About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Friday, 8 June 2018

Cyclists killed on London's streets: a new Ghost Bike commemorates another horrific death in Deptford

It feels like an undeclared war in London between drivers and cyclists has broken out again, with three cyclists killed in the last month - all in the Greenwich-Deptford area of south east London.

The first two cyclist deaths on London's roads in 2018 were both on the A206 between the Greenwich Naval College and the Blackwall Tunnel roundabout: that deadly route to Woolwich. According to the report in the Evening Standard, both were males, 46 and 37, and both were killed by lorries, on May 9 and May 18 respectively.

Cyclists' groups have campaigned for cycle lanes to be built here, but the authority - Greenwich - has failed to take action.

Then, last Sunday, June 3 - ironically, World Bicycle Day - a male cyclist in his fifties died in a shocking and puzzling incident at the junction of Childers Street and Rolt Street, SE8. This was a hit-and-run incident, at a junction where here traffic-calming measures and a new supposedly cyclist-friendly route had only recently opened.

The case is under police investigation. A 37-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday on a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, then was released.

By Thursday, one of the white Ghost Bikes had been chained to the signpost at the scene of this death. I know this corner well, often cycling to this exact point, to visit the Acme studios in the former Propeller Factory on Childers Street. It's only in the last few months that many of the streets and pavements around here have been re-paved and traffic calming measures introduced.

It seems the bike became trapped under the car, which was then driven up Childers Street to the next junction. Unable to dislodge the bike, the driver was then seen to run off on foot, abandoning the car. You can see the scratches gouged into the recently-resurfaced road by the trapped bike. It is a chilling sight, when you realise that at the time these scratches were made the rider was dying on the street, despite efforts to help him from several passers-by.

Rolt Street is part of a well-known rat-run for drivers trying to beat the traffic in the Surrey Quays - Deptford - New Cross triangle. Locals say the new one-way system is often ignored by motorists, and that the council has often been told this: even after the death, cars and vans were shooting through that narrow one-way lane in the wrong direction.

There's no point in going on. Except to say - unfortunately - that no London cyclist will be surprised by this horrific event. The levels of car/van/lorry driver aggression have been increasing: anger seems to be in the foul air we all have to breathe. Cars screech to a halt at junctions, their nasty bumpers two or three feet out into the cycle lane - they can't wait for the cyclists to pass, they bristle.

Each one of these deaths, like any other unnatural, unnecessary killing, creates terrible ripples of grief which extend far beyond family.

We're in a city suffering creeping death by vehicle pollution. Air pollution, visual pollution, stress pollution, noise pollution. The power-brokers are trying to keep the motorists happy, even when they know it is essential to discourage private drivers,  and to shift the balance towards more sustainable public transport.

Each cyclist killed on London streets is a victim of political decisions and business decisions. Such as the decision to allow hundreds of ready-mix cement and tipper trucks on to the narrow streets of central London, as they rush to feed the greedy construction sites of the City, Nine Elms, Blackfriars, Elephant and Castle, Old Street, Waterloo, Chelsea Barracks etc etc etc...Yes, just to build more unaffordable luxury apartments in tower blocks which add more visual pollution to the skyline. And whose occupants - if they ever move in - will probably soon be blasting down your street in their obese Maseratis and Range Rovers.

For many years, the groups who fight for safer streets for all have marked each cycle death with a white bike - a ghostly reminder to all passing traffic of a horrific event.

I look out for these, knowing the locations of many white bikes within a few minutes ride from here. Recently, one has disappeared - the one on Lavender Hill, Battersea, opposite the Police Station. It marked the spot where 32-year-old Lucia Ciccioli was killed at 7.54am on October 24, 2016, by a massive truck, which appeared to be delivering plaster-board to building sites.

Maybe this memorial has been removed at the request of the family of the victim. But if not - why has it gone? To make life easier for somebody? If that's the case, I'd say it was a dismal move.

I wish these  Ghost Bikes would remain in situ for ever: concrete them in, reinforce them; make sure they get in people's way, make sure they cause drivers' heads to turn and consciences to start pricking them.

