About Me

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

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Too good not to re-blog - I love council houses too!

Guerilla art in SW4 - the John Lanchester novel becomes reality as a fly-sticker hits the streets of Clapham, covering estate agents' boards with " I love council houses" postersSeen on the Brixton Buzz blog, images from a small guerrilla art intervention in the
expensive heart of Clapham's house-price inflation zone.

The "I heart council houses" posters stuck over estate agents' boards are in the fine tradition started by feminist modifications of the texts of cosmetics ad hoardings back in the 1970s.

Looked out for them on way to work this morning - nothing visible until I got to the junction of Edgely Road and Larkhall Rise. Just a couple of them left there, a good hard shout for an alternative to the creation of yet another millionaire's row in this most unlikely of locations.

As I took photos, estate agents in their embarrassingly emblazoned minis and BMWs cruised around. As I left I saw one of these shiny vehicles screeched to a stop. A smart young man in a suit gets out and approaches the boards with an angry look.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Nine Elms disease: just a local strain of a global virus

So much recently on the impossibility of finding somewhere to live within London's zones 1 -2, unless you happen to be a billionaire plutocrat, oil-rich princeling or premier league football man.  A couple of weeks back BBC Radio London's Robert Elms devoted most of his 3-hour show to what he termed London's current housing crisis.

There were some good expert contributions - notably from the Notting Hill Housing Trust CEO Kate Davies. The upshot seems to be that the problem - that "normal" Londoners can no longer afford to buy even so-called "affordable" new-build housing, let alone those desirable Victorian terraced houses in all those previously "affordable" Zone 2 suburbs - is, ah-hem! damn near-insoluble.

The only hope now, it seem, is either to legislate against the super-rich - to either tax or or regulate their London property investments so much that they go elsewhere - or to kickstart a massive new social housing building programme on what is left of inner London's brownfield sites.

As one listener said, there always seems to be space for new supermarkets - why not new council flats? He railed against selling off of publicly owned land - hospitals, schools, libraries, army barracks - to private developers. I agree.

Another caller made a rather good point, I think - saying that property is hardly taxed at all. I
Rising fast - the new residential towers along the Thames between Vauxhall and Battersea Power STation
n the sense that, if I bought a house in Clapham in 1970 for £12,000 and sold it last week for £1.2million, I would not pay any tax on that profit,

Is that true? Isn't that a capital gain and there fore taxable?

If it is true, then maybe he was on to something - a strong property sales tax might well solve a number of problems, and burst this absurd and useless bubble of property prices in this patch of shoddy houses built on the quivering mudflats of the murderous River Thames.

The whole sad history of London housing is beautifully articulated and  elaborated in a necessarily very long article on the LRB website by the writer and novelist James Meek.

Here is an extract which identifies some of the markers on the way to the current crisis in housing:

"In 1985, housing associations ran only 13 per cent of all social housing. The rest were council houses. By 2007, it was half and half; by 2012, only 1.7 million homes were still in council hands, against 2.4 million owned by housing associations. The housing associations seemed the ideal embodiment of Third Way economics, motivated neither by profit nor by state command, a parallel to academies in education and foundation trusts in health, yet with an old and noble pedigree. At a ceremony marking the handover of 17,000 homes in Tameside in 1999, Tony Blair said stock transfers ‘buried for good the old ideological split between public and private sector’.

And this:

"No wonder Thatcher baulked. Right to Buy violated basic Thatcherite values: that self-reliance was good, state handouts bad. Right to Buy was a massive handout to people who weren’t supposed to need handouts. In fact, that was why they got the handout – because they were the kind of people who didn’t need handouts.​"

His article is much more than opinion, however. He interviews residents on estates in Bethnal Green - who now face the 2014 equivalent of eviction, that is to be re-housed in smaller flats elsewhere. "self-eviction" is the new phrase, following on from this most invidious idea, the bedroom tax.

How marvellous to be reminded of the post-war idealism of the LCC and its architects, especially Lubetkin.

So recent, this history, and yet so distant.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Bad idea George - London has more than enough malls already

So George Osborne wants Euston station to undergo "full-scale redevelopment" and as far as he is concerned, that means including a big shopping mall.

A bit like the ones 300 years down the road at the new King's Cross St Pancras perhaps?

Why is it that any new development in this city of shopkeepers has to be underpinned by retailers?

Why - because they are the  only things that seem to be capable of turning a profit. Yet, when the great London termini were built, the only shops allowed would be a branch of Smiths, and a tea shop. Travellers need things to read, they need drinks, they need good, cheap food, maybe a chemist, and above all good, clean,  free toilet facilities, and somewhere to leave luggage.

Another mall? How many does a city need? Why not build a club or theatre , with a stage for comedians  and buskers to entertain  delayed travellers? Or,  and if they have more time on their hands, perhaps a new version of the old 24-hour news cinemas might work.

Meanwhile, some of the oldest and best-value Indian restaurants in London - two minutes away from Euston, in Drummond Street - are now under threat because of the HS2 plans.

WHat a hideous irony it would be if somewhere like the Diwana Bhel-poori house was to be swept away to allow more branches of Next and Giraffe and all those other ghastly mall-wwellers to set up shop in NW1.

Monday, 17 February 2014

RIP Beaufoy: property vultures kill another old favourite

It's becoming a sickeningly regular occurrence. Somewhere you'd always loved (but usually hadn't been to for ages, because you are a lazy slob) is suddenly no longer there.

