Archive for April 2010
The past couple of weeks have been personally bloody odd – I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way since I last took exams nearly 18 years ago. None of which is particularly good for the go-ahead young blog writer who just happens also to be standing in an election but has suddenly run out of time and inspiration. So here’s some of the other things I’ve done in the past week or so. They’re all pretty good, you know.
I went to see Luke Haines at the Garage last Thursday. It doesn’t really come across in this video, and nor does it really come across on record, but the Auteurs founder is a compelling live performer. His memoir from the 90s, Bad Vibes, is a terrific read, and there’s a second volume on its way. A final single from his other project, Black Box Recorder, is due on election day.
It’s proper wholesome proper pop music. And it’s great. I was at a party at the weekend where someone played this. “Who is it?” I asked. “Janelle Monae,” I was told. And Tightrope’s been stuck in my head ever since.
I had a couple of free cinema tickets to use up, so took myself down to the Picturehouse and hid from the sunshine for a bit. Cemetery Junction isn’t a bad film, it’s very funny in parts and it’s all rather nice, but it’s proof that Ricky Gervais could cough and there’d be loads of people out to hail it as a mark of genius. I like Ricky Gervais, and I’m sure the film will chime better with those who remember the early 1970s, but it all felt rather inconsequential to me. Still, there’s been many, many worse vanity projects.
And I saw last week’s Have I Got News For You recorded. I haven’t been to see HIGNFY recorded since its early series – I had tickets to get in before Christmas, but we couldn’t be accommodated in the audience and so Hat-Trick gave us priority tickets for this show. It was striking how much election material was recorded to achieve “balance” – about half-an-hour’s worth to get what must have been 10 minutes’ worth. Listening to the jokes as I type, though, it also strikes me that the Nick Clegg jokes have dated somewhat now he’s man of the moment and the establishment press is out to get him…
I don’t think I’m the only one that’s appreciated having plane-free skies over the past few days. Just before 10pm on Tuesday, that familiar roar returned… and no doubt during Wednesday, that other familiar roar from City Airport will drift over my road again.
Grumbling about flying is something which, to an extent, can make hypocrites of us all – there are few of us that haven’t flown in recent years, after all. That said, it was funny seeing fading football giants Liverpool whine about having to go overland to Madrid for a match on Thursday – last week, I booked such a trip and I’m really looking forward to it. And unlike them, I’m not cheating and flying from Bordeaux to Madrid…
But the shock of seeing how something entirely natural can disrupt something we’ve all started to take for granted – our “right” to take off in a plane wherever we like – may have long lasting and profound effects. Whoever wins the next election is likely to face a thorny question – should airlines get state aid to see them through these turbulent times?
I was interested to read that easyJet has a big fat orange cash reserve which could see it through six months of disruption. The likes of British Airways are in a more precarious position, though, and the big airlines spent the last couple of days complaining that they should, in fact, be able to fly their planes after all. BA chief executive Willie Walsh was outspoken – “We believe airlines are best positioned to assess all available information.” After all, it’s only a bit of ash, isn’t it?
Enter our wise mayor, Boris Johnson. He went onto Radio 4’s The World At One on Tuesday afternoon to argue for airline bosses. He used Twitter to promote his appearance, asking: “Have we got the balance right between risk and impact?”
“The question is, what do we mean by safety, and what level of risk is acceptable?,” he told presenter Martha Kearney, brushing aside responses that air traffic controllers were sure that it was not safe to fly.
Which was rather interesting. In February 2009, all London’s buses were pulled off the road when the capital was blanketed in snow. Pressed on this by MPs two months later, he lost his temper and walked out, branding the proceedings as “bollocks”. So if Boris was content to trust Transport for London’s experts on bus safety, why was he not content to trust air traffic controllers on plane safety? Buses were taken off the road again last December, to which Boris simply went to ground and pretended everything was alright.
At 10pm, after British Airways had decided to send some planes towards Heathrow anyway, the airport reopened. An hour later, Boris was jubilant.
But why was opening airspace “common sense” when Boris had dismissed any criticism of his role in a similar issue as “bollocks”? Could it be because of his cosy relationship with British Airways? Here’s The Guardian on 15 September last year….
Boris Johnson will today help out British Airways’s commercial interests by speaking out against using video conferencing as a way of doing business, at a press conference in New York which he is attending courtesy of four business class tickets provided by the airline.
Ah, yes, a freebie for helping out British Airways. In return, Boris seems to be doing BA further favours, by speaking out on behalf of the airline industry on a subject I’m pretty confident he doesn’t really know very much about. Perhaps he should be concentrating his efforts on serving Londoners rather than Willie Walsh? After all, he’s paid to work for us, and not Willie – and perhaps to help ensure we have buses on the road when it snows. Just a suggestion.
Had a bit of time this afternoon to dash up to the City to witness a bit of history – the formal declaration of the dissolution of parliament, outside the Royal Exchange at 3pm. IanVisits was also there and has much, much more and some great photos. (Which is handy, because my camera’s battery ran out. D’oh!)
