Archive for December 2009
It didn’t get any better than this in 2009. And it didn’t get any better than this during the decade.
Now, is the pub open?
At this time a decade ago, I had a bottle of champagne in the fridge, and was getting ready to meet some mates at London Bridge. Police were already at Charlton station to escort VIPs to the Millennium Dome, access to central Greenwich was by wristband only. So central London it was. We walked through crowds along the Embankment – seeing the Queen’s motorcade on Southwark Street – into the West End. Remember the flaming torches set up? The mammoth crowds? Drinking vodka and Red Bull out of plastic bottles? (Maybe that last one was just me.) I have some photos of us taken that night, swigging champagne in Covent Garden, chatting with strangers, and having a whale of a time. We went to a club, came home by all-night train, passed out. The next day was fairly hangover-free, and seemed like stepping into the future. The 21st Century would be bright and peaceful, wouldn’t it?
A few weeks ago, a thought occurred to me as I crossed the Millennium Bridge. We hadn’t meant to be in the centre of London – it’d started as an afternoon wander in Greenwich Park, and had developed thanks to our Oyster cards (being developed in 1999) and the Docklands Light Railway (opened to Greenwich in December 1999) into a grander meander. We’d end up passing Tate Modern (opened 2000) on our way to the whiskey shop in Vinopolis (opened July 1999), and head home via Thames Clippers (established 1999) to the QE2 pier next to the Millennium Dome (you’re probably ahead of me by now).
“This bridge probably sums up the past decade in London,” I said to my companion.
“What, that they cocked it up at first?”
I didn’t mean that, I had in my head how the wobbly bridge had been a potent symbol of how London’s boundaries had shifted in the 2000s – Tate Modern’s opening sealed a complete rejuvenation of the South Bank, putting both sides of the Thames on the tourist trail.
In the east, there were further changes. The music industry switched its focus away from Camden and Notting Hill and towards Shoreditch and Hoxton. (If there was an enduring London character this decade, it was probably Nathan Barley, who started out in Westbourne Grove and gravitated west.) Canary Wharf’s influence on world commerce grew further after the Jubilee Line was finished a week before the decade’s start. Stratford became a viable site for a possible Olympic bid.
And in the south-east? Flats, flats, and more new flats. On the Greenwich peninsula, on the sites of old flats, on any old bit of land that became free. Deptford was “the new Hoxton” at least twice. Charlton gaining yet more retail barns – and a bigger Valley as the Addicks rose, then fell. Brockley stepped out of the shadows and became officially nice. Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal opening up to the public… and over-heated development in Thamesmead arguably helping kickstart an economic collapse.
Sure, some of the seeds for London’s changes were sown in the late 1990s, but the capital of 31st December 1999 was a vastly different place to the one we’re in today.
But yes, there was a foul-up with the Millennium Bridge at first, wasn’t there? But after initial cynicism, the wobbly bridge is now a much-loved part of the capital. A little way along the Thames, can you even start to imagine the city without the London Eye? It failed its safety checks for the big night – but nobody remembers that now.
In fact, even the Millennium Eve celebrations went a bit awry when the “river of fire” fizzled out – but the big fireworks display has, after a false start, become an annual event. (Remember the 90s when people used to go to Trafalgar Square because they had nothing else to do?)
Even the Millennium Dome, now universally regarded as a New Labour vanity project, left empty for far too long, is now pretty much immune from criticism as the O2. The Dome was the top visitor attraction of 2000 – but the nation’s media never forgave its botched opening night. Locally, learning to live with the Dome long after its novelty faded has been an interesting experience.
The start of the 2000s showed that imagination could always trump cynicism if you got enough people to believe. And we spent the rest of the decade reaping the benefits of that time. Some of it’s still to come – the new East London Line rail link opens soon, the Olympic Stadium is dominating the Stratford skyline.
As for the rest of it?
Maybe the great anti-war demo of 2003 was the point where cynicism started to corrode everything. I was there that day, and remembering being impressed with the wit of the slogans, and taken aback by the huge turnout. Surely this could not be ignored, could it? But once Tony Blair stuck two fingers up at public opinion and went on his desert adventure, a lot of faith, a lot of trust in the ability to change things simply went.