Maybe in 100 years people would look at them in disbelief that such fragile, elegant machines could have been so much at the mercy of speeding lumps of metal, oil and plastic, filling the air with their toxic stench and their hideous blaring horns and roaring engines. And so often carrying just one or a couple of people, unnecessarily, very slowly, to schools or shops.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Feeling less lonely as Standard columnist blasts SUVs

At last, an opinion piece in the Evening Standard that pins down everything that is vile about the vehicles known as SUVs ("sports utility vehicles", that is big four-wheel drive farmer's trucks tarted up to appeal to rich and insecure urbanites).

When I read Anna van Praagh's short piece in Wednesday's edition (May 23, Comment: My boy's obsession with 4x4s will not do, page 19) I almost whooped with joy.

So, there is someone else out there who finds these bully-boy autos totally repugnant. She hits the phenomenon right on its chrome-plated, sneering grille: "Childcrushers are so vulgar, so selfish, so crass, surely people driving them can sense how much they are disliked?"

Exactly. She distils most of my reasons for loathing these vehicles in a few very well turned sentences. But are they actually so widely disliked? There's a conundrum here.

It's odd, because there has always been a good deal of mockery and distaste for the urban use of vehicles which might be appropriate on a ranch in Arizona, or in a war zone - but are simply an unattractive nuisance in a city like London with so many congested, narrow streets. I can remember people commenting harshly on the drivers of  "Chelsea tractors" way back in the early 1990s, and possibly before that.

Yet none of the jokes, none of the disapproval, has made even the slightest dent in their popularity: in fact they have burgeoned, and conquered the car market, getting bigger, fatter and much, much uglier year after year.

The original 1970s Range Rovers look positively slimline compared with a 2018 Land Rover Discovery - which, at over 2 metres wide, surely should become one of the first to be banned from confined routes like the Rotherhithe tunnel.

Cycling through the back streets of my own unmentionable suburb (the postcode is SW4), the ratio of these vehicles to normal is about half and half. If two of the fatter SUVs are parked on opposite sides of a road, there's barely room for one of their plump brethren to pass - without forcing everyone else to head for the pavement.

There's also an irony. One of the widest, tallest and  longest SUVs encountered today was a Tesla - an electric-powered vehicle. Many of the top-of-range SUVs around today are more fuel efficient than some of the sweet little cars you love so much, you hypocrite author!

OK - maybe that's true. But that does not make up for the sheer phyiscla provocation these massive chunks of metal and and plastic represent; the way they flash their stupid LED fair-lights at you, blast you out of your saddle with their high-powered air-horns, swish past you on their great fat tyres, looking down their noses at you from their elevated, plush-leather-seated comfort.

Grrrr: this isn't SUV envy, you know, it really isn't.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Rookery Road on Clapham Common: the re-surfacing job that time forgot...

Rookery Road cuts across the north-east corner of Clapham
Common. It gets very heavy traffic (as you can see) and yet it has
not been resurfaced in decades. Unlike all the other roads
around here. Why not?
Both Lambeth and Wandsworth Councils have shown exemplary enthusiasm when it comes to re-paving certain troubled areas of their boroughs.

Soon after the 2011 riots, the whole of the Clapham Junction area broke out into a pleasing arrangement of tastefully-variegated pastel-shaded paving blocks: the old dark grey filth-stained pitted tarmac and granite gave way to soothing garden centre chic.

Seven years on this lovely new work is already showing serious signs of decay; no material known to humankind can cope with the daily downpour of spat-out chewing gum, nor the vile stains of McDonald's toxic shakes as they dribble out from discarded polystyrene buckets.

Let alone the pollution from tens of thousands of combustion-engined vehicles passing through the junction every day.

Meanwhile, Lambeth labours away to make little bits of nice street furnishings: Clapham Old Town; Windrush Square; Stockwell Cross. Weeks and months of disruption to locals and passing traffic as gangs of workers rip up the old and carefully lay the new.

All jolly good - we suppose; if we are charitably-minded. What a splendid way to use our council tax quids.

Pity they totally fucked up the traffic flow in Clapham Old Town in the process - giving even more rat-runs to the mumsnet SUVs and off-white-van drivers, confusing cyclists with a ridiculous cycle-lane layout and sending pedestrians all round the houses to find safe crossings. Trouble with those rat-runs is drivers tend to speed up when sneaking into them, hoping they won't be spotted.

And - AND - above ALL! - what about Rookery Road? Yes that little but very important bit of road between Clapham Southside - the main A3 trunk route - and the left turn turn down to the Northside one-way system.