It was Greenwich’s least-loved pub, but last orders is finally being called on The Old Friends…
The sign, as The Greenwich Phantom reports, is being saved, but it looks like a sad end for what’s a lovely old building, even if it was a horrible pub.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Greenwich, I popped into the Spanish Galleon Tavern to grab a look at the second half of Real Madrid v Barcelona, with my usual football-watching venues being out of action and my the Kings Arms deciding to show BBC1 in silence on its big screen. The price of a pint of Guinness? £3.55. I don’t think I’ll be back in a hurry…
Apologies for the lack of stuff here since Easter – apparently there’s some kind of election on and somehow I’m standing. How the hell did that happen, eh?
Actually, the best way to get away from election overkill is to take part in one, because they don’t half take up great chunks of your time. The sad thing is that the UK’s crap electoral system means that my vote in the general election is unlikely to change very much at all – as the brilliant Voter Power index from the New Economics Foundation (full disclosure: I donate to the NEF, because I like their work) shows…
A few hundred yards up the road – now in Eltham constituency (don’t even get me started on the bizarre new constituency boundaries, I’ll be here all night if I do) – my vote would be worth 15 times more, since the sitting Labour MP’s future’s looking rocky. But here in Greenwich & Woolwich, sitting MP Nick Raynsford could be forgiven for spending the next month with his feet up and a collection of fine cigars.
This is, of course, not an argument for sitting at home on 6 May and not doing your bit – spoiling your ballot is more honorable than not bothering to vote. But it’s why much of the media’s election coverage drives me crazy. Tuesday’s coverage of the election campaign launch was like watching a news from a parallel world where my vote mattered. “The party leaders might be down your way soon!,” cheered one report. I very much doubt it. The terrible news from Poland has forced a bit of perspective onto events over the weekend, but the early days of the campaign looked, especially on the BBC, like it was being produced by panicky journalists desperate to impress their bosses. (Lib Dem quote to ensure “balance” goes here.)
The worst, as ever, was BBC London News – where they’d obviously been told from on high to ditch proper news and run an election special featuring an awful “debate” about the NHS which went nowhere. And the programme neglected to mention the fact that London had been in election mode for a week already… the council elections.
You’re more likely to force change at the council election ballot box than you ever will at a general election, under the current system. That’s why the Conservatives are spending cash on newsletters in usually-unpromising spots like Charlton. (In 1968, Greenwich went Conservative on the back of a huge swing against Harold Wilson’s government. They’re hoping history repeats itself.) It’s why I’m hanging around around bits of Greenwich trying not to stab myself with a green rosette (the “ouch!” count is at two so far). And it’s why Labour were giving out crappy photocopied slips outside M&S in Blackheath on Saturday, saying how interested they were in my views. If only they’d shown that interest for the past four years.
But despite the council elections being more relevant to many and more volatile than the general election, they’re likely to get minimal coverage. Which is a terrible shame. (It’s a bit ironic from BBC London, which too often uses borough names instead of telling you where something’s really happened.) 32 sets of London elections presents a challenge, but there’s some stories in there (the Lambeth campaign’s sprung into vivid life on Onionbagblog) and just because something’s difficult to cover is no excuse for ignoring it. If London’s councils were covered properly, they might just do a better job.
The full list of Greenwich candidates is available now – sad to see the BNP standing 10 candidates in nine wards (including Charlton), but the Greens are represented everywhere for the first time and the Lib Dems hit trouble with a nomination in deepest Coldharbour & New Eltham. And I wonder how the Christian People’s Alliance will do in Thamesmead and Abbey Wood?
My own bit-part in the campaign means anything I say about the election is likely to be percieved as hopelessly biased, but here’s Andrew Gambier’s thoughts on the Peninsula ward battle. And on that note, I’m off to fret about some leaflet deliveries…
I wasn’t going to head out on Good Friday night, having been out the previous night and suffered the after-effects the following day. But listening to 6 Music’s revival of Radio 1’s Evening Session saw the years fall off me. So off out to capture the spirit of 1996 I went. Well, alright, having failed to secure a crack troupe of 30something nostalgia enthusiasts at short notice to storm the New Cross Venue, I went to the pub instead.
The quickest way to the pub? By train from Charlton to Maze Hill, of course. At £1.30 with an Oyster card, it’s only 10p more than a bus. Not that anyone will check your ticket, mind. I’d looked at the next train departures before leaving, so knew it was a depleted Sunday service and my next train would be only a couple of minutes late.
Those who just rocked up to the station weren’t so lucky, with the departure boards not working.
Worse was to come when the six-car train pulled in (cue mass sprint up the platform). Walking up the train and preparing to get off at Maze Hill, a pissed bloke appeared. “‘Allo bruv, how’re you doing…” He cut the crap soon enough. “Have you got 90p so I can get off at London Bridge…”
“Sorry, I haven’t, mate – you don’t need a ticket, anyway,” I told him. Which is true – travel on Southeastern’s effectively free because the company doesn’t check tickets in the evening, especially on bank holidays.
