone knows about anyway instead of a shocking and more complex story that had been its earlier lead.

But that was nothing, nothing compared to the case of Jan Moir. The Daily Mail columnist decided to opine on the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, who passed away at the weekend in Majorca. A post-mortem found that the 33-year-old died in his sleep from natural causes due to pulmonary oedema – fluid on the lungs, in other words.

Jan Moir, however, knew different.

Something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun into nothing more than an unfortunate mishap on a holiday weekend, like a broken teacup in the rented cottage.

Consider the way it has been largely reported, as if Gately had gently keeled over at the age of 90 in the grounds of the Bide-a-Wee rest home while hoeing the sweet pea patch.

The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.

What’s your point, Jan?

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this…. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

After a night of clubbing, Cowles and Gately took a young Bulgarian man back to their apartment. It is not disrespectful to assume that a game of canasta with 25-year-old Georgi Dochev was not what was on the cards.

Cowles and Dochev went to the bedroom together while Stephen remained alone in the living room.

What happened before they parted is known only to the two men still alive. What happened afterwards is anyone’s guess.

So, Gately died… because he and his chap found a fella they took a fancy to, and took him back to their flat? Seriously?

The troubling thing is not that a Mail columnist is a vile old bigot. It’s how many people at the Mail this hateful piece of nonsense would have seen this before it was published. That nobody thought – hold on, there’s something wrong with this. But then again, it’s the Daily Mail. The voice of hate. Jan Moir is not some maverick – this crap is par for the course in the Daily Mail. Why let facts get in the way of a good piece of stirring? The piece then went into a strange riff about civil partnerships and, bizarrely, brought into the frame the recent suicide of Kevin McGee, comic Matt Lucas’s former partner. What’s your point, Jan? The gays have defective brains?

gatelyOf course, young men do die suddenly of initially inexplicable causes. To suggest otherwise is insulting to those who are still mourning those who have passed away in such circumstances. Remember Christopher Price, the Liquid News presenter? Taken at 34 by a brain infection that’d gone undetected. Cameroonian footballer Marc-Vivien Foe died after collapsing during an international match in 2003 from a heart condition, aged 28. Last summer, a friend of mine, Mat, died suddenly at 35 from a blood clot which had gone undiagnosed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at his funeral, and he’s still missed today.

It happens. But not in Jan Moir’s world. She’s more interested into the circumstances of his final hours, which are none of her bloody business. I don’t recall this purience into the death of The Who’s John Entwistle, whose last hours were spent with an escort. But it’s those gays here, isn’t it? Jan Moir and the Mail can’t let them be without a sly dig.

And something very interesting happened. On one side, the same liberal types who got upset about Trafigura, who look at the Guardian and fume at the Mail a lot. On the other, people who listen to Heart FM, loved Boyzone, and saw Gately for what he was – a slick entertainer whose appeal crossed generations. They came together, and kicked up one heck of a fuss. “Jan Moir” trended on Twitter. The Press Complaints Commission website crashed under complaints.

More significantly – because the PCC is a pretty toothless watchdog – a Facegroup group was launched to get users to contact businesses and ask then pull their advertising from the Mail. Within hours – victory. M&S and Nestle had told the Mail to take their adverts off. When Nestle criticises your ethics, you know you’re in trouble. The Mail ended up pulling all advertising from the page – and changing the headline from “Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” to the peculiar “A strange, lonely and troubling death…”

This is, as far as I can remember, the first time an internet campaign has hurt the Daily Mail. The first time the Mail has been forced to acknowledge that it provides house room for the kind of bigoted, reactionary nonsense that makes this country a more miserable place to live in. Because the Mail not only upset liberals. It alienated those who enjoyed Stephen Gately’s music and had no interest in his private life, from young mums to grannies. People who might actually buy the Mail. They were as offended by Jan Moir’s speculation as woolly liberals were. And together, the two groups scored a direct hit on a normally-impregnable target.

The Mail was forced to respond with a statement from Jan Moir, issued by its PR agency. Unfortunately, it shows how she – and the paper – still do not get it.

“Some people, particularly in the gay community, have been upset by my article about the sad death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately… in what is clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign I think it is mischievous in the extreme to suggest that my article has homophobic and bigoted undertones.”

The gay community, eh? The buggers get you every time, eh Jan? And who orchestrated that internet campaign? Was it the gay community?

It’s revolting to see Jan Moir try to pass herself off as a victim. She’s the one who has pried into a recently-dead man’s private life – a man who has not yet been buried – and caused deep offence to those who admired him. She’s the one who’s paid money by the Daily Mail to spread this sort of nonsense. And today was the day people stood up to a bigot, and stood up to the Daily Mail. And scored a small victory.

The Mail likes to think it stands up for British values. Today’s internet campaigning wasn’t about Twitter or whatever. It was about those British values. It was about calling out an arrogant old institution which wielded power without responsibility, and forcing it to stop and think. It was about telling the Mail that it wasn’t fair to print bigoted nonsense like Jan Moir’s. And telling the Mail’s advertisers that they shouldn’t be seen endorsing that unfairness. We can’t hope that the Mail will suddenly turn into a bastion of liberal values. But hopefully it’ll learn something from today. Fingers crossed.