The deeply pot-holed surface of Rookery Road: enough to throw you off
your bike and under the wheels of a speeding SUV.or whatever.
Who will take responsibility for this death-trap?
This couple of hundred metres of road sees very heavy traffic. It is called Rookery Road because it passes under the great plane trees that still accommodate  some truly fine murders of big black bastard carrion crows.

But the surface of this road is also MURDEROUS! It's bad enough in a small car - but approach on a pushbike at any speed and you are dead. Especially if you are trying to position yourself centre road to take the north-flowing lane towards Old Town and Larkhall Rise.

Does this bit of road not fall into one or other borough's care? Who is responsible for this? Most of the other roads around there have been re-surfaced two or three times since even one bit of gravel has been replaced here.


Maybe Lambeth and Wandsworth think the crows should do it.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Caught short in the city of steel bladders

It is always wonderful to find a public loo that's
well maintained and free. Thanks and praise be to
Westminster City Council for keeping this one at
the north end of Queensway open.
You only get to know the true meaning of "desperate" when you're an old bloke with limited cash and a weak bladder looking for somewhere to relieve yourself in London.

It happens so often that you begin almost unconsciously to limit your excursions and explorations to areas where you know you can get to a toilet easily and quickly.

Last week, doing what used to be a quite frequent stroll around the Dalston and Hoxton area, I quickly realised I no longer knew where to go.

No doubt apps exist which direct you straight to the nearest urinal....but ancient phone can only run a couple of apps at any given moment.

You could ask a policeman? Don't think so, especially now so many cops look like intergalactic stormtroopers with their big guns and armour.

So, what happens most often these days, you're forced to go into a pub, see if it's possible to slink into their loos without anyone noticing....and if not, buying a half of something. In my case, embarrassment prohibits the most obvious behaviour - asking the bar staff if they'd mind...in case they did.

So you end up temporarily relieved, but 20 minutes later that half of nasty lager is already tickling the nerve ends of your confused and inefficient bladder.

You could try a café, but be warned quite a few of the big-name chains keep their bogs locked; you have to beg for a key, which in the case of one such bar near St James Piccadilly, was attached to a massive chunk of heavy timber. Honestly, it is outrageous: charge £2.50 for maybe 20p worth of coffee, then don't make allowance for the highly diuretic effects of caffeine.

And whatever happened to those much-heralded scheme to pay private businesses (pubs, cafés etc) to allow the general public to use their loos? If anyone ever actually had satisfaction from one of these schemes, which were in the news about 15 years ago, do let us know.

When all else fails we often end up doing what an increasing number of desperate humans do in this city which no longer recognises any duty of care to the public - we find a dark, quiet (and usually very stinky) corner.

What's going on there? What is it with this crazy city, where even the most basic, pitiable needs of the elderly and weak-bladdered are turned into an opportunity to torment and humiliate, then part them from their cash?

London was one of the first big cities to introduce public toilets back in the mid-19th century, but then as now it was seen by many as an opportunity to turn a profit. Hence the phrase "to spend a penny". Mind you, in those days they did give their clients a superior piddling experience for their pennies.

It was still a penny when I was a kid - one of those big pre-decimal pennies that you dropped through a slot in the lock of the heavy green door to give you access to the WC. Urinals were usually free.

Now you're lucky to get a wee for less than 50p - although the recent brilliant decision to liberate toilets at the railway termini was a massive victory for common sense, health and decency.

Are we at last waking up from a 50 year slumber in which we allowed councils to close dozens of magnificent old loos, with their beautiful tiles and mosaic floors and brass fittings and stained glass?

These underground temples to the gods of excretion were a product of the Victorians' new found understanding of the importance of public hygiene; and also a desire to avoid, at all costs, the horror of men - and yes, women too -  pissing in the street. But, as so often, their efforts went way beyond the purely functional:  many of the public toilets built in the late 19th century were ridiculously ornate, expensively decorated with beautiful tiled floors, solid brass fittings, stained glass light-panes and mature oak seats.

There is a wonderful website - one of the absolute best - called Derelict London.
One of its most fascinating and indeed thrilling sections is devoted to derelict public conveniences.
They are exhaustively catalogued, with hi-res photos showing the extent of the vandalism which has been sanctioned for so long.
Once one of London's most beautiful subterranean loos -
the Chancery Lane conveniences - have fallen into this sorry
state, after being closed down back in the 90s. Good
lord, City of London Corporation, at least give this
rotting corpse a decent burial!