“Don’t take the piss out of me, bruv…”
Oh, shit. Luckily, there were enough handy-looking lads sat nearby whose heads swivelled around at the first sign of a confrontation. They clocked him, he clocked them, it bought me a moment to get out of the situation and hop off at Maze Hill as planned. On the platform, I realised he’d only do it to someone else, so I thought I’d do something.
Southeastern doesn’t staff its stations at night, nor do its trains have guards. Security staff are as rare as hen’s teeth. So I thought I’d let the help point know. Since it wasn’t an emergency, I hit the green “information” button. It was answered quickly and I explained what happened. I was told I should press the “emergency” button. Right-o.
So I pressed the emergency button. It rang, rang, and rang again. And then rang off. I walked away in disbelief… then thought I should try again.
I returned and tried the emergency button again. It rang off again, without answer. I tried a third time… and again, nobody was there to answer an emergency call.
The bloke on the green button ended up getting my story. I only wanted to call ahead because it was nigh-on certain that this joker would try it on with someone else and would probably cause trouble at London Bridge, if he was off there. I gave my name and phone number, and heard nothing back. Heaven knows what would have happened if I or anyone else had been attacked, because nobody at Southeastern would have been there to take the call. But hey, while the shareholders are making a profit, why should customer safety matter, eh?
My vein-popping fury at political parties who endorse the false economy of privatised rail aside, this is why initiatives like the Charlton station users’ group are so important. Because while we’re stuck with a rail network that works for shareholders’ benefit, at least it’s a chance to go direct to people at the companies concerned instead of dealing with dead-brained call centres or e-mail helpdesks.
A few weeks ago, I got off a train at the outpost which is Walthamstow Queen’s Road station. It was about 10.30pm on a Saturday night. Even though there was only a couple of trains each hour passing through the station, there was a security guard on the platform employed by London Overground. He gave me directions to my friend’s place off Hoe Street – in fact, he seemed delighted to be able to help me get my bearings.
That experience, and my moment at Maze Hill last night, reminded me that we have a long way to go, stuck here with south-east London’s crappy networks.
When I twigged the other week that the Olympic Stadium can now be seen clearly from Greenwich Park, I almost squealed with delight. It’s not immediately obvious, but if you look over to the right hand side, there it is, among all the other 2012 building sites. Seeing the giant thing from the A11 is one thing, but clocking it on your own doorstep is something else.
But that fine view’s going to be disfigured by something called the ArcelorMittal Orbit.
As ugly as its stupid sponsored name, this thing’s going to leer over the Olympic Park and get in the way of the fine views from this side of the river. I can’t help thinking of the rows two decades ago when Canary Wharf got approval and campaigners said it’d disfigure the Greenwich skyline. This isn’t much better.
Some £16m of the £19.1m cost will come from said sponsors (the steel magnates, not the chewing gum) – the other £3m comes from us. Great.
“Designed by artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, the 115 metre-tall red steel tower will dominate the east London landscape and become, it is hoped, a permanent visitor attraction for generations to come.” (more)
Maybe… maybe I’ll be wrong and in two years it’ll look awesome. But I doubt it. Red will make it look rusty. You can see enough steel on the skyline most days with all the cranes around – it’ll just get lost among construction sites. And it’s horrible curved shape makes it look a bit like a curled-up turd propped up with a stick. Or is it the mayor’s colon? What the bleedin’ heck is Boris thinking?
“Some may choose to think of it as a Colossus of Stratford, some eyes may detect a giant treble clef, a helter-skelter, a supersized mutant trombone. Some may even see the world’s biggest ever representation of a shisha pipe and call it the Hubble Bubble. But I know it is the ArcelorMittal Orbit and it represents the dynamism of a city coming out of recession, the embodiment of the cross-fertilisation of cultures and styles that makes London the world capital of arts and culture.”
Err…. no, I’ll stick with the colon, actually. But the last time someone tried to impose a poor man’s Eiffel Tower on London, it didn’t work – the cautionary tale of Watkin’s Folly, an attempt by railway magnate Edward Watkin to outdo the French and sell a few more tickets on the Metropolitan Line. Wembley Stadium now sits on the site. And finding a use for the Olympic Stadium itself is going to be fraught enough without worrying whether Boris’s Colon will still be bringing in the punters come 2013.
And is it me, or would this thing get slated if it was proposed for west London? But now it’s scheduled for Stratford, the east London proles will just have to learn to love it because it’ll be somehow “good” for them.
These things can hang around to haunt you too. As a man born in New York, Boris Johnson should also be familiar with one of the crumbling remnants of the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows – the New York State Pavillion, barely touched for 46 years after the global expo shut its doors. If London’s 2012 adventure goes awry, will we want a bloody great big reminder of it on the skyline? I doubt it.
While I’m largely behind our 2012 adventure, seeing a photo of a grinning Boris with Tessa Jowell and a model of this thing made me wonder – do any of us get the chance to say if we want to look at this thing every day for the rest of our lives in south-east or east London? Boris’s Colon could well be the most glaring example yet of what happens when Olympic planners get to ride roughshod over what real communities think.
Unless, of course, you like it…