Bookshops, cheap restaurants, music venues, they fall like leaves of London trees to the terribly sharp bladed axes of the speculators.

I realised some time ago that the Beaufoy Arms on Lavender Hill was going this way. Some time back it rebranded itself as the Beaufoy Bar, and it seemed to be thriving on DJ nights pulling in a much younger crowd. And then, suddenly (as it seemed to me) it was all boarded up. A month or so back the builders moved in, and now - where once there was this deliciously sleazy boozer, there is now the blandest of all empty commercial properties you could imagine.

Many loved the Beaufoy Arms back in the 1980s when it was quite a hot black music venue, with plenty of informal reggae nights and weekly live acts including the Afrobeat bandleader, ace sax player (and former Fekla Kuti sideman), Bukky Leo.

I remember the place with particular affection because it was one of the places I took my partner when she was not far off giving birth to our first child. She doesn't remember it I think but then I did drag her to some pretty odd places.

All the Beaufoy regulars of the time - they seemed to be mostly late middle-aged men from Trinidad or Jamaica, occasionally with wives or girlfriends or sons and daughters in tow - had something kind and encouraging to say, and the very loud music surely made some impression on the unborn son, who does still have a deep love for reggae.

The death of the Beaufoy sort of balances out the death of the reggae music shop at the other end of Lavender Hill two years back - the legendary Dub Vendor. These twin passings destroy the strange and pleasing cultural cocktail that the Hill once offered. Only BAC flies that old flag now, and it is looking desperately lonely. Yeah there are still plenty nice Portuguese and Sardinian and Vietnamese and Thai eating places, but the soul needs more than food and drink.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Nine Elms disease part 3 : a plague on all your houses!

It is spreading slowly, like a stain or a slick of vomit, along the south bank of the Thames between Vauxhall and Chelsea bridges.

Bad metaphors, though - a least stains are more or less flat. The skeletal buildings that are sticking their nasty lift-shafts into the air along the Nine Elms shore are simply not offensive enough to be called vomit. They are bland, they are out of the same mould as 1,000 other residential blocks that have gone up in London and other northern hemisphere cities over the past10 to 16 years.

The design is all about giving their richest customers the best views and the most sunshine.

These buildings always remind me of Guy de Maupassant's verdict on the Eiffel Tower. The only reason, he was supposed to have said, for going up the tower was so that one didn't have to look at the beastly thing.

Well, that tower has pretty well wormed itself into the world's affections in the intervening years. Will these new piles in the sky for people with piles to burn do the same? Will they even be there in 150 years?

Your guess is as good as anyone's.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Hyperlocal then and now - Catherine Stenger's paintings at Brixton East

Keeping eyes on all the local blogs, and especially the Brixton Blog,  am constantly finding out about things I should have know about 30 years ago.

Rival blog, Brixton Bugle, has carried some wonderful local history stuff recently - photos and film archive.  But my eyes are tired after checking out these cataracts of images, and then following links to more and more.  It reminded me that, much as I value hyperlocal blogs, it is still great to get your hands on a real newspaper, if one can be found.

Happily, Brixton Blog publishes a monthly paper, the Brixton Bugle, which publishes and expands on some of the best blog items and rounds up the  news. Among fascinating stuff in the latest issue (get your free copy from the Ritzy Cinema before they run out!) was a piece about a local artist, Catherine Stenger, who was active in Brixton in the 1980s - and the subject of a an ultra-short two-day exhibition at Brixton East gallery in Barrington Road.

The exhibition, in this very friendly, welcoming space in an old factory close to Loughborough Juntion,  is all the more poignant because no-one seems to know too much about the artist.

Catherine Spenger lived in Arlingford Road, just by Brockwell Park, until her death in 2008. She was trained at Byam Shaw, according to one of her own captions in this show. She was also a member of, and exhibited at, the Brixton Artists Collective back in the early tp mid-80, when the group flourished in three interlinked arches in Atlantic Road.

But the group  broke up in 1988, and then, it seems, she was forgotten.
Brixton Artists Collective member Catherine Stenger's work is on display  for the first time in 30 years at a  two day show at Brixton East art gallery
Saved from the skip: Original sketches and finished
 prints of some of Catherine Stenger's portraits on display
for two days only at Brixton East art gallery
This two-day show is being organised by some artists who lived in the house in Arlingford Road for a while before it was converted into flats. They discovered the paintings and drawings and woodblock prints in the attic. As no-one seemed to know much about the artist - even though she is described as being well-known in the local community - they decided to stage this brief expo perhaps to jog a few memories.

Her work is good, even though some of it has suffered a bit in storage. Apparently it was all going to go onto a skip until these young artists intervened - thank god!

There are some lovely paintings of parts of Brockwell Park, and portraits of local people, some strong life studies. There's also a short film giving background on the BAC - and the big role it played in the post-riot revival of Brixton, with its inaugural art festival in 1983.

This is a lovely exhibition, very intimate, a beautiful tribute to a little-known local artist, and there's this extra edge to it, the desire to find out more. It also gives me two big pangs of regret.

First, that at that time I went to the Atlantic Pub about once a week, mainly catching free jazz nights (Courtney Pine's band built up an early following here). I must have walked past the Brixton Artist's Collective dozens of times but never once went in. In fact, I remember it - I used to buy photo supplies from A W Young a few doors along.

Second, it makes me think I should have done something similar for Jonathan.