And yet, these places survive. They were built to last and last they did - through two wars and bombing raids - until in the 60s and 70s they were left to rot, and went into a rapid decline.

Councils no longer thought it necessary to employ attendants for every loo; rather than repair damage to the beautiful craftsmanship, the old tiles were often covered with cladding. In some men's loos, sheets of metal were erected between stalls, to discourage cottaging (See Broadwick Street gents, in Soho).

In some but not all cases, the underground loos were they replaced by those ugly and scary dalek-shaped  huts - self-cleaning loos, they were supposed to be. If you had the 20 or 50p required to use them, you then took a gamble on whether the sliding door would work, or decide to slide open mid-performance.

More recently, some of these subterranean caves of delightful convenience have been sold off, privatised to re-open as - believe it - bars and restaurants.
A beautiful, witty, useful and sadly short-lived idea...the
Kennington Cross ArtsLav. Need to check out if this is still

One of the first to do so was outside the Hawksmoor church in Spitalfields. Another was the stinky gents at Clapham Common underground station, now just another eating and drinking place called, amusingly, Joe Public ( so presumably they kept some of the loos working).

Another old convenience had a different fate - the toilets at Kennington Cross in Lambeth famously became the  Artslav exhibition space in 2005. But that seems to have gone now too.

On a recent visit to Portobello Road, it was a really surprising delight to find that the Talbot Road conveniences were once again open and free to use. This is quite a gem in its way, with lovely tiled floors: the real joy (apart from the obvious physical relief) felt on using these loos was that they seemed just the same as they had about 20 years ago: no charge, no annoying notices, no bragging from any council or charity; no welded steel sheets; no turnstiles.

Thank you Portobello Road for giving me this relief,
and the free aesthetic high of once again walking over
that beautiful mosaic tiled floor (Talbot Street Lavs,
 London West 11)
It's obviously a great asset for the the market, which welcomes thousands of tourists from all over every weekend. Open up and liberate all those other locked and chained public loos across the city still in public ownership - can't the Mayor add this to his list of responsibilities? It would surely be a massive vote winner for Sadiq, as well as providing endless opportunities for witty pre-election sloganeering.

Meanwhile, like many thousands of other London street-crawlers, I will continue to rely on building my own mental map of free pee-ing places. They include, of course, public libraries (but even these are not always a good bet in these days of PFI-style operations); museums and art galleries (but it is such a shame that you might be forced to walk into the National Gallery with the sole genuine purpose of needing to take a leak, rather than wanting to check out a Holbein or a Vermeer); and, if you have the nerve and the swagger, any one of London's multitude of posh west-end hotel lobbies.

It is still shocking that some of the loos in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens charge for use; but the ones by the Serpentine Lido do not. Veteran Covent Garden frequenters might remember the wonderful and entertaining free public toilets neside St Paul's Church in the Piazza; memories of cheerful attendants and operatic music as you went about your business. Now, you have to pay - and on weekends, queue and then pay.

So,  praise and cheers for those who - against so much pressure, comparable indeed to bladder pressure at that - are keeping a few really useful public loos open. Huge praise, for example, to the staff at Finchley Road, Highbury and Islington, and New Cross stations - for keeping a free toilets open for all sexes. If these stations can do it - why not all the others?

Anyone who stands to be London mayor in the future must surely be asked to promise that - on their watch - every overground and underground station in the the Greater London area must have working, open, clean toilets for everyone! ENd of manifesto-style moan.....

Postscript: How encouraging, a couple of days after this was written, to open the May 2018 edition of the Brixton Bugle community newspaper and to find half a page devoted to a map of public conveniences in the Brixton area. There are plenty there that are new to me - but it is also accurate , showing for example that (very sadly) you now have to pay 20p to go into the formerly lifesaving Pope's Road toilets. No wonder they're complaining about people pissing in the street in the Electric Avenue area!

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Things about 2018 I am already sick of....

2018, like every year since about 1986, is dumping even bigger, even uglier, even more arrogant-looking SUVs on our narrow streets. What is the enduring appeal of these ghastly, gurning thug-mobiles? And why are they nearly all black, with tinted passenger windows?
I confess: all the things about 2018 that are already getting on my wick are exactly the same ones that were doing it back in 2017, and long before that.