Written by Darryl

16 October, 2009 at 9:55 pm

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Exploring underground Greenwich from above

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The key to having a really good sort-of-local blog is, of course, to shamelessly nick stuff from other sort-of-local blogs. So when The Greenwich Phantom mentioned a tour of “underground Greenwich”, I got my best red pen out and marked it in the diary. You might have guessed from the Kingsway Subway stuff that I’m fascinated by what lies beneath our feet. Especially if it’s old and disused. And there’s plenty of that in Greenwich.

It’s a labour of love for tour guide Anthony Durham, who was inspired to fathom out what was below his feet when investigating the collapse of Blackheath Hill in 2002 which hit his business hard. What he discovered caught his imagination – few other places have such a hidden subterranean history. Every now and then, he runs an informal tour to give people an idea of what’s there. Very informal, in fact – Greenwich’s tourist office won’t let him promote his tours there because he hasn’t got the appropriate qualifications. As we scampered across Nelson Road the way locals do, instead of the way tourists do it, I realised this might not be such a bad thing. So news of Anthony’s tours are spread by word of mouth. And blog. Was the Phantom there? “It’s all a ruse…” one walker muttered, insisting that among our number must surely be SE10′s best-known scribe.

To warm the party up, Anthony posed a question. How many tunnels enter the borough of Greenwich from the River Thames? I won’t give you the answer, but it’ll surprise you. (The answer’s not on Wikipedia either, because I’ve just checked and it’s missed at least one out.) And he talked about the coal holes outside some of Greenwich town centre’s older houses – which extend their properties under the roads outside their front doors.

Then next to the King’s Arms, the real talk about digging dirt began – the railway tunnel under Greenwich, which led to naval graves being reinterred in East Greenwich Pleasaunce, although a select few remain in a rarely-open mausoleum at Devonport House. The Royal Observatory had objected to the original London and Greenwich Railway being extended deeper into Kent, so the South Eastern Railway had to take a circuitous route via New Cross, Lewisham and Blackheath, then via an impressively long tunnel to Charlton, with that line opening in 1849. It took nearly 30 years to persuade the Observatory, move Greenwich station, move the graves, dig the tunnel, and plug the gap between there and Charlton.

And then there’s the sewer network, which rises on Greenwich High Road on its way to Crossness – and how that, the mainline railway and the Docklands Light Railway just manage not to collide… there’s a few main sewer pipes passing through this area, and it appears the whiff I get in my nose on a hot day is effluent from Catford passing under my road. Thanks, guys.


Up in the park, we discovered the conduits, much talked-about, but little is widely known about them. Built to carry water, they’re now sealed up, but the odd sign of them can be seen – two covered-up entrances at the foot of the park, for example. We were able to follow one from above, from the Crooms Hill side of the park across to the top of Hyde Vale. It was the first time I’d ever realised quite what those structures were.


We took in the burial mounds, a World War II defence relic, and some of Blackheath’s hidden history before discovering something I’d always wondered about – the infamous Jack Cade’s Cavern. It’s not quite underneath The Point, but sits slightly further down, between Maidenstone Hill and Hollymount Close. Created by 18th century mine-workings, the caves were a popular venue for parties until the mid-19th century. Considered and rejected as shelters during both world wars, council engineers surveyed the mines during World War II before sealing them. A ventilation pipe buried in undergrowth behind a fence at the end of an alley is all that can (not) be seen of the caves now. Then there’s the nearby dene holes, dug to extract chalk – one of these is thought to have caused the Blackheath Hill collapse. Seven and a half years after the hole fell in, the Lewisham Council flats which subsided as a result are still in place, awaiting demolition.


Further down the hill is the site of Blackheath Hill station, on the doomed Greenwich Park railway line. Opened to Blackheath Hill in 1872, and to Greenwich Park (the site of the Ibis hotel) in 1888, the line – which split off from the Victoria/Blackfriars route at Nunhead – was designed to compete with the existing railway to Greenwich. But its fiddly route (30 minutes to central London in 1899) and competition from trams meant the line was a failure, although it did attract some traffic to/from Crystal Palace (another doomed route from Nunhead, which closed in the 1950s). It closed in 1919 and by 1932, the line had been filled in*, although the station buildings lasted for many years after.


It’s possible to follow the route now if you know where to look – the Ibis, Greenwich police station, its car park on Royal Hill, allotments, the newer housing on Blissett Street, the fire station, the “weak bridge” on Lindsell Street, an oddly-placed tarmac football pitch and behind some buildings on Blackheath Hill, a locked door, behind which is what remains of the bridge carrying the road over the railway line. Sadly, we couldn’t get a look inside, although others have managed to sneak a peek.

