Archive for January 2012
So lots of publicity for the Get Ahead Of The Games website launched on Monday detailing exactly where in London the transport network will be a little bit sticky during the Olympics. Apparently we’re now due “a multi-media advertising campaign [to] communicate directly with the travelling public, offering tips, travel information and advice on how to reduce, reroute, retime or remode their journeys”. Nice.
But something’s missing. Sure, Boris has managed to get his cable car on the map above… but why does this campaign only use the Tube map, and not the full rail and Tube map? Where’s the information about Southeastern’s service cuts and how to get around those? It’s as if this campaign has been drawn up by the Evening Standard or Time Out, not authorities that are supposed to be responsible for all of London.
Let’s be frank here, for all this blog’s general excitement about the Olympics, the Greenwich area is going to take a big hit in terms of transport disruption – probably the biggest outside the Olympic Park. It’s not going to be the end of the world, but it will be a bit of a pain in the bum. Yet somehow, between TfL, the mayor’s office, LOCOG, the government and the Olympic Delivery Authority, there’s very little interest in communicating the disruption that faces us during the summer.
It’s all very well warning that Covent Garden will be busy because people will want to go to the theatre (hold the front page!) but what about someone wanting to take a train from a half-closed Maze Hill, or a disrupted Deptford? There’s nothing here for them. Why are they less important than those who use Fulham Broadway? (“Exceptionally busy on 28 and 29 July,” apparently.)
Over recent months, it seems that the mainline network in London is the forgotten part of the Olympics transport jigsaw – those I’ve spoken to at LOCOG haven’t really seemed alert to Southeastern’s cuts through Greenwich, and the lack of information for mainline travellers just seem to compound the impression that nobody’s taking an overall view of the situation. Poor show.
I feel like I’m tempting fate horribly here, but what the heck. A change of routine here at 853 Towers has seen me get back into the commuting life once again. But now I can do something I couldn’t do last time I was regularly chugging across the capital. I can take the bike some of the way, and save myself a few quid.
Back in November 2010, I bemoaned the lack of places to park a bike at North Greenwich station. For years, one set of crappy stands full of half-nicked cycles proved an uninspiring invitation to get onto two wheels. So, while I cursed the lousy bus journey or simply took the mainline train instead, there wasn’t really much of an incentive to get a bike and do something about it.
But as I created that post, the ground was already being whipped away from beneath my feet. A slew of new racks appeared outside Ravensbourne college, while outside the TfL building at Pier Walk another set appeared. Suddenly, cycling to North Greenwich seemed, well, doable.
And so it’s proved. With a favourable wind and kind traffic, I can race down to North Greenwich in about 11/12 minutes, half the time it’d take by bus and a third of the walking time. I can gawp at the Greenwich Millennium Village residents who still wait in huge numbers for a bus to go one stop (after 10 years, I still don’t know why) before swerving around their more sensible neighbours walking down one of London’s daftest cycle lanes, the one that looks more like a pavement than a pavement.
Coming home, I can ride along the Thames, listening to the river lap against the shore. It’s the best of all worlds and a reason why this part of London is frankly amazing.
Obviously when it chucks down with rain, and the Jubilee Line implodes, I’ll have a different view. But in the meantime, it’s £20/month off a travelcard and keeps me well away from Southeastern.
As for the cycle parking – over a year on, very few people seem to have cottoned on to the extra space. The Ravensbourne racks are well-used by their students and under the watchful eye of the O2’s guards, but hardly anyone else seems to use them. As for the TfL racks, which have CCTV cameras on, a grand total of no bikes at all were parked there at 9.10am yesterday.
By accident, without any deliberate planning, the area around North Greenwich station may have become SE10’s best place to park a bike. Fairly safe, plenty of security, plenty of spaces. Better than the guarded National Maritime Museum racks, better than the post outside the Pelton Arms with a camera trained on it. All by accident.
Now, if someone actually planned some decent cycle parking up there, imagine how good it could be!
Today marks 27 weeks until the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and it’s been a busy few days for the preparations. Mind you, I mistook yesterday’s security drill on the Thames for the usual police and army din over these parts and forgot to wander down for a peek…
There’s also been one of the Games’ biggest test events so far at the
Dome O2 North Greenwich Arena, with the Visa International Gymnastics tournament ending on Wednesday. If you were around North Greenwich over the past couple of weeks, you can’t have failed to have missed hordes of London Prepares volunteers and the athletes and trainers themselves milling around. It’s a taste of things to come in the summer.