Restricting it to the bad things about London life, they are things that became noticeably worse in 2017 and show every sign of continuing in that direction - because nothing really goes in discrete years, does it? Apart from calendars and academics, perhaps.

There are the obvious exceptions: things we did not expect to have to put up with. Like the new £10 notes, which pull off the impressive feat of being both slippery and sticky at the same time.

These apologies for currency are the perfect embodiment of everything that is wrong with the UK - perhaps the whole western world - in 2018. They're meant to represent progress, to be "greener" and cleaner and more efficient. But everybody hates them (and not just the vegans).

I've already lost at least one new tenner, handing over two stuck together. Whether the shopkeeper knew or not I don't know - but all the checkout staff I've talked to say they hate the new notes, for similar reasons.

This nasty plasticky stuff is no longer real f-f-folding money. Try and crunch one up into a little ball and it gradually unfurls itself. Horrible, horrible things, like the nastiest shrink-wrap packaging on the nastiest foodstuffs.

Trouble is I dislike them so much that I have an urge to spend them quickly just to get them out of sight, i.e I am wasting a lot more money. Doing just what the Treasury wants, spending with the new notes. Is this really a government scheme to kill off cash completely?

That was a long digression! And not a London story, but affecting every poor cash-user in this crackpot country. But, as I am no longer a journalist (never really was, in truth), and do not need to care about the attention span of readers, I'm going to write as much as I like about whatever I like.

Roving which range, exactly? All those big black shiny new SUVs with
their dark tinted windows are making suburban streets look like the overflow
 parking lot for a convention of undertakers
Groan: more bloody SUV stuff

All the other complaints are carried over from previous years, previous decades. Have already moaned endlessly about the curse of ever-more-bloated four wheel drive cars cramming the tight suburban backstreets of south London.

I'm going to keep on moanin', lord yes. Much more, louder moaning for 2018.

These fat bastard vehicles are killing us in so many ways. Go down to Northcote Road ("Nappy Valley") on any weekend and watch the latest Mercedes, Audi, Rover, BMW, Volvo and Porsche versions of these hearse-like conveyances lumbering up and down this little road, jousting for access into the small side-streets and limited parking places. If you're not inside one, watch out for your life. The drivers do not always deign to look down their elegant noses at us mortals on the streets beneath them.

There's another, linked phenomenon which is quite hard to understand: the majority of the newest, biggest, shiniest SUVs in the poshest streets around here are jet black. The bigger and newer the SUV, the blacker  and shinier it seems. One street in particular seems to have become a sort Mafia parking lot.

All the SUVs are black, and they all have darkly-tinted windows for the passenger area. Often you see big blokes in black suits, white shirts and black ties polishing these vehicles. Who are the owners, are they so famous and important that they are at risk of car-jacking and abduction? Are they frightened the hoi-polloi will throw rotten eggs at them? If only....

While on the subject of automobiles, there is another annoying and dangerous trend - the fondness manufacturers have for LED lights, mainbeams and sidelights alike. They are so bright as to temporarily blind anyone unfortunate enough to be in their glare. The stupid fairy-light adornments, eyebrow shapes over the headlamps, zig-zags around the rear light...are just vulgar and annoying. Adding to the extreme ugliness of so many of these confections of plastic, steel, glass and rubber.

Also they can be extremely dangerous - as, coincidentally, the RAC yet again pointed out the day this entry was posted.


But the next one is linked: the rise of generalised, unfettered, foul-mouthed rage.  Anger, so much anger; impotent rage, cursing, shouting, fists raised and blood-vessels disteneded rage; and then turns to physical violence. Twice in a week I witness this. The bike hits the pedestrian at the Half Moon junction in Herne Hill. Felled cyclist springs up, stares in disbelief at the bits of expensive plastic that have broken off his machine, then takes a groggy swipe at the dusty pedestrian who has only just got on his feet.

And then, at the Brixton Town Hall crossroads, a cyclist stops and raps on the driver's window of an Addison Lee people-carrier. Window winds down, big snarling face stares out, about to mouth obscenities, but the cyclist gets his pre-emptive strike in first - a stream of saliva, spat fast into the driver's cabin.