And slowly, things have rolled back to the bad old days. Why try to change things when you can just grumble instead? We now seem governed by Have Your Say culture – kneejerk responses to problems instead of taking a deep breath and thinking about the future, and thinking about people beyond ourselves. I fear the 2010s will be another decade of “I’m all right Jack” cobblers, when the pennies get clawed back in but the pounds somehow seem forgotten about. And there are few people who can properly articulate a case against all this.
Of course, you can always fight for change on your own doorstep. But the wider picture in our city and beyond’s a lot gloomier for the 2010s. In a few years, we may look back at the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern, remember that exciting period when London seemed to develop in a way that suited people, and not cars and big businesses, and wonder what happened since.
I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. If more people stand up and do something, maybe I will be wrong. I don’t think 2010’s going to be a year for sitting back and taking what’s thrown at us, somehow. Whatever happens, have a great 2010 – and don’t let yourself be ground down.
I’ve nothing against Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi. Actually, I love them. I interviewed the core of Status Quo as a young pup and found them terrific company. And Rossi’s a good south-east London lad too, coming from Forest Hill and having gone to school in Catford.
An indelible part of my early childhood with beer ads like these and top-notch entertainers, one of 2009’s saddest moments was their split in September following the death of Dave’s wife. Chas plays on – in fact, he’s at the 100 Club on Oxford Street tonight – but wouldn’t an honour be the best way to recognise their sterling, three-decade long career?
When you’re out tonight, raise a pint of Best to these two. And the Quo, of course.
Well, it’s been fun, but after over 120 years of being part of the world’s greatest city, it looks like South East London will start 2010 seceding from the rest of the capital. A bit like the Principality of Sealand, perhaps, with marginally better transport links.
Who says? Well, ask the mayor…
“Always remember that London is the greatest place, and never forget that we are offering free transport from your party from 11.45pm to 4.30am. Public transport in London is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful New Year’s Eve party, being, as it is, the cleanest, greenest, and safest way to get around our fantastic city.”
Except… it isn’t free for us. Boris has canned free travel on London’s mainline trains, reportedly saving the mayor £100,000. So that New Year message can’t be aimed at us. Boris has clearly washed his hands of us. The border signs will go up at the Elephant & Castle at midnight.
“National Rail services will be operating but passengers will have to pay to travel on them, although the cost of a day return ticket to London will be only marginally above the cost of an outward-only single. This is contrary to previous years when TfL has subsidised them and travel was free.
“Given the wider economic situation, TfL is committed to finding £5 billion in savings by 2017, and this is just one of the measures which will help achieve that aim.”
Which is slightly different from the jolly New Year message above. Still, I wonder if Boris will have the gall to project himself onto the side of a building like he did last year?
So, as the Independent City of South-East London – let’s call it Greater Charlton for now – gets set to break free from the Boris yoke, let’s just get confirmation that the trains won’t be free.
On Southeastern’s website…
And at Waterloo East station…
So it’s… hold on, what did that say at Waterloo East again? “Courtesy of Transport for London, Southeastern will run FREE after-midnight train services.” Huh? And Southeastern haven’t got a fat felt tip and crossed that bit out?
And let’s go to the Evening Standard’s excellent deputy political editor, Paul Waugh…
Which figures, of course, because ticket inspectors after 11pm on Southeastern on any night, let alone a busy one, are as rare as rocking horse shit. Some might say that Boris witholding money to make up for fares that the mainline rail firms had no intention of collecting anyway is wise economics. It certainly looks as if Southeastern were expecting him to pony up the cash as usual when they went to the printers.
But with these government-backed private monpolies holding the whip hand in Boris’s past negotiations with them – see the crap deal he’s given us with Oyster, with south London families paying more than west London’s for children’s fares – it doesn’t set an encouraging precedent for the provision of all-night mainline trains for New Year’s Eve 2010, something which is only a recent phenonemon.
So it’s all a big muddle, which seems like business as usual after all. So maybe we’ll have to put those indpendence plans on hold. Looks like we’re lumbered with the rest of London for a couple more years yet…
Thanks to Southeastern-watcher Bexcentric for the Waterloo East spot.
Damn, just missed him. Always said he’d turn up after the last bus.
And I had such plans for him as well. Have a great Christmas.
If you’ve got 10 minutes free, this is great fun (no, really) – a documentary by Jay Foreman on why the Northern Line has a little crap bit that goes to Mill Hill East. I’m fascinated by this kind of thing, but trust me, this is a cracker.