Lewisham Council’s also confirmed its plans for the live site at Blackheath Village I’ve mentioned here in passing a couple of times – although naturally it’s prompted a spectacular outbreak of moaning that’s worth getting the popcorn in for.
(Here’s a true fact: in 1999, I seriously considered buying a flat above the Taste of Raj in Blackheath Village, which is right opposite the proposed live site. For the first time, I’ve had a pang of regret that I didn’t buy that place – although I imagine 12 years of several flights of stairs, the smell of Raj and the noise from weekend pissheads might be a heavy price to pay for having a big screen on my doorstep for three weeks.)
Anyway, this ramble is just to alert you that there’s some public exhibitions taking place today, tomorrow, and next week about the traffic plans for both Woolwich Barracks and “North Greenwich Arena” during the Games. Today from noon-6.30pm and tomorrow from 10am-4pm, LOCOG staff will be at General Gordon Place, Woolwich, to explain what’s happening near there; and on Friday 27th (noon-8pm) and Saturday 28th (10am-4pm) they’ll be at Ravensbourne college to explain what’s happening around the Dome.
Since Nationwide Building Society shut its inner south-east London branches last May, its former premises have remained empty.
But after the building society that’s “on your side” abandoned us last year, one of its former offices could be about to find a depressingly predictable new use. Yup, another bookmakers.
Corals has applied to turn the old Lewisham Nationwide into a new betting shop – the planning application has closed, but the licensing application is still active (for details, contact Lewisham Council). It’s hardly as if Lewisham High Street needs a new bookies – a Paddy Power and William Hill sit side by side just a few yards away, with a Joe Jennings a little further up. After events in Deptford, it’ll be interesting to see what they decide.
Nationwide’s decision has meant shopping streets starting 2012 with shut-down shops – over the past few weeks I’ve seen no signs of activity at their Greenwich, Blackheath, Woolwich, Catford and Peckham branches other than “to let” signs. If you know anything different, please feel free to share it.
Footnote: While on money-related matters, some readers may have seen ads for loan sharks Wonga appear on this website, particularly on mobile phones. I hoped WordPress had better standards than that. I’ve just upgraded to an ad-free package so hopefully they should no longer appear.
Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch with kind words about my piece on the Stephen Lawrence verdict. I was in two minds about whether or not to write it, because of the emotions it stirs, but it was an event that needed marking. My personal connection with Stephen was very, very limited – but I think Bob From Bromley expressed it right. “Although I can’t claim any ownership of this tragedy, I feel as if I have lived closely with Stephen’s death this past eighteen years.”
While people across this country and beyond will have welcomed the news of Gary Dobson and David Norris’s conviction, it’s here in south-east London that the sense of relief was felt the most. The case has cast a long shadow over this area, and one aspect of life under that was the number of people who simply refused to believe that a young black man could be innocent of any crime.
I remember people telling me I didn’t know “the truth” about the case, and hearing dog ends of rumours about drug dealing, rapes, anything that would somehow absolve Stephen’s killers of the racism they were filmed bragging about by a police undercover surveillance camera.
As Mr Justice Treacy told two of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers a week ago:
A totally innocent 18 year old youth on the threshold of a promising life was brutally cut down in the street in front of eye witnesses by a racist thuggish gang. You were both members of that gang… This crime was committed for no other reason than racial hatred. You did not know Stephen Lawrence or Duwayne Brooks. Neither of them had done anything to harm, threaten or offend you in any way, apart from being black and making their way peaceably to the bus-stop on their way home.
With that, 19 years of malicious lies about Stephen Lawrence and Duwayne Brooks should have been extinguished forever. Incredibly, the News Shopper has decided to perpetuate them.
Now, you’d think a “local” newspaper would probably not bother running comments beneath the story – after all, the paper’s website is already a magnet for nutters, and moderating such a thread would be more trouble than it was worth.
Instead, the News Shopper, based out in distant Petts Wood, decided it was open season.
A black man walking through Eltham? Three layers of clothing? Asking for it, obviously. It then gets worse, with one person posting a list of the charges the police had tried to pin on Duwayne in the years following Stephen’s death, before asking…
If all this stuff isn’t racist, it’s certainly defamatory. It’s pretty much identical to the bile you’ll find on neo-Nazi websites. But it’s all fine at the News Shopper. Once local newspapers felt a duty of care to communities, and they championed those communities. In south-east London, those days are long gone, and we’re stuck with the News Shopper stirring things from the safety of far-off Orpington, where they’ll never have to live the consequences of the rubbish its website prints.
Hey, at least there’s some source material for the next lazy “Eltham still racist” piece from a national.