Cyclist zooms off, Addison Lee in hot pursuit, makes as if to ram bike, then rams on brakes instead. Common sense, perhaps, prevails; the looming court case, the lost job, local news reports ...maybe these flashed through driver's consciousness. Let's just scare the shit out this fucker.

Anger, rage. On trains, buses, in the queues at Sainsburys, at the post office. Parking worst of all.

Worst-case media horror trend of selfish UK public behaviour so far this year - the rude scrawled notes stuck on ambulances parked briefly outside the houses of these angry vehicle-obsessed people, whose anger - once mainly confined to in the forums of certain newspaper websites - now seems to be spilling out all over the shop.

I feel my own anger mounting, as I write. None of us is immune - this is the prevailing psychic environment; anger; fear; it's contagious.

Beep! Beep!

Expressions of anger are all around us at all times in stressed-out, tensed-up London. Again, the worst and most visible is on the roads. The screech of tyres as an over-hasty driver slams on brakes at a junction. Absurd over-revving of expensive but poorly silenced engines: an intimidation by accelerator pedal and exhaust pipe.

The realisation by murderous psychopaths that cars are very effective weapons, especially if you want to kill several people at one fell swoop, and permanently injure many more. A new motor-psycho sickness.

At the merely annoying end of same spectrum:  the inevitable, ever increasing use of the car horn to express rage - the high-powered air-horns, weaponised, enough to make you jump in the air, to make your heart tremble. This topic was covered here before - see "A pox on your blaring horns" from 2013 – and it is worse now.

Time to revive the notion of the Inverse Blare Bill, as recommended on this site all those years ago. The simple idea was to legislate to make sure the most macho and aggressive vehicles emit the feeblest, silliest, most embarrassing noises when the hooter is activated. Only the smallest and sweetest of cars - say a  2CV or Topolino - would be allowed to make a strident beeping sound.

There are many other topics to get het up about - such as the proliferation of dogs and the their doings. Why have so many dog-owners stopped picking up their darling doggies' turds? How many times must we get home, get all the way up the carpeted staircase to the fourth four flat, and only then notice the vile, tell-tale stink.

Fed up with all this food

Then - another cause of mounting Calvinist-style intolerance in this bitter old bastard - there is this constantly increasing London hyper-obsession with food.

So ironic, so typically bonkers British, that at exactly the same time we are told ours is the fattest population in Europe, we are also bombarded day in, day out with editorials heaping praise on obscenely extravagant food-feasting....

Latent annoyance at the gourmet-gastro-masterchef culture burst to the surface when handed a free copy of a fat, luxurious magazine called Foodism.

Yes, Foodism! Here it was, a great beautifully printed wodge of nosh-porn. It didn;t get my juices flowing, I'm afriad - but it did make my blood begin to boil, gently. Trouble is, I love food. Most of us do - and we certainly depend on it for our existence, unless we are vampires. I love what I think is good food; what you can get in a cheap, ordinary restaurant in almost any local bar or cafe or restaurant in France, Italy or SPain, at normal prices.

Because in those and many other countries, good food is nothing to do with "foodism" or gourmet cooking, it is what everyone expects as a right. Decent ingredients, well cooked, in simple, classic styles.

Alas, even these fine countries are being invaded by the Anglo-American industrialisation of food, a phased invasion of fast food and junk food and then - the ultimate paradox, the final insult - selling them back bastardised versions of their own dishes as something healthy and fashionable to aspire to.

That's why it's so annoying to be told that London is now the world's food capital or similar rubbish. London is just the place where there are enough rich and gullible and ignorant and incompetent and fashion-addicted people to allow all manner of tricksters to open stupid ridiculous new on-theme eateries, and to get people queuing in the rain to spend a week's average wage on some sickening variant of a hamburger and chips.

All of this comes wrapped up with another paradox: how can London be a city both of extreme Veganism and extreme carnivores? How many different "gourmet" burger joints does a suburban high street need? The Five Guys/Byron/Haché thing seems to be outstripping Americanised Italian coffee shops in this blighted area.

A few years ago, the fashion was all for "pulled" meats. Even if I ate pork, I can't imagine asking for a pulled-pork bun or whatever. Don't the images this coupling of words evokes put you off these juicy meaty products, as well?

Obviously not.

But these days the food fashions seem to have got even less delectable. Weird rainbow-colored doughnuts; great gloops of stringy cheese in warmed buns; ill-advised hybrids, such as the awful cronut.