And if you’ve another five minutes, take a look at Onionbagblogger Jason Cobb’s highly rude denounciation of Lambeth Council’s leisure policy…
From Domestic Extremist:
The UCKG (aka the Universal Chuggers from the Kingdom of Grabbers) are out in force again over Christmas, amassing more money than they know what to do with.
Reports of UCKG people collecting with their big red buckets are coming in from right across London: Brixton, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington, Dalston, Hackney, Kilburn, Finsbury Park, Holborn, Muswell Hill, Camden… In Angel they are apparently carpeting the pavements. A resident of Chingford reported eight(!) of them inside the Costco store there. They also love hanging around Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. And I hear they’ve been spotted in M&S in Birmingham too.
UCKG is on the record as believing in demonic possession, including the demonic possession of children. (Remember the UCKG’s involvement in the Climbie case? A UCKG pastor declared to the trial that he believed the child was ‘possessed’). So when the charity chuggers say they are ‘collecting for children’, interpret that as you will.
UCKG in the UK made a surplus of more than £5m in the financial year to February 2008 (the last accounts filed) and has built up income reserves of some £26m I understand. So it’s not as if UCKG actually needs this money for anything. The people who collect it are unpaid volunteers and the money just adds to the ever-growing UCKG money pile, destined I imagine to be spent on further real estate and media company acquisitions at some point in the future.
I now wish I’d posted about them when I saw UCKG collectors in Blackheath last week – muscling in on a children’s carol-singing session for Crisis outside the station (see picture). I’ve also seen them in Greenwich twice (outside the DLR station and outside Sainsburys) in recent weeks. In recent years UCKG bought the old Catford ABC cinema, opening it as a church in 2007, and are trying to do the same in Walthamstow. It’s also running an ad campaign inside local buses.
Of course, if you want to give cash to a religious organisation that’s already loaded, feel free. But if not, be warned, and keep your cash in your pocket.
In related news, Bromley Council has turned down a planning application by another church, KICC, to develop an old cinema in Crystal Palace into a place of worship. KICC had outbid Greenwich Picturehouse owner City Screen to the building in Church Road.
Another triumph for “London’s quality newspaper“.
Get stuck in the snow this afternoon? Luckily my woes were minor. My thighs are feeling the benefit of a two-mile walk from Greenwich town centre to Charlton in thick sludge, but I’m annoyed that I’ve had to knock on the head plans to go for a festive drink with an old colleague I haven’t seen in ages. Oh, I’m also kicking myself that I decided not to take my camera out this afternoon, since it was drizzling when I left home…
From 4pm, this bit of south-east London has been murder to get around. I had to abandon a 386 bus on Vanburgh Hill, Blackheath, after two cars collided in front of us when the snow was fresh on the ground. By the time I got into Greenwich, the streets were covered in filthy slush.
When I left at 5.40, the whole place had come to a standstill, with traffic not budging in both directions. Passing the top of Westcombe Hill, a 108 bus was parked up, the driver clearly not going to risk the hill. Through the subway, and three 380s had been parked up on Eastcombe Avenue, Charlton, blocking the road (pictured right). This wasn’t going to be Transport for London’s finest hour.
Back home, and what words of wisdom did Transport for London chairman and mayor Boris Johnson have to say on the issue? Er, nothing. Except…
Right, Boris. But what about the buses? With the mainline network totally up the spout, would it be worth me taking the bus to North Greenwich to catch the Tube? Had they all been taken off the road? It was looking like it… but there was nothing on Transport for London’s website at all. Hunting around to see what had happened to the 380, there was just this message which didn’t appear until 7.20pm.
And what about the 486, which would take me to North Greenwich? Was it trying to navigate the steep hill of Charlton Church Lane? No luck with TfL…
The words “piss up” and “brewery” inevitably sprang to mind. I ended up gathering through Twitter that it really wasn’t worth venturing out, thanks to Political Animal, who came home by boat to North Greenwich but found himself having to walk it.
Twitter 1, TfL 0.