(The line then passed through what’s now the Orchard Estate, and over Brookmill Road, where part of it remains as a nature reserve. The rest of the route from Nunhead was diverted to Lewisham and reopened in 1929 – if you travel from there to Victoria, that’s the line you use. The old Lewisham Road station, on Loampit Vale, is now a junk shop.)

After that excitement, the walk ended on Diamond Terrace, which has a tunnel story of its very own… and then to the pub, to chat and discover more, and round off a fascinating afternoon for which I’m hugely grateful. I didn’t know Charlton House had a tunnel which ended not a million miles from my place, in what’s now the Springfield Estate, but I do now. I’ll keep an eye out, but Anthony says he’s had a thorough look and can’t see an exit. If you know better, or if you want to know when he’s doing another tour (or can help him put together a website to show off his knowledge), drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.

(*Some of the information on the Greenwich Park branch comes from train geek/capital history bible London’s Local Railways, by Alan A Jackson.)

Written by Darryl

16 October, 2009 at 3:00 am

Olympics organisers step up Greenwich consultation

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The organisers of the 2012 Olympics are to hold an exhibition later this month as they step up their campaign to get the public behind equestrian events in Greenwich Park.

LOCOG will take over a shop in College Approach, Greenwich, from 21-25 and 28-31 October to show off their vision for Greenwich Park during summer 2012.

It has also launched a new website and homes across Greenwich borough, and parts of Lewisham, are being sent information about the Games from LOCOG.

Greenwich Park will be closed for four weeks in 2012 to accommodate the events, although the site of the equestrian stadium – at the north end of the park – will be closed off for several months. In addition, a “test event” will be held in summer 2011.

LOCOG’s consultation comes ahead of its formal planning application to Greenwich Council, which is due to be submitted at the end of November. It also follows pressure group NOGOE‘s “ring around the park” event on Sunday, which attracted up to 300 people to a protest at the site of the planned equestrian stadium. NOGOE claims the park will be damaged by holding the events, a charge vigorously denied by LOCOG.


Let battle commence? It’s been interesting reading the comments on the Greenwich Phantom’s site, where there’s a slim majority against the events, and on Brockley Central, which has taken a cheerful “if Greenwich doesn’t want it, we’ll have it”, attitude. I was in the park on Sunday during the demonstration and saw little sign of it – the petition table aside – apart from a Barbour-clad woman, who’d just emerged from a house in one of west Greenwich’s poshest streets, telling the group I was with we should all go and “save the park”. We declined. “Think of the people in high-rise flats!”, she said.

I’ve been pretty critical on this site of LOCOG’s relative invisibility – a charge its staff reject, incidentally, pointing out that they’ve done a lot of work in their own time to try to convince Greenwich (and Woolwich) people of the benefits of the games. The planning application means that it would have to step up its consultation work, but having a shop in central Greenwich is an excellent idea. It’s just a shame that it is only a temporary exhibition, for funding for something permanent could help boost the image of 2012 in general. However, “Olympics” and “budget” combine to make a phrase which gives politicians many sleepless nights right now… I still, however, think that LOCOG should be having regular public meetings to keep us informed.

I think LOCOG also need to be aware that their “Olympic borough” colleagues in Greenwich Council undermine their efforts every time they up their own propaganda – their Greenwich Time special was every bit as misleading as some of NOGOE’s supporters’ shrill, hysterical attacks on the games. It could be argued pressure from NOGOE has forced some concessions on the course and park closures – but the public conduct of some of its activists damages its name.

Let LOCOG present its case to the people, and let the people decide. And tell ‘em what you think.

Written by Darryl

13 October, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Olympics deal: Woolwich’s gain is Greenwich’s loss

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Bafflingly, this only appears as a blog entry on the BBC News website, but there’s some good news for people who were hoping to see the Olympics shooting events in Woolwich – Boris Johnson has agreed to drop his demand that the shooting moves to Barking after striking a deal with Olympics minister Tessa Jowell.

The mayor maintained that holding the shooting events at the Royal Artillery Barracks would cost too much. But the price of him dropping his demand is that Jowell will now back his idea of moving badminton and rhythmic gymnastics from a temporary arena near the Millennium Dome to Wembley Arena, which would save 2012 organisers from forking out for a temporary stadium. It makes financial sense, but it means Greenwich is likely to lose two Olympic sports and Paralympic volleyball, which may well join its Olympic sister sport at Earls Court.

While Barking won’t be hosting the shooting, the deal also means Barking & Dagenham will join Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest as an “Olympic borough” and will get funding for the development of training facilities.

The International Olympic Committee likes its venues to be as close to the Olympic Park as possible – hence the controversial choice of Greenwich Park for equestrian events – so this isn’t set in stone just yet. While the deal lessens Greenwich’s involvement in the games somewhat, it should secure a desperately-needed place for Woolwich in the 2012 spotlight.

It’d leave the Millennium Dome (as “North Greenwich Arena 1″) with gymnastics, basketball, and wheelchair basketball; Greenwich Park with equestrian and Paralympic equestrian events as well as the modern pentathlon; and shooting and paralympic shooting at the Royal Artillery Barracks.


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