Am stopping here before I blow a gasket. Good night!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Extreme ugliness and London's embattled skyline: which new tower is the worst eyesore?

St George Wharf Tower at Vauxhall - is this the nastiest of all the new-ish, tall-ish buildings in London? 

The near-completion of the big tower block with a bulge near Blackfriars adds yet another grotesque silhouette to London's much abused skyline.

For sheer "wtf?" factor, this new building, One Blackfriars,  is not as offensive as the lumbering goon of the Walkie Talkie as it gobbles up air and light over the City of London.

As hideous as these two recent arrivals to London's new skyline may be, there's a third contender for the crown - surely, the most dismal of all the ugly high-rise London brothers.

This third structure is only too well known in the SW postcodes.

Mention a downed helicopter, a rude finger pointing up to the sky, and you all know it -  St George Wharf Tower at Vauxhall.

Look at each tower in a bit more detail.

1. The Walkie Talkie

The Walkie-Talkie - a "lumbering goon" of a building
which blocks light and ruins views in the City of
London – looks just as bad a mile south in Bermondsey.
A 34-storey, 160 m (525 ft) tall office block at 20 Fenchurch Street designed by Rafael Viñoly, completed in January 2015. The tower was originally to be nearly 200 m (656 ft) tall but was scaled down to preserve views of St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower. In 2015 it won the Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the UK.

Does anyone love this tower? Well, possibly those making a fortune out of letting it. It still dominates views of the City from the south bank of the river, despite much taller new buildings shooting up behind it. Wide-shouldering its way into a billion tourist photos, this is a true monument to City greed.

2. St George Wharf Tower, Vauxhall (pictured above) is a 180 metres, 52 storey cylindrical tower poking out from a sharp bend of the River Thames. It is one of Europe’s tallest wholly residential buildings and the tallest residential tower in London. 
The tower's "green" credentials, with a wind turbine at the top supposedly generating 27,000 kWh of energy per year, are fine, but hardly make up for the disastrous impact this structure has on views from all over London, and especially from Whitehall, Pimlico and my back yard.

St George Wharf Tower - one of very few
skyscrapers that looks even worse at night.
The word ugly is too good for this rude erection. It is just too nothing at all, to be ugly. It is offensive, though - a straight shiny finger held up to everyone in London. It's saying, buzz off, plebs, this town's for rich bastards only.

Even if it hadn't been the scene of a tragic helicopter crash in 2013, people would still have hated this building.

You know how bad it is because no-one has been able to find a decent nickname for it - one that sticks. I've heard "The Battery" - but the Duracell AA batteries it resembles are much more elegantly styled. Someone else called it "The Plunger" which is nearer the mark.

It's one of very few skyscrapers that actually look worse at night when the lights come on. There are vertical stripes of light going the full height of the tower, then shorter bars of light surrounding the corona-style penthouse at its peak.

The lights have that harsh brightness, reminiscent of DHSS office striplights back in the early 1970s. Maybe the builders got a job of old neon tubes and slapped them on. That's what it looks like: cheap, cold, nasty.

3. One Blackfriars, aka The Vase and The boomerang. Designed by architects SimpsonHaugh and Partners, this 49-storey, 535ft tower at the south-west end of Blackfriars Bridge is a worrying sight. What was supposed to be an elegant tribute to an iconic Scandinavian glass vase now looks like a pot-bellied man (or, according to other observers, a pregnant woman, or a flasher concealing a large erection beneath his raincoat).

From some angles it looks like a the companion of the Walkie Talkie, as they could both be large drunken men bending over in the street to vomit on the pavement.

One Blackfriars is almost 100ft shorter than originally
planned, which might account for its almost comic
and definitely ungainly fat-bloke silhouette.
Ironically, its appearance has been made worse by a decision to reduce its original planned height of 225m to the current pygmy-like sub-200m stump. Result: scaled down it just looks all wrong. The cut also meant the one public benefit the tower was supposed to offer - a free viewing platform at the top - had to go. As they usually do.

Ah, but I hear you shout, there's a fourth and fifth and a sixth contender for this sorry crown.  And of course there are lots of other monsters out there. Just look. For many, the most ridiculous new tower in London is the thing that pokes its Batmobile ears and turbines into the sky above Elephant & Castle, name of "Strata SE1".