We’ve been here before, of course. In August 2010 the News Shopper rewarded an anti-gay rant with a “star letter” prize, while a couple of months back it tried to whip up hysteria about Staffordshire Bull Terriers. We know it likes to turn a blind eye to lunatic comments in news stories, under the belief that it makes people return to their website. (It’s the way the Daily Telegraph runs its website, with once-respected hacks reduced to the status of dancing bears for all sorts of unpleasant nutters.)
But when it comes to leaving racist and defamatory comments in a news story that’s been live all through Monday, that really can’t be an innocent slip-up. This has to have been a conscious decision to keep on stirring the innuendo, purely to boost traffic to the News Shopper website.
We have to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world. But we live in one where those who spread hate are increasingly marginalised. Sadly, though, it seems the racists still have a friend in the News Shopper.
1.30pm update The News Shopper has now deleted the comments from its website. Greenwich and Lewisham reporter Mark Chandler, however, seems to think there’s nothing wrong with his newspaper publishing racist and defamatory innuendo. (McNae’s is the media law bible.)
Whoops. Looks like Greenwich's self-appointed media expert should have asked for a copy of McNaes for Christmas.—
Mark Chandler (@Mark_Chandler) January 10, 2012
So, here’s the new crest for the shiny new Royal Borough of Greenwich (coming February 3) – what do you reckon? I don’t think they’ve done a bad job, although I can’t help chuckling at the retention of the borough’s motto “we govern by serving”, when “do as you’re bloody told” would be more accurate.
A guide to what it all means is on the front of this week’s soaraway Greenwich Time, which also carries a letter about dog shit and how council leader Chris Roberts paid a “moving” tribute to Stephen Lawrence’s parents. Beautiful stuff.
There’s also more stuff from Roberts about 2012 in the centre spread, and a bit marked “what YOU think!” which is actually filled with “key stakeholders” that you’ve never heard of.
Still, you’ll be glad to know the borough’s written press is scrutinising the council as closely as ever, with a News Shopper reporter gaining a byline for cutting and pasting 14 paragraphs of quotes from the Dear Leader (see original press release) on a story you could have read here a month ago. With these bastions of truth and honesty looking after us, what is there to fear in 2012?
Tuesday was a day of mixed emotions. Relief at the news that two of Stephen Lawrence’s murderers had finally been found guilty. But any satisfaction at the verdict is muted by how long it has taken to get here. I was 18 when Gary Dobson and David Norris were part of the gang that killed Stephen. It took another 18 years, and then a little bit more, for these two vile individuals to be taken off the streets.
It’s not just their dignity which impresses, but the sheer hard work and determination that Doreen and Neville Lawrence put in over the years to overcome a lack of interest from an insular, complacent – if not outright corrupt – police force. Along the way, they forced the government and public services to examine their own attitudes. None of this can ever bring their son back, and there is a long way to go, but we live in a better country for their efforts.
For a generation of south-east Londoners – those of us who are now in our mid- to late-thirties, the case has cast a long, long shadow. Stephen was in the year below me in our shared sixth form. Our paths only crossed briefly, although a number of my friends knew him. I never heard a bad word of him. A few of them are planning to meet up on Wednesday and have a quiet drink in his memory, taking a break from the careers and families that Stephen never lived long enough to enjoy for himself.
But events in Eltham and elsewhere of the early 1990s certainly shaped my view of the world, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Stephen Lawrence was not the only victim of a racist murder. Rolan Adams, 15, was killed in Thamesmead in February 1991. Back in Eltham, 15-year-old Asian schoolboy Rohit Duggal was murdered the following year only a few hundred yards from where Stephen would die. The Macpherson report would later record evidence that Rohit Duggal’s killer was one of the same gang responsible for Stephen’s death.
Lurking in the background of all this was the presence of the British National Party. Its “bookshop” (in reality, its headquarters) was a couple of miles away in Upper Wickham Lane, Welling, and it was actively recruiting in Thamesmead and the outer suburbs. In October 1993, oafish policing ensured a demonstration against the “bookshop” would end in disarray and violence. After Bexley Council took action through its planning department, the BNP slunk off a couple of years later.
Nearly two decades later, how much has changed? It’s worth remembering that it was the community in Eltham who gave up the names of Dobson and Norris in the first place. It was the local Metropolitan Police who decided that the death of a black man wasn’t worth investigating properly, not the people of Eltham.
Yet SE9 remains a soft target for those who seek to stir and divide people. The cameo role played by racist outsiders in the aftermath of the riots was a reminder of that. A couple of months ago, a friend told me the scenes of white men attacking a bus containing black men had convinced her she wouldn’t be sending her children to school out that way.