Only a fool would blame the mayor for the snow, but it takes a fool to be in charge of a transport operation which is incapable of telling people that there’s serious disruption because of snow and it’d be easier not to bother. So why the silence? We all know the stick Boris got last time, and his reaction to it…
Is TfL scared of the reaction if it publicly announces the bus network is up the spout? Ignore the fact that there’s empty buses sat all over south London at the moment and hope it’ll all go away? Or is it just incompetent? Whatever, it’s dropped a serious, serious clanger tonight. Yes, sometimes the weather can deliver some nasty surprises. But it’s criminal not to tell people about it, especially when most are on their way home. I’ve a feeling that, for many people, the scales might have fallen from their eyes tonight.
Is Boris a coward or just inept? Perhaps he might tell us some day. When he’s done his recycling.
11.10PM UPDATE: It’s good to know Boris got home alright… and finally TfL got its arse into gear, several hours late. Although without mentioning several routes have been effectively suspended.
It also probably wasn’t the best week to have shifted London Travel Information to a premium rate number.
(See also: Boris Watch)
F*** me, they did what they told them. If you’d come up to me on the top floor of the New Cross Venue in 1992 and told me that 17 years later, when I’d be 35, this would be the Christmas number one, the 18-year-old me would have started questioning what was in the Stella they were serving up there. (Actually, I still do question quite what was in it…)
Blimey. During the week I’d come round to the campaign to get Rage Against The Machine to number one a little. What put me off? Not so much RATM being signed to X Factor impresario Simon Cowell’s label Sony, more the awful stench of one generation trying to impose its musical tastes on another. Back when Killing In The Name sounded fresh, us 90s youth were being lectured on how important and vital the Sex Pistols were, as some middle-aged shouters prepared for their lucrative comeback.
With the song so attached in my mind to those days, it also reminded me of the awkward relationship we have with the tastes of our youth. How many people who careered across the Venue’s dancefloor, or moshed in the Marquee, as Zack de la Rocha screamed “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” are now spending their 30s doing exactly as they are told? How many of the half-million or so people downloading Killing In The Name really appreciate the band’s radical politics? Aren’t we all too old to be worrying about the singles charts? And Christmas number one has been the province of light entertainment for as long as I can remember – the last credible Christmas number one arguably being the Pet Shop Boys’ Always on my Mind in 1987, and even that was an Elvis cover first created for a TV special.
But I went and bought the damn thing anyway, using all the anti-establishment effort of spending 29p at Amazon. “And now you do what they told ya…”
Because it’s bloody funny to see the decade ending with a great “up yours” at Simon Cowell and his life-sapping karaoke programme. One of the more depressing aspects of my time in entertainment journalism (and one of the things that persuaded me to sling my hook) was the increasing dominance of stories about what happened on the telly last night – nights in trying to avoid The X Factor by listening to, say, Five Live… and finding they’re talking about it there, too. It’s cheap and easy to cover, and allows editors to think they’re getting down with the kids even though it’s pretty much a cross-generational phenomenon. Of course, all this means that supposedly neutral news outlets become part of the whole promotional campaign rather than being above it… but they aren’t going to care when they’re picking up listeners/viewers/page views/readers because of it. Nothing chills a news editor’s blood than the slightest of suspicions that he’s out of touch.
My own feeling is that Cowell is taking British pop music back to the time before the Beatles, with bland, dull acts who performed undemanding covers, with the tanned svengali a kind of Lew Grade of the 21st century, with fingers in just about every piece of the pie. The Economist isn’t noted for its musical taste, but ran an interesting piece the other week about how digital distribution has made media blockbusters bigger – because of the ease of sale and of cross-promotion – and The X Factor’s the perfect example of that.
Is this going to change? Probably not. But hopefully the success of the Rage campaign is a reminder to the media that not everyone is obsessed with the X Factor, and a large number of people actively hate the incessant coverage it gets. But by the time it comes around next year expect them to be as in awe of Cowell and his end-of-the-pier show as they ever were. Hopefully it’s also a reminder to the music industry that they don’t have to wave a white flag every Christmas.
As Steve Lawson notes in his excellent blog entry, the only way to really change things is to actually get off your arse and support new music – go and see new bands, buy their music, talk about it, rave about them to your friends. The pleasure of going to a small gig is something neither Simon Cowell nor his X Factor production line kids will never know. He’s lost the battle for Christmas number one, but he actually won the war a long time ago and young whatsisname who’s recorded that awful song will go on to have some kind of career (probably on stage rather than in the charts, though).
In the meantime, which old track shall we try to hype up to number one next? Thinking back to those old days at The Venue, I have a suggestion…