The building was famous for the three highly-visible turbines at the summit of the tower which were supposed to supply about eight per cent of all the 400 flats' electricity. Apparently as soon they were switched on the owners of the pricey flats on the upper floors complained of noise, vibrations, heat etc - so they were switched off most of the time.

The pricey blades were soon being mocked as a prime example of developers' favourite past-time, "greenwashing".

This joke of a tower block has since been crowded out by a load of bland high-rise residential towers, so now the silly old Strata - already nearly 10 years old - looks like the one guest at a party who actually bothered to wear fancy dress.

Other people will cite the Cheesegrater at Leadenhall, the Shard, and some of the clumsy towers of Canary Wharf. Personally I think the Shard is beautiful, elegant design; such a shame that it should be the preserve of the rich and the super-rich. What happened to all those democratic ideals that the young architects of the 60s, like Renzo Piano, must have been imbibing at their radical architecture schools?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Akasha at The Bread and Roses - bringing the love magick back to SW4

For every entry  published on this blog, another 10 or 12 are left to rot in the drafts folder. But I'm going to publish this one, because this semi-local band playing at a local pub gave me more pleasure in one brief free gig than I've had at any music venue in years.

Among dozens of unpublished blog pieces gatheirng dust in the vaults of this site are several about gigs at The Bread and Roses pub in Clapham Manor Street. It sometimes feels like an unappreciated SW4 treasure, this trades-union-run pub.  I've several times been to their free music nights to find the audience almost outnumbered by band members.

But not last Saturday evening, which belonged to a band from the Brixton area named Akasha,  whose performance left me eager for more, buzzing with that strange energy you get from great music - and also kicking myself for not having followed their every gig for the past 20 years or so. There was a good crowd, and at least half were dancing wildly by the end - well, some of us were at least shuffling from foot to foot.

Akasha (a name they share with a few others, being the sanskrit word for "air" or  "aether") started in  1994 as a duo, Charlie Casey and Damian Hand, but have now grown into the seven -piece band which crammed the small pub stage last week.

The band was a pioneer of  jazzy, electronics-infused, spaced-out hip-hop fusion style which was emerging back in the early 1990s, and became the signature sound of the highly influential Wall of Sound label.  Some called it trip-hop...but the music was much too diverse and agile to get trapped in such a name.

The two originals - Casey on guitar, vocals and MacBook Pro,  Damian Hands a sort of new-age Roland Kirk on all manner of reeds and deeds and woodwinds - were backed up by a rock-steady demon of a drummer, a fabulously 70s-looking keyboards player, and solid trumpet, bass and alto sax players.

The sound system wasn't really up to such an adventurous band - and it took about half an hour of the engineer traipsing between stage and mixing desk to get things right. But once they got going, the gates to a new musical heaven opened in the skies over southwest London. Well, that's how it seemed to me, and I wasn't even on anything, apart from Guinness.

Akasha's music is catchy, exciting, incredibly danceable, unpredictable and mind-blowing at times, risk-taking (or so it seems); and it has that magic ingredient - wit. No wonder they were such a big influence on loads of their more commercially-minded label-mates (whatever happened to the Propellerheads?)

No wonder that so many big names wanted to work with them - and many did, notably Neneh Cherry, the true godmother to all this jazz-hip-hop-punk-funk crossover stuff. I've never got over seeing  her fronting Rip Rig & Panic under the Westway back in about 1983. And also Sarah Cracknell of St Etienne and the guy from Faithless - Maxi Jazz - who, coming from a similar milieu, had all the worldly success that eluded this band. But Akasha has the sort of success that others long  for - they're still loved and respected by their original fans, and winning new followers with every set they play, worldwide.

This night, Akasha played plenty of their old favourites, ratching up the involuntary dance factor with each number. I listened very hard when they played a song about their musical influences - but the vocals were drowned a bit by the poor PA. At a guess I'd say they would go for James Brown, Miles Davis, maybe Charlie Parker, Roland Kirk, maybe the Sugarhill Gang, maybe Curtis Mayfield or maybe Stockhausen? Herbie Hancock? Coltrane? Gil Scott Heron?

So, will have to go to next gig and hope they play it again. Also, buy the CDs. Next gig? One of the band said they were playing the Railway Tavern in Tulse Hill sometime soon. I think. Go!