Even a more “respectable” politician sought to play on the area’s reputation. Failed Conservative parliamentary candidate David Gold – who on Tuesday described Eltham as “a good community, overshadowed by events of 18 years ago” – tried to whip things up himself during the 2010 election.
But it would be unfair to single out Eltham – a suburb with a royal heritage, once home to Frankie Howerd, Bob Hope and Herbert Morrison. If you look within the narrow borders of the London Borough of Greenwich, it certainly sticks out – mostly ungentrified, predominantly white, full of semis rather than terraces or flats.
Eltham’s bad reputation merely reflects a wider issue in the outer suburbs, to which it really belongs rather than the inner London borough which it forms part of. In fact, the problem has probably moved further out over time. Three years ago, a Bexley Council by-election in Welling saw the BNP come within eight votes of victory. Remember the Boris Johnson event in Bexleyheath last year, when a former member started trying to whip up false rumours about a stabbing? Could they get away with that kind of thing in Eltham now? After the trauma of Stephen Lawrence’s murder, I’m not so sure.
Until politicians and others – both nationally and locally – stop whipping up tensions, suburbs like Eltham will never totally escape the spectre of racism.
It’s not the only place in London with a high street that’s seen better days, and has kids hanging around McDonald’s day and night because there’s nothing else to do. But if ever somewhere needed a bit of local pride – that doesn’t involve standing outside the Rising Sun with pints in hand waiting to fend off imaginary rioters – then here’s a candidate. Who’ll step forward and champion Eltham?
There remain at least three killers who have – so far – evaded justice. With Tuesday’s verdict, at least the area can begin to go some way towards healing a scar that’s been raw for nearly two decades. Neville and Doreen Lawrence lost more than we could ever imagine that night. We owe them a lot for their tenacity and determination, which has helped changed our society.
I can’t help thinking, though, that this won’t be over until the others are also behind bars. We’ve come a long way, but there’s some distance to go yet. In too many ways.
Early night or hair of the dog? While I wrestle with 2012’s first big dilemma, here’s the most read new posts on 853 from the past 12 months.
1. Riots: Woolwich sweeps up, Greenwich locks down (9 August)
(You’ll spot a bit of a theme in this year’s top 10. The riots saw huge increases in traffic for this and other local websites, and a few of those new readers have stuck around. If you’re one of them, a belated welcome.)
2. Greenwich Foot Tunnel is now officially closed (17 February)
(It’s not any more, but there’s still a huge demand for information about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – information that, for a time last year, Greenwich Council simply wasn’t giving out.)
3. The night the looters stole from us all (9 August)
(“There’s been a lot of bullshit and rumours tonight.”)
4. Say cheese! It’s Woolwich’s Olympic shooting venue (6 April)
(For all the tantrums over Greenwich Park, it was actually the emergence of Woolwich Common’s shooting venue which brought about the biggest Olympic talking point.)
5. ‘Failing’ Blackheath Bluecoat school faces closure (13 September)
(If this was in Harlesden or Brixton, I’d expect this story would have gone London-wide now. But the sad tale of Blackheath Bluecoat has struggled to make it into the local papers, never mind anywhere else.)
6. Blackheath’s festival organisers speak out (18 February)
(Tom, Terry and Alex finally got their festival – but On Blackheath has had to wait until this September.)
7. Violent attack on cyclist in Bexley Village (8 July)
(Dartford thug John Nicholls captured on camera. He was later fined.)
8. Greenwich Peninsula Festival plans set sail (10 March)
(Like On Blackheath, a controversial event that never really got local press coverage for a time. I’ve neglected this a bit recently – I hope to find out the latest on Frank Dekker’s big scheme soon.)
9. Pulling the plug on the BBC’s internet history (25 January)
(I didn’t do much non-SE London stuff in 2011 – but this post about the BBC’s plan to delete old websites went far and wide. 11 months on, plenty of those sites remain live.)
10. All quiet on the south-eastern front (8 August)
(It didn’t last that way for long.)
Just bubbling under: Nationwide Building Society abandoning SE London, the Charlton Asda fire which never was (given a late boost by porky-spreader Fleet Street Fox pontificating on Charlie Brooker’s 2011 Wipe), and a shedload of Southeastern stuff starting with Olympic train cuts, a story one local councillor refused to believe. Hopefully this particular chap will be more up to speed in 2012.
Satisfyingly, most of the list contains stories which weren’t being covered elsewhere at the time, and I hope to do more of that in what’s going to be a fascinating 12 months ahead. Happy new year!